Clutch Pencils (updated)

(Edit: I have updated this post to include additional pictures and a quick graphite sketch using my clutch pencils)

Happy National Pencil Day or NPD!

This National Pencil Day showed up in several social media outlets and I thought it would be appropriate to publish this post about my Clutch Pencils.

There is something enjoyable and rewarding about using graphite pencils for creating sketches and drawings. For me, it’s the most basic and much needed tool to create quick gestures or outlines for most of my artwork. For many years, I used mechanical pencils that came with leads in .5mm and .7mm sizes.

My graphite version of my Rose

When I went through my Kaweco fountain pen phase, I noticed they carried something called a clutch pencil lead holders and they came in two different sizes: 3.2mm and 5.6mm. I decided to do some further research before jumping on Kaweco clutch pencil band wagon.

So what is a clutch pencil? It’s one of the oldest type of mechanical pencil. They are also referred to as lead holders. They differ from the modern mechanical pencils in that only one piece of lead is used in the body of the pencil and the lead is not advanced via a push-button mechanism through a sleeve. Instead, the lead is held in place by a spring-loaded clutch mechanism. When the push button is pressed, this operates the internal clutch by opening the jaws of the lead holder and allowing the lead to drop freely from the pencil until the button is released. As the push button is released, this closes the clutch mechanism and the jaws hold the lead firmly in place. This type of clutch pencil is known also as a drop clutch pencil.

The “jaws” of my clutch pencil (5.6mm) and where the lead is inserted and held in place
The smaller “jaws” on my 2.0mm clutch pencil

There is also another type of clutch pencil called the incremental clutch pencil. It has the similar clutch mechanism and jaws like a regular clutch pencil, but by pressing and releasing the button, the lead advances incrementally and does not fall out.

There were several criterias I was looking for in a clutch pencil. The first was to find common lead sizes. In my research, I kept seeing several different size leads from 2.0mm to 5.6mm. I had to figure out which size would make sense to use in my artwork. The second criteria was how comfortable the lead holder would be in my hand. Based on my experiences with fountain and ballpoint pens, I knew I had to stay away from thin and narrow grips. The third and last criteria was quality/functionality of the holder as in how easy was it to install, advance, or remove the lead.

I held off getting the Kaweco brand and decided to go with a few well known graphite pencil brands. Additional research lead me to the KOH-I-NOOR brand. I knew I wanted to use the 5.6mm leads as I could get various line and shading coverage. I also knew I wanted the lead hardness to be in the “B” range or soft lead so I could get light and dark shading when applying various degrees of pressure to the lead on my paper.

I started with the KOH-I-NOOR Versatil 5340 model with a matte blue finish. It’s an aluminum shell over a brass octagon shaped body and with a weight around 46grams. This classic style holder is well balanced and most importantly fits well in my hand. This is a drop clutch design with a sharpener in the cap.

My clutch pencil collection. The top four lead holders use 5.6mm leads. The bottom holder uses 2.0mm lead.

When I was doing my initial research, a multicolored Versatil 5340 version kept showing up on my radar. It’s called “Magic” because the single piece of lead contains a variety of colors that run the length of the 5.6mm lead. This is the same model as my matte blue, but with swirls of green, orange, and yellow colors on the body. Oh my! I’ve used this colorful pencil lead to create greeting cards and write colorful notes. What a fun pencil to use!

I came across a much smaller pencil with a metal clip (rare design) at a fantastic price and added the 5311 model to my collection. This is the shortest clutch holder I have and it appears to be a mix of a modern and retro design. It’s a nice black matte metal triangular shape barrel with indents running most of the length of the holder. This allows my fingers to rest in the indents while holding the pencil. There’s a lead sharpener in the cap.

Another pencil caught my eye. This interesting clutch pencil had an unusual body design with an ergonomic looking grip.

My Cretacolor ergonomic clutch pencil with top down view.

I can say this Cretacolor looks a bit weird, but it is one comfy writing/sketching tool. The holder is made of light resin or plastic and feels great in my hand. In my picture you can see how the grip has unusual curves. It is molded to fit the contours of my hand and wonderful to use even with my finger joint issues. A sharpener is built into the cap.

Shading and writing samples from each clutch pencil

Here’s a slideshow of pictures to show how the clutch pencil advances the lead:

Eventually, I picked up a Staedtler 780 clutch pencil that uses 2.0mm lead. I was curious to see how well the 2.0mm lead would fit in with my sketching tools. Now I know I said I dislike thin and narrow writing tools, but this special holder has a lovely textured grip and I hardly notice how narrow it is. This 2.0mm style clutch pencil is great for sketching in finer details. This is a drop clutch with a built-in sharpener located in the removable push cap.

Why do I like using clutch pencils?

  • With regular wood pencils, they are sharpened over time and get smaller in size. While using the clutch pencil, the body/barrel remains the same size.
  • Ability to advance the lead length to use more lead for sketching broader strokes and shading larger areas
  • Thicker or wider clutch pencil body is easier to hold
  • Create consistent line widths
  • Can swap out the leads to change the graphite hardness or even use colored leads
  • When not in use or storing, can open the clutch and let the lead slide back into the barrel. No need to worry about protruding lead messing up my pencil pouch or interior pockets.

What do my clutch pencils have in common?

  • Drop clutch: Push the cap to open the clutch of the holder. Slide in the new lead into the holder and release the cap. To advance the lead, hold the clutch pencil at an angle and carefully click or push the cap to let the lead drop down and adjust to preferred length. If you hold the clutch pencil vertical with the clutch facing down and click on the cap, the lead will drop out.
  • Sharpener: Unscrew the cap. A lead sharpener is built into the base of the cap. The Staedtler is the only one that has a hole at the top of the cap (remove the cap to sharpen the lead.
  • Common lead sizes with a variety of lead hardness available

Tips/Tricks:

  • After sharpening the lead into the cap, dump the lead dust into a small container. Can reuse the lead dust/shavings to create some interest artwork using your finger.
  • It takes some practice to work the cap and clutch to advance the lead. If I push down on the cap all the way, the clutch opens to it’s maximum position and the lead will drop out. If I gently push or click the cap, the clutch opens part of the way and the lead will slowly release incrementally.

Clutch Pencils Used:

  • KOH-I-NOOR Versatil 5311 (5.6mm)
  • KOH-I-NOOR Versatil 5340 (5.6mm)
  • KOH-I-NOOR Versatil 5340 Magic (5.6mm)
  • Cretacolor Ergonomic (5.6mm)
  • Staedtler 780 (2.0mm)

One thought on “Clutch Pencils (updated)”

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