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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

Best Pencils for Field Notes Utility Edition.

I received my subscription pack of Field Notes’ spring release about two weeks ago, the Field Notes Brand Utility Edition. I had been pretty excited about the design from the start, and the books are the colors of the Maryland state flag to boot. The quality control issues were a bit of a let-down when my books came actually torn on the spine, and there were a few spirited exchanges going on over the weekend on social media. Of course, Brian at Field Notes sent me replacement books right away. Seems that the thick paper causes trouble with cutting/trimming. Some blamed the size of this release, the contractor, postage. I think a lot of the books just came out very badly. Field Notes made a bit of a mistake, and they (as they always do) have been making it right where necessary. I’d be happy with their now standard 60# paper myself. It’s wonderful for pencil and still works in a pocket.

With all of the…talk about the quality control of the Utility, I forgot about the paper being so very different from the usually smooth paper Field Notes uses. The paper in Utility is Mohawk Via Vellum 70#T “Pure White,” and it’s toothy as all get out. With the fall 2012 Traveling Salesman release, it took me until my fifth (of six) notebooks to identify the perfect pencil for that toothy green paper. The Mitsubishi Hi-Uni in HB was perfect on that Mohawk Via 70#T “Light Green” paper. I suspect that list would be longer now, but those books are gone anyway.

Just as I do not enjoy soft pencils for very smooth paper (think Rhodia), I really do not like soft pencils for toothy paper — crumbly pencils doubly so. Being on a bit of a Blackwing kick lately, I had to put these aside when I set about to write in my new Utility edition books.

Some pencils that worked very poorly were immediately:

All Blackwings
Natarag Deep Dark
General’s Layout
Anything soft

I certainly haven’t tested more than a few dozen pencils, but this is a short list of pencils that have worked extremely well on this paper for me so far:

Viking Element 1
General’s Draughting
General’s Cedar Pointe #2/HB
Staedtler Wopex*
Faber-Castell Castell 9008 Steno 2B**
Mitsubishi 9000 HB
Apsara Beauty
America’s Pencil (USA Gold) Natural
Camel Natural HB

When looking at this toothy paper, I thought right away about harder pencils, but this was not ideal. The Castell 9000 in HB writes even more like a nail than it usually does, for instance, and the Mexican Ticonderoga (Target exclusive, 2014, blue) I tried was even worse. There is something successful in the target of a pencil which is smooth but generally leaves something to be desired in the darkness column (Element 1, Wopex, Draughting) and even a few that just seem to perform well on most papers (USA Gold, Cedar Pointe, Camel). Your mileage may vary, but I’ve been enjoying the Viking Element 1 the most, largely because it matches the covers of these lovely books so well.

And, if you’re feeling inky, the Uniball AIR is amazing and does not bleed through this paper.

* (If you make jokes about this evolved pencil, you might try one on this paper. It’s actually the smoothest on this list, and it won’t smear.)
** (I need a source for more of these F-C Steno pencils. Anyone know any?)

Review of Camel Natural HB Pencil.

Around this time last year, CW Pencil Enterprise started carrying this beautiful clear-lacquered pencil that I lusted after. But I was going to visit in person with my daughter soon after that (and I like to drop $100+ on pencils in person when I can, right?). So I waited until April. And I kicked myself a little for waiting because this has become one of my favorite pencils, period.

The Camel HB Japan we’re looking at is made in Japan and available at CW Pencils for $1.50 each. They are not cheap, but they last a long time. I own less than a dozen, more than a half, and I need to get more.

These are available in two colors: grey-capped with an ashy stain and white-capped with a reddish stain. They are both lovely, but I gravitate toward the grey because it stays cleaner-looking in my pencil tin. The imprint is white and simple and does not rub off (ahem, Layout pencil!).

But: Lo! That cap is an eraser, and it works pretty well. I have had one come off on me, but it stayed back on with a tiny drop of glue and two minutes of my time. And, in fairness, I sat on that pencil a few times before that.

