With a name like Mega Pencil, you might not be surprised that we have a certain fascination with cool and unusual pencils. A solid steel mechanical pencil with a retro design aesthetic might just be the definition of “cool and unusual”.
Retro 1951 is a boutique pen maker that started back in 1990. The brand focuses on unique designs with vintage styling inspired by Americana from the 1950s. Think rocket ships, Corvettes and Drive-in Diners.
The Tornado was introduced in 1997 originally as a retractable rollerball pen and is now available in fountain, ballpoint and pencil varieties. The name comes from the distinct knurled top that twists to reveal the nib, or in our case, propel the lead forward.
Stunning on the outside, surprising on the inside
The first thing you’ll notice about the Tornado pencil is its incredibly sleek stainless steel body. The shaft is milled from a solid piece of metal and feels smooth and strong in your hand. The entire pencil feels very well put together, which isn’t surprising considering one of Retro 51’s trademarked taglines is “We make em’ like they used to!”
There’s a heft to the Tornado that makes it feel more like a drawing tool than just a pencil.
The unusually wide eraser is mounted on the knurled top, which twists to propel or retract the lead. This is a very exotic mechanism among mechanical pencils and has both its pros and cons.
While the majority of mechanical pencils use 0.5 or 0.7mm lead, Retro 51 uses a proprietary size of 1.15mm. It’s possible the propelling system requires a thicker diameter lead to avoid snapping, but it’s worth noting you can’t exactly pick up refills at your local art store.
Don’t like stainless steel? The stealth version features a matte black aluminum body instead. Even the eraser is black!
The best pencil packaging ever?
While presentation shouldn’t necessarily be part of grading a mechanical pencil, we can’t help but mention Retro 51’s packaging.
The recyclable cardboard tube pulls apart to reveal the pencil standing tall in a tailored foam insert. This section not only protects the body during shipping, but also acts as a slick pencil holder!
Along with the pencil is a surprisingly generous amount of refills. A case of 12 HB 1.15 leads is included along with 6 eraser refills and the manual.
Is the Retro 51 Tornado good for artists?
After sketching with the pencil for a few sessions, we can say the Tornado is great for artists with a few small caveats…
While the sleek stainless steel body looks amazing, it does feel a little slippery. There’s no knurling, ridges or grooves around the grip which can cause the pencil to twist between your fingers.
The broad eraser is nice for large areas, but can be tricky to clean up small details.
Unlike rear loading mechanisms, Retro 51’s unusual twist system can’t hold spare lead refills. Instead of storing in the rear shaft of the pencil, they need to be inserted from the front, which can be a bit fiddly.
If you’re heavy-handed when you draw or like to shade in large areas you’ll love the Tornado’s thick lead. Not once did we have a lead stick break during our tests.
Overall, the fantastic build quality and stunning design of the Retro 51 Tornado stainless steel pencil make it a great addition to your collection.