Review of Faber-Castell Grip 2001.

We’ve reviewed pencils made in the United States and Asia so far, but we’ve not yet talked much about European pencils. It’s only fitting, then, that we review something from Faber-Castell, specifically the Grip 2001. We are very happy to have Frank C. — who works in research in the Garden State — write the review of this award-winning pencil.

According to Faber-Castell, “For centuries there was no change with the pencil. Faber-Castell has proven that there is still potential for improvement with this apparently simple product. Shortly after its launch the GRIP 2001 pencil was prized with several important design awards. For the magazine Business Week it was the best ‘Product of the Year’,” and several other accolates to boot.

First, some technical info:

Material: Jelutong, a rainforest wood that grows in Indonesia.
Shape: Triangular, with grip zone.
Finish: Water-based lacquer in metallic grey.
Ferrule: None, capped end in grey or black, depending on lead grade; black triangular ferrule on eraser-topped version.
Eraser: (On ferruled version) Soft black rubber.
Core: 2B, B, HB, H, 2H (B reviewed), specially-bonded and break-resistant graphite.
Markings: Black Gloss. “GRIP 2001 Faber-Castell” with company logo of jousting knights.
Packaging: Varies. Usually sold in open-stock or dozens. Fine stationers and art supply shops are the best bets.
Origin: Stein, Germany.

Now, for Frank’s review:

“Let me state up front that the Grip 2001 by Faber-Castell is my favorite currently-available pencil (the Blackwing 602 is my all-time favorite, but I’m sticking to currently-available pencils). Why? Because I like pencils that write a dark line but can be used for day-to-day writing (only 2B and 4B for me), and the Grip 2001 fits the bill, for me, better than any pencil around.

The other factor that cements its position as my top pencil is the way the Grip 2001 is designed to never slip in your hand. Using what Faber-Castell calls the ‘Patented Soft-Grip-Zone’ (what looks like to me little raised black dots) makes it easy to grip the pencil without it slipping up and down your fingers. I’ve also found that I don’t have to grip it as tightly to write, which means that I can write with it for longer periods of time than other pencils. One downside—when you store the Grip 2001 next to other pencils it has a tendency to stick to them!

The Grip 2001 has a triangular shape, another excellent ergonomic factor in its favor. I’ve found that the triangular shape fits flush between my fingers, meaning that I never find myself rotating the pencil like I do other traditionally-shaped pencils. Again, this is another ergonomic detail that makes the Grip 2001 stand head and shoulders above the other current pencils that I’ve tried.

While it’s great to have the attention to design detail that the Grip 2001 provides, it would mean nothing if the pencil didn’t deliver a great writing experience. And this it does, with a dark line that never smears. It’s also extremely easy to sharpen, even with the triangular shape.

So, given the great writing experience, excellent design, and ergonomic features, it’s easy to see why the Grip 2001 is an excellent pencil and my current favorite. It may be a bit more expensive than average (I purchased mine from Pen City, although I have seen them in a local Office Depot), but it is worth it. I cannot recommend it highly enough.”

Many thanks to Frank for the review and the photos!

[Images Frank C. and J.G., used with kind permission.]

Review of California Republic Palomino.

About a month ago, I tried a pencil that I had not seen before and with whose brand I was unfamiliar. It came in a hard plastic box, with five others like it. The paint looked so thick and perfect that I almost didn’t want to open the box. Ever since I did, some other pencils that I used to love seem poor and have fallen by the wayside.

Before I gush more, the technical information:
Shape: Hexagonal.
Finish: Extremely thick, highly pigmented lacquer.
End cap: Matching cap with a gold band perpendicular to the pencil core.
Core: HB (#2) graphite.
Markings: Gold Foil. “California Republic PALOMINO”
Packaging: Half-dozen, hard plastic clear packages.
Origin: Premium quality California Incense Cedar; manufactured in Japan by a highly-respected pencil maker.
Availability: In the US, only through the Pencil World Creativity Store presently.

