First Day of School Pencils, Take Two.

So. Charlotte started school today. Pre-K. She has been my constant companion for over four years. I did not have an easy night’s sleep or morning. But this is not the kind of blog where we wax emotional. However, there is still, of course, plenty to talk about on a pencil blog about the first day of school.

We bought the stuff on her school supply list. I assumed that six #2 pencils meant 1/2 dozen of fat learner’s pencils with big erasers for little students in Pre-K. So I dug through the bins at Staples to make sure that she got the best six in the store. While not on the list, I made sure to include a Pink Pearl and German-bladed pencil sharpener. Charlotte came home with 5 pencils in her backpack. I asked why. She said they are not supposed to have fat pencils.

Well. Hey hey hey. This means she can basically take whatever she wants to school for pencils! Holiday pencils. Disney Fairy pencils. Heck, Blackwings if she wants. So I took her to The Archive before our favorite restaurant opened for dinner and let her pick any six pencils she wanted.


This is what she came up with.

She picked the EnviroStik first, then an old (2005) Forest Choice, though I made her take a new one, to be sure the eraser works. Next, she requested that I open a 2014 Target-exclusive pack of Ticonderogas for “the blue one.” She picked a regular (new, matte, Chinese) Ticonderoga, then a black one (Chinese, smooth). Finally, she went for the bright silver of the Musgrave Test Scoring 100. These were pointed on a Deli sharpener (not too long) and are contained in an empty Ticonderoga box, for school tomorrow.

I scoped out the sharpener situation in the room, but I couldn’t get any pictures because a Little Guy was sobbing in the chair nearest: crank sharpener mounted where Small Children can reach it and an industrial electric sharpener behind the teacher’s desk. I did notice a pencil cup near it, and what the teacher wrote on was written in pencil. If I see her with a red/blue pencil, I’m gushing about this website and the even better podcast of which I am thankful to be a part.

Click to view the school supply they forgot to put on The List. Also, this stub was the first pencil Charlotte ever touched, when it was new in 2010.

Click to view the school supply they forgot to put on The List. Also, this stub was the first pencil Charlotte ever touched, when it was new in 2010.

Summer Time.

It’s summer time at Pencil Revolution. This photo captures the mood at HQ lately. It’s one of abundance. Happy summer!

On Pencil Sharpers, and the Secret to a Great Point.

Classroom Friendly sharpener: one of my favorite crank models, with a Deli I like very much.

Classroom Friendly sharpener: one of my favorite crank models, with a Deli I like very much.

[I wrote this as a guest post on PPIL's Pencil Week (here). I thought I'd repost it since I'm up to my knees in reviews I need to take photos for, and the site's been quiet.]

There are lots of different kinds of pencil sharpeners. One can do no better than to read David Rees’ How to Sharpen Pencils to learn all about them. My list is less specific than his and certainly not as…good, but I thought I might share how I actually sharpen my own pencils at the end, since I hear time and time again that the process gives some folks a bit of trouble.

Turn me. I make pencils sharp. Do it. Do it now!

Turn me. I make pencils sharp. Do it. Do it now!

Crank Sharpeners
These are sharpeners into which a pencil is inserted, which produce a point on the pencil by means of a blade or burrs which rotate around the pencil via a manual crank which is activated by the individual doing the sharpening. The Classroom Friendly sharpener is a great example of this (see here, here and here for a few reviews). These sharpeners sometimes have mechanisms that prevent over sharpening, but most I have encountered in schools and workplaces do not. As such, they tend to eat pencils. They also tend to have old, dull blades/burrs which prevent anyone from really using them effectively. I would not trust an untested crank sharpener to put a point on anything expensive or precious unless my life depended on it. And when I fear that my life might depend on a sharp pencil (!), I have a pocket blade sharpener or knife on me.

My much-beloved and coveted brass KUM wedge.

My much-beloved and coveted brass KUM wedge.

Manual Blade Sharpeners
These are sharpeners that require the user to rotate the pencil inside of the sharpener body, against a blade. Standard wedge sharpeners and Snoopy sharpeners fit into this category. These are generally my favorite, since I can control how much of the point I actually sharpen more easily. They are easy to use but not to master.

These can be “controlled” knives like The Little Shaver, a machete, short sword, pocket knife or purpose-built pencil sharpening knife. This is an intimate way to sharpen pencils that is generally frowned upon aboard airliners and some city buses. To use a blade, one simply cuts the pencil’s business end into a spear, blunt cone or wedge. This is not for beginners. Or maybe it’s perfect for beginners.

Electric Pencil Sharpeners
These work like crank sharpeners, only they have motors which drive the gears. I own two and more-or-less hate one of them. I find these the most difficult to use, despite their alleged convenience. I am working on a review of a yellow and green model that I like a little better.

