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.

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.

Review of Write Notepads & Co Gear, Part I.

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We received a generous box of goodies from the new stationery company Write Notepads & Co, based right here in Baltimore. Hometown pride aside, these are great books, and I have to say upfront that this review will glow like a new LED desklamp. In this review, we will cover the large lined notebooks in the regular and Paul Smith left-handed versions (the review of the pocket notebooks and pencils will come next week; it’s already written and ready).

First, a bit about the company:

We still make things here. It may be a Rust Belt town, but Baltimore’s charm is its stubborn vitality. We feel it in this century-old warehouse in South Baltimore, where I’ve teamed up with skilled, local workers to make these notepads. We have two goals: to help others in need and to make something that reflects the love and hard work we invest in our respective trades.

I’m a book-binder, third generation. So I’ve seen the new technologies moving in on print’s old territory. As I see it, change has pushed to the foreground the hand-crafted quality of a tangible good. And that motivates us. We won’t ignore a renewed taste for physical, textural charm if it justifies our devotion to an old trade. Nor do we take for granted simple utility. So with each note pad purchased, another will go to a Baltimore City student. You may have heard of this outreach model. It works. And you can help, even if you’ve forgotten what your handwriting looks like. Here’s a hint: it’s that unmistakably human font.

Chris tells me that the books are printed and assembled in Baltimore from US-sources components. What’s more: the company gives away one book for every book sold to a Baltimore City schools student. This hits close to home for me, since my better-half works at a middle/high school in our neighborhood.
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We are reviewing the large “regular” and Paul Smith editions today. The books are 5.5 inches by 8.5 inches and contain 120 pages of “premium brass-ruled paper.” The Paul Smith edition is left-handed, and the spiral binding is on the right of the page. I kept opening mine at the wrong end, but I enjoyed the graphic on the front enough to use this one first. I use both sides of spiral notebooks (pencils don’t exactly bleed). So any spiral notebook I use is ½ right-handed and ½ left-handed anyway.

The spiral itself is a stiff, brass-colored, double-O binding that is about as perfect as a spiral can be. By that I mean that it’s just the right amount of circle. More and the spiral would annoy my hand while writing and make the book feel…loose (which I think is where a lot of anti-spiral feelings come from). If the spiral were smaller, the pages would be difficult to turn.
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The corners on all five of our test books are precisely cut. That means a lot to me, and it’s something a good quarter to a third of my usual stapled pocket notebooks lack in sometimes serious ways. The books are held closed with a huge rubberband that would have gotten my two brothers and I into trouble as kids. You could probably rig a slingshot that would shoot 2x4s with these things. I use mine when I carry my books and don’t like having to put it somewhere while I write. But, since they are removable, they make archiving the books easier. Plus, I like the option to ditch the band when I feel like it. The covers are thick but pliable enough to give the books some “give” in a bag or pocket. Folded back upon itself, the nbook’s two covers made it more than stiff enough to support writing mid-air (which pencils and Space Pens also make possible). The branding is slight and tasteful. I like the ink color on the regular edition, which reminds me of the Bob Slate notebooks I like to buy when I’m in Cambridge (this summer!). Inside of the front cover, you’ll find information to identify the notebook as yours, in case you lose it.*
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The paper in the lined notebooks is brass ruled, which I had never heard of. So I asked Chris what that meant: “So we came up with brass-ruled paper as a way to describe the traditional means of ruling papers. This process has been employed by printers for well over a century. It’s name, pen-ruling, left a lot to be desired and was a bit confusing. The process itself involves long shafts that are fitted with brass wheels and spacers. These shafts move over a pool of ink that is then transferred to the paper.” As we might say in Hampden, That ain’t no lazer-printin, Hon.
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This is very graphite-friendly paper! I have to confess to becoming a little more picky about which papers I really truly lovingly enjoy covering with graphite lately, though I am attempting to resist such snobbery. Pencil is that writing medium which is only more picky than a ballpoint pen. But some papers are two slick; some too toothy; etc. This paper is fantastic, taking both hard and soft pencils with similar smoothness, though the paper is certainly not slick in any way. It feels a bit like writing on Rhodia paper, though the pencil lines come out darker and don’t smear as much. It’s nearly ideal for pencil.

