I’m on vacation in Cambridge/Boston, and I found some cool pencils at the Black Ink in Harvard Square tonight: The Bear Claw, from Koals Tools. It’s a fat, triangular pencil in 2B, with a green eraser. I haven’t had them long, but in used one in my Moleskine Voyageur tonight at the hotel, with excellent results.
According to this blog’s stats, the post from 2010 about long-term writing and pencils is one of the most visited posts on this site. While we are behind in answering mail, we recently, we heard from Don, who asked
“I am wondering if you have any suggestions as to what kind of pencil lead to use for a high quality, long lasting journal?”
I think this is something to explore further, since some pencils (and some papers) perform better than others at keeping your writing safe for the future. Today, let us take a look at what makes a pencil effective for long-term writing, since (as we all know) Pencil is Forever. We’ll cover paper and accessories in two subsequent posts.
When I think of good Journaling Pencil, there are some considerations I like to, er, consider. In re-reading this list, it could also serve as a Guide to Selecting the Write (!) Pencil in general, in some ways, though the models on that list might be somewhat, or even very, different if that was my intention here.
While a German 4H will lend itself to an extreme degree of smear-resistance, it will not make a suitably dark mark for most users’ readability. While a hard pencil’s marks might actually be there on the page, I’d prefer to read them with the naked eye. And as I quickly approach Middle Age, that naked eyesight is not getting better.
A pencil is more likely to continue to make crisp lines if the point is durable and keeps its sharpness without crumbling and making a mess on the paper. I seldom go for the softest option. I like a point that stays crisp and clean for journaling.
A smooth pencil requires less pressure to make a mark. It indents the paper less, and that is always a good thing if you are being careful about your writing — not to mention fighting hand fatigue.
Hard pencils resist smearing, but they can indent the paper due to the pressure required to make marks with them. However, some soft and/or dark pencils resist smearing more than others. This is a sort of Grail to which a lot of individual pencil models seem to aspire, along with a blend of darkness and point retention (a term I do not like).
Almost all pencils and almost all bound books I have used involve the transfer of graphite between pages to some degree — at least when writing on a page which has writing on the other side. I always use a sheet of smooth paper between pages in such instances. A custom-cut piece of an outdated map (a method I’ve used for years) will last through several notebooks, and paper from a Rhodia pad cut to size works very well, too. Please note that cleaning the “blotter” sheet periodically with an eraser will yield maximum results.
What I look for is a pencil that is a good balance of darkness, smear-resistance, and smoothness. This is difficult to quantify or even to qualify. So I will list some examples of pencils which I personally find to be useful for long-term writing.
Staedtler Wopex – While there are many Comrades who eschew this extruded piece of weaponry, none can deny that the damned thing just won’t smear. It is also difficult to erase (possibly marring a journal full of mistakes, but maybe we shouldn’t run from our mistakes). You cannot have it all. But you can have this fantastic pencil in more colors if you buy from European sellers on eBay.
Blackwing (Firm or Extra-Firm cores only) – For some reason, the Balanced core in the Pearl (and 725) seems to smear more than the others. It has become my least favorite core for journaling. The MMX is lovely, but you can kill a quarter of a pencil writing about a good camping trip. The Firm core in the 602 (and 211, 56, and 344) and the Extra Firm in the 24 and 530 are both smooth and do not smear readily on good paper, though I learn more toward the smoother side of the spectrum of acceptable papers for long-term pencil writing.
General’s Layout – This pencil is oddly smear-resistant, with a durable point, for a pencil which produces such black marks. The slightly wider, round body is a bonus for True Writing Comfort.
Camel “Natural” HB – There’s not much to not like about this pencil. It definitely makes a much lighter line than most Japanese HB pencils I use, but the point durability and aesthetics are top-notch. And I don’t always want something so soft and/or dark.
Faber-Castell Castell (9000 in the B-4B range) – This pencil can run easily through the 4B range without becoming a blunted, smeary mess. The exact grade you might enjoy will depend on how much darkness you demand and what paper on which you are writing. Try a 4B on Moleskine or Field Notes paper (see the next post), and you will understand that of which I speak.
General’s Cedar Pointe HB – This is a great all-around pencil. When I first tried them circa 2005, the leads were too hard for journaling. But they have softened the formula since then, and this is one of the most balanced cores I can think of. This certainly extends to long-term writing.
I am sure that I am forgetting some, and I know I am leaning heavily on pencils I have used recently. What are some things Comrades consider and some favorite journaling pencils among us friends?
