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: Qnor.com and SeeJaneWork.com.
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.]

National Novel Writing Month 2005.

As many of the People already are, no doubt, aware today kicks off the National Novel Writing Month for 2005. What is NaNoWriMo? In short:

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.”

Check out Libby Copeland’s article in The Washington Post for more information.

We are wondering if anyone in the Revolution is participating this year, and if said brave writers might be interested in sharing with the People their work, or bits of it, on PencilRevolution.com? If so, please leave a note or email us (see right) directly to discuss.

But first off, who’s writing in pencil?

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween, from your friends at Pencil Revolution! May all the spookiest doodles and scribbles be yours!

And stay tuned this week for a review of Translations Pencils and other pencil goodies.

Why cedar?

With the recent discussions about the environment and wood, it seems very appropriate to mention some great recent posts by our good friend Woodchuck on why Incense-Cedar is such an excellent wood for pencils:

Incense-cedar originally began to be used as a substitute wood for Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) which was the premier wood for US produced pencils and some European pencils dating from the mid 1800s through the early 20th century. It is commonly thought that the main purpose for the shift to Incense-cedar was due to dwindling supply of Eastern Red Cedar and there is some relevance here, but primarily from a comparative economic standpoint only. ERC is still widely used for commercial purposes today for products which most benefit from the technical characteristics contained in the natural cedar oil extractives of this species. Products such as closet lining, shoe trees, coat hangers, storage chests and natural oil extractives used in the essential oils industry for perfume and other cosmetic and scent purposes.
So what is the full story for the transition to Incense-cedar?” (Read on to find out!)

“Unlike species that occur in groves, Incense-cedar can be found scattered among Douglas-fir, Jeffrey Pine, ponderosa pine and other species that dominate the mixed-conifer forest. Within the state of California, Incense-cedar generally comprises about 5% of the trees in a stand while just 1.5% in it’s southern Oregon growing range. Despite it’s popularity in a range of uses, Incense cedar has never become a mono-cultural plantation species as with other commercial western softwoods. As a prolific seed-cone producer it readily regenerates and proliferates throughout it’s growing range aggressively repopulating any available site on the forest floor. It’s germination and survival rate are excellent relative to other softwoods….there is more Incense-cedar growing in California forests today than at any time during the past 50 to 70 years based upon data from the US Forest Service mandated Forest Inventory and Analysis Project.” (Read on!)

[Excerpts, Woodchuck at Timberlines. Image, Oregon State University.]

Pencil “lead” from generator brushes.

This is both very good and very interesting news from Japan:

“Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) and Tombow Pencil recently announced that they have jointly developed mechanical pencil ‘leads’ recycled from generator brushes used in TEPCO’s thermal power plants. Generator brushes are made from highly pure graphite (over 97 percent), and are crushed to form graphite particles. Generator brushes transmit electricity to rotating shafts and must be replaced on a regular basis because they get worn out from friction with the rotating shafts. Discarded brushes used to be disposed of as industrial waste in landfill.Having examined the cost and effectiveness of recycling generator brushes, TEPCO decided to recycle the brushes into mechanical pencil leads in collaboration with Tombow. TEPCO estimates that about 300kg of used brushes are replaced in its thermal plants annually. Recycling all these brushes could produce 24 million refill leads (1.5 million packages of 16 leads each). Tombow plans to put the recycled leads on the market during 2005.”

See article here. Thanks for the link, Armand and Mari!

[Image Treehugger.]

For the record.

There were a number of accusations levied against the Revolution last week, and since a few hundred people read them before we were able to take them down, I suppose it’s appropriate to address them here, in a non-belligerent spirit, since we are a peaceful Revolution.

First, no, this site was not created as a joke, and many hours a week do not go into it as a joke. If some folks do not like pencils and prefer pens or computers, they are perfectly free not to be a part of our community.

