Review of Staedtler Noris Ergosoft HB.

This review comes from Stewart C. Russell of Scruss fame, to whom we owe many thanks.

Material: Unknown (cedar or pine?).
Shape: Triangular with rounded edges.
Finish: Black and Yellow stripes, rubbery body.
Ferrule: Red-capped end.
Eraser: None.
Core: Quality Staedtler HB.
Markings: Made in Germany; Staedtler Noris Ergosoft; HB.
Packaging: Varies.
Origin: Made in Germany.
Availability: Increasingly limited, formerly at Office Depot in the US.

A new school year was always heralded by a couple of Staedtler Noris pencils in my pencil case. It was good to be reunited with this old favourite in its new form.

It’s one of the recent crop of triangular (well, a Reuleaux triangle, at least) cross section, like the Faber-Castell Grip 2001 and the Ticonderoga Tri-Write. Like most European pencils, it lacks an eraser, so it has a much better balance in the hand than the erasered Tri-Write.

A bit of thought has gone into the Ergosoft. Firstly, it’s got a little panel to write your name on. Since the pencil is three-sided, it’s actually large and flat enough to write legibly on. Its other design feature is its matte, non-slip grip. This feels very good from new; how it wears, however, I’ll get to later.

I mostly write with pencils, so I’m always looking for a good HB stick. The Ergosoft’s lead is very smooth, and the wood case is of high quality. While it keeps its point tolerably well, it makes quite a dark line, and does need sharpening slightly more often than I’d like. I’d say it’s softer than both the Tri-Write and Grip 2001 HB.

While the Ergosoft’s coating is great when new, it does begin to suffer from a sort of “dread skin disease”, peeling back into waxy little clumps. This wouldn’t be so bad if the coating didn’t include the printing on the wood case; after a while, the markings wear off. I’d expect more from Staedtler, even though it’s only an aesthetic issue. Once the non-slip coating has worn off, the pencil has a pleasant satin finish, but doesn’t look very classy.

Staedtler also make a larger Ergosoft Beginner’s Pencil (EAN 40 07817 153017, Art. Nr. 153). This uses a thick soft graphite core, around a B/#1 grade. It’s too soft and wide a line for my handwriting, but if you have a bold hand, you might like it. The wood case on the Beginner isn’t of the same quality as the standard Ergosoft; the ones I’ve seen have some voids and tough spots, so don’t take to the blade nearly as well. A beginner’s pencil that doesn’t roll off the desk has to be a good thing. I often wonder why they’re traditionally round?

The Ergosoft is a more finished pencil than the Triplus Slim (previously reviewed). It has a rounded cap where the Triplus has bare wood, and a finer-grained wood is used for the case.

Ergosofts are extremely hard to find. I’ve only found them in one stationery store (Midoco, in Toronto, at Bloor & Bathurst — a real pencil paradise). I do wonder if the pencil hasn’t been discontinued; then again, the usual range of pencils you can find in shops is very limited.

I still like the Ergosoft, despite its skin condition. It has the distinctive Noris wasp stripes that stand out on the most cluttered desk, and just maybe stop people pilfering it. If you can find them, and prefer a pencil without an eraser, the Ergosoft is a good write.

[Text and images, SCR. Used with permission.]

Review of Staedtler Tri-Plus.

This review is by Alex Melillo in Italy. Grazie, Alex!

Material: Really don’t know, looks like cedar and smells good.
Shape: Triangular with rounded edges.
Finish: Black and Yellow stripes, a traditional Staedtler finish.
Ferrule: None.
Eraser: None.
Core: Unknown; feels between HB and B graphite.
Markings: E4 (engraved) STAEDTLER triplus (in golden letters) and, on
another side, Art.Nr.119 and a codebar, in white.
Packaging: Varies. Often unpackaged/open stock.
Origin: Made in Germany.
Availability: In Italy in office stores and stationer’s shops.

