Blackwing Volume 10001.


Blackwing begins the fourth year of the Volumes series with Volume 10001, a solute to Tetsuya Miyamoto and the KenKen puzzle. The copy from Blackwing explains it well:

Blackwing 10001 (壱万壱) pays tribute to Miyamoto Sensei’s puzzles and other creative ways of teaching and learning. 10001 is a numeral palindrome in Kanji as well as in Arabic numerals. It is also tied to one of Miyamoto Sensei’s favorite equations. The pencil features a red stained barrel, gold imprint and unique five-sided “Gōkaku pencil” shape. Translated literally from Japanese, Gōkaku means “passed,” as in a problem or exam. It is also a near-homophone for the Japanese word “Gokakukei,” meaning pentagon. Gōkaku pencils are given to every student who graduates from the Miyamoto Mathematics class.

While I enjoy the releases that speak to an interest I already have, these pencils honor a teacher and a puzzle of whom and of which I have never heard. But just as Moleskines introduced me to Bruce Chatwin, the Volumes series has encouraged me to explore a little as a result of the tributes in a few instances. This edition is definitely a case in point. I have always wanted to explore puzzles more, but where does one begin? The KenKen puzzle looks like a good launching point for me. The extra for subscribers is a set of puzzles printed on heavy stock, and the shredded paper is yellow (to echo the printing? Volume 54 had teal packing materials).

The pencils themselves, separate from the them/tribute? Beautiful. A few of the Volumes editions have been….unattractive in my view (Volumes 56 and 205, I’m looking at you). Many are lovely. Some are fantastic, gorgeous, exceptional. This is the latter. I love the combination of the red stain and the high-gloss clear lacquer. My first instinct was to want these to have pink erasers, but I like the black. Pink would have dulled some of the effect of the red stain. The printing is gold and, as usual, crisp. These feature the “firm” core, the same as the Blackwing 602.*

More remarkable is the shape of these pencils. Rather than the usual hexagon from Blackwing, the rare round cross-section, or the not-yet-seen triangular barrel, Blackwing went for a pentagonal pencil. These do not feel especially differently than a hex pencil, but my hand tells me…something is up when I hold one. The other difference with this shape is that the ferrules are aligned with the imprint. So they do not rest with the stamping at the top, making them difficult to photograph.

This is a lovely start to another year of Blackwing Volumes releases. I’m already thinking about picking up another box once my kids find these and dig in.

* And Volumes 211, 56, 344, 205, and 16.2.

F Grade and Smooth.


I find it remarkable that Faber-Castell can make a hard-ish pencil that is at the same time as smooth as a soft pencil. This F grade Castell 9000 is great on Baron Fig paper, with Point Durability and glide to spare. Matthias writes about F grade pencils frequently, and I’ve come to appreciate this semigrade, #2 1/2 or #2.5 (etc. — each manufacturer used to have their own number for it). We made a whole episode about it on Erasable, in case you missed it. What are some other great F grade pencils?

Baron Fig Atomic.


Baron Fig is on another roll full of beautiful new editions. The Computerworld Vanguard books are colorful and perfectly produced, and we talked about them on Episode 96 of Erasable.

The first Baron Fig product I ever used was an Apprentice, the former range of pocket notebooks. I love the dimensions and paper, and I was a little disappointed that the limited edition Vanguards always come in the “flagship” size (near A5). I had all of the Apprentice series, aside from the tri-color set given to visitors to the studio in New York. The Seer is one of the loveliest pocket notebooks I’ve ever filed.

The newest release is Atomic, a return to the old Apprentice books that I loved from three-ish years ago. I read on Facebook from Joey that these were produced before the re-brand (of Apprentice into the Vanguard line, which comes in three sizes). Therefore, the older paper (which I still like) is in these books, but the design looks fresh. The color is perfect. Everything that I loved about the Maker Apprentice is true here. The dotgrid is perfect.

I have mentioned the “off” stitching on Erasable before, but Baron Fig has gotten their manufacturing to the point that the Vanguards come out looking about as perfectly as books can look. Computerworld has perfect stitching, perfect cuts, perfect corners. It’s really impressive. I wonder, if the Atomic is successful, if they might bring back the limited edition Apprentice books. With their new paper and new QC, these would challenge any other brand of pocket notebooks.

(These notebooks were kindly provided to me free from the folks at Baron Fig, but the opinions are my own.)

Pencil Rescue.

Something that pops up fairly often on the Erasable Podcast Facebook group is the idea of rescuing a pencil. Folks find abandoned pencils in school yards, on the ground, on public transportation, and in other people’s houses. I like the idea of taking something that’s been reduced to a stick of wood and returning it back to its intended purpose as a useful object.

