This was a few weeks ago. I took advantage of the house being empty for an hour or two and watched Hemingway & Gellhorn. It wasn’t great.
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!_
Prompted by both a thread on the Field Nuts group and a great post on The Finer Point, here are my pocket notebooks from late 2010 to the present, not counting the ones I am still using. Pictured above, 114 Full Field Notes. Below, other branded books, including the number/alphabet books that might be too large/thick to qualify for this category.
I have been meaning to do something like this for a while. But:
1) It feels like bragging.
2) It feels like confessing to a problem.
3) I am lazy.
I have a small stash of empty Field Notes and assorted other pocket notebooks around, but they will soon move to the full pile. I keep them in a Sam Adams box that is literally splitting because I am a creature of habit and have stuffed way more into that space than really fit.
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.
All of my fellow Paper Fiends now know about the latest offering from Field Notes: Unexposed. I will admit that I was less than excited when I learned that I would not get all six, even as a subscriber. I ordered two more packs from [upcominggreatstorefront] before I saw my subscription packs. So I was not completely undone when I got two sets of doubles — only four of the six. Two more packs were on the way, and odds were on my side.
But I checked out my two packs, nonetheless, even as An Incomplete Set. Look at this cool sleeve! It’s very well-executed, with the FN logo inside. I imagine that coating this in heavy packing tape could produce a pretty durable cover/case for carrying Field Notes.
Out of the sleeve, these books kind of smell like chemicals. I imagine it will go away, however. Being packed into a Secret Box would probably make me stink a little, too. The texture feels like the Drink Local edition from last fall, which is a good thing. I like when my Field Notes get cracked and show wear, and I mean that. However, unlike the Drink Local, I would have rather seen these colors in the summer. Even if you don’t like beer, the Drink Local colors were sweetly autumnal. And imagine how great Arts and Sciences would have been for back-to-school!
The inside covers feature contrasting ink — they are the Color Shadow of the outside covers. The paper is the usual, which is friendly to everything it makes sense for a pocket notebook to be friendly to. It has the reticle grid; I was not crazy about this pattern in the Night Sky edition. It was dark enough to really distract me from graphite, especially since it did not “disappear” the way that lines or a grid might. My one pack of NS that I used is in my Big Box of Used Field Notes, and I can’t compare them just now. These do not *look* as dark. But everything is a little Chromatically Crazy after looking at these books for a while.
I had to get four packs to get all six. I was terrifically…irked by this before I actually had my set of six, to be sure. Of course, when I had them all in hand Monday, I sung like a — I don’t know, a happy guy? We talked a lot about what this might mean to collectors in our Erasable Facebook Group. All four of my packs are open. The only sealed Field Notes in my possession are not really mine; they are my kids’ Birth Notes (Spring 2010 and Summer 2013). The folks at Field Notes print so many books of each edition now that I can’t imagine that the Stationery Trend is going to last long enough in its current zeal for these huge-run recent editions to be very valuable. But I certainly don’t want to start a fight. I am too busy filling my Field Notes.
Now, being a Good Comrade, how could I not pair these up with the Neon Wopexen??
(I bought these myself. Ain’t not messin with my opinions, man.)
Yesterday, we took a long look at the cap/extender/sharpener of The Pencil. Today, we will finish our review by looking at the Luxury Wopex pencils that come with it.
Depending on which end you pick up, you might notice that the pencil is black all of the way through to the core, or you might notice that the pencil is topped with a silver-mounted stylus, for use on modern touchscreen devices. I was joking IRL that I can’t figure out how to use a stylus correctly, though I can use these as well as I can use any others I have tried. And other Comrades at HQ had no problems getting them to work. So they are not merely a gimmick to include a feature missing on all of the Faber-Castell Perfect Pencils. They really give this tool another function, one which it performs well.
The silver plastic that holds the stylus is well-attached and fits perfectly into the Cap Assembly when The Pencil’s pencil gets too short to comfortably use. I have found that these pencils roll off of a table much more easily, but while stuck into the cap, this is no issue at all, since the cap square — and clipped to boot.
