Montblanc did not release a new Christmas Ink this year, as I discovered when I went to the Montblanc Boutique in Manchester last week. Instead last year’s ink White Forest has been released again. It is a shame as I was looking forward to a new, scented Christmas ink. As far as I know there have been four different Montblanc Christmas inks until now:
The brown ink from 2005, also called Cookies and Spices
The ink from 2006. Same colour, spicier cinnamon smell
The red ink from 2007 with a vanilla smell
The green ink from 2008, with a pinewood smell. The first one with an official name: White Forest
Unfortunately many cleaning products have a pinewood smell, not making this smell a good choice in my opinion. The 2009 ink has the same name, packing, colour and I couldn’t notice a different scent when I was in the Montblanc Boutique.
According to messages on the Fountain Pen Network the re-release of the same ink might be because of problems with last year’s Christmas ink. I remember that the bottle I bought back then was difficult to open, as if there was a vacuum inside. It even kept the white foamy insert of the lid on the bottle, separating the insert from the lid even though it had been glued on in the factory. When I moved this foam disc away you could hear the air being sucked in and there was this something mould-like floating on the surface.
Well.. If I feel very christmasy I might order some Christmas scented inks from De Atramentis instead, but postage to the UK is not cheap and when I ordered from them before there were some unidentifyable “things” in the package, including lots of hair, which put me off.
Tesco, a British supermarket chain, is currently selling a battery operated pencil sharpener for £ 3 (~ € 3.30). The sharpener is part of the “Tesco range”, which previously included very good stationery …like their pencils made from paper. Unfortunately some of these good products have suddenly disappeared in the last weeks, so I thought I should buy one of these sharpeners before it is too late.
The sharpener is available in silver and black and looks quite “plasticy”, but the design is not bad. If you look closer you see that the mould and the paint could have been done better, but for a product in this price range the appearance and workmanship is good. For those who do not know Tesco: this is typical for products from their own range, be it LED torches, padlocks or any other non-food item.
The sharpener is made in China and operated by 4 AA batteries. The languages on the labels suggest that except in the UK and Ireland the sharpener is also sold in Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungaru and Turkey. As usual batteries are not included, but to my surprise the sharpener comes with an extra blade. This is very good news as the blade seems to be of very good quality, but more on this later. When you remove the shavings container you can see that the cutting unit inside resembles a manual sharpener that is rotating when a pencil is inserted. You will also find the replacement blade there, held by sticky tape. The cutting unit itself seems to be plastic mounted. Similar to other battery operated sharpeners, like the Staedtler Mars Desk battery operated pencil sharpener, the Tesco sharpener will not work if the shavings container is removed.
I assume that the model number is 94g, as 94g is printed on the label and the weight of the sharpener (without batteries) is a bit over 140 grams, certainly not 94 grams. That said, if you put the Hungarian text from the label in Google Translate it comes up with “Weight: 94g”, so either the label was made for an earlier, lighter version of the sharpener or the translation is wrong. Whatever the standard deviation for weight of this sharpener is, I rule out that my sharpener is 50% heavier than it should be and that my scales are that inaccurate.
How does it perform?
The sharpener itself works very well. You have to hold the sharpener, otherwise the sharpener will rotate around the pencil. It is also moving rather fast, so you have to pull the pencil out fairly quickly if you want to avoid using it up unnecessarily. The blade of my Tesco sharpener works extremely well for a sharpener of such a low price. It does certainly not perform as well as a great sharpener, like the grenade from Möbius & Ruppert, but it performs much better than most average sharpeners. The wood and the lead have a smooth surface when sharpened with the Tesco sharpener, which is not common with cheap sharpeners, but there is some rough scraping of the wood, sometmies in the form a visible line where the blade stopped when the pencil was removed.
One problem I noticed is that the often resharpened pencils tend to be sharpened more on one side than the other (see picture). It could be a coincidence or the fact that the speed of the Tesco sharpener made me sharpen often but little, reinserting the pencil with the previously shaved side towards the blade.
Altogether this sharpener offers great value for money. Assuming the blade is this good in the other “94g” sharpeners they are certainly worth buying.
