Antique pencil sharpeners.

Fans of Henry Petroski’s The Pencil most likely the remember the chapter on pencil sharpeners and how we can now use tiny metal doo-dads, hand-cranked gadgets and electrical appliances to sharpen our pencils. There is a great page the the Early Office Museum with some excellent photos of antique pencil sharpeners and on the history of the mechanical pencil sharpener:

Antique mechanical pencil sharpeners can be divided into three categories based on the cutting medium or mechanism. Some machines rely on abrasive media such as sandpaper or a steel file. Other machines use a steel milling cutter with multiple raised cutting edges. Yet other machines use from one to a dozen or more blades. A few used two of these methods. For example, the 1900 Challenge pencil sharpener simultaneously used a blade to cut the wood and sandpaper to sharpen the lead.

Be sure to click the links at the top for even more information from this treasure trove of sharpener lore. And the Museum Store even has some vintage sharpeners for sale!

This link was sent to us by Nuno in Estoril, Portugal. View some of Nuno’s pencil photos here. Muito obrigado, Nuno!

[Image, Early Office Museum.]


Talking with a new gent in my department last week, the topic of pencils came up. Turns out that he loved Mirado Black Warriors as a student but hadn’t used them in years. He was taking notes with an Eberhard Faber American Naturals pencil, which is of course no longer produced but is the PaperMate American Natural now. We were talking about the demise of certain beloved pencil models, and I gave him a PaperMate Mirado Black Warrior, shiny and new, from my pencil cup. His reaction was, “What is this thing?” because the PaperMate hearts just ruined his favorite pencil. I saw him a week later and asked if he had sharpened the Black Warrior I had given him yet, and he said he in fact hadn’t. I don’t think he really liked it anymore with the hearts on it.

Woodchuck has a great post at Timberlines about the acquisitions of Newell Rubbermade of several brands of writing instruments and art supplies in recent decades. At first, I was glad that Newell bought some brands from Gillette (who at the time tested on animals) and decided to sell them under Sanford (who does not test on animals). If you’re concerned about animal testing, this must have been good news to you, too.

There have been some nice improvements. The PaperMate Flair has a better tip, and the classic Write Bros. pens are clear, come with grip options and have much better ink and more colors now. Prismacolor has been revamped a bit, and Parker makes gel refills now — not to mention the veritable revolution in the Sharpie line recently.

But there are some downsides that weigh heavily against the positives. Gone are Mongols (at least in the US), the Blackwing 602, and some nice pencil models were relegated to being the budget models sold under the PaperMate brand, like the poor American Natural.

But what I find more pervasively strange than the ups and downs of the Newellization of some of my favorite pencil gear, is just the weirdness of the changes. My beloved Pink Pearl says “PaperMate” on it and is sold with children’s erasers called Foohy. The Mirado pencils I personally love have the same name on them as pens that sell for $0.50 for a pack of ten at some stores, and the PaperMate logo itself has been changed (though I do really like the new lettering). The (formerly) Eberhard Faber Design pencils that I learned to draw with long ago have no cap on them anymore. As my colleague shows, small things like the addition of vertical hearts can cause an aversion to a beloved writing instrument like the Black Warrior.

It just goes to show how we get attached to our tools and that small changes like the addition of hearts or a different name on an eraser can jolt the way we look at them, at times to the point where we look for something different.

The Revolution is not passing judgment on the Newellization of some brands. If nothing else, being acquired by a large company might be good for some products, which might become easier to get. I’ve noticed that I can find Mirado Classic pencils any and every where now, which is not something I could always claim. But we’ll have to see what happens to the quality of the pencils and pencil gear.


Mr. Mark Givens of Mungbeing sent us some great photos that his wife Berit took in the Seattle/Tacoma airport in 2003. The sculptures are amazing in themselves, and I think it’s safe to say that the photos are equally well-done. Please view the full-size images by clicking the thumbnails.

