Cool, Blue Sun-Star Pencil Gear, Part II.

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Sun-Star Sect Cylindrical Multi Pencil Sharpener
The sharpener is a cool little device. A dial clicks into five positions, giving you, in effect, five point options, from needle-sharp to pretty blunt. I have never owned a blade sharpener like this, and it’s a cool little device. The dial moves the sharpener inside of the body toward or away from the pencil you are trying to sharpen. If it’s far enough away, you can’t feed enough of your pencil through to get a very sharp point, which is ideal for fragile pencils like charcoal and colored pencils.

This is the sharpest point, #1. This is a nice angle, and the shavings were easily removed from this pencil.

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This is the most blunt point, #5. I did find that numbers 3-5 were all pretty blunt, while #1 to #2 and #2 to #3 were pretty big jumps.

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The sharpener itself is a nice blue plastic pocket sharpener. The issue I had was that cleaning it is a chore, if you use it more than a few times without emptying it. We don’t usually carry around the shavings from a dozen pencils, certainly, but this one holds some touch-ups and one or two starts from an unsharpened point before it clogs. The blade came sharp, but it is not replaceable. If you’re looking for a long-term relationship full of new blades, this is not the sharpener for you. But if you want to try an adjustable sharpener that really does make different points and that looks nice to boot, this is the one for you. And, think about it; getting to that $25 free shipping mark never looked so…blue.

Cool, Blue Sun-Star Pencil Gear, Part I.

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Jet Pens sent some cool stuff our way a few weeks ago, and we’ve got a report. These are all blue Sun-Star items, and blue serves these pieces well. We’ll review the sharpener in more detail tomorrow.

Now, we have published a few pieces about mechanical pencils on this site. But I have never written one. I know embarrassingly little about them, and the Bic Matic is probably one of my favorites. So forgive me if I botch the terminology or am completely off the wall.

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Sun-Star Knock Free Sharp Mechanical Pencil
I liked this pencils as soon as I opened it for just the colors and form-factor. I love the ferrule and the band going around it, and the dimensions of the pencil are very nice. Recognized that color scheme: GOLDEN BEAR.What makes this pencil unique is the fact that the pressure of it being put down onto the paper “clicks” it, causing it to feed more lead to you and, in turn, to your paper. I thought it seemed a little…gimicky. But it actually works. I usually write in cursive, and the feed system was able to keep up with my standardish Catholic school script. The lead and eraser worked well, and the whole package comes with a replacement cartridge to boot. This is a nice add-on for a Jet Pens order, for sure.

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Sun-Star Bode Electric Eraser
The battery-operated eraser sort of baffles me. It’s, well…cute, and it doesn’t vibrate enough to make me lose my grip. But I feel like there was a trade-off somewhere in the material which the eraser itself is made. It feels soft, but it’s not. It wouldn’t hold together with the motor turning it against paper it the rubber was very soft. It’s a bit hard, but smooth. It works in tight places, which is, I assume, the attraction of such a sharpener. It doesn’t erase as well as a top-notch plastic eraser, but what does? The design is nice, and I suspect that it would be even more usefull with a better piece of “rubber” in there. I haven’t had a chance to cut something new, but if Comrades have any ideas, I am keen to do some cutting.

Yellow Rhodia Paper.

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The good folks at Rhodia Drive were kind enough to include me on a list of folks to provide feedback about the yellow Rhodia pad.

Shameful admission: I did not even know it existed.

Early conclusion: This is the nicest yellow paper I have ever written on!
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Despite the reviews on this site for less-than-cheap papers, I actually like legal pads for the yellow paper and the format. Problem is, the paper often has a combination of too much tooth (soft pencils get eaten) and too much dye (lighter pencils don’t show up). As a result, I usually resort to white paper legal pads, even though I’m not sure they are still technically legal pads.

I have used the No. 19 lined pads of white and yellow paper for podcast notes over the last two weeks, to really get a feel. Backtracking: the Cold Horizon from Field Notes was, I think, a lovely notebook. But I hated the paper for pencil. The subtle dye in the pages repelled graphite enough that a quarter of mine are filled with…INK.* I tested the yellow Rhodia pad a lot before concluding anything because I was suspicious that my first impressions could not be true, that this dyed paper performed just like it’s bright-white counterpart.
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But it does. I have never used yellow paper like this, and I will be a repeat user of this book for sure. I’d mention the smoothness of the paper and the solid construction of the Rhodia pads themselves. But, well, we all know this already. I really like the No. 19, coming in at 8.25 X 12.5 inches, with perfectly spaced lines, generous margins and printing on both sides.

My only qualm, and it is minor, is that the orange of the cover clashes with the yellow, chromatically. I understand that this orange is part of the Rhodia identity. But maybe using their black covers would be workable. Or, better yet: white covers with black printing? (Swoon.)

Thanks to Stephanie and Karen for the great notebooks to review, and definitely pick one of these up if you are even a remote fan of yellow paper.

*[Don't tell anyone.]

New Palomino Pencil Finish.

