Metal Shop Timber Twist Review, by Harry Marks.


[I kidded Mr. Harry Marks after he sent a review to my Very Good Comrade Andy at Woodclinched, and we’re lucky enough to publish his review of a piece of Pencil Gear that I own by never talk about: the Timber Twist from Metal Shop CT. Many thanks to Harry!]

When a pencil has been worn to where its ferrule touches the thumb, it is known as the “Steinbeck stage,” so named for John Steinbeck, who discarded his pencils once they reached such a length. It sounds wasteful—even odd. A pencil at half-length still has plenty of words left in it, plenty of sketching left to do.

However, there comes a time when a pencil becomes too cumbersome to hold. When fingers scrunch and contort like commuters on a packed subway car just to eke out a few more strokes before the tool is tossed away and the finish is being sheared away on a fresh stick. What happens to those stubs? Like good little soldiers they do their tours of duty and get retired, but we can’t bear to part with them. They’ve served us well. We drop them into desk drawers and mason jars in the hopes a child might come along and use one to scratch out a wobbly, hesitant letter A. That child never comes. Those remnants are relegated to “desk duty.” Forgotten.

I had tried to assuage my guilt about discarding stubby pencils by purchasing an extender from CW Pencil Enterprise. More akin to a Roaring ‘20s cigarette holder, the little wooden stick had a metal opening to slip the stub into with a ring that would slide down and clamp the pencil in place. It performed as expected, but I didn’t love it. The unprotected tip of the pencil often snapped off in my bag and the dyed wood made marks on the page. It was too long and the uneven metal hurt my fingers after extensive writing sessions. I needed something better, more compact, and easier to carry.

I’d been familiar with Metal Shop’s original bullet pencils for a while, but the aesthetic hadn’t appealed to my tastes. Made out of copper, aluminum, brass, and other materials, their original lineup seemed too cold despite the presence of a piece of wood sticking out of one side. Perhaps it had been the shape. Vintage bullet pencils had been made of plastic and metal and covered in advertisements for vacuum cleaner repair shops and insurance companies. They resembled their namesake, but without the deadly connotations. Metal Shop’s offerings, however, seemed to take the “bullet” part of the name more seriously. They were intimidating, meant for “rugged” types who photographed the contents of their rucksacks for tactical “EDC” websites. I stayed away.

Then Metal Shop’s owner, Jon Fontane, mentioned he was looking for the perfect name for a new bullet pencil—one made out of wood. The Timber Twist, as it had come to be called, carried the same form factor as its metal forefather in a less threatening wooden body. This was it, I thought. This would replace the pencil holder chomping on a 1-inch Blackwing stub in my bag, but that $46 price tag gave me pause. Twenty-five dollars on a box of Blackwings had been my limit. Twelve pencils would last me a long time before I’d need to replenish my stock, but $46 for a tiny cylinder of wood and aluminum? I waited.

Months went by before the urge grew too strong to ignore. One night while perusing Metal Shop’s website, I realized I’d been thinking about this all wrong. I wasn’t paying $46 for one pencil. I was paying $46 for a lifetime of pencils. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with the cheap pencil holder, but I wanted more. I wanted an accessory that would last a long time, maybe forever, a piece of me for my son to carry long after I’d gone.

The day it arrived, I pulled the flat cardboard box from the envelope and cursed at its weightlessness. I was prepared to write an angry letter to Metal Shop inquiring about the expensive accessory they’d forgotten to include inside. Then I pried the lid off and saw it sitting there, pinned like a butterfly to be examined with two extra Blackwing 602 stubs and a few erasers rattling around it. Save for the polished aluminum end piece and the bright Pepto-Bismol eraser at the top, this looked like an antique. Metal Shop had done something truly unique: they’d paid homage to a vintage object by making something new that looked like a vintage object.

As I slipped it from its box, I marveled at how light it felt. It had been constructed of mahogany and aluminum. I expected something more substantial. I wanted my pocket to sag under its heft. I wanted the paper to gasp with each stroke, as though I was tattooing my words on its skin. This would not do. This didn’t feel worth the luxury price.