Information about the art exhibits at the Sea-Tac airport can be found on the web, as well as information about rotating exhibits.

Many many thanks to Mark and Berit for sharing their own airwork in the form of photos with us at the Revolution!

[Photos, Mrs. Berit Givens, 2003. Used with kind permission.]

Pencil carvings.

Due to very popular demand, here are some beautiful Japanese pencil carvings from the JAD project. They are produced by Mizuta Tasogare and Kato Jado, and you can view several of these gems via this page (click the links in the text). Some of these pieces were entered into “the 11th ‘Hands Taisho’ contest held anually in winter by Tokyu-Hands” where they won the “Planning Prize.” All of them are simply amazing, and you can still use the pencils to write or draw with!

Thanks to everyone who sent us this link and the myriad others we’ve posted or will post! Keep them coming! :^)

[Images JAD Project.]

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.

Green pencils.

It’s a nice trend in the pencil world that we’re thinking of the environment, especially since the pencil trade all but killed off the eastern red cedar (juniperus virginiana) that grows in the southeastern United States long ago. Some of our favorite pencils are environmentally friendly, especially the inimitable Forest Choice pencil. Armand shared these links with us:

These are pencils made from recycled denim. To boot, “they are made out of 20-33% recycled blue denim jeans that have been ground up. The rest is the recycled post-consumer paper. To complete the blue theme, they have a blue eraser and a pewter blue ferrule.” You can buy them from Green Earth Office Supply. Treehugger also tells us about pencils made of recycled money, which are not as expensive as their material would make them sound.

From the Eden Project Store, we have all sorts of nice stationary, including colored pencils made from well-managed wood and writing pencils made of recycled vending cups — one cup for each pencil. Yup, all my trips to Starbucks waste pencils, it seems, in a way.

If anyone has had the chance to try these cool products, we’d love to hear how you like them.

[Photo, Eden Project Store.]

Robb Scott Drawings.

“The Mirage”

We have recently been fortunate enough to experience some work from pencil artist Robb Scott. Jeff wrote in to tell us about Robb’s drawings. Jeff says, “Everyone that sees them thinks they are black and white photos….when he sells on the waterfront in the summer, he’s actually had to put of a sign that says ‘These are not photographs, but pencil drawings’….he’s quite amazing.” He most certainly is!

“The attention garnered by the artwork of Nova Scotian artist Robb Scott has spread from one side of the globe to the other. International recognition from Japan, Russia, Britain and the United States have raised Robb’s profile from struggling young artist, to one of the most promising artists today. A mix of patience, technical ability and a desire for self-expression all go into the making of a Robb Scott drawing.”

It turns out that some of the drawings take more than two hundred hours (!!) to complete. If you think that’s phenomenal, you should take a look at more of Robb’s drawings in the gallery, including some new full-color drawings. Robb even has tips for aspiring artists on his site, and it’s sent me to my sketch book with some soft pencils to sketch a little myself recently. The detailed life-like-ness of Robb’s drawings is truly inspiring.

[Images copyright Robb Scott, used with kind permission.]

Revolutionary photos.

We are pleased to announce the arrival of the Pencil Revolution group on Flickr, started because of some good advice from a friend and blogging champion.

In case you are not sure what Flickr is, it is a place where one can upload one’s photos to the internet and then share them with other people. Flickr Groups are communities that one joins and can then participate in the group photo pool. Photos submitted to the pool are still part of one’s own photostream. The pool is really a grouping, not any sort of proprietary selection. You keep the right to edit, delete and own your photos.

For the time being, membership is open to anyone with a Flickr account, and these accounts are both free and easy to set up. All you have to do is sign up, sign in, and join up.

Let’s stick to photos that are actually pencil-themed: ones that are of pencils or related pencil gear, of sketches or finished work done in pencil, etc. Let’s not include photos of fountain pens and vintage Mustangs. There are tons of other pools for that.

