Field Notes Review, Part I: The Pencil.

The nice people at Field Notes sent a parcel to the Pencil Revolution HQ last week for review purposes. It contained a mixed set of their excellent notebooks, a pin, a rubber band and two Field Notes pencils. The first part our two-part Field Notes review is a reflection on this striking pencil.

Material: California Incense Cedar.
Shape: Round.
Finish: None at all.
Ferrule: Aluminum, bare and plain.
Eraser: Green (in color and gradability).
Core: Ceramic/graphite composite. Available in #2/HB.
Markings: “ | FIELD NOTES | BONDED LEAD | No. 2 / ABOUT THIS PENCIL | Lacquer-free Renewable Cal-Cedar Wood Casing, Recyclable Aluminum Ferrule, Enviro-Green Degradable Eraser and Certified Non-Toxic Imprint Inks”
Packaging: Pack of six; also inserted into parcels of Field Notes notebooks, legend has it.
Origin: United States.
Availability: From FieldNotesBrand.Com and select online and brick-and-mortar retailers.

When you remove a Field Notes pencil from whatever package or bag in which it came, you won’t first notice the unfinished wood, the interesting graphics or the green eraser first. You will be hit full-force with a strong smell of cedar. But, of course, that is not a bad thing but winds up being one of my favorite things about this very nice pencil.

There is no finish whatsoever on the Field Notes pencil. It is round and sanded, like a little dowel full of lead. The print on the barrel is dark, sharp and in keeping with the aesthetic of Field Notes gear in general. Both of our test models had very well-centered cores. Combined with the fine wood, this allowed some of the easiest sharpening I’ve seen lately on a pencil that runs for under $1 a piece. The ferrule appears to be glued onto the pencil, rather than crimped. One of the test models had a few splinters at the ferrule, but these came off in second with my thumbnail. The ferrule/eraser assembly is fairly well-centered, though not perfectly centered, which puts it on par with most quality “office pencils” for sale in the United States. The eraser also appears to be glued. Interestingly, the units we were sent for review have two different eraser lengths; one was longer than most pencil erasers. However, it is firmly stuck into the ferrule. So I view it as a bit of serendipity in having a slightly larger eraser. I am a sucker for unfinished pencils. I get a kick out of the veneer that my sweaty hands leaves on the virgin wood, the dark tinge that it gets from my dirty mitts. Field Notes has succeeded in making a very visually appealing pencil to go with their well-designed notebooks.

The core writes very well under most circumstances. The HB runs a little darker than a Mirado/Black Warrior HB and feels very much like General’s Cedar Pointe to me. Considering that the pencil is made in the US and that there are very few pencil factories operating within US borders, I wonder if the manufacturing of the Field Notes pencil might not be contracted out to General’s Pencil Company (?). I noticed a hint of scratchiness to the lead, but not so much that it bothers me. There are certainly instances wherein I prefer a pencil that lets me know I’m using it and that there’s writing being accomplished. In the dark or when I’m writing standing up (or even while walking), I like to know that my pencil is making marks on paper. I might even stretch this line of thinking to say that the Field Notes pencil, because you know you’re writing with it, goes with the entire field notes (small F and N) concept. Smearability is pretty average, I think, running about the same as an HB Dixon. The mild scratchiness on the Field Notes pencil could even come from the fact that there is no paint or finish to dampen vibrations. I have some unfinished sample pencils from another manufacturer, and they are a bit on the rough side for writing, despite their finished counterparts (with identical cores) being extremely smooth.

The eraser is green and soft and works reasonably well. There’s not much to say about it except that I would really like to see a Field Notes eraser as a block with their graphics on it, made from this pleasant green substance. The eraser takes the graphite off, leaves the paper and more or less performs the way that it is supposed to. And I have to mention its color again. It’s somehow retro-looking and matches the Field Notes aesthetic perfectly.

