Blackwing Volume 16.2.


Dedicated to Ada Lovelace, the Blackwing Volume 16.2 honors a mathematician whom many credit with creating the first computer program while writing about Charles Babbage’s Analytical Machine. These pencils feature a completely matte finish and the “firm” graphite from the Blackwing 602 (and 211, 56, 344, 205). The imprint is grey, and the erasers are white. On the flip side of the imprinted side of the hex is a faint binary pattern representing AAL, the initials Lovelace used when signing her work. The Volume number, according to the box, is “a nod to the Analytical Engine’s storage capacity of 16.2 kB.”

Last time around, I really liked the aesthetics of the pencil but not so much the tribute. It’s fantastic that Blackwing has honored another woman with a Volumes release.  Having a daughter who is into both art and science, I like where there is/could be going.

Aesthetics-wise, I like this pencil for two reasons and am “eh” about it for one. Let’s sandwich them. First, I really like the tactile result of a totally matte finish. It’s like the opposite of the gloss we often see/feel with pencils, and I really like the grip I can get. The paint feels a little thicker than most matte finishes I’ve encountered, too, thicker than Volume 1 even.

On the “eh” side, the pencil is deliberately understated, i.e., boring. It’s all black and white without even the gold ferrule from the original Pearl (before they changed the stamp to gold). The looks are “inspired by the simple styling of early personal computers,” but Blackwing did not go All In and just make these in beige (thankfully). But stark might be a better word, and it leads me to think of the incoming season — which brings me to the other positive about the aesthetics of this pencil.

I think that, like Volume 1, these function as Accidentally Seasonal Pencils. They are seriously wintry, more so than any other Blackwing Volumes release to date. The matte white evokes snow, and the matte ferrule has exactly the look of a glossy one that’s come in from the cold (seriously; try it). In that respect, I think some of my favorite quarterly releases from my various subscriptions/memberships are the ones that evoke their seasons. Blackwing has done a pleasing job of this each fall, and I’m glad that they have, even accidentally, given us a pencil that feels like the winter too. (Do I smell something grass green for spring? A Rachel Carson edition? Walt Whitman?)

Also, these look fantastic with the new Pearl editions of the lovely notebooks from Blackwing. This cannot be an accident.

Finally, subscribers got a really cool pencil in a tube honoring Cal Cedar’s 100th anniversary, and subscribers can purchase boxes later. These feature a natural finish and the Extra Firm graphite we found in Volumes 24 and 530.

Folks surrounding The Erasable Podcast have been calling for such a pencil for some time, and we hope that there’s a non-anniversary one (with silver ferrule and pink eraser) coming for everyone who wants to give Blackwing money in exchange for them (and for me, a gross, thanks).

Formerly Flaming Stub.

The pencil was flaming before it got so small and became reduced to just its black end. Blackwing 725 with a Campfire edition book.

Blackwing Volume 1: Fall Release is Here.


Comrades who follow all things seasonal and/or all things Blackwing and/or all things subscription might be aware that subscriber packages for the latest Volumes edition were shipped Friday of last week and that the Volume this time around is #1. They’re here at HQ, and I’m very happy to welcome the autumn with these pencils.

A few Comrades sent me the unboxing video that surfaced on YouTube this weekend, and the screenshots on the various apps through which I received it showed…more than I wanted to see. I had a little spoiler and was not all that excited. A grey pencil. Yay. But this isn’t matte grey. It’s a greywash. The finish feels like a matte lacquer in the hand, but it looks like a warm grey stain. It’s gorgeous in person.

The ferrules and stamping are silver, and the eraser is a sort of denim blue. The overall effect is many things to me: very autumnal; oddly Thoreauvian in vibe; as if Blackwing took a sweater or a flannel shirt and made it into a pencil. I love this edition! I can see how using a black or white eraser, a gold ferrule, or even the usual hex shape would make this pencil much less attractive than it is by ruining the feel.

Subscribers are treated to a sticker, a patch, and even a pack of replacement erasers (like we received with Volume 211, in brown then). I can’t say enough how perfect the blue of this eraser is. It would look smashing on a Volume 211 or even a Volume 1138.

One of the most surprising details about this release is that it is the first Blackwing to have a round barrel. The matte finish works really well together with this shape to up the Sweater/Flannel Factor. Some Comrades find round barrels to be more more comfortable, and this one does somehow feel a little wider — and I swore the box was heavier, though I didn’t weigh it.

The stamping looks great on the wide “side” of a round pencil. It’s as crisp as we expect from Blackwing. It feels huge on the blank canvas of a pencil that is not divided into six sides and corners. This is the first time I’ve seen the new tree logo against a woodgrain, and its double-hit of woodsy goodness is lovely.