The Secret
For pencil sharpeners whose cutting mechanisms rotate around the pencil, it is imperative to hold the pencil perfectly still. Most such sharpeners have no aperture into which to insert the pencil which matches its shape. As such, the cutting mechanism will not rotate around the pencil evenly and produce an even point without the pencil being held stationary, directly in the center of the chamber. I make such an aperture out of my thumb and a finger or two and then insert the pencil into the sharpener through my grip, with which I pinch the pencil in place. Try this with the wobbly sharpener in the library or the electric beast at your office, and you might be pleased at your new results.

For a manual sharpener, just jam that sumbitch in there, directly in the center of the hole, and turn the pencil against the blade. Hold it firmly and steadily, and cut the wood – don’t shave it in splinters. We are looking for strips of cedar to scent your pocket here. Any good sharpener of this type will have a shape which will sharpen your pencil evenly if you feed the pencil into it evenly. Do not be tempted to lean the pencil against the blade, as this will warp your point. Keep it centered, firm and straight. You’ll nail it every time.

The Pencils of Pens #1: Bic Cristal.

I like being counted as a Pencil Guy. A dozen of your family members and friends will call or text you when a show on TV or the radio has a segment about pencils. And you might even be lucky enough to be invited to collaborate with two talented bloggers in creating a really fun pencil podcast (Tim and Andy, stand up!)

But, you know, I do have and use pens.

True, there have been times when I literally went weeks without using ink. But one could go that long without (heavens forbid!) using any analogue tools these days.

My name is Johnny, and I have A Thing for Space Pens. And gel pens. And Microns. And sign pens.
And I have A Serious Thing for the Bic Cristal. So I thought this would be the perfect pen with which to begin a series of posts I have lazily put off for a long time, The Pens of Pencils – pens which are, in ways, like pencils. I wanted to do something like Pen Week, but these will just pop up from time to time instead, as time and energy permit.

How is the Bic Cristal like a pencil? It’s inexpensive and ubiquitous. You can see how much “write” you’ve got left.* You can vary the line density by varying your pressure. They are even hexagonal.

What the Bic Cristal has over the world of pencils is this: You’d be hard-pressed to find pencils which perform as well as these pens do in the same price range. In Days of Yore (2004-5), one could find cheap pencils which were very nice. But I think the branded pencil which corresponds to the Bic Cristal in price is the “economy” Dixon (not Ticonderoga) pencil. This is probably the worst branded pencil I have every attempted to use. I even masochistically keep a few around, to remind myself that I am lucky to have a large number of decent, even excellent, pencils in The Archive. And I like Dixon Ticonderoga pencils very much. Just not this monstrosity in cheap marigold paint.

Seriously the Bic Cristal  is a good pen. Remember when no one would touch PBR, and then some brave folks started to drink it and reminded us that there are beers whose humility is as wonderful to experience as which type of German hops is contained therein?** Be brave! Use some cheap pens! The Pen Climate seems to be shifting in favor of fountain pens and bottled ink, to a greater and greater degree. I watch this, and I am fascinated. If nothing else, the names some manufacturers come up with for their inks is a testament to human creativity. I do not count myself among fountain pen enthusiasts. But I like very much that there is a growing fountain pen enthusiasm. It brings folks to analogue tools, and that often brings them to pencils. Because pencils are better (!). There are good pens out there with ballpoints in them. Field Notes generated a lot of interest in the Space Pen, beginning in late 2012. If you haven’t tried one in a while, Fisher really does improve the ink every time I get a new refill. The current Fine is easily as good as a Jetstream to me, though it gives me a little more control.

This brings me back to the Bic Cristal. Have you used one lately? Not an old one you found in the drawer***, but a new one stolen from the pen cup at your favorite cafe’? I am often surprised by how much ink a medium-pointed Cristal puts down, yet how long it lasts. I found a few packs of “made in France” blue ones a while back, and the caps and plugs are a different blue. Lovely, but not the cool retro blue I usually prefer. Cristals are smooth, quick-drying pens. They write immediately. They do not smear, even with a bit of rain. You do not need to protect the point or carry a sharpener. If one walks off or gets lost, it’s no great tragedy. And, assuming your municipal recycling program takes all plastics, I am told they are recyclable.

Add to this the fact that Bic has started to put their famous Easy Glide**** ink into the North American medium Cristal, and this great pen is possibly the greatest cheap pen ever made. The blue is bluer. The black is darker. The ink is smoother. And you get that whiff of ink when you furiously scribble on your paper or canvas or skin. Plus, there’s not that gummy ball of ink that so often plagues smooth ballpoint pens like those Inkjoy…things.

In short, if you want a reliable pen which is cheap, attractive, smooth and quick-drying, get yourself a pack or a box of these. Amazon’s Cristals are the new ones, and I found a 2-dozen box at Wallieworld last time I accompanied a family member there on a errand and wondered down the pen aisle. Target has them, too. Check out Little Flower Petals’ recent posts on the Bic Cristal. If part of what you appreciate about pencils is their simplicity, the Bic Cristal might make your fanciest fountain pens jealous.

