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Updated July 2022
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Buying guide for Best mechanical pencils

Imagine taking a pop quiz at school or drawing up a proposal at work and all of a sudden, snap! Your pencil lead breaks, and unfortunately for you, there isn’t a sharpener or a backup pencil in sight. This is a great time to have a mechanical pencil on hand.

Instead of panicking to find a replacement pencil or sharpener, you simply hit a button on your pencil and fresh lead appears. Crisis averted! Mechanical pencils are versatile, affordable writing tools that have become a popular replacement for standard wood pencils. Their durability matches that of ink pens, and they have the erasable convenience of a pencil. Some mechanical pencils are refillable as well, making them low-maintenance office items you can count on.

Before hurrying out to buy a mechanical pencil, you’ll want to understand how they work, why they’re special, and the various features of mechanical pencils that affect your user experience.

Mechanical pencil eraser
If your mechanical pencil came with a low-quality eraser, you may be able to swap it out for a better one. One of the perks of mechanical pencils is that they are somewhat customizable.

Why use a mechanical pencil?

As mentioned, many mechanical pencils are refillable, meaning you replace the lead and eraser as needed instead of buying an entirely new pencil. Mechanical pencils offer a large variety of capabilities for drawing, and their consistent lead diameters produce clean, neat writing.

Mechanical pencils are made from recyclable materials, whereas standard wooden pencils are made from non-renewable resources. This means mechanical pencils are not only more durable than standard pencils, but they are also more environmentally friendly if recycled. 

Drawbacks of wood pencils

Whereas mechanical pencils are long-lasting writing utensils, wood pencils are single-use items. Wood pencils are higher-maintenance than mechanical pencils because they need to be sharpened regularly and replaced once they reach a length too short to be realistically used. Further, some writers dislike the fact that the diameter and thickness of wood pencil lead is inconsistent and ever-changing.

How mechanical pencils work

A spring mechanism in a mechanical pencil gradually releases lead in small increments through the writing tip. The lead chamber stores the lead pieces until they’re needed. Once the used lead piece is finished, a new lead piece is fed through. 

Top considerations in a mechanical pencil

Materials

The main components of a mechanical pencil, such as the writing tip and barrel, are often made of a combination of plastic and metal. Higher-end mechanical pencils may be made almost entirely of metal. 

The “lead” used to write is actually solid non-toxic graphite. It’s still referred to as “pencil lead” because original wooden pencil cores were made of lead. The eraser, located at the top end of the mechanical pencil, is made of synthetic rubber.

Lead sizing

Lead sizing refers to the maximum diameter a mechanical pencil can accommodate and is measured in millimeters. Diameters range from as small as 0.1 millimeters to as large as 5.6 millimeters. Larger lead diameters result in a thicker mark on your writing surface. The most commonly used mechanical pencil lead sizes are 0.5 millimeters and 0.7 millimeters. These sizes have the widest variety of hardness choices. 

Different lead diameters are useful for varying drawing needs, such as fine details and shading. Notably, your lead size must be matched appropriately to your mechanical pencil. That’s because the feed mechanism of a mechanical pencil is sized to accommodate a specific lead diameter.

Lead hardness

Lead “hardness” is a term referring to the varying levels of softness or hardness of graphite, which results in lighter or darker marks. Lead hardness is denoted with a combination of numbers and the letters “H” and “B”. “H” stands for hard, while “B” stands for “black”. The “blackest” or darkest marks come from softer graphite. This means that soft lead has higher “B” ratings. Harder lead makes lighter marks and is graded with “H” ratings.

The most common hardness is “HB.” You’ll find many lead packs of 0.5 or 0.7 millimeters with an “HB” rating. “HB” is the most middle-ground hardness for lead.

St1-mechanical pencil writing tip
Staff Tip 
In some cases, if you hold down your mechanism feed button, you can feed a new piece of lead in through your writing tip as opposed to through the top, where the eraser is.
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Other key mechanical pencil features

Barrel

The barrel is the most sizable part of a mechanical pencil. It is a hollow cylindrical piece that houses the lead chamber. The barrel connects and holds the other pieces of the pencil together, so it’s an important component.

