The Master Pencils Union No. 84 Pencil Review

My latest flea market find is a red/blue Union No. 84 pencil from The “Master” Pencils Ltd, the English pencil company that also created the Golden Master pencils that I reviewed in the past.

The Union No. 84 is an oversized pencil, with a red and navy core. I love the choice of font for the imprint: it looks clean and professional.

The pencil is thick, built like a children’s pencil, and so the cores are extra large as well.

The navy core, almost black in appearance:

Finding a sharpener that can sharpen this pencil was a challenge. You’ll need one that’s designed for children’s pencils, yet is high quality enough to handle wood that has toughened over time, and a core that is still soft and brittle. I went with the M+R double brass sharpener Nr. 0603. Beware of the red core when you sharpen this pencil, as it can stain your hands.

Here’s the Union No. 84 next to the Caran d’Ache Bicolor 999, the golden standard for red/blue pencils. You can see their size differences quite clearly.

The navy tip of the pencil:

The red tip of the pencil:

The red tip of the pencil was much softer and more crumbly than the navy tip, but even though I was worried about it, it didn’t break with use.

I tested the Union No. 84 against the Bicolor 999, and discovered a few interesting things. The Union’s blue is indeed a shade darker than the Bicolor’s but it’s not as dark as I would have expected. The red shades of both pencils are virtually identical. The Union feels more like a pencil than the waxy Bicolor, with more feedback, and more shading possible when some pressure is applied. Both pencils erase poorly, but the Union erases better than the Bicolor, particularly the Union red, which doesn’t stain the paper.

I tested the pencils on a Baron Fig Confidant, my go-to pencil testing paper, and erased them with the Maped Technic 600.

The Master Union No. 84 is a lot of fun to draw with, beyond being useful for highlighting and correcting text. It feels like a proper pencil, and not a waxy crayon, and it shades enough to allow for doodles like this one:

The Union No.84 is great and fun, and so was the Spiderman movie. I highly recommend them both.

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The Master Pencils Union No. 84 Pencil Review

Tombow Object Rollerball Review

In the early 2000s the Tombow Object fountain pen was one of the recommended beginner fountain pens on the market. That was in the pre-Pilot Metropolitan and pre-TWSBI days, when the beginner fountain pen choices were pretty sparse. I have the Tombow Object fountain pen and I’ll review it at a later time, but a few years ago I saw its rollerball counterpart on clearance sale, and so I risked the purchase.

I’m not a rollerball person, since they tend to behave like the worst of fountain pens (ink spreading, feathering, bleeding through and leaking out of the pen) without the good parts (line variation and versatility in ink colour). But the Tombow Object rollerball intrigued me because it shares the same body as the Tombow Object fountain pen but is significantly cheaper, and so I was hoping that even if it turned out to be an annoying pen to use, I could just use it as a way to get some colour variety with my Object fountain pen.

And why would you want that, you ask? Well, just look at that anodization:

The hairline on the body is just a smudged drop of ink. 

The Tombow Object is a metal bodied pen (brushed aluminum body and cap that gives it a great texture) with a plastic section and a steel clip. That gives it some heft, but still keeps it light enough to be comfortable to use both capped and uncapped. There’s a satisfying snap when you cap the pen, and it stays on very securely. The tip doesn’t rattle or wiggle around, and the clip does an admirable job of being a good pocket clip and preventing the pen from rolling about. The pen has a beautifully designed taper on both ends that gives it a bit of character, and an unobtrusive “Tombow” and “Japan” printed in white on the cap. Although this colour is called gold, it’s a coppery-gold, close to a champaign colour you can sometimes see on cars.

The appeal of the Tombow Object has always been the fantastic anodization colours that were offered, each one really vibrant (except for the silver, which was boring). As you can see from the photo above, like all aluminum pens, it can be dented and nicked. This is probably a pen that you want to keep on your desk and not bashing around in your bag or pocket.

Another reason to keep this pen on your desk is that it tends to leak. There’s a slip mechanism in the cap that both prevents the ink from drying out and from leaking beyond the tip of the pen, but as you can see in the photo below, you need to be careful when you start using the pen where you grip it, or just accept ink stains on your fingers (or keep a paper towel at hand).

The pen uses a proprietary Tombow Object refill, which is always a shame. I wish that I could just pop in any fountain pen ink cartridge in there instead.

The slip cap also allows you to easily post this pen, although I don’t recommend it. For one thing, it isn’t necessary as the pen is long enough as it is, and for another, because the pen leaks into the cap you’ll just spread ink on the pen body.

It’s ink test time! Here’s a sampling of how the Tombow Object rollerball behaves on different kinds of paper:

Clairefontaine Back to Basics A5 notebook (90 gsm, fountain pen friendly paper)
Reverse side of Clairefontaine Back to Basics A4 notebook. 
Leuchtturm 1917 Reporter notebook.
Reverse side Leuchtturm 1917 Reporter notebook.
Baron Fig Confidant notebook
Reverse side Baron Fig Confidant notebook
Field Notes 50#T paper (Firespotter).
Reverse side Field Notes 50#T paper (Firespotter).
Moleskine 70 gsm paper (Antwerp Blue Denim). 
Reverse side Moleskine 70 gsm paper (Antwerp Blue Denim). Note: there was less bleed through the more this pen was used (you can see in the Object and in my review of this notebook) but there was still significant show through. 

