“Buy once, cry once”


in Daily updates, Writing

The protagonist of a YouTube channel about blacksmithing which I have been watching used the aphorism “Buy once, cry once” as a rhetorical justification for buying high-quality tools. If you buy the right thing the first time, you cry once at the expense. By contrast, if you buy an inferior alternative you will cry the first time not getting what you want, cry every time you use the inferior item, and then cry when you cave and buy what you should have initially.

It seems like a reasonable mark of distinction to apply to products which truly serve their function admirably and seem capable of indefinite high-utility use.

I use mechanical pencils a lot, and have in one sense or another since around elementary school. Occasionally the ability to erase is a large part of the appeal, but it’s mostly the particular quality of writing on paper with graphite. I find it ideal for taking marginal notes in books and making my own index on their opening pages, as well as for annotating academic journal articles and dissertations. I also find a pencil ideal for the final close edit of a hard copy which I do with important pieces of writing, and among the better tools for use in a paper daily calendar.

I’ve tried a few higher quality mechanical pencils over the last few years. A couple of years ago I bought an $8 Uni Mechanical Pencil Kurutoga Pipe Slide Model 0.5mm, Blue Body (M54521P.33) which I highly commend for build quality and writing experience. The retractable tip has been completely reliable, and it provides an easy way to store the pencil in a soft case without worrying about it breaking the tip or poking a hole in the bag. I also got the $16 Rotring 300 Mechanical Pencil, Black, 0.7mm. Again, I have enjoyed the experience of using it, finding that it sits most naturally for ready use on a desktop since there is no way short of a protective sleeve to carry it in a way that won’t risk being pointy. I can’t figure out if the rotating lead firmness indicator has any effect on the pencil’s function, but the mechanism overall is solid, reliable, and pleasant to operate.

I have also tried out ex-Mythbuster Adam Savage’s recommended (36 for $12) Paper Mate Sharpwriter 0.7 mm mechanical pencils. They’re not designed to be refilled or have the eraser replaced, and come with something around three leads inside each. They each include a shock absorber to reduce lead breakage, and I would say they actually work 90% as well as any of the far more expensive options on this list. They are a great tool to give away or scatter around in every possible place you may want to jot a note.

The Buy Once, Cry Once choice, however, is the $50 Rotring 800 Retractable Mechanical Pencil, 0.5 mm, Black (1854232). The metal body is solid like no pencil I’ve ever held and the retraction mechanism is impressively smooth and satisfying to use. A mechanical pencil becomes a reliable and easy-to-carry tool when you can keep it with the lead in ready-to-use state while it is clipped comfortably into a pocket. The Rotring 800 also totally pulls off the task of being much heavier than the everyday cheap versions of an object, but more usable as a result. I find the solidity and mass of it helpful for writing with a good balance of speed and legibility.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

alena prazak May 26, 2020 at 10:16 am

I have also used many pencils, mechanical and the old-fashioned kind. Mechanical pencils are generally disappointing because of the poor quality of the lead. They are also plastic and the less expensive ones end up in the landfills.
I have never use the brands you mention. For me the high end one was the Staedtler brand that has a nice grip to it and a variety of leads that are not pale or break easily. I was once given a most elegant Mont Blanc mechanical pencil for a volunteer job and it was a little too chubby for my hand, but the worst part was the thick lead that required too much effort. The best pencils that I have used are from Japan and Korea as they are not expensive, they are slim to hold and the leads come in various grades of softness and hardness. Enough said on mechanical pencils.

Oleh May 27, 2020 at 7:28 am

I also use pencils quite often. I carry one or more in my shirt pocket along with a pen and a high quality notebook. Beginning at one end I have a 4 page to do list. It is broken into two categories – short term and long-term. I also keep separate sheets of paper in the notebook for lists relating to significant areas

By using a pencil I can erase an item when completed still using the same sheet. I like that I have a constant to do lists that way

Three cheers for the pencil – a low tech tool in a high tech world!

anon May 27, 2020 at 8:50 am

I’ve never heard that saying before but I like it. It has another corollary; “You get what you pay for.”

That said, I have found over the last 10 years there has been a homogenizing of quality between brands. Once high-end brands have cut costs and are luxury in price only while former budget items do the job better with each new iteration that is released.

Cross refills for example. Still a fine pen, but I have found their ink quality to have declined whereas Pilot and Uniball disposables are better than earlier iterations.

In terms of mechanical pencils I too am a Staedtler fan but I am a hard writer so I waste more lead and prefer pens and wood pencils.

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