Over the past year, I haven’t been using many mechanical pencils. For me, I’m enjoying woodcase pencils much more at the moment, but I’m always happy to try something new to see how it stacks up against the rest. In the case of the Faber-Castell TK-Fine Vario L mechanical pencil, it sports some features that you’ll find on other mechanical pencils, but not with the same combination.
On the outside, the TK-Fine Vario L (we’re going to call it the Vario from now on) looks like most other drafting pencils. It’s a bit long, has a metal grip, plastic body, and long lead pipe at the end. It doesn’t look like a premium Rotring pencil, but it also doesn’t cost as much as one either. The dark green plastic and gold type does add a bit of class to an otherwise unassuming pencil, and the shiny grip section definitely catches my eye every time I glance in its direction. The clip is nice and strong and can be removed. One thing to consider about this pencil is that the 4mm lead guard pipe does not retract into the tip of the pencil, so beware of your pockets and bags. These pipes are really good at poking holes in fabric.
One thing that I think would improve the overall look of the pencil is a simple eraser cap at the top of the pencil. To me, it looks like it’s missing a cap of some sort, but it certainly does not come with one from the factory. I’m guessing Faber Castell assumed those caps are only a nuisance when you need to use the eraser, but I disagree. I’d prefer a cap in almost every case. To advance the lead, simply click the top of the pencil (which happens to be the eraser).
On the tip of the Vario between the cone and the grip is a lead type indicator. Most drafting pencils have a small barrel that allows you to select the type of lead you have inside the pencil, but they’re normally located at the top of the pencil close to the click mechanism and eraser. In this case, the indicator is right under the grip. The type ranges from 2B to 4H (2B, B, HB, F, H, 2H, 3H, and 4H), but I find myself accidentally moving the indicator while writing if my fingers happen to slip down from the grip a tad. It’s not a huge issue, but certainly an annoyance that could easily be resolved with a better design decision.
The grip section is hit and miss for me. I love how it looks, but I’m not a big fan of how it feels when writing. The flange as the base of the grip looks cool and also adds some helpful weight at the low center of gravity to improve the level of control you have while writing, but it’s really slippery. The grooves along the upper part of the grip don’t add much in terms of grip. If you use a "normal" grip on your pencils, your mileage will vary. For me, my fingers start slipping almost immediately under normal, non-sweaty conditions. You’ll likely already know exactly what you think about this type of grip based on past experience. I had a pretty good idea that I wouldn’t enjoy the grip very much due to the slick metal and narrow grip, and I was right. But, you might also be on the other side of the fence and really enjoy this grip. It’s definitely not a "one size fits all" situation.
Like most pencils in this price range, the Vario boasts a special feature: the ability to vary a lead clutch from "soft" to "hard." All this really does is allow you to control how tightly the lead is clutched when in use. "Soft" means that the lead will automatically retract under pressure, protecting it from breakage. "Hard" means that the lead will not retract under pressure, which gives you more control but also means it’s more likely to snap the lead. According to the diagrams on the box, "soft" is for writing and "hard" is for drafting. This can be useful in some circumstances, and I’ve found the two settings to do exactly what they promise.
At the end of the day, writing with the Vario isn’t a great experience for me. I’m not a drafter by any means, and I have noticed that using this pencil for drawing and sketching is more comfortable depending on what angle I hold the lead. It’s also great for using with a straight-edge for drawing lines due to the long pipe. The long pipe also makes it easy to see what you’re doing.
Despite my own reservations due to personal taste and usage, this is a great pencil. At the $20 mark, the Faber-Castell Vario does have a fair bit of competition, but I think it offers enough unique attributes to hold its own. If this grip doesn’t scare you away, then it’s a great pencil to try out. It’s available in 0.35mm, 0.5mm, 0.7mm, and 1.0mm lead sizes, but the only color is dark green.
(JetPens provided this product at no charge to The Pen Addict for review purposes.)
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