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!)

Hell Freezes Over Twice!

(This is another fanfreakingtastic piece from Stephen Watts, whose efforts for Pencildom do nothing short of blow my mind!)

Hell Freezes Over Twice!

aka Father and Son Pencil Review VI
aka Final Review v4.0

From the June 2015 Father and Son Pencil Review V:

You know I never lie about these things, so believe me when I tell you that this is the end of our pencil reviews, unless and until I happen across a Blaisdell Calculator 600, that most rare of Steinbeck-sanctioned pencils. If that day comes, Hunter and I will sign ourselves out of the nursing home, come back to my den, blow the dust off the old computer and we’ll let you know where the third of Steinbeck’s favorite pencils falls in our list.

Friends, hell hath frozen over, and not just once, but twice.

You’re reading the second version of this review. After I submitted the first, something else happened that I doubted would ever occur: General Pencil Company advised Gary Varner of Notegeist that our pleas have been answered and the General’s Cedar Pointe #333-1 will have a second life. We will probably see it back on shelves before the end of the year! More on this later, but let’s get back to the original description of how hell has frozen over.

I was innocently minding my own business one day when I was assaulted by this eBay auction title:

Vintage Blaisdell Pencil Co. Calculator Special Grade No 660 Lot 11 Original Box

¿Qué? Special Grade 660? What was a “660?” What it was, it turns out, was a mistake. And that mistake may have been what allowed me to win an auction for a nearly full box of Blaisdell Calculator 600s at a fraction of what I might expect to pay for a box of far more plentiful vintage Blackwings. I’d begun to doubt I would ever run across a single one of these mythical creatures.

Continue reading “Hell Freezes Over Twice!”

Review of Musgrave Bugle.

IMG_4550
It’s been a long time since we’ve featured a plain-old-fashioned pencil review. Our first was published just over a decade ago, and tonight’s pencil boasts similar Woodgrain Goodness. We are checking out the Musgrave Bugle.

I bought a few of these on each of my three visits to CW Pencil Enterprise this past spring, and I gave away all but three. I ordered a dozen yesterday to restock, and I regret that I didn’t order double or triple that.

I might have a difficult time explaining why, but I love this pencil. First, there is the handsome woodgrain. I am a sucker for Wood On Display (WOD) in pencils. This pencil is unfinished at both ends and has a clear, glossy finish. The printing is in white and is stamped quite deeply into the wood. While I might have just been using a particularly well-stamped individual pencil lately, the printing stays put, unlike the Disappearing Stamp on the Bugle’s Ugly Cousin. I imagine Thoreau pencils looking similarly to this pencil — clear-finished, round, simple. And the idea of a Bugle brings to mind Reveille (and Boy Scout camp), which makes me think of the Morning and my favorite Chanticleer, Mr. Henry.

IMG_4555

I should stop and point out that this pencil is made in the USA and costs only a quarter. That’s right.

IMG_4559

Writing with this pencil is comfortable, due to the round shape, though it can get a little slippery. This could very well be an illusion brought on by the fact that a lot of the pencils that I like which look like wood are unfinished and feel like wood. It could be that my hands are slippery when I read.

I am pretty sure that the wood is not cedar. It lacks a discernible aroma, and I suspect it is made from basswood.

The core is a pleasant change from a lot of the other pencils in my rotation this month. While it is probably  not entirely unwaxed, the core in the Bugle has an only slightly waxy feel to it. It brings to mind a darker and less scratchy version of the Field Notes pencil. Smearing and erasability are about average for this level of darkness, but ghosting is very good. Point retention is a stand-out in this pencil, as a few weeks of casual use has only required 4 or 5 minor sharpening jobs on this pencil. Darkness remains in the grey area, rather than a shade of black. It’s about as dark as a Mexican-made Dixon, but certainly not as dark as a Japanese HB or even a General’s Cedar Pointe.

IMG_4553

This has been my go-to reading pencil in August, as I attempt to stick with my six monthly pencils, at least this once. I finished a picture book/essay about Hemingway today, and I found the aesthetic of this pencil suits a Papa Frame of Mind also. I have this pencil lined up for my next foray into fiction, when I gather the Necessary Trio of time, energy and cojones.

