Pencil for Long-Term Writing, Part 2: Pencils.

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.

Point Durability
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).

Ghosting/Graphite Transfer
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.

Premium Japanese HB – I cannot decide between the Tombow Mono 100 or the Mitsubishi Hi-Uni. Both make smooth, dark marks that stay put.

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?

Blackwing Volume 344: A Peek.

I know not everyone has them already. So I won’t put a picture until after the jump.

Continue reading “Blackwing Volume 344: A Peek.”

Blackwing Diversity.

At Andy’s suggestion, here’s another list of potential Blackwing Volumes editions dedicated to women and people of color. I’ll repeat what Andy said: I am not accusing Blackwing of being racist or sexist or anything of the sort. I imagine they didn’t realize that the first five…look like this. And for all we know, we’ll be pleasantly surprised by the fall edition.

EDIT: One might do well to read closely before sending me nasty messages or leaving comments with fake email addresses accusing me of something I didn’t say or even imply. That says more about, well, you, than it does about me. Snark is not even wit, and wit is certainly not wisdom.

EDIT 2: Were I or we interesting in shaming Palomino or accusing them of ill-will, that would have been easy enough to do, using the same keyboard I used to clearly indicate that we are *not* accusing them of anything. The continued charges that this blog and other pencil blogs have been on some social crusade (and I’m not talking really talking about comments here – largely this has come through Facebook and poorly-constructed and cowardly emails from burner accounts) smells like the “reactionary” “bullshit” of which we’ve been accused.

Check out Andy’s list, which is Amazing! And Less’s list! And Dee’s!

Virginia Woolf: Volume 59, her age at her death by suicide in 1941.

Hermione Granger: Volume 919, her birthday. The pencil would be burgundy, with gold accents and a custom burgundy eraser — a nod to House Gryffindor.

Simone de Beauvoir: Volume 1949/49, publication of The Second Sex.

Emily Dickinson: Volume 1,800, the estimated number of poems written by her. This pencil would be matte white, with a black ferrule and eraser.

Frederick Douglass: Volume 1845, the year of the publication of his Autobiography.

Betsy Ross: Volume 15, the number of states in the union when the British attacked Fort McHenry in their attempt to take our country back (sorry, Brits). This pencil, of course, needs to be red with a blue ferrule and white eraser. The Rockets’ Red Glare edition.

Barack Obama: Volume 2008, obviously. This pencil is left-handed, though, and comes in the blue of the ties he used to wear.

Emma Goldman: Volume 22, the prison term she received for her attempt, with Berkman, to assassinate Frick. This pencil is black with a red ferrule and black eraser. Either the MMX core on a newer, darker core. It doesn’t @#$% around.

Mother Teresa: Volume 2016/16, for the year of her canonisation (Sept 4th, good time for it). Pencil is white, with a blue ferrule and white eraser.

Marie Curie: Volume 0311, the years she won the Nobel Prize in Physics (1903) and the prize in Chemistry (1911).

Anne Frank: Volume 1947/47, the publication of her diary (not the English edition).

Nelson Mandela: Volume 27, the number of years he spent in prison.

Maya Angelou: Volume 1993/93, the year in which she read “On the Pulse of Morning” at Clinton’s inauguration.

W.E.B. Du Bois: Volume 1909/09, the year he helped found the NAACP.

Thurgood Marshall: Volume 1954/54, the Brown v. Board of Education decision that changed American history.

Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume 1946/46, the year in which, while serving as the first chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights, she oversaw the first draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Serena Williams: Volume 4, the number of her Olympic gold medals.

Blackwing 24: Holy Grail or Piltdown Man?

This review is by the The Watts, who present version 5.0 of their amazing pencil review series. (The other subtitle involved the word “final”, but I’m not including that because this can’t be final!)

My son Hunter and I shared our last pencil review in September 2015. We’ve since reviewed a few pencil sharpeners but only some earthshaking event could have lured me into another pencil comparison.

Palomino has released the fourth special-edition Palomino Blackwing, and it is most unlike the others. The first three Volumes used existing Palomino cores, but the Volume 24 edition Blackwings have a brand-new core that is supposed to be hard enough to resist the need for continual sharpening while retaining a dark line. Palomino’s description:

“The Blackwing 24 pays tribute to Pulitzer Prize winning author John Steinbeck. Designed under the guidance of his son Thomas Steinbeck, Blackwing has created what they believe would have been John’s ideal pencil. Thom was adamant that his father would want it to be black, from barrel to eraser. It would also need to sharpen to a firm point without sacrificing much if any darkness. The Blackwing 24 is just that – an all-black pencil with the brand-new graphite formulation perfect for extended writing.”