The core is part of the reason I like this pencil so much. It’s smooth, but it’s not as soft or dark as what you’d expect from a Japanese HB. I’d suggest that this core feels like the Balanced Offspring of:

A Faber-Castell “Castell 9000” in 3B
A Mitsubishi “Hi-Uni” in H (maybe 2H)

The point durability and smear-resistance remind me of a German pencil, but the stress on the woodgrain and the smoothness remind me of a Japanese pencil. Darkness is in-between, I’d suggest. It’s a perfect pencil for pocket carry (the core is durable and won’t require much sharpening) and for long-haul writing (the smoothness, darkness, and point durability combine for comfort and better focus because it won’t let you down).

In Write Notepads “In The Pines” edition.

The cedar fragrance is strong with this one (!), though the thick lacquer requires you to sharpen the pencil before you can get High On Cedar (HOC).

In short, this is a daily-use pencil that you should buy if you like pencils enough to have read this far into a pencil review. It’s a little expensive, but a few of them will last you…until your next Necessary Order from CW Pencils.

See also:
The Finer Point
Pen Addict
The Weekly Pencil

Review of Baron Fig Askew.

This unapologetically blue notebook has been making the rounds for the last week on social media and The Stationery Blogosphere. Baron Fig was kind enough to send a review copy over; so I thought I’d weigh in. Let’s take a look at the Askew Edition.

First, what is it?

“A ruled notebook unlike any you’ve ever used.
Every line is hand drawn, and while some cooperate—others are downright unruly. This limited edition is designed to inspire thinkers to bend the rules and follow even their most meandering ideas.”

This is more than a Baron Fig Confidant in a different color. This notebook challenges the definition of blank/lined journal to some extent.

The cover is Blue Pen Blue and looks like someone painted the fabric with the ink from a Bic Cristal. The color caught my attention first when it came out. The box looks like someone tried to color it in with a Cristal, and the bookmark must be Red Pen Red. It’s a beautiful book. I don’t think I need to elaborate on the paper quality for pencil again. (Check out our take on Baron Fig paper here. tl;dr: it’s awesome.)

There are good number of folks who…don’t like this edition. If a subscriber expected to get a different Confidant each quarter that worked basically like a regular one (lined, dot, blank paper), I can certainly understand the frustration. They are not getting what they paid for under that set of expectations. But did Baron Fig actually promise four different versions of the same, or were they vague? (I have no idea.)

I think the question comes down to whether or not this book does what it’s supposed to do. Can you write in it? Most of the pages come with relatively parallel lines and could be used like a regular notebook for the most part. Some pages are nutso. I can imagine using these to doodle, to test pencils, or even to paste things onto. But they are also “lost” pages if you’re after lined paper on which to write.

But that’s asking if the Askew does what the Confidant does. Does the Askew do what the Askew is supposed to do?

Wait: What IS this notebook supposed to do? It’s supposed to get you to try something different. I don’t want to say “think out of the box” — but maybe write off of the line. And in this regard, I think it’s successful and a hell of a lot of fun.

This book got me to pull out some pens (Bic Cristal Bolds, sign pens, bold Uniball Airs) and go nuts because I write with pencil so much that it can be stifling. And writing mostly in pencil also has the effect of inviting me to over-analyze each piece of graphite I write with. Pens were a welcome change, and I wrote some…different stuff than I usually do so far in this book.

I think this is the Nice Stationery version of Wreck This Journal, a book I enjoyed enough to get the expanded edition when it came out. If nothing else, it is an invitation to have some colorful fun during this dim time of year. I can certainly get behind that.

(We received this notebook free for review purposes, but the opinions expressed do not reflect that we scored it gratis.)

“In The Pines”.

Write Notepads & Co rounded out the first year of seasonal releases this month with their “In the Pines” edition. Considering that we are literally friends with Chris and Co, it’s hard to start writing about how great this edition is and not stop. So perhaps some staccato slowness will get the point across without my friendly and hometown gushing getting in the way.

The Theme/Concept:
When I think of winter, I think of dark green (pine trees) and a striking blue (the sky). These fit the bill perfectly, even evoking some sylvan coniferousness. It could be in my head; it could be that I talked to Chris; but I swear the packing material smelled like pine. The delay on these meant that they were released during the actual winter, not holiday shopping season when the cold really hasn’t set in yet. So I found them especially welcome.

