Earth Day Giveaway.

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I’ve meant to do this for years, and I’ve finally amassed enough “eco” pencils to give it a go. The lucky winner of this giveaway will receive a selection of pencils which are billed as Earth Friendly in some way (whether truly or not). There are some very nice pencils in this category, like the Wopex, Forest Choice, Ticonderoga EnviroStik*, O’Bon, etc. I promise that this will be a very cool prize.

Rules:
Usually, we go with a theme. This time, simply leave one (1) comment to be entered. Contest is limited to wherever I can send a small package via the US Postal Service, which is probably most places on Earth. I’d like to get the package out before April 22nd. So we’ll end the collection of entries on Easter Saturday/Sunday at midnight, which is really late Saturday night to my fellow Night Owls. I’ll contact the winner by Sunday night, April 20th. If we can’t get a response from the winner in one week for some reason, we’ll pick a new one.

*Which is, apparently, minimalistic enough to not need the C to spell it correctly.

Cool, Blue Sun-Star Pencil Gear, Part II.

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Sun-Star Sect Cylindrical Multi Pencil Sharpener
The sharpener is a cool little device. A dial clicks into five positions, giving you, in effect, five point options, from needle-sharp to pretty blunt. I have never owned a blade sharpener like this, and it’s a cool little device. The dial moves the sharpener inside of the body toward or away from the pencil you are trying to sharpen. If it’s far enough away, you can’t feed enough of your pencil through to get a very sharp point, which is ideal for fragile pencils like charcoal and colored pencils.

This is the sharpest point, #1. This is a nice angle, and the shavings were easily removed from this pencil.

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This is the most blunt point, #5. I did find that numbers 3-5 were all pretty blunt, while #1 to #2 and #2 to #3 were pretty big jumps.

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The sharpener itself is a nice blue plastic pocket sharpener. The issue I had was that cleaning it is a chore, if you use it more than a few times without emptying it. We don’t usually carry around the shavings from a dozen pencils, certainly, but this one holds some touch-ups and one or two starts from an unsharpened point before it clogs. The blade came sharp, but it is not replaceable. If you’re looking for a long-term relationship full of new blades, this is not the sharpener for you. But if you want to try an adjustable sharpener that really does make different points and that looks nice to boot, this is the one for you. And, think about it; getting to that $25 free shipping mark never looked so…blue.

Cool, Blue Sun-Star Pencil Gear, Part I.

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Jet Pens sent some cool stuff our way a few weeks ago, and we’ve got a report. These are all blue Sun-Star items, and blue serves these pieces well. We’ll review the sharpener in more detail tomorrow.

Now, we have published a few pieces about mechanical pencils on this site. But I have never written one. I know embarrassingly little about them, and the Bic Matic is probably one of my favorites. So forgive me if I botch the terminology or am completely off the wall.

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Sun-Star Knock Free Sharp Mechanical Pencil
I liked this pencils as soon as I opened it for just the colors and form-factor. I love the ferrule and the band going around it, and the dimensions of the pencil are very nice. Recognized that color scheme: GOLDEN BEAR.What makes this pencil unique is the fact that the pressure of it being put down onto the paper “clicks” it, causing it to feed more lead to you and, in turn, to your paper. I thought it seemed a little…gimicky. But it actually works. I usually write in cursive, and the feed system was able to keep up with my standardish Catholic school script. The lead and eraser worked well, and the whole package comes with a replacement cartridge to boot. This is a nice add-on for a Jet Pens order, for sure.

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Sun-Star Bode Electric Eraser
The battery-operated eraser sort of baffles me. It’s, well…cute, and it doesn’t vibrate enough to make me lose my grip. But I feel like there was a trade-off somewhere in the material which the eraser itself is made. It feels soft, but it’s not. It wouldn’t hold together with the motor turning it against paper it the rubber was very soft. It’s a bit hard, but smooth. It works in tight places, which is, I assume, the attraction of such a sharpener. It doesn’t erase as well as a top-notch plastic eraser, but what does? The design is nice, and I suspect that it would be even more usefull with a better piece of “rubber” in there. I haven’t had a chance to cut something new, but if Comrades have any ideas, I am keen to do some cutting.

Of Pencils, Pads and the Road.

At Home Kit
This essay is from Wayne H. W. Wolfson. It is a detailed musing on writing and drawing kits that will surely facilitate the formulation of Kits for Comrades everywhere. I, for one, am rethinking the use and contents of my vintage (it was my Dad’s) US Army Map Case…

I groped for the idea from last night which I planned on using for a story. Like a fisherman who spots something just below the surface of the water, its shape making it seem worthwhile to go after while still not revealing exactly what it is. Usually I have my trusty pad next to me in which I could have quickly jotted it down. But having gotten in late last night and somewhat whammied by jetlag, I had not unpacked my book bag. It would come back to me, its temporary absence spurring me on to unpack.