I unscrewed the cap and flipped it over, exposing the 602 stub that had been fastened to the other side, and screwed it in. I now held an almost full-length pencil in my hand and began writing. The weight—or absence of it—suddenly made sense. My hand wouldn’t cramp. I wouldn’t tire as easily as if the Timber Twist had been made of a solid block of wood. I’d exhaust the stub, pull out what was left, attach a new one, and keep going. This bullet pencil seemed to have been made with writers in mind.

The eraser didn’t get much more out of me than a shrug. Its hardness left behind a lot of residue. Traces of the pencil remained on the page. For future buyers, I suggest either not worrying about erasing or carrying a better eraser in your bag. Of course, one doesn’t buy a Timber Twist for the eraser. They buy it for its looks—and what a looker it is.

I purchased the mahogany version with the aluminum trim. The silver of the “bullet” part of the pencil amplifies wood’s cherry tones. Carrying it in my pocket and my bag daily for the past few weeks has put a nice patina on the metal. The wood still looks new, though it won’t be long before it, too, comes down with a case of wabi-sabi. The Timber Twist already had an heirloom feel out of the box. I can’t imagine how good it will look with a couple of handwritten novels behind it.

That’s why we gravitate toward analog tools like these, right? The beauty of such objects is not in how pristine we can keep them, but how much of ourselves we’re able to pour into them. We refer to paperbacks with worn spines and dog-eared pages as “well-loved.” In a few months, the glisten on the finish of my Timber Twist will dull. Fingerprints will cloud the aluminum and the other objects in my bag will scar the grain. It will go through hell and come out changed, not unlike the remains at the bottoms of those desk drawers.

Except this little soldier will enlist the others. No more desk duty for those forgotten stubs. They will slog through short stories and to-do lists, novels and notes, marching along until they’ve taken their last strokes and can truly rest. And the Timber Twist will keep marching, marching along…

 

Blackwing Volume 1: Fall Release is Here.


Comrades who follow all things seasonal and/or all things Blackwing and/or all things subscription might be aware that subscriber packages for the latest Volumes edition were shipped Friday of last week and that the Volume this time around is #1. They’re here at HQ, and I’m very happy to welcome the autumn with these pencils.

A few Comrades sent me the unboxing video that surfaced on YouTube this weekend, and the screenshots on the various apps through which I received it showed…more than I wanted to see. I had a little spoiler and was not all that excited. A grey pencil. Yay. But this isn’t matte grey. It’s a greywash. The finish feels like a matte lacquer in the hand, but it looks like a warm grey stain. It’s gorgeous in person.

The ferrules and stamping are silver, and the eraser is a sort of denim blue. The overall effect is many things to me: very autumnal; oddly Thoreauvian in vibe; as if Blackwing took a sweater or a flannel shirt and made it into a pencil. I love this edition! I can see how using a black or white eraser, a gold ferrule, or even the usual hex shape would make this pencil much less attractive than it is by ruining the feel.

Subscribers are treated to a sticker, a patch, and even a pack of replacement erasers (like we received with Volume 211, in brown then). I can’t say enough how perfect the blue of this eraser is. It would look smashing on a Volume 211 or even a Volume 1138.

One of the most surprising details about this release is that it is the first Blackwing to have a round barrel. The matte finish works really well together with this shape to up the Sweater/Flannel Factor. Some Comrades find round barrels to be more more comfortable, and this one does somehow feel a little wider — and I swore the box was heavier, though I didn’t weigh it.

The stamping looks great on the wide “side” of a round pencil. It’s as crisp as we expect from Blackwing. It feels huge on the blank canvas of a pencil that is not divided into six sides and corners. This is the first time I’ve seen the new tree logo against a woodgrain, and its double-hit of woodsy goodness is lovely.

I have to admit that I am not familiar with Guy Clark, the person to whom this edition is dedicated. I’ll let the image speak for itself. I do feel a little compelled to check out his music, though, and that could very well be part of the point. There have been times when the story behind the Volumes release has detracted from my overall opinion of these (notice we have ignored a few releases on this blog because we were not very excited about them among the great hits in the Blackwing line). This time, I have decided to view the unfamiliar theme as a prompt to check out some new-to-me music.