Ten minutes. It’s all I had to wait to fall in love with this pencil: Staedtler Triplus. Actually, Staedtler has a whole range of items labeled “Triplus”, and most of them aren’t even pencils; there are mechanical pencils, pens, markers — all sharing the very same attribute: their cross section. Just like the well known Dixon Tri-Conderoga, the Triplus section is triangular with very comfortable rounded edges allowing a good grip without effort. Writing with it cannot be tiring or annoying; it’s a pleasure to hold it for long stretches of time. It’s good to have one for technical drawing as well, because its firm grip helps in tracing sharp straight lines. The Staedtler Triplus is 10 mm wide and 170mm long, showing a 4 mm lead which is of an unknown hardness. In fact, there isn’t any visible label to show it. To be honest, on the Staedtler homepage the Triplus pencil doesn’t even exist…but the pencil is labeled as, so that they *must* have classified it! The feeling is that of a B lead, pretty black and soft enough, but I wouldn’t swear it, as it could be a harder lead as well and have a softer feeling just because of its dimensions.

Staedtler products are easy to be found in Italy and, I presume, in the rest of Europe as well. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be the same in America, and it’s a pity, as this pencil is really a good one.

Writing with a triplus is half-way between a traditional pencil and a thicker sketching lead, and it may be somewhat uncomfortable to write with when the tip gets blunt. Nothing to worry if you write in pretty large letters, but if you, as I do, write on small notebooks just like my UNI A6 Hipster PDA it may be odd if the pencil isn’t perfectly sharpened. It’s great to sketch brief visual notes — I’m an architect after all — and a Triplus is pretty useful to have my ideas quickly fixed on paper, and it won’t even roll away from my table! A bad note is that it doesn’t sharpen very nicely, the wood, I mean. While the lead has a good grain, the wood seems to be quite crumby when you sharpen it, but it might be due to several factors, as my sharpener — though it’s a brand new Staedtler Graphite — or its odd triangular shape.

[Images and text, A.M. Used with kind permission.]

Review of Lamy Scribble.

Lamy Scribble (Model 185 / 186) Mechanical Pencil Review

(Review by David in New Zealand.)

Something about the Lamy Scribble just makes me want to pick it up every time I see it. Perhaps it’s the short, fat, sturdy look reminding me of a child’s favourite pencil or crayon. “Pick me up, and lets have some fun” – that’s what Scribble seems to whisper to my sub-conscious.

Technical data:
Material: Plastic body. Metal end-cap, front cap and pocket clip.
Shape: Round cross-section, 13mm diameter at widest part. 121mm overall length.
Finish: Black plastic body “sandblasted” satin sheen finish. Metal trims either black coated (Model 186) or palladium plated (Model 185).
Core: 0.7mm lead. (A 3.15mm model also available)
Point Type: Retractable metal sleeve.
Mechanism: Push top ratchet.
Top: Capped eraser.
Eraser: Miniature eraser under top button, white (unknown) material, needle attached.
Markings: “LAMY” printed in silver at top of body, “7” (for lead diameter) on top of the top button.
Packaging: Folded card presentation sleeve.
Availability: Readily available worldwide in shops and internet retailers.
Origin: Germany.

Scribble looks short and sturdy, and that’s what it feels like in your hand. The thick, gently tapering body makes it easy to hold anywhere you like – down close to the tip or halfway up the body – and the smooth yet slightly textured sandblast finish lets you get a good solid grip. Add in a reasonable weight, and everything combines to produce that overall look and feel of a no-nonsense, ready for action pencil. Scribble is also very well balanced to just idly twirl around in, or thread through, your fingers whilst contemplating the state of the universe.

The pocket clip is good and springy. It’s also removable for those who don’t like pocket clips. Unfortunately it just doesn’t stick out quite far enough to readily stop the pencil rolling around on your desktop. I always use my Scribble when I am out doing fieldwork. The short length means I can clip it into a small notebook and stash them in my pocket so I always have pencil and paper ready to record those important observations. The thick body helps when things are a bit on the wet side, and the short metal lead holding sleeve tip is retractable so you won’t get that nasty stabbing pain through your trouser pocket!
Like most mechanical pencils, Scribble has a small eraser under the top button. I am always in two minds about these mechanical pencil erasers – they seem like such a good idea and yet are nearly always such a disappointment. Well Scribble sets a new standard. It’s absolutely useless. I will say no more on this subject.

