First Day of School Pencils, Take Two.

So. Charlotte started school today. Pre-K. She has been my constant companion for over four years. I did not have an easy night’s sleep or morning. But this is not the kind of blog where we wax emotional. However, there is still, of course, plenty to talk about on a pencil blog about the first day of school.

We bought the stuff on her school supply list. I assumed that six #2 pencils meant 1/2 dozen of fat learner’s pencils with big erasers for little students in Pre-K. So I dug through the bins at Staples to make sure that she got the best six in the store. While not on the list, I made sure to include a Pink Pearl and German-bladed pencil sharpener. Charlotte came home with 5 pencils in her backpack. I asked why. She said they are not supposed to have fat pencils.

Well. Hey hey hey. This means she can basically take whatever she wants to school for pencils! Holiday pencils. Disney Fairy pencils. Heck, Blackwings if she wants. So I took her to The Archive before our favorite restaurant opened for dinner and let her pick any six pencils she wanted.


This is what she came up with.

She picked the EnviroStik first, then an old (2005) Forest Choice, though I made her take a new one, to be sure the eraser works. Next, she requested that I open a 2014 Target-exclusive pack of Ticonderogas for “the blue one.” She picked a regular (new, matte, Chinese) Ticonderoga, then a black one (Chinese, smooth). Finally, she went for the bright silver of the Musgrave Test Scoring 100. These were pointed on a Deli sharpener (not too long) and are contained in an empty Ticonderoga box, for school tomorrow.

I scoped out the sharpener situation in the room, but I couldn’t get any pictures because a Little Guy was sobbing in the chair nearest: crank sharpener mounted where Small Children can reach it and an industrial electric sharpener behind the teacher’s desk. I did notice a pencil cup near it, and what the teacher wrote on was written in pencil. If I see her with a red/blue pencil, I’m gushing about this website and the even better podcast of which I am thankful to be a part.

Click to view the school supply they forgot to put on The List. Also, this stub was the first pencil Charlotte ever touched, when it was new in 2010.
Click to view the school supply they forgot to put on The List. Also, this stub was the first pencil Charlotte ever touched, when it was new in 2010.

Review of Ticonderoga Electric Sharpener.

A few weeks ago, I joked with Dixon Ticonderoga on Twitter that they should send us one of their new electric pencil sharpeners for review.

So now we have our first ever review of an electric pencil sharpener. I should probably mention two things right at the start. I do not generally like electric pencil sharpeners; I do like Dixon Ticonderoga very much.* This sharpener is pretty basic, and I mean that in a good way. You put your pencil into the hole; the burr rotates around your pencil; it stops rotating when it feels no friction; you have a nice, long point on your pencil. But there’s much more to say than that, of course.
First, I really like Dixon’s design choices here. The yellow and green really pop, with a bit of chrome trim to polish it all off. The left green side is covered with a grippy material, while the right side is the shavings tray. The plug even has a subtle Ticonderoga logo on it.
The shavings container is easy to remove (I did not need to consult the instructions) and fits securely to the body. It’s not an especially large space for shavings, but it is very easy to empty without spilling Cedar Shards and Graphite Dust all over your office, house or Outpost. I prefer this to my, ahem, other electric sharpener that will hold a year’s worth of shavings, only to cause them to cover your legs as you sprint to the nearest receptacle.

The sharpener is fitted with four Rubber Toes on the bottom, resulting in the possibility of one-handed sharpening. This makes this sharpener a good choice for Marathon Writing, where a blind drop of the pencil into the sharpener with one hand gives Comrades a quick point.
Now, the Point itself. This sharpener gives you a long point, similar in length to the point achieved with the Classroom Friendly Sharpener. This is excellent. The point is different, however, in that it does not curve inwardly toward the point the way that the Classroom Friendly sharpener does. The “Black” Ticonderoga was sharpened with the Dixon Ticonderoga sharpener in this photo, with the yellow Dixon being sharpened by the Classroom Friendly Green Machine. The Ticonderoga sharpener produces a straight point, as I hope is more obvious in this manipulated close-up.
This leaves less “point” along the length of the exposed graphite, but it also makes a stronger point. Comrades will have to decide for themselves which they prefer.
The lack of aperture means that there are no bite marks on your pencil. It also means you have to be careful to center your pencil within the Input Shaft** of the sharpener. The shaft is wider than standard pencils, but it does not accept jumbo or mini-jumbo pencils. So there is some movement which requires holding the pencil very still and centered. If you do not, the pencil rotates within the holes in a way that tricks the auto-stop mechanism into thinking there is more cutting required — it won’t stop.

