Greetings everyone, this is my first review, so any feedback would be appreciated! Apologies in advance for the not-so-great photos.. It’s all I can do with an iPhone and powerpoint..
I thought this would be a wonderful forum to place this in, since there are so many TWSBI fans here, and hopefully some of you may also be very interested in high quality mechanical pencils. Probably like many of you, I’ve been fascinated by mechanical pencils since grade school. I still remember when my elementary school friend Kurt brought a Pentel Quicker-Clicker to 4th grade and I was, of course, impressed. And extremely jealous. Since then, I’ve gone through a fair number of mechanical pencils, using them primarily for high school / college / grad school problem sets (math, physics, then primarily organic chemistry), which as many of you probably know, requires a sh*t ton of writing, drawing , erasing, re-writing, re-drawing, re-erasing, coffee, falling asleep in the library, waking up disoriented and realizing you’re still in the library, and then continuing on with the problem sets. Please note, I am not an architect, engineer, or artist, so although I do have an affinity for drafting mechanical pencils, this review is more geared towards the generalist, non-professional, pencil user.
Let’s start with why I chose the TWSBI pencil. I’d actually never heard of the brand until I started getting into fountain pens and started checking out FPN and all of Brian Goulet’s videos. Most other mechanical pencil brands I’m familiar with, but once I started looking at TWSBI for fountain pens, I was just curious about whether they are as consistent and successful with their pencils as they are with their pens, i.e., make a high quality product that is of excellent value for the price. Other than Brian’s excellent video reviews and introductions and the fairly sparse descriptions seen on the TWSBI website, I couldn’t find anything substantial about this pencil using Google. I looked at the wonderful and informative Dave’s mechanical pencil site and still couldn’t find anything. SO I thought it looks cool, TWSBI has apparently been in the business of making pencils for other companies for years (per their website), so let me check it out. Lastly, I didn’t just want to just become another Rotring 600 fanboy. I wanted something that none of the other nerds in the library have seen before. This time I was going to be Kurt from fourth grade.
The pencil I purchased from Gouletpens was the TWSBI Precision Mechanical Pencil (version 2.0) – Matte Silver, 0.5mm, Fixed Pipe. TWSBI also offers this pencil in matte black, in 0.7mm lead size, and in retractable sleeve. For some reason I prefer fixed sleeve pencils (TWSBI calls them fixed pipe). TWSBI does offer one in a more pocket-friendly retractable sleeve (err, retractable pipe), but I prefer fixed. I use a pencil case, so I’m immune from pencil point jabbing. Fixed sleeve is also required for drafting I guess (to put the pencil against a ruler?) but that’s not why I like them better. I like fixed sleeve better because I find there’s usually less perceptible wobble when writing with fixed compared to retractable sleeves, so my accuracy and my handwriting tend to be improved. Now I’m not sure what Version 1.0 looked like at all, but according to Gouletpens, I ordered the version 2.0
Right out of the box, I was very impressed. As you can see, pretty standard TWSBI cardboard box (although a bit thinner profile than the TWSBI fountain pen boxes), and inset into foam inside the box is the pencil, a lead container containing 12 extra leads, and 3 extra super-long erasers. 3 leads are loaded within the pencil itself, so I received a total of 15 leads. No other paperwork. Picking up the pencil I found that although it wasn’t very big, it was substantial in weight and evenly balanced. Not point-heavy, and not rear heavy, and center of gravity is somewhere around the middle of the pencil. Some people would give extra points to TWSBI for all the extras included in the box. Some would not, because if you’re willing to spend $25 for a pencil, you are likely already a mechanical pencil connoisseur, and therefore also have purchased a high quality eraser and high quality lead. I personally would give points here if I could, because it makes for a wonderful gift box to introduce someone to high quality mechanical pencils and their cool accessories. I think this is a wonderful, affordable, and fairly unique gift for a graduating high school senior that’s interested in math/science/art/engineering, for as I know personally, they would be getting a lot of use out of this pencil in the upcoming few years.