We were also lucky enough to receive a limited-edition Baltimore print. I have a similar print hanging in my dining room, next to where I am writing this review. (We gave several of these Baltimore Books as holiday gifts this year, honestly.) If you can find one of these, get it.
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Of course, I have to name some qualms, lest it be assumed that I am entirely biased toward two of my favorite things (stationery and Baltimore) coming together. I almost never like perforated pages, which these books contain. The rubber bands are interesting, but I could do without them. I want to say that the books are expensive. But these are in league with Finer Stationer, not campus-store spiral notebooks. $16 for the large versions is higher than your usual spiral notebook. But your usual spiral notebook this is not. And if Comrades are Readers of stationery blogs, this price is probably not outlandish at all.

Thanks again to Chris for the samples and for the help with my questions! And stay tuned next week for the second part of the review, featuring the pocket notebooks and pencils.

* I’ve become so used to this since using my first Moleskine, uh, 11 years ago for my MA comprehensive exams that I miss it when manufacturers exclude it.

 

Review of Tombow Mono 100.

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[This review has been in the queue, waiting for the holidays to be over. If traffic stats are truthful, folks were happily not online much over the holidays – which is refreshing!]

Jetpens was kind enough to send a few Tombow Mono 100 pencils to Pencil Revolution HQ in HB and 2B. These are Top-Of-The-Line drawing and writing pencils from Japan, in a thick and very glossy lacquer. The printing is both informative and tasteful. And, golly, the gold stamping is nearly perfect. These are just beautiful pencils, and I did hesitate for a moment before sharpening them up. But I was glad I did.

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The Tombow Mono 100 is just as pleasing a pencil underneath all of that shiny paint. The cedar sharpens perfectly, and the cores are dead-center. The core is one of the best things about this pencil. At the risk of being…I don’t know what, I find it best to compare this pencil to its nearest cousin, the Mitsubishi Hi-Uni HB. The Tombow Mono 100 is darker, but the lead feels harder for some reason. Only through squinting mightily and repeating the tests could I figure out which pencil smears, erases and ghosts best. Unfortunately for the Tombow, the Hi-Uni smears less, ghosts less and erases more cleanly. But the differences are very slight and likely accounted for by the Mono 100′s increased darkness. I think it balances itself out, to be sure.

The 2B feels exactly like a slightly softer version of the HB pencil, which is one of the greatest compliments that one can pay to different grades of the same pencil. I cannot be not the first person to use two grades if the same pencil that feel like totally different pencils. This is far from the case with the Mono 100; the consistency is remarkable. I generally prefer a darker pencil for writing, but the 2B is a bit too dark for me. The HB is fantastic, and I would certainly love to try the B grade for writing, too.

Where the Tombow really differs from the Hi-Uni is in the color/temperature of the graphite mark. Like the Palomino Blackwing 602, I find the marks from the Mono 100 to be almost blue or cold in nature. This is certainly not a point against either pencil – or a point for it – but it was something I noticed and enjoyed noticing. Being January, I find this fitting.

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The case is very different from all other pencils I have owned, in that it seems to be designed for the desk top – as opposed to the desk drawer for the Hi-Uni or the supply cabinet for cardboard-boxed pencils. Frankly, it is just incredibly cool. Jetpens has great photos of the case on their site here.

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I do have a few qualms with this pencil. The finish is so glossy that it shows scratches very easily. I don’t understand the aesthetic or symbolic rationale of putting an off-center white stripe onto the plastic endcaps. Indeed, mine did not all line up exactly, which is a surprising put-off for precision. Also, the case does not protect the finish of the pencils the way that the Hi-Uni’s case does. In fact, all of our samples were considerably scratched up from travelling across the country.

Oddly our 2B and HB pencils have different logos for Tombow and for the model itself. I am not sure which is newer, or if the difference is something else. Please do clue us in if you are In The Know.

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The Tombow Mono 100 is a wonderful pencil, with a top-shelf finish as well as great wood and graphite under the hood. Even the case is nice. Certainly, they are expensive. But perhaps, like myself, Comrades cherish such Precious Pencils and use them until they are merely tiny stubs. I would not leave these on a desk at work, unless you really like your co-workers. Someone in my house walked off with a few already, since I left the case out — Unguarded. This does not happen in HQ as often as one might think, and the tastes around here run closed to sparkles and pink pencils. So this is a ringing endorsement from my daughter, who does not like a lot of high-end pencils.

Review of Staedtler Noris HB.