If you picked up the point first, you’d notice a black pencil. A Black Pencil. Where the other Wopexen I have had the pleasure to use have a layer of rubbery material extruded on top of the “wooden” part, these are “unfinished” in a way, with lines running down the length of the pencils. The result is a Dry-Grip (not unlike an unfinished pencil) — and if you’re a Wopex fan like myself, a new Wopex experience. These round pencils are fantastic to hold and write with, and I hope very much that Staedtler might produce a round Wopex, perhaps even to replace their discontinued stenography pencil.*
These pencils run a bit shorter than a regular pencil. I thought that illustrating it with a new Neon Wopex would drive the point (!) home better than a number would. This is The Pencil’s pencil with the factory sharpening.
Of course, the shorter pencil allows you to use your extender more quickly. Largely, though I think they made the pencils shorter because a full-sized pencil would never fit into a pocket with the Cap Assembly from The Pencil on it.
The core of this pencil is everything you like (or don’t) about writing with a Wopex. It’s smooth, smear-resistant, light and somewhat tricky to sharpen at first. I know some Comrades do not enjoy them, but I love Wopexen enough that I actively collect them — something I rarely do with a particular pencil, especially one whose examples are usually not available to me in my home country.
So…is The Pencil better than Faber-Castell’s Perfect Pencil? To be sure, that’s personal. For my daily carry before reviewing this pencils, I toted around the Castell 9000 version of the Perfect Pencil. It is light and inexpensive and sort of glides under the radar in my pocket, looking like a pen. My platinum version sits in The Archive most of the time, because of its cost but, mostly, because of its weight. I do not have the UFO version.**
Staedtler’s The Pencil is sort of a different animal in some respects. For one, it looks more “modern” than the F-CPPs, and the stylus ends scream to be used in a way that platinum caps do not. Not being made of heavy metal, this is as portable as cap/extender/sharpeners come, with a nice eraser hidden in there for good measure. Whether or not it merits daily carry depends on one’s tastes and budget. I have to say that I am glad I took photos before I used and abused and reviewed The Pencil, because one of the black pencils is now fairly short, and I have been carrying this around quite a bit. It’s won a spot in my portable rotation when I have a shirt pocket in which to…display it. It does come with a little Strut.***
*Especially since the Wopex is so often noted for its point retention and resistance to smearing, a round Wopex would be a terrific stenography pencil.
**Though, Faber-Castell, if you’re reading this, SEND US ONE IN BROWN! We promise a great review. I have been drooling over this for a decade and have never pulled the proverbial trigger.
(This set was provided to us by Staedtler North America, free of charge. Opinions, impressions, analyses and images are my own.)
Now this is a piece of Pencil Beauty, and I hope I do it justice. A week after we received Primo Neon Wopexen at HQ, we received The Pencil. That is that name for Staedtler’s relatively new luxury pencil cap/extender/sharpener/eraser. Think of this as Staedtler’s answer to Faber-Castell’s Perfect Pencil, with an adage worthy of Don Draper’s best work.*
The Pencil is a set of three unique pencils made of Wopex material, with stylus tips where you might expect erasers — and a cap which houses a hidden (really) sharpener, an excellent eraser and also functions as an extender. We’ll look at the Cap Assemply first.
The cap is plastic. Stephen pointed this out in his great review last year, and I was among those disappointed that this was not made of metal. However, I think that knowing it was plastic before I held it prepared me enough that I appreciate that it does not weigh as much as the platinum-plated Faber-Castell version, which can be somewhat awkward to carry.
The far end has a cap which displays the Staedtler logo, in a tasteful fashion. The sharpener can be used with the Cap Assembly in one piece or with it exploded, as you can see. There is a slot in the side of the cap which allows the ejection of pencil shavings. This allows a better grip than the Perfect Pencil that I carry around daily, which only has the sharpener attached to the very tip of the top. The clip is metal and sturdy, sticking well to everything to which I have stuck it. I don’t own a digital scale, but the weight of the entire cap is what I would call pleasing. It has enough weight to feel sturdy, but it’s certainly no Pocket Anchor. There is some play while the pencil is inserted into the cap, largely because the pencil is held in some sort of Mechanism which allows it to rotate, making possible the In-Cap Sharpening. It never really bothered me, since I did not use it for long as an extender because my The Pencil was not short enough to require it. The Cap Assembly holds onto The Pencil, though there is no Death Grip to leave makes on your Luxury Wopex. I am not certain why the Cap Assembly comes apart, if it’s not just to make it possible to clean out shavings and graphite residue, which is something that plagues the best of us — and something which I am very glad to be able to get rid of, should it arise from what I’ve discovered are notoriously dusty pencils (Wopexen).
