Disappointed with the Kuru Toga – again

Welcome to a blog post that is linked to my 2009 blog post about the Kuru Toga and is my third blog post this month about sliding sleeve pencils, after the M&G m9 and the 0.3mm Orenz.

If blog posts came with a soundtrack this post’s sound track would be Queen’s ‘Under pressure’, you’ll see why…

As mentioned previously there is a new Kuru Toga model that features a sliding sleeve – and I had to buy one.  It’s from a Japanese seller on eBay and I paid $14.09 (~£9.75; €13.00) (sorry, no link to the product as the seller doesn’t sell it anymore).

Kuru Toga Pipe Slide

About the ‘pipe’

I will call this model ‘pipe slide’ for now as there is no English version with an English name out yet and one of the only things I can read on the Japanese packaging is ‘pipe slide’ in Katakana. The name is slightly misleading as the sleeve is more of a cone than a pipe. Otherwise it looks pretty similar to the original Kuru Toga, with one of the more obvious differences being the black grip area, instead of the original silver one.

More of a cone than a pipe
More of a cone than a pipe

The idea, as with other sliding sleeve pencils, is that you can just keep writing without having to advance the lead – because the sleeve that protects the lead is sliding back further and further as you use the lead up …until you have used up the several millimetres of lead that where originally protected by the sleeve.

About the mechanism to rotate the lead

On my original Kuru Toga in 0.5mm you had to press the lead down 40 times to rotate the mechanism by 360°. The ‘pipe sleeve’ model, also 0.5mm works differently. Each pressing down of the lead will rotate the lead about twice as much as the original model, so pressing the lead down 20 times will rotate it by 360°.

Kuru Toga Pipe Slide

Does it work?

…the sleeve

Well, the sliding sleeve works. It’s not as good as the one from the Pentel Orenz or the Staedtler Microfix S, because the sleeve is more likely to press into the paper, but it will work well.

When the sleeve is partly retracted the lead will feel a bit more wobbly, but it isn’t a problem at all. You will need about 0.05 N of pressure to slide the sleeve back, which is a pretty good value, but as mentioned earlier the sleeve is more in the way, so the writing experience you get from a pencil with similar pressure requirements, like the Microfix S, is better.

…the mechanism to rotate the lead

The mechanism still doesn’t work for me, just like the original Kuru Toga, six years ago.  It does seem to work for others. This pencil is in the Pen Addict’s Top 5 and Brad wrote: “Not a gimmick either. It actually works.”, but I assume when writing he is using much more pressure than I do.

There seems to be a strange discrepancy here. Many people seem to prefer soft wood cased pencils, indicating that they might use less pressure than me when writing, but on the other hand many people seem happy with the Kuru Toga, indicating that they use more pressure than me when writing.

What is your experience with the Kuru Toga – and what kind of wood cased pencils do you prefer? I’d love to find out how they relate to each other for others. 

You need quite a bit less force or pressure to rotate the lead of the pipe slide model, 0.3 N in my case, but that’s still more than I seem to normally use. Things get even worse when you write in cursive, as there’ll the lead will be lifted and placed on the paper less often, so there are fewer opportunities to rotate the lead anyway.

Maybe that’s the reason why my Kuru Toga pipe slide came with a reasonably hard lead [1]harder than the lead some other Japanese pencils I have came with, so that you press a bit harder.


It’s not a bad mechanical pencil, but unfortunately it is just not good at doing what is supposed to set it apart. I wonder whether Schmidt’s [2]Not related to Lexikaliker, I think. rotating lead apparatus would have worked any better, or Kotobuki’s mechanism…

Kuru Toga Pipe Slide


Price and exchange rates: January 2016

Please open the images in a new tab/windows to see them at full resolution.

The video is available in full resolution on YouTube.

I have added the Kuru Toga Pipe slide to my sliding sleeve table.

Michael Fryda has a YouTube review of this pencil.


1 harder than the lead some other Japanese pencils I have came with
2 Not related to Lexikaliker, I think.

19 thoughts on “Disappointed with the Kuru Toga – again”

  1. I don’t use mechanical pencils regularly but the question of writing pressure is an interesting one. When is the pressure “enough” for the sliding sleeve mechanism to work, and when “too much” so that the lead breaks? Maybe there is a golden mean but I personally have seen too many lead splinters flying…

  2. I have used at least three different Kuru Toga pencils and I can’t say that I’ve ever noticed any difficulty with the lead turning within in the pencil. However, I have a feeling that I tend to push down fairly hard since I know when using a wood cased pencil and the KUM long-point sharpener that, depending on the pencil used, I can end up breaking the tip of the pencil fairly regularly.

    This may be something to do with the angle of the point with the long-point sharpener as I read on “The Weekly Pencil” blog that he experienced less breakages after switching to the KUM Masterpiece sharpener, but from the US that seems to be very difficult to get hold of.

  3. Thank you for your comments.

    Sola, in this case you only need 0.05 N to slide the sleeve, but according to a diagram I made earlier ( http://bleistift.memm.de/2015/09/zebra-delguard/ ) a lead extended by 1 mm needs 11 N to break, but a lead that is extended further, e.g. 3 mm will need under 3 N to break, so these numbers are quite a bit apart – at least for the Kuru Toga.