To varying degrees all artists are pagans in that we all seem to create little rituals which superstitions then attach themselves to. If I feel a story percolating but not quite there yet or I am unsure of what I want to draw next — If I then go out without a (sketch/note) pad then I know inspiration will hit or I will encounter subject matter whose presence is fleeting and cannot necessarily be returned to the next day, when better equipped. As inconvenient as this may sound, it can actually be worked to one’s advantage too, knowing the cause and effect, choosing to go out unequipped, so as to bring things to the surface.

For the most part though, I always have some manner of pad and pencil on me. What I am equipped with depends upon where I am. Read the rest of this entry »

Yellow Rhodia Paper.

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The good folks at Rhodia Drive were kind enough to include me on a list of folks to provide feedback about the yellow Rhodia pad.

Shameful admission: I did not even know it existed.

Early conclusion: This is the nicest yellow paper I have ever written on!
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Despite the reviews on this site for less-than-cheap papers, I actually like legal pads for the yellow paper and the format. Problem is, the paper often has a combination of too much tooth (soft pencils get eaten) and too much dye (lighter pencils don’t show up). As a result, I usually resort to white paper legal pads, even though I’m not sure they are still technically legal pads.

I have used the No. 19 lined pads of white and yellow paper for podcast notes over the last two weeks, to really get a feel. Backtracking: the Cold Horizon from Field Notes was, I think, a lovely notebook. But I hated the paper for pencil. The subtle dye in the pages repelled graphite enough that a quarter of mine are filled with…INK.* I tested the yellow Rhodia pad a lot before concluding anything because I was suspicious that my first impressions could not be true, that this dyed paper performed just like it’s bright-white counterpart.
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But it does. I have never used yellow paper like this, and I will be a repeat user of this book for sure. I’d mention the smoothness of the paper and the solid construction of the Rhodia pads themselves. But, well, we all know this already. I really like the No. 19, coming in at 8.25 X 12.5 inches, with perfectly spaced lines, generous margins and printing on both sides.

My only qualm, and it is minor, is that the orange of the cover clashes with the yellow, chromatically. I understand that this orange is part of the Rhodia identity. But maybe using their black covers would be workable. Or, better yet: white covers with black printing? (Swoon.)

Thanks to Stephanie and Karen for the great notebooks to review, and definitely pick one of these up if you are even a remote fan of yellow paper.

*[Don't tell anyone.]

Boyhood Pencil Games.

Hogyun Lee has recently written one of the most detailed descriptions of Pencil Fighting I have ever read.

“This involved a set of tightly regulated rules whereupon a boy would challenge another to a ‘“pencil duel.’ After some preliminary positioning, two boys would take turns thumping with a single swing using only the wrist and fingers the other’s pencil held firmly and horizontally squeezed inwards firmly by the thumpee being dealt the blow. It was a destructive game, as the two took turns until one or both of the pencils developed cracks to the point of shattering apart to uselessness. The defeated was relegated to sharpening up a salvaged half of his pencil if fortunate enough to have a useable remnant.”

Read on, but don’t go breaking up your Best Pencils in fights that are for less than All the Glory, Comrades. We aren’t so young anymore, with an entire lifetime of pencils ahead of us.

Drawing on the Couch.

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(Charlotte, enjoying a Good German Pencil at Carma’s Cafe last week.)

The Little Man went down for his nap early today, while Mama was at a knitting class. On a quiet Sunday afternoon, Miss Charlotte and I sat on the couch with notebooks in our laps and my pencil box between us. I told her she could use whatever she wants. There are no taboo pencils in our house, not ones that can be reached by children.

First, she took a new Staedtler Noris (HB) and colored for a while.

“Look, a pencil from France,” said I, showing her a green Bic Evolution. She took the General’s Kimberly (B) out of my hand and colored with that for a while instead. She drew a picture of me as a “little boy” and a rainbow with a short Blackwing Pearl. She took up a Staedtler Wopex and colored with it until she chipped the point. Then she put it back and picked up a Mono 100 (HB).

“I like this pencil. Can you give me one — from The Archive?”*

“Sure,” I said. “What do you like about it? The color?”

“No,” Charlotte said. “I like the way it’s made.”**

She colored with a Hi-Uni (HB), asking, “What’s this one?”

She took the ultra-smooth General’s Draughting and said, “I’m being quiet.” Was she talking about the Silent Glide of that smooth core?