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A few weeks ago, Pencils.com sent out an email unveiling the new Palomino. I bought a dozen of the orange HB Palominos as a gift only a few weeks before that, and I noticed that the imprint had been cut down to just the word “Palomino” and the grade. “California Republic Stationers” was gone. I was disappointed and went home and counted all of the orange HB Palominos in The Archive. I wished I’d saved some more, especially the blue end-dipped, which is one of my very favorite pencils ever.

I ordered a set of the mixed new grade Palominos, to compare them with the mixed grade pack I received for my birthday in August 2012. I ordered them Monday, and they came today, all of the way to Baltimore on the $1.70 shipping. Excellent.

The new Palomino is, finish-wise, more different than folks let on. But it’s the same ride under the, er, saddle. I thought I’d report on it here, in magical list of ten that I jotted down on a Rhodia pad tonight.

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1) I sharpened all seven grades with the same sharpener and tried them out on Rhodia paper. Good news: I cannot distinguish between the cores of the new and cores of the old.

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2) The orange is a bit different. I was seconded and thirded in blind tests at HQ, indicating that I am correct: the new color is ever-so-slightly less red. But I have noticed subtle changes in the orange and blue before, going back to 2005. I am not disturbed by this. On its own, the new pencil looks like the same orange enough. And who says it has to be the same?

3) As a Baltimorean, I should appreciate that the color scheme mirrors that of our major-league baseball team (I’m looking at you, Tim.)

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4) I like the black imprint, though it is not as crisp as the old Palomino or the Blackwing Pearl, which shares the black branding.

5) The end could use another coat of black. I can see the orange paint where the end of the wooden barrel and the plastic cap meet on all of the pencils in the box I bought.

6) Unless these are going to be sold individually, I do not understand the sudden appearance of the barcode. Indeed, I have often seen various Blackwing models for sale individually sans barcode. But if this is a sign that the Palomino’s market will increase to more brick-and-mortar art supply stores, then I heartily embrace it. (I feel badly for the staff at my favorite shop when they have to look up codes from the shelves when I buy pencils which lack barcodes.) I am also glad to see the country of origin included in the pencil, though I’m not quite sure why this makes me feel that way.

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7) The grade is only stamped on the end on two sides, the same two that have printing on them further down the barrel. This threw me a bit, as pencils are often stamped on three sides for easier identification. But these new Palominos are still myriad times easier to select than the older version, with only one small grade identifier.

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8) The Palominos feel more like an art pencil than they did before. This is not necessarily a bad thing at all, and indeed might indicate the direction in which Cal Cedar plans to move the “original” Palomino pencil. However, with the long-standing, short spectrum of grades (2H-2B) dominating for nearly seven years, I always thought of the Palomino as a writing pencil, a fine writing pencil, and I think that distinction could very well have been a part of my affection for this pencil.

9) I have long wondered what would be the fate of the pencil which (unless I am mistaken) ultimately made the Palomino version[s] of the Blackwing possible. It is reassuring to know that the Palomino is still getting attention, after giving its name to the new branding. Cal Cedar seems to be breathing new life into this Senior Pencil. It’s also especially nice (to me) to know that things are the same on business end of the pencil – same core; same cedar; same excellent centering. It is the same writing experience that I have enjoyed since Woodchuck sent the first review pack almost nine years ago.

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10) I’m not sure that I like this treatment as much as the original finish, but I hope it will grow on me. It feels less like a “fancy” pencil and more like a Work Horse pencil now. And, despite my few qualms, it should tell Comrades something that I have replaced the gold-stampled Palomino in my small pencil box with one of the HBs in my new set.

(These were not provided by Cal Cedar. Opinions expressed about this model and about this brand toward which many folks feel very strongly – one way or the other – are my own.)

Review of Staedtler Wopex HB.

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I have been meaning to review the Staedtler Wopex for a long time. But it is a pencil about which I have thought so much that it became a daunting task. For starters, this is not the kind of pencil I expect to like. I usually like something a little darker, and the fake wood angle is not one that attracts me.* The lead feels waxy, but in a tacky – not necessarily smooth – way. And it was, until recently, difficult and/or expensive to build a Stash of them in The Archive. But there’s something about this hard-to-sharpen and heavy pencil that pleases me to no end. On yet another Snowday at HQ, I thought I’d sit down and write about it.
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The Wopex is an extruded pencil made of recycled wood and plastic. This is nothing new. Nor is the finish being part of the extrusion new. But Staedtler has improved on the process, in my opinion. For starters, they released the Wopex during a time of greater ecological consciousness. I was young when Eagle came out with their extruded pencils, but it was certainly not a time of great eco-attention. One of my least favorite things about the older plastic pencils is their flexibility. Not only do the barrels feel like they might snap under my meaty grip; they actually bend when I write with them using anything but the lightest touch. The fact that these older plastic pencils have such light-marking leads that they require significant pressure for legible writing exacerbates their shortcomings, in my experience. The Wopex is dense, heavy and rigid. It is very comfortable to write with.
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I bought a 10-pack from Amazon, at the end of summer 2013, for around $8-$9. These have the same subtle glittery-sparkly finish as the European models which Matthias was kind enough to send me. The feel is very…grippy, but not in the sticky manner of some grippy pens which attract lint and pieces of coffee grounds like Silly Putty. The newer Wopex pencils that I found at Staples this winter are a much brighter green, and the sparkles are gone. They have a nice, tactile sensation to their finish, but it is no more than half as tacky as the few European Wopexen I have or the eraser-tipped version I bought on Amazon a few months ago.
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The lead is extruded with the barrel, and it is a plastic/graphite composite – similar to the leads for mechanical pencils. As I mentioned, it feels tacky and produces a light line. However, as several other bloggers have pointed out, this pencil’s marks stick to the page. They do not smear or transfer (ghost) easily. As such, I find that they make excellent pencils for pocket notebooks, and I keep shorter ones on my person.** I am surprised by how much I like it for Pocket Writing.