Although John Steinbeck was quoted as liking the Blaisdell Calculator 600 and Mongol Round 2 3/8 F, the pencil he mentioned most was the Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602. Palomino created its own version of the Blackwing 602 that comes remarkably close in both appearance and performance, but even this extraordinarily well-done recreation of the original suffers from the same Law of Pencils as every other pencil on the market: Line darkness is inversely proportional to point retention.

In other words, a dark line typically means a softer graphite formulation requiring frequent sharpening.

The qualities many of us seek in our pencils can be contradictory:

1. Point retention
2. Dark line
3. Smoothness, also described as a “buttery” feel . . . per Blackwing’s glorious motto, “Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed”

It’s difficult to improve upon one characteristic without compromising at least one of the others. Although a smoother writing experience isn’t called out in Palomino’s marketing of the Blackwing 24, should it go without saying that any pencil bearing the “Blackwing” name has a responsibility to live up to the “Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed” legend? Did Palomino pull off the impossible? And is this the really the “. . . graphite formulation perfect for extended writing?”

In a series of reviews, Hunter and I shared the results of our search for the “perfect pencil.” Our reviews initially focused on the second and third qualities in the list above: line darkness and a smooth feel across the paper. After gaining experience with our favorites, we created top five lists of currently available pencils that factor in point retention and aesthetics.

Now, with the arrival of the Blackwing 24, have we found the Holy Grail . . . a pencil that lays down a line as dark as the 602 yet retains its point much longer while retaining that buttery smoothness that makes the Eberhard Faber and Palomino Blackwing 602s so enjoyable to use? Or is this Pencildom’s version of the Piltdown Man, a pencil with a hard and scratchy core encased in the form of a Blackwing and presented to us as The One? We had to find out.

We immediately agreed that line darkness was not an issue. The Blackwing 24 did just as well as the other pencils and was close enough in some instances that it was impossible to tell the difference.


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.

BC600 (13)
EF602 (12)
BW24 (10)
P602 (10)

BC600 (71)
BW24 (42)
P602 (38)
EF602 (34)

Good Men Sentence – Stephen
BC600 (7)
BW24 (7)
P602 (6)
EF602 (5)


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.

4 Pencils

We decided to add in another category, a version of aesthetics we’ll refer to here as the Coolness Quotient: Casting aside historical significance, rarity and overall quality, which was the spiffiest-looking pencil? Hunter and I quickly arrived at the following ranking:

1. Blackwing 24
2. Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602
3. Palomino Blackwing 602
4. Blaisdell Calculator 600

Back to the question posed in the title: Is the Palomino Blackwing 24 the Holy Grail or the Piltdown Man? Palomino advertised a dark line and firm core for extended writing. In comparison to our other three pencils, this one more than holds up its end of the bargain. It is at the bottom of the list in terms of smoothness, but where in Palomino’s advertising do they claim it’s as smooth as the Blackwing 602?

“The Blackwing 24 features a new extra-firm graphite great for extended writing. You won’t find this graphite in any of our other Blackwing models. It’s slightly firmer than the graphite found in the Blackwing 602, without sacrificing much in the way of darkness. It also features a distraction-free black barrel, black imprint, black ferrule and black eraser.”

Clearly, this is no Piltdown Man. But is it the Holy Grail of pencils?

For me, nothing comes closer to the Holy Grail than the extinct Blaisdell Calculator 600. It scores on all three major counts: Point retention, dark line and smoothness. Until something comes along that equals or bests the Blaisdell Calculator, I’ll remain on the hunt for a currently-manufactured Holy Grail. There is another item that knocks the Blackwing 24 down a peg or two for me: the barrel is slippery. I notice a clear difference between how well my fingers adhere to the barrel of the other three pencils vs. the Blackwing 24. I had a similar issue with the natural finish (clear lacquer) Blackwing 211 . . . I had to regularly readjust my fingers. Apparently, my career as a tree frog is over before it began, but from what I’ve seen, this doesn’t seem to be an issue experienced by many others.

