In Praise of Moleskines.


I’ve been working on (and off) a review of the Moleskine Voyageur travel journal, and my thoughts about Moleskines in general kept slowing me down.

I turned the later into their own essay, and the good folks at The Cramped published it last week.

“I am writing to praise what’s become — to my mind — the humble Moleskine. The brand seems to be flourishing these days. There are always more licensed editions to buy, more planner options, more colors, more accessories. There is even a Moleskine café, and I will marry whomever whisks me away there. While I feel like Civilians are as into Moleskines as ever, within the fancy stationery community (and especially the stationery blogger community), Moleskine can be a dirty word. I might even be guilty of writing them off, but — for me — it all started with a Moleskine.”

Read more, and thanks again to Patrick and Shawn!

A Dozen Years.


On this day, in 2005, your humble Editor was a graduate student studying for my preliminary exams so that I could pass on to PhD candidacy and start proposing my dissertation topic. To keep sane, I went through with something I’d been thinking about for a year, ever since picking up a pack of American Naturals and falling in love with pencils while reading Hemingway.


It all started with this pencil in 2004 and this post in 2005.

These days, a lot of my Stationery Time is spent on The Erasable Podcast, which I am lucky enough to co-host with two wonderful Comrades: Andy and Tim. Even more time is spent on the community we’ve seen build itself out of this little show, to which all Comrades are cordially invited here.

A lot has changed since 2005. Blackwings exist again, and we even get four new models every year. This is not the only pencil blog — something that makes me very happy, since so many of them are sooooooo good. I became Dr. Dad to three adorable kids. Moleskines are still around and popular, and pocket notebooks are big business still. Hemingway and Thoreau are still in the national consciousness, even increasingly so. We still can read paper books, but you can read on your phone now too. There’s the Pollux and the Masterpiece to get your longpoints on the go. We are even lucky enough, in 2017, to live in a world that has a pencil store! Pencils aren’t going anywhere. While some US factories have closed, new markets and sources are open to us that we did not have in 2005. Members of the Erasable community trade globally, and my pencil box is half full of pencils which would not have been available to me even five years ago. The Pencil Love is spreading more all the time, though we still mourn the passing of USA-made Ticonderogas and Mirados. There are pencils from all over the world still left to be discovered, and the web makes this possible. It still strikes me as fantastically odd, that the digital aids the analog to such an extent.

No matter what happens, everything you wrote in pencil in 2005 hasn’t faded one little bit. Nor will it.

Pencil is Forever.

In Defense of Doodling.

[This wonderful post is both written and illustrated by Pencil Hero Vivian Wagner. Many thanks to Vivian for allowing us to publish this fantastic piece!]

I doodle. I admit it. I doodle a lot. In fact, around a third of what fills my notebooks when I’m presumably writing is actually doodling. Drawing circles, squares, wine bottles, flowers, scribbles, bird silhouettes, random buildings, peculiar faces. Sometimes I just use whatever I’m writing with – often, lately, a pencil – to fill in an area with cross-hatching. It’s what I do. I can’t imagine writing longhand without doodling.

What I’m finding is that though doodling might seem secondary to the work of writing, it’s actually central to my process. It gives my brain a chance to pull away from whatever I’m focusing on, become a little daydreamy. And in that liminal, relaxed, seemingly unfocused space, I make connections. I have new thoughts. I imagine different directions. And I return to my writing refreshed, calm, and ready to think about it anew. Doodling is like a little vacation, but without all the hassle.

I’m realizing, too, that my affection for doodling is one of the main reasons I like to write longhand. Sure, there are ways to doodle on a screen. There are apps for that, and I’ve experimented with them, especially on my iPad. But there’s something vital about the visceral laying down of graphite, ink, or pigment. This, too, is part of the process. The physicality of writing and doodling on paper keeps me grounded and helps me remember that I inhabit a body, that I live on a planet. My hand’s movements across the page link me to the electricity firing in my brain, to the sound of rain and wind, to the feel of my chair sliding on the floor.

Usually, even when I’m composing on my MacBook Air – which I’m doing with this essay, in fact – I’ll have an open notebook next to my keyboard, along with a few sharpened graphite and colored pencils and pens. Every few minutes, I’ll stop typing, turn to my notebook – in this case Baron Fig’s Metamorphosis, which, by the way, has wonderful paper for both doodling and writing – and absentmindedly scratch out a few lines and shadings. Sometimes, too, I’ll flip back to earlier doodles in my notebook, looking for pencil drawings that I can fill in with color. In this way, my doodles become my own self-created, anxiety-relieving coloring pages.

