First Day of School Pencils, Take Two.

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So. Charlotte started school today. Pre-K. She has been my constant companion for over four years. I did not have an easy night’s sleep or morning. But this is not the kind of blog where we wax emotional. However, there is still, of course, plenty to talk about on a pencil blog about the first day of school.

We bought the stuff on her school supply list. I assumed that six #2 pencils meant 1/2 dozen of fat learner’s pencils with big erasers for little students in Pre-K. So I dug through the bins at Staples to make sure that she got the best six in the store. While not on the list, I made sure to include a Pink Pearl and German-bladed pencil sharpener. Charlotte came home with 5 pencils in her backpack. I asked why. She said they are not supposed to have fat pencils.

Well. Hey hey hey. This means she can basically take whatever she wants to school for pencils! Holiday pencils. Disney Fairy pencils. Heck, Blackwings if she wants. So I took her to The Archive before our favorite restaurant opened for dinner and let her pick any six pencils she wanted.

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This is what she came up with.

She picked the EnviroStik first, then an old (2005) Forest Choice, though I made her take a new one, to be sure the eraser works. Next, she requested that I open a 2014 Target-exclusive pack of Ticonderogas for “the blue one.” She picked a regular (new, matte, Chinese) Ticonderoga, then a black one (Chinese, smooth). Finally, she went for the bright silver of the Musgrave Test Scoring 100. These were pointed on a Deli sharpener (not too long) and are contained in an empty Ticonderoga box, for school tomorrow.

I scoped out the sharpener situation in the room, but I couldn’t get any pictures because a Little Guy was sobbing in the chair nearest: crank sharpener mounted where Small Children can reach it and an industrial electric sharpener behind the teacher’s desk. I did notice a pencil cup near it, and what the teacher wrote on was written in pencil. If I see her with a red/blue pencil, I’m gushing about this website and the even better podcast of which I am thankful to be a part.

Click to view the school supply they forgot to put on The List. Also, this stub was the first pencil Charlotte ever touched, when it was new in 2010.

Click to view the school supply they forgot to put on The List. Also, this stub was the first pencil Charlotte ever touched, when it was new in 2010.

Review of KUM Special Diameter Sharpener.

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Our friends at Jet Pens sent this in the early summer, and it somehow got left in the “drafts” folder. Summer vacation is officially over as of this morning, and it’s time to finally finish this review of the KUM Special Diameter Sharpener.

I was confused, at first, by the graphics on this sharpener. They show two triangular and two octagonal pencils, each of two sizes. With the triangular being first and the word “special,” my Summer Brain thought it meant that this sharpener was for differently shaped pencils. But the name clearly denotes differently sized pencils, and the innards support this — as does Common Sense and basic reading comprehension. The innards are simply a double-holed KUM wedge. This is not at all disappointing to me, since this is generally one of my go-to sharpeners, especially for Fat Pencils.

This sharpener is a covered wedge, with a mechanism of sorts which can slide over the holes, to prevent shavings and graphite dust from escaping. Here it is, unassembled.

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What you get is a very portable container sharpener that can sharpen nearly everything you’re likely to have on your person or in your bag or on your desk. In theory, I love it. But I thought I’d throw two sizes of a pencil which is…not as easy to sharpen as, say, a Ticonderoga — the obvious choice for differently-sized pencils of the same type. This is the Faber-Castell Grip 2001 and the Jumbo Grip. The former is certainly not cedar, but the latter is. However, being Fat and Triangular, it is not an easy pencil to sharpen in a blade sharpener.

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The sharpener itself did a great job, producing a semi-short point. However, as you can see below, the black plastic body of the case marred the finish on my Jumbo Grip. This is likely at least partly User Error; I basically stuck the pencil in and twisted it violently (as you can see, perhaps). But I am pleased with the point that the KUM wedge puts on Fat Pencils, for a nice, Stubby point. I usually keep my Fat Pencils a little more…blunt, but I wanted to see what this sharpener could produce.

