After getting back into fountain pens after a twenty some odd years of not having used one since elementary school, I realized I also haven’t used mechanical pencils in a while since moving to the US in grade school. In Shanghai, most elementary school kids have mechanical pencils. With 1st and 2nd graders using 0.9mm and then gradually going to 0.7mm and then 0.5mm in the upper elementary grades. In the US, it was all about the Ticonderoga #2 wooden pencil. In fact, I have never seen an American style hand cranked wooden pencil sharpener until I started grade school here.
Anyway, I ended up choosing 4 different mechanical pencils after reading a few online articles. Rotring 600 ($24), Rotring 800 retractable ($40), Pentel Graph Gear 1000 ($11), and Staedtler 925 25-05 ($11). All of them in 0.5mm, and Amazon was pretty quick with the shipping and the Rotrings well below MSRP.
I started with the Rotring 600, and really enjoyed writing with it. It is super solid, great weight, heft, balance, and just well constructed. However, the lead sleeve is pointy and I didn’t think it would survive in my bag, so I wanted to see what else was out there. Rotring makes a retractable version of the 600, the 800. The 800 adds some gold accents that took me some getting used to. Sort of like people who gold plate their Lexus emblems. But after a couple of days with it, I got used to it, and now think the tone of the accents aren’t too shiny and fits the black of the pencil rather well. The 800 is ever so slightly chubbier than the 600, and the retraction mechanism added a little bit of wobble. I opened the pencil and added a piece of tape to the inside barrel and the wobble went away. But really, shouldn’t have to MacGyver a pencil this fancy with gold accents. The 800 trades portability for added mechanical complexity and a slightly less overall solid feel than the 600.
Pentel Graph Gear 1000 is much lighter than either Rotrings, and the retraction mechanism is activated by the clip. Pressing on the clip releasing the notch on the barrel and it moves up the main body of the pencil. It is part metal, part plastic. It is a great mechanical pencil, but because it is not as solid as the Rotrings, it writes just as well, but doesn’t feel as substantial.
Both the Pentel and the 600 have rings that you can select to remind yourself what kind of lead you have in the pencil for people with real professional use of the pencils as opposed to everyday office note taking.
The Staedtler 925 25-05 is just a nice, no frills, no nonsense, comfortable, capable mechanical pencil. The Toyota Corolla of mechanical pencils really.
When I do feel like using a pencil, the 800 will go in my bag with the Pentel as the back up. The 600 will be in the office pen cup, and the Staedtler will probably around the house as needed.