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I have held off on reviewing the Staedtler Noris for over a year. It is not officially available in the United States. But, if our traffic statistics do not lie, then a large portion of our readers read from Western European Outposts. Add the number of sellers on eBay who will ship packs of these German Beauties to our shores, and this pencil is far from a stranger to our little community – at least potentially. My daughter loves this pencil (see handicraft piece), and, finally, Staedtler sent some (as result of that piece) to HQ last month. It has become semi-ridiculous to have not reviewed this pencil by now.

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I am fortunate enough to have great Pencil Friends like Matthias and Gunther, both of whom have sent me wonderful Noris gear. The beautiful vintage Noris pencils in the photos are from Gunther. Matthias sent the sharpener (which is the envy of my peers who pass through Pencil Revolution HQ) and multi-grade Noris packs. I would be foolishly remiss not to mention that Comrades interested in the Noris (or pencils in general!) would do well to visit the wonderful posts about and photos of Noris pencils at Bleistift and Lexikaliker.

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I will be confining myself to the red-capped HB version of the Noris for now. This hexagonal pencil features two black sides and four yellow, with a black stripe running the length of the yellow sides’ intersections. The effect is striking. The ends are dipped in white lacquer and then (in the case of the HB) into red lacquer, resulting in a layered cap that further sets this pencil apart. The gold stamping is as fine as the haloed Mars Lumograph, though the texture and quality of the Noris’s paint job is certainly not as smooth or glossy as the top-tiered Lumograph. But that is neither the market nor the price-range of this pencil. Every Noris I have seen comes pre-sharpened and ready for action.

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A note on the print. Some of the German Norises I have on hand say:

MADE IN GERMANY [Mars logo] STAEDTLER Noris HB [boxed 2]

while others say:

MADE IN GERMANT [Mar slogo] STAEDTLER Noris school pencil [boxed HB]

I do not discern any quality differences between the two, though the former’s lead seems somewhat more waxy. I assume that the difference is in marketing, since the Noris (unlike the Lumograph) is billed as a writing pencil, not an art pencil. (Please, Comrades, do amend any mistakes I am making here, honestly.)

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I cannot tell what kind of wood this pencil is made of. I have read of the Noris being made of cedar and of jelutong. But none of mine smell like cedar or look like jelutong. (Perhaps this article by the always excellent Pencil Talk could be helpful.) The pencil’s wood is light-weight and is treated to sharpen very well. Despite not having the incensed aroma, whatever wood it is of which these pencils are constituted performs well as a pencil casing.

I like the core/lead very much, especially for what I understand is currently (?) a budget pencil in some markets. What it lacks in the smoothness of its Blue and Black Cousin, it more than makes up for in darkness. This core exhibits a nice balance of smear-resistance and erasability. Often a mark’s resistance to smearing makes erasing difficult, and, at other times, pencils whose marks are easier to erase make a smeary mess of a notebook. Point retention is average at best, and I find myself sharpening this pencil more often than any other German pencil I use in the HB grade. So my Noris pencils do not retrain their original measurements for long. Perhaps I was inspired by this photo of Gunther’s. But this is a pencil that looks good short! As I finally have more than a few stashed away in The Archive, I find myself reaching for this pencil, no matter how stubby the current one gets. To be sure, there is a very short Noris in my NaNoWriMo pencil box this year.

I heartily recommend the Noris, especially to American Comrades who might not be familiar with this pencil. It is available via a few eBay sellers who will ship overseas, some of whom even have reasonable shipping rates. I get a lot of comments when I use this pencil, whereupon I tell folks that it is commonplace, in, say, England – which I still find surprising — with a little jealousy that the common pencil depicted in our country is certainly not this distinctive.

Review of Mixed Grade Hi-Unis from Jet Pens.

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I’d bet that a lot of Stationery Buff Comrades know that Jet Pens stocks a lot of great pencils and pencil gear. They sell hard-to-get pencils like the Tombow Mono 100 and the Mitsubishi Hi-Uni (a lovely dozen of which they sent us last year), in addition to pencil sharpeners and accessories I have never seen elsewhere myself.

The good folks at Jet Pens HQ sent us a little package with a Hi-Uni in F, HB and 9B. I thought we’d do something we’ve never done before and compare different grades of a pencil. Generally, we review HBs, but this is interesting — if nothing else, then because I think F is an cool grade that not all lines include.