The first thing that you will notice about the Palomino is the finish. The lacquer is so thick that you can see the multiple layers around the sharpened end where the painted wood and naked wood meet. The color intensity and smoothness equal those of a brand new Mustang. To boot, it’s a durable finish. Rattling around in a wooden pencil box with two metal sharpeners and some German pencils, it shows no marks at all, while some of the other pencils are scratched up from the sharpeners. The paint is thick, buttery and flawless.

Next, you might notice the smell. Yup, that’s premium quality Incense Cedar, the finest grade of the finest pencil wood you are going to find. Period.

Maybe the nicely shaped factory sharpening is not to your liking. Maybe you want a longer or shorter point. Sharpening is a breeze, because premium cedar means the straightest grain, for one thing. But be careful not to melt away your precious pencil! I never sharpen these with anything whose blade I can’t carefully see, lest I sharpen away these treasures.

Writing with this pencil would convert a hard-core pen user. My wife uses gel pens often, and she remarked that the Palomino was as smooth to use as a pen, even a gel pen. The line this pencil produces glides onto the paper like cake icing. Smearing is totally non-existent, but erasing is still easy and complete. While the core is already in a class by itself, the darkness of the line is the real pinnacle of the core, and it matches the intensity of the lacquer. I wrote a note to myself recently with one of these pencils, and I mistook it for ink, from the density of the lines. In fact, the cores are soft enough and dark enough to do some sketching with them, even if you are accustomed to a softer lead than HB. I rarely ever use anything harder than a 4B, but sketching is possible with the HB Palomino. (See Palomino sketches here and here.)

The lack of eraser might discourage some American users, but the perfectly rounded end cap more than makes up for having to carry a separate eraser. And you can easily chew on it, if you are a recent pen convert and new to the Revolution.

The only downside of this pencil was the non-availability of it in the United States.

So we are extremely pleased to herald the opening of the Pencil World Creativity Store! From the people who brought us the Forest Choice pencil, we have the line of California Republic Stationers. I have been wanting to review these fine pencils for a few weeks now, but I could not do it in good conscience without knowing that the good people of the Revolution could get their hands on some of these wonderful instruments. How exceptional the Palomino pencils are is good enough news — that some people still care about making quality pencils.

The equally good news is that the People can purchase the Palominos online, along with other pencils in the California Republic line, such as the extremely choice Golden Bear and artist quality colored pencils. We plan on reviewing the other California Republic products in the future.

And we would be very very happy to hear what folks who try the Palominos think.

Review of KUM metal wedge sharpener.

This is our first review of a sharpener, and this is the sharpener that I currently always have in my pocket. Several people have asked me lately what kind of sharpener I would recommend to them for sharpening quality pencils, so I thought a review of a sharpener (finally!) would be highly appropriate. There are many brands who make the exact (almost) same sharpener, but we are going to stick to this one for today. Just as there are many subtle differences and not-to-subtle differences between different brands of hexagonal yellow pencils, there are, too, such variations on the metal wedge theme.

I have not been able to find this model for sale online, but here is some information about it, in case you can locate it in a local shop. I found them at Plaza Artist Supply in Towson, Maryland, where I stock up on them whenever I am on the East Coast. Rumor has it that KUM New York will sometimes sell to individual customers, and we’ll be sure to ammend if we find out for sure.

Technical Information
Type: Blade.
Material: Magnesium-alloy.
Shavings Receptacle: None.
Point Type: Medium.
Markings: “KUM Precision” (blade); “KUM Made in Germany” (body).
Place of Manufacture: Germany.
Availability: Physical shops, i.e., real stores; possibly from KUM New York (?).