Fine Print: Anyone engaging in hate speech, pornography, posting photos to the pool that have nothing to do with pencils or generally being a jerk to other members in the group will have his or her membership in the Pencil Revolution Flickr group cancelled without warning. We have no intention to censor things, so please use your best judgment.

Review of KUM metal wedge sharpener.

This is our first review of a sharpener, and this is the sharpener that I currently always have in my pocket. Several people have asked me lately what kind of sharpener I would recommend to them for sharpening quality pencils, so I thought a review of a sharpener (finally!) would be highly appropriate. There are many brands who make the exact (almost) same sharpener, but we are going to stick to this one for today. Just as there are many subtle differences and not-to-subtle differences between different brands of hexagonal yellow pencils, there are, too, such variations on the metal wedge theme.

I have not been able to find this model for sale online, but here is some information about it, in case you can locate it in a local shop. I found them at Plaza Artist Supply in Towson, Maryland, where I stock up on them whenever I am on the East Coast. Rumor has it that KUM New York will sometimes sell to individual customers, and we’ll be sure to ammend if we find out for sure.

Technical Information
Type: Blade.
Material: Magnesium-alloy.
Shavings Receptacle: None.
Point Type: Medium.
Markings: “KUM Precision” (blade); “KUM Made in Germany” (body).
Place of Manufacture: Germany.
Availability: Physical shops, i.e., real stores; possibly from KUM New York (?).

This little gadget is a powerhouse! Not only is it light, durable, compact and comfortable to hold; it sharpens hard and soft pencils alike to a terrific point. As you can see from the photo, the point you can get with this sharpener is somewhere between the very short “factory point” and what KUM calls a “long point.” As such, you can really use this sharpener for both art pencils and writing pencils, since you can carefully stop sharpening once you have the point you want. If you push the sharpener to its apex, you can achieve an extremely sharp point, albeit one that is likely to be too short for drafting or engineering purposes.

Performing the actual sharpening is a breeze, resulting in a fluid motion whereby long strands of pencil shavings fall into the trash can or coffee cup saucer (a la Hemingway) in various geometric designs. Of couse, one of the drawbacks of this sharpener is that it does not have an on-board receptacle for shavings. But one of the advantages is that you can see the point as you are sharpening it, so you know when you’ve achieved your desired point. Even if you do mind that this sharpener makes a mess, that gentle cedar smell wafting from the fresh — and very smooth and clean — cut makes it all worth it.

What makes the KUM model different from some of the others I have tried is the smoothness and ease of sharpening, and the perfectly-designed hole that keeps the leads both centered and safe during sharpening. You will not need a lot of effort or pressure to use this little powerhouse. And, to boot, the blades last longer than one is likely to be able to hold onto this sharpener. Being small, they tend to get lost, so I have yet to actually wear out the blades on one myself. And the brand-new blades do not show any noticeable difference in performance than ones that have sharpened dozens of pencils. The KUM wedge is definitely a nice companion for premium quality pencils.

As for availability, we will keep the Revolution posted about places one can purchase these, if we can locate an online source. But I suspect that these little guys are easier to find in art shops than I think, along with other nice sharpeners that are hard to find online. So it can’t hurt to check your local art supplier.

[Photos copyright J.G. 2005.]



“I’d rather create a one-liner than infuse my work with intentional ambiguity,” writes designer Mark Moskovitz about his piece, “Cabinetmaker.”

He tells us:

“I’ve always been a big fan of simple, chunky objects that work well and have more than one purpose. For a carpenter, these pencils are more than just a pencil, they’re a tool, including jamming a saw guard, a scribe, and many more uses. I just wanted to pay a small homage to a ‘free’ object I like a lot. I can’t resist a visual pun.”

Check out more of Mark’s work at his site, Be sure to check out the Writer’s Cabin (under Bio), a creation that would make Thoreau proud.

[Image and quotation Mark Moskovitz, used with permission of the artist.]