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

Noodler’s Inks


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.

–David Derbes

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.

–Oliver Hulland


[Noodler's Inks put together this really thorough PDF detailing the various properties of all their inks. It's worth a look. ]

Noodler’s Bulletproof Black Ink

Available from Amazon

Noodler’s Red Fox Eternal Fountain Pen Ink
Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Noodler’s Inks

Zebra Compact and Telescoping Pens

zebra telescoping.jpeg

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.

–K. Rhainos

zebra compact.jpegThe 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!

–Chris Acree


Zebra F-301 Compact Pen
$7 for two pack
Available from Amazon

Zebra Telescopic Ballpoint Pen
Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Zebra Pens

Cambridge Quad Notebook

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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.

-- Oliver Hulland  

Cambridge Quad Notebook

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Mead

Sample Excerpts:

Don’t mind the illegible scrawlings, and instead take note of the warmer tone.

Ticonderoga Sensematic Auto-Feed Pencil


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!

-- Stephanie Moore  

[Though it is not marketed as "refillable" many people have reported being able to refill this with standard mechanical pencil lead.--OH]

Dixon Ticonderoga Sensematic Auto-Feed Pencil
0.7 mm
Pack of 5

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Dixon Ticonderoga

Lamy Safari Fountain Pen


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.

-- Andrew Jones  

Lamy Safari Fountain Pen
Available from Jet Pens

Lamy Safari Refillable Ink Converter Z24
Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Lamy

Atoma Notebook


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.

-- Matthias Jordan  

[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 ]

Atoma Notebooks
6.5″ x 8.5″
8.5″ x 11″

Available from Myndology in the US.

Available from Manufactum in Europe

Manufactured by Atoma

Cobra Ink System


Good riddance paper! Someday.

Meanwhile I have stacks of color pages I have to print. I am designing a few full-color books and that means proofing them on paper so I really need really cheap printing. Those spammy refill ink cartridges aren’t cheap or dependable enough.

After much research and trial and error I found that the easiest cheapest method of printing is a continuous ink supply built into a printer. Once you are set up you can buy ink inexpensively by the pint, quart or gallon. A pint bottle of ink will cost no more than one of those itty bitty 1 oz. cartridges and will last hundreds of times as long.

A continuous ink system runs tubes from the refillable ink containers into the moving ink head in the printer. The printer operates normally. You simply refill the outside container with bulk ink and keep printing on the same originally installed cartridges. There are a number of outfits that will sell you a kit to do this yourself. I’ve heard of occasional satisfaction with this method. But installing this gear can get really messy and hairy. You are on your own if it does not work correctly. And some printer models are easier to retrofit than others.

I opted for a more elegant and not that much more expensive option: have the pros do it. Cobra Systems will install their continuous ink supply system on twelve different brand new Epson printer models. For about $50-100 more than the cost of the new printer, they will ship you a ready-to-use modified new printer with refillable ink containers already installed. Because this modification voids Epson’s warranty, they provide their own warranty. They guarantee it will work. Period. In fact, in my experience Cobra’s service is amazing. They will make absolutely sure your system is working to your satisfaction no matter what, even if they have swap it out at their cost.

Because Epson (and all the other printer manufacturers) discourage these kinds of workarounds of their pricey inks, there are some kludgy maintenance steps (like squeezing a bypass switch every now and then) needed to fool the cartridges into going beyond their programmed death. But these inconveniences are minor.

The Epson printers work as advertised. You can get a new 8×11 Epson Workforce 30 installed out of the box with a bulk ink system for $100. I’ve been using a new Epson Workforce 1100 with the Cobra-modified system installed for $280. It’s a serious large-format general purpose printer for up to 11 x 17 inch pages, with 5 huge ink tanks. After about 30 minutes of easy set up, purging the system of air from shipping, I was ready to print. I now churn out hundreds of 11 x 17 full color pages for a few dollars worth of ink. I saved the extra cost of the continuous ink system in the first week of use. (It’s shocking how much ink is consumed when a printer cleans its heads.) You can get long-lasting pigment inks, or high-heat inks, or plain old dye inks. Half a liter (a pint) of dye ink goes for $27. Compare that to the thimblefull in most ink cartridges.

Important caveat: You need to situate the printer in a work place you don’t mind getting stained with spots of color because even though the system is well designed to minimize spills, the inks are not sealed and sooner or later you WILL spatter some ink at some point. Count on it. Also, since the ink tanks are velcro’d to the side of the printer, these units won’t win any style prizes if that is important to you.

For most folks a bulk system is overkill. If all you need is infrequent home printing, I still recommend the previously reviewed HP OfficeJet K5400 as the cheapest per page cost for an off-the-shelf device. But if you are doing large volume printing, saying proofing a book, or running a T-shirts business (Cobra’s main customers), or printing flyers and posters, then I recommend Cobra’s continuous ink system and their fantastic support. (You can also send them your own Epson printer and have them add their continuous ink supply.)

-- KK  

Epson Workforce 1100 with Cobra dye ink system
Available from Cobra Ink

Over-Sized Post-Its

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As a long-time aficionado of office supplies, I feel qualified to review this wonderful new (to me, at least) product. These über-Post-its measure 4″ x 4″ and are a different kettle of fish entirely from others I’ve used. Namely their Lilliputian 1.5″ x 2″, 2″ x 3″, and 3″ x 3″ brethren. These have an entirely different heft and presence under your pencil or pen or Sharpie.

And I like that these notes are lined, because I’m now using them as an aide-mémoire regarding what’s upcoming each day on my blog Book Of Joe. There are just enough lines on them for my eight daily posts and their working titles.

Finally, by combining them with an ultra-fine point retractable Sharpie, I’ve found note-taking heaven on Earth.

-- Joe Stirt  

[For those who prefer naked Post-Its, you can get lineless 4"x6" ones from Amazon.]

Post-It Super Sticky Notes
$12 for six pads

Manufactured by Post-It