Father and Son Pencil Ranking, Part III.

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[Continued from Parts One and Two, Stephen sent us another set of pencils rankings that he and his son have come up with. Thanks again to Stephen and Hunter for seriously rigorous work in the name of pencils.]

Father and Son Pencil Review III: The Final Chapter

Following Pencil Revolution’s posting of our second pencil review, Hunter and I received a few more suggestions for consideration. We decided to do one last round by adding three made in the U.S.A. pencils to the mix.

My initial impressions of the aesthetics and manufacturing (not writing) quality of each of the new entrants:

Musgrave Pencil Company’s Test Scoring 100

This one wasn’t a suggestion for our consideration, actually, but an omission in previous reviews. Based on numerous postings I’d come across, I’d been wanting to try it out for myself. This Musgrave pencil is unlike any other with its silver finish and stark black lettering. It seems to be just a bit larger in diameter than the other pencils, too. Is this real or a false perception brought on by the feel of the disconcerting, sharply defined corners? Only scientifically-minded readers, or someone less lazy than me, will ever know.

U.S.A. Gold Natural 2 HB

The Gold 2 HBs were recommended to Hunter following our second review. I was still on the hunt for an American-made pencil I actually liked and, although I’d passed on this one before, I decided to give U.S.A. Gold’s naked pencil a go. My immediate impression was that it is poorly made. The erasers do not inspire confidence in their ability to stay embedded during a vigorous bout of second-guessing. And the ferrules seemed jammed onto the barrels without much thought of making sure the metal goes over, rather than into, the ends of the pencils.

Two distinguishing features of the barrels’ finish are noteworthy: The barrels have a very thin coating of clear lacquer or varnish, unlike the General’s which are bare wood. And, what the heck, the slats are not continuous lengths of wood. They use approximately 2.5” long finger-jointed slats. This is both cool and perplexing. Why do they do this? Based on the amount of research (none) I have done into this mystery, I state with absolute uncertainty this U.S.A. Gold Natural 2 HB finger-jointed slats issue will rank right up there alongside the Georgia Guidestones and Eilean Mor Lighthouse in the great listing of forever unknowables.

General’s Cedar Pointe #333 – 1

Johnny Gamber of this very blog took pity on my disappointment with the Cedar Pointe #333 – 2HB. I loved the look and feel of it and I really did want to like a pencil still manufactured in my own country, because it seems all we make here now are Toyotas and Big Government. Johnny clued me in: Gary Varner of Notegeist would be getting in a shipment of General’s Cedar Pointe #333 – 1s, and those babies might be just what I was looking for. So I watched, and watched, and watched, and WHAM! There they were, for sale, and I pounced.

Well, General’s must have had a bunch of leftover #2 boxes, because the #1s came in a box that had stickers placed over the #2 designations on the now repurposed boxes. Through the open window on the front of the box, the contents inside looked exactly like the old #2s. With trembling fingers, I pulled out the first pencil, twirled it gently in my hand, and read the imprint: U.S.A. General’s Cedar Pointe #333 – 2HB.

“2HB?” Must be my mistake, so I blinked hard, twice, and looked again: “U.S.A. General’s Cedar Pointe #333 – 2HB.” I put my hand over my mouth, looked wildly about my empty den, then began pulling out, and finally pouring out, the remaining contents of the box. Spinning the defenseless bald Cedar Pointes around on my desk, I rapidly scanned each barrel looking for the now damned “2HB” designation: 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1. What? I looked again at the first one I’d withdrawn: “2HB.”

Was I the victim of some cruel trick played upon hapless pencil aficionados?

I sent a note to Gary Varner of Notegeist and explained what had occurred. I’ll tell you right now that I’m simply a customer of Notegeist. I’m neither compensated by Notegeist nor in an adulterous relationship with any owner or staff member of that company, okay? Gary quickly, and I do mean quickly, corrected (and then some) this error that was not his own. He also told me he inspected the other boxes and found a number of them contained errant 2 HBs.

Because General’s repurposed 2 HB boxes by relabeling them as 1s with stickers, and because these boxes frequently still contained 2 HBs, it makes me think they were manually, and not completely, emptied and the contents replaced with 1s. I cannot picture any type of automated packaging process that could have resulted in such a frequent error.

Anyway, let’s get on to the story of substance on the topic of the this particular pencil, the one for which you’ve waited so patiently, the one you paid to read, which is the aesthetics and manufacturing quality of the General’s Cedar Pointe #333 – 1:

It’s just like the 2 HB.

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And on to the review. Here’s the ranking from our last father and son review:

  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 9000 2B
  11. Staedtler Mars Lumograph HB
  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

Our methodology for slipping three more into the mix was to assume the worst and start at the bottom, with the one we expected to be at the bottom:

U.S.A. Gold Natural 2 HB

Our assumption was correct. The U.S.A. Gold Natural 2 HB was even scratchier than my previous disappointment, the Cedar Pointe #333 – 2 HB. Uh oh. We had a new dead last.