These pencils are marketed as eco-friendly because of the material of which they are constituted and because they are supposed to last twice as long as a wooden pencil. I have not found this to be the case. Because their line is a little light, I sharpen them more often. So whatever long-lasting properties the lead might have is rendered moot by its lightness. As the current price of $5 (US) for a dozen and a half, it is certainly an economical pencil. And I do not generally mind needing to sharpen a pencil more often.
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As Matthias points out, the Wopex is tricky to sharpen. There are sharpeners from Staedtler with a small W on the underside that are supposed to be great for the Wopex. The only reason I have found this to be partly true is that the blades are very sharp and are held fast to the sharpener body. Any KUM sharpener with a similarly new blade that I have tried has given me the same results. With care, I can get a nice point with a wedge sharpener, and it is what I often use to sharpen a Wopex. Burr sharpeners do no work as well. I lost a good inch and a half from my first Wopex last year by using a crank sharpener. The Wopex material gives the blades so much resistance that the auto-stop does not work. Using such a sharpener with care and not making the Wopex point into a plastic needle works satisfactorily, if one stops the sharpening process short. A Deli 0668 that Matthias sent me works great, with the point adjustor dialed back from the sharpest setting a bit. Also, I have been improving my knife sharpening skills lately, venturing into blade sharpening on occasion.
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The eraser is white and surprisingly good. It erases better than most of the Pencil-Mounted Erasers I have on hand, and even a few block erasers. To be sure, it’s no match for the Mars plastic eraser. But it does bunch its “dust” together into a tight ball in a similar fashion. It is soft, but stiff, and very securely clamped into the ferrule. I am trying to think of a pencil whose mounted eraser is better than the Wopex’s, and I am drawing a blank (or, at least, with a German 9H).

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What struck me about the new US version, aside from the brighter green, is the ferrule. I am not aware of owning other pencils with this feature. The ferrule is molded to both the eraser and the barrel. It is round where it holds the eraser. And it is actually hexagonal where it meets the barrel of the pencil. The result is an inexplicably pleasant feeling of Completeness. Please, Comrades, do not judge me too harshly for staring at one of these pencils long enough to find the source of this Completion Sensation. The other result of this Ideal Marriage of Ferrule Ends is that the ferrule does its job very well. You ain’t getting this pencil apart without large steel tools, several people or very very strong teeth.
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The Wopex is available in quite a few colors in Europe, and I have considered attempting to collect them myself. I am glad that it is finally available in the US at all, and I hope we get a few more hues. There’s a market for neon pencils, Staedtler! I am a huge fan of these pencils. Send us some colors, and make us Happy.

*But I have recently acquired some eraser-tipped Bic Evolution pencils, after a recommendation by Speculator, and I am enjoying them.

**Perhaps subconsciously, I matched the case for my recently-purchased Android phone to the green of a Wopex, since they often ride in the same pocket.

Review of Write Notepads & Co Gear, Part II.

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Last week, we looked at the company who makes Write Notepads and at the large notebooks. In this review, we will take a look at the pocket notebooks and the pencils. Chris sent us over a pocket notebook in the regular and Paul Smith formats, both unlined. As much as I really liked the large notebooks, I find myself enjoying the pocket versions even more.

