[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?
Kids don’t learn cursive in school any longer. It’s a useless skill, apparently, unlike Algebra, which I use twenty times before I’ve finished my third cup of coffee.* For a year or two, the death of cursive writing is at least a monthly topic I have read about on social media, complete with outrage and negativity.
Someone is doing something about it, though, rather than bellyaching. Cursive Logic is a straight-forward system which teaches cursive logically and quickly. After twelve years of Catholic school, I don’t think I could learn more about cursive, being steeped in some bad habits born of rebellion in college, where I could print in gel to my heart’s content. But having a daughter who turns five this spring and who wants to learn cursive, I can see by reading this workbook that she’ll be proficient in cursive writing quickly enough to astound her teachers, as soon as she’s ready to begin this workbook.
And, of course, I checked out the paper in the workbook, for it’s suitability for pencil. Conclusion: they picked this paper on purpose for its pencil friendliness. I know it.
You can back this system on Kickstarter. With seven days to go, the goal is achievable with some endoftheline help from Comrades like you. If you want to contribute toward kids learning cursive, do contribute to this project. Pledges start at only $25, which is a small price to pay for helping kids’ brains. And we all benefit from smarter kids.
*Of course, I kid. The French press is an art, not something which requires precision, to be duplicated.
(We received an advanced copy of the workbook for the purpose of review/promotion.)
[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:
- Staedtler Norica HB 2
- Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602 (the only one currently not available, thrown into the mix knowing we were risking blasphemy)
- Palomino Blackwing 602
- Mitsubishi 9850 HB
- General’s Semi-Hex 498-2 HB
- General’s Cedar Pointe #333 2 HB
- 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: [Read more…]
A few weeks ago, I opened my mailbox to see the Dudek logo. I wondered if I had ordered something and forgotten somehow, since I had certainly eyed up Mike’s designs for a while, especially the custom block he made for my Erasable co-host Tim. Nope. I didn’t order anything. Mr. Dudek kindly sent along his most pencil-friendly offering gratis, and I love it.
Mike Dudek, author of the always excellent Clicky Post, crafts gorgeous blocks to help store and organize your stationery items, in lovely stained walnut. The Divide holds six pens (or thick pencils) on one side and six regular pencils on the other. In the middle, there is space for a Moleskine-style book or a few Field Notes-style notebooks.
When some of my…clutter in the dining room was shifted to this Beautiful Block, my wife asked what it was, where it came from and probably sent Mike a thank-you note for neatening up my go-to area in the dining room. I love this organizer. It helps me to cut down on the number of pencils I leave around a house with two smallish kids, and I haven’t misplaced my current notebook (a problem I often have) since I started using my Divide.
Comrades can purchase The Divide online for $60, plus shipping. This is the kind of item you can literally leave to your grandchildren. If I saw this on my Dad’s desk, I would still be begging for it.
Thanks again to Mike for his incredible generosity and for making such gorgeous and functional stationery designs for us fans of pen[cil]s and paper.
I am coming off of a Pencil Drought, during which I “won” NaNoWriMo using only gel pens for speed. As I mentioned on the podcast, my brain doesn’t relax around pencils, no matter how much I prefer them. True to form, I got sick literally two hours before the month was over, but my words were in, and all was well. With NyQuil, that is. I am happy to have found new blogs, as I come back down to the world of graphite and writing at a normal speed.
In no particular order, here are two great new additions to The Stationery Blogosphere.
Pencilism, by Luke Sinclair, author of the great hand-sharpening guide featured here. There is some great writing already on Luke’s blog, including a great post that is a moving piece on the meaning of pencils.
My son handed me something that he got out of the diaper bag: a mechanical pencil. I said to him, “What’s that there, bud?” My innocent four-year-old daughter butted in and said it was, “A Bullshit Pencil.” We have talked about Mr. Rees’ book too much in our house. And I hope she does not say that at school.
(I do not actually think they are all bullpoop.)
It is an unexpected delight to be asked to write about my hand sharpening of wooden pencils. I have been reaching for a blade over regular sharpeners for more than two decades. My method is now automatic, and I admit that I spend a little bit more time getting the point I need than most other people I know. This is mostly due to my training in art. Almost every artist who has had a hand in my education has encouraged the use of a blade in sharpening. I clearly remember being told to throw away my sharpener by one of the better artists I have had the privilege to be intimidated by. There is no better way to shape a pencil point into a mark-making tool than with the blade of a super sharp knife. Most of my pencils are the shape they are to accomplish particular tasks. The point is for working in detail, and the length is for shading techniques. Many artists will have a variety of pencils that have been sharpened differently for set tasks. However I have been able to use the one style of point for all purposes. I do not like to swap pencils as I work.
For many years I used a click utility knife as they were cheap and easy to buy, but I was disappointed with them in the end. This was for two reasons. The first was how quickly the blades became blunt. I found this could be as little as a few days. The ones I used were the snap-off variety which were designed to be disposable. I do not like generating needless waste, so the click utility knife was not ideal. Secondly, the plastic handles would break, or the plastic end that assisted with snapping off the blade would go missing. I wanted a better option. I tried a number of cheap folding blade pocket knives, but found them to not be sufficiently sharp. I attempted to hone them but I never got this quite right. Many times it felt as though I was trying to sharpen pencils with a butter knife. Quite a few pencils looked as though they had been chewed by some small animal.