So far I haven’t mentioned the lead. That’s the thing with mechanical pencils; if you don’t like the lead then you just get some that you do like. Scribble takes 0.7mm which is thick enough to provide good strength, but still thin enough to provide fine sharp lines. The push top ratchet mechanism is quiet and positive. I haven’t had any problems, but just in case, the eraser comes with a needle to help clear any lead jams.

The finish on the Scribble seems a good quality. The plastic body and metal trims are scratch resistant. Mine have spent a lot of time rolling around in carry cases with other items and they still look as good as new. There are actually two trim colours available – black for the purists and palladium plated for the slightly more up-market look. The small “LAMY” printed in silver at the top of the body adds a touch of distinction.

Lamy advertise the Scribble as “For strong sketches and fine notes. If you like getting your ideas down on paper in a few telling strokes, you’ll love the Lamy scribble”. Well, they’re absolutely right. Whether I’m out wading through a swamp or doing the Sunday morning Sudoku, Scribble is the one for the job.

[Text and images, D.P. Used with kind permission.]

Review of California Republic Prospector.

For the review of the California Republic Stationers Prospector pencil, we have our Comrade and veritable pencil hero Frank C.

Material: Specially-treated Basswood.
Shape: Hexagonal.
Finish: Natural/Glossy grass green.
Ferrule: Brass on the natural/Silver metal on the green.
Eraser: Soft rubber, pink on natural, green on green.
Core: HB (#2) graphite.
Markings: XXX. “California Republic Prospector.”
Packaging: Varies. Packs of ten and tubes of fourty.
Origin: Manufactured in Thailand by California Republic Stationers, a division of Cal Cedar.
Availability: In the US, exclusively through the Pencil World Creativity Store.

Before reading any review, I believe its important to know what a reviewer’s biases are before you read one of their reviews. With pencils, my biases are simple. I like pencils that write a dark line, pencils such as the Blackwing, GRIP 2001, California Republic Palomino and Forest Choice pencils. These four pencils are my favorites, and any new pencil I buy has to compare favorably to them before it enters my regular rotation.

Since that’s out of the way, here’s a review of the California Republic Prospector Graphite HB pencil. In the California Republic line, the Prospector is their “value” pencil. In this case, that’s “value” as in good value, not “cheap.” While not made to the standards of the Palomino or the Forest Choice, the Prospector holds its own against the high standards set by those two pencils.

Interestingly, though, is that, although the Prospector is an “HB” like the Palominos, it writes a fairly light line. Given my bias toward pencils that write a dark line, you would think I would immediately disqualify the Prospector from consideration. However, it’s hard to dismiss a pencil that’s as well made and doesn’t need to be sharpened every few lines (unfortunately, this is the one and only fault I can find against the Palomino). While the finish isn’t the equal of the Palomino, it’s fairly close and better than most pencils on the market. The eraser is top-drawer, too, one of the best I have tried. Regarding the lighter line, it’s not too light and sets a decent balance between too light and just right. Given its other strengths, I can live with the lighter line.

So, if you’re looking for a well-made pencil with a great eraser that writes a relatively light line but doesn’t need to be sharpened every few lines, consider the Prospector. This pencil has been a pleasant surprise, and has actually made me reconsider my biases. Maybe I do like pencils that write a lighter line, after all. Well, if they’re as good as the Prospector my bias towards pencils that write a dark line just may change, after all.

Many thanks to Frank!

[Images and text, Frank C. Used with very kind permission.]

Review of Translations Pencils.

We are very happy to present a review of Translations pencils from our friend Alcarwen, author of That Shadow My Likeness (which you’ll remember from her great blog last week).

Technical information:
Material: Tightly wrapped Japanese newsprint.
Shape: Round, relatively slim.
Finish: Smooth clear-lacquer or epoxy to seal in the newsprint and keep it from unraveling.
Ferrule: None — bare end.
Eraser: None.
Core: HB-ish graphite.
Markings: None except for the Japanese newsprint.
Packaging: Come in a pack of 12. The tubular package is also wrapped in newsprint.
Availability: and
Origin: China.