Soon, it was naptime for her, too. We read Shel Silverstein on the couch that smelled a little like cedar.

*(Her emphasis.)
** (I’m not making this up!)

Killing a Golden Bear.

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No, this is not an act of animal cruelty. This is the subject line of the email in which Comrade Dan sent us this picture, from the firehouse. Pencils getting used! That’s not killing. No, not at all. That’s the opposite. The very opposite.

New Palomino Pencil Finish.

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A few weeks ago, Pencils.com sent out an email unveiling the new Palomino. I bought a dozen of the orange HB Palominos as a gift only a few weeks before that, and I noticed that the imprint had been cut down to just the word “Palomino” and the grade. “California Republic Stationers” was gone. I was disappointed and went home and counted all of the orange HB Palominos in The Archive. I wished I’d saved some more, especially the blue end-dipped, which is one of my very favorite pencils ever.

I ordered a set of the mixed new grade Palominos, to compare them with the mixed grade pack I received for my birthday in August 2012. I ordered them Monday, and they came today, all of the way to Baltimore on the $1.70 shipping. Excellent.

The new Palomino is, finish-wise, more different than folks let on. But it’s the same ride under the, er, saddle. I thought I’d report on it here, in magical list of ten that I jotted down on a Rhodia pad tonight.

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1) I sharpened all seven grades with the same sharpener and tried them out on Rhodia paper. Good news: I cannot distinguish between the cores of the new and cores of the old.

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2) The orange is a bit different. I was seconded and thirded in blind tests at HQ, indicating that I am correct: the new color is ever-so-slightly less red. But I have noticed subtle changes in the orange and blue before, going back to 2005. I am not disturbed by this. On its own, the new pencil looks like the same orange enough. And who says it has to be the same?

3) As a Baltimorean, I should appreciate that the color scheme mirrors that of our major-league baseball team (I’m looking at you, Tim.)

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4) I like the black imprint, though it is not as crisp as the old Palomino or the Blackwing Pearl, which shares the black branding.

5) The end could use another coat of black. I can see the orange paint where the end of the wooden barrel and the plastic cap meet on all of the pencils in the box I bought.

6) Unless these are going to be sold individually, I do not understand the sudden appearance of the barcode. Indeed, I have often seen various Blackwing models for sale individually sans barcode. But if this is a sign that the Palomino’s market will increase to more brick-and-mortar art supply stores, then I heartily embrace it. (I feel badly for the staff at my favorite shop when they have to look up codes from the shelves when I buy pencils which lack barcodes.) I am also glad to see the country of origin included in the pencil, though I’m not quite sure why this makes me feel that way.

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7) The grade is only stamped on the end on two sides, the same two that have printing on them further down the barrel. This threw me a bit, as pencils are often stamped on three sides for easier identification. But these new Palominos are still myriad times easier to select than the older version, with only one small grade identifier.

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8) The Palominos feel more like an art pencil than they did before. This is not necessarily a bad thing at all, and indeed might indicate the direction in which Cal Cedar plans to move the “original” Palomino pencil. However, with the long-standing, short spectrum of grades (2H-2B) dominating for nearly seven years, I always thought of the Palomino as a writing pencil, a fine writing pencil, and I think that distinction could very well have been a part of my affection for this pencil.

9) I have long wondered what would be the fate of the pencil which (unless I am mistaken) ultimately made the Palomino version[s] of the Blackwing possible. It is reassuring to know that the Palomino is still getting attention, after giving its name to the new branding. Cal Cedar seems to be breathing new life into this Senior Pencil. It’s also especially nice (to me) to know that things are the same on business end of the pencil – same core; same cedar; same excellent centering. It is the same writing experience that I have enjoyed since Woodchuck sent the first review pack almost nine years ago.

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10) I’m not sure that I like this treatment as much as the original finish, but I hope it will grow on me. It feels less like a “fancy” pencil and more like a Work Horse pencil now. And, despite my few qualms, it should tell Comrades something that I have replaced the gold-stampled Palomino in my small pencil box with one of the HBs in my new set.

(These were not provided by Cal Cedar. Opinions expressed about this model and about this brand toward which many folks feel very strongly – one way or the other – are my own.)

Review of Staedtler Wopex HB.

