Zebra 4C Pen Refill

I don’t own the pen where this product is used as a refill, but I do use this in situations as an emergency back-up micro-pen.

I keep one in my wallet for the times when I don’t have a regular pen, and they’re the right size for a pocket-sized or mint-tin survival kit.

It has a good flow for a pen without a body. Not good for long-form writing, but it’ll more than do for a quick signature or short note.

-- Tony Prudori  

Zebra 4C Pen Refill
$5 / 2-pack

Available from Amazon

Swingline ClassicCut Lite 12 Inch Guillotine Trimmer

My wife is a teacher and we do lots of printing on card stock and cutting on card stock. For many years I used a paper cutter with a blade that slides down a channel. It worked fine for 1 or 2 pages of card stock, but beyond that the blade was hard to slide and the paper had a tendency to slip, especially when going quickly.

When the blade dulled, I decided to try a guillotine style trimmer. These are the trimmers I remember from my youth in school. The ones in school looked like they could cut wood. This is a home-appropriate version that handles 5-6 sheets of card stock with ease and probably exceeds the 10 regular sheets it claims.
It’s also much faster and less prone to movement as you cut. It is more expensive than the sliding models, but for large volumes, it’s worth the extra cost.

One caveat, I have no young kids in the house, but I imagine it’s a lot easier to injure yourself with this than with the razor models (the blade retracts into a cover when you’re not cutting). I’d recommend keeping it well out of reach of small hands and paying close attention to your own hands when using it.

-- Chris Hartmann  

Swingline ClassicCut Lite 12 Inch Guillotine Trimmer

Available from Amazon

New Perspective Systems

A short, definitive tutorial on all 6 perspectives in art. Starts with 1 vanishing point and goes through 6 vanishing points for a completely spherical view. Understanding multi-point perspectives is useful to not only artists and designers, but also to photographers and folks dabbling in Virtual Reality, or anyone trying to map the physical world onto a 2D surface. These lessons are presented in a 40-page PDF, which include some grids to practice on.


New Perspective Systems
Dick Termes
1998, 40 pages, PDF

Available from Dick Termes

Sample Excerpts:


Carl Heavy Duty Pencil Sharpener

I’m a teacher, so pencils are a big deal for me. I learned of this while researching another pencil sharpener reviewed on Cool Tools. Now that I have it, I couldn’t be happier.

It resembles an old-fashioned wall pencil sharpener from any classroom, but is not wall-mountable. (For me, that’s a feature, because it won’t telegraph the grinding noise through the walls into the room.)

So how can an unmounted classic crank pencil sharpener be used with only two hands? (I don’t have one hand to hold/anchor the unit, another to turn the crank, and a third hand to push the pencil in!)

The answer is in its unique feature: The sharpener, after being extended (you’ve got to see the picture) grabs your pencil, maintains good pressure and self-feeds it into the sharpener. You let go of your pencil, use one hand to hold the base (either in mid-air or anchor it to a shelf) while the other hand turns the crank. When the crank starts turning freely, your pencil is sharp as a tack. (There is an included shelf-mounting clip, and I read about people who rigged up their own mount, but I’m happy to go two-handed.)

These are made by Carl, whose name I recognized from high-end paper cutters. I purchased the basic one, available widely for $25, even though I really want the $45 one, which lets you select from 5 different tip sharpnesses. (I really prefer a blunter tip.) But I wasn’t ready to spend that much on a new technology. Now that I’m familiar with it, I’ll look for an excuse to buy the preferred one, called the “CC-2000″.

When I unscrewed the blade mechanism (which I might have to do to dislodge a broken tip or even eventually replace the blade), I saw what looks like a perfectly standard classroom single blade: a cylinder with spiral cutting edges. Replacement blades are available although, at $20, they cost almost as much as a new machine.

A negative feature, though tolerable for me, is that the clamp mechanism leaves small “bite” marks on the pencil shaft where it clamped its tiny metal spring jaws. They’re not especially noticeable, but if you own high-quality pencils, the thought will make you wince.