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For the price (a little over $3), this is a great container sharpener. You might be able to see that I have scratched the clear plastic up, carrying it around a lot in my Diaper Bag and pocket. There are a few similar sharpeners from KUM floating around HQ. But they are not mine and not as “grown-up” looking as this little guy. Of course, you might ask how grown-up a man can look, using Fat Pencils. Certainly.

 

 

This Built America.

From a press release we received at HQ:

Drawing With History: AOL’s This Built America Covers New Jersey’s General Pencil Co.

Jersey City, New Jersey (August 6, 2014) – This Built America, a new multimedia platform from AOL exploring the companies and people reimagining American manufacturing, comes to Jersey City this week to profile the General Pencil Company — a company built on family and dedication that has been going strong since Edward Weissenborn founded his second pencil endeavor in 1889.

In this episode, the fourth, fifth and sixth generations of the family discuss why keeping General Pencil in the family is the key to their business success. It hasn’t always been easy to keep the company afloat, or to turn away offers to buy General Pencil, but the Weissenborns feel a connection to their long running, made in America company.

For General Pencil Company, being chosen to represent New Jersey in This Built America is proof that founder Edward Weissenborn made the right decision banking on family business all those years ago, no matter the circumstance. “We believe in America,” says Jim Weissenborn. “We are proud of our employees and the quality products they produce.”

To view the full episode and more on General Pencil Company, visit http://www.thisbuiltamerica.com/new-jersey/.

General Pencil Company joins a national movement in This Built America that is devoted to supporting American companies and American-made products. AOL is proud to support the effort along with sponsor Ford Trucks. Through the year, the editorial and video teams will explore 50 states in 50 weeks to bring 50 stories of the people who are bringing back manufacturing to America. The platform is produced in coordination with Man Made Content.

Power Pencils.

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Power Pencils! Watch the video, and then come back. Honestly, we will wait.

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This came to HQ last weekend. Power Pencils are magical pencils (!) with magical powers — though the magic happens only by certain practices and under the auspices of certain rules. These are some rules of the Dragon Pencil, for instance:
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The pencils are marked via Lazer Beam, burnt into the wood with pleasing effects. The Pencil of Desire:

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And the Dragon Pencil:

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You will notice that the pencils are dyed differently, shaped differently and have different erasers and ferrules. I don’t know why, but I enjoy this fact. These are not factory-stamped pencils churned out massively.

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How do they write? I don’t know yet. I have not gathered the correct circumstances in/with which to work their magic. So they remain virginal and latent currently. This will change soon, and I hope to report back.

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In the meantime, you can buy your own singly, or as a subscription via the Etsy store. Shipping is $2.50 for the $5 single pencils and $15 for the subscription. I really like the subscription model, echoing the Field Notes we all know and so many of us love. This would be a great gift, and the two samples we received for free have been hidden because of the advances of certain Magic Thieves in this HQ.

 

 

 

 

Review of Sprout Pencils.

The herd pack, lined up.

The herb pack, lined up.

The kind folks at Sprout sent us a pack of their plantable pencils recently for review (gratis), and I am in love with these pencils. These were originally on Kickstarter, and I missed them totally.

We received the herb pack, which reads like a list of the contents of the little garden in our small yard here at HQ. These are round pencils, made of cedar, in the USA. The logo is laser-etched, which made them smell like a campfire for the first week or two that I had them. And that’s a good thing.*

Before my pack was gutted, I scored one of these patriotic notebooks.

Before my pack was gutted, I scored one of these patriotic notebooks.

The ends are capped with a dark green plastic which dissolves in water. This contains the seeds. Do not chew on it. How does it work? Let’s borrow Sprout’s graphic:

Click for larger goodness.

Click for larger goodness.

Detailed instructions are also here.