The Box:
Gorgeous. The packs arrived inside of a shipping box this time, which was a boon for such a beautiful package (the Royal Blues got dinged in their padded envelopes). The matte white board with silver stamping brings snow to mind immediately, and the design is just beautiful. I particularly like that “No. 4” is included on the box, clearly numbering the series that has just completed its first year.

The Books:
You get three matching green books with a silver pine tree letterpressed over “In The Pines,” in what might be the perfect font for this cover. The texture and flexibility of the stock make it extremely easy to use and comfortable to pocket. The corners, binding and cuts are all precisely made.

Inside, there is WNP’s fantastic standard 70# white paper with a 1/4-inch dot graph that is ideally spaced for pencil writing. This is my favorite pocket notebook paper by far, even for when I sometimes occasionally rarely use pens (!).

The Pencils:
Unlike the last two releases, you can buy the pencils that match this one right now. They seem like the usual Musgrave custom job at first: a medium quality pencil with top-notch custom design and left-handed printing. These feature a much more crisp silver stamp on their hexagonal face than the round Royal Blue (excuse the terrible photo). What’s really different about these is that they are made of cedar this time. I ordered another six (not only because my better half wanted some to match her books) as soon as I could, but I refrained from stocking up because supplies are extremely limited.

Member Extra:
Included in members’ shipments is a heavy vinyl sticker replicating a pine air freshener. I haven’t had the nerve to stick it onto anything yet because I only have one, but I doubt I can hold out for long.

In conclusion, just go and get a set. I’d like to think folks might refrain from hoarding because of the extremely limited number of these packs. But I’ve seen folks who have saved them help out other people who missed them. So I’ll shut up. If you live in Baltimore, you can get them IRL at a few shops in town without the cost or wait associated with shipping.

Review of Five Very Cheap Yellow Pencils.

This is coming in a little late for true back-to-school season, which starts right after the 4th of July these days. To be sure, by the weekend before my daughter started the first grade, the aisles and bins were veritably picked clean.

Of course, you always find a sort of very cheap house brand yellow pencil that is often even cheaper for kids going back to school. I was happy, this year and last year, to see that my daughter’s classmates brought with them to school Ticonderoga pencils, USA Golds, and Yoobi pencils in many colors. Maybe you’re buying for an entire class on a really small budget. Maybe you’re stuck supplying an office with as many pencils for $7 as you can get. We’re here to help with your Very Cheap needs.*

It was a $1 pack of USA-made pencils in 2004 that got me interested in pencils. Very Cheaps hold a special place in my heart pencilcase. And, hell, I really like the aesthetics of a yellow pencil with a silver ferrule and pink eraser.


The Contenders
All of these pencils are under $2 for a dozen – often less than $1. All are yellow, No 2, and unsharpened – with pink erasers and silver ferrules. I sharpened them all with a Classroom Friendly Sharpener. I used Write Notepads & Co. Kindred Spirit paper to give them a fighting chance.
Target Up&Up
Office Depot
Walmart Casemate

Largest Quantity of Uncentered Cores in a Dozen
Office Depot. Nearly half of them were at least a little off. Off enough for a Pencil Person to take notice, anyway.

Most Erratic Cores
Staples/Dixon for a tie. Two or three from each dozen of these were bad enough that I’d only sharpen them with a knife in the forest if I had to leave a note to my family to explain how I let myself get eaten by bears.

None of these have great erasers. But the Dixon stood out as the worst. It’s scratchy and crumbly. They were all pretty crumbly. I think maybe perhaps possibly the Casemate erased the best. But the best erasing experience goes to the Staples pencil, with has a surprisingly soft eraser that didn’t hold a Pink Dangly on it after use.

Staples and Office Depot have the worst stamping, but it’s not really that terrible compared to some Semi-Cheaps. The Target Up&Up pencil actually has fantastic and tasteful stamping. I prefer the muted yellow of the Office Depot pencil for color. The Staples pencil has the thinnest and worst paint job. Best-applied lacquer goes to Casemate, with the Target pencil being a close second.