For one, these pages are not perforated for tearing out. While I can live with this feature in a larger notebook, I really don’t like the pages to fall out of my pocket notebooks, which I use most of all sizes. There’s precious [to me] stuff in there! It was also nice to find that the unlined paper performed just as well as the lined versions. These would make great sketchbooks, to be sure.
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These do actually fit well into a pocket, though not a side jeans pocket. There is more flex than I’d expect from something that feels so durable. But spirals don’t do it for me in the front pocket of my Levis. I have not subjected the spiral to a week under my posterior, in a back pocket, but the spiral feels like it would handle the test and stay together. While I could take the big rubberband or leave it on the large books, I use them all of the time on my pocket versions, to keep the pages closed in my puffy vest pocket or, ahem, diaper bag. These are also much less terrifyingly-sized. I will hide the larger ones when my brothers come to HQ this weekend for a little shindig.
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For size comparison purposes, the Write Notepads & Co pocket notebook with the Standard Memorandum from Word. and the current Field Notes edition. The WN&C book is slightly wider than the Field Notes with the spiral. This size is just about perfect for what this book is, and in the end, I can’t put my finger on what I like about these semi-chunky, semi-small notebooks full of really nice paper so much. But I can’t get enough of them, certainly.
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Chris also sent over some of Write Notepads’ pencils. These wooden implements are available in packs of five, for five smackers. They come in a nicely fitting resealable bag which feels heavy-duty enough that I’ll use it for something else when the pencils are gone. They are made in the USA by Musgrave and are very attractive.
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They are listed as cedar, though they don’t smell like any of my other cedar pencils. They smell familiar somehow, and the grain looks to Mr. Dan and I both like cedar. They certainly have a light weight, and they sharpen with ridiculous ease; seriously, even on sharpeners needing new blades, these were easily brought to a point. The printing is on a clear sticker of some sort. I really like the typography, though I’d like it much more if it were printed on the wood like the Field Notes pencil.
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What I think the Write Notepads & Co pencil has over the Field Notes pencil the most is the design. I am a sucker for a naturally-finished pencil with a pink eraser – doubly so with a gold ferrule. (See the older Prospector, of which I have only a precious few with pink erasers left.) The eraser on this pencil is soft and performs as well as the Field Notes version – pretty well, not great, not smeary. I have long suspected the Musgrave makes Field Notes’ pencils. So maybe this is the reason?

The lead feels a lot to me like the Field Notes pencil, though a touch smoother, darker and harder to erase. The eraser is crimped on (rather than glued), which I usually think looks better. The leads in our packs are well-centered, and these pencils are a pleasure to use. I’ll cop to using them 80% of the time I am writing/drawing in Write Notepads gear.
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Thanks again to Chris at Write Notepads & Co for the generous samples and for manufacturing stationery in Baltimore! I can’t say enough now much I enjoy these books, and I hope that we see more limited Baltimore editions soon! (I bought half of their run of the first limited edition as holiday gifts this year after testing these books in December — Okay, not exactly half of the run; you can still get ‘em.) Definitely get yourself some of these notebooks, and if you’re in Baltimore, hit up Trohv on The Avenue (Hon). And if you’re in Baltimore, hell, let’s all do a meet-up in the spring at one of our many good coffeeshops.

Review of Write Notepads & Co Gear, Part I.

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We received a generous box of goodies from the new stationery company Write Notepads & Co, based right here in Baltimore. Hometown pride aside, these are great books, and I have to say upfront that this review will glow like a new LED desklamp. In this review, we will cover the large lined notebooks in the regular and Paul Smith left-handed versions (the review of the pocket notebooks and pencils will come next week; it’s already written and ready).

First, a bit about the company:

We still make things here. It may be a Rust Belt town, but Baltimore’s charm is its stubborn vitality. We feel it in this century-old warehouse in South Baltimore, where I’ve teamed up with skilled, local workers to make these notepads. We have two goals: to help others in need and to make something that reflects the love and hard work we invest in our respective trades.

I’m a book-binder, third generation. So I’ve seen the new technologies moving in on print’s old territory. As I see it, change has pushed to the foreground the hand-crafted quality of a tangible good. And that motivates us. We won’t ignore a renewed taste for physical, textural charm if it justifies our devotion to an old trade. Nor do we take for granted simple utility. So with each note pad purchased, another will go to a Baltimore City student. You may have heard of this outreach model. It works. And you can help, even if you’ve forgotten what your handwriting looks like. Here’s a hint: it’s that unmistakably human font.

Chris tells me that the books are printed and assembled in Baltimore from US-sources components. What’s more: the company gives away one book for every book sold to a Baltimore City schools student. This hits close to home for me, since my better-half works at a middle/high school in our neighborhood.
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We are reviewing the large “regular” and Paul Smith editions today. The books are 5.5 inches by 8.5 inches and contain 120 pages of “premium brass-ruled paper.” The Paul Smith edition is left-handed, and the spiral binding is on the right of the page. I kept opening mine at the wrong end, but I enjoyed the graphic on the front enough to use this one first. I use both sides of spiral notebooks (pencils don’t exactly bleed). So any spiral notebook I use is ½ right-handed and ½ left-handed anyway.