There are advantages to this manual drop-in sharpening method. It is easy to stick your pencil in and take it out. This means that Comrades can easily stop the sharpening process before an overly sharp (for some applications) point results. This is great for quick touching-up. When I use a very sharp pencil for a short time — not long enough to require sharpening but long enough to have dulled the point a bit — I sometimes like to perform such a touch-up before putting the pencil back into the cup, box, case or behind my ear.

Certainly, this sharpener is not perfect. The logo could be stamped on a little more clearly. Unlike some sharpeners with metal gears, this sharpener’s gears appear to be made of plastic. I had no issues with slippage, through a few weeks of testing.
But one never knows how this could play into long-term durability. While our unit was provided free of charge, I feel like the price tag on this sharpener is a little steep. However, it could work for years, and then I would say otherwise. I will say that it’s my favorite of my two electric sharpeners and the only one I actually have plugged in and use.
In the end, I like this sharpener very much. I like even more that Dixon Ticonderoga seems to be experiencing some kind of surge of energy lately that they haven’t shown for some time here in the United States. There are some new erasers, this sharpener and even a blog by the CEO. I’ll be watching Dixon with anticipation in the future. I was unhappy when they outsourced their production a few years ago, but they do continue to make quality products. If you like Ticonderoga pencils and longpoints, this might be the sharpener for you.

*Can you say, “You had me at green and yellow plastic”?
** I officially propose to contribute this to Mr. Rees’ lexicon.

Review of Neon Ticonderogas.

This is more of a News Bulletin than a review — more of a Go Get Yours Now. At Target today, checking out their back-to-school offerings, I came across a pack of neon Dixon Ticonderoga pencils. These are made in Mexico and come pre-sharpened. They have the green and yellow ferrules and pink erasers we’ve come to expect. I paid $2.89 US for a pack of ten.
The package contains 10 pencils: two each of neon yellow, green, orange, pink and purple. Oddly, the yellow could fool one into thinking it’s a regular yellow pencil — and perhaps that something’s wrong with one’s eyes. Neon blue would have been nice instead, or even to make it an even dozen. But I suppose that no 80s throw-back product is really complete without neon yellow. In addition to stating that these are exclusive to Target, the label says that these pencils are made of “premium wood.” I have little idea of what this means. They look and sharpen like cedar but don’t smell like it. When I’m more awake, I’ll have to wear some down and do some sharpening and sniffing.
The cores are nice and smooth, yet firm. I haven’t gotten a chance to compare them to Chinese and Mexican stocks from recent runs since I wanted to get this up ASAP, before my daughter and her friends run off with all of these bright pencils and before Target sells out of them. But the leads seem to be as smooth as the Chinese Dixons I’ve encountered lately, which is a good thing — only less dark and smeary. They feel similar to the last American Ticonderogas to me, though I’ll have to try them more to confirm.
What’s perhaps most interesting, especially to Retro Grouch Comrades, is the recent addition/reintroduction of the word SOFT to the HB/#2 Ticonderoga pencils I’ve seen for sale this year. (I saw some yellow ones at Big Lots but left them there for some reason.) The printing is not as crisp as usual, but I like the reprise of the lead description.The simple graphics of today’s Dixon Ticondergas are nice, especially the lead number designation that is enclosed in the shape of the barrel’s cross-section. But the oddly…boastful printing of yore is missed, certainly.

Finally, an odd note: while Target sells a lot of Write Dudes pencils (most of the USA-made varieties), they do not sell those fat kids’ pencils I like. A lady we saw even checked with an employee. Bizarre. But if you like the Dixon Ticonderoga and very brightly colored pencils, these are a good catch. I have to squirrel away an orange one for camping/finding in my backpack.

Graphite Free.