Musgrave Test Scoring 100

We conducted this review after I’d used the Musgrave all day long at work. My thoughts from a day of living with the thing were thus: As stated earlier, it feels much larger in my hand than it actually is, and I’m still not sure why. The corners of the hexagonal barrel are uncomfortably sharp at first, though I soon got used to that. I love the dark line, but I had to sharpen the pencil dozens of times because the graphite was so crumbly I usually immediately broke the sharp points off with the first bit of pressure applied to the writing surface. And in the few instances in which the point didn’t break, tiny graphite crumbs would fall off onto the paper until the point had worn down just a tad.

In our review, the Musgrave ranked between the Dixon Ticonderoga HB 2 and the General’s Semi-Hex 498-2 HB. Hunter agreed with me as to the crumbly aspects of the graphite and the initial discomfort with the barrel. But it sure does write a dark line. Musgrave should consider marketing this pencil for test-taking purposes.

General’s Cedar Pointe #333 – 1

The shy Cedar Pointe #333 – 1 quickly climbed up past the U.S.A. Gold, past its more popular sister the #333 – 2 HB, beyond the General’s Semi-Hex 498-2 HB, the Musgrave Test Scoring 100, the Dixon Ticonderoga HB 2, above the Palomino Blue Golden Bear #2 . . . and then it screeched to a halt. I make it sound like the sudden stop is a bad thing, but this Cedar Pointe is really a nice pencil, and it took the regal Staedtler Mars Lumograph HB to stop the General’s in its tracks. The Lumograph is a bit smoother on the paper than the Cedar Pointe, but I really like the line, the feel, the plainspoken I-don’t-have-to-impress-you Benjamin Franklin beaver cap sensibility of the General’s Cedar Pointe #333 – 1.

Alright, now we know where these three newbies place. Since Hunter and I had already recalled to active duty our entire army of pencil varietals, we decided to run down the list in a fresh comparison. How would a month’s time, and a month of actually using these tools in the wild, impact our views?

Nothing in the bottom third of the list had changed, so we did a pair-by-pair comparison from the top of the chart down to the Mars Lumograph HB, and we did find one change: The classy Mitsubishi 9850 HB leapfrogged both the Staedtler Norica HB and its bumblebee cousin the Staedtler Noris 122 HB. Other than this shift, all other placements from our last review held firm.

Our final ranking encompassing 18 of Planet Earth’s finest pencils:

  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. Mitsubishi 9850 HB
  8. Staedtler Noris 122 HB
  9. Staedtler Norica HB 2
  10. Faber-Castell 9000 2B
  11. Staedtler Mars Lumograph HB
  12. General’s Cedar Pointe #333 – 1
  13. Palomino Blue Golden Bear #2
  14. Dixon Ticonderoga HB 2
  15. Musgrave Test Scoring 100
  16. General’s Semi-Hex 498-2 HB
  17. General’s Cedar Pointe #333 – 2 HB
  18. U.S.A. Gold Natural 2 HB

I asked Hunter if he’d changed his mind regarding which he’d take with him on a deserted island: “No.” I hadn’t changed my mind, either. Both of us would still bring the Palomino Blackwing 602.

Our reviews have all been based on initial impressions of quality of the writing experience rather than long-term use. I do have a few thoughts on some, not all, of the pencils after using them for entire days or weeks at work:

  1. Mitsubishi Hi Uni 2B, Tombow Mono 100 2B and Tombow 2558 HB: Love the line and feel on the paper; unsure if it’s worth it, though, for extensive writing because they do require frequent sharpening. I say I’m “unsure.” I’m going to keep using them until I know. I already bought a bunch of them, so I may have to take my sweet time making up my mind.
  1. Palomino Blackwing 602: Maybe I have to sharpen this more often than I would a General’s Semi-Hex 498-2 HB, but it’s worth it. This is just a cool pencil. I enjoy using it. I have spoken.
  1. Palomino Blue Eraser-Tipped HB: I don’t want to write this so let me just get it over: I liked this pencil more than I expected or maybe even wanted to and would be quite happy if it was the last pencil on Earth.
  1. Mitsubishi 9850 HB: I liked this much better than I expected in extensive use, and the lightness of the line issue I’d noted in the past evaporated pretty quickly. Maybe I pressed harder in regular use, I don’t know, but I like the pencil a lot more after spending some time with it.
  1. Staedtler Noris 122 HB: I wanted to like this for long-term use, but I didn’t. Maybe it’s our batch, but the cores aren’t centered, and I’ve tried three different sharpeners and different pencils but they’re all the same. Shame, shame.
  1. Staedtler Norica HB 2: I feel like I need to apologize to this pencil. Every time I review it, the poor thing slips another notch or two. Out of guilt, I can no longer look it in the ferrule. It still writes as nice as ever, but extensive use requires a deepening relationship with my sharpener and I’m just not prepared to go there.
  1. Staedtler Mars Lumograph HB: Writes nice, but it and I lack chemistry, I think because it never feels right in my hand. I’ve explained to the Lumograph that it’s me, not it, but this icy German hasn’t bothered to respond.
  1. General’s Cedar Pointe #333 – 1: Thanks to Johnny and Gary, I now have an American-made pencil, and a unique unfinished one at that, which I’m quite happy to use throughout the day. Nice! My life is complete.
  1. Musgrave Test Scoring 100: Frustrating. Too maddening to use for anything other than filling in little circles.
  1. General’s Semi-Hex 498-2 HB: As much as I hate the poorly applied finish and the yuck-yellow paint, this tenacious and plucky devil writes nice and retains its point. It acquitted itself as a daily writer in my view. I may spray paint them and use them again at work.