None of this is great, but to be frank, this is generally in keeping with rollerball behaviour, and one of the reasons that I really don’t like the Retro51 Schmidt rollerball refills. The Object behaved best on the Clairefontaine paper, and even displayed some fetching line variation. It’s still a “one side of the page only” type of pen though.

As for the cap-and-body switching hack, it only partially works. You can take the body of a Tombow Object rollerball and switch it with one from a Tombow Object fountain pen, but the plastic insert in the cap that prevents the ink from drying up or leaking is incompatible between models. The pen just won’t snap shut with the “wrong” type of cap.  It does still allow for some crazy cap/body combos, but that a whole different ballgame.

So would I recommend this pen? It is beautifully designed, looks great, is comfortable to use and you can find it on the secondary market for the price of a Retro51 or slightly cheaper. The enormous downside to this pen is that it uses a proprietary refill (I have not yet tried to hack it to see if it can accept other refills). So if  you like this pen I would recommend stocking up on those refills, because Tombow might not offer them for sale forever. The Tombow Object and the Tombow Egg which use them have both been discontinued for a few years now, which is a great pity.

Tombow Object Rollerball Review

New Year’s Resolutions

For the last three years I’ve been making and tracking yearly goals in a Baron Fig Three-Legged Juggler Confidant. I call my new year’s resolutions my yearly goals because unlike resolutions, goals are something concrete and well defined that you continually strive to achieve.

The goals are personal, so I’m not going to share them here, but I am going to go over how I set them up, in the hopes that it might help and inspire those working on their own yearly goals.

  • Set yourself up for success by picking goals that you:
        1. Actually care about.
        1. Are measurable.
        1. Are achievable even if your year goes horribly wrong. The trick is to set up easily achievable basic goals, and then “bonus” or extended goals that go beyond them in various tiers. So if you aren’t reading at all and you want to read more a good basic goal would be “read 4 books a year”, with extended goals of “read 8 books a year”, “read 12 books a year” and so on.
        1. Are a mix of things that you track all year and one time events ( for example: participate in X number of races, and run X kilometers a month/year).
        1. Aren’t focused on one area only (to avoid boredom and burnout).
  • I use a paper notebook to track my yearly goals and the “Streaks” app to get my streaks going. The notebook is something I open and update at least once a week and so is constantly on my desk, resting against my laptop. It’s a physical and constant reminder of what I need to do. I can’t emphasize enough how important the physical aspect of putting a check mark or crossing out a box is for this to work.
  • Be ambitious only with extended goals, or you are going to disappointed and discouraged very quickly. Human beings are terrible at assessing deadlines and the amount of effort required to achieve a goal. Cut your goals by 25-50% at least from what you think you can achieve. Yes, it’ll make them easy, but the point is to create a momentum of action and success, not frustration and failure. If you know you’ve missed all or most of your goals you’ll stop looking at them, and by March 2019 you’ll be done.
New Year’s Resolutions

Which Notebooks I’m Currently Using

I love reading about how other people use their notebooks and pens/pencils, so I decided to take the time to list what I’m currently using and how:

  • Field Notes Front Page – used in landscape mode with a Blackwing 16.2 to take notes while I work through the third draft of my novel. Something about the format of this notebook appeals to me, especially in landscape mode. I ignore the lines completely (easy to do, since they’re so faint). Also works well while I’m typing, since it’s thin enough not to get in the way. I just put it below my keyboard, a pause to jot a quick note when I need to.
  • Field Notes Dime Novel – I use this as a catch-all and home to do list notebook, using whichever fountain pen I have inked at the moment.
  • Moleskine Star Wars Lightsaber Duel – used as my daily journal, coupled with a Ti Arto with a uni-ball Signo 0.5 gel refill (UMR-85) and a Scotch glue stick to paste bits and bobs in. I’ve been using this combo for about two years now (with different Moleskine lined notebooks), and I couldn’t be happier with it.
  • Moleskine Large Squared  – used as my “bullet journal” at work. I’ve simplified the bullet journal system (removed the calendars entirely) and it’s now a daily checklist + work journal that serves to answer two questions: what am I going to do today, and what have I actually done. Keeps me sane and happy, especially when outages derail my day. I use a Zebra G-301 pen with this that I bought in Atlanta in 2012, and it is still going strong. I go through about a refill every two months, so this isn’t the most economical of systems…
  • Moleskine pocket square reporter – a new one for me. I’m using it to keep a running food journal, using a Retro 51 tornado slim graphite filled with a parker gel refill.
  • Paper for Fountain Pens notebook – together with sheafs of Tomoe River paper, this is what I use for my writing notes, quick drafts, and when I’m working through plot holes. I use whatever fountain pen I have going at the time, usually two pens with two different inks, Neil Gaiman style.
  • Moleskine two-go – I’m using this as my reading journal. I log all the books I read here. Previously I used two Field Notes Arts notebooks, but I ran out of them, so I moved to this. Using a Karas Kustoms grey RenderK in this, coupled with a Caran d’Ache Bicolor pencil to highlight things, and whatever other pencil I have laying around, for extra notes.
  • Baron Fig Three Legged Jester Confidant – using this to track my resolutions for several years now. Used to be my daily journal.
  • Moleskine softcover squared pocket reporter – using this to keep track of story ideas. I write in it with whatever is on hand.

A large pile of notebooks

Which Notebooks I’m Currently Using