Hunter really likes the Blackwing 24. He writes with a lighter touch; so the smoothness isn’t an issue for him. His fingers don’t slip on the barrel like mine. This pencil has better point retention than the others, and it’s just as dark. And its looks are . . . stunning. For Hunter, at least for now, this is his Holy Grail.

My answer to the question “Is this the Holy Grail?” is an unhelpful “Maybe.”

Let’s look at where this falls into our rankings. Hunter and I have been playing around with the newly popular Apsara Absolute and thought we might as well slot it into the list.


Our last full ranking of 27 pencils was in order of quality of the line and smoothness of the writing experience:

1. Mitsubishi Hi Uni 2B
2. Tombow Mono 100 2B
3. Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602
4. Blaisdell Calculator 600
5. Palomino Blackwing 602
6. Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood 348 HB
7. Palomino Blue Eraser-Tipped HB
8. Tombow 2558 HB
9. Mitsubishi 9850 HB
10. Staedtler Noris 122 HB
11. Eberhard Faber Mongol 482 – 2 3/8 F
12. Staedtler Norica HB 2
13. Palomino ForestChoice #2
14. Mitsubishi 9000 HB
15. Faber-Castell 9000 2B
16. Staedtler Mars Lumograph HB
17. Staedtler 123 60 2 HB
18. General’s Cedar Pointe #333 – 1
19. Palomino Blue Golden Bear #2
20. Field Notes No. 2
21. Dixon Ticonderoga HB 2
22. Dixon Ticonderoga Renew HB
23. General’s Semi-Hex 498-2 HB
24. General’s Cedar Pointe #333 – 2 HB
25. General’s Test Scoring 580
26. Musgrave Test Scoring 100
27. U.S.A. Gold Natural 2 HB

Factoring in aesthetics, point retention and all-around likability, my last top five list was as follows:

1. Palomino Blackwing 602
2. Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood 348 HB
3. Palomino Blue Eraser-Tipped HB
4. Mitsubishi 9850 HB
5. General’s Cedar Pointe #333-1

If I were marooned on a deserted island and could have only one type of pencil, my choice was the Palomino Blackwing 602.

Hunter’s top five:

1. Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood 348 HB
2. Mitsubishi 9850 HB
3. Palomino Blackwing 602
4. Palomino Blue Eraser-Tipped HB
5. Mitsubishi Hi Uni 2B

Hunter’s choice for the deserted island was the Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood 348 HB.

Here is our new list of 29 . . . yes, OCD sufferers, 29. Not 30.

1. Mitsubishi Hi Uni 2B
2. Tombow Mono 100 2B
3. Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602
4. Blaisdell Calculator 600
5. Palomino Blackwing 602
6. Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood 348 HB
7. Palomino Blackwing 24
8. Palomino Blue Eraser-Tipped HB
9. Tombow 2558 HB
10. Mitsubishi 9850 HB
11. Apsara Absolute
12. Staedtler Noris 122 HB
13. Eberhard Faber Mongol 482 – 2 3/8 F
14. Staedtler Norica HB 2
15. Palomino ForestChoice #2
16. Mitsubishi 9000 HB
17. Faber-Castell 9000 2B
18. Staedtler Mars Lumograph HB
19. Staedtler 123 60 2 HB
20. General’s Cedar Pointe #333 – 1
21. Palomino Blue Golden Bear #2
22. Field Notes No. 2
23. Dixon Ticonderoga HB 2
24. Dixon Ticonderoga Renew HB
25. General’s Semi-Hex 498-2 HB
26. General’s Cedar Pointe #333 – 2 HB
27. General’s Test Scoring 580
28. Musgrave Test Scoring 100
29. U.S.A. Gold Natural 2 HB

Counting only currently available pencils, my new top five has shifted and the Blackwing 24 has displaced a long-time placeholder:

1. Palomino Blackwing 602
2. General’s Cedar Pointe #333-1
3. Palomino Blackwing 24
4. Mitsubishi 9850 HB
5. Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood 348 HB

My choice for a deserted island pencil remains unchanged: Palomino Blackwing 602.

Hunter’s new top five:

1. Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood 348 HB
2. Mitsubishi 9850 HB
3. Palomino Blackwing 24
4. Palomino Blackwing 602
5. Palomino Blue Eraser-Tipped HB

Hunter’s choice for the deserted island is now the Palomino Blackwing 24, although he believes this is partly due to the current hype and may change over the next few months.

