Earlier this year I purchased a Parker Jotter stainless steel pen based purely on its cool factor as being the pen that James Bond used in the 1995 film Goldeneye, as I had seen on the Bond Lifestyle web page. I searched for it online and ended up purchasing one from my local office and art supply store. I appreciated its sleek design and modest price coupled with the cool factor instantly… but the more I used the pen during my work days the more I came to appreciate it, for you see this pen ultimately changed my life.
As a teacher I am called upon to sign documents on a near daily basis — sign this attendance report, sign this behavior report, write a tardy slip, sign this check out form, etc. It seems never ending. I found myself constantly fumbling for a pen, having to borrow pens that had bits of tape on them or had been turned into paper-mache flowers to make sure they didn’t “walk away” in someones pocket. It was humiliating, but what is one to do when operating on a modest teacher’s salary? Plastic pens were pedestrian and forgettable, clicking gel pens with oversized rubbery cushioned grips were tedious when removing or inserting into the standard pen-socket that my button up shirts provided. Only the Parker Jotter was suitable for my needs! Its slippery profile glides into my shirt pocket, the light weight barely noticeable. It is easily retrieved and the polished components in the pen cap provide the authoritarian click that I need to sign these endless cascades of documents with prudence. Its smooth writing allows my own graceful chicken scratch to be properly rendered, with little hand cramping during extended grading sessions. At a modest price of between $10 to $15 for the stainless steel model, this classic writing implement should be owned by all. When I rise at the ungodly hour required and begin my daily rituals of preparing for my work life, I experience a sense of satisfaction when I pick up my Jotter and realize there is one more thing to look forward to.
Compared to similarly priced models the Parker Jotter provides value. I have a Zebra F-301 that I carry as a backup and find the design to be over wrought, with a useless and slippery plastic grip. It feels like I am scratching the paper compared to the Jotter. Anyone that appreciates the classic slip stream design of the 60s will fall in love with the Jotter, just as I have.
The Mirado Black Warrior pencil is made in the USA from high quality materials, available practically everywhere, and, very importantly, cheap (hey, it’s a pencil, after all).
The Black Warrior’s No. 2/HB graphite is darker and softer than standard No. 2′s and has a wax additive to make it smoother. The writing experience is noticeably superior to most other pencils. It’s easier and more satisfying to write with, with less effort involved. The barrel is round, with a good hand feel, but that also means it rolls off inclined surfaces. One other con: the Pink Pearl eraser has pumice in it, which can abrade paper, unlike nylon erasers.
Other than that, it is flawless (and the cedar is pleasingly aromatic when freshly sharpened). Cheaper pencils aren’t a bargain if they’re hard to sharpen, scratchy to write with, and the lead tends to break. More expensive graphite pencils that are more suited to artists, along with the frequently mentioned Blackwings, don’t seem as practical at $20 for 12, in my opinion. They’re like the Ferraris of pencils, and harder to source than the Mirado.
I’ve used these pencils for over a year, and haven’t found one that has more bang for the buck. Paired with the Kum sharpener, these are a no-brainer part of my EDC (every day carry).
[On my friend Michael Pusateri's advice, I ordered 3 dozen of these pencils. They are about 90% as good as my favorite pencil, the Blackwing 602, which costs five times as much as the Mirado Black Warrior. -- Mark Frauenfelder]
I use soft pencils and I bear down hard when I write. As a result, I have to resharpen the pencils frequently. A few years ago I came across this pocket-size two-hole pencil sharpener and now swear by it. It produces very sharp points and does so efficiently. Joe Stirt reviewed it here in 2011, but I thought it would be worthwhile to take some photos to show how it works:
Hole 1 shaves just the pencil’s wood casing , exposing (but barely touching) the graphite. You are left with a cylinder of graphite sticking out of the pencil tip, as shown below.
Hole 2 sharpens the graphite to a point, but does not shave the wood.
You can easily control the sharpness.
When it’s time to resharpen, I try hole 2 first. I can usually get a few sharpenings this way before I go back to hole 1. Because of the way it sharpens, pencils last much longer.
