Hidden Gems - Kutsuwa

Kutsuwa has a long history - over 100 years - of supplying odd, quirky things you didn't know you needed, but now don't know how you'd manage without. Established in Japan in 1910 by Fukumatsu Nishimura, it now operates out of the country's eight major cities, from Sapporo in the north to Kagoshima in the south.

In Japan, they're well known, and much-loved for these wonderful products, but as few people outside Japan know the brand, we've decided it's time we told you all about their range, full of hidden gems…

Cutting

Keyring Scissors

If you're going to do a sizeable job involving cutting, these wouldn't be your first choice. But when you don't plan on using scissors, but just happen to need to, they might just be the scissors you have with you. Loose thread hanging from your shirt? Easy. Cutting a bag open? Removing tags from your new jumper? Done in seconds.

They're safe to carry, and because they're so small and light, you can take them everywhere.

Cutting Rulers

There are two tricks for 'cutting' a sheet of paper when you don't have anything to cut with. One is to fold carefully along where you need to cut, then fold along the same line the other way. Repeat a few times, and the line is weakened so the paper should tear reasonably neatly along it. It doesn't exactly give a cut edge, but it's close enough if you just need to take the phone number from the bottom of the sheet, or something like that.

The other trick is to use the edge of a ruler as a guide to tear along. If done quickly, it can work reasonably well. It's not exactly what most rulers were designed for, but they'll do the job in a pinch. However. It is what these rulers were designed for. They're strong and rigid, made from aluminium, and the edge, while not exactly sharp, is sharper than most rulers. Hold it down firmly on the paper, and pull the paper diagonally up and towards the ruler. The result doesn't quite look cut, but it's a bit neater than you might expect, and it's very quick to do.

Folding Aluminium Ruler

For general use, 30cm is a good length for a ruler. To carry with you, 15cm is a good length for a ruler. That's a problem, because one ruler can't usually be both. Yes, we know folding rulers exist, but they aren't very good, are they? The joint in the middle makes them worse to use. They can flap open when you're trying to carry them and flap closed when you're trying to use them.

When we saw these Kutsuwa folding rulers, though, we knew they were the answer. It wasn't that the idea of a folding ruler was bad, it was just that, at least in our experience, the ones that had been made so far were bad. These were great!

It doesn't flap open when you're carrying it, because there's a little catch you need to release. It doesn't flap closed when it's open, because strong detents mean you have to push it quite intentionally to move it. It doesn't have to be just open or closed, either, because those detents are every 15 degrees as you open and close it. The upshot of that is that it can double up as a protractor, or a 30-degree, 45-degree, 60-degree guide. Or 15-degrees, or even 165-degrees.

Which leaves only one thing to explain - why it's under the 'Cutting' header. Yes, it's the same reason the other aluminium rulers are - along with being a 15cm and 30cm ruler and a protractor, it's also a paper cutter. Well, more of a helper for neat paper tearing, perhaps, but it works, at either length.

Paper Knives

Most paper knives are designed with safety as a priority, usually to the point that they don't really cut at all, just help a bit in tearing. These Kutsuwa paper knives are made to work effectively, but that does mean you need to take a bit more care in their use. They aren't sharp like a real knife blade, but the paper edge feels like it could perhaps cut you a little if you were careless, and the roughly serrated card edge should be treated with a certain amount of respect.

The result, though, is a paper knife that actually works, and along with opening letters and packages, it can cut through thick card too. Perfect for opening things and breaking down boxes, while being safer than a sharp knife blade, but do take care with them.

The standard version has a painted coating on the blade, which makes it much harder for glue and tape to stick to it, which can be a problem when cutting open packages that have been wrapped in plenty of tape. The Titanium version has titanium plating on the blade for the same reason, but even more durable.