IMG_4562

Until the 14th, CWP has free shipping to this country, and you’ve probably been eyeing a few other pencils there as well. So go ahead and get a dozen. I am crossing my fingers that my own dozen of these will come in a cool box. But Musgrave’s generally terrible packaging makes me believe otherwise. Still, at the price of this pencil, it would be no great loss. Wait, it would be. There are few things that are quite like a well-printed pencil box. Nonetheless, unless you hate round or Naked A$$ed Pencils (NAP), pick some up some of these Chanticleer-esque pencils. They might brighten your morning.

Father and Son Pencil Review, Part V.

Newbies
[I teased Stephen that I think he’s become a Regular Contributor to Pencil Revolution! We have here, Part V of his and his son’s quest for the Best Pencils.]

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

So here’s the thing. Hunter and I were done after our fourth review, but three events totally beyond my control caused a change of plans:

1. A maniacal devotee of the Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood 348 HB convinced hundreds of us, or at least three of us in the Erasable community to try these pencils out.
2. I became so enamored by the Mitsubishi 9000’s slogan “Made by Elaborate Process” it felt like a betrayal not to acknowledge its worthiness of inclusion in a review.
3. I succumbed to repeated testimonials and purchased some General’s Test Scoring 580s.
4. I finally came across Pencil #2 of John Steinbeck’s preferred trio: the Eberhard Faber Mongol 2 3/8 F.

I know, that’s four things, not three. Now you see why this is our third final review. I cannot be trusted with numbers.

Before we continue, let me caution you that if you continue reading, you will be quickly and deeply offended. In previous reviews, I’ve alienated:

Haters of the Staedtler Norica HB 2
People who disliked my repurposing of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act promises into pencil review statements
Lovers of Musgrave Pencil Company’s Test Scoring 100 (spoiler alert #1: they are about to become even more perturbed)
Lovers of U.S.A. Gold Natural 2 HB (spoiler alert #2: their annoyance will remain unchanged)
The Staedtler company
The entire population of Germany
Haters of electric pencil sharpeners
Lovers of Classroom Friendly pencil sharpeners
Australians who resent their flying animals being renamed by Americans
People who like pens
Democrats
Republicans
Comcast
Hand held pencil sharpener fans who don’t mind staining themselves and the world around them with graphite
Lutherans

If you are not a member of one of the groups above and thus believe yourself to be safe, you are wrong. You have been warned. Here we go.

People who are interested enough in pencils to research them and write about them and read reviews of them are insane.

Normal people, inarguably and without exception, spend their free time on pursuits falling into one of the following three categories:

Playing games or watching other people play games
Yelling at things or yelling about things
Fighting, wounding, or killing things or watching people fight, wound or kill things

People who like pencils, on the other hand, are seriously abnormal. Following is what constitutes a rare, heated exchange between two pencil people, hereafter referred to as “PP.”

PP #1: Have you tried a Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood?
PP #2: No.
PP #1: It’s awesome!
PP #2: Is not.
PP #1: Is too!
PP #2: Well, let me try it.
PP #2: (Days later, following receipt of a shipment from CW Pencil Enterprise or Pencils.com): Hey! Not bad!

PP don’t join hate groups. There are no PP in prisons; I’m not lying, you can check for yourself. PP do not sit on their front porches swearing at children who wander into their yards looking for lost toys or sickly rodents. Instead, PP understand and appreciate the differences among pencils in terms of darkness or lightness of the line, smoothness of the graphite moving across the paper, point retention, core thickness, type and scent of wood used, eraser quality and aesthetic appeal of the finished product. And they enjoy learning about these things and sharing their knowledge with other PP.

Clearly, then, PP are mentally disordered. I, too, suffer from this mass hysteria. In one of its manifestations, I obtained a six foot long Dixon Ticonderoga that made an overly reactive grown woman housekeeper burst out of my den into the hall loudly asking, of no one in particular, “WHAT THE F_ _ _?”

Continue reading “Father and Son Pencil Review, Part V.”

Blackwing 725.

bwvolbox
If you pay the least attention to Pencildom, you’ve probably heard about Blackwing’s new subscription service (openly based on Field Notes’ model), Blackwing Volumes.

I assumed it was a dozen pencils (four shipments of three pencils) and thought it was pretty…out there. Realizing my mistake, I decided it was a good deal (being only slightly more expensive than if you just bought four dozen Blackwings — plus, I am nearly out of all three Blackwings). I asked for this for Fathers’ Day, and the first shipment arrived today: the Blackwing 725.

