Rotring 800 Drafting Pencil Review

After I reviewed the Waterman Phileas I noticed that I have hardly reviewed the writing/drawing tools that I use most. So I making it a point to start to rectify that, at least a little bit. 

The Rotring 800 is Rotring’s high end drafting pencil, and it costs significantly more than its popular counterpart, the Rotring 600. It’s also my preferred drafting pencil, and the one pencil that’s a constant in my drawing kit. While I own the Rotring 600, and I agree that it’s a very good drafting pencil, I’ve abandoned it entirely for it’s more big brother, the Rotring 800. 

This is a handsome, elegant drafting pencil.

The Rotring 600 and 800 are both full metal (brass) bodied drafting pencils. This means that they were built for drafting (architectural plans) and sketching, not so much for writing. You can use a drafting pencil for writing, but they’re not built for that (that’s what mechanical pencils are for). Drafting pencils are metal bodied with a knurled grip, a lead grade indicator, and a sleeve that both protects the lead and allows you to more easily use it with rulers and templates, and to get a better view of what you’re drawing.

Herein we get to the problem: both the Rotring 600 and the Rotring 800 are almost perfect drafting pencils. Each one has a significant flaw, which means that you have to decide when purchasing what are you willing to live without.

Retractable tip

I think that the Rotring 800 is a slightly more good looking drafting pencil than the Rotring 600, and it weighs more than the 800. That’s nice, but that’s not “$20 more” nice. The reason to buy the Rotring 800 is the retractable tip. That’s it. The Rotring 600’s non-retractable, sharp-yet-delicate tip makes carrying it around an issue. It can bend and it can do damage – piercing through case fabric, clothes, and I wouldn’t carry it in my pocket (ouch!).

Retractable tip extended. The tip allows for precision work, and prevents the lead from breaking.

I carry my Rotring 800 in a Nock Co Sinclair, together with the rest of my sketching kit, and I really needed the retractable tip. For that I had to pay extra, and I also had to give up on a crucial drafting pencil feature that the Rotring 600 has and the Rotring 800 doesn’t have: the lead grade indicator. This is a basic feature of drafting pencils, and I have no idea why Rotring didn’t add it here. It doesn’t bother me too much as I don’t switch lead grades that often, but it’s still a baffling choice on Rotring’s part.

I love the texture on the pen grip and the pen itself: it’s beautiful and functional at the same time. This is a pencil that will not budge from your hands as you’re working with it. Also, the added weight of the retractable mechanism means that it’s perfectly balanced and you need to apply zero pressure on the lead.

There’s an eraser beneath this cap. I wouldn’t use it. 

The Rotring 800 is a handsome, heavy and expensive drafting pencil. If you’re just getting to know drafting pencils the Pentel Graph Gear 1000 is what I’d recommend (it’s cheaper, lighter, has a great design, more tip sizes, and a lead indicator), as it really works as an excellent mechanical pencil as well as a drafting pencil. The Rotring is what I use because it aggravates my RSI least (YMMV),the added weight lets me work faster and yet retain control over my line, and I really needed the retractable tip (I ruined a Rotring 600’s tip). If you’re wondering whether to purchase a Rotring 800 (or 600) I highly recommend testing it out first, especially if you have small hands or have a “non-standard” way of holding a pencil, since you may find its weight uncomfortable.

Rotring 800 Drafting Pencil Review

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.

The Master Pencils Union No. 84 Pencil Review

Golden Master Pencil Review

A box of these beauties was languishing together with other art supplies in a stall in London’s Spitalfields market. I saw the box, saw their name, “The ‘Golden Master’ Pencil” and I couldn’t resist.

Just look at this design:

Who doesn’t want “Silken Graphite”? Or “A High Grade Pencil in Hexagon Cedar”? I’ve rarely seen a company take such pride in a pencil, outside of the Japanese market.

British made, from an era where Britain made things — and in London, too!

The pencils aren’t really Golden Master HB, but 2B (a bonus from my point of view). They’re labeled as such on the pencil, and strangely enough as two Bs on the box. I’ve never seen 2B pencils labeled that way. I wonder if they printed six Bs for their 6B pencils. I doubt they’d have room on the box.

In any case, the pencils slide out of the box in a sort of cardboard tray that is pretty robust. It works just like an old Eagle Pencil box, and I wish that more modern pencil makers would use this design.

The pencil itself has a good coating of yellow lacquer that has withstood the test of time, and has “Made in England”, “Golden Master”, “Silken Graphite”, “Pencils LTD.” and the grade stamped on it in gold foil.