This little gadget is a powerhouse! Not only is it light, durable, compact and comfortable to hold; it sharpens hard and soft pencils alike to a terrific point. As you can see from the photo, the point you can get with this sharpener is somewhere between the very short “factory point” and what KUM calls a “long point.” As such, you can really use this sharpener for both art pencils and writing pencils, since you can carefully stop sharpening once you have the point you want. If you push the sharpener to its apex, you can achieve an extremely sharp point, albeit one that is likely to be too short for drafting or engineering purposes.

Performing the actual sharpening is a breeze, resulting in a fluid motion whereby long strands of pencil shavings fall into the trash can or coffee cup saucer (a la Hemingway) in various geometric designs. Of couse, one of the drawbacks of this sharpener is that it does not have an on-board receptacle for shavings. But one of the advantages is that you can see the point as you are sharpening it, so you know when you’ve achieved your desired point. Even if you do mind that this sharpener makes a mess, that gentle cedar smell wafting from the fresh — and very smooth and clean — cut makes it all worth it.

What makes the KUM model different from some of the others I have tried is the smoothness and ease of sharpening, and the perfectly-designed hole that keeps the leads both centered and safe during sharpening. You will not need a lot of effort or pressure to use this little powerhouse. And, to boot, the blades last longer than one is likely to be able to hold onto this sharpener. Being small, they tend to get lost, so I have yet to actually wear out the blades on one myself. And the brand-new blades do not show any noticeable difference in performance than ones that have sharpened dozens of pencils. The KUM wedge is definitely a nice companion for premium quality pencils.

As for availability, we will keep the Revolution posted about places one can purchase these, if we can locate an online source. But I suspect that these little guys are easier to find in art shops than I think, along with other nice sharpeners that are hard to find online. So it can’t hurt to check your local art supplier.

[Photos copyright J.G. 2005.]

Review of Dixon Ticonderoga Classic.

Our review today comes from Tom Leininger, a professional writer and photographer based in Lafayette, Indiana. Tom also has a blog on which you can see some of his amazing photos. We know that Tom is a huge fan of the Dixon Ticonderoga, so we asked him if he would review them for the Revolution, and we want to thank Tom at the outset for a great review and wonderful photos.

The technical stuff:
Material: Incense cedar.
Shape: Hexagonal.
Finish: Non-toxic yellow, high gloss.
Ferrule: Dixon’s famous green with yellow stripes.
Eraser: Soft pink rubber.
Core: HB (#2) graphite.
Markings: Green Foil. “U.S.A. Dixon Ticonderago 1388-2/HB Soft.”
Packaging: Varies. The box I have had 10 in it. Also available by the dozen and multi-dozen.
Origin: Manufactured in USA of California cedar; Company is based in Heathrow, Fla.

It was not until college that I understood how vital a pencil is to my chosen profession. I was sitting in my first journalism class at Western Kentucky University when the professor said we should always carry a pencil with us. Or, just use pencils all the time. They work in the rain, when ink runs. They work in the cold when ink freezes.

So, I have always had a pencil at hand, I just never really wrote with them all the time, until recently.

Before I found this blog I had been trying to go back to the fountain pen I bought when I was in college. I liked the fact it was messy and pretentious. It must have gotten lost in all of my moves. The disposable ones I tried did not always work. Since most of my writing is done in small notebooks standing up, I needed something simple.

The pencil. It was staring me in the face all along. I always kept one in my car, for when it rained or was extremely cold. I thought this might be what I am looking for.

So, I grabbed a generic one from the drawer at work, but was disappointed. A couple of people mentioned the Pilot G2 mechanical, which I tried. These let me down.

Coming home one day I found the rather patriotic box of Dixon Ticonderogas sitting on the desk. My wife, a former first grade teacher, said they were best for her kids. “I know you are reading about pencils,” she said with a smirk. “They are the best.”

So I sharpened one to a nice point. Unlike the mechanical one, the lead does not break easily. With pencils and keyboards, I am a little on the rough side. It works well writing in small notebooks standing up, or crouching down on the ground.