It’s interesting to note that both of the musically-themed Volumes (the other being Volume 725) have the same “balanced” core, from the Pearl. I have to admit that it’s my least favorite Blackwing core. I find it to be more smeary than the MMX, with similar point durability and less smoothness. That said, all four Blackwing cores are great in their own right, for their own purposes. These pencils might be great companions for National Novel Writing Month this fall, with their softish graphite and comfortable barrels.

This is the third autumn release in a row from Blackwing Volumes that leaves me feeling a little giddy. With the matte stain/wash on a round barrel, this almost feels like a completely new pencil. Kudos to Blackwing for keeping the Blackwing line fresh!

Check our Mr. Hagan’s unboxing video also!

(These were not review samples but part of the Volumes subscription series of which Comrades can become a part for around a hundred bucks a year. I’ve been a subscriber since literally day one.)

Thoreau Pencil by Analog Supply Co.


Two weeks ago, I was looking at what do get for my next tattoo, and my search turned to Thoreau and pencils. Somehow, the existence of these has escaped me for what appears to be two years. Analog Supply Co. sells Thoreau pencils!

I jumped right to order them, but since this company has been so under the radar, I wondered if they were fulfillling orders currently and kept quiet about it. I ordered on Saturday morning and had these in my hands early the next week. They run $7.50 for 9 pencils, but shipping was only $1 (less than it cost them to send it). This is a fair deal. Here is what Analog says about their pencils:

Raw, unfinished natural wood pencils that feel great in hand. The core is #2/HB for writing and drawing.  Writes with a dark line. Made in the U.S.A.

Named for American author Henry David Thoreau who worked in his family’s pencil factory prior to writing Walden among other famous works.

The pencil, the tool of doodlers, stands for thinking and creativity…Yet the pencil’s graphite is also the ephemeral medium of thinkers, planners, drafters, architects, and engineers, the medium to be erased, revised, smudged, obliterated, lost…

The packaging of this pencil echoes the way that Write Notepads sold their pencils until they started making their own custom boxes — though Write included a little KUM Wedge to fill in the space.

These are raw and made in the USA. That and the sharp hex point right to Musgrave’s custom pencil finishing, which we all know is a mixed bag. The design itself is lovely. We love a raw pencil, and the black ferrule and eraser look sharp. The white text is a nice touch on this light wood and is crisp. I wish that the Thoreau part were larger and further from the business end of the pencil. Before hitting the Steinbeck Stage, all mentions of Thoreau are gone. The branding overshadows the Thoreau part, unless you are really looking for it. It’s lovely, but the focus is clearly more on the brand than on Mr. Henry.

The wood is not cedar, and the smell points me away from basswood even — though I can’t verify that right away. It’s rough for gripping and sharpens well. Whatever it is, the wood smell is very strong, and I enjoyed that. After all, historical Thoreau pencils were never made of the incense cedar of a modern pencil anyway. I like the woodsy and raw vibe of this pencil.

About half of mine had cores that were at least a little off-center, but they averaged better than most Musgrave pencils these days, since 5 of 9 were at least pretty well-centered, and the other four are still perfectly usable.

The core is reasonably dark and almost Semi-Smooth ™, with average Point Durability for an HB. Line Stability (post forthcoming) is quite good, with this pencil making marks that resist smearing and ghosting surprisingly well for the level of darkness achieved, even on smooth paper (such as Write or Field Notes). The rawness of the pencil itself might fool Comrades at first, but this is no Rough Writer.

Still, this pencil wants to be outside. For outdoor writing (read: wet and dirty hands), I enjoy a pencil like this. And, of course, they look amazing with the Write Notepads & Co. Walden notebook.

The eraser, being (I assume) a Musgrave job, is terrible. However, I’m not one to avoid a pencil for having a bad eraser. I don’t use them much anyway. For what it’s worth, it’s attractive and well-attached. But since it brings to mind the General’s Cedar Pointe (which has a great eraser) and then proceeds to disappoint, it really is a blemish on this otherwise nice pencil.

Honestly, any pencil that says Thoreau on it and works reasonably well would win me over anyway. But these stand up on their own as Musgrave pencils with well-designed specs. If you like natural pencils, sharp-hex pencils, or are a Thoreau aficionado, get yourself a pack of these pencils. Get me another pack too.

 

Write Notepads Wood and Graphite Pencils.