I got these arrived a little too late for planting in Central Maryland, but I have another plan in mind. I am going to use these up before next spring and plant them then, for some Pencilicious Planting Action (PPA). I hope to report back then on how well they work, with photos of lushness galore.

I love when pencils come in a box.

I love when pencils come in a box.

In action, these pencils are very nice to write with. The unfinished wood and round shape are very comfortable, and the cedar sharpens perfectly. They come unsharpened; so you can get out a little Compost Cedar from the get-go. The leads are smooth and a little on the light side. This makes them great for writing on rough pots and textured plant-labels. The moisture sensitive caps do make me leave these inside during the muggy Maryland summer. But I can’t say that I venture outside to write as much in July as I probably should anyway. The lead is smear-resistant and seems to be lightly waxed. Erasing is impressive, and ghosting is not bad at all. They feel like a modern Ticonderoga core to me.

Versatile core.

Versatile core.

I have to say that I would really like these pencils even without the seeds in the caps. A round, naturally finished cedar pencil with burned on logo is very appealing to me. However, giving them another life next spring/summer, after use has rendered them stubs, is a nice way to honor such pretty pencils.

Thanks to Democratech for the sample pack, and I hear you can find these around Boston and Cambridge (where I’m headed on the 20th) if you’d like to avoid having to buy them online. They are available at Amazon also, for $19.95 a box.

*Ha! Find a pen that does that!

Review of Gallery Leather Oporto Journal.

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Gallery Leather contacted HQ a few weeks ago asking us if we’d review one of their made-in-maine leather journals. We received the Oporto Journal free of charge, and here is the skinny. Gallery’s description:

Modern Italian design in a journal constructed true to Old World book making tradition. Flush-cut, supported bonded leather cover.

I think there’s much more to say than that, especially with the very graphite-friendly paper in this book.

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This is a Desk Journal. I don’t know why, but I really like the idea of a desk journal, a ledger or book for sitting at one’s desk. For this purpose, this notebook is great. It measures 8×5.5 inches, with 192 lined pages. The lines are spaced at 1/4 of an inch, which is identical to the Field Notes Shelterwood. The lines feel less wide than they do in the Shelterwood, though, since they are spread over a larger area with the increased page size.

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The binding on this book is solid. Upon opening the book for the first time, both the leather and the binding were stiff. However, with time spent with this book for review purposes, it’s softened and loosened up nicely. I imagine that a week of desk use would render this book able to open fairly flatly.

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The leather is smooth, with a subtle texture and sheen. It smells great, but is not over-powering, and the raw/rough edges are a very nice touch (and keep the book more flexible). The spine is especially attractive, with a nice semi-boxed shape that neither sits too loosely nor refuses to budge for opening the book.

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My favorite thing about this book is the paper. It’s got a tooth that makes using harder pencils not only possible, but enjoyable. Certainly, this paper is not rough, and I imagine that pens that don’t like rough paper would work well. But the tooth does have certain consequences.

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Pencils which are as soft as the 2010 Palomino Blackwing* are out of the question, unless you like a smeary mess in your journal. Middling darkness HB pencils performed well, as did high-end but relatively dark Japanese HB pencils like the Hi-Uni and Mono 100. Some German HB pencils which I love but which are unloved by smooth papers (like Field Notes’ regular paper) were a true pleasure on this paper, producing a distinct line and showing great smear resistance. In general, I found this paper to be a little on the messier side in smearability, but erasability was excellent. Castell 9000 and Mars Lumograph HB pencils are dreamy on this paper, and I had good luck with the Grip 2001 also. Because the paper is stiff (not necessarily thick), ghosting is very good with this paper. The German HB pencils I used retained much of their point retention, smoothness and smear resistance, while appearing much more darkly on the page.

If you’re on the lookout for a nice Sitting Still Journal, take a hard-but-smooth HB pencil with this book, and journal to your heart’s content.

* I think they should adopt this coinage of mine and send me a dozen to boot, don’t you?

