Blackwing Volume 1: Fall Release is Here.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check our Mr. Hagan’s unboxing video also!

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

Thoreau Pencil by Analog Supply Co.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Write Notepads Wood and Graphite Pencils.

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

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

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

Write (2) WOOD + GRAPHITE

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

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

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


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

The Bear Claw.


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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
and
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 Five Very Cheap Yellow Pencils.

points
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.

ends

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
Staples
Office Depot
Dixon**
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.

Erasers
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.

Finishes
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.

Cores
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.

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.

BW24

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.

BC600

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.

E’s
Stephen
BC600 (13)
EF602 (12)
BW24 (10)
P602 (10)

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

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

PBW602

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?

EFBW602

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.

Apsara

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:

BATWING!

***

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

 

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

Microtomic vs Blackwing 602
[This post comes from Official Contributor Stephen Watts, with the help of his sons!]
You may have read rumors the Eberhard Faber Microtomic 3B or 4B has the same core as the Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602. I’ve often wondered about this and finally managed to procure Microtomics in the 4B, 3B and, for good measure, 2B grades in order to prove or disprove the rumor.

My son Hunter and I have partnered in a few pencil and pencil sharpener reviews. For this comparison, we brought in a second son and third brain, Hunter’s fraternal twin brother Garrett.

We took turns comparing the Blackwing with the 4B, then the 3B, then the 2B. After the three of us sampled each pair, we shared our thoughts on whether or not the core was the same: Yes, Maybe, Probably Not, No.

All three of us immediately agreed the 2B did not share the same core as the Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602; it was obviously harder and scratchier in comparison. Hunter and Garrett felt the 4B was closer to the Blackwing than the 3B; I thought the 3B was closer but I was a “maybe.”

We tried a different approach: We took turns comparing three pencils, the 3B, 4B and 602 with the task being to decide which of these Microtomics was closer, rather than possibly identical to the 602. We had similar results: Hunter and Garrett felt the 4B was closer; I felt the 3B was closer but I wasn’t sure. If a “yes” is one point and a “maybe” is a half point, we were left with an 83% probability the 4B was closer than the 3B to the 602.

We then re-ran the 4B and 602 comparison to determine specifically whether or not they were the same core. Hunter said “yes.” But, in one of those moments when time stands still, we even freaked out the dog when I said “yes” and Garrett said “maybe.” This gave us an 83% probability the Microtomic 4B core is the same as an Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602. Garrett stated the difference was so slight he wasn’t sure it was real or imagined. Hunter and I have previously experienced that effect with the same model and grade pencils. When the difference is that negligible it could be due to imagination, variations in production runs, the state of the points or even odd spots in the graphite. It certainly seemed to us that the Eberhard Faber Microtomic 4Bs and Blackwing 602s use the same graphite mixture.

Don’t get too giddy. In the last year I’ve seen thousands of Blackwing 602s for sale but only a handful of Microtomic 4Bs. The 4Bs, although less expensive if you can find them, are rarely spotted in the wild.

An interesting side note on the Microtomic 4B used in this comparison: It came in a box I’ve never seen before, one I would guess dates to the 1950s. Take a close look at the ferrule: It has a knurled ring. I hadn’t run across one of these before. I thought the Blackwings, Van Dykes and Microtomics shared the same ferrules, but I have not seen this knurled effect on any other Blackwings, Van Dykes or Microtomics.

A rare ferrule housed in a rare box, possibly serving as a stealth delivery system for the most coveted graphite in the world.
Microtomic 4B Box
Initially, we concluded this myth to be “CONFIRMED” but fortunately, truth intervened.

Sean Malone of Blackwing Pages fame contacted me after running across our thoughts on the Erasable Facebook community. He had the same question regarding the Microtomic and Blackwing cores and he has the real answer, straight from the closest thing to the source: the source’s son. Sean visited Eberhard Faber IV last year. Mr. Faber told Sean the Blackwing core’s formula was invented by his father and is not the same as any of the Microtomic cores.

If I were you, and I were trying to decide whether to believe our test results or the statement of the creator’s son . . . I’d go with the fellow named “Eberhard Faber.”

Sean also asked Eberhard Faber IV if the Blackwing formula might have changed over time: “I asked him if there was any chance that the BW formula had changed over the years, given that the older ones seem a bit softer and darker than the later ones. He said it wasn’t unusual for a formula to be tweaked or updated over the years.”

If you are fortunate enough to obtain both a Microtomic 4B and Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602, try your own comparison and you’ll see why the rumors persist. Thanks to Sean Malone, we now know that, while strikingly similar, they are unique formulations.

We conclude this myth to be “BUSTED!”

(Thanks to the Watts for another great post!)