There’s an incredible variety of mechanical pencils, with ones made for all sorts of different uses. Some for quick scribbles, some for writing, some for drawing. That makes it pretty much impossible to make a list of ‘the best’, because ‘the best’ depends on you, and how you’re going to use it. But interesting - that’s a different matter. So we’ve picked out a few particularly interesting mechanical pencils, with features you might not have known existed, and solving problems you might not have known you had.
The pencil that makes 0.2mm lead usable, as long as you’re reasonably gentle. The ‘standard’ Pentel Orenz models already make super-thin lead more usable. They have a sliding pipe, with a smoothed tip. The idea is that instead of, as usual, extending the lead a bit beyond the end of the pipe, you write with the lead fully enclosed, so the metal pipe is touching the paper as you write. As the lead wears away, the pipe is pushed gradually back. When it’s pushed far enough back, a click of the button will extend the lead and pipe out again.
The Orenznero takes the same idea a step further by combining it with an auto-feed mechanism. As the lead wears down, the pipe is pushed back, but this time there’s a very gentle spring that pushes it back out, and pushes the lead out with it. So you can just keep writing, and the lead will stay at the tip. The only time you need to click the button is to extend the lead and pipe in the first place, and when a whole stick of lead is used up.
It’s also a very nice looking pencil, and seems very sturdy in our use.
The Japanese term for a clicky button to extend a pen or pencil is a ‘knock’. The No-Noc is an auto-feed pencil, so you don’t have to knock. Noc noc, Neo.
Anyway, it’s great value, a really unusual design, and very practical in use - and still relatively little known, so you won’t see many about.
One of the most appropriately named pencils around, the Lamy Scribble is the perfect pencil if you want to just scribble. There’s nothing especially special about it in terms of features, but it has quite a special feel. It’s chunky and a big weighty, and just feels really inviting to use, especially for quick rough sketches or notes.
A long-standing classic in the Faber-Castell range, it becomes easy for us pen and pencil people to forget how odd the e-motion is. The curvy, chunky design stands out, and is really comfortable to hold. And with most mid-range pens that have multiple ‘writing modes’ available - fountain pen, ballpoint, rollerball, pencil - the pencil is an afterthought. Often, the pencil is a slight modification to the ballpoint, using a pencil mechanism shaped to fit in place of the ballpoint refill, and a change to the end to add an eraser.
The e-motion range feels like the pencil was designed first - if it wasn’t, Faber-Castell definitely put in the effort to make it special. It uses the now old-fashioned twist-advance mechanism. Not the ‘twist-click’ that many use, but an internal threaded mechanism that winds the lead down as you turn the top, rather than advancing it in clicks. It uses 1.4mm leads - a bit thinner than the common 2mm size used for clutch pencils, but twice as thick as most pencils made for writing. A single lead seems to last for ages in our use, and there’s space for six spare leads inside the barrel.
It’s definitely a pencil that wants to be used - not one added because some people will want a matching pencil to go with the ballpoint or fountain pen.
It’s been talked about a lot, so we almost skipped it for this post, but it just felt wrong to not include it. The Kuru Toga was one of the biggest new things to come to mechanical pencils for years. A simple and reliable mechanism rotates the lead as you write or draw, so it doesn’t wear down to a chisel-shaped point and dig into the paper. It also keeps a slightly finer edge, so the line says a bit thinner and more defined. And it really works.
There are now quite a few different models, from great value plastic ones, to more luxurious ones with mostly metal bodies, all with that genuinely useful mechanism.
Another recent innovation came from Zebra, this time aimed at those who get a bit carried away and snap their leads. There are two types of protection in the DelGuard, one that’s relatively common, and one that we haven’t seen anywhere else. Firstly, the lead mechanism is sprung, so if you put pressure on downwards, the lead can push back up to avoid breakage. Quite a few pencils do this, and it can help, or just make for a more comfortable writing experience. The problem is that you’re not usually putting all the pressure on a pencil straight down, it’s usually at an angle, or even mostly sideways, which is what usually makes the lead snap.
Zebra have created a very clever system where the metal part surrounding the lead is on a gentle spring, and has angled parts, such that when you apply pressure sideways, it gets pushed out forwards, to protect the lead. It’s difficult to explain, but it does work.
In our testing, you can snap the lead if you really try to, but the DelGuard mechanism steps in when you’re being rough, and really does save the lead most of the time.
A bit of an oddball, the Minimo is just tiny. If we’re being honest, it’s a bit too small to use comfortably, but it’s not intended to be a pencil you use all day. It’s a pencil to tuck away in a tiny space, inside a wallet, or taking up almost not space at all in a bag. It’s made to be the pencil you use when you need one, but don’t have one with you, after you remember you actually have one hidden away after all!
2 July 2020