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I have been meaning to review the Staedtler Wopex for a long time. But it is a pencil about which I have thought so much that it became a daunting task. For starters, this is not the kind of pencil I expect to like. I usually like something a little darker, and the fake wood angle is not one that attracts me.* The lead feels waxy, but in a tacky – not necessarily smooth – way. And it was, until recently, difficult and/or expensive to build a Stash of them in The Archive. But there’s something about this hard-to-sharpen and heavy pencil that pleases me to no end. On yet another Snowday at HQ, I thought I’d sit down and write about it.
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The Wopex is an extruded pencil made of recycled wood and plastic. This is nothing new. Nor is the finish being part of the extrusion new. But Staedtler has improved on the process, in my opinion. For starters, they released the Wopex during a time of greater ecological consciousness. I was young when Eagle came out with their extruded pencils, but it was certainly not a time of great eco-attention. One of my least favorite things about the older plastic pencils is their flexibility. Not only do the barrels feel like they might snap under my meaty grip; they actually bend when I write with them using anything but the lightest touch. The fact that these older plastic pencils have such light-marking leads that they require significant pressure for legible writing exacerbates their shortcomings, in my experience. The Wopex is dense, heavy and rigid. It is very comfortable to write with.
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I bought a 10-pack from Amazon, at the end of summer 2013, for around $8-$9. These have the same subtle glittery-sparkly finish as the European models which Matthias was kind enough to send me. The feel is very…grippy, but not in the sticky manner of some grippy pens which attract lint and pieces of coffee grounds like Silly Putty. The newer Wopex pencils that I found at Staples this winter are a much brighter green, and the sparkles are gone. They have a nice, tactile sensation to their finish, but it is no more than half as tacky as the few European Wopexen I have or the eraser-tipped version I bought on Amazon a few months ago.
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The lead is extruded with the barrel, and it is a plastic/graphite composite – similar to the leads for mechanical pencils. As I mentioned, it feels tacky and produces a light line. However, as several other bloggers have pointed out, this pencil’s marks stick to the page. They do not smear or transfer (ghost) easily. As such, I find that they make excellent pencils for pocket notebooks, and I keep shorter ones on my person.** I am surprised by how much I like it for Pocket Writing.

These pencils are marketed as eco-friendly because of the material of which they are constituted and because they are supposed to last twice as long as a wooden pencil. I have not found this to be the case. Because their line is a little light, I sharpen them more often. So whatever long-lasting properties the lead might have is rendered moot by its lightness. As the current price of $5 (US) for a dozen and a half, it is certainly an economical pencil. And I do not generally mind needing to sharpen a pencil more often.
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As Matthias points out, the Wopex is tricky to sharpen. There are sharpeners from Staedtler with a small W on the underside that are supposed to be great for the Wopex. The only reason I have found this to be partly true is that the blades are very sharp and are held fast to the sharpener body. Any KUM sharpener with a similarly new blade that I have tried has given me the same results. With care, I can get a nice point with a wedge sharpener, and it is what I often use to sharpen a Wopex. Burr sharpeners do no work as well. I lost a good inch and a half from my first Wopex last year by using a crank sharpener. The Wopex material gives the blades so much resistance that the auto-stop does not work. Using such a sharpener with care and not making the Wopex point into a plastic needle works satisfactorily, if one stops the sharpening process short. A Deli 0668 that Matthias sent me works great, with the point adjustor dialed back from the sharpest setting a bit. Also, I have been improving my knife sharpening skills lately, venturing into blade sharpening on occasion.
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The eraser is white and surprisingly good. It erases better than most of the Pencil-Mounted Erasers I have on hand, and even a few block erasers. To be sure, it’s no match for the Mars plastic eraser. But it does bunch its “dust” together into a tight ball in a similar fashion. It is soft, but stiff, and very securely clamped into the ferrule. I am trying to think of a pencil whose mounted eraser is better than the Wopex’s, and I am drawing a blank (or, at least, with a German 9H).

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What struck me about the new US version, aside from the brighter green, is the ferrule. I am not aware of owning other pencils with this feature. The ferrule is molded to both the eraser and the barrel. It is round where it holds the eraser. And it is actually hexagonal where it meets the barrel of the pencil. The result is an inexplicably pleasant feeling of Completeness. Please, Comrades, do not judge me too harshly for staring at one of these pencils long enough to find the source of this Completion Sensation. The other result of this Ideal Marriage of Ferrule Ends is that the ferrule does its job very well. You ain’t getting this pencil apart without large steel tools, several people or very very strong teeth.
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The Wopex is available in quite a few colors in Europe, and I have considered attempting to collect them myself. I am glad that it is finally available in the US at all, and I hope we get a few more hues. There’s a market for neon pencils, Staedtler! I am a huge fan of these pencils. Send us some colors, and make us Happy.

*But I have recently acquired some eraser-tipped Bic Evolution pencils, after a recommendation by Speculator, and I am enjoying them.

**Perhaps subconsciously, I matched the case for my recently-purchased Android phone to the green of a Wopex, since they often ride in the same pocket.

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