Summary thoughts:

Hunter: Point retention is much more subjective than we expected.
Hunter: The Palomino Blackwing 24 has really shaken things up.
Stephen: The Blackwing 24 is just slippery enough to be a little less comfortable to use.
Stephen: The Blackwing motto “Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed” is not part of the equation with the 24, which still writes with “Half the Pressure,” but not at “Twice the Speed.” To be clear, the manufacturer has not implied the motto applies to this pencil.
Stephen: The Blackwing 24 came out higher overall than expected. For people who don’t notice the “slippery” effect and don’t mind a “slower speed,” the point retention, line quality and sheer beauty may help this pencil qualify as their Holy Grail.

I’ve seen a number of nicknames for this pencil, all playing off the name Blackwing, but one I haven’t yet read pays homage to its basic black design and the newly released Batman v Superman movie. I dub thee:



Previous reviews:

All Hat No Cattle? – – Mythbusting Double Header Part 2

Frankenstein’s Sharpener! – Mythbusting Double Header Part 1

Eberhard Faber Microtomic vs Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602, MythBusters Edition: “Confirm” or “Bust?”

Pencil Sharpener Review Redux (Viewable Only to Erasable Facebook Community Members – Text is Contained in the Comments Section of “Pencil Sharpener Shootout” Below)

Father and Son Pencil Review VI (aka Hell Freezes Over Twice! aka Final Review v4.0)

Pencil Sharpener Shootout

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

My Journey to Pencil Sharpener Satisfaction

Father and Son Pencil Review IV: What? IV?

Father and Son Pencil Review III: The Final Chapter

Father and Son Pencil Review II

Father and Son Pencil Review I


Eberhard Faber Microtomic vs Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602, MythBusters Edition: “Confirm” or “Bust?”

Microtomic vs Blackwing 602
[This post comes from Official Contributor Stephen Watts, with the help of his sons!]
You may have read rumors the Eberhard Faber Microtomic 3B or 4B has the same core as the Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602. I’ve often wondered about this and finally managed to procure Microtomics in the 4B, 3B and, for good measure, 2B grades in order to prove or disprove the rumor.

My son Hunter and I have partnered in a few pencil and pencil sharpener reviews. For this comparison, we brought in a second son and third brain, Hunter’s fraternal twin brother Garrett.

We took turns comparing the Blackwing with the 4B, then the 3B, then the 2B. After the three of us sampled each pair, we shared our thoughts on whether or not the core was the same: Yes, Maybe, Probably Not, No.

All three of us immediately agreed the 2B did not share the same core as the Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602; it was obviously harder and scratchier in comparison. Hunter and Garrett felt the 4B was closer to the Blackwing than the 3B; I thought the 3B was closer but I was a “maybe.”

We tried a different approach: We took turns comparing three pencils, the 3B, 4B and 602 with the task being to decide which of these Microtomics was closer, rather than possibly identical to the 602. We had similar results: Hunter and Garrett felt the 4B was closer; I felt the 3B was closer but I wasn’t sure. If a “yes” is one point and a “maybe” is a half point, we were left with an 83% probability the 4B was closer than the 3B to the 602.

We then re-ran the 4B and 602 comparison to determine specifically whether or not they were the same core. Hunter said “yes.” But, in one of those moments when time stands still, we even freaked out the dog when I said “yes” and Garrett said “maybe.” This gave us an 83% probability the Microtomic 4B core is the same as an Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602. Garrett stated the difference was so slight he wasn’t sure it was real or imagined. Hunter and I have previously experienced that effect with the same model and grade pencils. When the difference is that negligible it could be due to imagination, variations in production runs, the state of the points or even odd spots in the graphite. It certainly seemed to us that the Eberhard Faber Microtomic 4Bs and Blackwing 602s use the same graphite mixture.

Don’t get too giddy. In the last year I’ve seen thousands of Blackwing 602s for sale but only a handful of Microtomic 4Bs. The 4Bs, although less expensive if you can find them, are rarely spotted in the wild.

An interesting side note on the Microtomic 4B used in this comparison: It came in a box I’ve never seen before, one I would guess dates to the 1950s. Take a close look at the ferrule: It has a knurled ring. I hadn’t run across one of these before. I thought the Blackwings, Van Dykes and Microtomics shared the same ferrules, but I have not seen this knurled effect on any other Blackwings, Van Dykes or Microtomics.

