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?
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?
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.
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.
[Stephen Watts is back, with another fantastic contribution! Thanks, Stephen, and we hope this is the first of more pieces for Pencil Revolution!]
We Who Like Pencils (or “WWLP,” pronounced “WWLP”) routinely deal with any number of annoyances in the pursuit of our inexplicable obsession. One of my pet peeves has been the scarcity of suitable pencil display options.
There aren’t many choices available unless you’re okay with hiding one end of your pencils in a cup or stand. I prefer my pencils to proudly stand out in the open, reveling in their naked glory for all the world to see. Acrylic holders that horizontally showcase 1-13 pencils worked well for me until my collection outgrew them.
Several years ago, I succumbed to the madness and beyond all reason purchased a $500 lockable jewelry display cabinet. My son Hunter was with me the week it arrived and when, conveniently, my wife was away with Hunter’s twin brother Garrett. The exorbitant shipping charges should have been a clue that the cabinet was so heavy it had to be shipped on a pallet in a moving van. Hunter and I stared, dumbfounded, as we watched the platform on the back of the trailer slowly lower the beast to the ground. Desperate to hide all evidence of the crime, my deputized accomplice and I decided the smartest thing to do was get the cabinet upstairs in the den and mounted on the wall before my wife got back home. 200 pound painful-to-hold lockable jewelry display cabinets, we learned, don’t travel easily up twisting flights of stairs.
Fortunately, through destructive trial and error and before my wife arrived back home, Hunter and I got the Heavy Beast from Hell securely fastened to the wall and populated by a relieved flock of vintage pencils.
Dazed by a celebratory excess of potato chips and Mountain Dew, we forgot about the empty pallet which remained in the front yard awaiting bulk refuse pickup. Our ill-conceived plan to pretend as though nothing happened instantly collapsed when my wife pulled into the driveway and cried out to Garrett “How many pencils did he have to buy for them to be delivered on a PALLET?”
My wife never found out how much I paid for the cabinet or how tiny our tax deduction was when we donated the cabinet to Goodwill a few years later as we downsized into an apartment three states away.
Once again, I needed to find a way to display these little treasures. Typical searches unearthed descriptions of how to construct my own suitable-for-framing display using thick poster board and elastic cord. This utterly ridiculous, labor-intensive solution brings with it the reprehensible requirements of patience and the ability to evenly punch holes in the poster board so one can thread the cord through perfectly-spaced holes while leaving enough slack in the elastic to hold the pencils. Sure, I found images of terrific-looking results. But with intentional deception, the instructions never revealed that such craftsmanship, in real-world scenarios outside the laboratory, is achievable only by skilled lunatics unaware they can more profitably spend their time binge-watching Netflix.
Time and again in my quests I found myself staring admiringly at the readily available but wholly unsuitable golf pencil displays. The ubiquity of these pretentiously perfect products is especially maddening because we know that golfers don’t care about their itty bitty 3.5 inch “pencils,” more accurately referred to by normal people as “stubs,” or we can separate ourselves from them altogether and call the teeny pencils “teencils.” Golfers aren’t displaying their teencils, they’re displaying how many golf courses they visited. The irony here is that golf itself doesn’t even matter. To quote the authoritative July 1979 Sports issue of National Lampoon Magazine, “If you want to take long walks, take long walks. If you want to hit things with a stick, hit things with a stick. But there’s no excuse for combining the two and putting the results on TV.”
After looking at these displays time and again, either I saw one model for the first time or for the first time realized what I could do with one model and it dawned on me the answer to my problem was hiding in plain sight.
If you’re like me, not just uninterested in golf but adamantly opposed to it, you’ll appreciate how I’ve discovered a way to cheat the golf cabal’s clever little system: Yes, available to both golfers and humans alike, there exists a beautiful display case intended to hold 64 embarrassed 3.5 inch teencils that can be repurposed to triumphantly hold one row of 32 anatomically correct pencils. It’s available in a cherry or oak finish and can be found at Great Golf Memories and Amazon. I purchased two, and a full month after putting these displays on my wall I still spend whole days standing in front of them, silently weeping with joy.