After reading about the previously reviewed slightly more luxurious Pentel Sharp Kerry I would highly recommend the Pentel Twist Erase III pencils for their comfort and larger lead size. They come in a 0.9mm lead size and are very comfortable to hold. The larger lead size hardly ever breaks and feels like a sharpened #2 pencil in use. They also have a larger-than-normal eraser that is actually useful, a rare feature with mechanical pencils. They come in a 2-pack for about $10. They are functional rather than fancy.
I’ve had a couple of these for about four years, and they still look the same as they did when purchased. I guard them jealously because I have always been afraid that Pentel would stop selling them. However, it seems that the larger lead sizes must be catching on since I noticed a large assortment of 0.7mm and larger size pencils during a recent office store visit. Should you be unlucky enough to lose one, you can find them at most office stores. They also come in 0.5 and 0.7mm sizes.
I’ve been using Noodler’s inks in my fountain pens for at least six years. The basic Black is my favorite ink of all time, dries fast, and is utterly impervious to water or erasure once dried on paper. The Fox Red is also a favorite. Expensive, but very cheap in comparison to disposable ballpoints, and much better for the environment.
Though I am only a recent convert to the world of fountain pens, I have been really impressed with the Noodler’s Bulletproof Black Ink. When I first got started I tried a number of inks including some from Lamy and Parker only to find my writing would fade and wash away with the slightest hint of moisture. I decided I needed something more permanent.
My research paid off when I discovered Noodler’s Inks. Noodler’s ink is all made in the USA. I’ve been impressed with the amount of information they provide regarding the various qualities and properties of their ink. As far as their ink goes, it’s great. The black ink that I use isn’t as richly black as others, but it certainly holds up to the bulletproof claim when faced with the elements (water, sun, etc). In terms of ink flow, I have found the Noodler’s to be perfect for my needs (although the ink is only one half of the equation, the nib being the other). I use a fine nib, and have never had a problem. I will point out, though, that this is variable from ink to ink (and nib to nib) even from the same manufacturer.
Noodler’s Ink is sold in larger volumes (88 ml vs 50 ml, in most cases) but at a lower cost per unit volume when compared to other brands. The one bottle of Bulletproof Black I bought doesn’t look like it will be running out anytime soon in the next few years.
Finally, Noodler’s produces a range of specialty inks with different classifications including fluorescence, forgery resistance, and archival fade-resistance to name but a few. I highly recommend poking around their website to learn more.
[Noodler's Inks put together this really thorough PDF detailing the various properties of all their inks. It's worth a look. ]
I’ve always wanted a small pen to keep with me at all times for quick notes and such. I’ve even considered taking a hacksaw to the venerable Bic ballpoint pen to keep in my wallet. One of the things that kept me from doing that was worrying about it exploding and flooding my pocket with ink.
Fortunately, Zebra has come up with a far more elegant and affordable solution with the Telescopic and F-301 Compact pens. Both feature a metal body made popular in their other pens. The telescopic pen body extends to a regular pen length when full telescoped, and exposes the tip, ready to write. Retracting the pen body for stowage fully retracts the tip safely into the body, like a frightened turtle. It fits neatly in the fold of my tri-fold wallet. I found them at my local OfficeMax for about $5. So far, it’s survived some gnarly crashes during snowboarding trips, and being sat on daily with out a single dent.
The Zebra Compact closes to a small size and has a clip for shirt pockets. I have used this pen for a couple of years. In the past I’ve used the previously reviewed Fisher Space Pen but they are expensive and easy to lose because they are so smooth. This pen is cheap and even cheaper when you can find them at Walmart. Not only that but the refills are cheap, too!
Having just finished a year of math and science heavy coursework, I am confident in stating that the Cambrdige Quad Wirebound Notebook is one of the best tools I’ve used all year. Notebooks may seem like a silly thing to get worked up about, but having used this day-in and day-out for a year, I can attest that it makes a difference.
When I first started looking for a notebook I was astonished by how much variety existed (especially in the world of graph paper), and consequently how much vitriol is generated by crappy notebooks. Everything from paper thickness to perforation was a potential sore spot. After field testing several varieties it was immediately clear that the Cambridge Quad was the winner.
