Father and Son Pencil Ranking, Part II.

Then later there’s running and screaming.
[Continued, from Part I. Stephen Watts and his son Hunter have done the most exhaustive ranking of pencils I have ever read. Check out Luke’s excellent site for the full original ranking. Many thanks to the Watts for sharing their experiences with some seriously nice pencils. No spoilers! Read their report in their own words below:]

My 17-year-old son Hunter and I previously reviewed seven pencils, ranking them in this order:

  1. Staedtler Norica HB 2
  2. Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602 (the only one currently not available, thrown into the mix knowing we were risking blasphemy)
  3. Palomino Blackwing 602
  4. Mitsubishi 9850 HB
  5. General’s Semi-Hex 498-2 HB
  6. General’s Cedar Pointe #333 2 HB
  7. Dixon Ticonderoga HB 2

Torch-carrying mobs descended on our house after we placed the 14 cent Staedtler Norica HB 2 above the original Blackwing 602, Palomino Blackwing 602 and Mitsubishi 9850 HB. Charges of heresy were levelled against us and one particularly annoyed person suggested our review was a closeted advertisement for Staedtler.

Many people helpfully offered alternatives for our consideration and, after giving up on my wish to fall in love with one of the made-in-the-USA General’s pencils, I decided to follow-up, go all-in and broaden our horizons with a larger selection of premium pencils in a second comparison.

Some responded to our earlier review with comments that it’s virtually impossible to have one clear favorite pencil. Some have a favorite pencil for each type of paper, or writing surface, or whatever. I think that’s great, but what we were after was our take on our single favorite pencil. If we were to be marooned on a desert island for four years with a good pencil sharpener, a volleyball named Wilson, a suitcase full of various paper samples and a gross of ONE particular model and grade of pencil . . . which pencil would we want? The following are criteria important to Hunter and me in a writing pencil, listed in order of importance:

  1. Consistent, solid, dark line, but not “too” soft. The original and Palomino Blackwing 602s are good examples of what we consider to be dark but not too soft pencils.
  2. Ease of movement on the paper; not “scratchy” or skipping. Some pencils almost seem to float above the paper as though separated from it by an opposing magnetic force. That is a hard-to-miss distinguishing characteristic even novices like us relish.
  3. Good feel in the hand.
  4. Looks. A pencil that has the audacity to proclaim “I’m proud to be yellow!” needs to either back that up or admit its dime-store status.

Most of the pencils reviewed here have not been time-tested; the results are based on what we experienced during several sit-downs to compare and contrast the qualities of the pencils. We didn’t write with each for a week, for example, to then gauge if we still liked the results. An example of the weakness to this approach is what I experienced with longer-term use of my previous number one, the Staedtler Norica HB 2. I found it needed sharpening fairly frequently and that flat black paint I like so much comes off easily when subjected to the tortures of my electric (gasp!) sharpener. And our next-to-lowest previous ranking, the General’s Semi-Hex, has acquitted itself well in daily use at work. Which brings up one of our problems, which really isn’t a problem: These are ALL good pencils. Pencils we rank near the bottom are still members of a listing of good pencils.

Some of you may wonder if I put the screws to Hunter and used all available parenting skills to bend his will to mine. Please don’t call Child Protective Services; no allowance was harmed during the making of this review.

I will admit my bias up front: I like the Blackwing 602. I wanted the Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602 to be #1. I wanted the Palomino Blackwing 602 to be #2. These pencils are really good, they look fantastic, and they are fun to use. I love writing with the Blackwings. I pick them up and want to run around the house writing important things, but since that’s not always possible, I settle for writing unimportant things, yet they are still fun. I wanted the Tombow Mono 100 to be next in line. I just like the way it looks and feels. I like the name. This isn’t scientific, but science isn’t everything, is it? Otherwise, why would we have art?

With my biases now on full display, I hope our results will be less traumatic and cries of “Advertiser!” will fade away.

This review was a multi-part affair. We had four pencil models in two or three grades, and we chose to first select our favorite in each of those four pencil models. Next, we compared our four favorites in those pencil models against three additional new pencils. Some might say “You should have just ranked them all – what if your second favorite grade in one pencil model would have been your second favorite overall?” My response: “You have a great point (no pun intended).” This, however, is the methodology we chose, so we’ll just move on. For our third stage, we compared these seven pencils against our top three from the first review, slotting the original top pencils in the new and larger group accordingly. Fourth, we waited 10 hours for the dust to settle, then ran through the line-up to see if we’d changed our minds. For our fifth and final step, we slotted in the remaining four from our first review plus one surprise entrant to provide us with the ranking of a merged list of 15 pencils.