Author’s Note: I don’t work for the companies that create or sell these display cases. I just revel in this “hack” and hope that if you go this route, you won’t spoil it for the rest of the WWLP crowd by admitting your true purpose to the golf mafia.
When you turn around for a second, and your toddler chews up your pencil and notebook. In this case, the summer 2016 L.L. Bean Field Notes and a Blackwing Volume 1. The point was stuck to her chin. The notebook is wetter than it looks.
I gave my son a Staedtler Noris today, and now he wants to keep drawing Tayo the bus. The very annoying bus.
I’d been having a stressful few weeks, with school being back in session, a death in the family, my son starting his first day of pre-school, sickness descending on the family early this year. I came home to a box from CW Pencil Enterprise. I’d ordered something, but my package had already come. This was a surprise.
So I hurried to open the box and found a wrapped package with a gift tag. Inside I found a box of Blackwings, the ones I am a crusade to get renamed the MMX. Someone had written “MMX” in gold on the box, but I still wasn’t ready for what I found inside.
My friend Lenore had ordered a box of Blackwings with “MMX” stamped on them with the Kingsly machine at the pencil shop by Alyx. I sat in my dining room chuckling for a long time before dropping Lenore a message to thank her, whereupon I sharpened one immediately.
We talk a lot on Erasable about how great the community that’s sprung up around Pencil Life is. So I feel silly repeating it maybe. But because of these activities, I have made a lot of wonderful friends, one of whom would order some Blackwings made just for me with “MMX” on them — the only REAL MMX BLACKWINGS in existence. Thanks again, Lenore!
My daughter started the second grade yesterday, and of course we snapped some images of her out-going pencil case. First, this year, no boxes, only cases. She has the Yoobi cat case, which is lined in blue inside.
The list called for ten Pink Pearl erasers. We found a very satisfyingly heavy box of twelve on Amazon and sent that in instead. The newer version of this eraser is softer and actually works, rather than merely sanding your paper.
Running on the assumption that the four dozen pencils we sent in were for the classroom stash, I made sure Charlotte did not go in empty-cased. Hearing the Ticonderoga recommendation, she wanted these neon Tics and a few choice yellow ones. We put them all through the Dahle 133, and this was a fragrant pile.
Yoobi sharpener with Emojis all over it. I’m not always clear on what happens with sharpeners at school, but I make sure she’s equipped with her own. This one doesn’t look like it will last the year, but she likes it. And it’s good practice.
Yoobi triangular pencils for the classroom. Students were each supposed to bring 48 pencils, with the recommendation being Ticonderoga: “a good investment.” I understand why they suggested these, but I also, ahem, know at least as much about pencils as whomever made this list. I like how “Yoobi gives,” and Charlotte likes their colors. So we brought these for he Big Pile. For the record, they were about the same prices as Ticonderogas and USA Golds on the day that we bought them.
Super cute and alarmingly sharp scissors. Charlotte always loses those silly caps, and these have a nice texture on the handle.
(Posted these photos from my phone and went overboard on the filter. Sorry!)
Charlotte’s school says that I am to bring in 48 pre-sharpened Ticonderoga pencils, because they are super high-quality. The current Chinese-made ones are very nice, but I really resist the idea that the brand makes something special in this situation. I am extremely tempted to send her to school with 48 nice pencils, none of which are Ticonderoga, just to be a poophead.
Either way, of course, she’s going to school with her pencil case loaded with very excellent, hand-picked pencils from Daddy’s stash.
We have a playdate tomorrow to go to zoo with our Pals, and we thought we would design some portable drawing kits.
We took some empty mint tins from Trader Joe’s and then stuck on these name tags that we found at Target in the dollar bins. I trimmed down pencils by hand with a sharp utility knife and then sharpened them in the Dahle 133, using its Auto Stop feature.
We included some tiny sharpeners that we found at the shop, along with some tiny 💩 erasers and some rainbow erasers.
Finally, we made some tiny little notebooks to fit inside. My kids are super excited, and I am busy eating more of those delicious vanilla mints so that I can get more tins. I want one for myself!