I usually don’t show anyone my doodles. They’re not art, really. They’re not meant for any outside audience, any more than my unedited handwritten pages are. But they’re a record of a mind at work, and an integral part of my creative process. Nothing that I write and publish is ever done without the shadow world of my doodles behind it, and I’m grateful for all the analog tools that allow me to experiment, to assay my way through my thoughts and world.

Probably most people doodle, secretly, on the corners of to-do lists or the backs of envelopes. I’d like to just give all of us permission and encouragement to keep doodling. Keep making marks. Doodling is like doing yoga, meditating, vacationing, brainstorming, improvising, daydreaming, and even sleeping. It’s not secondary to our real work. It is our real work.

And, besides, it’s fun.


Vivian Wagner writes and doodles in New Concord, Ohio, where she teaches English at Muskingum University. She’s the author of a memoir, Fiddle: One Woman, Four Strings, and 8,000 Miles of Music (Citadel-Kensington), and a poetry collection, The Village (Kelsay Books). Visit her website at www.vivianwagner.net.

The Fitzgerald Pencil Collection.

[This article comes from Jan Jeffrey Hoover, who recently visited The Fitzgerald Collection at Jackson, Mississippi. Many thanks for letting us share this piece and these photos!]

For more than 40 years, from the 1930s until the 1970s, Frank Stanley Fitzgerald and his wife Erva Mae Fitzgerald collected Americana, now housed in a single rustic building at the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum in Jackson, Mississippi. Their “collection of collections” includes arrowheads, flatirons, guns, glass insulators, hand tools…..and pencils. According to the museum, their collection of more than 7,000 pencils was once cited in the Guinness Book of world records.

The Fitzgerald pencils are displayed in a single glass-fronted case in the middle of the exhibit. There are no labels or information cards, but specimens are arranged in broad categories and are turned so that their imprints are clearly visible for enthusiasts. The top shelf is a hodgepodge of writing implements obscured by the upper surface of the cabinet, but the lower shelves are easily observed. Extemporaneous cell phone photography can be challenging, but a low conveniently-situated rail encourages visitors to try pictures from various angles.

Many of the pencils, and most of those of those on the second shelf, are promotional, principally from Mississippi-based businesses and officials, particularly those of the Delta which was home territory for the Fitzgeralds. They represent the diverse commerce of the region. Numerous pencils promote agriculture- and forestry-based interests, while others promote products available in feed and general stores. Oversized pencils are well-represented. One appropriately colored pink-and-black pencil bears the imprint “Sincerely Yours Elvis Presley” but is sub-titled with the name of a business.


The third shelf contains specialized material. There is a collection of “hammers and nails” – mallet-shaped with perpendicular double erasers and metallic-colored with flat-caps and lacking ferrules. Not surprisingly, some of these advertise lumber companies. Also pictured above is a collection of “bullets” – always appealing to the pencil connoisseur.

The bottom of the case functions as a bin – holding a voluminous, colorful scatter of pencils. Some are familiar national brands, but, like the bulk of the collection, are largely representative of Mississippi Delta business and industry that thrived during the mid-20th century. The Fitzgerald’s pencils then are not just a testament to a couple’s unusual hobby. They represent a tangible and enduring historical record of the Delta economy.

[Text and images, Jan Jeffrey Hoover, 2017. Used with kind permission.]

Pencil for Long-Term Writing, Part 4: Accoutrements.


(Continued from 2010, Part 2: Pencils, and Part 3: Paper, and the original post in 2010.)

We will conclude our series of posts about maximizing the performance of pencils for long-term writing with a short look at pencil accessories.

Sharpeners
For journaling, I almost always prefer a long point. I like a point that starts sharp and is able to continue making neat lines without having to stop and sharpen every paragraph, or even every page. And the concave point produced by a crank sharpener like the Classroom Friendly model fits the bill perfectly. On the go (or if you prefer more control of your point), the KUM Masterpiece makes an insanely long point/longpoint and does not draw as much attention in a cafe’ as cranking a large metal contraption might.

Erasers
The best erasers for preserving pencil writing will not smear, will erase completely, and they will not mar the paper. Generally speaking, some kind of plastic eraser fits the bill for all three of these requirements. This blog is lacking in eraser reviews, but I generally reach for the Staedtler Mars plastic eraser or the Faber-Castell version for journaling.

Blotters
As mentioned earlier, I prefer a piece of an old map, a cut sheet from a Rhodia pad, or some other smooth and flexible paper for my blotter sheets. This helps to keep your journal neat in the first place, and stationery nerds seem to gravitate toward maps. Win-win.