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The finish and pencil exteriors remain the same: gorgeous. When viewed at the business end, the 9B has one massive core. This produced interesting shavings. While the F and HB rendered shavings like most pencils, the 9B (out of a KUM brass wedge) produced “shorter” wood shavings and long, lovely graphite splinters. I take the fact that there were splinters in the pile (and not merely dust) to indicated that the 9B is a strong lead, albeit a soft one. Sharpening a Hi-Uni is always a pleasure. They sharpen very easily and evenly. But what’s more; they smell incredibly cedarlicious.

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The F grade is as smooth as the HB, with the difference being one of point-retention and darkness. I feel like I should stress this. As the pencil grade moves toward the harder end of the line, it does not get less smooth. The transition between the HB and F is also very subtle. This is also remarkable. I, for one, have used grades of certain pencils wherein, say, 2H-HB feel like very different pencils than B and darker. (I’m not naming names. Not now.) Since F is really a semi-grade between H and HB, this is an even greater accomplishment.

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When faced with a Japanese 9B pencil, I was at a bit of a loss because we usually review pencils for writing. I have been known to use very dark pencils for signage and for drawing. But I thought I’d give making some letters a try with this pencil. It is very dark and very smooth. Honestly, at 9B (a grade most manufacturers actually stop short of), this is to be expected. But what pleased me the most is the fact that this pencil resists smearing at such a very soft grade. Sure, it smears a little, but I’ve seen some HB pencils smear this much. To be sure, frequent sharpening and the wide core will keep it from being a go-to pencil for NaNoWriMo participants. But I have used this pencil in place of a Sharpie more than once over the last week, to make huge words — for grocery lists, putting “please do not bend” on a package, and even just to stress something in a notebook.

If the entire range of Hi-Uni pencils is this smooth and has transitions this subtle, I look forward to trying more of the extreme and in-between grades myself.

Hit up Jet Pens if you’d like to try them yourself. The cost of Hi-Uni pencils does help you get free shipping at $25! And these are well-worth it — check out our review again for more details.

 

 

 

 

Field Notes Pencil in Action.

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One of the projects of my summer has involved putting in a new laminate floor at my parents’ house with one of my brothers. This is a frame house in Baltimore that dates back to at least 1880 and didn’t have plumbing, electricity or heat when it was built. Having houses of our own, it is difficult for Joe and I to find time (and energy) for this project. But it did provide a great opportunity to try my Field Notes Carpenter Pencil in The Field.

We also tried a promotion carpenter pencil we found in my mother’s antique desk (that’s been there since for nearly two decades, I’d imagine) and a USA-made Home Depot carpenter pencil with the date 2003 (bought in 2006).

The promotional pencil is now two inches long. Nothing would sharpen the porous wood and crumbly lead. My brother was attempting to use this on the first day before I got there with better pencils. He was relieved that it was not his sharpening efforts but, rather, a truly junky pencil that was frustrating him. The naturally-finished Home Depot pencil was actually very good, the best “commercial” carpenter pencil I’ve used. The wood (not cedar; I doubt it) was very…waxy from a successful treatment to make it easy to sharpener with a knife or utility blade. The lead left a bit of a light line, but it didn’t crumble or break. It was smeary though, leaving graphite all over the sharpened wood of the pencil. This surprised me for a pencil that made such a light mark.

I might have been biased because the Field Notes pencil was the most expensive and the one I wanted to work best. But it performed very well. The wood sharpened as well as the Home Depot pencil, and the lead was very strong. Even better, the lead was darker and didn’t seem to stain the wood and our project. The line stayed put. It performed on wood like a soft Castell 9000 does on paper, producing a sharp, dark line. The wood is not cedar, but the finish of the pencil is pretty nice. The black paint and white lettering are sharp, though we did lose it a few times because it was dark on the opposite side and hid itself in shadows while we had the ceiling fan and light down (before installing the new one).

Also, envy my wonderful sharpening job (accomplished with a very sharp blade and a few minutes of careful cutting)!
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Finally, I gave sharpening a carpenter pencil with an oscillating tool a shot, just to see what it was like. Don’t do it! In addition to doing an even worse job of sharpening the pencil than I thought I would, I am probably lucky to still have all of my digits. This could largely be because I do not have a lot of skill with this tool. But I don’t think this is a good way to practice to perfection skills with a tool I do not actually like.

The Field Notes carpenter pencils are available in three packs for $4.95. I bought these the first time I saw them this winter. (There are white and red ones floating around, for the collectors out there.) While you’re there, could someone please explain to me how there are still America the Beautiful editions left? That edition has probably the most graphite-friendly paper Field Notes has ever used. I am down to my last notebook from my last set of those, which I have been using very sparingly. Try one! This is one of my three favorite editions, I think.