The shapener produces a nicely-angled point. Here is the factory sharpening, next to the result produced by the included sharpener.
Putting a point on a Wopex is something that puts strain on a sharpener, and this one performs well, shaving thin layers of extruded wood flour and graphite.
The eraser works very well, though I would only use it in a pinch. Staedtler tells us that they do not currently offer replacements, and this is an eraser whose existence and presence I’d like to count on when I find myself pushing a stroller with nothing on me but this device and a coffeeshop receipt on which to scroll that Brilliant Idea about Existence that I will keep to myself.
Perhaps best of all, the Cap Assembly fits normal pencils as well. My fancy Faber-Castell version does not, and the refills are expensive. Not only does this cap fit a regular Wopex; the silver looks great with the colors of Wopexen available to us here in North America.
We certainly don’t mean that we are not using the Luxury Wopexen that came with this set. And as this review is getting long, we’ll cut this in half and let WordPress self-publish a post dedicated to the pencils in this set tomorrow. (Stay tuned!)
*I am wondering (and I mean this without snark but with earnest excitement) if Faber-Castell is cooking up an “answer” to the Wopex.)
(This set was provided to us by Staedtler North America, free of charge. Opinions, impressions, analyses and images are my own.)
Ever since Gunther’s post last year featuring the gorgeous neon Wopexen available in Europe, I wanted some 0f my own and to be able to get more. I lusted for these 80s throw-back pencils made of Millennial Materials. I teasingly begged for these to Come to America last summer. Now I’m certainly not saying that Staedtler brought these neon Wopexen to our vast shores because of that, but, ahem, a little Hope goes a long way, no?
Staedtler kindly sent us a pristine pack of these brightly-colored beauties. I wondered what Thoreau would think about the Wopex material, as I read the email on the train back to Boston from Concord (and what Thoreau would think of me checking my email on a train, on the very rail-bed he so loathed).
I have done my very best to capture the Sheen and Texture of these pencils for you here. They are magnificent! They remind me more of the European finish, which is more rubbery and sparkly than the North American version we reviewed this spring. Everything I loved about the green Wopex, I love about this pencil.
Aside from the obvious color differences, these are more…Grippy. And there are no barcodes.* The ferrules are well-attached, and the erasers are very effective. In addition to the inclusion of blue (ahem, Ticonderoga, you got it right this year), one major plus that these pencils have over other neon pencils is the crisp, reflective silver stamping, which allows the neon colors to shine through in their True Hues.
So far as I know these are only available online from Staples. Under four bucks for premium German pencils is a steal, in my opinion. I plan to Hoard some of these, especially since my daughter has already Raided mine.
Many thanks to Staedtler for the samples, and stay tuned for our review of The Pencil, which is exciting and very WOPEXILICOUS.
*The samples we received from Staedtler North America lack the barcode that the Staples purple Wopex has for some reason.
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.
Our friends at Jet Pens sent this in the early summer, and it somehow got left in the “drafts” folder. Summer vacation is officially over as of this morning, and it’s time to finally finish this review of the KUM Special Diameter Sharpener.
I was confused, at first, by the graphics on this sharpener. They show two triangular and two octagonal pencils, each of two sizes. With the triangular being first and the word “special,” my Summer Brain thought it meant that this sharpener was for differently shaped pencils. But the name clearly denotes differently sized pencils, and the innards support this — as does Common Sense and basic reading comprehension. The innards are simply a double-holed KUM wedge. This is not at all disappointing to me, since this is generally one of my go-to sharpeners, especially for Fat Pencils.
This sharpener is a covered wedge, with a mechanism of sorts which can slide over the holes, to prevent shavings and graphite dust from escaping. Here it is, unassembled.
