Restoring Bullet Pencils (The Jungle is Neutral).

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On the heels of the excellent post about the history of the bullet pencil comes this piece, with instructions for restoring bullet pencils into working condition:

“If you’re a collector of these old commercial bullet pencils rather than an end user, please read no further because this post will most likely distress you. I am taking a 1930s bullet pencil and stripping all of the collector’s value out of it – every last drop. This quirky little writing instrument may have survived the ravages of the past 75-80 years, but ultimately it couldn’t survive me with its original finish and character intact. If it makes you feel any better, this bullet pencil is but one of 13 that I have acquired recently. The rest are safely packed away in their original condition and hopefully they’ll remain that way for posterity.”

Read on…

See also this article on hacking a notebook to hold a bullet pencil.

Interview with Mr. Aaron Draplin, Draplin Design Co. and Field Notes Brand (Part 2).


(Continued from Part 1.)

4) I’ve read about your extensive bullet pencil collection, with considerable jealousy. What attracts you to this type of pencil, and how did you build your collection?

First off, it’s the compact quality. I love having a tight little drawing tool in the front pocket at all times, and I’m here to tell ya, these little sonofabitches have saved my butt many a time…on airplanes, in meetings, in a pinch, wherever. I always keep one in the front, left pocket of my 501s.

I’ve kind of given up on erasers of any sort in these little guys, as the kind you’d score from a junk store or estate sale are old, old relics and the erasers are dried way up and dead. Rock hard, usually. So, there’s this certain model that didn’t come with an eraser, and just had a plastic tipped end. I collect these ferociously, with a good 20 or so hoarded away. Now, the classic type with the erasers, shit, I’ve got a couple hundred of those bad boys.

What I love about them the most, is how banal they were back in the day. Simple, cheap advertising tools given away at local businesses. Feed-n-seed joints, car lots, insurance agents, what have you. Just crappy little promo items that packed a real wallop. I’ve got a couple old salesman sample sets. Old and beat up, and a look into what it was like to have a guy sit down and say, “Here’s what we can do for your company.” So good.

I’ve built my collection junkin’ across America—scouring the dirtiest of estate sales, garage sales, junk stores, antique malls and the occasional eBay lot. You can score them in the Midwest pretty regularly, across the rustbelt and great plains. Farmers used these things. I guess a lot of them are collector’s items. I could care less. I use the things, and never pay more than eight bucks or so for them.


5) Despite the return of the famous Blackwing, pencils in America seem to be on the decline today. Models are canceled, and most companies have moved their production out of the USA. Can you comment on the current pencil offerings available in the United States in 2011?

I’m no authority on this stuff, so I’ll tread lightly here. I know this much, it’s harder and harder to make an American Made promo pencil. And, with good imprint applications that aren’t stock type crap. I was lucky enough to get a monster order in just before Christmas and man, love these things. Hex pencils, people!


6) The Field Notes pencil is downright gorgeous. With its round shape, lack of paint and green eraser, it’s obvious that a lot of thought went into it. Can you tell us a little about the design process and what made you choose its current form?

Like all Field Notes products, we started with the direction that the thing had to be natural at all costs. Finding the source with the green eraser was a happy accident. Plus, the cedar wood just smells so nice. Those things take a beating, just like our memo books! I have a pile of them all beat to shit, still kickin’ after a couple years on the scene. Those pencils WILL NOT disappoint.

7) Are there any upcoming pencil accoutrements from DDC and/or Field Notes to which Comrades might look forward? Pencil clips? Bullet pencils? Brown sharpeners with black Futura print on them?

After an exhaustive search for the perfect pencil sharpener from existing sources, we gave up on that shit and started drawing up plans with a couple Midwestern Tool & Die manufacturers to craft the ultimate hand held sharpener unit. We’re still at the point of initial CAD drawings, blade strength options and ballistic grade metal sourcing. If we can pull these little buggers off, man, they are going to rule. Just you wait. They’ll be something to marvel at. And, get the job done for the ages!

We’ve got some leather stuff coming down the pipe for Field Notes made right here in Portland by our friends at Tanner Goods. Very, very excited about this project. And yes, there’s Futura Bold on these new items. You can take that one to the bank.

MANY MANY thanks to Aaron for helping to spread writing/noting/drawing joy, the world over!

[Images, A.D. Used with permission.]

Iowa Farmers’ Gear Collectors.


This was in my bookmarks (for, ahem, lunchtime reading) on my office computer. As my contract is up at the end of the month, I’m cleaning it all out. This is an interesting article, though I can’t remember where/how I found it. If you sent it to me and I’ve forgotten, thank you!

“Who would have guessed the huge old stockyards that once dotted the Midwest would best be remembered in something as small and simple as a pencil?…

….Twedt also collects the bullet pencils, so-named because of their shape. Each came with a metal cover over the leaded end of the pencil, making the pencil look a bit like a bullet.

Most bullet pencils, like most other stockyard memorabilia, were handed out by consigners at the stockyards. The consigners would contract with the farmer to sell the livestock to one of the various area packers around the stockyards.”

[Read the rest at Iowa Farmer Today.]