Review of Neon Ticonderogas.

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This is more of a News Bulletin than a review — more of a Go Get Yours Now. At Target today, checking out their back-to-school offerings, I came across a pack of neon Dixon Ticonderoga pencils. These are made in Mexico and come pre-sharpened. They have the green and yellow ferrules and pink erasers we’ve come to expect. I paid $2.89 US for a pack of ten.
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The package contains 10 pencils: two each of neon yellow, green, orange, pink and purple. Oddly, the yellow could fool one into thinking it’s a regular yellow pencil — and perhaps that something’s wrong with one’s eyes. Neon blue would have been nice instead, or even to make it an even dozen. But I suppose that no 80s throw-back product is really complete without neon yellow. In addition to stating that these are exclusive to Target, the label says that these pencils are made of “premium wood.” I have little idea of what this means. They look and sharpen like cedar but don’t smell like it. When I’m more awake, I’ll have to wear some down and do some sharpening and sniffing.
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The cores are nice and smooth, yet firm. I haven’t gotten a chance to compare them to Chinese and Mexican stocks from recent runs since I wanted to get this up ASAP, before my daughter and her friends run off with all of these bright pencils and before Target sells out of them. But the leads seem to be as smooth as the Chinese Dixons I’ve encountered lately, which is a good thing — only less dark and smeary. They feel similar to the last American Ticonderogas to me, though I’ll have to try them more to confirm.
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What’s perhaps most interesting, especially to Retro Grouch Comrades, is the recent addition/reintroduction of the word SOFT to the HB/#2 Ticonderoga pencils I’ve seen for sale this year. (I saw some yellow ones at Big Lots but left them there for some reason.) The printing is not as crisp as usual, but I like the reprise of the lead description.The simple graphics of today’s Dixon Ticondergas are nice, especially the lead number designation that is enclosed in the shape of the barrel’s cross-section. But the oddly…boastful printing of yore is missed, certainly.

Finally, an odd note: while Target sells a lot of Write Dudes pencils (most of the USA-made varieties), they do not sell those fat kids’ pencils I like. A lady we saw even checked with an employee. Bizarre. But if you like the Dixon Ticonderoga and very brightly colored pencils, these are a good catch. I have to squirrel away an orange one for camping/finding in my backpack.

Review of Staedtler Norica HB.

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I found these at Staples (in the US) a few weeks ago and bought a pack. At $10 for three dozen, it was a pretty good deal. Less than $3.50 for some quality pencils is something I’d find it difficult to pass up. But three dozen is…a commitment to make to the Pencil Gods, when the pencil might just be terrible. I mean, they are pencils. One can’t just throw them away if they turn out to be awful. Luckily, these pencils are not awful at all. Unluckily, having a Big Box means that I’ve given most of them away already.

I have two blue Norica 2B pencils from Matthias that I like very much. It’s a smooth and dark writing pencil, and one is actually in my Go-To Pencil Cup for quick notes. Heather has a review of the blue HB version available in Canada. I’d never seen them for sale in the US, and I was delighted to spot them in person, with some other new and unexpected (stay tuned!) Staedtler items at Staples.
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The finish is a nice matte black, very much like the last USA-made run of the Dixon “Black” and the 2010 edition of the Palomino Blackwing. The stamping is silver foil and much sharper than the Blackwing. The only marks are “STAEDTLER norica HB 2″ on one side. The silver ferrules are affixed much better than those of any recent Dixon pencils. Topped with a white eraser, the black HB Norica is one attractive-looking pencil.

It’s made in Thailand out of a wood that I think is basswood (?). Truth be told, it smells like lumber when sharpened. Usually, non-cedar woods don’t smell much at all, but this is an exception. Out of the three dozen I originally bought, the cores were nearly perfectly centered in 90% of them and were still well-centered in the other 10%. I like that. I like that very much.

The core is pleasant to write with. For a pencil from Staples that sells for that price, it’s very smooth, with a pleasant darkness than runs along the lines of the current Dixon Chinese models in HB, possibly running a little more smoothly, definitely a touch more darkly. Despite not being made of cedar, the pencil sharpens well, with no splintering or cracking.