A note on our terminology: It’s simplistic and revealing of my lack of imaginative descriptors, but you’ll get my meaning.

PHASE ONE

Faber-Castell 2B and HB: The HB was too thin and sharp for us. Winner: Faber-Castell 2B.

Mitsubishi Hi Uni 2B and HB: The HB was good. The 2B was a wee bit better; it moved across the page with less effort and left a better line. Winner: Mitsubishi Hi Uni 2B.

Tombow 2558 B, HB, and H: We found the H too hard, too “sharp” on the paper, and to have too light a line to our liking. The B, though, was too soft for our tastes. This was a Goldilocks and the Three Bears story, as to us the Tombow 2558 HB was “just right.” Winner: Tombow 2558 HB.

Tombow Mono 100 2B, HB and F: We felt the F felt too hard and left too thin and light of a line. The HB was very close to the 2B; it was not so easy for us to differentiate here. We finally came to the conclusion the HB is scratchy in comparison to the 2B, it’s not as soft and smooth moving over the page, and it doesn’t have as pleasurable a writing experience overall as the 2B. Winner: Tombow Mono 100 2B.

PHASE TWO

Next we compared the four finalists against three new entrants: Palomino Blue Eraser-Tipped HB, Staedtler Noris 122 HB and Staedtler Mars Lumograph HB. Rather than bore you with the details of our pair-by-pair comparisons, following Phase Five I’ll give you our brief impressions of how the pencils compared with their neighbors. Here are our results from what was turned into a lengthy comparison of our new seven pencils, in order of preference:

  1. Mitsubishi Hi Uni 2B
  2. Tombow Mono 100 2B
  3. Tombow 2558 HB
  4. Palomino Blue Eraser-Tipped HB
  5. Staedtler Noris 122 HB
  6. Faber-Castell 2B
  7. Staedtler Mars Lumograph

PHASE THREE

We merged our top three pencils from our first review into the overall list, beginning with our previous number one. As we moved onto our previous numbers two and three, we started each of them at the top of the merged list, effectively doing a full comparison again from the top down to the point where each of the original top three pencils fell in the new list. This gave us the following ranking:

  1. Mitsubishi Hi Uni 2B
  2. Tombow Mono 100 2B
  3. Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602
  4. Tombow 2558 HB
  5. Palomino Blackwing 602
  6. Staedtler Norica HB 2
  7. Palomino Blue Eraser-Tipped HB
  8. Staedtler Noris 122 HB
  9. Faber-Castell 2B
  10. Staedtler Mars Lumograph

My, my. In our original review, the Staedtler Norica HB 2, to the surprise and dismay of many disbelievers, came out ahead of the original and Palomino Blackwing 602s. Not this time! Same pencils, same reviewers, different results. Any readers of our first review who are still stamping their feet in openly defiant outrage may now breathe easy and move out of the way, because we’ve surely offended a new posse with this ranking. But we’re not done yet . . . .

PHASE FOUR

10 hours later, we ran through the ranked list of 10, comparing two at a time, to see if our previous rankings would withstand a second pass. The first five pencils held firm, but the rest of the herd began to drift. This could only be explained by the slight variation in planetary alignment from morning to afternoon. Herein lies demonstrable proof of the subjectivity of pencil reviewing:

  1. Mitsubishi Hi Uni 2B
  2. Tombow Mono 100 2B
  3. Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602
  4. Tombow 2558 HB
  5. Palomino Blackwing 602
  6. Palomino Blue Eraser-Tipped HB
  7. Staedtler Noris 122 HB
  8. Staedtler Norica HB 2
  9. Faber-Castell 2B
  10. Staedtler Mars Lumograph

Undoubtedly, the Staedtler Norica HB 2 haters are leaning back with arms folded, smugly gloating in the sweet satisfaction of glorious redemption. In our second pass, that rascally Palomino Blue Eraser-Tipped HB jumped up a notch and the Staedtler Norica and Noris switched places. Hunter and I were shocked as we realized the necessity of reversing our judgement on this most noble of 14 cent pencils. The performance of the solemn duty of pencil reviewing leaves no room for sacred cows.

PHASE FIVE

Here’s where things get really scary.

We added the remaining four from our first review, listed here in previously ranked order: Mitsubishi 9850 HB, General’s Semi-Hex 498-2 HB, General’s Cedar Pointe #333 2 HB, and Dixon Ticonderoga HB 2.

And we added a walk-on contestant, the Palomino Blue Golden Bear #2, only because unforeseen plot twists add to the drama.