The Dixon has a truly terrible core; it scratches across the page and leaves a light mark. The darkest and smoothest core is the one in the Casemate pencil. It’s been postulated in the Erasable Group that it’s made by the folks who bring us Apsara and Nataraj pencils, and I’d easily believe this. The runner up is the Target Up&Up pencil, which is less dark than the Casemate – but it’s reasonably smooth.

Conclusion: Which should you buy?
Well, most of these are house brands. So that might be decided by what is closest to your office or school or where your school has an account.

If you can buy anything else, don’t buy the Dixon. It’s a terrible pencil. I’ve joked before that I keep one around to remind me that I have nice pencils. And, years later, this is still the case.

If you live near the standard selection of Big Box stores, get the Target Up&Up pencil. I say this because it dulls more slowly on toothy office paper than the darker Casemate.

If you have to pick either an Office Depot or Staples pencil, well, go for the Staples pencil. The better eraser on an otherwise nearly identical pencil put this one ahead. Plus, I saw that they make black Staples pencils now. You could order a box of those for your boss for brownie points!

* See Erasable Podcast for our periodic mentions of Semi-Cheaps, one of my favorite “class” of pencils.

** Not the Ticonderoga, which is a Semi-Cheap, not a Very Cheap.

Graphite Report on the New Reporter’s Notebooks.

In case you have either slept through the last ten days or are not hugely interested in notebooks, there were two reporter’s notebooks unveiled last week, on the same day.

The John Dickerson-inspired Field Notes Byline edition is the summer 2016 release. Subscribers also received a laptop sticker of the Byline logo. These books contain 35 sheets (70 pages) of Cougar Natural 70#T vellum, with college-ruled [0.28 inch] lines in the usual Field Notes innards color. There is a pocket in the rear and a concealed spiral binding. The notebooks come in at 3.75 inches by 8 inches — a little more narrow than traditional reporter’s notebooks.

Write Notepads & Co.’s reporter pads are something I’ve been needling Chris to make for a good two years, after I saw the first Ledger prototypes. These contain the new paperstock Write Pads will be using: 60 sheets,  “120 pages of 1/4″ ruled paper printed in our trademark subtle non-reproducible blue-green.” (This paper will be in their own summer release, unveiled this weekend and coming soon to lucky mailboxes near you.) This book is the traditional 4 inches by 8 inches.

Corners show the different cover materials.
Corners show the different cover materials.


The Byline’s cover is made of Neenah Environment 120#DTC “Wrought Iron”. There is a pocket in the rear of the book and Field Notes-style information all over the cover. I love the cheeky data, and the pocket is a great idea. In practice, things keep falling out of mine. This book is very flexible and surfs a pocket well. However, the odd concealed binding means that the cover material has to flex both when opening and closing the book, and the covers take a beating in your pocket. If this book had more paper, I am not sure that the cover/seams would survive life in a pocket. On the flip side, like most of my favorite offerings from Field Notes, the beat-on patina of this book looks amazing, especially with the grey cover.

The Write Notepads & Co. book is beefy. It’s the same recycled kraft coverstock we’ve come to expect, with the same bulletproof spiral. The cover is even oriented with the grain such that the book will flex vertically but not horizontally. There are few frills, in keeping with the Write Pads aesthetic. The included (and removable) rubber band is a welcome addition and kept my pages from getting bent up.

Very different approaches to the bindings.
Very different approaches to the bindings.

These two books have not been in existence long enough for me to fill them up completely and to really see how they will look/feel after the last page is full of dumb things from my head. But I suspect that the Write Pads book will survive intact longer because it is made of stronger materials and because the spiral is naked. The Byline’s cover doubles as part of the binding, and I wonder if it is up to the task.

These books have different strengths in their forms. The Field Notes book is easier to carry, but the Write Pads book is easier to write in and to read. I’ve been using them each accordingly.


Write Notepads & Co., while departing for their subscription series, has an aesthetic that is part of their branding. The reporter’s pad, ledger, and stenography pad (which I keep trying to get WNP to rename The Tablet) all have similar looks. On the other hand, the Byline is a complete departure for Field Notes. I feel stuck deciding which I enjoy more: the dependable gumption of the Write Pads book or the new-for-them look of the Byline.