Do Comrades have other tips or pieces of gear they use for keeping pencil writing safe for future Revolutionaries?

Pencil for Long-Term Writing, Part 3: Paper.


(Continued from 2010 and also Part 1: Pencils.)

We have established that pencil is the perfect medium for preserving your writing for the future. We recently examined what to look for in a pencil for journaling and/or long-term writing and some examples thereof. Today we will look at paper for keeping your pencil writing safe.

There are several details on which to reflect when selecting a notebook or journal if you plan to fill it with pencil, and this is even more true when one wants to preserve the writing forever.

Binding
Spiral bindings  can allow pages to rub against other other, creating smearing and thereby affecting the legibility of your writing for the future. Write Notepads & Co. solves this with an enormous rubber band. Generally, if I am going to carry a notebook around for more than a week, I prefer something with an elastic closure like this or like a Moleskine. A staple-bound Field  Notes book lasts only a week; so there’s little time to smear. The Write Notepads pocket books are tightly-bound with the PUR spine, and they do not rub much either. Also, consider that an notebook crammed into  your pocket will not move very much against other paper, that the fabric of your pocket (and your butt/leg/etc.) will likely keep the pages together anyway. For bouncing around in a bag, I never use a book that can open a even a little on its own, allowing the pages to mingle. Graphite is not to be trusted in the open like that!

Tooth
I avoid papers with too little or too much tooth. For instance, anything with more tooth than (and sometimes even including) a Scout Books pocket notebook will collect more graphite from the point of the pencil than the marks which one seeks to preserve. This results in dust and smearing and a generally untidy notebook. This is fine sometimes; pencil is not always tidy. But for writing which we seek to protect, smearing can render words, lines — even pages — illegible. Even worse is paper which is too smooth. The writing never even has much of a chance to stay put. The paper on Rhodia pads, for instance, is a lovely and smooth surface on which to skate a piece of graphite. However, I would not trust words meant for future generations to such glassy paper.

Ruling
An overly-tight graph or narrow lines can cause one’s writing to bunch up, resulting in less crisp lines. Something around the line-spacing of a Moleskine and 1/4 inch is my own preference, though I often just forgo any guide whatsoever too. Try to go line-free with pencil and the intention that your writing with last forever. Be bold!

Archival Quality of the Paper
These days, most major-branded books (Moleskine, Field Notes, etc.) are bound with acid-free paper. Since graphite does not react with paper anyway, this is, I assume, slightly less of a issue than when using ink. However, brittle and yellow paper can cause an issue for any writing medium.

Balance
As in pencils, the key is balance. I like a paper with a medium tooth, light (or no) lines, and a binding that will not allow the paper to rub against itself. As with pencils, this is harder to explain than it is to give examples of.

Write Notepads & Co. – This is probably my favorite notebook paper right now. The 70# stock takes graphite wonderfully, and the minor stiffness of the paper combines with the PUR binding to hold the pages still. The texture is nearly perfect, and they use a nice 1/4 inch line-spacing which is a great balance of efficiency and comfort. Plus they are made in my hometown, and Chris is a friend IRL. But I still claim not to be biased. Their books really are that good.

Moleskine – I swear that Moleskine has been quietly (because loudly would be admitting the paper was inferior before?) improving their paper. The texture is lovely for your less soft pencils, and the elastic keeps everything in place. If you hit Target at the right time of year, you can steal one for a few bucks from the clearance section. I like to remember that a Moleskine in 2002 led me to being lucky enough to co-host a really fun podcast.

Paperblanks – I have not used one of these in a while, but the paper is very stiff for nice pencil lines. Some of the covers get a little…LOOK AT ME for my taste, but the subtly-designed ones work well. Ghosting/graphite transfer is very low on this paper, even without a blotter.

Baron Fig – In speaking with Joey and Adam, I learned that this paper was designed, in part, for pencil, and it shows. The texture is lovely, and the themes and special editions they produce appeal to me greatly.

Field Notes – The newer 60#T version of the Finch Paper Opaque Smooth is lovely for pencil. I’m not sure why it works so much better than the 50# version, which I find to border on too smooth. These do fall open and allow pages to rub together in a bag. I generally get only a week of pocket carry out of them, however; so I do not experience this issue.

What are some papers/books Comrades like to use for long-term writing and/or journaling in pencil?

Pencil for Long-Term Writing, Part 2: Pencils.