Feed mechanism button

This button controls the lead piece being fed in and out of your writing tip. The feed mechanism button is used to adjust the exposed length of the lead piece. It may make a small clicking noise as it feeds. 

Pencil clip

Some mechanical pencils have a clip on the end, near the eraser. This clip can attach to various items: notebooks, shirt pockets, laptop sleeves, and such. Pencil clips are convenient because they help prevent your mechanical pencil from getting lost. 

Eraser

The eraser for most mechanical pencils is located on the top tip of the barrel, over the clip. Erasers are made from synthetic rubber, often in a cylindrical shape. Cheaper mechanical pencils are equipped with small erasers that must be replaced frequently. Pricier mechanical pencils often boast retractable erasers that are controlled with a simple button or lever. This adjusts the exposed length of the eraser and feeds more as it depletes from use. 

Grip

The grip of a mechanical pencil is where your hand grasps the bottom of the barrel in order to write. Some mechanical pencils come with built-in grips made from rubber or foam. These are ergonomically designed to make the pencil more comfortable to hold for longer periods of time. 

Consider ordering some cleaning rods to clear your mechanical pencil in the event of a jam. Also known as cleaning pins, these long, thin needles are designed to push any obstructions, like small pieces of lead, out of the way.

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Accessories

Whether you need school supplies, office supplies, or just prefer to use mechanical pencils at home, there are a few accessories you might find useful.

Pencil case: Keep your mechanical pencils and spare lead in one convenient place.

Erasers: While mechanical pencils come with erasers, having a larger eraser available can come in handy.

Mechanical pencil prices

Inexpensive 

The most affordable mechanical pencils cost $5 to $15. These are made largely from plastic, and depending on the brand, they may come in multipacks. You can also buy single mechanical pencils made from metal or high-quality plastic in this price range. 

Cheap mechanical pencils are simple in design, often with solidly colored barrels and small erasers that aren’t retractable. 

Mid-range

Mid-range mechanical pencils sell for $15 to $35. These pencils are larger in size and often feature transparent barrels so the user can see how much lead is left in the chamber. 

Mid-range mechanical pencils often have retractable erasers and are more durable than cheaper models.

Expensive

High-end mechanical pencils range from $35 to $60. For this amount of money, you can find singular pencils made of high-quality metal. You can also find larger sets of high-quality plastic pencils here.

If you’re splurging, you might consider a mechanical pencil that sells for as much as $100 to $300. These pencils are made with platinum or titanium and are uncommon.

St2 -Mechanical pencil clip
Staff Tip
While pencil clips are handy, the majority of mechanical pencil clips are made from flimsy plastic that is prone to snapping. Once the clip snaps, it can’t be easily repaired or replaced. If you want a durable pencil clip, look for a mechanical pencil made of metal. 
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Tips

  • Keep your lead length short, as it’s fed from the tip. If your lead is too long, you run the risk of snapping or breaking it, leading to a large amount of waste. Your lead tip doesn’t need to be longer than 2 or 3 millimeters. It should be pressed to paper with enough pressure to make a mark but not so much that it breaks.
  • Don’t overfill your barrel lead chamber. Putting too many lead pieces into the chamber could lead to a clogged feed mechanism. Limit the number to two or three pieces of lead at a time.
  • If your lead isn’t coming out of your mechanical pencil, unscrew the writing tip, and check if any small lead pieces are jammed inside. If so, you may be able to clear the blockage simply by feeding in a new piece of lead. 
Mechanical pencil lead
When you finish using your mechanical pencil for the day, hold down the button and retract the exposed lead. This prevents the lead from breaking while rolling around in your bag or pencil case.

FAQ

Q. How long will my mechanical pencil last?

A.Unless it gets lost, smashed, or permanently jammed, a mechanical pencil should last for many years. Its durable materials and refillable design extend its lifespan much longer than that of standard pencils or pens.

Q. Do mechanical pencils work on scantron sheets?

A. Mechanical pencils are classified as #2 pencils and can be used on scantron sheets. However, because of the lead’s thinner design, mechanical pencils have been shown to be more difficult and time-consuming to use (an important consideration for timed tests) than standard wood pencils.

Q. How many pieces of lead can my mechanical pencil hold?

A. Mechanical pencils may be refilled with as many as two to six lead pieces at a time. This number depends on the lead sizing.

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