After much trial and error I came across the French Opinel Carbon Steel knife. This is a wonderful tool! The Opinel is not a fancy knife, and comes in a range of sizes. My pick is the No 6, which only costs $12AU. It has a very basic twist lock and a rounded raw wooden handle. Most importantly, it is very, very sharp. It cuts into cedar with ease and it can be sharpened easily with a small diamond hone (these are common in most hardware stores). This knife has yet to fail me, and it is a must on my list. It lives permanently in my pocket.
I really do not think there is much to the way I sharpen. It is but a matter of practice. I use both thumbs to push assist on the back of the blade. I also tend to move the pencil back and forth, not the blade. A short video I have taken (see below) will show this clearly. Unlike Mr. Rees, I cut the wood and the graphite at the same time. I think that this works better, as the wood and graphite become a more uniform shape. I work by turning the pencil in a circle, as is the usual method. The graphite receives its final shape by being scraped with the blade lightly whilst turning the pencil. I will then fuss a bit with the shape of the wood, cutting very small slithers off. This is just for aesthetics. The result I want is a very long point that tapers to a very sharp point. It seems that the longer the taper is, the less likely it will break in use. A metal cap will be needed to carry the pencil around though. I have put holes in clothing and fingers in the past.
(This is my technique, please excuse the painters’ hands. Years of solvents have taken their toll.)
Pencils have become more of an interest over the past few years, and as most who read this blog, I have collected some fine specimens both modern and vintage. But my hand sharpening has been with me for a very long time. This may be the result of all the nasty plastic novelty sharpeners that have eaten pencils in my childhood. I admit that there are days I will use my baby blue Carl Angel-5 hand crank sharpener, but a machine will always produce a machine-like result that is devoid of personality. At this point I am tempted to get poetic and talk about working with the texture of the wood and allowing the natural wood grain to dictate the stroke of the knife, but that would be an over embellishment. I do believe a little of this, but not enough to make a point out of it (no pun intended). I draw almost every day, and 95% of the time I will draw in graphite. I will not use the eraser for anything other than adding light to reflective surfaces of drawings. Hand sharpening is part of my preparation and helps me focus on what I am about to use a pencil for.
Writing about the ‘Hows’ and ‘Whys’ has been fun as I usually just ‘do’. If you have never pointed your pencil with a blade, I personally would recommend it. You may create your own favorite point and possibly even work on your skill to the stage where your sharpeners become pretty decorations collecting dust on a shelf.
(Many thanks to Luke, whose technique I am practicing presently!_
Well, sharpening of pencils, by knives. In case you missed it, we were lucky enough to have David Rees on Erasable last week. In preparation, I had been trying my hand[s] at sharpening pencils with knives. I am getting pretty good at it, if I do say so myself. Excuse the shoddy Instagram shots, but here are some from right around the time of our recording last week.
From a press release we received at HQ:
Drawing With History: AOL’s This Built America Covers New Jersey’s General Pencil Co.
Jersey City, New Jersey (August 6, 2014) – This Built America, a new multimedia platform from AOL exploring the companies and people reimagining American manufacturing, comes to Jersey City this week to profile the General Pencil Company — a company built on family and dedication that has been going strong since Edward Weissenborn founded his second pencil endeavor in 1889.
In this episode, the fourth, fifth and sixth generations of the family discuss why keeping General Pencil in the family is the key to their business success. It hasn’t always been easy to keep the company afloat, or to turn away offers to buy General Pencil, but the Weissenborns feel a connection to their long running, made in America company.
For General Pencil Company, being chosen to represent New Jersey in This Built America is proof that founder Edward Weissenborn made the right decision banking on family business all those years ago, no matter the circumstance. “We believe in America,” says Jim Weissenborn. “We are proud of our employees and the quality products they produce.”
To view the full episode and more on General Pencil Company, visit http://www.thisbuiltamerica.com/new-jersey/.
General Pencil Company joins a national movement in This Built America that is devoted to supporting American companies and American-made products. AOL is proud to support the effort along with sponsor Ford Trucks. Through the year, the editorial and video teams will explore 50 states in 50 weeks to bring 50 stories of the people who are bringing back manufacturing to America. The platform is produced in coordination with Man Made Content.
This is late because I had no data signal at the pond, which is just as well. Weird place to play with a smartphone.
If this is half as fun to listen to as it was to record, you’re going to enjoy it ==> Erasable, Episode Ten:
The Graphites of Wrath.
For some reason, I had no idea that this blog existed until tonight, when I renewed my Thoreau Society membership dues (which were late): The Roost. Check out the post about sleeping on hot and humid nights here. Coming off of our first official heat wave of the summer, I feel like some very un-Thoreauvian planet-killer; we have central air conditioning that I am not shy about using on nights like this, though I suspect central Maryland was far hotter and stickier than Massachusetts was.*
With Mr. Thoreau’s birthday coming up and my trip to Massachusetts coming up next month, Henry is on my mind a lot lately. What would he think of a pencil blog? Would he just be happy people do things without computers? Would he be appalled that I prefer a wedge sharpener to a manual knife?
Would Henry listen to our podcast?
*At least the few years I lived there were not as terrible as a Maryland summer.
If you are enjoying our Erasable, you might also enjoy a listen to this program which features some fine Comrades of Pencildom.
Also, have you heard episode 8 of Erasable yet? There’s information about a nice giveaway at the end. We present the first round of Pencil Heroes. I picked Hemingway, of course.
Finally, do join our new Erasable Podcast Pencil Community group for the growing discussion of All Things Pencil.
Our special National Pencil Day episode is up for your Enjoyment and Consideration. Congrats again to our winners!