According to this blog’s stats, the post from 2010 about long-term writing and pencils is one of the most visited posts on this site. While we are behind in answering mail, we recently, we heard from Don, who asked

“I am wondering if you have any suggestions as to what kind of pencil lead to use for a high quality, long lasting journal?”

I think this is something to explore further, since some pencils (and some papers) perform better than others at keeping your writing safe for the future. Today, let us take a look at what makes a pencil effective for long-term writing, since (as we all know) Pencil is Forever. We’ll cover paper and accessories in two subsequent posts.

When I think of  good Journaling Pencil, there are some considerations I like to, er, consider. In re-reading this list, it could also serve as a Guide to Selecting the Write (!) Pencil in general, in some ways, though the models on that list might be somewhat, or even very, different if that was my intention here.

Darkness
While a German 4H will lend itself to an extreme degree of smear-resistance, it will not make a suitably dark mark for most users’ readability. While a hard pencil’s marks might actually be there on the page, I’d prefer to read them with the naked eye. And as I quickly approach Middle Age, that naked eyesight is not getting better.

Point Durability
A pencil is more likely to continue to make crisp lines if the point is durable and keeps its sharpness without crumbling and making a mess on the paper. I seldom go for the softest option. I like a point that stays crisp and clean for journaling.

Smoothness
A smooth pencil requires less pressure to make a mark. It indents the paper less, and that is always a good thing if you are being careful about your writing — not to mention fighting hand fatigue.

Smear-Resistance
Hard pencils resist smearing, but they can indent the paper due to the pressure required to make marks with them. However, some soft and/or dark pencils resist smearing more than others. This is a sort of Grail to which a lot of individual pencil models seem to aspire, along with a blend of darkness and point retention (a term I do not like).

Ghosting/Graphite Transfer
Almost all pencils and almost all bound books I have used involve the transfer of graphite between pages to some degree — at least when writing on a page which has writing on the other side. I always use a sheet of smooth paper between pages in such instances. A custom-cut piece of an outdated map (a method I’ve used for years) will last through several notebooks, and paper from a Rhodia pad cut to size works very well, too. Please note that cleaning the “blotter” sheet periodically with an eraser will yield maximum results.

Balance
What I look for is a pencil that is a good balance of darkness, smear-resistance, and smoothness. This is difficult to quantify or even to qualify. So I will list some examples of pencils which I personally find to be useful for long-term writing.

Staedtler Wopex – While there are many Comrades who eschew this extruded piece of weaponry, none can deny that the damned thing just won’t smear. It is also difficult to erase (possibly marring a journal full of mistakes, but maybe we shouldn’t run from our mistakes). You cannot have it all. But you can have this fantastic pencil in more colors if you buy from European sellers on eBay.

Blackwing (Firm or Extra-Firm cores only) – For some reason, the Balanced core in the Pearl (and 725) seems to smear more than the others. It has become my least favorite core for journaling. The MMX is lovely, but you can kill a quarter of a pencil writing about a good camping trip. The Firm core in the 602 (and 211, 56, and 344) and the Extra Firm in the 24 and 530 are both smooth and do not smear readily on good paper, though I learn more toward the smoother side of the spectrum of acceptable papers for long-term pencil writing.

General’s Layout – This pencil is oddly smear-resistant, with a durable point, for a pencil which produces such black marks. The slightly wider, round body is a bonus for True Writing Comfort.

Camel “Natural” HB – There’s not much to not like about this pencil. It definitely makes a much lighter  line than most Japanese HB pencils I use, but the point durability and aesthetics are top-notch. And I don’t always want something so soft and/or dark.

Faber-Castell Castell (9000 in the B-4B range) – This pencil can run easily through the 4B range without becoming a blunted, smeary mess. The exact grade you might enjoy will depend on how much darkness you demand and what paper on which you are writing. Try a 4B on Moleskine or Field Notes paper (see the next post), and you will understand that of which I speak.

General’s Cedar Pointe HB – This is a great all-around pencil. When I first tried them circa 2005, the leads were too hard for journaling. But they have softened the formula since then, and this is one of the most balanced cores I can think of. This certainly extends to long-term writing.

Premium Japanese HB – I cannot decide between the Tombow Mono 100 or the Mitsubishi Hi-Uni. Both make smooth, dark marks that stay put.

I am sure that I am forgetting some, and I know I am leaning heavily on pencils I have used recently. What are some things Comrades consider and some favorite journaling pencils among us friends?

On Point Retention and Durability.