The spiral itself is a stiff, brass-colored, double-O binding that is about as perfect as a spiral can be. By that I mean that it’s just the right amount of circle. More and the spiral would annoy my hand while writing and make the book feel…loose (which I think is where a lot of anti-spiral feelings come from). If the spiral were smaller, the pages would be difficult to turn.
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The corners on all five of our test books are precisely cut. That means a lot to me, and it’s something a good quarter to a third of my usual stapled pocket notebooks lack in sometimes serious ways. The books are held closed with a huge rubberband that would have gotten my two brothers and I into trouble as kids. You could probably rig a slingshot that would shoot 2x4s with these things. I use mine when I carry my books and don’t like having to put it somewhere while I write. But, since they are removable, they make archiving the books easier. Plus, I like the option to ditch the band when I feel like it. The covers are thick but pliable enough to give the books some “give” in a bag or pocket. Folded back upon itself, the nbook’s two covers made it more than stiff enough to support writing mid-air (which pencils and Space Pens also make possible). The branding is slight and tasteful. I like the ink color on the regular edition, which reminds me of the Bob Slate notebooks I like to buy when I’m in Cambridge (this summer!). Inside of the front cover, you’ll find information to identify the notebook as yours, in case you lose it.*
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The paper in the lined notebooks is brass ruled, which I had never heard of. So I asked Chris what that meant: “So we came up with brass-ruled paper as a way to describe the traditional means of ruling papers. This process has been employed by printers for well over a century. It’s name, pen-ruling, left a lot to be desired and was a bit confusing. The process itself involves long shafts that are fitted with brass wheels and spacers. These shafts move over a pool of ink that is then transferred to the paper.” As we might say in Hampden, That ain’t no lazer-printin, Hon.
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This is very graphite-friendly paper! I have to confess to becoming a little more picky about which papers I really truly lovingly enjoy covering with graphite lately, though I am attempting to resist such snobbery. Pencil is that writing medium which is only more picky than a ballpoint pen. But some papers are two slick; some too toothy; etc. This paper is fantastic, taking both hard and soft pencils with similar smoothness, though the paper is certainly not slick in any way. It feels a bit like writing on Rhodia paper, though the pencil lines come out darker and don’t smear as much. It’s nearly ideal for pencil.

We were also lucky enough to receive a limited-edition Baltimore print. I have a similar print hanging in my dining room, next to where I am writing this review. (We gave several of these Baltimore Books as holiday gifts this year, honestly.) If you can find one of these, get it.
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Of course, I have to name some qualms, lest it be assumed that I am entirely biased toward two of my favorite things (stationery and Baltimore) coming together. I almost never like perforated pages, which these books contain. The rubber bands are interesting, but I could do without them. I want to say that the books are expensive. But these are in league with Finer Stationer, not campus-store spiral notebooks. $16 for the large versions is higher than your usual spiral notebook. But your usual spiral notebook this is not. And if Comrades are Readers of stationery blogs, this price is probably not outlandish at all.

Thanks again to Chris for the samples and for the help with my questions! And stay tuned next week for the second part of the review, featuring the pocket notebooks and pencils.

* I’ve become so used to this since using my first Moleskine, uh, 11 years ago for my MA comprehensive exams that I miss it when manufacturers exclude it.

 

Review of Tombow Mono 100.

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[This review has been in the queue, waiting for the holidays to be over. If traffic stats are truthful, folks were happily not online much over the holidays – which is refreshing!]

Jetpens was kind enough to send a few Tombow Mono 100 pencils to Pencil Revolution HQ in HB and 2B. These are Top-Of-The-Line drawing and writing pencils from Japan, in a thick and very glossy lacquer. The printing is both informative and tasteful. And, golly, the gold stamping is nearly perfect. These are just beautiful pencils, and I did hesitate for a moment before sharpening them up. But I was glad I did.

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The Tombow Mono 100 is just as pleasing a pencil underneath all of that shiny paint. The cedar sharpens perfectly, and the cores are dead-center. The core is one of the best things about this pencil. At the risk of being…I don’t know what, I find it best to compare this pencil to its nearest cousin, the Mitsubishi Hi-Uni HB. The Tombow Mono 100 is darker, but the lead feels harder for some reason. Only through squinting mightily and repeating the tests could I figure out which pencil smears, erases and ghosts best. Unfortunately for the Tombow, the Hi-Uni smears less, ghosts less and erases more cleanly. But the differences are very slight and likely accounted for by the Mono 100′s increased darkness. I think it balances itself out, to be sure.

The 2B feels exactly like a slightly softer version of the HB pencil, which is one of the greatest compliments that one can pay to different grades of the same pencil. I cannot be not the first person to use two grades if the same pencil that feel like totally different pencils. This is far from the case with the Mono 100; the consistency is remarkable. I generally prefer a darker pencil for writing, but the 2B is a bit too dark for me. The HB is fantastic, and I would certainly love to try the B grade for writing, too.

Where the Tombow really differs from the Hi-Uni is in the color/temperature of the graphite mark. Like the Palomino Blackwing 602, I find the marks from the Mono 100 to be almost blue or cold in nature. This is certainly not a point against either pencil – or a point for it – but it was something I noticed and enjoyed noticing. Being January, I find this fitting.

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The case is very different from all other pencils I have owned, in that it seems to be designed for the desk top – as opposed to the desk drawer for the Hi-Uni or the supply cabinet for cardboard-boxed pencils. Frankly, it is just incredibly cool. Jetpens has great photos of the case on their site here.

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I do have a few qualms with this pencil. The finish is so glossy that it shows scratches very easily. I don’t understand the aesthetic or symbolic rationale of putting an off-center white stripe onto the plastic endcaps. Indeed, mine did not all line up exactly, which is a surprising put-off for precision. Also, the case does not protect the finish of the pencils the way that the Hi-Uni’s case does. In fact, all of our samples were considerably scratched up from travelling across the country.

