The best mechanical pencils 1: The Pilot Shaker


“The Shaker”: My no. 1 push pencil.

I own and have used mechanical pencils (or push pencils, with 0.3 mm to 0.9 mm graphite leads) and clutch pencils (with 1.6 mm, 2.0 mm and 5.6 mm leads) since my high school days. Over the years, having experienced (and suffered) many different models – Caran d’Ache, Staedtler, Rotring, Spalding, Parker, Sheaffer, Cross, Lamy, Faber-Castell (so many I cannot even remember them all), I have gradually settled on four models of mechanical pencils and only one model of clutch pencils. Those are the very best for me.

The mechanical pencils I use for writing and drafting are, in order of preference:

  1. Pilot’s “The Shaker” 0.5 mm H1010, the one I most use, the very best all around pencil.
  2. Pentel Kerry 0.5 mm – a wonderfully elegant design for writing.
  3. Pentel Graphgear 1000 0.5 mm, my choice for drafting, with the most ingenious shaft retreating mechanism and the most sturdy and safest clip.
  4. Uni Kuru Toga Roulette 0.5 mm, a very well engineered pencil for writing, also highly usable for drafting.

Moreover, and outside this list, I also frequently use the Pentel Graphgear 500 0.3 mm for drafting.

And the one and only clutch pencil, both in the 2.0 mm and 2.5 mm versions, is the classic all metal black (with cream and gold details) Koh-i-Noor Toison d’Or 590o and 5905.

No rubber grips, no frills, no cheap plastic parts, no extravagant colors, no very thin or lightweight bodies. Just the right weight, grip, handling, performance, quality, styling and size.

Pilot H-1010 “The Shaker”

Much as I would like to provide the history and a description of each of those outstanding pencils in one post, space ant time constraints force me to tackle one at a time. So today I’ll try to cover my history with the amazing, beautiful, awesome, lovable number one pencil: The Shaker. In the following weeks I intend to cover each one of these wonderful writing instruments, and the reasons why they are so special.

So on to it.

Number One: The Shaker

If I am to write more about the best pencils that I possess and use, a special place is reserved for a pencil which I have owned and used for decades. Luckily for me, this exceptional pencil remains in production to this day, virtually unchanged, and is still somewhat of a cult object for those of us lucky enough to know about it.

Actually, this is my third pencil of the same model. The first one I bought back when I was living in Guatemala, when a friend of mine (hi, there, Roberto Leal Fortuny) came up with his Pilot’s “The Shaker”, which, if I recall correctly, he had bought in the U.S. while he was attending engineering college in Texas. I was won over by the sheer elegance of that black mechanical pencil with two small yellow details: a small yellow ring between the grip section and the barrel, and the yellow top of the small cap that covers the eraser and the tube that holds the graphite leads.

The elongated conical tip hides the shaft that extends out to protect the lead when the pencil is ready for use. The shaft, which provides clearance for drafting using a ruler, fully retracts into the shiny steel cone tip when the pencil is stored.

The long conical tip and the retractable shaft of “The Shaker”

One detail that I specially appreciate about this pencil is the clip – a strong, broad, sturdy, springy steel blade that is fixed to a ring that solidly encircles the top of the barrel. The ring, the barrel and the grip section are made of high quality black resin.

The ingenious clip.

The clip offers enough clearance for thick fabric pockets such as jeans pockets, provided by the generous loop of the steel tongue at the bottom. This is probably the best designed clip of all the writing instruments I know: sturdy, simple, elegant and eminently usable. (This is saying a lot, for there are highly ingenious clips out there, such as that of the Pentel Graphgear 1000 mechanical pencil, to be treated in a later post.)

The sturdy clip with its large clearance.

Another distinctive characteristic of this awesome pencil back then, decades ago, is that the shaft that protects the lead comfortably retracts into the tip as the graphite lead wears down while the user writes or drafts, doing away with the need to often push the button in order to feed more graphite. Now a relatively easy to find characteristic, back then this was an innovative feature.

The grip section and the conical tip.

A user of mechanical pencils (usually simple Pentel models or Brazilian-made Compactor Escolar pencils) since my high school days, I marveled at the efficacy of my new awesome pencil.

Aesthetically, the pencil remains unequalled. Mechanically, it is perfect, all parts fitting snugly and tightly, without any unwanted give or motion.

Finally, the coup de grâce was the feed mechanism: a loose weight in the barrel operates the mechanism that feeds the graphite lead to expose more graphite without the need to push the button on top. This, together with the automatically sliding shaft, allowed the user to operate the pencil continuously, feeding more graphite only eventually with a couple of shakes (thus the name: “The Shaker”).

The Pilot 0.5 mm H-1010 mechanical pencil remains to this day a little wonder of engineering, craftsmanship, and artistic sense. Over all these years, I ended up buying four of them. The first one lasted me quite a few years, until I dropped it as I stood writing and it hit the tile floor tip first, bending the shaft. I could unbend the shaft again to make it work, though not as smoothly as before. Finding another one to buy in Central America was not easy back then, before the web, but I eventually got to buy another one in Argentina. Later, during one of may many trips I lost it (or someone stole it), and finally I bought another two to replace it in Medellín, Colombia (one of which I still keep unused as a backup, along with several replacement erasers – just in case Pilot stops manufacturing or modifies this wonderful classic pencil).

Currently I am considering buying a couple more to leave as a legacy to my future more technically minded grandchildren… or simply for the joy of possessing more of such a perfect writing instrument. Trouble is, they seem not to be easily available where I live.

As for graphite, I currently use the absolutely flawless Pentel Ain Stein leads. For daily writing, I use 2B grade, and for drafting I also use other grades besides 2B. Pentel Ain Stein leads are unmatched.

In the coming posts I plan to write about my other favorite pencils. As a teaser, I leave an image of the Pentel Kerry, which I carry to meetings along with one of my currently favorite fountain pens. It is certain to cause an impression to the crowd there. More about it in a coming post.

The Pentel Kerry. My no. 2 push pencil (teaser).

Write firmly and with conviction, and give in to your preferences as regards writing instruments: you deserve the best.




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