I have participated in National Novel Writing Month five times, and this year, I “won” for the third time. What was unique to me this year — aside from writing something I like enough to edit in January — is that I wrote the entire thing in pencil. I suspect that which pencils I used this year could be a fun post to write, but today I want to write about something I learned a lot about last month: point retention.

I’m not sure that I have ever read a detailed discussion about what we mean by that in the Pencil World, but I think it is safe to say that one usually means is how sharp a pencil stays when one writes/draws with it, i.e., how much of the point is left.

But after writing 50,000+ words in 30 days all in pencil, I have found that it is more nuanced than that.

I suggest that a more useful or practical way to think about point retention is to think about Writing Retention* and that the issue is point durability,  not sharpness.

This year, I used a few soft Japanese pencils, such as the Blackwing 344 and 56, both of which have the same core as the 602. It is dark but not super soft, and the retention was the best among the Blackwing line until the release of Volume 24 in spring 2016. I was considerably more concerned with smoothness and writing speed than I was with pencils that would stay sharp as I attempted to draft a bad novel on paper in a month. The paper in the Yoobi composition books I used was pretty smooth and proved to be quite excellent for the project. Graphite would glide but not smear all over the place like it can on Rhodia paper.

At the beginning of one writing session, abuzz and awash in coffee, I tried out a 2016 Dixon Ticonderoga, Chinese-made, picked by hand at Staples. While I could get four pages (of about 250-300 words each) out of a Blackwing 602 equivalent core, I was barely able to write two pages before I had to sharpener the Ticonderoga. What is more, the pencil was nearly as sharp as it was when I started writing with it. The auto-stop crank sharpener I was using nearly refused to engage the cutters on the pencil.

The Blackwing, on the other hand, had grown quite dull. Still, I was able to find a useful writing surface because of the amount of graphite the pencil could lay down. Things got more complicated when I figured out that the Blackwing 344 was able to write as long as the slightly harder Blackwing 24, perhaps even a little longer. Certainly, the smoothness of the paper could have given the 344 (and 56) an artificial edge because it sheared off a little less graphite than a toothy paper might. But the darkness was unaffected, and the 24 would have the same advantage also. Maybe a slightly toothier paper would give the edge to the 24 and make the 344/56 go dull very quickly.

Using the new Blackwing Volume 530 (which has the same Extra Firm core as the 24), I have found that it dulls as quickly on Field Notes paper as the 344 I was using last week. However, it smears less and ghosts less.  And of course the different “feel” could be a draw for some people, as it was for me today when I used one for a dozen pages.

I think that how long a pencil is useful before requiring a sharpening is a balance of darkness and what we generally call point retention. I propose that a dark pencil often has more writing durability than a harder one, since it can still perform with a duller point. Certainly, there are other considerations — smear resistance, smoothness, etc.

But I suggest a change in our Pencil Lexicon to Point Durability, i.e., how long a point is useful for making marks on paper, not how long it remains sharp. A sharp light pencil often fails to mark paper while a half-blunt darker pencil still trudges on. This is making me look at my darker/softer pencils in a whole new light and is helping me to understand why I still love the Blackwing (which I call the MMX for the year it was introduced) original so much.

* (Or Drawing Retention — but I write more than I draw; so I will stick the the former.)

Hell Freezes Over Twice!

(This is another fanfreakingtastic piece from Stephen Watts, whose efforts for Pencildom do nothing short of blow my mind!)

Hell Freezes Over Twice!

aka Father and Son Pencil Review VI
aka Final Review v4.0

From the June 2015 Father and Son Pencil Review V:

You know I never lie about these things, so believe me when I tell you that this is the end of our pencil reviews, unless and until I happen across a Blaisdell Calculator 600, that most rare of Steinbeck-sanctioned pencils. If that day comes, Hunter and I will sign ourselves out of the nursing home, come back to my den, blow the dust off the old computer and we’ll let you know where the third of Steinbeck’s favorite pencils falls in our list.

Friends, hell hath frozen over, and not just once, but twice.

You’re reading the second version of this review. After I submitted the first, something else happened that I doubted would ever occur: General Pencil Company advised Gary Varner of Notegeist that our pleas have been answered and the General’s Cedar Pointe #333-1 will have a second life. We will probably see it back on shelves before the end of the year! More on this later, but let’s get back to the original description of how hell has frozen over.

I was innocently minding my own business one day when I was assaulted by this eBay auction title:

Vintage Blaisdell Pencil Co. Calculator Special Grade No 660 Lot 11 Original Box

¿Qué? Special Grade 660? What was a “660?” What it was, it turns out, was a mistake. And that mistake may have been what allowed me to win an auction for a nearly full box of Blaisdell Calculator 600s at a fraction of what I might expect to pay for a box of far more plentiful vintage Blackwings. I’d begun to doubt I would ever run across a single one of these mythical creatures.

