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.

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

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

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

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

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

Yellow Rhodia Paper.

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

Shameful admission: I did not even know it existed.

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

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

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

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

*[Don't tell anyone.]

New Palomino Pencil Finish.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review of Staedtler Wopex HB.

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

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

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

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

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

Review of Write Notepads & Co Gear, Part II.

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

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

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

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