Field Notes Unexposed: Serious Neon Action.

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Look, it’s, like, a neon color spectrum, dude!

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.
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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.
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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.

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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??
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Check out Andy’s unboxing video and this first look.

(I bought these myself. Ain’t not messin with my opinions, man.)

Review of Staedtler’s THE PENCIL, 2 of 2.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.***

Comrades can purchase The Pencil set for $79. Replacement pencils are also available, for $19.

*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.
***Trademark pending.

(This set was provided to us by Staedtler North America, free of charge. Opinions, impressions, analyses and images are my own.)

Review of Staedtler’s THE PENCIL, 1 of 2.

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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.*

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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.

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disassembledThe 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.
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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.
shavings

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.
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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.)

Neon Wopexen!

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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).

sparkles

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.

colors

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.

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*The samples we received from Staedtler North America lack the barcode that the Staples purple Wopex has for some reason.

Review of KUM Special Diameter Sharpener.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

Power Pencils.

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Power Pencils! Watch the video, and then come back. Honestly, we will wait.

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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:
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The pencils are marked via Lazer Beam, burnt into the wood with pleasing effects. The Pencil of Desire:

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And the Dragon Pencil:

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

Review of Sprout Pencils.

The herd pack, lined up.

The herb pack, lined up.

The kind folks at Sprout sent us a pack of their plantable pencils recently for review (gratis), and I am in love with these pencils. These were originally on Kickstarter, and I missed them totally.

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.*

Before my pack was gutted, I scored one of these patriotic notebooks.

Before my pack was gutted, I scored one of these patriotic notebooks.

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:

Click for larger goodness.

Click for larger goodness.

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.

I love when pencils come in a box.

I love when pencils come in a box.

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.

Versatile core.

Versatile core.

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!

Review of Gallery Leather Oporto Journal.

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Gallery Leather contacted HQ a few weeks ago asking us if we’d review one of their made-in-maine leather journals. We received the Oporto Journal free of charge, and here is the skinny. Gallery’s description:

Modern Italian design in a journal constructed true to Old World book making tradition. Flush-cut, supported bonded leather cover.

I think there’s much more to say than that, especially with the very graphite-friendly paper in this book.

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This is a Desk Journal. I don’t know why, but I really like the idea of a desk journal, a ledger or book for sitting at one’s desk. For this purpose, this notebook is great. It measures 8×5.5 inches, with 192 lined pages. The lines are spaced at 1/4 of an inch, which is identical to the Field Notes Shelterwood. The lines feel less wide than they do in the Shelterwood, though, since they are spread over a larger area with the increased page size.

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The binding on this book is solid. Upon opening the book for the first time, both the leather and the binding were stiff. However, with time spent with this book for review purposes, it’s softened and loosened up nicely. I imagine that a week of desk use would render this book able to open fairly flatly.

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The leather is smooth, with a subtle texture and sheen. It smells great, but is not over-powering, and the raw/rough edges are a very nice touch (and keep the book more flexible). The spine is especially attractive, with a nice semi-boxed shape that neither sits too loosely nor refuses to budge for opening the book.

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My favorite thing about this book is the paper. It’s got a tooth that makes using harder pencils not only possible, but enjoyable. Certainly, this paper is not rough, and I imagine that pens that don’t like rough paper would work well. But the tooth does have certain consequences.

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Pencils which are as soft as the 2010 Palomino Blackwing* are out of the question, unless you like a smeary mess in your journal. Middling darkness HB pencils performed well, as did high-end but relatively dark Japanese HB pencils like the Hi-Uni and Mono 100. Some German HB pencils which I love but which are unloved by smooth papers (like Field Notes’ regular paper) were a true pleasure on this paper, producing a distinct line and showing great smear resistance. In general, I found this paper to be a little on the messier side in smearability, but erasability was excellent. Castell 9000 and Mars Lumograph HB pencils are dreamy on this paper, and I had good luck with the Grip 2001 also. Because the paper is stiff (not necessarily thick), ghosting is very good with this paper. The German HB pencils I used retained much of their point retention, smoothness and smear resistance, while appearing much more darkly on the page.

If you’re on the lookout for a nice Sitting Still Journal, take a hard-but-smooth HB pencil with this book, and journal to your heart’s content.

* I think they should adopt this coinage of mine and send me a dozen to boot, don’t you?

Review of Sun-Star Safety Pencil Knife.