Finally, if you are surprised by the sudden Pen Post on this blog, remember that even eBay got hacked recently.


*Assuming the ink doesn’t dry up and assuming the lead inside of wooden pencil has not fractured, one can estimate the remaining useful life left in the tool.
** Certainly, there are folks who consume Pabst just to be seen consuming Pabst. But I tried it again a number of years ago as a tribute to my great-uncle (i.e., before it was cool), and it is a very nice brew – though perhaps more so before so many affectedly cool people started idolizing it and holding the cans out so that you can see the label. “Look! I found Pabst at the store or managed to correctly order one!”
*** Unlike pencils, pens have a shelf-life. Ballpoint pens last about 3 years in storage. The Space Pen lasts 100, according to Fisher’s estimates.
**** Get your mind out of the gutter.

America’s Pencil: USA Gold.

We reviewed this pencil last year. The folks who sent them mentioned that the URL would be done away with. And they weren’t fooling. Now the pencils merely read:

AMERICA’S PENCIL        U.S.A. GOLD       2  HB

This is fantastic, especially for the school market. While General’s is close to my heart (and 125 years old this year!), they aren’t in the big-box stores where families typically stock up for school. The USA Gold (Silver) line keeps American-made pencils in the hands of The Kiddies like no other manufacturer these days, after Sanford and Dixon moved their production out of the country in the last decade.

And, while some Comrades might find it boastful or silly, I really like this pencil’s new Slogan. And I officially call for a return to pencils having Slogans (“Half the pressure, twice the speed” — “A bottle of ink in a pencil”).

Earth Day Giveaway.

I’ve meant to do this for years, and I’ve finally amassed enough “eco” pencils to give it a go. The lucky winner of this giveaway will receive a selection of pencils which are billed as Earth Friendly in some way (whether truly or not). There are some very nice pencils in this category, like the Wopex, Forest Choice, Ticonderoga EnviroStik*, O’Bon, etc. I promise that this will be a very cool prize.

Usually, we go with a theme. This time, simply leave one (1) comment to be entered. Contest is limited to wherever I can send a small package via the US Postal Service, which is probably most places on Earth. I’d like to get the package out before April 22nd. So we’ll end the collection of entries on Easter Saturday/Sunday at midnight, which is really late Saturday night to my fellow Night Owls. I’ll contact the winner by Sunday night, April 20th. If we can’t get a response from the winner in one week for some reason, we’ll pick a new one.

*Which is, apparently, minimalistic enough to not need the C to spell it correctly.

Granny’s Pencil Cottage.

Recently, we received a message from Jaina Bee, who lives in a house in San Francisco that is covered with pencils! There are 185,252 pencils here, all installed between 1997 and 2002 by Jason Mecier. I seriously doubt I have ever laid eyes on that many pencils in my nearly 35 years on earth. Check out more about the pencil house here, complete with photos that made me wonder how to do this to the stairway in the 1900 rowhouse that is HQ.

Wopex Pencils at Staples.

Thanks to this helpful comment at Pencil Talk, I learned that Staples carries Wopex pencils in 18 packs. They were listed at $4.99, marked down to $3 in the store. Gracious! I stopped by today with my daughter in tow, and packs of Wopexes (Wopexen? Wopexi?) were piled on a rack as we come through the door.
I have a few of these eraser-topped versions from an over-priced pack I bought on Amazon a few months ago. But $3 for 18 pencils is a budget pencil price — for premium pencils? There is even a layer of foam protecting the sharpened cores in the plastic box. I wonder if Staedtler will bring over the attractive yellow versions and some of the colors I have only seen in photos? In any case, the color is less important to me than that they are here. I have been obsessed with this pencil since Matthias sent me a few in 2012.

Now I have lost all of my excuses not to review this pencil.

Capped Pocket Pencil.

I have a Magic Box of Awesome. (I should really do a post about it and stop my Lazy Blogging, but think of David Rees, and use your imagination.) Looking through this box is a staple request from Charlotte. Recently, she opened it and asked to have this very tiny pencil. I told her it can be her Pocket Pencil, and she liked this idea. Then I told her, in a very Parental Fashion, that she needed to use a point protector. A miniature argument ensued. This argument could only happen in my house, and perhaps some select other Outposts. I only won, I think, because one of the runs of General’s protectors had sparkles in it for some reason.

Fat Pencil Sharpener for Kids Solution.

This is another Broadcast from Comrade Dan in the Medfield Outpost:

“Attached is a the solution I came up with for the kids’ sharpener you gave Mickey and Jack. One, they always lost it; and two, it would take them 5 minutes to sharpen a colored pencil, due to the hand mechanics of a three year old. I super-glued it to one of their art boxes.”


[Sharpener pictured is an Eisen double-hole, distributed by Dixon Ticonderoga, from a recent package of My First Ticonderoga pencils.]

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