    The big problem is that while we write we use such a variation in force – without consciously noticing – I noticed that when I write in cursive and a word ends with an ‘l’ I use a lot of force, the tines of the nib will spread a lot(!) – but I can only see it from the line width, I don’t notice it when writing.

    RobH, do you normally write cursive or individual letters?
    When I have a long point on a Wopex it usually goes well, until I am in a different mood or try to write faster – then I seem to produce more force and some of the force ‘peaks’ can break the tip.
    The observation regarding the Masterpiece is very surprising as the Masterpiece has an even more acute point (15° vs. 17°, see http://bleistift.memm.de/sharpeners/ ), so I would have expected the thinner end to break even easier.

  4. I have the original kuru toga, and for me the mechanism doesn’t work, the needed force is just too high.

    Mechanical leads: 2B, HB

    Wooden pencils: HB, 2H

  5. Thank you for telling me about your Kuru Toga experience and the pencils you use. Very interesting that you use harder leads for the wooden pencils, but softer leads for the mech. pencils. I’m saying this because I like wood cased pencils in F, but if I have a sliding sleeve I don’t mind a B or even softer lead for my mechanical pencils.
    Is your main reason for choosing harder leads to avoid smudging?

  6. When using wooden leads I use harder ones because the trace that they leave is dark enough, they last longer without sharpening, plus mechanical pencils don’t glide well if they’re not quite soft 🙂

  7. I got a few Kuru Toga models as samples but have used only one (namely the simple orange version, M54501P.4) a few times. The main reason that I don’t like it so much is that since I use soft leads (Pilot Neox Graphite 2B) and write very lightly I am often close to the turning theshold (at least of that particular model), i. e. sometimes the lead does not rotate. Another reason is the fact that I am more of a “non-Kuru” user. i. e. I have the mechanical pencil always in the same position and write on the flat surface because I don’t like writing with the scratchy edge. I guess I just don’t belong to the Kuru Toga’s target group 🙂

  8. What a coincidence, a few days ago I bought a 0.7 kuru toga, that i found in a local shop (i have been searching for this pencil for some time now)
    I can not comment very much on it as I did not used it to write to much with it. I used it for a test page, and it seemed to work for me.
    My is the original (i think) version of the standard kuru toga.
    I will have to test the pencil more to be able to give a verdict about the “engine”, the build quality and materials are a bit poor, especially the clip, and an awkward lead loading are a bit of a disappointing for me.
    Even though I can not comment on the working of the “engine” and it’s longevity I would like to comment on your opinion.
    I think the problem you have is the way you hold the pencil, at least in the video the angle of the pencil is kinda small 45- 50 degrees (more like a fountain pen hold) which distributes the force (from what i can tell very light touch) not parallel with the lead. As the “engine” is activated when you push the lead inside, to make it work I think you should have a higher angle when holding the pencil (closer to vertical)
    My way of holding a writing instrument: the barrel of the instrument rests on the index finger so it is at a high angle 65 -70 degrees (i have not used a fountain pen since the 4th grade). This combined with the fact that I bought the 0.7 which I probably press with more force then a 0.5 lead made it work for me in the test.
    Oh I checked and the lead turns 360 after 22 pushes on the lead.

  9. Rares, your observation regarding the angle is a very interesting and important one! I think that we Westerners tend to hold the pen(cil) with a smaller angle than the people in e. g. Japan, and the more the angle differs from 90° the more force is required to make the “engine” work.

  10. Gianni, thank you for this explanation. I fine pencil point that lasts is something I love 8^)

    Gunther, may I ask how you hold the pencil? Do you hold it fairly vertical? I rotate my mechanical pencils because I like the darkness of the thin edge.

    Rares, you are right regarding how I hold the pencil, looks like I checked the angle in 2009 and back then it was < 45° (see http://bleistift.memm.de/2009/11/the-kuru-toga-a-disappointment/comment-page-1/#comment-22 ). The way of holding a pencil reminds me how I saw my father-in-law holding a pencil it was (nearly) vertical – so axial = normal pen force (see http://bleistift.memm.de/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/penforce.jpg ).
    My original Kuru Toga needs much more force to move the ‘engine’, I think three times as much, but I am not 100% sure about the number. I measured it in the past. Interesting that your 0.7 Kuru Toga only needs around 20 pushes, like my pipe slide 0.5 mm model. I guess there is a chance that this is a newer mechanism. Maybe the new non pipe slide 0.5 pencils use the 20 push engine, too. As far as I can tell the 20 push version needs less force, despite ‘rotating more’ per push.

  11. Pingback: Just another pen ?!Blick über den Tellerrand vom 16. January 2016 - Just another pen ?!

  12. silence dogood

    You rate it badly because it doesn’t perform well in a way it wasn’t designed to function in? It was designed for writing and Japanese character upstroke/downstrokes, not light sketching. I think that’s more an indictment of intelligence and poor use of logic than a product flaw.