I gave one to a pencil wielding editor at the newspaper I work at. Maybe it is even better when used at a desk. “It’s a good pencil,” he said. It required one sharpening for a day’s worth of work. The generic he had been using needed to be sharpened every five minutes. He also noted that pencil has a more rounded feel to it. It does not leave creases in your hand.

“Another thing about that stupid pencil,” he said leaving the office. “It is strong and does not break.”

I have realized it can’t write on everything. My hand or checks to be cashed for example. At times it is not always easy to carry. These would be the biggest drawbackws to the wooden pencil.

Most of the time I will tuck it behind my ear, leading to the phantom pencil syndrome. At the end of the day, I still think it is behind my ear when alas, it is not. Luckily, it tucks into my Newswear chest vest and Mountainsmith Tour lumbar bag easily.

I do wish it came in a size that would fit a shirt pocket well. Sharpening is a breeze. The point is solid. They taste like wood. The eraser works well. And they can write on napkins. What more could one ask for? For one thing, these are right handed pencils, I am left-handed. So, all of the printing is upside down when I am writing.

The Dixon Ticonderoga has earned a spot in my kit. That is saying a lot, since I am kind of picky.

[All photos and text copyright T. Leininger 2005.]

Review of PaperMate American Naturals.

Personally, I have always been a sucker for pencils, but I really got interested in them last summer after reading Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast and Walter Harding’s biography of Henry David Thoreau, The Days of Henry Thoreau. I immediately got the urge to write with some graphite. There were some junky yellow pencils around the apartment, but I wanted something nicer and not yellow. So I popped out to the shop and picked up a dozen Papermate American Naturals pencils, because I liked the lack of a finish on the wood and the blue foil lettering. So it is only natural that this review comes next.

The technical stuff:
Material: Some non-cedar, white wood that smells like grade school.
Shape: Hexagonal.
Finish: Unfinished.
Ferrule: Plain metal.
Eraser: Pink vinyl.
Core: HB (#2) graphite. Ceramic, non-waxed.
Packaging: Varies. Usually a cardboard box of ten or a dozen. Also avaiable in twelve dozen (one gross) boxes.
Origin: Jelutong (or Pulai, similar species; both grow in Indonesia), manufactured in Lewisburg, Tennessee, USA.
Availability: Widely available in office supply stores and online. Office Max is your best bet.

Considering that the target market for this pencil is “children and schools” and that some companies seem to (for some reason) market junk to kids for pencils, these pencils are a pretty nice find. The core is dark, and as my friend Dan in Baltimore puts it, “They feel right in your hand.” The plain wood, blue letters and plain ferrule combine to make one attractive pencil. The sanding is not as smooth as some unfinished pencils, but it is made up for by the fact that you can get a serious grip on this pencil. Whether you are sweating or whether you just ate half of a pizza, the raw wood will stay put in your paw. I’ve done some long writing with these, and they work just fine. Sharpening is smooth and clean, almost as much as cedar.

The two major drawbacks of this pencil are the smeariness of the core and the terrible eraser. While considerably dark, the core tends to smear onto your hands, the opposite page, and anything else that comes near it. While pencil marks will last until you actually erase them, this is not always so with this graphite. It is also considerably brittle and dry and almost feels like charcoal at times. The eraser is probably the worst pencil eraser I have ever tried to use. It is billed as being smear-proof, but all it really does is smear the graphite around the page and make a mess of itself. Of course, one could object that this is because the core smears. But I tested erasing the markings of this pencil with a nice Pink Pearl, and it did just fine. Similary, I erased some Forest Choice with the eraser, and it made the same mess, which we know is not from the Forest Choice core.

However, for the price ($1-2) a dozen and the ease of availability, American Naturals are still pretty good pencils, largely because of the finish. I tend to like them for putting behind my ear while reading a novel or running around the library, and I almost never read Hemingway’s more adventuresome novels without an American Naturals pencil behind my ear or between my teeth.