With that in mind, I rescued this pencil last night from my favorite restaurant. Our kind server brought a cup of crayons for my kids to color with, as she does almost every week when we go there. This time, there were two beat up old pencils, with no eraser left, in the cup too. I rescued the one pictured above, in return for three new pencils that I left behind.

So far as I can tell, this Mirado is at least 15 years old. It is made in the USA and still smells good. A few years ago, I found some other pencils at my parents house which were branded by Sandford, before the company changed over their wooden pencil branding to PaperMate. The box from those pencils says 1999.

Of course, a few turns in my key chain sharpener, and this old Mirado is ready to resume its service. I love that about pencils; they are always ready to re-enter service, with just a small amount of attention, if not affection.

Do Comrades have stories of pencils rescued?

Mechanical Pleasures.


We are lucky to publish another essay by the wonderful writer Vivian Wagner (see her 2017 piece here). Many thanks to Comrade Vivian! What do other Comrades think of mechanical pencils?

Mechanical Pleasures, by Vivian Wagner

I know what David Rees says in How to Sharpen Pencils: “Mechanical pencils are bullshit.”

For a while, I agreed with him. I’d fallen in love with all kinds of fancy, fabulous wood-cased pencils – and that love affair continues to this day. On principle, I stayed away from mechanical pencils. I had everything I needed with my Blackwings and Tombows and Mitsubishis.

One day, though, I found myself at my college’s bookstore, hanging out, as one does, in the stationery aisle. I happened to see some packages of Bic Atlantis 0.5mm pencils for a few dollars each. I’ve always liked Bic Atlantis ballpoint pens, and these seemed worth a try. I hesitated a moment, what with my loyalty to wood pencils and the fact that Rees’s words were seared on my conscience.

But, I thought, what the hell? No one’s going to know. So I bought a few to try out.

Reader, they were lovely. Even with the basic, French-made Bic lead in them, they were smooth and fun, and – as a bonus – I didn’t need to sharpen them. I could write and write and write – something I spend a lot of time doing – and I didn’t have to stop to refresh my point.

They weren’t wooden pencils, to be sure, but they were just fine. Better than just fine, in fact. They were a good, useful addition to my daily routine. I began carrying one with me in my journal, finding it was easier to have a mechanical pencil on hand than a wooden pencil while teaching and going through my day, when I couldn’t always stop to sharpen. In the evenings, I returned home to my wood pencils at my desk, but the Bic mechanicals quickly became a part of my everyday carry.

I discovered, as well, the world of nice, soft, dark 4B Uni and Pilot leads, and these changed the game even more. Suddenly, it was truly a pleasure to write with mechanicals.

Since that fateful day in the bookstore, I’ve discovered that Bic Atlantis 0.5mm pencils are pretty hard to come by these days. Those packages I found, apparently, were old stock. I’ve been experimenting with a few others, including a Ohto wooden Sharp Pencil, a TWSBI Jr. Pagoda, and a Pilot G-2, and a few others. I like all of them, but my favorite is still the Bic Atlantis 0.5mm, maybe just because it was my first.

I still love wood-cased pencils, but I’m here to say that mechanical pencils have a place, at least in my world. And they aren’t bullshit.


Vivian Wagner lives in New Concord, Ohio, where she English at Muskingum University. She’s the author of Fiddle: One Woman, Four Strings, and 8,000 Miles of Music (Citadel-Kensington), The Village (Kelsay Books), and Making (Origami Poems Project). Visit her website at VivianWagner.net.

Monday, 2 Days Late.

(In which your Host demonstrates his inability to draw well.)

I doubt that I am the only Comrade who has children who sometimes refuse to eat food that they like. My oldest two sometimes sit in the Chow Hall (dining room) yapping over their breakfast while their favorite cereal turns to mush. Doubly so on Mondays.

And of course there’s the struggle to kickstart consciousness and get the juices flowing that precedes such Gross Displays of Energy, while parental units groggily gorge themselves on strong coffee. Monday! It’s only on Wednesday that we can face it sometimes.

(Images created with a Blackwing 54 in a Field Notes Resolution book.)

Revolution on IG.

First, apologies for the glitch that caused the previous post to thrust itself into the world nearly a dozen times. Second, my own Instagram account has largely become pictures of walking and of children and very little in the way of stationery. So I have just opened an Instagram account solely for Pencil Revolution. Follow us @pencilution on Instagram and also on Twitter.