I have to admit that I am not familiar with Guy Clark, the person to whom this edition is dedicated. I’ll let the image speak for itself. I do feel a little compelled to check out his music, though, and that could very well be part of the point. There have been times when the story behind the Volumes release has detracted from my overall opinion of these (notice we have ignored a few releases on this blog because we were not very excited about them among the great hits in the Blackwing line). This time, I have decided to view the unfamiliar theme as a prompt to check out some new-to-me music.

It’s interesting to note that both of the musically-themed Volumes (the other being Volume 725) have the same “balanced” core, from the Pearl. I have to admit that it’s my least favorite Blackwing core. I find it to be more smeary than the MMX, with similar point durability and less smoothness. That said, all four Blackwing cores are great in their own right, for their own purposes. These pencils might be great companions for National Novel Writing Month this fall, with their softish graphite and comfortable barrels.

This is the third autumn release in a row from Blackwing Volumes that leaves me feeling a little giddy. With the matte stain/wash on a round barrel, this almost feels like a completely new pencil. Kudos to Blackwing for keeping the Blackwing line fresh!

Check our Mr. Hagan’s unboxing video also!

(These were not review samples but part of the Volumes subscription series of which Comrades can become a part for around a hundred bucks a year. I’ve been a subscriber since literally day one.)

A Box of REAL Blackwing MMX Pencils.


I’d been having a stressful few weeks, with school being back in session, a death in the family, my son starting his first day of pre-school, someone damaging my new Subaru (and then getting the windshield cracked on the way home from getting an estimate! yay!), sickness descending on the family early this year. I came home to a box from CW Pencil Enterprise. I’d ordered something, but my package had already come. This was a surprise.

So I hurried to open the box and found a wrapped package with a gift tag. Inside I found a box of Blackwings, the ones I am a crusade to get renamed the MMX. Someone had written “MMX” in gold on the box, but I still wasn’t ready for what I found inside.

My friend Lenore had ordered a box of Blackwings with “MMX” stamped on them with the Kingsly machine at the pencil shop by Alyx. I sat in my dining room chuckling for a long time before dropping Lenore a message to thank her, whereupon I sharpened one immediately.

We talk a lot on Erasable about how great the community that’s sprung up around Pencil Life is. So I feel silly repeating it maybe. But because of these activities, I have made a lot of wonderful friends, one of whom would order some Blackwings made just for me with “MMX” on them — the only REAL MMX BLACKWINGS in existence. Thanks again, Lenore!

New Blackwing Styling.


All three flagship Blackwing pencils are getting small make-overs. The MMX and 602 are getting new erasers. The Pearl is getting a new eraser and new stamping. If you’re into pencils enough to read this blog, this is notable news!

I’m not sure how I feel about the change of the MMX’s eraser from white to black. I’m used to the white. I still have a few gold-specked pencils from the first run (October 1, 2010), and the ferrule was much less gold, nearly silver. The pencil looked great with a white eraser in that format. More recent versions with the Very Gold Ferrule leave feeling: meh. So maybe I am happy about this change to a black eraser.

The new pink eraser on the 602 makes me happy. That’s all. I like pink erasers, and I’ve come to prefer it on the 602. I think that being such a faithful remake, this is a necessary change.

The Pearl gets the biggest update, with a white eraser and gold stamping. My daughter is obsessed with the Pearl lately, and I’m afraid to show her this. The new logo (with the trees) looks sharp stamped on the Pearl in black, but I like that the gold foil will bring it more aesthetically in line with the MMX and the 602. Three finishes, three cores, and three erasers gives me a nice sense of symmetry. However, that sense is disturbed by one thing:

I want the “original” 2010 Blackwing to display the moniker I gave it as a joke that has been largely adopted by the Erasable Facebook community. My oldest daughter was born in 2010, and it’s a special year to me. Plus, being a product of Catholic schools, I like Roman numbers (and have two tattoos featuring them). The fact that the 602 and the Pearl have extra names after the “Blackwing” text makes the MMX look like it’s missing something.

So far, gentle nudges to get Mr. Berolzheimer and team to officially change the name to the MMX have not been successful. I think they think I’m kidding. I am not kidding! MMX! MMX! MMX! My naming services can be purchased for a mere one gross of the newly-coined MMX pencils. Cheap!

Whatever one might think about the details, I appreciate that the folks at Cal Cedar are still working to improve their pencils. We get new Blackwings four times a year, and they haven’t forgotten about the three that started it all. That makes me feel good for the future of pencils.

Read more at Blackwing’s site.

(Image borrowed from Blackwing’s Instagram account.)

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.

Darkness
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.

Smoothness
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.

Smear-Resistance
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.

Balance
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.

BW_div
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.