Mechanical pencils have always been kind of been a sweet spot for me. The mechanical preciseness of the mechanisms inside them, that need to be small, robust and simple, I find really neat. Also, the many different lead types and sizes, and all the different companies that make special versions that help protect the lead, make the pencil more ergonomic or simply use a new material is just soo cool that I would like to collect them all.
But then I heard the story of Uni Kuru Toga, how one employee, Kyo Nakayama, of Mitsubishi Pencil was tasked with creating a mechanical pencil that would keep sharp forever. You see, when you write with a mechanical pencil you will hold it in the same orientation for a long period of time. The pencil lead tip which brushes against the paper will wear out and become flat on the side of the paper making the tip of the lead blunt. This makes the line from the pencil to become thicker and more opaque. This can only be counteracted by rotating the pencil in your hand after a couple of written words or drawn lines.
This was the problem that Kyo Nakayama needed to solve, and the solution is simply genius. Whenever the pencil lead is pressed upon the paper a spring-loaded mechanism inside the pen rotates the lead a little bit making sure the blunt edge is always rotated away from the paper. And within a word or so it is rotated completely again. This makes the pencil lead always sharp!
What I like even more about this story is the fact that it took Kyo Nakayama only half a dozen prototypes to perfect this mechanism. If I look at our process of creating FREKA we have gone through more than a hundred prototypes, 257 if you count all the shape changes in the wing. I’m really impressed by his skills.
Written by Frank