The National Industries of the Blind were chartered by Congress in the 1930s to employ thousands of workers with visual impairments. They started making janitorial supplies and quickly shifted to office supplies. For the last 70 years they’ve been making government issue pens, pencils and more. One of those classics is the Skilcraft Fidelity line of mechanical pencils. I just got a couple in the mail. Here’s my review.
Sorry for the blurry pic. I’ll try to replace this eventually. My intent was to show the retracting lead sleeve:
The Skilcraft Fidelity is a very simple design. The body is all plastic and has a slight hexagonal shaping near the grip. There is no patterned grip. It is smooth. The pencil is very lightweight.
The lead sleeve is retractable, being extended just by clicking the standard plunger at the top. It retracts by pushing the pencil down while the plunger is pressed down. The lead sleeve has virtually no wobble to it at all. Retractable means pocket safe which definitely gives this pencil the edge over the Pentel Sharp!
The lead advance is pretty good. I didn’t measure it but I’d say between 0.2 and 0.3 mm per click. A quality pencil will have a consistent lead advancement and this is in the mid range of most.
The eraser is of a standard pink pencil variety. It wears down faster than white plastic erasers that are standard in most drafting pencils It is a thickness slightly larger than the standard drafting erasers in Pentels and other drafting varieties. The big downside to this is that the Fidelity requires special eraser refills that could be very hard to find given that they are only manufactured by one manufacturer and cannot be readily replaced by white plastic Pentels. Of course, some would argue that this is a minor concern given the work that NIB does to employ individuals with a visual impairment. There is very little play in the plunger mechanism when erasing. Certainly no more or less than the Pentel Sharp series. In this regard the pencil feels very simple and very solid, which are desirable characteristics to me.
The pencils are somewhat expensive unless bought in bulk. You could spend the same amount on bulk Pentel Sharps. Given that, I would personally be more inclined to purchase the somewhat technically superior Pentel Sharp. It is a stronger overall grip and eraser, and has a better eraser system. Yet, supporting the NIB is also a positive concept as well.
All that said, the Skilcraft just doesn’t quite feel “right” in my hand. Too slidey. Not enough grip. Sorry to the diehard fans out there. I’d definitely rate it in the top half and its positive notes are many!