Continue reading “Hell Freezes Over Twice!”

Pencil Sharpener Shootout: Stephen and Son Take Aim.

[Many thanks to Stephen and Hunter for another Amazing Review! Stay tuned next week, as PENCIL REVOLUTION TURNS TEN YEARS OLD. We are picking up a few USPS Flatrate boxes for some sweet giveaway action.]

Pencil Sharpener Shootout

No Amigos
No Amigos

No Amigos

Yes, This Kind of Shootout

AKA Father and Son Pencil Sharpener Review

AKA My Journey to Pencil Sharpener Satisfaction II

Readers of My Journey to Pencil Sharpener Satisfaction may recall my top selections among three different types of sharpeners:

Electric: School Smart Electric Heavy-Duty
Hand Crank: Mitsubishi Uni KH-20
Hand Held: KUM / Palomino / Blackwing Automatic Long Point Sharpener

I compared sharpeners, wrote my review, and I was done.

The Mitsubishi Uni KH-20’s primary challengers for the title of “Best Hand Crank” were the Carl CP-80 and Classroom Friendly / Carl Angel-5. After the review, I took my leftover Carl CP-80 into work and began using it there as my work sharpener while my newly abandoned School Smart Electric looked on, forlorn, with its single cyclops eye. And then a funny thing happened. I began to think I might actually like the Carl CP-80 better than my Mitsubishi Uni KH-20. Sure, the Carl took more effort to hold down while using it, especially for that first sharpening, but I started wondering if it was producing a better and more elongated point than the Mitsubishi I was using at home.

Could I have been wrong? Of course not, because, as my wife will attest, I am never wrong. There was enough doubt, however, that I felt compelled to take a second look. And while at it I probably ought to give a fair comparison to the Classroom Friendly / Carl Angel-5 rather than just dismiss it outright because of the unbridled brutality it unleashes on every unfortunate pencil barrel that stumbles into its path. Maybe, just maybe, it was also time to see if the Classroom Friendly’s reputation for a spectacular point really did outweigh its penchant for wanton destruction.

And this time I’d recall to active duty my trusty co-reviewer and son, Hunter.

A few notes on three sharpeners before we commence with the results of the review:

Classroom Friendly/Carl Angel-5

The Classroom Friendly/Carl Angel-5 is the pencil sharpener equivalent of a hungry crocodile. Imagine if crocodiles were permitted to have pet dogs. A crocodile, like the Tyrannosaurus Rex, has embarrassingly teensy arms which serve no useful purpose other than to flop about and humiliate the rest of the body. A crocodile, in order to pet its pet dog, would have to grip the dog with its crocodilian teeth. This, dear readers, is exactly how the Classroom Friendly/Carl Angel-5 operates. The resellers of these sharpeners had a dilemma: “How do we get people to look past the inherit savagery of these products? I know! We’ll come up with names that signal ‘Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward Men!’”

“Classroom Friendly” evokes images of little schoolchildren. Happy little schoolchildren. Friendly, happy little schoolchildren. You certainly wouldn’t expect something that is “classroom friendly” to EAT the occupants of the classroom, now would you?

“Angel-5” is, of course, angelic. Peaceful, floating on air, benign. Not something that would mangle your arm like a demonically possessed garbage disposal.

In my previous review, I mentioned that people get teary-eyed when they speak of these sharpeners, like they’re the Second Coming of Christ or Hillary Clinton. This sharpener required a test subject at least as hallowed as itself. After months of legal maneuvering, Hunter and I were finally granted access to the super-secret Eberhard Faber vault, located 3 miles beneath the NORAD complex inside Cheyenne Mountain, Wyoming. We were after the most elusive of all Blackwing pencils, one not even seen by Blackwing historian Sean Malone himself. The one, the only, Blackwing Prototype Version 601.9999. Only one of these pencils exists, and until now it had never been sharpened. In 2005, Sotheby’s Auction House estimated its value if sold at auction at over $17 million, and here we were, allowed to sharpen it using a Classroom Friendly!

I won’t go into a lot of bothersome detail here about the solemnity of the elaborate Eberhard Faber ceremony leading up to this historic moment, and will just ask you to look at the results below. Please note these images depict a dramatized recreation of events that did not actually occur.

