Sostanza - Wooden Lead Holder Review

I was recently contacted about a Kickstarter campaign for a wooden lead holder called Sostanza, and was kindly offered a sample for review. Special thanks to Sotterranea Officina Sperimentale for sending it my way!

My sample didn't arrive until only a few days prior to the Kickstarter coming to a close (ended on the 6th successfully), but I was still excited to provide my review nonetheless.

The Sostanza is, in essence, a wooden lead holder, but is a unique, beautiful, and very functional piece of desk art.

Milled from various wood species, the overall shape is close to a traditional folded nib or dip pen handle being larger towards the tip and then tapering off to a thinner piece towards the tail. A slit and channel are milled into the pencil which provides the "gap" the lead fits into as well as the small space to create pressure via a metal ring to hold the lead in place.

The sample I received is made of amaranth which naturally ages into a purple/violet color (think purple heart-ish), and is adorned with a metal ring plated in rose gold for a little bling. The walnut one would have been my first choice to receive, but they did not have additional samples of that model which was totally fine. The amaranth is very pretty.

To extend the lead, the small ring needs to be loosened toward the tail end, the lead manually moved, and then the ring pushed back towards the tip to tighten it down. To some, this could be seen as a cumbersome process and is not a "quick deploy" type of action. Over time I'd wager that the ring will ultimately create a small channel in the wood from pushing it back into place. 

The overall experience of receiving the pencil has been very well conceived. It comes in a glass vial with the logo etched on the side plugged with a special cork that the end of the pencil fits into to keep it from jostling around. Finished off it is within a nicely executed and branded cardboard piece that holds the vial with an elastic band.

Not a jab, but personally I'm a bit of a minimalist when it comes to packaging and see what is done here to be on the slight bit excessive side, but for this product I think the presentation is appropriate. Although very simple, it is a piece that is meant to attract attention (in a good way) and is deserving of a well thought out packaging experience.

I would consider the Sostanza to be a desk item, not so much something I'd be toting around in a bag with me. Partly due to fear of it being broken and also that it wouldn't be something I'd choose to carry around for convenience as well. 

For pure functionality, other lead holders do the job better having traditional knock mechanisms, built in sharpeners, etc, but that really isn't the point of Sostanza. It is a natural, beautifully crafted, and very elegant piece that could easily be given as a well received gift to an artistic person or someone who would appreciate "what it is" if that makes sense.

Being only wood and a small metal ring, the pencil is very light coming in at just 0.2 oz. For me this doesn't detract from the overall experience, but for some it may be too light. It is roughly the same weight as an unsharpened Palomino Blacking for reference. The various wood species could also play a subtle role in changing the weight, but not enough to be noticeable. 

The Sostanza isn't what I'd consider to be an inexpensive item coming in likely at a retail of €30-40 ($33-45), but are said to be handmade in small batches and, again, are more of an artistic piece.

Thanks again to the group for sending this out. It is a piece I can definitely appreciate. Perhaps a bit on the pricey side when compared to other lead holders, but may be just the right piece for someone looking for a unique alternative.

Although the campaign is closed, you can still take some time to check out the project for ongoing details and an official release.

Ensso Pen Uno Review

Kickstarter seems to be hopping with pen projects these days! The folks over at Ensso currently have a return campaign for their Pen Uno, now with an optional pencil insert. They were kind enough to send me a sample to review, so special thanks to them.

The Pen Uno is touted as one of the most minimal writing instruments designed and, I can't really argue with that. Short of a stick of graphite, there aren't a lot of pens that come to mind that are more minimal than this.

Machined from aluminum, the overall shape of the Pen Uno is sort of a thin "stick" that eventually becomes a bigger "stick" that acts as the mechanism to expose the tip as well as the grip section. It looks pretty cool actually and definitely catches your attention with how sleek it is.

This particular sample is in the "space gray" color variation (Apple colors seem to be a thing right now...) and the finish is really well executed. The finish is uniform and outside of a few places near the edges where things got a little "chunky" (under a macro lens), I haven't noticed any imperfections or issues. Over time, I'd be curious as to how well the pen will hold up to use.

This pen is really light and really, really skinny. The grip section "stick" is about 3/8" in diameter, so is pretty comfortable, but the main barrel piece is extremely thin. That being said, it isn't much of a bother while writing due to it simply resting in your hand.

Regarding holding up to "heavy" use, I'm not super certain this is what it is designed for. While it certainly could be portable via a bag, pen pouch, or pencil case, it is not very easy to transport by other means. This is NOT a pocket pen and one I would see as more of something you'd use at a desk or drafting table.

The barrel is designed around the Hi-Tec C Coleto refill, Pilot's retractable multi-pen variation of the popular Hi-Tec C refill. The ēnsso crew was kind enough to send me a big pack of various refill sizes and colors, but the 0.4mm in blue seems to be my sweet spot.

Admittedly, the Hi-Tec C refill is not a huge favorite of mine due to being finicky. Slow starts, dryness... Amongst a lot of pen people this seems to be a common sentiment, but there are the die-hard Hi-Tec C fans out there that completely love them. If you're in that group, this pen may definitely be for you!

Although, when the Hi-Tec C is working perfectly, it is pretty awesome on smoother paper like Rhodia.

What makes this pen unique is how you retract the tip. Rather than a click mechanism of some sort, the refill stays fixed and stationary in the barrel while the user twists the threaded grip section until the barrel moves its way up and the tip is exposed. Pretty neat! On average, I find it takes around 10 "twists" to get the grip section securely tightened down and the tip exposed.

The refill is secured in place via a long set screw that is removed from the end of the barrel. It is also machined from aluminum and has a matching color scheme to the barrel. One thing I felt with the pen was that it might seem a little on the lengthy side. Even with my bigger hands there is about 2" of thin "stick" overhang into the fleshy part of my hand. More than enough to shave a little bit off which could have possibly put it into a more "pocketable" position.

Although I didn't receive the pencil mod portion of the pen for review, I'm thinking that the added length has something to do with this. The set screw is pretty long (about 2") which seemed strange to me, but thinking more about it I bet this is it. At first I was thinking, "why did they make this pen so long?!"

Overall I think the Pen Uno is pretty slick and is sure to turn the heads of anyone around when you decide to take it out to use. There is this "what is that?" type of reaction when you see it (I know I had that experience). The campaign runs until August 10th and if this pen catches your eye it may be worth taking a look!

One thing that might be cool is to do the pen out of a heavier material like brass...

Thanks again to Ensso for sending the sample to check out.