Review by Tina Koyama
If you’re a fan of either pencils or John Steinbeck or both, you are probably familiar with the “Steinbeck length” – the length at which the American author would stop using a wood-cased pencil because the eraser end could no longer be supported by the crook between his thumb and forefinger. On an average pencil, that length is about 4 inches.
I can see why he rejected anything shorter – it’s not comfortable to write with a pencil after that, let alone draw with one. For those of us who aren’t Steinbeck, the obvious solution is to get a pencil holder and extend both the pencil and its life of use.
At this point in the discussion, I have an embarrassing confession to make: I have so many pencils (graphite and colored) and use so many simultaneously that I hit the Steinbeck length infrequently. However, many of my colored pencils are finally nearing that stage now (my hand is apparently smaller than Steinbeck’s, because the Steinbeck length for me is about 3 ½ inches long), so I knew it was time to finally shop for a pencil holder. I chose the Sonic Gripen because its description on JetPens indicates that its grip has a relatively hefty girth, which I generally prefer in any writing or drawing instrument.
Available in four colors, the Sonic Gripen has a white plastic refillable eraser that extends when the eraser barrel is twisted.
Although serviceable, it erased slightly worse than average for this type of eraser. (I’m guessing that other eraser refills would fit.)
To test the Sonic Gripen, I chose two pencils: A yellow Ticonderoga, 3 ½ inches long (scrounged from my husband’s work bench) and a 1 ½-inch-long Staedtler Norica that is now too short to sharpen except with a knife (found in the bottom of my “miscellaneous” pencil box). Both are of standard diameter, and both are firmly beyond the Steinbeck stage and uncomfortable to use without a holder.
My second embarrassing confession is that it took me a while to figure out how to put a pencil into the holder. You need to first twist the barrel until the inner black part (visible through the translucent barrel) retracts enough to accommodate the length of your pencil (less the inch or so that the pencil will extend from the holder’s opening). Then push the pencil into the barrel opening until it clicks firmly into place. (I’m sure this is explained on the packaging instructions, but I can’t read enough Japanese to make sense of technicalities beyond ramen on a café sign.) If you don’t hear a click, the pencil will spin around and fall out. As the pencil gets shorter from use, simply twist the barrel in the opposite direction, and the pencil will be pushed further out.
I was afraid the tiny stub of a Staedtler would be too short, but it is just long enough. In both cases, I could write easily with the Sonic Gripen’s slightly rubbery grip, which is pleasant to hold. The added girth would appeal to me on any pencil of standard diameter, which is always just a little too slender for my comfort.
Other than the mediocre eraser, the Sonic Gripen gets high marks for being a comfortable and easily operated pencil holder for any standard-size pencil. But dangit – some of my favorite colored pencils with thicker barrels – the ones now at the Steinbeck stage – won’t fit in the Gripen! (These thick-barreled pencils cause me no end of problems.)