Oddly our 2B and HB pencils have different logos for Tombow and for the model itself. I am not sure which is newer, or if the difference is something else. Please do clue us in if you are In The Know.

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The Tombow Mono 100 is a wonderful pencil, with a top-shelf finish as well as great wood and graphite under the hood. Even the case is nice. Certainly, they are expensive. But perhaps, like myself, Comrades cherish such Precious Pencils and use them until they are merely tiny stubs. I would not leave these on a desk at work, unless you really like your co-workers. Someone in my house walked off with a few already, since I left the case out — Unguarded. This does not happen in HQ as often as one might think, and the tastes around here run closed to sparkles and pink pencils. So this is a ringing endorsement from my daughter, who does not like a lot of high-end pencils.

Blue Cats Quirks Notebooks.

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A long-time friend and Comrade of mine has started making/selling custom notebooks on Etsy at Blue Cats’ Quirks. These are standard pocket-sized notebooks in packs of four (not three!). What I like best is that the paper is missing until you order them. You get to pick what kind of paper you want in your covers.

“Individually handmade pocket sized notebooks made to order. Each notebook is 32 pages, approximately 3.5″x 5.5″, features a cardstock paper cover with rounded corners and a stapled spine. Sold in sets of 4 notebooks. (Please select which set you want. RANDOM includes 4 random covers on your choice of inside paper). Buyer choice of page type (once choice per set): blank, grid or ‘two-faced’ (when opened, each pair of two pages alternates between grid and blank) all of aprox. 16lb paper. Perfect size to slip in your back pocket or purse for those times when you just have to write things down. Great holiday or birthday gift! “

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I was lucky enough to receive a pack of these last Christmas, and I tore through them. They stood up to Pocket and Toddler abuse as well as any of my “branded” notebooks. Plus, they are made in Baltimore! Jenn put a special Hello Kitty-covered book in my latest pack for Charlotte, who, ahem, cutes (if I can make that a verb) her way into acquiring my notebooks and pencils. This prompted the statement, “Aunt Jenn is a nice lady.” Too true. So go and buy her notebooks! Through January 1, 2014, Jenn is offering a discount to Comrades, good for 10% off purchase if coupon is entered at time of purchase. Code: PENCILREVOLUTION1

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Smead Folder Gear Review.

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The folks at Shoplet sent over a box of office supplies for review, and we’ve been a little behind. In the Days of Yore (Okay, 2001), your fresh-faced Editor was a new college grad and living in Boston, where I worked in the Development Office at the university for a short time while I was at work on my MA in philosophy. Among my myriad duties was labeling the hanging folders for two big-time Gift Officers. I preferred using the vast amount of information we had on our graduates and their parents to help win over large financial contributions. To my Eternal Shame, I foisted labeling hanging folders onto the heads of some undergraduates in my and my officemate’s care. I wonder if one young lady in particular still thinks badly of me when she sees green cardstock. And, to this day, I refuse to label those heavy green hangers.

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So you can imagine how much I would have liked to have these hanging file folders with built-in labels, similar to the tabs on a regular file folder. These hanging folders are, frankly, killer. Made in the USA, they are lighter green than I am used to. Think Retro Mint. They are also a little more flexible and a lot more reinforced. And if you read this website – and have read this far into this review – then you probably appreciate little things like folders that don’t require filling out tiny slips of paper which are then stuck into sharp plastic tabs and bent onto the whole thing (no, thank you).

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The Super Tab file folders look like regular manila folders. Except that the tabs are larger and they are much much much heavier. Ever had the spine/crease of a folder give out on you on a rainy day? You need these. We would have fought one another in AmeriCorps for these babies.

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The Expanding Pocket is something I’ve never seen before. I usually think of these as a means to carry a lot of papers. But this one is designed to fit into a hanging folder. It features a grippy area to pull it out of the hanging folder in one piece. This is basically a Super Folder, for use where a regular folder just won’t cut it.

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Finally, more TMI (more too?). My father was an officer in the military whose duty was to manage supplies. He oversaw the transition from paper-based to digital systems. I mentioned having to write this review on a recent visit. He said, “Well, hanging folders are pretty much worthless unless they’re the good kind.” “Which as those? I have to write about Smead,” I said. And then he asked what I was doing with them after the review.

Review of Staedtler Noris HB.

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I have held off on reviewing the Staedtler Noris for over a year. It is not officially available in the United States. But, if our traffic statistics do not lie, then a large portion of our readers read from Western European Outposts. Add the number of sellers on eBay who will ship packs of these German Beauties to our shores, and this pencil is far from a stranger to our little community – at least potentially. My daughter loves this pencil (see handicraft piece), and, finally, Staedtler sent some (as result of that piece) to HQ last month. It has become semi-ridiculous to have not reviewed this pencil by now.