Summer Time.


It’s summer time at Pencil Revolution. This photo captures the mood at HQ lately. It’s one of abundance. Happy summer!

The Roost: A Blog at Thoreau Farm.

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For some reason, I had no idea that this blog existed until tonight, when I renewed my Thoreau Society membership dues (which were late): The Roost. Check out the post about sleeping on hot and humid nights here. Coming off of our first official heat wave of the summer, I feel like some very un-Thoreauvian planet-killer; we have central air conditioning that I am not shy about using on nights like this, though I suspect central Maryland was far hotter and stickier than Massachusetts was.*

With Mr. Thoreau’s birthday coming up and my trip to Massachusetts coming up next month, Henry is on my mind a lot lately. What would he think of a pencil blog? Would he just be happy people do things without computers? Would he be appalled that I prefer a wedge sharpener to a manual knife?

Would Henry listen to our podcast?

*At least the few years I lived there were not as terrible as a Maryland summer.

What’s the Point of Pencils?

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If you are enjoying our Erasable, you might also enjoy a listen to this program which features some fine Comrades of Pencildom.
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Also, have you heard episode 8 of Erasable yet? There’s information about a nice giveaway at the end. We present the first round of Pencil Heroes. I picked Hemingway, of course.

Finally, do join our new Erasable Podcast Pencil Community group for the growing discussion of All Things Pencil.

Review of Sun-Star Safety Pencil Knife.

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We received one of these Pencil Knives free of charge from Jet Pens a few weeks ago at HQ for reviewing. I have used this little knife for a while and have probably taken it to inappropriate places in my pocket over these weeks. So believe me when I tell you that this is a cool little knife, one that has been tested.
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First, it is a safety knife, but it is still a knife. Don’t give one to a toddler or someone with tiny fingers. That said, it is difficult to cut yourself with it if you are careful and use it for what it is meant for — sharpening pencils. I am a man who brings accidents down upon himself, and I haven’t cut myself with it yet.* This is a very pocket-friendly knife. It takes up about as much Volume Real Estate as a pocketknife, but it is very light. I literally forgot it was in my cargo shorts pocket on several occasions, almost leading to a Washing Machine Test. The blade assembly slides out and locks into place with a satisfying click, and there is a thumb indentation for ease of use.
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I want to stress that using this knife is very unlike using a regular pocketknife to sharpen a pencil. The blade is thinner and is curved. Because of the safety guard, you cannot chop off large hunks of wood or graphite from your pencil. This knife works in a sort of semi-shaving action, taking off small pieces of the pencil with each cut. This means that it takes some time to bring an unsharpened pencil to Readiness for Action. But it also means that there is a lot of room for error. Because it is so unlike a pocketknife and because it takes off so little of the pencil at a time, this is an ideal sharpener for someone who is interested in taking up knife sharpening but perhaps is nervous about losing a digit or is intimidated by slight difficulty of sharpening a pencil with a knife.
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After several weeks of use, my review unit is still working very well, without significant dullness or any rust. Certainly, replacement blades would be a boon to this system, but the $6 price tag is not so steep. I really like this knife for touching-up points while I am out, when the pencil just needs a little nudge back to sharpness. It is lighter than some brass pocket sharpeners, but the volume keeps it from falling out of my pocket.

Plus, did I mention that this knife is just cool?

* Knock on wood.

Review of Monteverde One Touch Stylus Tool Mechanical Pencil.