“The best part of Translations Pencils is that they are made from recycled newspapers. According to the website from which I purchased them, this is accomplished from wrapping the graphite core so tightly in layers of newsprint that it comes to resemble wood; you can sharpen them in a regular sharpener with no problem whatsoever. If you look closely at the point, you can see the layers wrapped around the graphite. The newsprint itself is from Japan; the pencils are made in China. I purchased mine from Qnor for $2.99 for a set of 12. They came in a tube (also wrapped in recycled newspapers) already sharpened and ready to go.

I had wondered: would the newsprint rub off on your fingers? The pencils themselves are dipped in a clear lacquer to prevent this… unless you are one of those people who write with their fingers really close to the point of the pencil- then, you’re left with black fingers after writing.

I’ve been using them to take notes (and scribble poetry in the margins of all my textbooks and notebooks) for the past two days and have been impressed with the quality of the writing and by how much pressure it takes to break the point on these guys! I’m serious- for whatever reason, when getting a little stressed at the nuances of Ciceronian Rhetoric, I get a little heavy handed with my pencils, causing numerous breaks and pauses to resharpen on poor quality pencils. Not so with the Translations pencils- they’re not poor quality pencils. I had expected, however, that they would be a bit more flimsy, but what they claim is right- the wrapped newspaper is just as hard as a wood pencil would be. Sharpening them is a bit of an adventure- the newsprint comes off in layers as it was wrapped- so I got to see Japanese news stories and adds peeling off my pencil in neat little strips.

Drawbacks- that pesky tendency of the un-lacquered bit to leave a bit of newsprint residue. However, it’s not so much that it’s intensely irritating, but it does rub off- especially when you’ve just sharpened the pencil. Second, they don’t have erasers. This doesn’t bother me so much, but I do realize that some people choose pencil over pen just because of having the eraser.

The good stuff: Recycled newspapers! (Yes, I’m repetitive, but I love the idea!) It writes well, holds up next to its wood counterparts- and well, it’s pretty awesome to think that you’re writing with something that last year was being read by someone in Japan.”

[Originally from TSML, 10.25.05. Text and photos, Alcarwen, used with very kind permission.]

Review of Dixon Tri-Conderoga.

We were planning on reviewing the Dixon “Black” (formerly the Millennium) in time for Halloween, since it is a great black pencil that not a lot of people know about and since I personally like it better than the Black Warrior as far as black pencils go. But I was online chatting with my buddy, and he asked why Ticonderoga is named such. I went to the website and saw the promo for Dixon’s new Tri-Conderoga, and, well, the Black will just have to wait a bit longer.

Technical data:
Material: Genuine California Incense Cedar.
Shape: Triangular, large diameter.
Finish: Rubbery black “Soft Touch” coating.
Ferrule: The famous Dixon green and yellow ferrule, triangular.
Eraser: High quality, latex-free black eraser.
Core: HB graphite.
Markings: Gold Foil. “DIXON TRI-CONDEROGA/HB(2).”
Packaging: So far found in a pack of six with a complimentary sharpener.
Availability: Staples stores nationwide.
Origin: Missouri, United States.

Dixon bills this as “The World’s Most Comfortable Pencil.” With competitors like the GRIP 2001 from Faber-Castell, the Ergosoft from Staedtler and from Dixon’s own Tri-Write, these will be hard shoes to fill. But it turns out that the Tri-Conderoga is as unique as the other triangular-shaped pencils on the market, perhaps even more so. Faber-Castell’s GRIP 2001 has the unique grip zone and started the recent triangular pencil craze, at least to some extent. However, as fans of Petroski’s book are aware, triangular-shaped pencils date back to the mid-twentieth century, but the design was rarely used due to it being wasteful of wood (pg. 207-208). Staedtler has the rubbery Erogsoft in response, and Dixon has the Tri-Write, a triangular version of the famous yellow Ticonderoga. The Tri-Write is the only one of the three to be made of Incense Cedar.