Appearance and Design: 9/10
Just take a look at it. Matte Silver aluminum, this pencil exudes high quality precision craftsmanship, The TWSBI name is not too big or garish on the barrel, 0.5 is legible, and there are enough unique design touches on this pencil (the TWSBI laser-engraved logo on the clip, the little vestibule on the top of the cap that shows off the eraser), so that when the pencil is in a pencil case with lots of other pencils/pens it is easily found. The brushed case also guarantees that this pencil will remain scratch-free for a long time and also look great. The grip is knurled in a rectangular pattern, and tapers into a what appears to be a slightly larger hexagonal body, which is great for preventing it from rolling off angled surfaces like drafting tables. Knurled grips always look cool in my opinion. I didn’t know this before I read more on dave’s mechanical pencil site, but apparently knurled grips are traditional for drafting pencils, because they help allow one to constantly rotate the pencil while drafting in order to maintain a fixed lead point / constant width on paper. That’s not why I bought it. It just looks cool, and feels great. I take 1 point off because if anything I just wish the grip were just a tad bit larger for my big hands (I may actually prefer the Uni Kuro-Toga Roulette grip size). I take 0.5 points off because I would have loved a lead hardness indicator (HB vs B vs 2B etc), although that’s really more for the artists / pros than for me. I add 0.5 points on because the design of the ridiculously super extra long eraser, which is kind of awesome for all the fine erasing one may do (that my standard go to Staedtler Mars Plastic eraser cannot get to)
Construction and Quality: 10/10
It just feels solid. Solid like a Rotring. No wobble, no wiggle. All metal construction (including all inner tubing). For $25, that’s a lot of pencil, as most pencils, even in that price range, have plastic insides these days. This pencil is built to last, and I think should last me many, many years. I love reading people gush in forums about their 25 yr lovefest with the Koh-i-noor Rapidomatic 5635 that has since been discontinued… When I'm old, I want to be like them, talking about this TWSBI. This pencil was engineered to last 25 years.
Weight and Dimensions: 9/10
Weight: 26g (0.92 oz), it is by far my heaviest pencil.
Length: 141mm total, the sleeve is 4mm (Gouletpens says the sleeve is 3.88mm, I bet they have fancy calipers so I’m sure they’re right)
Thickness: 9mm (the hexagonal barrel), 8mm diameter for the grip. (Goulet says 8.8mm and 7.9mm, respectively).
I attached some comparison photos from the rest of my mechanical pencil family. From top to bottom, there is
1) Uni Kuru Toga Roulette in 0.5mm
2) Pilot "The Shaker" H-305 0.5mm
3) Muji polycarbonate 0.5mm
4) Pentel P209 0.9mm
5) TWSBI Precision v2.0 0.5mm
6) Pentel Sharp Kerry - Blue P1037 0.7mm
7) Kaweco Ice Sport - Green 07mm
And also note, that for comparison to Rotring 600 (I don't have one), the dimensions of the TWSBI are fairly close. Per jetpens website, the Rotring 600 length is 141mm, max diameter is 9.1mm, grip is 8.1mm, although weight is 18g, which makes it a far lighter pencil than the TWSBI.
The TWSBI, despite its heavier weight, still feels like a fine writing instrument, i.e., nimble enough to make quick writing strokes without your hand getting tired. I have yet to have any lead break (many say that is an issue with heavier pens and thinner leads like 0.5s—I think those people just don’t have enough finesse with their pencil handwriting). My initial concern of all-metal construction and the weight of the TWSBI was that the pencil would become too heavy and therefore quite burdensome when writing for prolonged stretches. After two weeks of heavy writing, I haven’t noticed any such issues. What I’ve been pleasantly surprised at is that the weight allows me to significantly lighten the pressure that I’m used to applying when using pencils, and still generate a wonderful dark perfect line. I’ve also noted that relaxing my normally tight pencil grip makes the writing experience even more comfortable and pleasurable (and also leaves no knurled imprints on my fingers anymore!), as the weight and the knurled grip still prevents the pencil from slipping out of my hand. That means I’m just coaxing the lead left and right and around rather than really having to exert any effort pushing it down onto the paper. Writing with this pencil is so fluid, it becomes much more like a fountain pen experience, so I think it is actually one of the most attractive and unique features of this heavier pencil that is superbly well-balanced. Lastly one of the best things about a well-balanced pencil (rather than a point-heavy one) is that when you drop it (as I tend to do), the pencil is less likely to land on the nib sleeve and bend the sleeve. I take one point off just because I wonder if a slightly thicker grip would improve my handwriting even more for my slightly larger-than-average hands. I guess I already took one point off for that in the Design section, but since I continue to wonder about it, I will continue to subtract points for it.
Nib and Performance: 10/10
Fixed sleeve (pipe) vs retracting sleeve (pipe). Have your pick, they’re both available in this pencil. I attached some photos of a black retractable sleeve version of this same pencil. Some people love retractable sleeves as it makes these pencils pocket-friendly and therefore more convenient. Some people don’t love them because of possible increased sleeve wobble, which leads to less precise writing. Also harder/impossible to use for drafting as you'll damage the retractable sleeve against a ruler I guess. One thing to note is that the retractable sleeve length version of the TWSBI is slightly shorter than the fixed sleeve length. Per Gouletpens website, it is 2.75mm vs 3.88mm, as seen in these pics. I ordered and kept the fixed sleeve length, because I like how it keeps my hand and fingers at a certain distance from the paper and from the point of the pencil. It allows for great visibility of the lead on the paper, and for my size hands, I like it more.