I haven’t put this into hard use yet in my classroom, because it’s summer, but the website where I learned of this had rave reviews. It’s available in several satisfying colors, and if you search you can find quantity discounts ($14 for 36-at-a-time, for instance). It’s called different things – “Classroom-friendly pencil sharpener,” “Angel A5 pencil sharpener,” – but I think they’re all the same.

Before buying, make sure you see a video clip of how to use it – extend the spring-controlled holder, squeeze the mini-clamp, insert the pencil all the way and then release the squeeze. Then let go of the pencil and turn the crank. I bet there have been purchasers who didn’t learn to extend the holder – big fail.

I’ve always preferred electric pencil sharpeners, even spending $100 on one once. But this is now my tool of choice.

-- Craig Wilson  

CARL Angel-5 Pencil Sharpener

Available from Amazon

UPS Express Envelope

These sturdy envelopes are perfect for organizing and carrying travel documents (boarding passes, maps, hotel confirmation printouts, passport photocopies, etc.).The smooth finish on the envelopes allows them to easily slide in and out of your carry-on luggage, messenger bag, or airline seat pocket. They take up almost no additional space and organize and protect your paper documents in a single location. Instead of rummaging around through my bags for individual documents, I can keep everything together in a tidy package for quick access throughout my trip. I’ve also started carrying a second envelope to hold receipts for reimbursements. When the trip is finished I use the self-sealing flap to make sure nothing falls out until I’m ready to fill out my post-travel reimbursement forms. I’ve been using them for nearly 10 years while traveling through over 20 different countries on planes, trains, buses, taxis, tuk tuks, and all other means of transportation. They have yet to let me down.

Best of all they’re free and recyclable. After the primary use of the envelope is complete (i.e. using UPS to send a letter), don’t recycle them quite yet. Hold onto them until you need them for travel. Each envelope is quite durable and should last several trips. USPS, FedEx, and DHL offer similar envelopes, and separating your documents by category into one envelope from each brand can allow one to further organize your travel documents. Even in an age where travel documents are becoming increasingly digitized, I never have to worry about my paper map or boarding pass running out of batteries, and these mailing envelopes keep all my essential documents at my fingertips.

-- C Brodersen  

UPS Express Envelope

Frixion Erasable Pens

Frixion erasable pens are hugely popular in Japan, but relatively unknown in the States. I didn’t even hear about them myself until 2012, though the product has existed for 5+ years.

Frixion pens are not the smearing horror pens that you may have used in school — the ink is not rubbed away — it actually becomes invisible when heated with an erasing motion of the rubber tailcap. No eraser dust is generated.

This pen allows me to take correctable notes at work at the speed and detail I desire, yet have the text be dark enough that the resulting documents can be read when scanned.

As electronic documents become more popular, I think Frixion pens will have a bigger role in replacing mechanical pencils, whose gray output is not always clear when scanned.

The pens come in gel, marker, and highlighter types with various colors. They are easy to come by at your local office and grocery stores, and are as cheap as $2 a pen.

Of course, I wanted something with a finer tip, and more business-appropriate, so I sprung for a 0.4mm, metal-frame LF-2SP4-B business-style Frixion pen.

Note: Because the ink disappears under heat, do not leave your notes in a car on a hot, summer day, as they will disappear. They are recoverable by putting the document in the freezer, however. That brings up a concern about whether or not text erased by the tailcap can be recovered in the freezer. From my experience, when the tailcap is used to erase text, it’s mostly unrecoverable by the freezer method.

-- Kaz Mori  

Pilot FriXion Ball Erasable Gel Pens
Prices vary based on model

Available from Amazon

Parker Jotter Pen

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.

-- Seth Wilson  

Parker Stainless Steel Jotter Pen

Available from Amazon

Mirado Black Warrior Pencil

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).

-- Tom Anvari  

[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]

Mirado Black Warrior Pencil
$3.50 a dozen

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Papermate

Kum Long Point Pencil Sharpener

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.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

Kum Two Hole Automatic Long Point Pencil Sharpener

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Kum

Pentel Twist Erase III

Pentel Twist Erase III.png

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.

-- Harvey Chapman  

Pentel Twist Erase III

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Pentel