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The Vent Valve
Venting on anything, but most likely on cars, bikes, music, and Wikipedia
A different kind of propelling pencil 
7th-Mar-2009 10:27 am
land, sun, Jamaican flag, hardship
When I use the term "propelling pencil", most readers will probably think of a mechanical pencil, a mechanized tube into which one puts leads of a specific diameter, often 0.5 mm or 0.7 mm and on which a button on the top or the side of the pencil is pushed to extend the lead. I first used pencils like this at university and I have never looked back since. They are wonderful writing and drawing implements in my opinion.

However, I first encountered the term "propelling pencil", and the object so identified, in primary school (grades 1 - 6). This is also a tube that holds leads, but the principle is different. In this case the lead is about the same diameter as in a regular wood-encased pencil, but is short, pre-sharpened, and held in a plastic jacket to form a cartridge. The tube is full of these cartridges. When the point of the cartridge is used up, the cartridge is taken out of the front of the pencil and pushed into the back of the pencil. This action pushes forward the next cartridge, which is then ready for use. The process is repeated until all the cartridges are used up, at which point another pencil is bought.

Old cartridge to be taken out of front of  pencil
The first cartridge in this propelling pencil is used up. It is time to replace it with the next cartridge, which is behind it in the tube.

Detail of old cartridge
Old, worn out cartridge from propelling pencil. This will be pushed into the back to push the new cartridge out the front.

Old cartridge to be put up the back of the pencil,New cartridge to come out the front of the pencil
The old cartridge is going to be pushed into the back of the pencil in order to push the new cartridge out.

Old cartridge partly up the back of the pencil,New cartridge partly out the front of the pencil
Propelling pencil with the old cartridge partially in the back. As a result, the new cartridge is partially out.

New, sharp cartridge, ready for use
Propelling pencil after the old cartridge has been pushed in the back pushing the new cartridge fully out. The pencil is again ready for use

I tried to find information about this kind of pencil online, and I have found that the most prominent sites about pencils, including sites about mechanical pencils, do not mention this kind of pencil. I am writing this journal entry mainly to inform these sites about the existence of this kind of pencil, even if only in their trivia sections.

Unfortunately, I cannot put this information on Wikipedia, as it would violate their "no original research" guideline. They also do not accept sites selling the product as sources, so this site selling them would probably also be unacceptable as a source. It is the first site I have seen that shows what I'm talking about here. It is described there as "non-sharpening pencil, plastic pencil, propelling pencil". What is not described there is the operation of the pencil, which I have described above.

I don't think I'll buy another after this one is finished, but it's been a nice bit of nostalgia. It also works rather well, as can be seen (roughly) in the sketch shown below:
Henry "Lemming"  Leaming, presenter of "High Gear","High Gear", a programme about fast cars & lunacy,The Nalerian symbol: my trade mark

All photos and drawings (c) the author.
7th-Mar-2009 05:32 pm (UTC)
We went through a phase of using those in junior high school =]
8th-Mar-2009 02:29 pm (UTC)
So they have them in the US, then. I was wondering if they were only sold in the Third World. ^^;

It doesn't seem like anybody talks about them on the Internet, though. I wrote this entry because I couldn't find any information.

I used these so long ago that I can't remember why I stopped.
27th-Jul-2009 10:03 am (UTC)
I used them when I was a kid in school, some 30 years ago. Mainly, they were a pain, especially if you lost one of the little plastic bits and thus the exposed point would be loose. I don't think we ever called them anything but 'blowguns', mainly because once the tip wore out a bit and wouldn't securely hold the point anymore, we'd just shoot the pieces at each other like blowguns.

I got here from your post on Wikipedia, and agree with you that this belongs on the mechanical pencil page, although without a proper name for it, I've got no idea where to start looking.
-- StarChaser Tyger
10th-Oct-2010 05:07 pm (UTC) - Pop-A-Point, Push-Point, Non-Sharpening Pencil
Useful post. Thank you!

I like this pencil. The lead does not break, does not fall out, lasts a long time and it renders a reasonably dark line which works on school Scantron OCR machines (I tested it). The lead at its bluntest worn-down stage is 1.5mm in diameter, compared to worn-down standard pencil lead of 2mm. It is useful to the last drop, so to speak. The barrel is large in diameter, being 8mm rather than the standard 7mm, so easier on the fingers over long writing periods. The cap has an integrated pocket clip - very convenient!

I don't like a few things about it. (1) The supplied eraser is soft and squishy and tends to ease out of the cap during use. The eraser does not work particularly well on the hard paper I normally end up using it on (photocopy paper). It works very well on high-quality paper, such as Rhodia and Moleskine Pads. I replace the eraser with standard "pink" eraser plugs (needing about two eraser plugs per pencil). (2) There is no warning that one is beginning to use the last sharp tip. On a new pencil, I take the first tip out and mark it near the lead with a Sharpie and immediately reinsert it in the top. (3) It is nearly impossible to find the eraser plugs I use, not to mention replacement points.

I sell pencils for a living and I love using regular wood cased pencils. I even like fussing about with various pencil sharpeners, sand paper boards and pen knives. But I spend a lot of time at choral rehearsals and in other venues impractical for pencil sharpening. I always use Pop-A-Points in such situations. I usually carry several -- thinking I'll have a spare or two. But my fellow vocalists, seminar attendees, students, etc. borrow my spares and, as with most borrowed pencils, mine form a permanent relationship with their temporary user.

I need an absolutely reliable pencil while taking notes from a rapidly talking conductor or speaker. That's why I favor the Pop-A-Point Pencil and do the things I do to make it work for me.
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