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Ron from Pen Chalet contacted we Erasable guys about picking a cool mechanical pencil to review. I think we all picked the same pencil, in the same color: the Monteverde One Touch Stylus Tool Mechanical Pencil. My only previous review of a mechanical pencil was the blue knock-free pencil that I enjoyed. I find that I prefer mechanical pencils (and pens) that echo the shape of a hexagonal wooden pencil. So this heavy yellow pencil was a natural choice. Bear with me if my terms are terrible or if my understanding of mechanical pencils is less than basic.
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This pencil is heavy, metal and features various measuring standards along the yellow lacquered barrel. The point is exposed by twisting the gnarled metal at the business end. The lead is 9mm. There is a stylus on the end where you’d expect to find an eraser, and there are screwdrivers hidden underneath of it.
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I’m going to start with the non-pencil attributes of this pencil. First, the screwdrivers. This might be a bit…confessional. But I really (!) like to have a small philips screwdriver with whatever pencil kit I might be carrying to the coffeeshop, while traveling, etc. Why? That little screw on manual/blade pencil sharpeners! I do not know why this is so important to me. But that little purpose justifies not finding an eraser where I thought I would. The bit is two-sided, with a flathead screwdriver on the flipside. This is useful for prying staples and stuck pencil box lids.
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The stylus works very well. It’s soft and really flows with the design of the pencil. I’ve seen many such styli that put me in mind of a giant Santa Claus in a stickpen. This is a sort of Stealth Stylus, and it works very well on my Android-powered phone. A Comrade visiting HQ when the package arrived marvelled at this feature as much as the impressive heft of the entire instrument.
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What I like best about the stylus is that one is not stuck using it with the pencil held upsidedown, with the clip in your way. I stared at the threading around the point of the pencil for a while before I figured out that the stylus screws onto there. Then you are in business to comfortably play touchscreen games to your rubber-tipped content. You an also attach in there while using the screwdriver to replace your aging KUM brass wedge so as not to misplace it.
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Speaking of the point, it comes off. I admit that I only found this out after looking at a website which explained how to access the green eraser. This is a simple friction fit.
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The eraser works well in removing graphite from paper. But its flexibility and its concealment would have me reaching for an External Eraser, truth be told. Removing the eraser reveals the extra leads also.
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Now, the point. I really like the feed mechanism, which merely involves turning the gnarled portion of the point until the amount of lead you prefer is exposed. Gone is the guesswork involved in the click mechanism:

Three clicks are too many;
Two are too few.
I don’t want my point to break;
What’s a guy to do?

The leads are 9mm, which are pretty thick. I prefer 7mm and 9mm to thinner leads for several reasons, not the least of which is that using a lead that thick often involves The Turn (turning the point for a better/sharper surface), as I am accustomed to having to perform in using wooden pencils. The provided leads are soft and smooth, running at least near a B or even a 2B. In testing this pencil out, I joyfully ran off several sheets worth of Morning Pages, and I enjoyed the feel of this lead very much. While I still have a particular fondness for cheap Bic mechanical pencils, the leads in this tool might make a mechanical pencil snob* out of me yet. There is some odd play which acts as a sort of cushion for the lead that took a while to get used to. But I probably wore down half of the first lead trying this out, and I never broke a point. So whatever that cushioning is, it works.
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This pencil is certainly heavy — perhaps doubly so if you are used to the weight of a wooden pencil. However, even with an old hand injury** acting up, I did not find using this pencil to be uncomfortable at all. In fact, the hexagonal shape and wide barrel were a natural fit in my ailing right hand. I was skeptical with myself regarding whether I could intelligently review such a fine pencil, or whether I could even appreciate it. But this is certainly the most fun I’ve had reviewing a mechanical pencil, and it has become a Jewel of my toolbox. In fact, not owning a “real” Blackwing myself, this is the most valuable pencil I own. Still, it is currently on sale for a mere $32.00. If you want an exquisite tool that solves several problems related to writing, this is a must-have.

I hope this review does justice to Ron’s generosity and to the really cool design of this pencil. Check out Andy’s review for better pictures (and a GIF!) and some seriously detailed Reviewsmanship. Many thanks to Ron, especially for his patience with a pencil that got lost in the mail.

* Certainly, I use that term here purely in jest.
** From cycling. You should see what my gloves looked like!

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