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We received one of these Pencil Knives free of charge from Jet Pens a few weeks ago at HQ for reviewing. I have used this little knife for a while and have probably taken it to inappropriate places in my pocket over these weeks. So believe me when I tell you that this is a cool little knife, one that has been tested.
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First, it is a safety knife, but it is still a knife. Don’t give one to a toddler or someone with tiny fingers. That said, it is difficult to cut yourself with it if you are careful and use it for what it is meant for — sharpening pencils. I am a man who brings accidents down upon himself, and I haven’t cut myself with it yet.* This is a very pocket-friendly knife. It takes up about as much Volume Real Estate as a pocketknife, but it is very light. I literally forgot it was in my cargo shorts pocket on several occasions, almost leading to a Washing Machine Test. The blade assembly slides out and locks into place with a satisfying click, and there is a thumb indentation for ease of use.
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I want to stress that using this knife is very unlike using a regular pocketknife to sharpen a pencil. The blade is thinner and is curved. Because of the safety guard, you cannot chop off large hunks of wood or graphite from your pencil. This knife works in a sort of semi-shaving action, taking off small pieces of the pencil with each cut. This means that it takes some time to bring an unsharpened pencil to Readiness for Action. But it also means that there is a lot of room for error. Because it is so unlike a pocketknife and because it takes off so little of the pencil at a time, this is an ideal sharpener for someone who is interested in taking up knife sharpening but perhaps is nervous about losing a digit or is intimidated by slight difficulty of sharpening a pencil with a knife.
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After several weeks of use, my review unit is still working very well, without significant dullness or any rust. Certainly, replacement blades would be a boon to this system, but the $6 price tag is not so steep. I really like this knife for touching-up points while I am out, when the pencil just needs a little nudge back to sharpness. It is lighter than some brass pocket sharpeners, but the volume keeps it from falling out of my pocket.

Plus, did I mention that this knife is just cool?

* Knock on wood.

Review of Monteverde One Touch Stylus Tool Mechanical Pencil.

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Ron from Pen Chalet contacted we Erasable guys about picking a cool mechanical pencil to review. I think we all picked the same pencil, in the same color: the Monteverde One Touch Stylus Tool Mechanical Pencil. My only previous review of a mechanical pencil was the blue knock-free pencil that I enjoyed. I find that I prefer mechanical pencils (and pens) that echo the shape of a hexagonal wooden pencil. So this heavy yellow pencil was a natural choice. Bear with me if my terms are terrible or if my understanding of mechanical pencils is less than basic.
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This pencil is heavy, metal and features various measuring standards along the yellow lacquered barrel. The point is exposed by twisting the gnarled metal at the business end. The lead is 9mm. There is a stylus on the end where you’d expect to find an eraser, and there are screwdrivers hidden underneath of it.
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I’m going to start with the non-pencil attributes of this pencil. First, the screwdrivers. This might be a bit…confessional. But I really (!) like to have a small philips screwdriver with whatever pencil kit I might be carrying to the coffeeshop, while traveling, etc. Why? That little screw on manual/blade pencil sharpeners! I do not know why this is so important to me. But that little purpose justifies not finding an eraser where I thought I would. The bit is two-sided, with a flathead screwdriver on the flipside. This is useful for prying staples and stuck pencil box lids.
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The stylus works very well. It’s soft and really flows with the design of the pencil. I’ve seen many such styli that put me in mind of a giant Santa Claus in a stickpen. This is a sort of Stealth Stylus, and it works very well on my Android-powered phone. A Comrade visiting HQ when the package arrived marvelled at this feature as much as the impressive heft of the entire instrument.
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What I like best about the stylus is that one is not stuck using it with the pencil held upsidedown, with the clip in your way. I stared at the threading around the point of the pencil for a while before I figured out that the stylus screws onto there. Then you are in business to comfortably play touchscreen games to your rubber-tipped content. You an also attach in there while using the screwdriver to replace your aging KUM brass wedge so as not to misplace it.
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Speaking of the point, it comes off. I admit that I only found this out after looking at a website which explained how to access the green eraser. This is a simple friction fit.
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The eraser works well in removing graphite from paper. But its flexibility and its concealment would have me reaching for an External Eraser, truth be told. Removing the eraser reveals the extra leads also.
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Now, the point. I really like the feed mechanism, which merely involves turning the gnarled portion of the point until the amount of lead you prefer is exposed. Gone is the guesswork involved in the click mechanism:

Three clicks are too many;
Two are too few.
I don’t want my point to break;
What’s a guy to do?