April 2006 appendix:

Comrade Ashley has this advice to offer:

[Comrades] have mentioned several times the deplorable, inexcusable excuse for an eraser that is found on PaperMate American #2 pencils.

Recently in a pencil pinch (on vacation), I bought some of these pencils. As
pleasantly surprised as I was by the lead (dark and soft), and the matte,
easily gripped lacquer, I was nevertheless devastated by those erasers! I came
up with the following two solutions:

1) Remove the bad erasers and replace with good erasers from other pencils that I do not like or use.

2) Place the ferrule of the PaperMate pencil beneath my heel, I snap it off
and replace with an eraser cap. I remove the ferrule to compensate for the
imbalance and weight of the eraser caps.

[Photos copyright John 2005.]

Review of Forest Choice graphite pencils.

This is the very first review featured on PRevo. It has been reserved for Forest Choice, namely their cedar graphite pencils — because of their generosity and because I have personally always wanted to try their pencils and finally got to this week.

Some General Information:
Material:Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified Incense-cedar.
Shape: Hexagonal.
Finish: Unfinished cedar, sanded extremely smoothly, no varnish or lacquer at all.
Ferrule: Solid green metal, thin paint.
Eraser: Soft pink, non-smudge.
Core: HB (#2) graphite.
Markings: Dark green gloss. On one side, the FSC insignia and “FOREST CHOICE.” On the flip side, “”
Packaging: Ribbed kraft paper, by the dozen and the gross.
Origin: California (wood); Thailand (manufacturing).
Availability: Forest Choice online store.

That’s the technical information. Now for the good stuff.

It is certainly fortunate that the inaugural review on PRevo is of such an excellent pencil. The shape is a pleasantly rounded hexagonal barrel. The colors of the ferrule, the paint, the woodgrain and the eraser play on the senses in such a way that one would wish to have something important (but earthy) to write with one of these fine pencils. The touch and appearance factor are definitely to the advantage of this pencil.

Writing with a Forest Choice pencil is just as pleasurable as holding or beholding them. The core is as smooth as the sanded wood and considerably dark. If you have used some cheaper pencils with unwaxed cores, then you know how black an HB pencil can be. The core of the Forest Choice pencil achieves this darkness and somehow does so without adding the smear/smudge factor. What you get is a nice dark line that remains a line if you touch it, rather than turning to a grey blob upon getting disturbed in any way. I used them to hand-write the larger part of a term paper, and I did not have the trouble I sometimes have with reading pencil writing from the keyboard. It stood out against the page like gel ink would. To be sure, the core feels more like a smooth B grade lead, almost a 2B. It is rich.

The eraser, while extremely soft, is still a good match for the dark lead and takes the lines off the paper easily. The wear-down is minimal, and it does no damage at all to the paper so far as one can tell.

Sharpening is a breeze, of course, since the cedar has a long and straight grain. And it exudes that subtle cedar fragrance as the shavings hit the saucer or the table.

The texture and smell of unfinished and sanded cedar is really something that online photos and words cannot really convey. You have to try them. Forest Choice pencils are a little more expensive by the dozen than your average pencil, but they are also made of a higher quality wood, with a darker core and with a softer eraser that actually works. You will more than get your money’s worth, with writing pleasure to boot. I sure did.

(Edit, July 2017: Since I was asked, I did buy the pencils used for this review. I had reached out to FC in 2005 to ask about the shipping rates for their “lovely unfinished pencils.” They sent me a huge box of literally unfinished, round pencils for free that I used with great pleasure for  years. I immediately ordered a few packs of Forest Choice pencils and have been buying them ever since.)

[Note: Reviews of Forest Choice’s colored pencils and carpenter’s pencils to follow in a few weeks, when I get around to ordering them. Review of PaperMate American Naturals next Friday! These photos copyright J.G. 2005.]