Sharpening

2 Maiba Twin-Blade Sharpener

There are some people who enjoy sharpening pencils. It's theraputic, in a way. A moment of reflection as you prepare the tool of your trade (or hobby) ready for the next round. Those people might not like the 2 Maiba. It sharpens pencils faster than other sharpeners, so the therapy doesn't last as long. If you don't need as long to reflect before getting back to it, though, it might be the sharpener for you. On first thoughts, there doesn't seem to be a huge amount you could do to speed up the sharpening process with a simple blade sharpener. It sharpens as quickly as you rotate the pencil. But Kutsuwa approached the problem in a way familliar to razor manufacturers - if in doubt, add more blades! The 2 Maiba has two blades on opposite sides, so they both cut the wood together, stripping it away twice as quickly. It's a remarkably simple idea, and it works well. Sharp pencils in less time.

K'Zool Adjustable Sharpener

The strangely named K'Zool may sound like a species in Star Trek (or maybe now we'll see them in The Orville) but it's another sharpener. This one may not be any faster than a normal sharpener, but it still has its special tricks - Kutsuwa don't seem to like making anything ordinary.

For the basics, it's a nicely designed cannister-style sharpener. The shape makes it easy to grip, and it has a door to close over the pencil opening to keep the shavings and graphite on the inside. There's a sliding hatch to empty it, too.

The special trick it has, though, is operated by the dial on the end. At one end, it sharpens just like any other sharpener, making the point as sharp as it can be. Click it down one step, and it stops you sharpening just before that point, when the point is pretty sharp, but not quite as sharp as it could get. For most purposes, it's as sharp as you'd want it to get, though - any sharper would tend to snap as soon as it hits the paper. Carry on down through the settings, and it stops earlier and earlier, so on the last setting, it shaves away the wood, without exposing more than a tiny amount of the lead. That extreme may be useful for very soft colouring pencils, but not for much else, but the settings between are great for soft leads and for soft waxy coloured pencils. Why put such a sharp point on a pencil with lead that will only crumble anyway?

The result is that you can get the point you need for the pencil you're sharpening, and waste less of each pencil to breakages.

Oh, and if you use pencils much, you've probably had the problem where the end of the lead snaps off stuck in the end of the sharpener, so you have to try to pry it out. Well, the K'Zool has a button in the end to push those stuck pieces out easily.

T'Gaal Adjustable Sharpener

If the K'Zool sounds like a species in Star Trek, the T'Gaal sounds like, well, another species in Star Trek. Probably a terribly dangerous warmongering species, but it'll all work out ok when Captain Picard outwits them in some wonderfully clever way, and makes them see that peace is the way to prosperity. Anyway, we digress. We were supposed to be telling you about a pencil sharpener. Stick with it, this one's good.

While the K'Zool moves a stop to block the sharpening once the point reaches a certain, er, point, the T'Gaal goes a step further. The whole blade mounting can be turned to different angles, operated by a dial on the side. So you can have a long, thin point for accurate work with strong pencils, but turn the dial and you can sharpen softer pencils to a steeper angle, with a less pointy point. Just like with the K'Zool, it's useful for pencils with lead that crumbles more easily, but with the T'Gaal you still get a point - just less of a sharply-angled point.

Turn the dial to 'CLOSE', and another mechanism inside closes a little door across the pencil hole. Inside, it's all done by a device with a wonderful name: a 'snail cam'.

STAD Adjustable Desktop Sharpener

The desktop sharpener takes the same adjustment idea that the K'Zool has, so you can limit how sharp the point is, but instead of being in a neat little cannister sharpener that fits in your pocket, it's in a desktop body, of the type you probably remember from school. The biggest surprise here, though, is the price. It's a third of the price of the next-cheapest desktop sharpener we have!

How do they do it? Well, they do cut a corner, along with your pencils - the part that does the sharpening inside is a single blade, like that used in a conventional pocket sharpener, rather than the big rotating multi-blade unit used in bigger desktop sharpeners. So, it won't last as long. If you're going to be sharpening a lot, you might be better off with a more expensive option, but otherwise, this is an amazing bargain. It looks pretty cute from the front, too, with its little 'ears', and there's a choice of bright colours.

