From my Notebook

Pilot S20 0.5mm Wooden Drafting Pencil Review

JetPens sent me an extremely cool pencil this time: The Pilot S20 wooden drafting pencil. This is a terrific mechanical pencil that would make a great gift or professional office workhorse.

Details

Pilot S20 mechanical pencil drawings

Above: Sketching with the Pilot S20 on my makeshift standing desk

The Pilot S20 (I reviewed the “dark brown” version) is made with a wood body, bracketed by aluminum and plastic parts. That’s right, there is some plastic on this pencil—the cap. However, given that the paint application is extremely well matched with the aluminum, I almost overlooked it. The shape of the body follows more organic (i.e. curvy) lines, and this fits well with the use of wood on the barrel.

Speaking of the wood: Whatever kind it is (internet research got me nowhere on this point), it’s very attractive. If you rotate the pencil and look closely, there’s a fine sparkle to the wood grain. No idea why it sparkles, but I like it.

The label design is very minimalistic and stylish. There is a simple aluminum band around the center of the pencil that says “Japan” on the back and “S20” on the front.

One detail I absolutely love is the short pocket clip. I’m not a big fan of those awkward long clips you see so often, so I hope this is a trend. The clip has the Pilot logotype embossed on the front.

While the lead guide pipe is nice and long, I found myself wishing that it was retractable as well (similar to the Sakura SumoGrip, which isn’t nearly as attractive but it does have a retractable pipe). This would make the pencil easier to carry around without worrying about bending the pipe.

The Pilot S20 In Use

Pilot S20 mechanical pencil architecture sketches

“Fancy” wooden pencils, usually meant as gifts, are often guilty of poor engineering. The balance is off or the tolerances are bad. The S20, however, is extremely well balanced with a lower center of gravity, and the tolerances are fantastic.

I found drawing with the S20 comfortable for long periods. If you are used to pencils with really soft grips though, remember that the S20 barrel is made from wood. It’s not going to be squishy in your hand. I think the aesthetics and balance more than make up for the difference.

Theme drawing: Japanese Kintetsu train bound for Yunoyama Onsen

Pilot S20 mechanical pencil Japanese train sketch

This time around I asked my friends to suggest themes for a sketch. The theme I picked this time was “your favorite memory from Japan” (thanks, Preston K.!). This is a sketch of a Japanese train of the Kintetsu line, headed for Yunoyama Hot Springs.

Many winters ago, I took this train up into the foothills of Mie Prefecture, headed to a Japanese farmer friend’s home for a delicious holiday meal of non-traditional, home grown foods. I’ll never forget 1) his unique personality and extreme kindness and 2) the Japanese macaque monkeys that cautiously stole onto his property to sample the vegetables.

Extra bits and pieces

Pilot S20 eraser and other thumbnail images

The S20 has some of the typical bits you’d expect from a drafting pencil, like a lead indicator built into the cap. Mine arrived switched to “B” and the lead inside was indeed B-grade—dark and soft. However, kindly included in the review package was some HB lead to try out, too. It was easy to switch the lead indicator.

The cap also hides an eraser, which is extremely small. I’ll probably never use it (I used a black Pentel “Pray for Japan” eraser this time) but I get the feeling that some of you readers actually use those things.

Summary

I can highly recommend the Pilot S20 as a gift for just about anyone who likes pencils, or as a working, aesthetic accent to a professional drawing toolkit. It’s not a cheap pencil (currently around $30 USD) but given the unique strengths of the design, I think it’s worth the money if you like how it looks.

Overall, this is how I see the pros and cons:

Pros:

  • Wood color and texture
  • Organic curvature
  • Precise construction
  • Balanced feel
  • Short clip
  • Excellent labeling
  • Extremely aesthetic appearance overall

Cons:

  • Plastic cap

The S20 is also available in red wood and you can buy it in 0.3mm, too (note that there are eraser refills at that link).

Big thanks to JetPens for letting me review the Pilot S20! Let me know in the comments below if you think I should do a giveaway or if you have any ideas for future sketch themes. Thanks for reading! :-)