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Who Uses Mechanical Pencils, Anyway?

 Photography by Mark Cocksedge

If you bring up the mechanical pencil in conversation, you might hear someone ask, “people still use those?” After all, most of us only use them in grade school and leave them behind, opting instead for a pen or a keyboard for our writing needs.


But there are plenty of people in the professional world who still rely on the mechanical pencil, and even prefer it as their writing instrument of choice. These professionals bank on specialty, high-end writing implements for their work because they need something that won’t wear down or break.


So what professions use mechanical pencils the most?


Writers


As you might expect, writers lean pretty heavily on the mechanical pencil. We’ve mentioned before how Truman Capote preferred to write longhand instead of type, and plenty of authors today still have that same love for putting pencil to paper. According to an article in Wired, best selling author Neil Gaiman famously used one to write one of his novels. The mechanical pencil he wrote with now reportedly sits in the Museum of Modern Art.


A mechanical pencil will deliver consistently smooth lines when writing, while keeping its original length, unlike wooden pencils that get ground down to nothing but a stump of metal and rubber through repeated sharpening. Metal ones, like the ones we make here at Modern Fuel, also have a balanced weight that lets them rest comfortably in the hand during long hours of writing. We take the extra step at Modern Fuel to machine our pencils in such a way that have the perfect hand balance, making them ideal for this type of work.


They’re also highly durable. In a post on the Quirk books blog entitled ‘Seven Reasons The Mechanical Pencil Is a Writer’s best Friend,’ E.H. Kern writes:


“Because of the durability of the mechanical pencil, it is a very economical writing tool. The pencil itself can cost anything from a couple of dollars to several hundred, but it’s a one-time expense. The refill lead costs almost nothing.”


Architects


Whether drawing up detailed schematics or sketching out a rough original design, architects do a lot of drawing. They need something that can hold up to steady use, and lay down a smooth, solid line that won’t mess up their charts and schematics. Enter the mechanical pencil.


A fine point graphite in your mechanical pencil is good for detail work, while a thicker one is better for thicker lines. Makes sense, right? The catch is that most mechanical pencils on the market won’t let you use more than one width of lead. Modern Fuel pencils are built with to let the user switch out the pencil’s metal interior mechanism to accommodate different sizes of graphite. This allows the user to switch between different millimeter sizes of graphite based on their needs.


When we gave Architect Doug Patton the chance to review our pencil, he loved it, particularly for his drafting and lettering work. He cited the swappable mechanism as a big plus, and said that the metal build made it “pretty much bulletproof.” Straight from the pro’s mouth; we consider that a pretty big compliment.


Famed architect and designer John Pawson (Photography by Mark Cocksedge) also swears by the mechanical pencil. Pawson is the designer behind numerous buildings and art pieces, including the design Museum in London. His minimalistic work showcases the beauty of simplicity, something he says he can appreciate in the design of a good mechanical pencil:


"Apart from enjoying the pencils daily as design tools, there is pleasure in contemplating an object that must clearly contain many intricate parts, but appears as a single piece of milled metal. The pencil’s body has the sleek utility of a bullet or a dart, with this formal simplicity reinforced by attenuated proportions and the absence of any visible joints. They sit on my desk like a series of ingots, reminding me of the metals we use in building. From the heft of each pencil in the hand, one gets a sense of the individual character of each metal: the density of the brass brings to mind the cast solidity of a submarine propeller shaft, while the aluminium is featherlight like the skin of an aeroplane wing."



Mathematicians


This one may be a little less obvious, but mathematics does require drawing graphing, and complex calculations that a mechanical pencil handles very well. Even the plastic pencils of your elementary school days handled tasks like these with more aplomb than your standard yellow number two pencil.


The changing nature of mathematical equations can make for a lot of erasing, especially when you’re first learning, making a pencil a better option than a pen. As we said before, the pencil doesn’t get ground down, and the lead always stays sharp, allowing a mathematician to stay focused on their calculations. One mathematician put it this way on Quora in a discussion on which writing utensil was best for mathematics:


“I only use mechanical pencils. When I write down calculations I like to do it as organized and clean as possible, so I often erase stuff that I've written, which is only possible with pencils (white-out is too messy for me). Also, ink from pens tends to run and make a huge mess. Non-mechanical pencils need frequent sharpening while mechanical ones only need replacement of lead every few months.”


Artists


Drawing or sketching has long been the domain of the pencil, and the mechanical pencil offers an upgrade to the discerning artist who doesn’t want to spend a lot fo time sharpening pencils or a lot of money buying them. As with the other professions we mentioned, the consistency of the mechanical pencil is key. When constantly drawing, sketching, shading, and outlining, you need a tool that will deliver a fine point and give you a strong, dark line. Mechanical pencils are brilliant for that. In the Artists’s Network blog entry ‘How to Choose The Best Mechanical Pencil’, the case is made for high-end mechanical pencils as art tools for a few notable reasons:


  • They can be controlled easily.
  • Graphite inserts have fine, sharp points that don’t need sharpening.
  • Mechanical pencils consistently lay down dark, thin lines.

Because Modern Fuel pencils have no plastic parts, they’ll last through more drawing sessions than even other high-end mechanical pencils on the market today.


So whether you’re an artist or an engineer (or both) the mechanical pencil is worth a second look. Adding one of ours to your writing repertoire will be one of the best investments you can make.