Lines and paper hue are different.
Lines and paper hues are different.


These books both perform extremely well for graphite, and I think they serve to illustrate the difference that paper makes for the performance of a given pencil. I’m going to utilize my scanner to look at this more closely.

Interestingly (and I’m not sure if this comes out in the scans), I think that the Write Pads paper brings out lighter pencils, while the Byline brings out darker pencils. Both really shine in the way that they add an extra touch of contrast to mid-range pencils (think Cedar Pointe HB; Ticonderoga; Noris HB…). These are both papers that are a pleasure for pencils.

Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.

The Bylines has noticeably smoother paper, since it’s stocked with a nice, cream-colored vellum. I really like this paper, especially for the larger page of a Byline. Pencil still makes its mark, though, and the results are really surprising on such smooth paper. Even a Wopex leaves a nice mark on this paper. The tooth in the Write Pads book still renders it smoother than a lot of papers, and it is sized such that it certainly does not sand down a pencil point. To repeat myself a bit: these are both two very enjoyable papers to write on, and I am not going to call one better on texture alone.

Erasing is almost equal on these two papers. The Byline’s vellum has sizing that seems to make the pencil’s point leave a deeper indentation, and this affects the real erasure abilities here, just a touch.

Graphite stability is also close, but I think that Write Pads edges ahead of the Field Notes here. Vellum’s smoothness usually leads to smearing and ghosting (use a Blackwing MMX on Rhodia paper, and you’ll see what I mean). While the Byline’s paper is definitely better than Rhodia’s at preventing Graphite Soup (TM), it does smear a little. It is no worse than other papers, however, which surprises me for vellum. So the Write Pad’s paper is not more smear resistant than the paper in the Byline because of the vellum; it’s because the Write Pad’s paper is amazing for graphite. I’ll avoid waxing poetic, but Chris took graphite (not just fountain pens) into consideration when deciding on a new paperstock. Pencil stays put. Period.

Which Should You Buy?

Uh, both. For $13, you get two Field Notes Brand Bylines (70 sheets/140 pages total). For $12, you get one Write Pads reporter’s pad (60 sheets/120 pages total), and both are amazing books. If you’re looking for something to stick in your pocket, I’d lean toward the thinner profile of the Byline, though I am not sure how long the cover will stick together. For a bag or for your desk, the Write Notepads & Co. reporter’s pad is a heavy-duty notebook. In fact, I have had a “thing” for reporter’s books for a few years, and this is by far the beefiest I’ve seen (the Bob State “Harvard Square Reporter” comes in second and deserves its own post).

I’m happy to see two great new offerings from my two favorite notebook companies in an oft-neglected format that I enjoy and use more often than, say, a six by nine nook or a legal pad.

Gary at Papernery wrote up his review last week, after we discussed co-posting. I both dropped the ball and received damaged Bylines and am a week late. Apologies for the delay!

[Disclaimer: While the Byline books were part of my subscription and paid for with my own money, I received the Write Notepads & Co. reporter pad for free via messenger on the day it was released.]

Blackwing 24: Holy Grail or Piltdown Man?

This review is by the The Watts, who present version 5.0 of their amazing pencil review series. (The other subtitle involved the word “final”, but I’m not including that because this can’t be final!)

My son Hunter and I shared our last pencil review in September 2015. We’ve since reviewed a few pencil sharpeners but only some earthshaking event could have lured me into another pencil comparison.

Palomino has released the fourth special-edition Palomino Blackwing, and it is most unlike the others. The first three Volumes used existing Palomino cores, but the Volume 24 edition Blackwings have a brand-new core that is supposed to be hard enough to resist the need for continual sharpening while retaining a dark line. Palomino’s description:

“The Blackwing 24 pays tribute to Pulitzer Prize winning author John Steinbeck. Designed under the guidance of his son Thomas Steinbeck, Blackwing has created what they believe would have been John’s ideal pencil. Thom was adamant that his father would want it to be black, from barrel to eraser. It would also need to sharpen to a firm point without sacrificing much if any darkness. The Blackwing 24 is just that – an all-black pencil with the brand-new graphite formulation perfect for extended writing.”

