Chris Schwarz's Blog

The Anarchist’s Gift Guide, Day 6

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I cannot give you the gift of better eyesight in the shop because, oh, wait, I actually can.

Speaking as someone who has had pitiful eyesight since first grade, I have always looked for ways to improve my marking tools. Without a doubt, the one tool that has improved my game more than any other (at any price) has to be a Draft-Matic .3mm mechanical pencil.

You can buy these pencils at any art-supply store (or even WalMart) for about $12 or $13. The pencil is extremely well made. It is one of only two mechanical pencils that I have not worn out within a couple months. My current Draft-Matic is four years old and works as well as the day I bought it.

The trick to using the yellow-barreled bugger is to think of it as a highlighter – not as a writing instrument. I knife in most of my joinery cuts with a cutting gauge or marking knife. Then I run this pencil through the knife line. Unlike thicker leads, the .3mm drops to the bottom of the knife line, making it stand out like I ran a laser through it.

The knurling on the barrel of the pencil gives you control and feedback you don’t get with other pencils. And you need the feedback. The lead is quite fragile, so you need to learn the light touch required to use the tool.

But the tighter joints are worth the extra effort.

— Christopher Schwarz

Read other days of my gift guide:
Day 1 is here. Rockler Mini Drill Bit Set
Day 2 is here. Brownell’s gunsmith drill bits
Day 3 is here. Grip mini pry bar
Day 4 is here. Tiger Flakes
Day 5 is here. Gramercy Holdfasts

9 thoughts on “The Anarchist’s Gift Guide, Day 6

  1. Andrew Robb

    Me, I like my Mont Blanc pencil, not only does it do the job well it cracks me up as to what the folks at Mont Blanc would think if they knew their pencil was knocking around my bench. Much like the look on the faces of the people at Omega when they see all the welding splatter on my watch. Certainly cracks me up.
    Form follows function I know but to get both that is worth spending some time on.

  2. morphire

    Chris,

    What hardness lead have you found works best for you? I’d like to get a harder lead for durability but the lighter line sort of defeats the purpose of using the pencil in the first place.

    1. JWatriss

      Durability’s an easy fix… I had similar issues. The problem is that the walls of the tube that holds the lead are too thick, so you have to extend the lead too far out to be able to write with it, which leads to breakage.

      Get a very fine diamond stone or diamond file. Twirl the point of the pencil, (with the lead retracted) across the stone, dragging it lightly around, until the end is point shaped. That reduces the thickness enough at the end that you don’t have to extend the lead out so far to use it. Problem solved.

  3. pauster

    For a beautifully machined precision instrument, have a look at the Rotring 600 and 800 mechanical pencils. The 800 even has a retractable tip. I got mine (pl.) via massdrop, making the price more palatable.

  4. JMAW Works

    Love all varieties of mechanical pencils (I used to make manual engineering drawings and had quite a collection) Still in the shop, try as I might, I eventually end up with bent tips, leading me to stick with Dixon Ticonderogas. How do you store your pencils while working? Do I need to dust off my pocket protector?

  5. Christopher Hawkins

    Wonderful pencils, but refilling the lead reservoir and getting the new lead to feed can be pain in the butt. The manufacturer should provide directions on how to do this.

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