What Is It?
A clutch pencil. They were very popular before automatic pencils came along, much less common now.
Compared with Automatic Pencils
Problems with Automatic Pencils
- Lead is very thin. Usually 0.5mm. 0.7mm commonly available too, but even that is really a bit thin for sketching, and breaks too easily for writing if you’re heavy-handed. Not sure why such narrow sizes have become so popular, but people do seem to keep buying them.
- When carried in a pocket, they tend to stab you in the leg. That sharp thin lead, coupled with a nice easy-action button can be quite painful.
How This Is Better
- Lead is 2mm thick – thick enough to be strong on its own, so it can be used reasonably roughly without breaking. Still thin enough for drawing with, though you may need to sharpen it before using it for detailed stuff.
- When crushed in the pocket, the button won’t get pushed in, because it pushes the clutch arms directly out of the tip. Difficult to explain, but if you put it between your hands and push together, it doesn’t open out. The exposed tip isn’t thin enough to break skin or pockets either.
How This Is Worse
- A 0.5mm automatic pencil will never need sharpening. This will for doing detailed bits.
- Not as quick to use – you have to hold a finger (paper, table, whatever) under the pen where you want the lead to get to, then push the button, otherwise the lead just keeps falling. Putting it back in is quick, though – just push the button with the pencil upside down. The lead just falls back inside.
Button at the top – hides a sharpener in a hole in the tip – pull the button out, push the lead in the hole and twist.
Knurled metal grip – not slippery at all.
Clutch mechanism. When you push the button, three arms push out of the front of the pen, and open out to release the lead. With the lead dropped back inside the pencil, they retract almost completely back in, but when gripping the lead, they stay forward of the tip. You position the lead by holding the button in, sliding it to where you want it, and releasing the button to grip it. Push the button in with the pencil pointing downwards without anything under it, and your lead lands on the floor.
I find it a little thin. The Pilot Croquis Pencils are shorter and chunkier, which makes them more comfortable to hold, but their lead is much thicker too. I prefer the Mars. The metal grip is very good – not at all slippery. The only real drawback is that it looks distinctly old fashioned. Still, that may well be because it is. The last pencil of this type I remember using belonged to my grandparents. Now, however, this is my favourite pencil.
The spare leads come in 12-packs, in one of the most splendid bits of packaging around. They’re laid out in six little compartments in a tray, two leads to each compartment. The cover of the tray slides back, and the bottom slides up a curved path like a roller shutter. The leads can then slide forwards out of the box.
In the top end of the box, another slider reveals a small plastic rod. Pink, it was, and I had no idea what it was for. Finally, I realised that it was the same colour as the band on the label with the lead hardness on it – 4B on the ones I’d got. Presumably, other lead hardnesses have different coloured rods in them. the rod can be fitted to the actual pencil as a replacement button, so you can tell which pencil contains which type of lead. You’d have to remember the colours, but I guess most people wouldn’t be carrying too many different grades anyway.