Although John Steinbeck was quoted as liking the Blaisdell Calculator 600 and Mongol Round 2 3/8 F, the pencil he mentioned most was the Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602. Palomino created its own version of the Blackwing 602 that comes remarkably close in both appearance and performance, but even this extraordinarily well-done recreation of the original suffers from the same Law of Pencils as every other pencil on the market: Line darkness is inversely proportional to point retention.

In other words, a dark line typically means a softer graphite formulation requiring frequent sharpening.

The qualities many of us seek in our pencils can be contradictory:

1. Point retention
2. Dark line
3. Smoothness, also described as a “buttery” feel . . . per Blackwing’s glorious motto, “Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed”

It’s difficult to improve upon one characteristic without compromising at least one of the others. Although a smoother writing experience isn’t called out in Palomino’s marketing of the Blackwing 24, should it go without saying that any pencil bearing the “Blackwing” name has a responsibility to live up to the “Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed” legend? Did Palomino pull off the impossible? And is this the really the “. . . graphite formulation perfect for extended writing?”

In a series of reviews, Hunter and I shared the results of our search for the “perfect pencil.” Our reviews initially focused on the second and third qualities in the list above: line darkness and a smooth feel across the paper. After gaining experience with our favorites, we created top five lists of currently available pencils that factor in point retention and aesthetics.

Now, with the arrival of the Blackwing 24, have we found the Holy Grail . . . a pencil that lays down a line as dark as the 602 yet retains its point much longer while retaining that buttery smoothness that makes the Eberhard Faber and Palomino Blackwing 602s so enjoyable to use? Or is this Pencildom’s version of the Piltdown Man, a pencil with a hard and scratchy core encased in the form of a Blackwing and presented to us as The One? We had to find out.

We immediately agreed that line darkness was not an issue. The Blackwing 24 did just as well as the other pencils and was close enough in some instances that it was impossible to tell the difference.


Next, we tried to prove or disprove the claim of greater point retention. I devised a test that seemed – in my head – foolproof. We would each draw a continuous string of “e’s” until we reached the point at which we would sharpen the pencil. We’d conduct this test with the Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602 (EF602), Palomino Blackwing 602 (P602), Blaisdell Calculator 600 (BC600) and the Blackwing 24 (BW24). The Blaisdell was thrown into the test because in a previous review we noted it was almost as smooth as the Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602 but seemed to have greater point retention . . . which might make it the greatest pencil in the history of Earth, although it has sadly gone the way of the dinosaurs.


The test seemed foolproof, but in practice was problematic. Writing page after page of “e’s” while maintaining the same pressure on the paper and size of the letters is difficult even with an 18-year-old hand but it quickly becomes painful when the older tester is suffering from lingering nerve damage. I tend to apply more pressure than Hunter; so I wore through my pencils faster, giving me enough time to try a second type of endurance test. I wrote the sentence, “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country,” repeatedly until I reached the time I would have sharpened, and then I counted the number of completed sentences for each. This gave us three point retention test results which are shown below in order of greatest point retention and number of lines or sentences.

BC600 (13)
EF602 (12)
BW24 (10)
P602 (10)

BC600 (71)
BW24 (42)
P602 (38)
EF602 (34)

Good Men Sentence – Stephen
BC600 (7)
BW24 (7)
P602 (6)
EF602 (5)


We learned one thing for sure: Testing point retention manually is subjective as heck. We focused on commonalities, though, and agreed to this ranking, shown from longest to shortest point retention:

1. Blaisdell Calculator 600
2. Palomino Blackwing 24
3. Palomino Blackwing 602
4. Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602

Neither of us felt the Blackwing 24 outlasted the Blaisdell Calculator 600, and we agreed it outdid both the Palomino and Eberhard Faber Blackwings. Line darkness: check. Point retention: check. So far, no evidence of a hoax. What about smoothness?


Pairing them off for side-by-side tests and working our way through each pair, Hunter and I settled on this ranking for how smoothly the pencil moved across the paper:

1. Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602
2. Blaisdell Calculator 600
3. Palomino Blackwing 602
4. Palomino Blackwing 24

When I compared the Palomino Blackwings 602 and 24, moving to the 24 felt like I was suddenly trying to write in quicksand. The difference was clear and noticeable but it was also an odd sensation as there was no scratchiness to the experience; it was just “slower.” It seemed to take more effort to push the 24 along in comparison to the 602. Hunter didn’t notice this great of an effect which could have been due to his much lighter hand, but he did agree the 24 wasn’t as smooth as the 602.