Update April & May 2011:
I noticed that Tesco raised the price to £3.30 and that Sainsbury started selling the same model for £2.99.
The Kuru Toga is a mechanical pencil from uni / Mitsubishi pencil. In Japan it has been available for more than a year. The plastic version is now officially distributed in the UK and other countries, while the successor, the new Kuru Toga pencil, is already available in Japan.
The Kuru Toga’s unique selling point is that its lead rotates which keeps the tip sharp when writing. When pressing the lead against the paper to write or when lifting it the gears of the “Kuru Toga Engine” revolve, rotating the lead slightly.
After reading a review of the Kuru Toga on Dave’s Mechanical Pencils I was really impressed and quite excited when I saw that the Kuru Toga is now officially available in the UK. Cultpens.com sells this mechanical pencil in many different colours for £ 7.99 (~ € 8.90). I bought mine from Ryman, a High Street chain, for £ 4.99 (~ € 5.50), but unfortunately they only seem to stock the black version.
My first surprise, when I saw the packaging, was that the advantages of the Kuru Toga Engine were not advertised as much as I expected. Somehow I expected this pen to stand out from the other pens on the shelf, but this wasn’t the case at all. For the designers who created the packaging the Nano Dia leads seem to be nearly as big a selling point as the Kuru Toga Engine. If you are in marketing or advertising it might be difficult to resist telling the potential customer about the “400 million nano diamonds” in each lead. Yes, nano is a buzzword (see PhD Comics) and diamonds sound very precious, but instead of just throwing numbers and cool words at customers I would have preferred an explanation why having 400 million nano diamonds in a lead is an advantage and how that helps to deliver super strength and a smooth, crisp line.
Using the Kuru Toga for writing was a big disappointment. The pressure I exert when writing “normally” does not seem to get the lead to rotate. I could of course press the pencil down harder to get the gears to revolve and consequently the lead to rotate, but that is not how I would normally write. Real world use has shown that when I write in a hurry I use more pressure and the lead will rotate, but the lead should rotate whenever I write,not only when I write in a hurry. When using more pressure the lines tend to get wider anyway and I got better results, i.e. thinner lines, by rotating the pencil in my hand.
Two possibilities come to mind when looking at the problem of the non-rotating lead.
It might be a substandard pencil, and other Kuru Toga Engines work with less pressure. This would would mean that there is a quality control problem at uni / Mitsubishi pencil. This is probably not the case.
I might not press the pencil down hard enough to get the gears to revolve. This could be because of many years of using fountain pens (which do not need a lot of pressure) and a relatively infrequent use of ballpoint pens (which need much more pressure). When I went to school you had to write with a fountain pen and today I still like to use fountain pens and avoid ballpoint pens. My wife, for example, is using much more pressure when writing.
The Kuru Toga has been a disappointment for me, as the lead is not rotating, eliminating the advantage of this pencil while the disadvantages of this pencil remain:
the relatively high price for a mechanical pencil compared to similar pens made from plastic …more than twice the price of a Rotring Tikky, which is usually £ 1.99 (~ € 2.20), but to be fair: the Tikky does not come with a pack of replacement leads.
and the inability to fill in as many spare leads as in some other mechanical pencils (maximum 4 – 6 leads, depending on length and whether you try hard to squeeze them in)
It is difficult to predict, but my guess would be that the market share of pencils using the Kuru Toga engine or similar mechanisms will increase, because they are great of they work for you. On the other hand most mechanical pencils still do not even have a retractable sleeve and most consumers do not really seem to care but buy what is available and cheap.
Assuming you usually write in a Western language and use joint writing a lot (I do) the lead will also not rotate as much as it would if you use block letters or South-East Asian characters ..unless you apply different levels of pressure.
On a positive note the eraser of the Kuru Toga seems to be working really well, and if your writing pressure exceeds the pressure necessary to set the Kuru Toga Engine off this might be the pencil for you. The rotating lead is a great idea, but the implementation does not seem to do this idea justice. I think I will give my Kuru Toga to my wife. She is using much more pressure when writing…