Pencil Extenders

Pencils get too short and stubby to use once they've been used and sharpened enough times. Once they become too short, you either throw them away, struggle to use them uncomfortably, or you use a pencil extender. The simplest types are just tubes you can push the pencil stub into, making it long enough to use more easily.

Pencil extenders, in general, are a bit of a niche product. Kutsuwa, as you've probably noticed from their range, tend to make quite niche versions of things. So, as you might expect, their pencil extenders are a bit of a niche within a niche. You'll probably either wonder why anyone would ever want such a thing, or think at least one of them is the most perfect product, designed just for you.

Hi Line One-Push Pencil Holder

A cross between a clutch pencil and a pencil extender - there are clutch jaws at the tip, and a button at the top. Push the button, and the jaws open. Push a pencil into the body and release the button, and it's held firmly. Quick and easy.

It's also nicely finished, and the button hides a handy eraser.

The only disadvantage is that it can only grip quite standard width pencils, though that tends to be the case with a lot of pencil extenders. In our testing, it works well with a Tombow Mono 100, which is very slightly wider than standard, but a triangular Rhodia pencil and the Caran d'Ache Swiss Wood are too wide.

Hi Line Double Ended Pencil Extender

If you put a pencil stub in one end of an extender, the rest of it is just an empty tube. Kutsuwa obviously thought that was a waste. So they added a grip mechanism to the other end too. Now, you can hold two pencil stubs at once.

As mentioned above, you're either shaking your head in disbelief that a company would waste time making such a product, that nobody would ever want to buy; or you're throwing money at the screen in the hope one might fall out. If you're in the latter group, pause for a moment to gather yourself - you can order online from us, and we'll get one to you, but we can't make your screen do that. You know that, really, you just lost your mind a little when you saw this, and simply couldn't even. We were in the latter group when we found these in the catalogue, but when they actually arrived, the reality hit us that we might just be alone in wanting them. Fortunately, our first instincts were right, and they've been rather popular.

Why would you want to hold two pencil stubs? Well, you might want one graphite pencil for writing in, and a red pencil for corrections. You might want the second one in a pale 'non-repro' blue for rough sketching of outlines as you work on your art. You might want two different grades of lead, or you might just find it handy to have two sharpened tips at the ready so when one blunts or snaps, you can just spin the pencil around and carry on.

And if you don't want two stubs? Well, it works just fine with one stub, but it's also a hollow tube all the way through, so a single full-length pencil can pass right through, and be gripped at both ends. So unlike many pencil extenders, it can be used just as well with a new pencil, giving it a slightly wider grip, with knurled metal to keep your fingers in place.

Stad Pencil Cap Set

These aren't really pencil extenders as such, but they're closely related. One of the problems with pencils is that it's easy to snap the point when you're carrying them, and painful to accidentally stab yourself with them! Pencil extenders can get around that with stubs, by putting the stub into the extender backwards for carrying, but what about pencils that are too long to need an extender? Simple - pop one of these little caps over the sharpened end, and you're good to go.

Highlighting - Hi Line Fluorescent Highlighter Pencil and Sharpener

A few companies make highlighter pencils, but they aren't a common sight. They do make sense, though, when you think about it. A pencil doesn't dry out when uncapped, so a highlighter pencil can sit there ready to go as you read, waiting for you to happen on something worth highlighting. They can be made as fine or as blunt as you need, to suit your use.

Kutsuwa, though, were never going to make a highlighter pencil the same as everyone else made. So this one comes with a special cap. It protects the tip when it's not in use, which is important, because the highlighter lead is quite soft and easy to damage. It also acts as an extender, letting you get more use out of the pencil. And, to cap it all, it's a sharpener!

26 September 2017

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