The leads are 9mm, which are pretty thick. I prefer 7mm and 9mm to thinner leads for several reasons, not the least of which is that using a lead that thick often involves The Turn (turning the point for a better/sharper surface), as I am accustomed to having to perform in using wooden pencils. The provided leads are soft and smooth, running at least near a B or even a 2B. In testing this pencil out, I joyfully ran off several sheets worth of Morning Pages, and I enjoyed the feel of this lead very much. While I still have a particular fondness for cheap Bic mechanical pencils, the leads in this tool might make a mechanical pencil snob* out of me yet. There is some odd play which acts as a sort of cushion for the lead that took a while to get used to. But I probably wore down half of the first lead trying this out, and I never broke a point. So whatever that cushioning is, it works.
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This pencil is certainly heavy — perhaps doubly so if you are used to the weight of a wooden pencil. However, even with an old hand injury** acting up, I did not find using this pencil to be uncomfortable at all. In fact, the hexagonal shape and wide barrel were a natural fit in my ailing right hand. I was skeptical with myself regarding whether I could intelligently review such a fine pencil, or whether I could even appreciate it. But this is certainly the most fun I’ve had reviewing a mechanical pencil, and it has become a Jewel of my toolbox. In fact, not owning a “real” Blackwing myself, this is the most valuable pencil I own. Still, it is currently on sale for a mere $32.00. If you want an exquisite tool that solves several problems related to writing, this is a must-have.

I hope this review does justice to Ron’s generosity and to the really cool design of this pencil. Check out Andy’s review for better pictures (and a GIF!) and some seriously detailed Reviewsmanship. Many thanks to Ron, especially for his patience with a pencil that got lost in the mail.

* Certainly, I use that term here purely in jest.
** From cycling. You should see what my gloves looked like!

Review of Ticonderoga Electric Sharpener.

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A few weeks ago, I joked with Dixon Ticonderoga on Twitter that they should send us one of their new electric pencil sharpeners for review.


So now we have our first ever review of an electric pencil sharpener. I should probably mention two things right at the start. I do not generally like electric pencil sharpeners; I do like Dixon Ticonderoga very much.* This sharpener is pretty basic, and I mean that in a good way. You put your pencil into the hole; the burr rotates around your pencil; it stops rotating when it feels no friction; you have a nice, long point on your pencil. But there’s much more to say than that, of course.
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First, I really like Dixon’s design choices here. The yellow and green really pop, with a bit of chrome trim to polish it all off. The left green side is covered with a grippy material, while the right side is the shavings tray. The plug even has a subtle Ticonderoga logo on it.
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The shavings container is easy to remove (I did not need to consult the instructions) and fits securely to the body. It’s not an especially large space for shavings, but it is very easy to empty without spilling Cedar Shards and Graphite Dust all over your office, house or Outpost. I prefer this to my, ahem, other electric sharpener that will hold a year’s worth of shavings, only to cause them to cover your legs as you sprint to the nearest receptacle.

The sharpener is fitted with four Rubber Toes on the bottom, resulting in the possibility of one-handed sharpening. This makes this sharpener a good choice for Marathon Writing, where a blind drop of the pencil into the sharpener with one hand gives Comrades a quick point.
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Now, the Point itself. This sharpener gives you a long point, similar in length to the point achieved with the Classroom Friendly Sharpener. This is excellent. The point is different, however, in that it does not curve inwardly toward the point the way that the Classroom Friendly sharpener does. The “Black” Ticonderoga was sharpened with the Dixon Ticonderoga sharpener in this photo, with the yellow Dixon being sharpened by the Classroom Friendly Green Machine. The Ticonderoga sharpener produces a straight point, as I hope is more obvious in this manipulated close-up.
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This leaves less “point” along the length of the exposed graphite, but it also makes a stronger point. Comrades will have to decide for themselves which they prefer.
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The lack of aperture means that there are no bite marks on your pencil. It also means you have to be careful to center your pencil within the Input Shaft** of the sharpener. The shaft is wider than standard pencils, but it does not accept jumbo or mini-jumbo pencils. So there is some movement which requires holding the pencil very still and centered. If you do not, the pencil rotates within the holes in a way that tricks the auto-stop mechanism into thinking there is more cutting required — it won’t stop.