The most interesting note to make here is comparing this “nib” to one of my other pencils, the unique Uni Kuro Toga Roulette, which auto-rotates its lead in-between applying pressure on paper. The Kuro Toga therefore keeps a consistent lead point, and is wonderful, but there is a very slight perceptible give on the nib when applying pressure in order to make nib mechanism rotate the lead. I never even noticed this until I started writing with the TWSBI and found what a solid heavy-weighted pencil should feel like, and how wonderful writing with light pressure can be. In order to take advantage of the Uni Kuro Toga rotating nib, I have to use just a tad more downward force to generate the same thickness of line (because it’s a lighter pen) as I do the TWSBI, so in my opinion, the TWSBI is a superior writing pencil for long periods of time, as it requires far less energy and less downward force to be applied to generate a similar line darkness/thickness. If you allow the TWSBI a week of writing in order to slightly change the way you write with a pencil (less firm grip, less downward pressure), you won’t go back to any other pencil.
Things I will not really comment on that hopefully someone will chime in on: 1) the included eraser. I use Staedtler Mars Plastic or Uni Boxy almost exclusively, so rarely use the back eraser on mechanical pencils, and therefore don’t want to write about it. I think it’s nice that they have a huge one, which will especially be helpful to students and crossword puzzlers 2) the included lead (graphite). I replaced the included lead with Uni NanoDia 0.5 HB— my all-time favorite lead for hardness, smoothness, and that gives me a more accurate baseline lead to compare it to my other pencils.
Filling System: 10/10
The mechanism is a standard push top ratchet advance. When I push, I hear a very positive fairly loud “click”, which I like. Very consistent. When depressing the top, consistent pressure is required and the top will depress about 3mm before a click and lead advances. There is no “free” travel before getting to the actuation point for the lead to advance (which I find slightly annoying, and is often seen on other mechanical pencils). Ten clicks will give you around 6 mm of lead. No plastic components that I can see. Gouletpens shows a nice inside view of the pencil. I haven’t figured out how to take this thing apart, as I’m afraid to twist too hard, and I don’t want to use pliers—yes, the inside tubing is screwed on that tightly to the outside case.
Cost and Value: 8/10
OK so here is the interesting question and probably the biggest debate—I purchased this for $25 (plus shipping) from Gouletpens. It’s $25 with free shipping on Amazon (when filled directly by TWSBI). But I like Gouletpens and ordered from them because they’re so informative and have great customer service, and I wanted a few other things from them, so I find their shipping cost negligible. On Amazon right now, you can get a Rotring 600 for $24.99 (with free shipping if you’re prime). On Amazon, you can also get a Uni Kuru Toga Roulette for $12.49 - $12.87 (with free shipping if you’re prime). A Rotring 800, however, costs $54.77, which is essentially a 600 with a retractable sleeve (and slightly larger). I think the TWSBI with retractable sleeve, which also sells for exactly the same price as fixed sleeve of $25, is a great deal when compared to other high quality retractable sleeve pencils, aka Rotring 800, which is more than twice the price. I think the TWSBI with fixed sleeve isn’t as well-priced, and should be priced lower. At $20, they would definitely clean up the market and hit that sweet spot of awesome value for quality that the TWSBI fountain pens are known for. At $25, it’s hard to not turn down the Rotring 600 as your first stop to high end mechanical pencils, then try the Uni Kuru Toga Roulette for $13, and then, finally, try out the TWSBI and never return to the others. Then again, these prices are modest compared to FP prices, so I don’t really know why I’m subtracting two points on this section. I will, because I’m comparing the TWSBI fixed sleeve to other fixed sleeve mechanical pencils.
Conclusion 56/60 = 9.3/10
This is an oustanding mechanical pencil, and should make the top 5 for general mechanical pencils (and probably top 5 for technical/drafting mechanical pencils as well). Go out and get one. $25 is not a lot for a fountain pen, but it is a lot for a mechanical pencil. But you get a lot for your money. And for fountain pen enthusiasts who need a pencil every once in a while, you will really enjoy the writing experience this pencil will offer. But be forewarned, after a week with the TWSBI, you may not enjoy writing with any other mechanical pencil again.
- Perfectly balanced for long-writing: notes / drawing / drafting.
- Gorgeous top-notch construction- will last 25 years.
- Heavy weight allows you to become more efficient with your hand-writing.
- Unique—no one else on the block will have one.
1. Really hard pressed to comment on any substantive cons—maybe the grip could be a bit thicker, but I’m wary to really push for that, as a thicker grip may interrupt the precision feeling with the current weight. Maybe thicken the grip and simultaneously drop the weight a bit would be my suggestion for version 3.0? But I don’t know and would have to test it to see if I’d prefer it to the current.