Smearing and ghosting are pretty much what can be expected for an HB core that runs a little to the Dark Side. If you’re a Comrade who requires very tidy papers, anything this dark is going to smear and ghost a little. But it’s not terrible with the Norica, certainly.
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The Norica erases completely via a Mars eraser, though the attached eraser leaves a bit of graphite traces behind. The Norica’s eraser is adequate, but (and we say this a lot) few, if any, pencil-topped erasers work half as well as a good plastic block eraser. I will add that the Norica’s white eraser does not hold dirt as some other pencil-topped erasers do (Dixon’s pink, Blackwing’s white, Mirado’s pink). As such, I find myself actually using this eraser.
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I was very happy to find good pencils, at Staples, in person, that come in a box, didn’t cost a fortune, and write and look very nicely. There’s not much more a Pencil Fan can ask for, or, at least, not much more one can expect. The outlay and volume commitment are certainly mitigating factors if Comrades find them at, or order them from, Staples. But if you’re in need of a good-sized box of very good pencils for the price of merely good pencils, this might be right up your alley. Oh, and my pack came with two free Rasoplast erasers!

From the Archives, Again, V. 8.2.


Sadly, among our first reviews are two pencils Comrades would have trouble tracking down in 2013. But others are still around. We should probably re-review the Ticonderoga and Black Warrior, especially since those reviews continually rank among our most popular posts.


American-Made Ticonderogas (reviewed by Comrade Tom)


American Naturals (on which I wish I’d stocked up before they went away.)


Our very first review was of Forest Choice pencils, still ranked among my favorites.

It seems like Palominos have been around forever, but we Humbly (!!!!) reviewed them first here at Pencil Revolution. I still have that first pack, with slightly different paint colors.

Review of Palomino Blackwing Pearl.

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It took us nearly two years to review the Palomino Blackwing 602, and we won’t waste time on this one. Cal Cedar bills this as the middle ground between the point retention of the Palomino Blackwing 602 and the darkness of the Palomino Blackwing 2010 design (which we will call the Blackwing Dark). How does it rate in real life, on paper?

We’ve talked enough about the eraser and ferrule of the Palomino Blackwing line. (See here.) The Pearl ships with a black eraser. I thought pink would look better, but the black eraser complements the black imprint pretty well. A silver imprint and ferrule and pink eraser would combine to look more like a pearl to me, but this pencil remains steadfastly un-aquatic In its current form. And that’s Okay by me.

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The finish is, truly, pearlesque. It does not photograph accurately, the way that the tones of the 602 do not show themselves to a lens. (I can’t get them to, at any rate.) For some reason, the finish feels very different from the other two Palomino Blackwings — and most other pencils. It is certainly not rubbery like the Dixon Tri-Conderoga. It is not tacky. But there’s something almost…soft or….grippy about it. I really enjoy holding it. Combined with the soft lead and thicker (Japanese) diameter, it’s a pleasure to write with. The printing is sharp and precise and has stayed put (unlike the 602, which seems to prefer to shed its clothing). I like the minimal marking. All of the dozen I ordered have ferrules which line up with the printed side, save one. All are straight and solidly attached, with well-centered leads.

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While the Pearl does not smell…chemically like the Blackwing Dark does out of the box, the cedar has disappointingly little aroma. It does sharpen perfectly though, and I’ve found that I like my Granate the best for this job.

The lead itself is why we’re here, no? This is supposed to fit between Palomino’s other Blackwings. I found the 2010 Palomino Blackwing Dark to be incredibly smooth and dark, but I rarely use it for writing. Certainly, its dark lines lend themselves well to a pocket pencil, for writing down set-lists, play-lists and reading-lists. But there’s something a little too art-pencil-ish or even charcoal-looking about the lines when the point gets dull. After a sentence. The Palomino Blackwing 602 is much less dark and slightly less smooth than the Blackwing Dark. But the point retention, sharpness of the line and durability of the point (even a looooong one) usually keeps me reaching for that model more often than the Blackwing Dark if I am writing more than a few lines.

Where does the Blackwing Pearl fit?

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At first, it felt closer to the Blackwing Dark to me. It is much darker than the Palomino Blackwing 602, and nearly as smooth as the Blackwing Dark. If the latter feels like writing with a stick of melting butter, the Pearl feels like writing with a very very smooth pencil.

On Rhodia Dot Pad

On Rhodia Dot Pad

Point retention, smearability and erasability are right in the middle of the Palomino Blackwing line. See image (click to enlarge it) for detailed smearing and erasing. Smearing is really not bad for such a dark and soft pencil. Erasbility is, like the Palomino Blackwing Dark, not very good. The included eraser does not fully erase marks made by either the Dark or the Pearl (not even the 602, I find). If erasing is what you like best about pencils, this one may disappoint you.