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I am fortunate enough to have great Pencil Friends like Matthias and Gunther, both of whom have sent me wonderful Noris gear. The beautiful vintage Noris pencils in the photos are from Gunther. Matthias sent the sharpener (which is the envy of my peers who pass through Pencil Revolution HQ) and multi-grade Noris packs. I would be foolishly remiss not to mention that Comrades interested in the Noris (or pencils in general!) would do well to visit the wonderful posts about and photos of Noris pencils at Bleistift and Lexikaliker.

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I will be confining myself to the red-capped HB version of the Noris for now. This hexagonal pencil features two black sides and four yellow, with a black stripe running the length of the yellow sides’ intersections. The effect is striking. The ends are dipped in white lacquer and then (in the case of the HB) into red lacquer, resulting in a layered cap that further sets this pencil apart. The gold stamping is as fine as the haloed Mars Lumograph, though the texture and quality of the Noris’s paint job is certainly not as smooth or glossy as the top-tiered Lumograph. But that is neither the market nor the price-range of this pencil. Every Noris I have seen comes pre-sharpened and ready for action.

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A note on the print. Some of the German Norises I have on hand say:

MADE IN GERMANY [Mars logo] STAEDTLER Noris HB [boxed 2]

while others say:

MADE IN GERMANT [Mar slogo] STAEDTLER Noris school pencil [boxed HB]

I do not discern any quality differences between the two, though the former’s lead seems somewhat more waxy. I assume that the difference is in marketing, since the Noris (unlike the Lumograph) is billed as a writing pencil, not an art pencil. (Please, Comrades, do amend any mistakes I am making here, honestly.)

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I cannot tell what kind of wood this pencil is made of. I have read of the Noris being made of cedar and of jelutong. But none of mine smell like cedar or look like jelutong. (Perhaps this article by the always excellent Pencil Talk could be helpful.) The pencil’s wood is light-weight and is treated to sharpen very well. Despite not having the incensed aroma, whatever wood it is of which these pencils are constituted performs well as a pencil casing.

I like the core/lead very much, especially for what I understand is currently (?) a budget pencil in some markets. What it lacks in the smoothness of its Blue and Black Cousin, it more than makes up for in darkness. This core exhibits a nice balance of smear-resistance and erasability. Often a mark’s resistance to smearing makes erasing difficult, and, at other times, pencils whose marks are easier to erase make a smeary mess of a notebook. Point retention is average at best, and I find myself sharpening this pencil more often than any other German pencil I use in the HB grade. So my Noris pencils do not retrain their original measurements for long. Perhaps I was inspired by this photo of Gunther’s. But this is a pencil that looks good short! As I finally have more than a few stashed away in The Archive, I find myself reaching for this pencil, no matter how stubby the current one gets. To be sure, there is a very short Noris in my NaNoWriMo pencil box this year.

I heartily recommend the Noris, especially to American Comrades who might not be familiar with this pencil. It is available via a few eBay sellers who will ship overseas, some of whom even have reasonable shipping rates. I get a lot of comments when I use this pencil, whereupon I tell folks that it is commonplace, in, say, England – which I still find surprising — with a little jealousy that the common pencil depicted in our country is certainly not this distinctive.

Word. Bandana Books.

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Word. sent us a pack of their new limited-edition Bandana edition books last week. You’ll remember that I loved Word. books, especially their paper. These are very cool notebooks, with a wonderful printing job. I like the vintage feel of this design, being a Bandana/Hanky Carrying Man myself. While Word. says that they don’t recommend wiping one’s brow with these books, I did spill coffee all over one. It was fine, and now it smells like French Roast!
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From Word:

Long associated with tireless work, devilish deeds and classic American style, the bandana is entrenched in U.S. history. Despite its global popularity, the paisley accessory is perhaps most strongly linked to the cowboys out West during the 19th century who wore them to protect against dirt and dust on the trail.

The latest Word. Notebook is inspired by the classic Western staple. It’s an ode to hard work and sharp design. Sporting a unique paisley pattern, each is perfect for tossing in your pocket to keep track of all the things you have to get done even if a cattle drive isn’t on your list.

While we wouldn’t recommend wiping your brow with it after a day in the sun, you’ll be glad you have it by your side.

We have the black version here, and there is also a red version that looks very Autumnal and attractive.
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And have you seen The Standard Memorandum? I have added one of these to my Christmas List. Check out the video, which features vintage diaries written in pencil. And I have to repeat that I love this paper for graphite. Everything feels particularly…crisp on this stock.

Thanks again to Word. for the review samples, which were a very nice surprise to find at HQ one grey day last week.

I Think I Should Carry Mr. Rees’ Torch.

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Mr. David Rees, our favorite Artisanal Pencil Sharpener has hinted that he might hang up his Sharpener Hat:

When Rees started, he hoped every busted tip would lead the writer to pay for a sharpening. Instead, most customers order David’s pencil points and display them as artwork.
“The whole point of the business is to remind people to appreciate yellow, No. 2 pencils because they’re really cool and interesting,” he said. “And to make a ton of money.”
But at this point, work feels like work.
“You do anything long enough for money, it just starts to become a job,” he said.
So as he nears the nice round number of 2,000 sharpenings, Rees suggested that soon he’d like to clean out his sharpeners for good, leaving the world a much duller place.