The box and pencil-in-the-tube are amazing, and there is even a handwritten note (addressed to the person who bought this for me) and a sticker inside. They spent more than the $3/shipment shipping that they charge, I’d bet. This is packed very, both aesthetically and practically.

bwvolpoint
The pencils are gorgeous and speak for themselves. Being a Fender player (’94 Torino Red P-Bass), I like the homage to the legendary guitar maker. The white imprint is crisp, and the pencil sharpenered perfectly in my KUM Masterpiece.

bxvolimprint
What I didn’t realize is two ways in which this is different from all of the other Blackwings at HQ. First, the ferrule is actually gold in color. It’s not silvery gold (like the first printing Blackwing Pearl next to me, from May 2013) or even ambiguous (like the Blackwing MMX that I have in front of me, from the day of release in 2010). Also, this is the first truly glossy Blackwing I have ever seen. The MMX is matte; the 602 is metallic; the Pearl is, well, opalescent. The 725 reminds me of the finish on an instrument, which is, of course, what they were going for.

bwvolferrule
The 725 writes like the Pearl, with Blackwing’s “Balanced” core. I think that’s a good choice for the first edition, though I hope they do the softer MMX core next time or thereafter, since Charlotte and I have both come to love making cartoons with that graphite. Autumnal colors would be fantastic for the next batch, though I think this edition took care of that. I will remember to save one or two for October.

This is a great effort by Blackwing, and I am impressed by the experience. The careful packaging and presentation are worthy of such a lovely pencil. Plus, once you sharpen it, it’s as useful as any other premium pencil, which is the reason I wanted them — to use them. There’s one in the tube for The Archive, though I’m sure my kids will steal some of their own before then. I plan on sharpening at least half of one this weekend myself.

Also, check out Andy’s review!

Father and Son Pencil Ranking, Part IV.

Contenders
Part III was not It. Not over. Cause it ain’t over. From Stephen and Hunter, we are happy to present Part IV in what has become a very popular series among pencil fans.
Full List

Father and Son Pencil Review IV: What? IV?

For all three of you following Hunter’s and my pencil review trilogy, you’ll recall that in our “final chapter” I had promised there would be no more installments. When it comes to promises, though, sometimes life intervenes. After Hunter and I finished making the rounds of the pencil talk shows, after we’d given interviews on BBC World News, Fox News, CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, after we’d hosted Saturday Night Live, the residuals eventually dried up and Hunter and I found ourselves living on the streets in taped-together half-gross boxes of Dixon Ticonderogas.

We’d resigned ourselves to our fate, but then I remembered how Sean Connery had famously said he’d “never” do another James Bond film after On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Yet he returned not only for Diamonds Are Forever but also the unofficial and aptly titled Never Say Never Again. Hey . . . we could be like James Bond! Ah . . . perhaps not.

Continue reading “Father and Son Pencil Ranking, Part IV.”

Father and Son Pencil Ranking, Part III.

rankingsIII1
[Continued from Parts One and Two, Stephen sent us another set of pencils rankings that he and his son have come up with. Thanks again to Stephen and Hunter for seriously rigorous work in the name of pencils.]

Father and Son Pencil Review III: The Final Chapter

Following Pencil Revolution’s posting of our second pencil review, Hunter and I received a few more suggestions for consideration. We decided to do one last round by adding three made in the U.S.A. pencils to the mix.

My initial impressions of the aesthetics and manufacturing (not writing) quality of each of the new entrants:

Musgrave Pencil Company’s Test Scoring 100

This one wasn’t a suggestion for our consideration, actually, but an omission in previous reviews. Based on numerous postings I’d come across, I’d been wanting to try it out for myself. This Musgrave pencil is unlike any other with its silver finish and stark black lettering. It seems to be just a bit larger in diameter than the other pencils, too. Is this real or a false perception brought on by the feel of the disconcerting, sharply defined corners? Only scientifically-minded readers, or someone less lazy than me, will ever know.