While we reviewed Write Notepads‘s original pencils in early 2014, we never talked much about their subsequent pencil models, which were lovely and varied. But, personally speaking, I’m a sucker for pencils that come in a box in 2017. So I couldn’t resist these. (And resist them I did, being at the bindery and not stuffing any into my pockets before I left two weeks ago, before we could order them.)

For $11.99, you get a boxed dozen of USA-made pencils (from Musgrave), designed by the talented folks at Charm City’s Write Notepads & Co.

These are full-hex, glossy, and all black — save the clean imprint and the erasers. The imprint is left-handed, as we’ve come to expect from Write Notepads, and the text is simple:

Write (2) WOOD + GRAPHITE

Unlike the last two limited editions, these pencils are neither cedar nor semi-hex nor matte. The basswood sharpens easily, though I miss the cedar aroma a bit this time around. If you do not enjoy the sharpness and increased diameter of a full-hex, these might not be the pencils for you.

I swear that Musgrave beats Ticonderoga on being inconsistent, but it works to Write Notepads’s advantage. Musgrave seems to send Chris and Co. better pencils than the ones they often sell with their own Musgrave label on them. The cores in the Wood + Graphite pencils are smoother than, say, a Bugle, feeling waxier and less prone to smearing. The darkness comes in at a pretty standard HB (think Ticonderoga or a Viarco Premium if you need fancy), with point durability to match. The paint is evenly-applied, even on the ferrule, which is not something I can say for the last few Musgrave pencils I’ve bought. The white eraser works pretty well, which runs contrary to my experience with Musgrave. Here, the eraser is a little stubby and oddly…cute.

A word on the box: it’s matte, white, and hand-made using a process I only partly understand. I’m not sure if I am allowed to talk about That Which I Witnessed at WNP HQ. But it’s made in Baltimore, in-house, in an unexpected (at least, to me) way.


Twelve smackers for Musgrave fare might seem steep. Four of mine had cores that were off-center to a degree that is just this side of usable. But, in my opinion, these are not the standard Musgrave fare.  Our Comrades at Baltimore’s Write Notepads & Co. must be getting some secret sauce from Shelbyville.
(These pencils were not provided as free review samples.)

The Bear Claw.


I’m on vacation in Cambridge/Boston, and I found some cool pencils at the Black Ink in Harvard Square tonight: The Bear Claw, from Koala Tools. It’s a fat, triangular pencil in 2B, with a green eraser. I haven’t had them long, but in I used one in my Moleskine Voyageur tonight at the hotel, with excellent results.

Pencil for Long-Term Writing, Part 4: Accoutrements.


(Continued from 2010, Part 2: Pencils, and Part 3: Paper, and the original post in 2010.)

We will conclude our series of posts about maximizing the performance of pencils for long-term writing with a short look at pencil accessories.

Sharpeners
For journaling, I almost always prefer a long point. I like a point that starts sharp and is able to continue making neat lines without having to stop and sharpen every paragraph, or even every page. And the concave point produced by a crank sharpener like the Classroom Friendly model fits the bill perfectly. On the go (or if you prefer more control of your point), the KUM Masterpiece makes an insanely long point/longpoint and does not draw as much attention in a cafe’ as cranking a large metal contraption might.

Erasers
The best erasers for preserving pencil writing will not smear, will erase completely, and they will not mar the paper. Generally speaking, some kind of plastic eraser fits the bill for all three of these requirements. This blog is lacking in eraser reviews, but I generally reach for the Staedtler Mars plastic eraser or the Faber-Castell version for journaling.

Blotters
As mentioned earlier, I prefer a piece of an old map, a cut sheet from a Rhodia pad, or some other smooth and flexible paper for my blotter sheets. This helps to keep your journal neat in the first place, and stationery nerds seem to gravitate toward maps. Win-win.

Do Comrades have other tips or pieces of gear they use for keeping pencil writing safe for future Revolutionaries?

The Telegraphic Edition from Write Notepads & Co.

We’ll take a closer look in the coming days. But hurry and order yours while they’re still available. Word is that the pencils are especially in danger of disappearing soon. 

Pencil for Long-Term Writing, Part 3: Paper.


(Continued from 2010 and also Part 1: Pencils.)

We have established that pencil is the perfect medium for preserving your writing for the future. We recently examined what to look for in a pencil for journaling and/or long-term writing and some examples thereof. Today we will look at paper for keeping your pencil writing safe.