(More…)

I am not going to kid myself and assume that I could do quite as sharp of a job as Mr. Rees does, but I think I could come close with enough practice. Of course I have one of his specially-sharpened pencils (which I should write a post about one of these days). It is a point to which one might rightly aspire! I think I could do it, while still accomplishing everything I manage to Get Done in a day. One more cup/pint of coffee a day could enable me to Transcend the normal amount of hours in a day and become an Artisanal Pencil Sharpener. As it is, I generally flutter above my chair.

(Check out our review of Mr. Rees’ fantastic book.)

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And, General’s, if you are reading this, you should totally send this apron to HQ! We LOVE (LOVE LOVE LOVE!) General’s Pencil Company at Pencil Revolution. I don’t think I know anyone who hasn’t received some of your fine pencils from me at some point. I am not being ironic or snarky or sarcastic when I say that everyone in my hipster neighborhood will see my smiling face in this apron.

Finally, check out this video of the neighborhood in which Comrades can find Pencil Revolution HQ. Indeed, most of these locations are within a two-minute walk, and my personal favorite restaurant is featured (Golden West Cafe’).

Review of Scout Books Artist Notebooks.

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Scout Books makes some gorgeous blank books with covers by contemporary artist. I saw the Meg Hunt edition of this book, which I meant to order (and still haven’t, for no good reason) next time I got around to getting some new pocket notebooks. But then Scout Books and Trohv hosted a “Notebook Party”* last month in Baltimore to launch two new sets by Baltimore-based artists. Taryn sent us the Perrin set, which are three of the prettiest pocket notebooks I have ever used, including seasonal editions of one of my other favorite brands. The printing job on that thick chipboard  cover is amazing. Despite the texture, there are no gaps in the ink (see below). I tore these right open and used one up, lest they sit unused in their beauty.

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I said that I would mention something else I have discovered about the paper that Scout Books uses: It has a nice texture and tooth, but it does not shave the points from pencils. I find that I can use a wide range of graphite on this paper, from HB German pencils (as hard a pencil as I likely to use) to soft drawing pencils. This is no small feat. The combinations of soft pencils on Moleskines** or hard pencils on Field Notes do not work well for me, personally.

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Pencil Glory to you if you can tell me which British television character my bad little drawing is supposed to be.

These are great little books. The covers are stiff enough that they are far easier to write/draw in standing up or on one’s lap than some other pocket notebooks. The paper is fantastic (and takes ink well, though I am certainly not a Fountain Pen Person, knowing little about them and owning exactly one that is not inked) and very white. Behold: the graphite in the above little drawing, in all of its High Contrast Splendor! I forget what pencil that was — probably a modern Blackwing 602? They have fewer pages than other brands at 32 (Field Notes and Word. books have 48), but the shipping is free. And their size makes them seem a little less intimidating. You’re not going to fit a novel in there. So get busy filling it up!

My other two will probably be broken in before you read this review.

*As my daughter, who was my date, called it.
** Though I only have a Little Prince planner and rarely use Moleskines Ever or At All, these days.

Review of Scout Books Mega DIY Notebooks.

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Taryn at Scout Books sent over some of their newest offerings recently. I love Scout Books (see our review from last year). Their proportions make them feel roomier than they are, and the covers have a…cuddly texture that I wanted to pet the first time I ever came across one. And their ever-growing catalog is a cause of wonder to me. They do a fantastic job with all of their books, and I wish they got more attention in the stationery blogosphere.

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What’s more: they are ahead in the softcover notebook game, with their new “Mega” format. These are 5×7 inch notebooks with 48 pages. They come two to a pack, and they pack a punch that is worthy of their name! I am in love with this size! I can imagine some pockets that would hold one of these (cargo shorts, suit jacket hip pocket, cycling jersey, tummy pocket on a pair of overalls, etc.), but there is a glorious amount of their paper that I like immensely. The covers are Scout Books’ DIY version, blank chipboard to Rock in any way that Comrades might choose.

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The Mega books come in four page-styles currently: blank, lined, graph and dot-grid. Taryn sent us the lined and dot-grid. The lines are the same as the pocket notebooks we reviewed last year: excellent. The dot-grid is my current favorite dot-grid available. The top and bottom rows of dots are darker, to serve as a sort of margin or border. And the dots on the rest of the pages are very small and light. The whole point (!) of dot-grid, as I understand it, is to stay out of the way. When such dots are usually grey for some reason (I’ve never seen brown dots, for instance), this is especially important for Users of Graphite. These smaller and lighter dots are very…mellow, as you can see below.

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The paper is the heavy stock that is one of the things that sets Scout Books apart from other popular pocket notebook brands. (I’ve written about this paper before, and I’ll talk more tomorrow on the Artist Notebook post.) These notebooks are, frankly, Great and a great deal to boot at $10. Remember that Scout Books always offers free USA shipping. You can’t go wrong. I’m thinking of using these for NaNoWriMo, if I am brave enough to give up even more sleep next month.

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