As I said earlier, the most striking feature of this pencil, for me, is its aroma. I’ve never used a pencil that smells this strongly of cedar and have seldom ever used one to match it. It’s been a pleasure for my nose to use, and I’ve caught myself in at least one important meeting sniffing it like some sort of pencil junky. The unit that I’ve been carrying around and using has actually been the object of envy from my father, a retired Warrant Officer, because of the aromatic assets of this pencil. When Field Notes gets more in stock (or if they’d like to send us some to spread the word to the People!), I’ll definitely be gifting these lovely pencils.

I’d offer Field Notes a few suggestions, aside from the big green Field Notes eraser. While I love this pencil, it doesn’t fit into a shirt pocket with a Field Notes notebook because it’s just too long. I could cut it to size, but I can’t waste half of a pencil. I’d love to see 1/2-sized Field Notes pencils with pocket clips and point protectors, so that they can travel more easily with their paper Comrades. Or, to avoid having to stock two different kinds of pencils, Field Notes could offer a set of a metal point protector and a pencil clip, which the user could attach to a shortened pencil. We’d lose the graphics, but Field Notes are as much about handiness as they are about great design — at least in my mind.

In the end, this is a great pencil that I wish I could find more easily locally. The eraser and graphite work well, and the designed lack of finish and enhanced aroma (though the latter could be a happy accident) make this pencil not just a keeper, but one Comrades are likely to actively seek out.  Just don’t get caught sniffing it in a meeting.

25 thoughts on “Field Notes Review, Part I: The Pencil.”

  1. These are great pencils, I agree. In my experience, though, they have proved much, much smoother than the General’s Cedar-Pointe. I am hoping that Field Notes will get a fresh supply soon!

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  4. I used this pencil for the first time, last weekend. I thought it was very light but well balanced. After taking several dimensions down, I realized how much I loved this pencil. Since I left the drafting board for the computer, I still long for the days of triangles and lead. My former tool of the trade was the Staedler-Mars drafting lead holder (not the .7mm type). Field Notes are now my constant companion. I use the pen because of its size. I agree the pencils are too long to accompany the notebook.

  5. Bought a six-pack of these (and got a three-pack of notebooks free due to a deal) and have fallen in love with them. That was three weeks ago and two of them are already small little cedar nubs! :D I love the cedar-scent that these release and the fact that every time I sharpen them, I get a hint of a smell I remember from back in grade school… Great review! I’ve added your blog to my list of blogs to check up on… ^_^


  6. I always take the pencils cut them at the dotted line after “Field Notes” and before “Bonded Lead”. Then I grind the top of the longer segment with a stone to give it a rounded top. Two pencils, a shorty with an eraser and a pencil that fits comfortably in my grip.

  7. So, guess what? These pencils are NOT made in the USA after all.

    Here’s a quote from Dawson at Field Notes:

    > Hi Jason, all of our notebooks are made in the USA but unfortunately we haven’t been able to find a pen or pencil manufacturer in the US so for the time being we have to use imported ones.
    > Best,
    > Dawson

  8. More details:

    The pencils are, technically, made in the USA. They’re made from California-grown Cedar, which is shipped to Asia to make the ‘slats,’ (the lead bonded into flat pieces of wood) then they are returned to the US and milled and assembled and printed. A few sources have told us that no one in the US makes slats anymore, so the FTC (or whatever agency regulates it) allows slats to be made overseas for “US-made” pencils (Not entirely sure, but possibly OSHA or environmental concerns prohibit it?). it’s a weird definition, but that’s how most, if not all, US-made pencils are done. We’ve been in touch with Musgrave and General but both said they would be unable to print our logo on their pencils.

    So, I’m now left wondering whether it’s true that no one makes pencils in the USA anymore…

  9. I find that the graphite writes much lighter of a line than most HBs I’ve tried. This must have something to do with whatever they use to mix with the graphite? I personally prefer the darker lines.

    1. Agreed. I found this for a while but on recently returning to them I find using them on a yellow legal pad makes it work pretty well.

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