4 Pencils

We decided to add in another category, a version of aesthetics we’ll refer to here as the Coolness Quotient: Casting aside historical significance, rarity and overall quality, which was the spiffiest-looking pencil? Hunter and I quickly arrived at the following ranking:

1. Blackwing 24
2. Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602
3. Palomino Blackwing 602
4. Blaisdell Calculator 600

Back to the question posed in the title: Is the Palomino Blackwing 24 the Holy Grail or the Piltdown Man? Palomino advertised a dark line and firm core for extended writing. In comparison to our other three pencils, this one more than holds up its end of the bargain. It is at the bottom of the list in terms of smoothness, but where in Palomino’s advertising do they claim it’s as smooth as the Blackwing 602?

“The Blackwing 24 features a new extra-firm graphite great for extended writing. You won’t find this graphite in any of our other Blackwing models. It’s slightly firmer than the graphite found in the Blackwing 602, without sacrificing much in the way of darkness. It also features a distraction-free black barrel, black imprint, black ferrule and black eraser.”

Clearly, this is no Piltdown Man. But is it the Holy Grail of pencils?

For me, nothing comes closer to the Holy Grail than the extinct Blaisdell Calculator 600. It scores on all three major counts: Point retention, dark line and smoothness. Until something comes along that equals or bests the Blaisdell Calculator, I’ll remain on the hunt for a currently-manufactured Holy Grail. There is another item that knocks the Blackwing 24 down a peg or two for me: the barrel is slippery. I notice a clear difference between how well my fingers adhere to the barrel of the other three pencils vs. the Blackwing 24. I had a similar issue with the natural finish (clear lacquer) Blackwing 211 . . . I had to regularly readjust my fingers. Apparently, my career as a tree frog is over before it began, but from what I’ve seen, this doesn’t seem to be an issue experienced by many others.

Hunter really likes the Blackwing 24. He writes with a lighter touch; so the smoothness isn’t an issue for him. His fingers don’t slip on the barrel like mine. This pencil has better point retention than the others, and it’s just as dark. And its looks are . . . stunning. For Hunter, at least for now, this is his Holy Grail.

My answer to the question “Is this the Holy Grail?” is an unhelpful “Maybe.”

Let’s look at where this falls into our rankings. Hunter and I have been playing around with the newly popular Apsara Absolute and thought we might as well slot it into the list.


Our last full ranking of 27 pencils was in order of quality of the line and smoothness of the writing experience:

1. Mitsubishi Hi Uni 2B
2. Tombow Mono 100 2B
3. Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602
4. Blaisdell Calculator 600
5. Palomino Blackwing 602
6. Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood 348 HB
7. Palomino Blue Eraser-Tipped HB
8. Tombow 2558 HB
9. Mitsubishi 9850 HB
10. Staedtler Noris 122 HB
11. Eberhard Faber Mongol 482 – 2 3/8 F
12. Staedtler Norica HB 2
13. Palomino ForestChoice #2
14. Mitsubishi 9000 HB
15. Faber-Castell 9000 2B
16. Staedtler Mars Lumograph HB
17. Staedtler 123 60 2 HB
18. General’s Cedar Pointe #333 – 1
19. Palomino Blue Golden Bear #2
20. Field Notes No. 2
21. Dixon Ticonderoga HB 2
22. Dixon Ticonderoga Renew HB
23. General’s Semi-Hex 498-2 HB
24. General’s Cedar Pointe #333 – 2 HB
25. General’s Test Scoring 580
26. Musgrave Test Scoring 100
27. U.S.A. Gold Natural 2 HB

Factoring in aesthetics, point retention and all-around likability, my last top five list was as follows:

1. Palomino Blackwing 602
2. Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood 348 HB
3. Palomino Blue Eraser-Tipped HB
4. Mitsubishi 9850 HB
5. General’s Cedar Pointe #333-1

If I were marooned on a deserted island and could have only one type of pencil, my choice was the Palomino Blackwing 602.