The Tri-Conderoga is a departure from the other three for several reasons, the most obvious of which is the diameter. This pencil is nearly as thick as the wide pencils youngsters learn to write with. As we all probably remember, these are strangely comfortable to hold. However, the drawbacks with these thick pencils were that they usually had low-quality cores, stinky wood and thick cores that could not be sharpened to a point for use on adult stationery. The Tri-Conderoga has a core that is the same thickness as regular pencils, so they can be sharpened just as well as others. Dixon’s very nice Product Manager tells us that the Tri-Conderoga “is totally different than anything on the market – for adults.” He’s very very correct, and I can’t find a thing about this pencil that is anything but adult. Don’t let the diameter fool you at Staples. These are not the same things you used in first grade.

The coating does not feel as thick as the one on the Ergosoft, and I’d consider that a good thing. The thickness of the “soft feel” finish does not hinder sharpening at all, and it does not give under pressure from your hands — it is not spongy or shifty. It’s very solid and does exactly what it is supposed to do. Speaking of sharpening, Dixon includes a pretty nice black sharpener with the packs of six pencils that has two holes, one of which fits the Tri-Conderoga perfectly.

The core is, as you’d expect from Dixon, smooth, dark and strong. I don’t think we need to go into that much more here. Writing with a Dixon is always a pleasure with these great cores.

Adding to the quality feel of the pencil is the ferrule. Of course it is yellow and green like the famous yellow Dixons, but Dixon went the extra mile and made a special ferrule just for this pencil. It is the custom triangular fit that we would have loved to see on the otherwise terrific Tri-Write. The new ferrule fits very flushly with the barrel, and you won’t find the paint-spread (yay, we coined a term!) that a lot of modern “quality” pencils are suffering from these days around the ferule.

The eraser matches the quality of the pencil’s feel, and I haven’t touched a Dixon in a long time that didn’t have a great eraser on it. It’s large and triangular, and having points on the eraser is especially nice for correctly the smaller errors one sometimes makes.

Writing with the Tri-Conderoga is, admittedly, a bit awkward at first. This is not really due to the diameter but rather to the severity of the triangular shape. I for one don’t hold my pencils correctly when I hold them in my natural way. I somehow got away with gripping my pencils incorrectly, and the good sisters at St. Thomas didn’t notice. With the GRIP 2001, the triangular shape is rounded enough that it can be gotten around; I can hold it the way I’d hold a round pencil. The Tri-Conderoga is so triangular that this cannot be replicated. The shape and size of this pencil mean that you have to hold it correctly.

But that is not a bad thing. On the Tri-Conderoga’s website, Dixon cites studies showing that triangular writing instruments promote the proper grip that leads to comfort and legible handwriting. Rather than passively promoting said grip, the Tri-Conderoga performs a feat of pencil TOUGH LOVE and makes you hold your pencil correctly. I said this was awkward for me at first. But inside of a written page, it became more natural, comfortable, and I did notice a new degree of uniformity in my writing. The pencil did exactly what it was designed to do and did it very very well, and I found it to be comfortable to write with inside of a few minutes. Very comfortable.

Some people might prefer the GRIP 2001 for its millennial paint job or German heritage, and some people might still prefer the Tri-Write for it’s traditional yellow gloss. But anyone who appreciates writing comfort at all would enjoy at least some test runs with this pencil. The writing is smooth and comfortable. The eraser is top-notch. The pencil itself is very up-scale and stylish, but it does not feel fragile like some more expensive pencils do at times. Rather, it’s very durable and solid. And of course, there’s the great smell of the cedar.

We would definitely recommend this pencil. The exact combination of the precise shape, the unique size and the finishing touches really set this pencil apart. This is no ordinary triangular or coated pencil. It’s truly revolutionary.

Review of Faber-Castell Grip 2001.

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

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

First, some technical info:

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

Now, for Frank’s review:

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

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

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

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

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

Many thanks to Frank for the review and the photos!

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

Review of California Republic Palomino.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review of Dixon Ticonderoga Classic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review of PaperMate American Naturals.

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

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

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

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

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

April 2006 appendix:

Comrade Ashley has this advice to offer:

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

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

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

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

[Photos copyright John 2005.]