And now you’ve reached the end of our trilogy. Will there be another installment? A Part IV? Only if the rights are purchased by Disney Studios, and then you’ll have a different cast, though Hunter and I may be offered inconsequential cameos.

It’s notable that Hunter and I agreed all the way down the line in our reviews, though not without discussion here and there. While we have our very clear favorites, our rankings did adjust with each subsequent review. We’re quite happy even with pencils ranked lower, and this is indicative not only of the quality of these pencils but the variety of factors that make for a satisfactory experience. Maybe the way to sum up this thought is by paraphrasing a famous phrase of dog trainer Barbara Woodhouse:

“No bad pencils.”

(Thanks again to Stephen and Hunter for sharing the results of their exhaustive work!)

11 thoughts on “Father and Son Pencil Ranking, Part III.”

  1. There is a Mitsubishi pencil with finger joints which is sold as being environmentally friendly. I like it. I also consider the Hi Uni 2B and Tombo Mono 100 excellent pencils. I have been using a Write Dudes USA Silver #2 pencil. It requires more pressure than other pencils but has a nice dark line and keeps its point well. Today I started using a Tombow Mono Mark Sheet HB pencil.

    1. Interesting about the Mitsubishi with the finger joints. I wonder if there are others, and I wonder why they make them that way. Perhaps, since it’s on the Mitsubishi eco-friendly pencil and my inexpensive USA Gold it’s a way to use slat remainders.

    1. Thanks Tj! If I plan on doing anything wrong, I’ll warn you first so you may avert your eyes and keep my reputation intact.

  2. Me, I’m looking forward to the prequels to this post, released in 16 years or so…. :) (You’ll have to rename the original trilogy though).

    A softer Cedar Pointe sounds good. I like the #2, personally, but I think a lot of that is down to the finish (or lack of) which is lovely to hold, and leaves a pleasant pencilly scent on my writing fingers.

    1. John, I’m not sure about the prequel idea. I can’t shake the feeling they’d introduce some bizarre and vaguely offensive character into the mix in a misguided attempt at humor.

      1. Stephen, I was the sap who recommended “America’s Pencil”. Per John The Monkey’s suggestion, I think you’ve already found your Jar Jar Binks : ^ ) .

        Actually, the one U.S.A. Gold HB 2 I’ve been using isn’t a mutt. Not very dark, keeps a point, and I rather like the way it scrapes out a line — self, I tell myself, this lead is waxy and yet offers a pleasing amount of (non-gritty) resistance which my Sunday school teacher tells me is essential to good character formation. I hadn’t noticed the finger-joint thing, but “America’s Pencil” is the anti-Musgrave Test Scoring 100. It is never going to look fat in any dress, and even if it weren’t exceedingly slender I would forgive myself for believing it is longer than the ordinary stick.

        1. Hi Junius,

          I would definitely NOT say my USA Gold Natural HB 2s are mutts – I’ve been using them at work and, like the Semi-Hex, they acquit themselves well as daily writers. The cores are centered, the lines are dark, and they retain their points. And, like the Cedar Pointes, the look of the natural finish is very appealing to me. In comparison with neighbors, though, for us they didn’t write nearly as smoothly. So I’ll say it was a great suggestion to try them. Like almost any pencil in our list, this one is nice; just for us they were scratchy in comparison. Regarding the finger-joints, I don’t think it’s a bad thing. It’s very interesting and I want to know why they did it. Finally, if I didn’t say so when I replied to your earlier note – THANK YOU for the suggestion!

  3. geeky as owt, but most welcome: has informed my purchasing choice (mostly for use with newspaper puzzles, programming notes, and sense of self-satisfaction).

    recently bought faber castell 2001 2b – ok, nice form factor, suspect harder and lighter than lumograph 2b, bog-standard box, but faber castell’s separate pencil-end erasers are very good.

    gone with the Tombow Mono 100 2B

    thanks guys

    1. You’re welcome, Dave! I did study the 2001 2B but ultimately chose to not go there. I’m glad you like it! It’s a very nice-looking pencil.

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