Hunter’s top five:

1. Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood 348 HB
2. Mitsubishi 9850 HB
3. Palomino Blackwing 602
4. Palomino Blue Eraser-Tipped HB
5. Mitsubishi Hi Uni 2B

Hunter’s choice for the deserted island was the Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood 348 HB.

Here is our new list of 29 . . . yes, OCD sufferers, 29. Not 30.

1. Mitsubishi Hi Uni 2B
2. Tombow Mono 100 2B
3. Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602
4. Blaisdell Calculator 600
5. Palomino Blackwing 602
6. Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood 348 HB
7. Palomino Blackwing 24
8. Palomino Blue Eraser-Tipped HB
9. Tombow 2558 HB
10. Mitsubishi 9850 HB
11. Apsara Absolute
12. Staedtler Noris 122 HB
13. Eberhard Faber Mongol 482 – 2 3/8 F
14. Staedtler Norica HB 2
15. Palomino ForestChoice #2
16. Mitsubishi 9000 HB
17. Faber-Castell 9000 2B
18. Staedtler Mars Lumograph HB
19. Staedtler 123 60 2 HB
20. General’s Cedar Pointe #333 – 1
21. Palomino Blue Golden Bear #2
22. Field Notes No. 2
23. Dixon Ticonderoga HB 2
24. Dixon Ticonderoga Renew HB
25. General’s Semi-Hex 498-2 HB
26. General’s Cedar Pointe #333 – 2 HB
27. General’s Test Scoring 580
28. Musgrave Test Scoring 100
29. U.S.A. Gold Natural 2 HB

Counting only currently available pencils, my new top five has shifted and the Blackwing 24 has displaced a long-time placeholder:

1. Palomino Blackwing 602
2. General’s Cedar Pointe #333-1
3. Palomino Blackwing 24
4. Mitsubishi 9850 HB
5. Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood 348 HB

My choice for a deserted island pencil remains unchanged: Palomino Blackwing 602.

Hunter’s new top five:

1. Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood 348 HB
2. Mitsubishi 9850 HB
3. Palomino Blackwing 24
4. Palomino Blackwing 602
5. Palomino Blue Eraser-Tipped HB

Hunter’s choice for the deserted island is now the Palomino Blackwing 24, although he believes this is partly due to the current hype and may change over the next few months.

Summary thoughts:

Hunter: Point retention is much more subjective than we expected.
Hunter: The Palomino Blackwing 24 has really shaken things up.
Stephen: The Blackwing 24 is just slippery enough to be a little less comfortable to use.
Stephen: The Blackwing motto “Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed” is not part of the equation with the 24, which still writes with “Half the Pressure,” but not at “Twice the Speed.” To be clear, the manufacturer has not implied the motto applies to this pencil.
Stephen: The Blackwing 24 came out higher overall than expected. For people who don’t notice the “slippery” effect and don’t mind a “slower speed,” the point retention, line quality and sheer beauty may help this pencil qualify as their Holy Grail.

I’ve seen a number of nicknames for this pencil, all playing off the name Blackwing, but one I haven’t yet read pays homage to its basic black design and the newly released Batman v Superman movie. I dub thee:



Previous reviews:

All Hat No Cattle? – – Mythbusting Double Header Part 2

Frankenstein’s Sharpener! – Mythbusting Double Header Part 1

Eberhard Faber Microtomic vs Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602, MythBusters Edition: “Confirm” or “Bust?”

Pencil Sharpener Review Redux (Viewable Only to Erasable Facebook Community Members – Text is Contained in the Comments Section of “Pencil Sharpener Shootout” Below)

Father and Son Pencil Review VI (aka Hell Freezes Over Twice! aka Final Review v4.0)

Pencil Sharpener Shootout

Father and Son Pencil Review V (aka Final Review v3.0)

My Journey to Pencil Sharpener Satisfaction

Father and Son Pencil Review IV: What? IV?

Father and Son Pencil Review III: The Final Chapter

Father and Son Pencil Review II

Father and Son Pencil Review I