There are advantages to this manual drop-in sharpening method. It is easy to stick your pencil in and take it out. This means that Comrades can easily stop the sharpening process before an overly sharp (for some applications) point results. This is great for quick touching-up. When I use a very sharp pencil for a short time — not long enough to require sharpening but long enough to have dulled the point a bit — I sometimes like to perform such a touch-up before putting the pencil back into the cup, box, case or behind my ear.

Certainly, this sharpener is not perfect. The logo could be stamped on a little more clearly. Unlike some sharpeners with metal gears, this sharpener’s gears appear to be made of plastic. I had no issues with slippage, through a few weeks of testing.
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But one never knows how this could play into long-term durability. While our unit was provided free of charge, I feel like the price tag on this sharpener is a little steep. However, it could work for years, and then I would say otherwise. I will say that it’s my favorite of my two electric sharpeners and the only one I actually have plugged in and use.
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In the end, I like this sharpener very much. I like even more that Dixon Ticonderoga seems to be experiencing some kind of surge of energy lately that they haven’t shown for some time here in the United States. There are some new erasers, this sharpener and even a blog by the CEO. I’ll be watching Dixon with anticipation in the future. I was unhappy when they outsourced their production a few years ago, but they do continue to make quality products. If you like Ticonderoga pencils and longpoints, this might be the sharpener for you.

*Can you say, “You had me at green and yellow plastic”?
** I officially propose to contribute this to Mr. Rees’ lexicon.

The Pencils of Pens #1: Bic Cristal.

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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.

——-(endnotes)——-

*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.

Sun-Star Pencil Caps and Extenders.

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I am normally a big proponent of the General’s Sav-A-Point* for the Prevention of Pencil Impalement (PPI). Jetpens sent us a four-pack of these cool little Sect cap/extenders from Sun-Star, and they definitely give the Sav-A-Point a run for it’s money. These are made of rigid and relatively thick plastic, resulting in much great durability. As I mentioned on our podcast once, I might break or crack one Sav-A-Point a week. It’s been weeks with this guy in my pocket, and it’s still going strong.

Behold, the square tab of pencil stability.

Behold, the square tab of pencil stability.


In the PPI department, this cap actually does a little better of a job than the Sav-A-Point because pencils which are smaller in diameter but with long points don’t protrude from the end. Yes, you can carry a nice Castell 9000 sharpened to something scary in your pocket with impunity. I have found that Ticonderoga and USA Gold pencils do not work well, however, since they are extraordinarily thin and will poke you if they are long-pointed. Another notch in performance comes from the addition of a small, square tab. This helps to prevent Pencil Roll Off (PRO), since the round shape of the device otherwise negates the stabilizing effects of a hexagonal or triangular pencil.
They come with nametags!

They come with nametags!


Where the Sav-A-Point might have a leg up on the Sun-Star Cap/Extender is that it adds very little weight or volume to the pencil, resulting in greater Pocketability, the very reason that some of us like pencil caps. The Sun-Star definitely makes a pencil noticeably larger.
Some pencils are too thin to be contained with a beastly long point.

Some pencils are too thin to be contained with a beastly long point.


But it also performs another function. This cap is also an extender.** It’s not going to add 4-5 inches onto a little stub the way that some pencil extenders can, but it adds that inch or two that can extend the life of a well-loved and well-used pencil. It’s become my favorite Pocket Pencil Carry Device (PPCD) lately, if I have a sharpener or knife on me — or if I am going to a well-stocked house, outpost or cafe’.***

Now we all know that different pencils have different diameters, and these sorts of devices shine a light on such differences. Below is a list of pencils I tried with this device, along with the results.

Dixon Ticonderoga, USA Gold: Too thin to house with a long point.

Tombow Ippo, Staedtler Mars Lumograph, Castell 9000, Palomino “original”, General’s Kimberly: Perfect for capping and extending.

Prospector, Wopex: Good for capping, though the extender can’t get over the ferrule.

Have pencil [cap/extender], will travel.

Have pencil [cap/extender], will travel.


Thanks to Jetpens for a really handy little Pencil Accessory, which extends the usefulness of pencils in general as a cap and of short pencils specifically as an extender. They can be had for the low price of $2 for a pack of four at Jetpens. And did I mention that they are stackable?

*The missing E went onto the end of Cedar Pointe?
**And the extender is also a cap…
***Yesterday, a Comrade’s pencil point broke as he might a note about spring home maintenance. He looked alarmed until I reminded him of where he was. He chose a pencil knife which I will review shortly.

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.

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