Inserting these remaining five into the mix gives us this final ranking of 15:

  1. Mitsubishi Hi Uni 2B
  2. Tombow Mono 100 2B
  3. Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602
  4. Tombow 2558 HB
  5. Palomino Blackwing 602
  6. Palomino Blue Eraser-Tipped HB
  7. Staedtler Noris 122 HB
  8. Staedtler Norica HB 2
  9. Mitsubishi 9850 HB
  10. Faber-Castell 2B
  11. Staedtler Mars Lumograph
  12. Palomino Blue Golden Bear #2
  13. Dixon Ticonderoga HB 2
  14. General’s Semi-Hex 498-2 HB
  15. General’s Cedar Pointe #333 2 HB

Heavens to Murgatroyd, the lowly Dixon Ticonderoga HB 2 from our first review picked itself up, dusted itself off and clawed its way above the Generals.

Here are our thoughts on the rankings in terms of the pencils’ comparisons to their neighbors:

  1. Mitsubishi Hi Uni 2B

People who say it’s a toss-up between the Mitsubishi Hi Uni and the Tombow Mono 100 are correct. I wanted the Tombow to be #1 because I prefer its looks, but in our view, the Hi Uni floats on the page slightly better than the Tombow Mono 100 2B. They are very close.

  1. Tombow Mono 100 2B

Moves a little better across the page than the Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602.

  1. Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602

Marginally better than the Tombow 2558 HB; the difference was hard to discern and arguable.

  1. Tombow 2558 HB

Holds its point better, glides across the paper better on both thick and thin writing surfaces than the Palomino Blackwing 602. This is a damn fine pencil. It’s proud. It’s not afraid to be yellow.

  1. Palomino Blackwing 602

Palomino Blackwing 602 felt more “confident” on the paper than the Palomino Blue Eraser-Tipped HB. Don’t understand what that means? I’m sorry. It’s the best word we could come up with.

  1. Palomino Blue Eraser-Tipped HB

Left a darker line and was smoother moving across the paper than the Staedtler Noris 122 HB.

  1. Staedtler Noris 122 HB

A close decision between the Noris and Norica, but the Noris has a more defined line and the Norica’s point repeatedly broke on me after sharpening, more so than any other pencil in the comparison. I must apply a lot of pressure because Hunter never had this problem.

  1. Staedtler Norica HB 2

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. The dethroned Norica was smoother and left a darker line than the Mitsubishi 9850 HB.

  1. Mitsubishi 9850 HB

Much smoother than the Faber-Castell 2B, which felt scratchy in comparison. As with our initial review, this pencil was the first moving up the list where we noticed a “floating” quality on the paper.

  1. Faber-Castell 2B

The line on the Faber-Castell 2B is better and the pencils feels better in the hand than the Mars Lumograph.

  1. Staedtler Mars Lumograph

This pencil was never comfortable for me. It must be the finish; the pencil felt noticeably skinnier although it’s not. Hunter liked the feel, though, and aesthetically, this was his second choice after the Blackwings. The Mars Lumograph felt better on the paper and left a sharper line than the Palomino Blue Golden Bear #2.

  1. Palomino Blue Golden Bear #2

The walk-on upstart Golden Bear moved more smoothly across the paper and left a better line than the Dixon Ticonderoga HB 2.

  1. Dixon Ticonderoga HB 2

The little engine that could. The Ticonderoga HB 2 left a better line and was marginally smoother this time around than the General’s Semi-Hex 498-2.

  1. General’s Semi-Hex 498-2 HB

This pencil is my case-in-point example of the overall quality of this list of pencils. I’m using up my box of Semi-Hexes at work right now and I’ve decided I like them very much. I just don’t like them in a comparison as much as I do the 13 above it. The Semi-Hex was much smoother on the paper than the General’s Cedar Point #333 2 HB.

  1. General’s Cedar Pointe #333 2 HB

Scratchy, scratchy, scratchy. I love the look and feel of this pencil. If I were king of the world and could rank the list by decree, this would be #4, behind the original and Palomino Blackwings and the Tombow Mono 100. But I’m not king, and this is #15.

We must resolve the dilemma posed at the beginning of the review: We’re marooned on a desert island for four years with a good pencil sharpener, a volleyball named Wilson, a suitcase full of various paper samples and a gross of ONE particular model and grade of pencil . . . which pencil would we want? This father and son, with lots of second-guessing and plenty of reservations, would pick: _____________

Well, it’s not that easy. There are three considerations: 1) writing quality, 2) aesthetic appeal, 3) overall enjoyment. This pencil ranking was based strictly on writing quality, so you know where we stand there.

In terms of aesthetics, Hunter gives the Blackwing 602s his #1 and the Staedtler Mars Lumograph his #2. I agree with him for #1 but, in an embarrassing reveal of my lack of cultural refinement, would go with the naked General’s Cedar Pointe #333 2 HB for #2.