Oddly enough, ghosting is not bad at all. In the week I used it, the Blackwing Pearl didn’t ghost any more than a regular HB pencil. While erasiblity is not my favorite Character of the Pencil, ghosting does bug me to no end. I was very pleased with the Pearl.

I admit that I was apprehensive that this pencil would be white like an Apple product and a stop-gap between two nice pencils just to make another pencil. (Well, maybe I just thought I should think that.) But, as I understand it, Cal Cedar is not having trouble getting the Blackwing line out there. And, when using it, I really like this pencil. I think it might be my favorite in the Blackwing line, if that’s not some kind of heresy. I’ve used it for journaling and a little sketching, and Comrades here at Pencil Revolution HQ have already pilfered from my dozen. I enjoy this pencil enough to order another dozen straight away. If you found the 602 too light and the Dark too…un-pencil-like, this might be the pencil for you, if you’re looking to buy another box of Blackwings.

Review of Palomino Blackwing 602.

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In 2011, when the Palomino Blackwing 602 came out, Pencils.Com graciously sent us a box. I was literally about to move (I think they came on moving day) from one apartment to another, and we never reviewed them. Add to that the plethora of reviews already out and some controversy. Inspired by the upcoming Blackwing Pearl, I think I’m finally ready to throw my review out there. But what can I say about the Palomino Blackwing 602 that hasn’t already been said? It’s beautiful and smooth and features a unique ferrule and eraser. The cedar is top-notch, and Comrades are sure to start conversations using one in public or at work.

When I review a pencil, usually there is one thing that is the star of the pencil. USA Gold and Silver pencils, which we reviewed recently, feature their nice cores as the star. Some pencils feature a wonderful core and also impressive finishes, such as the Mitsubishi Hi-Uni and, say, a Staedtler Lumograph 100 or Faber-Castell Castell 9000. Some pencils feature something unique, like the dyed leads in a No Blot “ink pencil.” The Blackwing 602 is different. Its starring attributes are its appearance, its core and its “different” features (the squared ferrule/eraser).

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What I like best about the finish of the Blackwing 602 is that the color and sheen mirror graphite itself. Rare are the photos that really capture its sheen. (I can’t do it.) I know next to nothing about lacquers, but it looks like several layers are used here, different colors that blend together for the sheen. The stamping is crisp (but doesn’t last long; see below), featuring the famous slogan, “HALF THE PRESSURE, TWICE THE SPEED,” and the graphics are gracefully few. It does not suffer from the “flaking” that plagued the first Palomino Blackwing. It’s gorgeous.

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The core is just, wow. It’s hard to describe the darkness because I find that I can get a lot of different tones out of this pencil, depending on the pressure I use and the pointing method. Sharpened in The Machine and written with normal pressure, this core produces dark, crisp lines. With a shorter point and less pressure, it feels like a smooth sketching pencil. Pressing with a long point produces seriously dark lines which resist smearing impressively. I’ve read that it mirrors other cores in the Palomino line, but I find the…color of the core a little different. It’s “colder” somehow, looking a little more blue-ish than other leads, where I find the Palomino range to be a little “warm.” Certainly, there are other cores out there that feel a little like the Blackwing 602. But, to me, nothing feels exactly like it, for better or worse. Certainly, this is not the only pencil that makes me feel that way. I suspect that users of the original Blackwing 602 may feel that way about the discontinue model. I see that Eberhard and Faber-Castell Blackwing 602s still fetch pre-Palomino Blackwing prices on eBay. I don’t own one myself, to compare them. Point retention, for the darkness, is fantastic. I can get a few pages out of a long point without resorting to shorting the pencil again.

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The eraser and ferrule are, truly, just cool. But they are not the selling point for me. The sharp piece that holds the eraser into the ferrule pokes me when I use the Blackwing 602 as a Pocket Pencil sometimes, and it does make using a short pencil a little uncomfortable because rotating the barrel to keep a point gets hitched by the square ferrule between my thumb and index finger. But, like I said, it’s too cool for me to be bothered by it. And it does start conversations, some of which have led to me confessing to having a pencil blog (hello to you if you got here that way!).

