As much as I like wooden pencils, when drawing with graphite my favorite tool is a leadholder, sometimes called a drafting pencil or clutch pencil; basically a mechanical holder for a nice big shaft of 2mm graphite that can be sharpened or pointed in a variety of ways. Many comic book artists and illustrators swear by them, as I pointed out in my post about The Drafting Pencil Museum.
Leadholders are usually used in conjunction with a separate leadpointer, though, which makes them less than ideal for carrying around when sketching. Likewise wooden pencils need to be frequently sharpened.
The solution for sketching, then, is a mechanical pencil, which holds a much thinner “lead”, usually .5 or .3mm, and keeps a reasonably consistent point without sharpening.
“Reasonably consistent point”, though, is a lukewarm assessment and hardly ideal. The problem with a mechanical pencil is that the lead wears down on one side, becoming a flattened chisel shape instead of a sharp point. While chisel points are often nice when intentionally used for special effects in pencil drawing, they’re not what you want most of the time.
Artists who use mechanical pencils frequently learn to turn them in their hand while drawing to keep the sharp side of the point down, but it’s distracting and basically a PITA, and I often just put up with the less desirable flattened point and the clunkier line it produces.
Not any more.
Enter the Uni-ball Kuru Toga Pencil, a cleverly different mechanical pencil from Mistubishi Pencil.
Kuru Toga means “auto-rotate pencil”, and the device actually contains a small geared mechanism that automatically rotates the lead each time it is pressed against the paper.
The result is s beautiful, consistently fine line that is a joy to sketch with. I picked up a .3mm model and it has immediately become my favorite sketching pencil.
The pencil does have some minuses, it’s not retractable, making it less convenient for sticking in a shirt pocket, the eraser is tiny and not very useable, and there is no under-the-eraser wire for pushing old lead bits out of the shaft. These are small quibbles, particularly in light of the Kuru Toga’s unexpectedly reasonable price of about $7 U.S.
Unfortunately, they seem to be in short supply at the moment, probably because there are several mentions of the Kuru Toga circulating on the web, like the mention on LifeHacker, and reviews on Pens and Pencils, Dave’s Mechanical Pencils and Trendhunter.
The latter has a short video (also on YouTube) that shows how the pencil’s transparent lower barrel allows you to actually see the clutch mechanism turning as you hit the point against the paper.
I found the Kuru Toga where I often find cool stuff, on Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools, in a review by Jonathan Cope.
Sorry to tell you about it while it’s out of stock from both suppliers, but I figure better now than when it’s come back into stock and gone out again.
If you’re interested you’ll just have to watch for it and stay sharp.