The hexagonal shape is sharper, has sharper edges, than more modern pencils do. It doesn’t cut into your hand, but you feel it, and I have a feeling that without the lacquer this pencil wouldn’t be as nice to use.

The pencils come unsharpened in the box, and they’re a standard pencil size. As you can see there’s no eraser and no ferrule, but I don’t mind that. I rarely use pencil erasers, but rather keep a block eraser on my desk, or scribble things out if I’m writing.

I drew a journal comic with this pencil. It’s very smooth and holds a point forever, but it’s not a 2B pencil in terms of darkness. It’s closer to a standard B, but there’s a chance that time has done wonky things to make the graphite lighter. It erases well, and every core in the box that I have is perfectly centred. If you can get your hands on these, I recommend giving them a try. They’re great pencils, and I wish that they were still in production today.

Journal Comic 21-6-19.jpeg

Golden Master Pencil Review

Blackwing 811 Review

It’s the insane, glow in the dark Blackwing, and I managed to snag a box!

OK, enough with the hype. Plenty of other reviewers have given this limited edition pencil a spin, but my experiences and thoughts about “The Library Pencil” seem to be different enough to warrant a few quick words about the Blackwing 811.

First of all, the pencil is attractive. It’s darker than a banker’s lamp (I have one, so I checked), and the gradient is very well done. This could have looked cheap and tacky but it doesn’t. I would have liked a darker ferrule and I think that the pink eraser is ugly, but even so it’s a pretty attractive pencil.

The lighter part of the gradient disappears for the most part on the first sharpening, so that’s a shame. The coating on the pencil is grippier than the coating on the Blacking 54, 56, 24, 725 and 530 (and lacquered pencils in general), but less grippy and gritty than the coating on the Blacking 4. It has a matte feel.

It’s got a “firm” core, which means it has the Blacking 602. I absolutely hate that Blackwing doesn’t write its firmness on the barrel, or use “standard” hardness ratings, or makes it easy to see what the core grade is on the box or on their site. That’s like buying a fountain pen and not knowing whether you’ll get a fine or a broad. It’s bad enough that manufacturers play fast and loose with pencil grades within the standard 10H-10B range. Having a company invent its own grade and not even have it make sense, and then not even make it visible is a big no-no in my book.

Here’s a sketch of my banker’s lamp (which is a bit wonky after my cat dropped a giant pile of books on it) done with the Blackwing 211. I’d say it’s a B or a 2B, depending on the maker, but in no way is it a pencil that I’d call “firm”. It’s great for quick sketches, but I wouldn’t recommend it for under-drawings.

Blackwing 811 Review

Vintage Faber Castell Sharpener

I found this beast in a dusty corner of my favourite vintage shop in Jaffa. It’s far from pristine, but it’s so overbuilt that it still works. The body is Bakelite and somehow still whole, and even the green shavings receptacle isn’t cracked. I haven’t been able to find anything about the Faber Castell 52/18 (except for an eBay listing that says that it’s rare), but I love the design enough to wish that they were still being made today. Something about that green cutout in the black body just works.

Vintage Faber Castell Sharpener

My Analogue Writing Tools

I wrote the first few chapters of my first novel longhand, with fountain pen on loose sheets of A4 tomoe river paper. As I realized that I would have to type everything into Scrivener before I could even start editing, the lazy programmer within me balked. It was fine doing this with quick drafts, but writing an entire novel longhand was not for me.

I still use pen, pencil and paper a lot in my writing though. I use a fountain pen (anything that doesn’t have a flex or novelty nib will do — from extra-fine to 1.1mm stubs) and loose sheets of A4 and A5 tomoe river paper to work on my outlines, for quick drafts, to test plot options out, or when I’m really, really stuck in my writing. A Field Notes Byline is constantly under my keyboard, horizontally. Yes, I know that the lines don’t go that way, but I ignore them. The form factor is perfect for that, and the ruling is pale enough for me to easily ignore it. I use a Blackwing 16.2 or 24 with it, to quickly capture any ideas that may come up during my writing, to remind myself where I was going with an idea or what I need to fix a previous place, to brainstorm names, etc. It serves as a scratch pad that allows me to maintain my writing flow and still remember things along the way.

Messy, messy handwriting, because getting things down on paper is more important to me then keeping them pretty. 

So, even if you do all your writing using Ulysses or Scrivener (hopefully not Word), I recommend that you incorporate some analogue tools in your process. You’re bound to find them useful, particularly when you’re stuck or you’ve dug yourself into a hole.

My Analogue Writing Tools