I don’t find that the eraser is, well, sufficient for the pencil in which it is housed. It works well enough. But scratchy pencils “work” well enough, and this is certainly not one of those. This is a Blackwing. I’m not sure what such a worthy eraser would be like or how one could get a Mars or Faber-Castell plastic eraser onto a pencil (are they too soft?). While I have long been a fan of Cal Cedar’s pencils (we featured the first Palomino review ever in 2005), I have always been disappointed in their erasers. Truly, I rarely use erasers on pencils anyway. I usually strike-thru when I make a mistake, and half of the time, I’m carrying an eraser-free pencil anyway.

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I do have a few other minor gripes with the Blackwing 602. The gold stamping, as others have mentioned, does come off freakishly easily. The “regular” Palominos in Cal Cedar’s range only exhibit this after some serious use. I assume that it’s possible to “fix” the printing better. The pretty ferrules on a few of mine have small gaps between the finish and the ferrule; they show a little naked wood. This is strange on such a premium pencil.

These days, I am completely tickled by any pencils that come in a box (not a blister pack). Don’t get me wrong. But the box holding the Blackwing 602s is a little flimsy. The newer Golden Bear and Prospector boxes are sturdy, and the plastic boxes that now house Palominos are very nice. I wonder if my Blackwing Pearls will come in a different box? The Blackwing line should have the best boxes in Cal Cedar’s line-up, I think.

Sure, Blackwing 602s are expensive for pencils. But these are something entirely different from what one thinks of when we think of a “pencil,” no? These are well-crafted and useful objects for writing and drawing, not scratchy yellow pencils to stick in a forgotten cup for the occasional crossword puzzle. I assume that most people who have wanted to try these have already done so by now. But, if not, I think they really are worth $20 a dozen. I use mine to little nubs.

Selected reviews from other sites, in alphabetical order (certainly not a complete list):
Boing Boing
Lexikaliker
No Pen Intended
Office Supply Geek
Pen Addict
Pencil Reviewer
Planet Millie
Recording Thoughts
Stationery Traffic
Woodclinched

Review of USA Silver Pencils.

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Also in our box of review items from Write Dudes: the USA Silver pencil. In short, these are very good for budget pencils. In fact, I find them to be the very best very cheap pencil I’ve tried. Ever. I have to admit that I wasn’t excited about reviewing these pencils, but I was taught the old lesson about appearances soon enough.

The wood is not cedar: “The wood comes from all over (from sustainable sources) and they are assembled/manufactured here in the USA.” (email from WD), to distinguish them from the cedar-cased USA Gold pencils. I was confused by the name of these pencils for a while, since most are not silver. The original version of the USA Gold is a yellow-gold; I don’t think I was that crazy to make that assumption. Either way, the wood sharpens very well, almost as nicely as cedar.
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I’ve seen USA Silver pencils in black that are finished very well, perhaps better than the USA Gold. The yellow review samples we were sent feature “Write Dudes” instead of the URL (which will be removed from the USA Gold). The finish various from good to acceptable. Again, at this price, it’s actually not bad at all. The ferrule is plain and attractive and complements the pink eraser and yellow finish very well. The eraser feels…dry, but it works well enough.
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The star of this pencil is the core. It’s smooth and soft and durable. In a cheap pencil! This is the best writing cheap pencil that I have ever used. Ever! I can’t tell if it’s the same as the USA Gold, but it feels softer to me somehow — maybe it’s just in my head.

There are a lot of very bright pencils that would appeal to children in this series (USA Silver). Big deal? These are made several notches above most novelty pencils, and they are, largely, made in the USA. Shopping for party favors for my daughter’s upcoming third birthday, she picked some glittery pencils (think Princess Party) that not only look like they are made pretty well and have pretty nice cores – they are USA made, which a few of the parents I know will appreciate. In fact, we picked some USA made pencils from this manufacturer for birthday presents for my daughter’s friends’ birthdays this spring (to go with pencil sharpeners and books).
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When I started to be really interested in pencils, part of the fascination came from their, well, cheapness. Of course, back then, truly cheap and good pencils were less rare, in same ways. But the American Naturals went for something like $1 a dozen in 2004 (and I wish I had bought more, since they are gone). I suppose we’ve been a bit…snobbish lately with what we review on Pencil Revolution. But it’s wonderful to encounter a pencil that is, plainly, cheap, American and also very good to write with. If you see these locally, definitely grab a box. A big box. (Ours had two dozen.)

Office managers: If you have to stock a supply cabinet with store brand pencils, try these instead!

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