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The Sharp End - from Dave's Mechanical Pencils

A guest post from the much-loved Dave's Mechanical Pencils, all about the sharp end of your pencils.

Mechanical pencils can be divided into two main groups – the general writing pencils and the technical pencils. Many people like to use a technical pencil, sometimes because they actually need to, but often just for the look and feel of it. They like that ‘serious’ technical or engineering look. The thing that effectively places a mechanical pencil into the general writing or the technical group is its lead sleeve - the very tip of the pencil where the lead comes out. General writing pencils tend to have short sleeves and often the sleeve is an integral part of the tip in general so that you might not even think it has a sleeve. On the other hand, technical or engineering pencils all have a long thin pipe (usually 3 – 4mm long) as their lead sleeve. This harks back to the days when engineering drawing was done by hand and the long thin lead sleeve pipe was required for running along the edge of rulers and templates. It also allows good vision of the lead, which many students of mathematics still find useful today when doing equations and so on.

The long thin lead sleeve may look good and be functional, but it is prone to stabbing things, and of course it can be bent and broken if the pencil is tossed point first into a cup holder, or dropped onto the floor. Many people and manufacturers, perhaps the majority, just accept that and get on with it, but others come up with their own solutions such as making a point protector from things like the plastic cap off a stick pen, a plastic straw or pipe, a pencil eraser topper, etc. Those solutions may work for many, but others prefer an integral solution and so over the years the mechanical pencil manufacturers have come up with a few solutions of their own. Here are a few examples, both vintage and current. Something for you to think about if you are considering using a technical pencil.

Capped Pencils

Strictly speaking these are usually general writing pencils but I include them here because their short lead sleeve pipes may still suit some technical users. These pencils have a full integral cap which is usually posted on the other end of the body when you are writing with the pencil.

Caps on - top to bottom - Ohto Words, Ohto Tasche and Pentel Sharp Kerry:


Caps off, ready to write:


Retracting Tips

Retracting tips go by many names such as vanishing points, retracting points, dual-action retractors or double knock mechanisms. With these styles the whole tip section of the pencil retracts back into the body when not in use. That is of course a great idea, but it is not without its challenges. The retracting mechanism means the tip is no longer immovably fixed to the body, so there is inevitably some amount of play or wobble between the tip and body. Most people do not find this a problem but some who value precision above everything do find any amount of movement annoying.

Sleeves out and ready - top to bottom - Pentel GraphGear 1000, Rotring 800 and Cult pens Double-Knock:


Sleeves in, fully protected:


Fully Retractable Sliding Sleeves

Some technical pencils have a sliding sleeve. That is the long thin lead sleeve pipe retracts back up as the lead is worn away. On some of these pencils the sleeve may retract right back up into the tip so that it disappears.

Tip Protector

Some mechanical pencils come with their own manufacturers tip protector which fits onto the other end of the pencil when not in use, somewhat similar to capped pencils.

Pentel PMG with tip protector on top end, and Staedtler Mars Micro 775:


PMG with protector on tip and Mars Micro sleeve retracted:


Tip Protector Sleeve

One of the Holy Grails for mechanical pencil nutcases is the vintage Pentel Mechanica. This had a very unique twist out tip protector sleeve. The sleeve is permanently attached and it simply twists in or out of the pencil grip section to protect or reveal the lead sleeve.

Pentel Mechanica:


Mechanica with protector sleeve extended out:


Anyway, next time you go to grab a technical style mechanical pencil, give some thought to the sharp end.

1 July 2019


  • Elizabeth T 8 July 2019

    I used to like a pretty basic mechanical pencil, one of the ones with the clicker on the side, and now I prefer a regular Ticonderoga when needing a pencil for long however I must say you've left out my favorite (I guess you aren't including multifunction devices here) : the Cross Tech3 and Tech3+ . The pencil retracts when not in use. It only takes a half-lead (.5mm) and doesn't hold a bunch like a regular mechanical pencil does, but it is a nice little pencil and the point is protected.

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