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How to Choose a Mechanical Pencil or Lead Holder.

What is the difference between a mechanical pencil and a lead holder?

  • Mechanical pencils have the thinner leads. Usually available in .3mm, .5mm, .7mm and .9mm. Mechanical pencil and automatic pencils are the same product.
  • Lead Holders handle thicker lead. At one time lead holders were made to accommodate 1.3mm, 2mm and 3mm lead, but over time the 2mm has become the standard and is now the only commonly available size.

How to choose lead for Mechanical Pencils and Lead Holders

  • Lead Diameter
    • Lead is rated first by the diameter of the lead. The smallest common lead is the .3mm, followed by the .5mm, .7mm, .9mm and then the largest is the 2mm (which only fits the Lead Holders). As a side note, the 2mm is similar in diameter to your standard writing pencil.
  • Lead Density
    • Lead density is commonly referred to as “hardness.” The softer the lead density the wider the line from a single pass of the pencil, but also the lighter the density of the mark. Conversely, the harder leads make a finer line with a darker density. The lead found in most of the consumer mechanical pencils purchased at Super Centers is usually HB or H.
    • For reference lead from softest to hardest is 6B, 5B, 4B, 3B, 2B, B, HB, F, H, 2H, 3H, 4H, 5H, 6H, 7H, 8H & 9H.

Common Available options for mechanical pencils & lead holders.

  • Lead Selector
    • This is a feature found on the barrel of some pencils that allows the user to identify the lead density used in the pencil. For example, if you put “HB” lead in the pencil, you can manually rotate the dial to show the letters “HB” in the dial window. This is just a convenience feature; it has absolutely nothing to do with the pencil operation or the lead that can be used in the pencil. Any lead of the correct diameter can accept any density of lead. (For more information on lead and lead density see the article entitled “How to select Lead.”
  • Sliding Sleeve
    • Some pencils are equipped with a sliding sleeve, which refers to the narrow metal shaft that extends out of the tip of the mechanical pencil barrel. Though all mechanical pencils have sleeves, a sliding sleeve is less common. The sliding sleeve retracts into the shaft of the pencil, when not in use. This keeps the shaft true and unbent and keeps the pencil from piercing clothing, etc, when not in use.
  • Knurled Finger Grip
    • As it sounds, this is an area toward the tip of the pencil that has a metal grip encircling the shaft. It is similar to the surface of a cheese grater.