$17 Million Eberhard Faber Blackwing Prototype Sharpened by Classroom Friendly
$17 Million Eberhard Faber Blackwing Prototype Sharpened by Classroom Friendly

We were curious as to whether or not the notorious Classroom Friendly “bite marks” would be left on this prototype Blackwing 602. Only upon close inspection did my carefully trained eye spot the well-documented “bite mark” effect.

Minor Bite Marks Left by Classroom Friendly
Minor Bite Marks Left by Classroom Friendly

Again, without going into bothersome detail, we’ll just say that Hunter and I were quickly and roughly ejected from the bowels of Eberhard Faber’s lair and we promptly returned home to resume the review.

Carl CP-80

The Carl CP-80 is a fine sharpener. The only reason I didn’t rank it even with or higher than the Mitsubishi Uni KH-20 was because it wasn’t as comfortable to use.

What About That New One Everyone’s Talking About?

If you were hoping I’d throw in the “I’m so special I come with my own special case” KUM Masterpiece hand held, you’re out of luck. That sharpener does not exist. It is only a myth — an urban legend. And even if it were real, it would still be one of those uncovered graphite-spewing Pig Pens of the pencil world and I have, literally, washed my hands of them.

On to the Review

04 Our Gunfighters Face Off in the Middle of a Dusty Street

As mentioned above, I enlisted Hunter’s assistance for this sharpener review. Hunter loves co-reviewing because he gets free stuff. This “gifting” is very easy for me because I don’t even have to do anything; he just walks off with the subjects of our reviews. I’ll walk into his room, notice something I thought I owned and say, “Hey, that’s just like mine!” and Hunter’s eyes frantically dart around the room as he attempts to nonchalantly whistle. Hunter cannot whistle, but because he saw this reaction in a cartoon, he believes this to be the proper way to project innocence. Regardless of his chronic issues with kleptomania, Hunter is an excellent reviewer who doesn’t fall for mob-mentality dismissiveness and recognizes quality over mythology. So he’s earned every single stolen item in his possession.

Let’s push the reset button on my previous sharpener review and go for two goals with this one:

1. Rank the fanged beast Classroom Friendly/Carl Angel-5 against the Mitsubishi Uni KH-20 and Carl CP-80
2. Slot into the above listing the School Smart Electric Heavy-Duty and hand held KUM/Palomino/Blackwing Automatic Long Point Sharpener

After checking the unsharpened pencils to ensure their cores were centered, we sharpened pencils in all five sharpeners. Hunter and I used two of each of the hand crank sharpeners for our review to guard against skewing of the results due to a defect in one sharpener. Let’s see where the hand cranks lined up:

#1: Carl CP-80
Pros:
1. Leaves a slightly, and I mean slightly, longer point than the Mitsubishi Uni KH-20
Cons:
2. Noisier than the Mitsubishi
3. Less stable than the Mitsubishi and requires substantially more effort to hold, especially for first sharpening

#2: Mitsubishi Uni KH-20
Pros:
1. The quietest sharpener of all three
2. Although made of plastic, felt very sturdy
3. Nice long point
4. Felt very stable even during a pencil’s first sharpening
Cons:
1. Very close call between this and the Carl CP-80, but the CP-80 has a slightly longer point

#3: Classroom Friendly/Carl Angel-5Pros:
1. By a hair, left the nicest and longest point of the three
2. Sturdy metal construction
3. More stable to use than the Carl CP-80
Cons:
1. Noisier than the Mitsubishi Uni KH-20
2. Slightly longer point disguises an occasional wood creep like the other two sharpeners
3. Leaves “can’t miss them” indentations and as a pencil is repeatedly resharpened, a trail of these rings of bite marks forms on the pencils

05 Left to Right Carl CP-80, Mitsubishi Uni KH-20, Classroom Friendly aka  Carl Angel-5

Left to Right: Carl CP-80, Mitsubishi Uni KH-20, Classroom Friendly / Carl Angel-5
Left to Right: Carl CP-80, Mitsubishi Uni KH-20, Classroom Friendly / Carl Angel-5
Police Helicopter Photo of Post-Shootout Carnage
Police Helicopter Photo of Post-Shootout Carnage
Triumphant Carl CP-80s
Triumphant Carl CP-80s
Mitsubishis Nearly Wiped Out, Guts Spilled on Street
Mitsubishis Nearly Wiped Out, Guts Spilled on Street
Vanquished Classroom Friendlies
Vanquished Classroom Friendlies

What Does This Really Mean?