    Essentially: “I don’t like apples, why you ask? Because they don’t taste like pears dammit!”

  13. My main problem is with the mechanism that rotates the lead.
    They do officially sell the Kuru Toga pen in the West, even though they don’t sell the pipe slide version here yet. The problem with the rotating mechanism is the same whether you use the pipe slide version or not, so if the pen wasn’t designed to handle the way some Westerners write it is only fair that I mention this, I don’t think that’s poor logic.
    I noticed this pen doesn’t work well for me, so this should be seen as advice in the form of a friendly ‘Hey, this pen might not work for you, it didn’t work for me”.

  14. I too find that the Kuru Toga doesn’t work for me, based on the angle at which I write and light pressure I use to write with (also why I like softer wooden pencils). I have both a regular and a roulette model, and neither really works for me.

  15. I do not have a problem with the Kuru Toga not rotating (I’ve used the normal and advance) – but I still do not quite like them for purely a personal psychological reason: I obsess with it to the point of distraction. I grew up with the simple Faber-Castells and wooden pencils, and tend to spin them whenever I pause, and since this may work against the Kuru Toga, I constantly have to remind myself to not spin. And since there’s this window, i always keep checking if the rotation works…

    Otherwise, ti should works for me. I’m a physicist, so there’s a bit of simple technical drawing and lots of math, so there’s enough lifting and starting to make it work, except for this nag at the back of my mind. I stick to my orenz for now.

  16. The Orenz is a great choice!! Thanks for sharing your use of and issues with the Kuru Toga.

  17. Garth Gilmore

    Matthias, good afternoon!

    Had I known about the ‘lead turning’ mechanism, I would never have bought either of my two Kuro Toga ‘Pipes’ (I found your prior Kuro Toga review with a similar model, but different packaging, then found the above review you wrote showing the same packaging design both of mine had been supplied in) 0.5mm mechanical pencils.

    I realized quite suddenly, when I was doing some pencil writing with one of my Pipes this afternoon, how often the lead had been breaking, and accompanying or short of that, how often I could not control the tactile heavy pressure vs. light pressure of the Togas I own. Unless I have been focussing on a piece of writing or drawing work at my desk (I was sitting crosslegged on my bed, using a stiff piece of sheer-smooth, rigid plastic as an ‘easel’ for the paper envelopes I was writing on) and using a pad of paper or stiffer stock, I would frequently be compensating for uneven pressure/tactile application of the lead tip or pressing too hard if I did, and going through a lead in a single bout of shorthand writing.

    I also add that I am left-handed (I cannot write, draw, eat with one utensil or mouse-control serviceably or with any practical reliability with my right hand) and I am accustomed to using heavy lead pressure, or failing that, having a very close force-feedback response of lead-on-paper when I’m writing or drawing.

    None of these things can be done reliably with my Kuro Toga, sadly. If I had known these mechanical pencils had a variable pressure/contact mechanism that was designed deliberately to accommodate varying pressure per function by the user, I wouldn’t have touched them. Sadly, I love everything else about these pencils; the look and tactile-material feel of the grip and barrel (I have multiple sensory-processing disabilities, and my two plastic-Pipe Kuro Togas I have no complaints with either solid-touch tactility in construction or the clutch-advancing mechanism) are one of the most comfortable mechanical pencils to use for me otherwise.

    I’m glad you wrote both of your Kuro Toga reviews (and one specific to the model I own), even though I found and read them after I’d bought my two, and sadly found the limitation in their design that will make it unlikely I will be using them as often in the future, at least unless I’m at my drafting table and seated, or my computer desk and writing on a set surface. It’s very comforting to know I hadn’t lost more of my mind that I already had.

    Have yourself an excellent one, chummer!

  18. Hello Garth, thank you for sharing your experience. Reading your comment I was wondering whether you have tried the TK-Fine Vario. It might be a nice pencil for you. Here is a link to a review, but I think the description in the blog post I link to could be more accurate, it makes it sound like a Del-Guard pencil. The official Faber-Castell web site doesn’t have a description of the mechanism or I didn’t find it or I would have linked to that as well. https://www.penaddict.com/blog/2018/2/28/faber-castell-tk-fine-vario-l-drafting-pencil-review You need to press very very hard for the lead to be “cushioned”.

  19. Hey Garth,

    The Kuru Toga is not meant to prevent lead breaking. It turns the lead, intended to keep the width of the line constant.

    If you have problem with breaking the lead, try the following:

    1) Get a softer lead (B, 2B, 4B). While softer leads are a bit more brittle, you do not have to press so hard to get a dark line. In my experience it reduces lead breaking a lot.
    2) The pencils I recommend for preventing lead breakage are Zebra DelGuard (cushioned all around) or Pentel Orenz. For the latter, the protective sleeve tube is meant to be always covering the lead, only to be pushed up by the paper just enough to write/draw. It means the sleeve tube is always rubbing against the paper (which some people do not like), but it works beautifully to prevent lead breakage. They are sold with lead size down to amazingly small 0.2 mm, and one can actually use that reliably (well, I can, but I have little problems with lead breakage anyway…)

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