Brad, now at JetPens, generously arranged for JetPens to send me a Jiffylite envelope cushioning samples of pure wonder and delight in writing utensil form. It is taking all my willpower to avoid typing this information in all caps, and to refrain from typing this face— :D —dozens of times. Oh heck, we’ll let loose for one sentence. THANK YOU BRAD AND JETPENS!!!!!! :D :D :D Those faces count as punctuation on that sentence.
Before I can get into a review of the Kuru Toga, I’ve got to point you toward some of the great reviews that came before me. Go read these and then come back. I’ll wait for you here.
Everything I know about this pencil (aside from my own experience with it) has come from reading those reviews (which is why I linked you to them, rather than awkwardly trying to summarize what’s already been well written, seeming as though I came by such knowledge all on my own), and from JetPens’ own description of the Kuru Toga engine:
“The Kuru Toga, on the other hand, has a core rotation mechanism that continually rotates the pencil lead as you write. The lead is twisted through a spring-loaded clutch, it works by twisting incrementally every time you lift the pencil up (i.e. during printing words, etc). This allows a uniform wearing of the pencil lead so that it always remains as a pointed tip. Not only does it solve the above problems, but it also gives you an amazingly thin line. You are effectively using only 50% of the lead area that you were previously using with your old mechanical pencil. Thus, a 0.3 mm Kuru Toga will write incredibly thin lines and have less breakage than a standard 0.3 mm mechanical pencil.”
This is not JUST a mechanical pencil; it’s innovation in a barrel. Don’t forget that. I like seeing products where the makers have pushed the boundaries, have gone above and beyond what’s strictly necessary into the realm of what’s potentially extraordinary. Even if this pencil were a complete disaster, I’d still be excited about it for that reason alone. It shows vision.
From the grip up, the Kuru Toga isn’t anything particularly remarkable. A small, translucent, smoky black plastic cap (not pictured, oops) makes a nice little click to securely cover the eraser (I’ll miss this cap, when I inevitably lose it). The eraser, while not as big as those on wooden pencils, is at least not the smallest thing I’ve found on the end of a pencil, and erases well. The grey branding on the clip goes nicely with the silver-grey barrel. I don’t know how secure the clip is, but I have an instinctive distrust of all plastic clips, having dislocated many in my youth. All the fun of the Kuru Toga, of course, is on the other end.
The light-grey see-through grip gives you an excellent view of the Kuru Toga engine in action. If you push your finger on and off the tip of the pencil repeatedly, you can see the yellow part turning around and around. You can also see how much pressure it takes to get the engine turning; too light of a touch will fail to make the mechanism turn, which could be a problem if you write lightly.
The tip, I believe, is all metal (or at least, it tastes like metal), which I find pretty visually appealing, though it might look better if the clip and the tip were the same color (either both white, or both metal). There’s also a little rubber ring around the metal tip, toward the top. It looks neat, but I find it a little confusing, being so small. I guess you just line that up to be the point of contact between the pencil and the finger you rest your pencil on? But if you grip higher, then that ring is of no use to you at all. I just want to know what the thought process was when including that in the design. I’m also torn between the aesthetic appeal of having the Kuru Toga engine components visible, versus the desire I often had for a cushiony grip on this pencil. If you’re making your marks too lightly, the engine doesn’t rotate, so I felt I had to write with a little more force than I might have otherwise used, which led to me gripping the pencil a little bit harder than was strictly comfortable for a long writing session. And the pencil itself provides almost no weight to help with this; being almost entirely plastic (including the Kuru Toga engine), it’s a very lightweight pencil. A lightweight pencil feels nice, but I think having more weight in the pencil itself might be helpful in terms of making the rotation process a little easier for lighter writers.
So how did it write? First, I wanted to replicate OfficeSupplyGeek’s findings by filling out a crossword with the Kuru Toga and comparing it to the same crossword filled out with a non-rotating mechanical pencil (since the only other 0.3mm pencil I have was Muji’s hexagonal mechanical pencil, that’s what I used). I am terrible at crosswords, so I also just copied down the answers from the solved puzzle from the first website I found that would actually print the crossword out, instead of just printing out all the clues and no crossword table.
In hindsight, I should have made sure to use the same brand of lead in both pencils, starting from a fresh piece of lead, but I just used the lead that each pencil came with. For the Kuru Toga, I think that’s Uni’s NanoDia HB lead. For the Muji, I have no idea, because as a rule they brand nothing. Presumably it’s also HB.
Ignoring the fact that the lead in the Kuru Toga wrote darker overall, you can see that there’s no difference in the sharpness between the first letter written and the last letter written. In the non-rotational pencil, the D is palpably wider than the N; I kept the pencils still in my hand when writing (no habitual rotation of pencil in hand) to make sure this is just a comparison of normal lead wear. The crossword puzzle was the first writing test; let’s look at the lead.
Kuru Toga’s on the right, but the leads look almost identical. I think the difference here was made by the fact that the sharp side point was kept rotating around, instead of having that flat plane continuously in contact with the paper, as was the case with our non-rotational friend on the left. So then I did a drawing test; unlike writing, drawing involves way more variation in weight of the lines you make and the amount you press the pencil to the page.
The Kuru Toga does well for drawing, though it takes a bit to get used to the springy quality that’s integral to the function of the turning mechanism. It almost feels a little unstable when drawing at first. “THE TIP MOVES OH CRAP THE PENCIL IS COLLAPSING I BROKE IT” may be one of your first thoughts, if you’ve never used one of these pencils before and don’t know what you’re getting into (which is exactly what happened with my first Kuru Toga last year, 0.5mm). It’s just something you have to get used to.
I’m surprised to note that, at no time was I ever worried by working with such a thin lead. In spite of the springiness, the lead never felt fragile; I was never worried about making heavy marks. It’s a weird combination. The lead felt totally secure, and yet the springiness made the pencil feel a little odd. Not as noticeable when writing, but something about drawing really made me realize that yes, there is a spring in this pencil, and that spring is necessary to rotate the lead. Now, the lead the Kuru Toga came with, well…
I will want to find a different lead for this pencil, or I’ll want to learn to do all my writing from right to left. This was after doing the writing sample at the very top (remember the top? Feels so far away) of this review, where I did not work from right to left like I did with the crosswords or the drawings. Back to the drawings; how did the lead look after the drawings, my second Kuru Toga use exercise?
Starting to achieve that advertised ideal! But would it last? Let’s see how the lead looked after my third Kuru Toga exercise (the writing sample at the top):
Well, it’s got a bit of a lean again. But I don’t think the lean affected the performance; writing was sharp from beginning to end. My guess is that the lead is, more often than not, off from the ideal symmetrically pointed shape, but the constant rotation still keeps your writing looking fairly sharp. If there are any unsavory broad sides developing on the lead, you don’t write with them long; every lift of the pencil rotates that surface, changes it a little. And I didn’t have any breaking of the lead, not at the tip, nor further up the shaft. I do remember in days of old having the very sharp and pointed tips of my mechanical pencil leads break a little, leaving a dark point surrounded by little lead crumbs on the page. Never had that happen with the Kuru Toga.
Great, affordable, creative, and innovative mechanical pencil. I’ve also started to see the 0.5mm version of this pen in big box stores (but not at as good of a price as JetPens), so this isn’t some totally isolated-from-mainstream-America product. If you want to stop having to rotate the pencil yourself to keep a sharp point available, the Kuru Toga HAS GOT IT GOIN ON, YO.
Thanks again to JetPens and Brad! :)
Uni-ball Kuru Toga Auto Lead Rotation Mechanical Pencil – 0.3 mm – Silver Body at JetPens