A rare ferrule housed in a rare box, possibly serving as a stealth delivery system for the most coveted graphite in the world.
Microtomic 4B Box
Initially, we concluded this myth to be “CONFIRMED” but fortunately, truth intervened.

Sean Malone of Blackwing Pages fame contacted me after running across our thoughts on the Erasable Facebook community. He had the same question regarding the Microtomic and Blackwing cores and he has the real answer, straight from the closest thing to the source: the source’s son. Sean visited Eberhard Faber IV last year. Mr. Faber told Sean the Blackwing core’s formula was invented by his father and is not the same as any of the Microtomic cores.

If I were you, and I were trying to decide whether to believe our test results or the statement of the creator’s son . . . I’d go with the fellow named “Eberhard Faber.”

Sean also asked Eberhard Faber IV if the Blackwing formula might have changed over time: “I asked him if there was any chance that the BW formula had changed over the years, given that the older ones seem a bit softer and darker than the later ones. He said it wasn’t unusual for a formula to be tweaked or updated over the years.”

If you are fortunate enough to obtain both a Microtomic 4B and Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602, try your own comparison and you’ll see why the rumors persist. Thanks to Sean Malone, we now know that, while strikingly similar, they are unique formulations.

We conclude this myth to be “BUSTED!”

(Thanks to the Watts for another great post!)

Blackwing 725.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also, check out Andy’s review!

Erasable #15 and Knife Sharpening.

Well, sharpening of pencils, by knives. In case you missed it, we were lucky enough to have David Rees on Erasable last week. In preparation, I had been trying my hand[s] at sharpening pencils with knives. I am getting pretty good at it, if I do say so myself. Excuse the shoddy Instagram shots, but here are some from right around the time of our recording last week.





Review of Gallery Leather Oporto Journal.


Gallery Leather contacted HQ a few weeks ago asking us if we’d review one of their made-in-maine leather journals. We received the Oporto Journal free of charge, and here is the skinny. Gallery’s description:

Modern Italian design in a journal constructed true to Old World book making tradition. Flush-cut, supported bonded leather cover.

I think there’s much more to say than that, especially with the very graphite-friendly paper in this book.


This is a Desk Journal. I don’t know why, but I really like the idea of a desk journal, a ledger or book for sitting at one’s desk. For this purpose, this notebook is great. It measures 8×5.5 inches, with 192 lined pages. The lines are spaced at 1/4 of an inch, which is identical to the Field Notes Shelterwood. The lines feel less wide than they do in the Shelterwood, though, since they are spread over a larger area with the increased page size.


The binding on this book is solid. Upon opening the book for the first time, both the leather and the binding were stiff. However, with time spent with this book for review purposes, it’s softened and loosened up nicely. I imagine that a week of desk use would render this book able to open fairly flatly.


The leather is smooth, with a subtle texture and sheen. It smells great, but is not over-powering, and the raw/rough edges are a very nice touch (and keep the book more flexible). The spine is especially attractive, with a nice semi-boxed shape that neither sits too loosely nor refuses to budge for opening the book.


My favorite thing about this book is the paper. It’s got a tooth that makes using harder pencils not only possible, but enjoyable. Certainly, this paper is not rough, and I imagine that pens that don’t like rough paper would work well. But the tooth does have certain consequences.


Pencils which are as soft as the 2010 Palomino Blackwing* are out of the question, unless you like a smeary mess in your journal. Middling darkness HB pencils performed well, as did high-end but relatively dark Japanese HB pencils like the Hi-Uni and Mono 100. Some German HB pencils which I love but which are unloved by smooth papers (like Field Notes’ regular paper) were a true pleasure on this paper, producing a distinct line and showing great smear resistance. In general, I found this paper to be a little on the messier side in smearability, but erasability was excellent. Castell 9000 and Mars Lumograph HB pencils are dreamy on this paper, and I had good luck with the Grip 2001 also. Because the paper is stiff (not necessarily thick), ghosting is very good with this paper. The German HB pencils I used retained much of their point retention, smoothness and smear resistance, while appearing much more darkly on the page.

If you’re on the lookout for a nice Sitting Still Journal, take a hard-but-smooth HB pencil with this book, and journal to your heart’s content.

* I think they should adopt this coinage of mine and send me a dozen to boot, don’t you?