What you get is a very portable container sharpener that can sharpen nearly everything you’re likely to have on your person or in your bag or on your desk. In theory, I love it. But I thought I’d throw two sizes of a pencil which is…not as easy to sharpen as, say, a Ticonderoga — the obvious choice for differently-sized pencils of the same type. This is the Faber-Castell Grip 2001 and the Jumbo Grip. The former is certainly not cedar, but the latter is. However, being Fat and Triangular, it is not an easy pencil to sharpen in a blade sharpener.
The sharpener itself did a great job, producing a semi-short point. However, as you can see below, the black plastic body of the case marred the finish on my Jumbo Grip. This is likely at least partly User Error; I basically stuck the pencil in and twisted it violently (as you can see, perhaps). But I am pleased with the point that the KUM wedge puts on Fat Pencils, for a nice, Stubby point. I usually keep my Fat Pencils a little more…blunt, but I wanted to see what this sharpener could produce.
For the price (a little over $3), this is a great container sharpener. You might be able to see that I have scratched the clear plastic up, carrying it around a lot in my Diaper Bag and pocket. There are a few similar sharpeners from KUM floating around HQ. But they are not mine and not as “grown-up” looking as this little guy. Of course, you might ask how grown-up a man can look, using Fat Pencils. Certainly.
This is late because I had no data signal at the pond, which is just as well. Weird place to play with a smartphone.
This came to HQ last weekend. Power Pencils are magical pencils (!) with magical powers — though the magic happens only by certain practices and under the auspices of certain rules. These are some rules of the Dragon Pencil, for instance:
The pencils are marked via Lazer Beam, burnt into the wood with pleasing effects. The Pencil of Desire:
And the Dragon Pencil:
You will notice that the pencils are dyed differently, shaped differently and have different erasers and ferrules. I don’t know why, but I enjoy this fact. These are not factory-stamped pencils churned out massively.
How do they write? I don’t know yet. I have not gathered the correct circumstances in/with which to work their magic. So they remain virginal and latent currently. This will change soon, and I hope to report back.
In the meantime, you can buy your own singly, or as a subscription via the Etsy store. Shipping is $2.50 for the $5 single pencils and $15 for the subscription. I really like the subscription model, echoing the Field Notes we all know and so many of us love. This would be a great gift, and the two samples we received for free have been hidden because of the advances of certain Magic Thieves in this HQ.
We received the herb pack, which reads like a list of the contents of the little garden in our small yard here at HQ. These are round pencils, made of cedar, in the USA. The logo is laser-etched, which made them smell like a campfire for the first week or two that I had them. And that’s a good thing.*
The ends are capped with a dark green plastic which dissolves in water. This contains the seeds. Do not chew on it. How does it work? Let’s borrow Sprout’s graphic:
Detailed instructions are also here.
I got these arrived a little too late for planting in Central Maryland, but I have another plan in mind. I am going to use these up before next spring and plant them then, for some Pencilicious Planting Action (PPA). I hope to report back then on how well they work, with photos of lushness galore.
In action, these pencils are very nice to write with. The unfinished wood and round shape are very comfortable, and the cedar sharpens perfectly. They come unsharpened; so you can get out a little Compost Cedar from the get-go. The leads are smooth and a little on the light side. This makes them great for writing on rough pots and textured plant-labels. The moisture sensitive caps do make me leave these inside during the muggy Maryland summer. But I can’t say that I venture outside to write as much in July as I probably should anyway. The lead is smear-resistant and seems to be lightly waxed. Erasing is impressive, and ghosting is not bad at all. They feel like a modern Ticonderoga core to me.
I have to say that I would really like these pencils even without the seeds in the caps. A round, naturally finished cedar pencil with burned on logo is very appealing to me. However, giving them another life next spring/summer, after use has rendered them stubs, is a nice way to honor such pretty pencils.
Thanks to Democratech for the sample pack, and I hear you can find these around Boston and Cambridge (where I’m headed on the 20th) if you’d like to avoid having to buy them online. They are available at Amazon also, for $19.95 a box.
*Ha! Find a pen that does that!