I expected a major differentiator of these three sharpeners would be the amount of wood creeping up the core, but to my surprise the differences were minor. Each of the three hand cranks produced similar results. That’s worth repeating, especially because we used two of each sharpener: Each of the three hand cranks produced similar results in the amount of “wood creep.”

The Mitsubishi was the easiest to use, felt the most stable during use, and was clearly the quietest of the three. The Classroom Friendly did barely earn its stellar reputation for producing the nicest point but this came at the cost of indentations in the pencil barrels, documented extensively in other reviews.

Hunter and I next ranked the sharpeners in four categories: Ease of use, evenness (wood creep), quality of point, and ranking via a point system of these other categories.

Ease of Use

1. Mitsubishi Uni KH-20
2. Classroom Friendly / Carl Angel-5
3. Carl CP-80

Evenness

1. Carl CP-80
2. Classroom Friendly / Carl Angel-5
3. Mitsubishi Uni KH-20

Point

1. Classroom Friendly / Carl Angel-5
2. Carl CP-80 (very close to a tie with #1)
3. Mitsubishi Uni KH-20

Rank via Point System Derived from Ease of Use, Evenness and Point

1. Classroom Friendly / Carl Angel-5
2. Carl CP-80
3. Mitsubishi Uni KH-20

Why Did We Rank the Classroom Friendly/Carl Angel-5 Dead Last When Your Own “Point System” Placed it at #1?

Hunter and I aren’t willing to accept the bite marks in the Classroom Friendly. For us, the difference in point quality did not outweigh the damage this sharpener incurs to pencil barrels. We do not believe wanton use of bared fangs is necessary to grip a pencil tightly enough to achieve point perfection. Modern technology is available and waiting to help us in this regard.

Let’s Promote Genetic Diversity

What happens if we take the unprecedented step of intermixing the species? We have so far obtained a father and son ranking of three terrific hand crank pencil sharpeners. Into this we’ll insert our School Smart Electric Sharpener and KUM/Palomino/Palomino Blackwing Two Stage Automatic hand held sharpener.

Left to Right: Carl CP-80, Mitsubishi Uni KH-20, School Smart Electric, Classroom Friendly, KUM/Palomino/Blackwing Automatic Long Point

Our order of preference, and this is where some of our readers will begin hissing while using their fingers to make signs of the cross:

1. Carl CP-80
2. Mitsubishi Uni KH-20
3. School Smart Electric
4. Classroom Friendly/Carl Angel-5
5. KUM/Palomino/Blackwing Automatic Long Point hand held

Even though the School Smart left an industrial jaggedness to the sides of the sharpened cores, it still sharpened evenly and nicely without leaving bite marks in our pencils. I know; it’s heresy to rank an electric pencil sharpener ahead of the knighted Classroom Friendly/Carl Angel-5. Worse, perhaps, is that we placed the hand held KUM dead last.

You: Say what, Willis?
Me: Hunter and I are not Luddites.

The KUM Automatic Long Point hand held sharpeners require work to make a point that, when successfully accomplished, is so sharp it will snap off when first pressed to the paper. As you can see in the photo above, the results with the hand held are difficult to obtain with uniform precision. It takes too much work. There, I said it, and I am not ashamed. Hunter and I just like a nicely sharpened pencil without all the fuss and muss.

Why do people even use hand held sharpeners? I accept only one reason directly related to the purpose of creating a usable pencil point: tool portability.

Runners who run three miles a day do so for exercise. Runners who do marathons no longer run for exercise; there are other motivations. It’s the same with people who enjoy using hand held sharpeners. Unless they’re using them for their portability, they’re in it for the artistry of the skill or because, to them, it’s a fun pastime and challenge. Nothing wrong with that. It’s just not for Hunter and me.

In Order of Preference, Left to Right: Carl CP-80, Mitsubishi Uni KH-20, School Smart Electric, Classroom Friendly, Hand Held: KUM / Palomino / Blackwing Automatic Long Point (Satellite Image Courtesy of NASA)
In Order of Preference, Left to Right: Carl CP-80, Mitsubishi Uni KH-20, School Smart Electric, Classroom Friendly, Hand Held: KUM / Palomino / Blackwing Automatic Long Point
(Satellite Image Courtesy of NASA)

And there we have it, the father and son ranking of three hand crank sharpeners interspersed with our top electric and top hand held sharpener. If you’d like a much more detailed description of how best to sharpen pencils, I encourage you to consult with the master himself, Mr. David Rees: Artisanal Pencil Sharpening.

(Thanks again to Stephen and Hunter for sharing with all Comrades the fruits of their search for pencil bliss! Images and text, S.W., used with kind permission.)