I've seen this debate many times online and it always proves to be one of the touchiest of subjects. Mechanical Pencil enthusiasts (I'm one of them) are often sneered at by lovers of wood and vice-versa.
It's lethal out there!
It may interest you to know, whichever side of the fence you sit on, that mechanical pencils aren't just some recent invention created by some lazy millennial so they don't have to sharpen their pencil.
They've actually been around for a really long time. In fact, The first mechanical pencil was patented in 1822 by 2 English fellows named John Isaac Hawkins and Sampson Mordan. Source wikipedia
Although mechanical pencils have been growing in popularity as they're easy to maintain and portable - Wooden pencils are still as popular as ever to those who prefer a more 'simplistic' and traditional medium.
But is one better than than the other? Let's find out. FIGHT!
Let's face it, mechanical pencils are more convenient. I really don't think there is much of an argument here. They are easier to carry around as many of them have retractable tips so are pocket safe and they are always sharp ready to use when needed.
Wooden pencils on the other hand are not. If you do choose to carry a wooden pencil in your pocket you will need some sort of cap for the tip. The other option is to keep it in a pencil case, which then means it's not as readily available if you need to make notes quickly. Then things get worse if the tip snaps and needs to be sharpened.
Winner: Mechanical Pencil - A clear winner. They are always sharp and can be ready to use in a click.
Both mechanical pencils and wooden pencils perform well depending on the user. But with a mechanical pencil the buzzword is precision. Writing is more consistent with a mechanical as the lead is always sharp but can be prone to snapping if too much pressure is applied.
If you do want softer leads in your mechanical pencil then you would have to get thicker sizes by default so you do have to think about that when buying.
With wooden pencils all lead grades and sizes are available but when performance is concerned... if what you need is fine detail, you do need to very regularly sharpen it for the desired result.
Similarly when focusing on covering larger or darker areas using softer leads, the lead runs out quickly. So to maintain that level of peak performance with a wooden pencil takes much more work having to constantly sharpen them.
Winner: Mechanical Pencil. No sharpening = smiley face.
Availability is a huge deciding factor for many people using mechanical or wooden pencils. For example some countries have a greater variety of brands whilst others may be slightly more limited to what you can find locally.
There is no shortage of varying mechanical pencils although online stores may provide more options and it may be trickier to find the right lead size you need to fit your mechanical pencil so that is something to bare in mind.
With wooden pencils most physical art stores often sell 18 or 22 piece pencil sets ranging from 9H to 9B. This pretty much covers all bases.
Winner: Wooden Pencils. In today's age of online shopping both Mechanical pencils and Wooden pencils are very easily accessible but I think I'll give the edge to Wooden pencils on this one. Purely for the fact that you are more likely to find what you need walking into a shop.
As mentioned earlier mechanical pencils can snap easily if too much pressure is applied or you have advanced too much lead so you do have to be mindful of your technique.
With wooden pencils I have lost count of the amount of times I have sharpened one only to have the lead snap of inside the sharpener, so then I have to dig it out and sharpen it again. The pain is real!
Due to the very nature of a mechanical pencil they tend to last much much longer that a pencil as it can be refilled. But that's not fair is it. We should look at the quality of the barrel which comes down to the brand or manufacturer. As with anything some are better than others but in general a decent mechanical pencil will last years.
Wooden pencils can also last a long time but it comes down to how much use they get (obviously they get shorter each time you sharpen them) and how they are stored. It's not unusual for wooden pencils to develop dents and cracks over time which can make them pretty unusable. Again though brand and quality is a big factor and higher quality pencils such as 'Blackwing' as one example will be much more forgiving.
Winner: Tie. Just as with most things you get what you pay for. You buy cheap, expect cheap quality. But wooden pencils aren't meant to last forever, to use them is to destroy them regardless.
This is a big one for most people. If we were to compare the basic version of both mechanical and wooden there honestly wouldn't be much difference at all in price. But the quality of the mechanical would be really low.
A decent mechanical pencil can cost anywhere from £5 up to £20. I'd say this is a reasonable price range for a mechanical pencil that will last. Of course you can get them at a much MUCH higher price too but this comes down to budget and personal preference.
A pack of extra leads may cost around £10 for 100 bits on average. Different brands and grades will also effect the price.
With wooden pencils you can get a decent set of 5 standard grades for less than £3. Again this can change with brand and size of the set. A pack of 12 Blackwing pencils for example can cost over £30. However when they run out, you'll need more.
Winner: Tie. Yes individually pencils are cheaper but they need replacing and a mechanical pencil is more expensive from the outset but think of it as a small investment. It's the leads that will need replacing after your initial purchase and they're really cheap.
To be honest I love both. I will always use both for different things as they are great in different ways.
A wooden pencil smells great and you can snap it in half and share with a friend.
A mechanical pencil comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes. They are portable and I love the look of them.
So which is better?
Well just to throw a spanner in the works I'd like to offer a sneaky third option...
I like to think of them as wooden/mechanical pencil hybrids.
I present to you... The Clutch Pencil (or Leadholder)
They look and behave like a mechanical pencil but come with 2mm leads so the writing/drawing experience is much like that of a wooden pencil. Plus there's usually a built in sharpener to grind down the point.
This is my favourite. Disagree with me? Let's talk about it...
(Editor Comment: Pah! The Neros 2.5 by Musgrave is THE ANSWER.😁)