I received my subscription pack of Field Notes’ spring release about two weeks ago, the Field Notes Brand Utility Edition. I had been pretty excited about the design from the start, and the books are the colors of the Maryland state flag to boot. The quality control issues were a bit of a let-down when my books came actually torn on the spine, and there were a few spirited exchanges going on over the weekend on social media. Of course, Brian at Field Notes sent me replacement books right away. Seems that the thick paper causes trouble with cutting/trimming. Some blamed the size of this release, the contractor, postage. I think a lot of the books just came out very badly. Field Notes made a bit of a mistake, and they (as they always do) have been making it right where necessary. I’d be happy with their now standard 60# paper myself. It’s wonderful for pencil and still works in a pocket.
With all of the…talk about the quality control of the Utility, I forgot about the paper being so very different from the usually smooth paper Field Notes uses. The paper in Utility is Mohawk Via Vellum 70#T “Pure White,” and it’s toothy as all get out. With the fall 2012 Traveling Salesman release, it took me until my fifth (of six) notebooks to identify the perfect pencil for that toothy green paper. The Mitsubishi Hi-Uni in HB was perfect on that Mohawk Via 70#T “Light Green” paper. I suspect that list would be longer now, but those books are gone anyway.
Just as I do not enjoy soft pencils for very smooth paper (think Rhodia), I really do not like soft pencils for toothy paper — crumbly pencils doubly so. Being on a bit of a Blackwing kick lately, I had to put these aside when I set about to write in my new Utility edition books.
Some pencils that worked very poorly were immediately:
Natarag Deep Dark
I certainly haven’t tested more than a few dozen pencils, but this is a short list of pencils that have worked extremely well on this paper for me so far:
Viking Element 1
General’s Cedar Pointe #2/HB
Faber-Castell Castell 9008 Steno 2B**
Mitsubishi 9000 HB
America’s Pencil (USA Gold) Natural
Camel Natural HB
When looking at this toothy paper, I thought right away about harder pencils, but this was not ideal. The Castell 9000 in HB writes even more like a nail than it usually does, for instance, and the Mexican Ticonderoga (Target exclusive, 2014, blue) I tried was even worse. There is something successful in the target of a pencil which is smooth but generally leaves something to be desired in the darkness column (Element 1, Wopex, Draughting) and even a few that just seem to perform well on most papers (USA Gold, Cedar Pointe, Camel). Your mileage may vary, but I’ve been enjoying the Viking Element 1 the most, largely because it matches the covers of these lovely books so well.
And, if you’re feeling inky, the Uniball AIR is amazing and does not bleed through this paper.
* (If you make jokes about this evolved pencil, you might try one on this paper. It’s actually the smoothest on this list, and it won’t smear.)
** (I need a source for more of these F-C Steno pencils. Anyone know any?)
Around this time last year, CW Pencil Enterprise started carrying this beautiful clear-lacquered pencil that I lusted after. But I was going to visit in person with my daughter soon after that (and I like to drop $100+ on pencils in person when I can, right?). So I waited until April. And I kicked myself a little for waiting because this has become one of my favorite pencils, period.
The Camel HB Japan we’re looking at is made in Japan and available at CW Pencils for $1.50 each. They are not cheap, but they last a long time. I own less than a dozen, more than a half, and I need to get more.
These are available in two colors: grey-capped with an ashy stain and white-capped with a reddish stain. They are both lovely, but I gravitate toward the grey because it stays cleaner-looking in my pencil tin. The imprint is white and simple and does not rub off (ahem, Layout pencil!).
But: Lo! That cap is an eraser, and it works pretty well. I have had one come off on me, but it stayed back on with a tiny drop of glue and two minutes of my time. And, in fairness, I sat on that pencil a few times before that.
The core is part of the reason I like this pencil so much. It’s smooth, but it’s not as soft or dark as what you’d expect from a Japanese HB. I’d suggest that this core feels like the Balanced Offspring of:
A Faber-Castell “Castell 9000” in 3B
A Mitsubishi “Hi-Uni” in H (maybe 2H)
The point durability and smear-resistance remind me of a German pencil, but the stress on the woodgrain and the smoothness remind me of a Japanese pencil. Darkness is in-between, I’d suggest. It’s a perfect pencil for pocket carry (the core is durable and won’t require much sharpening) and for long-haul writing (the smoothness, darkness, and point durability combine for comfort and better focus because it won’t let you down).
The cedar fragrance is strong with this one (!), though the thick lacquer requires you to sharpen the pencil before you can get High On Cedar (HOC).
In short, this is a daily-use pencil that you should buy if you like pencils enough to have read this far into a pencil review. It’s a little expensive, but a few of them will last you…until your next Necessary Order from CW Pencils.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Good Men Sentence – Stephen
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?
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.
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.
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.
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:
[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.
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!)
(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.
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.
I should stop and point out that this pencil is made in the USA and costs only a quarter. That’s right.
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.
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.
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 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
Hand held pencil sharpener fans who don’t mind staining themselves and the world around them with graphite
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_ _ _?”