We throw both writing quality and aesthetic appeal together to come up with the overall enjoyment #1, which is how both of us would choose what specific and currently manufactured pencil is in that gross with us on the deserted island. Drum roll please . . . Hunter and I both selected the Palomino Blackwing 602.

This, my friends, is why robots will eventually rule the world. Humans are too weak and irrational.

Where will our future pencil dollars go to die? It’s a tough decision, and here’s where we still must wrestle with the “science” vs. “art” aspect. Cold, hard facts or aesthetic appeal? The Mitsubishi Hi Uni 2B is the best writer, in our opinion. But I like the looks of the Tombow Mono 100 2B better and it writes almost as well. Yet, the Tombow 2558 HB has an eraser, which is a plus for me and, although it’s yellow, it’s a distinguished yellow with a ferrule color that matches the imprint. But . . . because of the looks, feel and nostalgic appeal, I probably get more sheer pleasure out of the Palomino Blackwing 602.

Because I’m not on an island, I’m going to purchase a box apiece of the Hi Unis, Mono 100s and 2558s to go along with my dozens of Palomino Blackwing 602s. I’ll swap them out over time to see if I settle into a more solid 1-4 ranking of currently available pencils. Yes, that’s top four, not top three. I will not exclude the Palomino Blackwing 602. Again, though, these are ALL good pencils, okay? Every child’s a winner.

Now, before you employ this series of tubes we call “The Internet” to “twoot” your hatred at us, please know that we understand any ranking not meshing with your expectations or personal experience may elicit defensiveness. It may seem like we’re questioning your judgement, but your preferences might come from a completely different set of criteria than what served as the basis for our ranking. If, on the other hand, you favor the same kinds of things in pencils as we do, this listing may give you a place to start in narrowing down your own list of favorites.

But, if you are still annoyed, rest assured, for I make this ironclad promise to you: “If you like your pencil, you’ll be able to keep your pencil. Period.”

(Text and images, Stephen Watts. Used with kind permission.)

13 thoughts on “Father and Son Pencil Ranking, Part II.”

  1. I must have all or almost all of the pencils you mentioned. The black Norica is nice and I like it better than the blue ones. The Hi Uni 2B must still be my favorite so far with the Tombow Mono 100 2B a close second. I have exactly one original EF Blackwing 602 but I haven’t had the nerve to sharpen and use it yet. There are many pencils you do not list and which are also good as well as interesting. These include, among others, the Mitsubushi Nano Dia 2B, various dark Hindustan Pencil models, the Chungwa HB art pencils, the Mitsubishi, Tombow and Olen Mark Sheet pencils, the Holland 8815 pencils, the Rhodia orange colored pencils, the regular Uni pencils. It’s fun to try them all and to see how they work with different papers. Comparing pencils like Dixons is difficult because over time they were made in more than one place.

    1. Hi Jeff – I have a few original Blackwings that I purchased already partially used. The one I used in our reviews is the only I dare use, because I have others in that version. Every time I try it, I swear I hear angels singing.

  2. My favorites are the General’s Semi-Hex. I’m just about through the batch I bought a few years ago, and I found out the the price (on General’s website) has doubled–it’snow $8 a box!

    1. Hi Don – Very interesting, wonder why such a huge jump. I bought mine off Amazon, don’t remember the price then. With shipping, the lowest I just saw was $7 for a box.

  3. Hunter, I think you and your dad should dragoon some of your dollars, less than three of them in fact, into the purchase of some USA Gold 2HB’s, the ones with the blue painted ferrule, the ones that say “America’s Pencil” on the lightly treated natural wood barrell. Target sells them, but shockingly, so does my local grocery store. I’d be shocked if Wallyworld didn’t stock them as well.

  4. Hi Junius – I think I can speak for Hunter when I say if we do a Part III (which I’m not forecasting), we’ll certainly consider including this one in the batch. I’ll tell you what, though, after pulling all these pencils together for our reviews, some of which I could buy singly but others by the box, I’m not sure I’ll live long enough to use them all up. Guess Hunter knows which part of the estate he’ll be getting.

    1. Hi Join the Monkey,

      Thanks for pointing out my omission on the Faber-Castell! It WAS the 9000 – so glad you caught that.

      I’ll keep my eye out for that red 874A Black Beauty!

  5. I have a device that looks like an old fashion quill tapered Lucite pen or stub pencil holder made of stainless steel with cut out designed to hold something. It is about 7″ (?)long. I have a picture of it. The manufacters name, Dixon, is engraved on the stainless steel fitted “1” tip,followed by Jersey City NJ ,USA,

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