There are several details on which to reflect when selecting a notebook or journal if you plan to fill it with pencil, and this is even more true when one wants to preserve the writing forever.

Binding
Spiral bindings  can allow pages to rub against other other, creating smearing and thereby affecting the legibility of your writing for the future. Write Notepads & Co. solves this with an enormous rubber band. Generally, if I am going to carry a notebook around for more than a week, I prefer something with an elastic closure like this or like a Moleskine. A staple-bound Field  Notes book lasts only a week; so there’s little time to smear. The Write Notepads pocket books are tightly-bound with the PUR spine, and they do not rub much either. Also, consider that an notebook crammed into  your pocket will not move very much against other paper, that the fabric of your pocket (and your butt/leg/etc.) will likely keep the pages together anyway. For bouncing around in a bag, I never use a book that can open a even a little on its own, allowing the pages to mingle. Graphite is not to be trusted in the open like that!

Tooth
I avoid papers with too little or too much tooth. For instance, anything with more tooth than (and sometimes even including) a Scout Books pocket notebook will collect more graphite from the point of the pencil than the marks which one seeks to preserve. This results in dust and smearing and a generally untidy notebook. This is fine sometimes; pencil is not always tidy. But for writing which we seek to protect, smearing can render words, lines — even pages — illegible. Even worse is paper which is too smooth. The writing never even has much of a chance to stay put. The paper on Rhodia pads, for instance, is a lovely and smooth surface on which to skate a piece of graphite. However, I would not trust words meant for future generations to such glassy paper.

Ruling
An overly-tight graph or narrow lines can cause one’s writing to bunch up, resulting in less crisp lines. Something around the line-spacing of a Moleskine and 1/4 inch is my own preference, though I often just forgo any guide whatsoever too. Try to go line-free with pencil and the intention that your writing with last forever. Be bold!

Archival Quality of the Paper
These days, most major-branded books (Moleskine, Field Notes, etc.) are bound with acid-free paper. Since graphite does not react with paper anyway, this is, I assume, slightly less of a issue than when using ink. However, brittle and yellow paper can cause an issue for any writing medium.

Balance
As in pencils, the key is balance. I like a paper with a medium tooth, light (or no) lines, and a binding that will not allow the paper to rub against itself. As with pencils, this is harder to explain than it is to give examples of.

Write Notepads & Co. – This is probably my favorite notebook paper right now. The 70# stock takes graphite wonderfully, and the minor stiffness of the paper combines with the PUR binding to hold the pages still. The texture is nearly perfect, and they use a nice 1/4 inch line-spacing which is a great balance of efficiency and comfort. Plus they are made in my hometown, and Chris is a friend IRL. But I still claim not to be biased. Their books really are that good.

Moleskine – I swear that Moleskine has been quietly (because loudly would be admitting the paper was inferior before?) improving their paper. The texture is lovely for your less soft pencils, and the elastic keeps everything in place. If you hit Target at the right time of year, you can steal one for a few bucks from the clearance section. I like to remember that a Moleskine in 2002 led me to being lucky enough to co-host a really fun podcast.

Paperblanks – I have not used one of these in a while, but the paper is very stiff for nice pencil lines. Some of the covers get a little…LOOK AT ME for my taste, but the subtly-designed ones work well. Ghosting/graphite transfer is very low on this paper, even without a blotter.

Baron Fig – In speaking with Joey and Adam, I learned that this paper was designed, in part, for pencil, and it shows. The texture is lovely, and the themes and special editions they produce appeal to me greatly.

Field Notes – The newer 60#T version of the Finch Paper Opaque Smooth is lovely for pencil. I’m not sure why it works so much better than the 50# version, which I find to border on too smooth. These do fall open and allow pages to rub together in a bag. I generally get only a week of pocket carry out of them, however; so I do not experience this issue.

What are some papers/books Comrades like to use for long-term writing and/or journaling in pencil?

Pencil for Long-Term Writing, Part 2: Pencils.


According to this blog’s stats, the post from 2010 about long-term writing and pencils is one of the most visited posts on this site. While we are behind in answering mail, we recently, we heard from Don, who asked

“I am wondering if you have any suggestions as to what kind of pencil lead to use for a high quality, long lasting journal?”