It was suggested last week that we are promoting the killing of the planet’s trees through promoting the use of pencils. This is completely false. None of the manufacturers that we recommend go out and cut down trees for pencils that are not grown for that purpose and are not replaced. This is akin to claiming that meat comes from cows shot down in the forest. The fact is that some companies (like Faber-Castell and Staedtler) grow their own wood for their pencils on land where there were no trees before. Our friends at Cal Cedar are the largest pencil slat manufacturer in the world, and one would be hard-pressed to find a more responsible grower. Plainly, a pencil company that did not replenish its supply of wood would be committing corporate suicide. What some manufacturers did in the 19th and early 20th centuries is irrelevant.

No, Thoreau would not roll over in his grave because we promote the killing of the planet. Most Thoreau fans are aware of his innovations in pencil manufacturing and the fact that his family’s money came from making pencils and superior graphite. He never loved pencils but viewed them at best as tools, and usually as a way to make money for his father’s company. He didn’t sit around thinking about how great pencils are, so we could not “justify” the deforestation of the planet by how Thoreau felt about pencils. Besides, Thoreau never ventured far enough from Concord to actually see any wood that was made into pencils anyway. He never went to the South to see Red Cedar or to the West to see Incense Cedar (which wasn’t being used yet). And his ethic of simplicity would surely not shun pencils and probably not even blogs and gel pens.

No, we will not be promoting products from the likes of Proctor and Gamble, etc. First, they don’t make pencils. Second, we do not promote products from any company that engages in animal testing. California Republic doesn’t. Dixon doesn’t. Sanford doesn’t. The Germans don’t. Promoting pencils from companies that test on animals (parent companies, too) is not an issue now that Gillette no longer owns PaperMate and Parker anyway. Even Bic has a moratorium that has been in place for several years.

Our editor (me) was called a “corporate goon” and “a sad, sad corporate sellout.” While we very happily promote products we like and very gladly accept samples to review, we do not take money for our reviews. Period. This site is run out of my own pocket and never from any company. We would be very foolish indeed to take money from the manufacturers of what we review if we coupled this with the expectation that anyone trust what we say. Yes, we promote some pencils like the Palomino moderately aggressively, but that is soley because it is such a great pencil, made by great people, that more pencil lovers should try. We are spreading the word, not lining our pockets. Name-calling is just mean. If I am a sell-out because I freely promote pencils that lots of people think are great and not well-known enough, then sell-out I am.

A thousand apologies if we offend whoever anonymously posted the original list of reasons why Pencil Revolution is “stupid”; that is not our intention. However, the record must be set straight, and every effort has been made to be straight forward and not vindictive. We have no intention of being contentious.

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.

We’ll be back Monday.

Apologies! Due to illness in the Revolution, there are no goodies for today. We’ll be back Monday, with a review of the new Dixon Tri-Conderoga that we have a small stash of currently. Very sorry.

The pencil wishlist.


I love pencils. I give them to most of my friends, family, colleagues and really just anyone I like at all. Some people don’t use them, citing imperfections of pencils in general, such as the fact that they can be erased, that they need to be sharpened, that they don’t fit in your pocket, etc. These are certainly legitimate concerns. There are times when I use ink instead of pencil, for a few things. I know, graphite is a higher calling, but what can you do?

While pencils are a gift from the universe, there are some things that I’d personally like to see done with pencils in general, specific kinds of pencils and certain manufacturers. I have a feeling that I’m not the only one, so I’d ask that the People share here what they’d like to have changed about or added to the pencil world.

ToxiCity.

Our friend Heller Levinson has a new book of poetry out entitled ToxiCity. Mr. Levinson tells us that he writes his poetry in pencil, with a Dixon Ticonderoga (#2) or with a Pentel 0.7 P207 when travelling. The artists responsible for the cover art — Margo Kren and Ed Paschke — begin their work in pencil, to boot! Graphite aside, from all counts, Mr. Levinson’s work is nothing short of revolutionary.

“ToxiCity is a volume for the starving masses of readers to devour, then shelve among poets who refused to succumb to the shrews and molls of convention and mediocrity dolling themselves up as muses. Nothing is lost in Heller Levinson’s prolific study of philosophy, history, music and the arts: the poems in ToxiCity are like a palimpsest where diverse lexicons, facts, detailed observations all meld….
—from the introduction by Anthony Seidman”

[Image Howling Dog Press.]