A product that has been getting a bit of buzz lately is the newest iteration of the mechanical pencil by Modern Fuel, a design company run by Andrew Sanderson out of Texas.
Now, this is actually the second time Modern Fuel has made an appearance on The Clicky Post, the first being back in January of 2015 (has it been that long?!...) when Andrew released version 1.0 of his pencil. If time permits, I'd recommend reading the previous review to gain some context of what makes version 2.0 different or special.
When Andrew approached me a few weeks ago prior to his newest Kickstarter launch, I was actually really excited to see what he'd done. For many companies, they run a Kickstarter campaign that maybe does well, and then usually move onto a new model or product altogether.
What I'm most excited to discuss today is how he took the feedback from his first product (some of which was harsh) and worked at perfecting it for this release. It's almost as if he worked at the design from the ground up which is most impressive.
The pencil, by design is sleek and somewhat simple in overall appearance. It definitely encapsulates the term "minimal" as it has been named. The barrel is cylindrical in shape with the only taper at the tip. The tip and barrel are separate pieces, but intentionally machined and finished to represent as seamless a design as possible which I feel he accomplished splendidly.
An odd thought; most mechanical pencils follow a somewhat "stick-like" style. There are the exceptions, but compared to pens, mechanical pencils seem to follow design cues more from their wooden predecessors than your average pen. From disposable to even high-end pens, they tend to have some form to them in either the grip section or barrel. Not a lot to do with the overall review, but an observation I made while writing...
The pencil is being offered in four materials: copper, bronze, titanium, and stainless steel. His previous pencil was also offered in aluminum, but made it extremely lightweight which may have prompted the use of heavier metals.
For the review, I received the stainless steel version which is hefty, but comfortable 1.6 oz.
For the prototype, Andrew also sent a myriad of interchangeable parts and tools to take it apart, swap pieces, and get an overall feel for how the pencil works.
Being a heavier pencil, you would think it may run the risk of being a bit unwieldy, but on the contrary it is extremely well balanced and just the right length at just shy of 6".
A great new feature of 2.0 (not present in the first version) is a retractable tip. Now, I may be splitting hairs, but the version 1.0 didn't actually have an extended tip/pipe at all as it was incorporated into the metal. I love the idea of a retractable tip though as one little ding in the previous model would have spelled long term disaster. Making the parts interchangeable allows for a lifelong product.
Continuing on the them of product longevity, one piece of feedback I and others provided Andrew in the previous pencil was concerning its internal plastic mechanism/parts and how it didn't really jive with the "pencil that will last you a lifetime" slogan the project carried. The most impressive piece of this pencil I'd say was his loud and clear response to this feedback... he engineered and built his own proprietary, all-metal mechanism that is definitely more along the lines of "lifetime" quality.
I am completely impressed by this mechanism. When removed from the pencil it appears as an intricate mechanical blend of tubes, brass couplers, and threads that harmoniously work together for one purpose: writing and drawing.
This type of innovation excites me and shows a level of commitment and determination Andrew has to his work. Engineering like this we would presume would come out of larger writing instrument companies, but what he has created is almost a functional work of mechanical art. (I'm fawning a bit... can you tell?) Seriously though, major kudos to him for spearheading and creating something so involved for himself and the world to enjoy.
When using the pencil, the knock works smoothly with some metal-to-metal sound (being all metal of course) with the first audible click extending the tip, while subsequent clicks push around 1-2mm of lead each time. There is a noticeable "click" feel, but not stiff. The movement is easy and fluid.
The pencil comes with a black eraser, but can be swapped out for a hex head eraser plug. I'm a bit torn about this as I love the look of the design with no eraser, but may find myself wanting one... Regardless, if you ever needed to swap in and out it is easy enough to do.
The only real issue I could see with the plug is the need for an allen wrench to get it out if you were in a crunch to add more lead. "Professor, Can I run out to my car during the middle of the final exam to get my allen wrench?..."
I suppose you could just feed a piece of lead through the pipe if you were that desperate. This isn't the first writing product that requires an additional tool to use, but does add complexity.
As far as writing goes, the pencil performs tremendously. No movement in the lead or tip whatsoever and is a pleasure to use.
Another feature of the pencil is an ability to swap lead sizes as you please and I mentioned before the variety of tools and pieces Andrew sent along for this purpose.
From an intuitive standpoint, swapping parts isn't necessarily plug and play. There are some specific ways that parts need to be taken off and in a certain order, and specific wrenches for different components. Andrew did mention that for the prototypes there may be slightly more complexity than in the final product, but that based on our feedback adjustments could be made.
First step is removing the knock piece which requires inserting an allen wrench into a hex nut inside the pencil mechanism, holding it stationary, and then turning the knock piece counter-clockwise until it is free. Total transparency, I initially struggled with this and Andrew had to provide some clarity for me.
My first inclination was to turn the allen wrench (which is wrong) while holding the pencil and knock stationary, but since the internal mechanism won't turn this can strip out the brass piece which is no bueno.
Second step once the knock is free is to unscrew the tip of the pencil from the barrel (which the mechanism is attached to), and then to unscrew the mechanism from the tip. Whew! All this engineering can have some steps, but ultimately creates an amazing product.
Although, for the normal consumer all of these steps may cause issues, breakage, and a lot of customer service requests by Andrew. I don't want this to be a deterrent for anyone (it won't be for me), but something to call out from a usability perspective, particularly if the pencil is meant to be somewhat customized.
Regardless, this pencil is fantastic and I'm most impressed with what he has created.
Andrew's Kickstarter campaign is already well past it's funding goal, and I'd presume it will continue to climb. The pricepoint on this model during the Kickstarter is $70 (with a projected retail of $120) which isn't cheap, but I can't think of anyone that is doing a product quite like this. Buying something designed, engineered from the ground up, and then produced in the US from durable, quality materials, I feel the asking price is fair and in-line with what you're getting.
The titanium version is quite a bit more with a price of $130 (retail projection of $200) if that is more your style.
Special thanks to Andrew and Modern Fuel for sending the prototype for me to check out!