Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Cool Find: STAEDTLER 780 Mechanical Pencil Review

Big boys use pens and young'uns use pencil. This is the impression I got when I was growing up. There was always some sort of pressure from adults to lose the pencil, write in cursive, and use a pen. In trying to act beyond our ages, many of us probably took the plunge and moved on to using pens on a regular basis. It is more permanent, I guess, and it comes in multiple colors unlike boring grey graphite.

I'm special and/or different
Unfortunately for me, pens never stuck. I had a phase in junior high when I decided to color code my notes. More specifically, I rotated between a black and red pen from one paragraph to the next. At some point in high school proper though, I went right back to pencils. Open up whatever’s left of my mangled high school notes and everything is in pencil. This includes work from classes in math, English, and science -- everything. The same held throughout college for engineering – mostly math-based courses, so more forgivable. I sign things with pens at work...

College: The money bleed continues
In college, I had to take a half-semester course in drafting, which included both computer-based and hand drafting. Everyone in the class was required to shell out $60 for a “drafting kit” that included a bunch of triangles, rulers, and one pencil kit. Using a regular 0.5mm or 0.7mm pencil was not allowed. No, we were introduced to something that was apparently designed purely for drafting that professionals used – used to use, everything is CAD-based now.
Behold, the STAEDTLER 780 mechanical pencil and accessories:
Staedtler Mars 780 Technical Mechanical Pencil
Staedtler Mars Rotary Action Lead Pointer
Staedtler Mars Technico 2mm Leads 12-Pack HB
STAEDTLER 780 Technical Mechanical Pencil
STAEDTLER 780: A modular pencil and nostalgia
I actually discovered this pencil, or something similar, when I was in grade 3 -- good 20 years ago. The kid sitting next to me had one and he said that his architect dad gave it to him. He was not a very good student and spent most of the day sharpening the lead on his 780 and dumping the grounds into his desk. It was awesome and I wanted one.

The purchase almost happened on a trip to Grand & Toy around then, but something about a $10 or $15 pencil that didn't sit well with my parents. Good call because I was losing a pencil every other week at that point in my life.

How it works
Like the product descriptions in the links above show, this is a 2 mm mechanical lead pencil. It is also on the pricey side at US$ 8.60 from for a single pencil. I can usually find a pack of 2 or 3 and lead refills for less. Lead goes in the top (various types like HB, H, 2H can be purchased), you push the top down, and the lead comes out the bottom. Unlike regular mechanical pencils, one click doesn't push the lead out a set length on my pencil -- unless things have changed. To get the desired amount of lead out, I have to click, hold, adjust the length, and release to lock it in place.

You may have also noticed that there is something called a "pointer". This "pointer" is just a sharpener that can be bought separately. There is one built into the top of the pencil, the clicky thing, but every time I've used it, I've made a huge mess. The separate tub sharpener is so "advanced" that it even includes a thing to wipe the dust off the lead after sharpening.

On the top of the tub sharpener are two small slots (see under the brand symbol). I won't lie, I tried to sharpen the lead in those a few times. I haven't been told any better, but as far as I can tell, those are used to set the length of lead to expose from the pencil when sharpening. One hole is for a very fine point and the other is for a blunter point. Essentially, the longer the piece of exposed lead that goes into the sharpener, the sharper it gets.
Lead, Cases, and Sharpener
Does it work? And how long does it last?
As long as it writes on a surface, I would deem a writing instrument to be in proper working order. The STAEDTLER 780 is definitely in proper working order. Once the college drafting class I got this pencil for and from was out, I put it back into the kit and forgot about it. When I finally finished college and got a job, I went back through my school supplies and noticed my drafting kit lying around with $60 worth of equipment in there. This pencil and other objects in that kit were subsequently put back into service so that they wouldn't go to waste.

It works like a regular pencil to be honest. I can write and draw comfortably, the HB lead I use is dark enough that it shows up. And there hasn't been much smudging noticed. There are harder leads like H and 2H that I've tried: both are way too light colored for my liking. The pencil is also on the heavier side compared to a normal wood or mechanical pencil. That's not a bad thing when using it. It's just that when I drop it on the floor, I feel slightly worse than with a lighter pencil. Did I mention that it's made in Germany?

Also, notice the metal grill pattern near the base of the pencil in the picture above. That addition helps to increase grip on the pencil and I've found it to be very comfortable. Other mechanical pencils sometimes include rubber grips, but I've those come off or get damaged over time. This metal one hasn't had a problem yet.

I've been using this pencil at work on a daily basis for the last 3 years. The initial goal was just to use up all the lead and bin it, but now that I've gotten used to it, I actually like it a lot. It's possible to go weeks without sharpening, and I'm still on the same piece of HB lead I started with. That either means I do very little writing or that the lead lasts quite a long time -- probably a combination of both. The pencil holder itself is still in great shape and doesn't show many signs of wear. Even the brand name and model labels are still intact with color.

The STAEDTLER 780 is a great pencil that seems to have been around for decades. I have had a great experience with it over the years and would recommend giving it a shot if you have a bit of money lying around. Not sure I'd get one if I lost pencils regularly (i.e. me, but I had a shotgun wedding with this pencil).

Staedtler Mars 780 Technical Mechanical Pencil

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