U.S.A. Gold Natural 2 HB

The Gold 2 HBs were recommended to Hunter following our second review. I was still on the hunt for an American-made pencil I actually liked and, although I’d passed on this one before, I decided to give U.S.A. Gold’s naked pencil a go. My immediate impression was that it is poorly made. The erasers do not inspire confidence in their ability to stay embedded during a vigorous bout of second-guessing. And the ferrules seemed jammed onto the barrels without much thought of making sure the metal goes over, rather than into, the ends of the pencils.

Two distinguishing features of the barrels’ finish are noteworthy: The barrels have a very thin coating of clear lacquer or varnish, unlike the General’s which are bare wood. And, what the heck, the slats are not continuous lengths of wood. They use approximately 2.5” long finger-jointed slats. This is both cool and perplexing. Why do they do this? Based on the amount of research (none) I have done into this mystery, I state with absolute uncertainty this U.S.A. Gold Natural 2 HB finger-jointed slats issue will rank right up there alongside the Georgia Guidestones and Eilean Mor Lighthouse in the great listing of forever unknowables.

General’s Cedar Pointe #333 – 1

Johnny Gamber of this very blog took pity on my disappointment with the Cedar Pointe #333 – 2HB. I loved the look and feel of it and I really did want to like a pencil still manufactured in my own country, because it seems all we make here now are Toyotas and Big Government. Johnny clued me in: Gary Varner of Notegeist would be getting in a shipment of General’s Cedar Pointe #333 – 1s, and those babies might be just what I was looking for. So I watched, and watched, and watched, and WHAM! There they were, for sale, and I pounced.

Well, General’s must have had a bunch of leftover #2 boxes, because the #1s came in a box that had stickers placed over the #2 designations on the now repurposed boxes. Through the open window on the front of the box, the contents inside looked exactly like the old #2s. With trembling fingers, I pulled out the first pencil, twirled it gently in my hand, and read the imprint: U.S.A. General’s Cedar Pointe #333 – 2HB.

“2HB?” Must be my mistake, so I blinked hard, twice, and looked again: “U.S.A. General’s Cedar Pointe #333 – 2HB.” I put my hand over my mouth, looked wildly about my empty den, then began pulling out, and finally pouring out, the remaining contents of the box. Spinning the defenseless bald Cedar Pointes around on my desk, I rapidly scanned each barrel looking for the now damned “2HB” designation: 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1. What? I looked again at the first one I’d withdrawn: “2HB.”

Was I the victim of some cruel trick played upon hapless pencil aficionados?

Continue reading “Father and Son Pencil Ranking, Part III.”

Father and Son Pencil Ranking, Part II.

Then later there’s running and screaming.
[Continued, from Part I. Stephen Watts and his son Hunter have done the most exhaustive ranking of pencils I have ever read. Check out Luke’s excellent site for the full original ranking. Many thanks to the Watts for sharing their experiences with some seriously nice pencils. No spoilers! Read their report in their own words below:]

My 17-year-old son Hunter and I previously reviewed seven pencils, ranking them in this order:

  1. Staedtler Norica HB 2
  2. Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602 (the only one currently not available, thrown into the mix knowing we were risking blasphemy)
  3. Palomino Blackwing 602
  4. Mitsubishi 9850 HB
  5. General’s Semi-Hex 498-2 HB
  6. General’s Cedar Pointe #333 2 HB
  7. Dixon Ticonderoga HB 2

Torch-carrying mobs descended on our house after we placed the 14 cent Staedtler Norica HB 2 above the original Blackwing 602, Palomino Blackwing 602 and Mitsubishi 9850 HB. Charges of heresy were levelled against us and one particularly annoyed person suggested our review was a closeted advertisement for Staedtler.

Many people helpfully offered alternatives for our consideration and, after giving up on my wish to fall in love with one of the made-in-the-USA General’s pencils, I decided to follow-up, go all-in and broaden our horizons with a larger selection of premium pencils in a second comparison.

Some responded to our earlier review with comments that it’s virtually impossible to have one clear favorite pencil. Some have a favorite pencil for each type of paper, or writing surface, or whatever. I think that’s great, but what we were after was our take on our single favorite pencil. If we were to be marooned on a desert island for four years with a good pencil sharpener, a volleyball named Wilson, a suitcase full of various paper samples and a gross of ONE particular model and grade of pencil . . . which pencil would we want? The following are criteria important to Hunter and me in a writing pencil, listed in order of importance: Continue reading “Father and Son Pencil Ranking, Part II.”