Why this particular notebook? It has the perfect weight paper that doesn’t bleed when using a variety of pens (I’m partial to the previously reviewed Lamy Safari with Noodler’s Bulletproof Black Ink, and the Pentel Sharp Kerry mechanical pencil). It’s perforations make for clean tearing, but are strong enough that they never unwittingly lose sheets. At 70-sheets per notebook, it’s not too big, and the spiral binding holds up throughout its life (which hasn’t been the case for other notebooks I’ve tried). Finally, the the paper in the Cambridge notebook has a warmer tone which provides for a nice contrast while also making it simple to distinguish any of my assignments in a pile.
At the end of the day these notebooks are nice enough that I’ve stocked up on them in case they decide to stop production.
Don’t mind the illegible scrawlings, and instead take note of the warmer tone.
I’ve been using the Ticonderoga Sensematic Auto-Feed Mechanical Pencil (0.7mm, #2) from our college bookstore for awhile now. The difference between this and other mechanical pencils is that the lead automatically advances as you write. No clicking or twisting needed. This is a great benefit as the lead doesn’t accidentally advance while trying to erase.
Additionally, I normally break 0.7mm leads, but not with this pencil — the lead is kept short as it automatically advances, minimizing breakage. And while I like the looks of the pencils that have been previously reviewed on this site I’m not paying $16 or $17 for one since I am notorious for losing them!
[Though it is not marketed as "refillable" many people have reported being able to refill this with standard mechanical pencil lead.--OH]
Most fountain pens are appealing for their authoritative weight and the prestige of pushing an antique technology around the page. However, the Lamy Safari pen (designed by Wolfgang Fabian) re-thinks the fountain pen with comfort and accuracy in mind. It comes with a sturdy ergonomic grip similar too, but not as comfy as, the Dr. Grip. The pen is also made out of plastic making the weight (and cost) much less than a traditional fountain pen.
The Lamy weighs in at a meager $30 with ink costing about $2 to $5 dollars a bottle. The Safari is also frugal on ink; it runs a much smaller and tighter line than many pens meaning that the ink dries faster on the page, but do beware using ink from a different pen in the Lamy can clog it. You can see the ink cartridge at all times because a small part of the casing has been hollowed out.
Finally, the refillable cartridge snaps into place in the pen and is refillable through the pen’s stylus hence you don’t have to take everything apart when you want to refill (you do have to unscrew the top of the pen to get to the cart’s screw, but not the bottom) and also eliminating that first air bubble you get when placing traditional carts back in the pen. The plunger is operated by a screw action on the top making it easy to hold the pen in place while you refill it. It is also available as a left handed version.
Lamy also sells other pens with a similar design and grip if you’re looking for a more expensive or stylish pen, but despite the Safari’s minor flaws (I had major problems the first day getting it to write consistently until I watered down my ink) it’s quickly replaced my old Picasso pen for everyday scribbling. I now own two Lamys, using one for correcting tests and the other for everyday writing. The over-sized clip is also a bonus as it’s less likely to get bent out of shape by clinging to pockets, belts, etc.
I used to run around taking notes with my trusted Palm Tungsten E but found it clumsy for taking graphical notes and just scribbling around. Then I discovered Atoma note books in Manufactum’s online shop:
I have been using it for over a year and it has transformed my note taking. The difference between Atoma and regular note books (especially Moleskine) is that they are modular and customizable.
The sheets are held together by aluminium rings so the note books can be opened completely without the annoying bending that occurs at the edges of sheets in spiral binders. The sheets can also be removed and re-inserted, turned around and so on. You can combine printed sheets of different content (e.g. college ruling, blank, math paper) in one notebook.
You can also print your own pages and use the Atoma hole puncher to insert these custom sheets in your note book. When you remove a sheet there is nothing left in the binding, an issue that annoyed me every time when I used spiral bound note books. You can also put A7 sized sheets and A5 sized sheets into an A4 binder because the binding is the same for all sizes.
The Atoma is incredibly customizable, reusable, and has a great, durable form factor. Best. Note taking. Ever.
[We have, in the past, reviewed the similar Circa Levenger notebooks. The Atoma notebook is the European disc-binding equivalent and has been around since 1948.--OH ]