Saturday, December 6, 2014

Review of Pilot S20 & Rotring 800 Mechanical Pencils

A mechanical pencil was a totally utilitarian thing during my engineering days, be it for drafting engineering drawings or making graphs. Shortly after, their utility started diminishing when AutoCAD and other drawing software could address most of the design elements, although their luxury value started beaming. Like fountain pens. Sparsely used but heavily sought after. That reminds me that I am still typing this post on a laptop rather than using one of my FPs. Mechanical pencils can delve from cheap plastic to rugged metal to precious wooden designs. In my view, metal designs seem to showcase more of modern industrial utility whereas wooden designs foray more into the aesthetics part of it.
Mechanical Pencils  A brief history in time
According to wikipedia, the earliest form of a mechanical pencil was found in a ship-wreck (British ship HMS Pandora) in 1791. However, the first patent was filed in 1822 by Mordan & Hawkins in Great Britain. Later Mordan started manufacturing mechanical pencils under the company – “S.MORDAN & CO”. Leads upto 0.9 mm wide became popular by this time. By 1915, Japanese were into it and Tokuji Hayakawa started a company to manufacture mechanical pencils, which later came to be known as  “Sharp” due to its first product – ‘Ever-Sharp mechanical pencil’. After the entire pencil division was destroyed in 1923, by the Great Kanto Earthquake, Sharp relocated to Osaka  and forayed into electronics industry.
Pilot S20 – 0.5 mm
The S20 came in a old black Z-CR-HN pilot case. A refreshing black faux leather case with a felt layer to host the pen.

A maple wood contoured design with a deep brown colour renders a very natural feel with a classical wooden look. The entire end cap section is made out of aluminium with a steel lead sleeve, till the seamlessly finished wooden grip section comes up. The grip section gradually gains diameter going upwards from the end-cap (0.8 – 1.1 mm) till it reaches a small aluminium band which says ‘S20’ and ‘JAPAN’ on opposite sides of the band. Then, it narrows down towards the push-button section, till it comes across a pilot branded aluminium clip and finally ends up with the aluminium(+ plastic) push-button.

There is a lead-indicator in the push-button. To set the lead indicator, you have to remove the push-button which reveals an ubiquitous mechanical pencil’s eraser and rotate the pipe end of the push-button. The eraser section once removed shows a hosted clean-out rod. Design does seem minimalistic with a subtle emphasis on simplicity. The weight feels quite evenly distributed and the length of around 15 cm is quite comfortable to write or draw for extended periods. Sweaty slips at the grip section should be quite rare or even a non-occurrence. The grip section feels very firm.
The pencil itself comes in two wooden variants – Red and Brown.
The mechanism operates with a audible click sound at the push-button and is quite error free. It’s quite comfortable to use for long writing or drawing sessions. As per my experience, putting additional 4-6 leads inside the lead reservoir tube will not cause any blocking problems at the sleeve end. The S20 ends with comfortable aesthetics.
For the disassembly part, the end-cap with the sleeve can be easily unscrewed from the barrel and the push-button and eraser-sections can be pulled out easily. I did not attempt any further disassembly, as the parts of the barrel seemed tightly fixed.
Rotring 800 – 0.5 mm 

As evident from the above picture, the lead sleeve does not come out unless you rotate the top knurled section which rests just below the gold-trim of the push button. So a completely retractable mechanical pencil with an all metal construction. Mostly constituted out of coated brass, the 800 has a weight of around 25 g compared to S20’s 18 g. To draw a comparison, both of them will be heavier than a Pelikan M400 or a Sailor-Pro gear slim fountain pen. It is available in two themes – silver and black.

Design seems utilitarian, industrial with a subtle emphasis on its high-end design. It’s somehow evidenced by the gold trims to differentiate it from a 600. The sleeve comes out smoothly on half a rotation of the knurled switch. With a feeling of balanced heaviness and assurance, the pencil seems superior to many. The hexagonal cross section of the barrel prevents it from slipping from inclined planes and the knurled grip does the same for your fingertips. The tip apparently can wiggle a bit compared to other fixed sleeve-pencils (like 600), but does not really do so while in use.

Very uniform yet very attractive to use. The pencil can be disassembled easily by removing the knurled grip section to reveal the inner tube. Cleaning can be done if required. The eraser cap and eraser section can be pulled out. The clip mentions ‘rotring’ while the backside of the hexagonal body says ‘JAPAN’ quite elusively.

In Conclusion
A mechanical pencil will typically cost around 50 cents in my part of the world. But these two are beyond just mechanical pencils, perhaps a work of art and even a draftsman dream.

Pilot S20
Rotring 800
Additional Comments
Fixed Sleeve ~ 14.6 cm
Retracted Sleeve ~ 13.5 cm
Extended Sleeve ~ 14.3 cm
Quite Comfortable with respect to both length and weight
18 g
25 g
Maple wood and aluminium construction with Lead Grade Indicator at top cap
- Red and Brown Variants
Brass construction, Gold Trim, Matte Finish with hexagonal anti-slip faces on barrel, Knurled grip
- Black and Silver Variants
- Both are ‘Made in Japan’ by the way
Contoured Wood – 0.8 – 1.1 cm
Knurled brass – 0.8 cm diameter
- Both engage the writer in a non-slip(y) way
Fixed Sleeve, Loud Click, Aluminium/Steel lead sleeve
Retractable Sleeve, Gold trimmed sleeve
Hard Click
Soft Click
Lead Capacity
~ 6 -8 without blocking
~ 10 without blocking
Economic Value
Retails at $33, can be obtained at around $ 20-25 with ship
Retails at $70, can be obtained around $60 from ebay-sellers
- You can get a mechanical pencil at 50 cents!!
- However, these are more than just mechanical pencils, perhaps a draftsman’s dream
- Pilot Box
- A triangular cardboard box
Thank you for going through the review.


  1. Two pencils I've been looking at. I may need to get one of those Pilot S20s. Simply beautiful.

    1. Absolutely agree with you on their looks and functionality. I like the S20 with a deep red body.