I think this is something to explore further, since some pencils (and some papers) perform better than others at keeping your writing safe for the future. Today, let us take a look at what makes a pencil effective for long-term writing, since (as we all know) Pencil is Forever. We’ll cover paper and accessories in two subsequent posts.

When I think of  good Journaling Pencil, there are some considerations I like to, er, consider. In re-reading this list, it could also serve as a Guide to Selecting the Write (!) Pencil in general, in some ways, though the models on that list might be somewhat, or even very, different if that was my intention here.

Darkness
While a German 4H will lend itself to an extreme degree of smear-resistance, it will not make a suitably dark mark for most users’ readability. While a hard pencil’s marks might actually be there on the page, I’d prefer to read them with the naked eye. And as I quickly approach Middle Age, that naked eyesight is not getting better.

Point Durability
A pencil is more likely to continue to make crisp lines if the point is durable and keeps its sharpness without crumbling and making a mess on the paper. I seldom go for the softest option. I like a point that stays crisp and clean for journaling.

Smoothness
A smooth pencil requires less pressure to make a mark. It indents the paper less, and that is always a good thing if you are being careful about your writing — not to mention fighting hand fatigue.

Smear-Resistance
Hard pencils resist smearing, but they can indent the paper due to the pressure required to make marks with them. However, some soft and/or dark pencils resist smearing more than others. This is a sort of Grail to which a lot of individual pencil models seem to aspire, along with a blend of darkness and point retention (a term I do not like).

Ghosting/Graphite Transfer
Almost all pencils and almost all bound books I have used involve the transfer of graphite between pages to some degree — at least when writing on a page which has writing on the other side. I always use a sheet of smooth paper between pages in such instances. A custom-cut piece of an outdated map (a method I’ve used for years) will last through several notebooks, and paper from a Rhodia pad cut to size works very well, too. Please note that cleaning the “blotter” sheet periodically with an eraser will yield maximum results.

Balance
What I look for is a pencil that is a good balance of darkness, smear-resistance, and smoothness. This is difficult to quantify or even to qualify. So I will list some examples of pencils which I personally find to be useful for long-term writing.

Staedtler Wopex – While there are many Comrades who eschew this extruded piece of weaponry, none can deny that the damned thing just won’t smear. It is also difficult to erase (possibly marring a journal full of mistakes, but maybe we shouldn’t run from our mistakes). You cannot have it all. But you can have this fantastic pencil in more colors if you buy from European sellers on eBay.

Blackwing (Firm or Extra-Firm cores only) – For some reason, the Balanced core in the Pearl (and 725) seems to smear more than the others. It has become my least favorite core for journaling. The MMX is lovely, but you can kill a quarter of a pencil writing about a good camping trip. The Firm core in the 602 (and 211, 56, and 344) and the Extra Firm in the 24 and 530 are both smooth and do not smear readily on good paper, though I learn more toward the smoother side of the spectrum of acceptable papers for long-term pencil writing.

General’s Layout – This pencil is oddly smear-resistant, with a durable point, for a pencil which produces such black marks. The slightly wider, round body is a bonus for True Writing Comfort.

Camel “Natural” HB – There’s not much to not like about this pencil. It definitely makes a much lighter  line than most Japanese HB pencils I use, but the point durability and aesthetics are top-notch. And I don’t always want something so soft and/or dark.

Faber-Castell Castell (9000 in the B-4B range) – This pencil can run easily through the 4B range without becoming a blunted, smeary mess. The exact grade you might enjoy will depend on how much darkness you demand and what paper on which you are writing. Try a 4B on Moleskine or Field Notes paper (see the next post), and you will understand that of which I speak.

General’s Cedar Pointe HB – This is a great all-around pencil. When I first tried them circa 2005, the leads were too hard for journaling. But they have softened the formula since then, and this is one of the most balanced cores I can think of. This certainly extends to long-term writing.

Premium Japanese HB – I cannot decide between the Tombow Mono 100 or the Mitsubishi Hi-Uni. Both make smooth, dark marks that stay put.

I am sure that I am forgetting some, and I know I am leaning heavily on pencils I have used recently. What are some things Comrades consider and some favorite journaling pencils among us friends?