With Second Baby arriving any day now at Pencil Revolution HQ, authors like Shel Silverstein and Roald Dahl have been on my mind. Mr. Dahl famously preferred Dixon Ticonderoga pencils, and I was doing a little internet searching after an excellent dinner out last night. I have no idea how I’ve missed this site for years now: Graphite Free is the online journal (hence no graphite) of a very witty lady who works at Space Camp. And she is positively devoted to the Dixon Ticonderoga.

These are articles tagged with Dixon Ticonderoga.

The author’s passion for pencils is contagious. I sharpened a fresh yellow Ticonderoga last night for some journaling and remembered what I like about these cedar yellow pencils so much.

Check out Graphite Free!

Pencils in “Reality”, on “The Simpsons.”

Screenshot from 2013-01-14 08:27:20
The Simpsons is one of the reasons that I have always owned a television, even before streaming shows like Mad Men and Downton Abbey became the norm. Pencils appear very often on the long-running series, though they usually make a sound (when used) like a dry 1980s-era marker on balloon (SQUEAK!). On last night’s episode, the humble pencil was featured with more…realism: broken erasers (above), broken points,
Screenshot from 2013-01-14 08:26:29
…and even literature on pencils.
Screenshot from 2013-01-14 08:25:42
(Screenshots from The Simpsons, Copyright 20th Century Fox 2013, from Season 24, Episode 10: “A Test Before Trying”.)

Review of Dixon Ticonderoga Groove.

Last weekend, I strolled though an Office Depot to see if they had anything interesting while my wife and daughter waited to get fabric cut for Halloween at the fabric store next to The Depot. I found a pencil I’d never seen or heard of before: the Ticonderoga Groove, a triangular cedar pencil with grooves cut into the shaft, all in the familiar yellow and green. They smelled incredible, and I was in line with one of the two 10-packs in the store before I knew it. They turned out to be on sale for $0.34 (!), and I couldn’t leave without grabbing the other dozen.

The blister pack indicates that these were made in the Chinese factory. In my experience, the Dixons coming from China are superior in every way to those coming from the Mexican facility, save that the Mexican varieties are more common in the United States these days. The finish is more “even,” more yellow. The ferrule is attached better. There are fewer uncentered leads. And the leads themselves are a few shades darker and many times smoother.

This pencil was no exception, and it is certainly one of the smoothest pencils from Dixon I have ever used. It’s just fantastic. With Dixons like this, I might have been able to avoid my previous Dixon prejudice.

The grooves themselves definitely do what they are supposed to do: combined with the triangular shape, you’re not going to slip with this pencil. Of course, Comrades who don’t enjoy tri-pencils or who would find exposed wood…dimples uncomfortable might look elsewhere for Graphite Joy. What I have found that the grooves also do is to spread the wonderful cedar aroma more widely and more intensely than a regular pencil. And the last time that Dixons smelled quite like this to me was when I opened a pack of Dixon Blacks in 2004 and well, sniffed them repeatedly.*

It’s hard to explain. Different cedar pencils smell differently to me. Smell a Hi-Uni, a Cedar Pointe and then a Dixon. I swear I can smell the difference, even if I would not consent to doing it blindfolded.

This is a nice pencil, with a nice lead and a pretty good finish. What really surprised me was that Dixon also put a triangular ferrule and eraser on this pencil. The Tri-Write has a round one, as does the Rhodia pencil. The Tri-Conderoga has a triangular ferrule, but it is also it’s own size — that is less surprising. It’s a nice touch, on a surprisingly well-designed “specialty” pencil. As for the eraser, it’s the usual pink substance from Dixon. Personally, I think Dixon erasers are perfectly serviceable, if still not perfect.

At Press Time, this pencil is still not listed on Dixon’s USA site, and I suspect its existence is related to the Lyra pencils that FILA also owns. If you can find it online (or on sale at Office Depot!), it’s definitely a great pencil, doubly so if you like something with added grip. I’m taking one camping this weekend, with the Rite in the Rain book we’re testing.

*(Dixon hadn’t started coating everying in Microban in 2004; so that’s not the source of the smell.)

On Negative Associations.

Matthias sent some current stock Staedtler Mars Lumograph 100s to Pencil Revolution HQ recently (and several very fine pencils unavailable in the USA!). I realized that we’d never published a review of this iconic pencil. I wondered to myself if it’s because it’s daunting — there are excellent reviews out there that are, frankly, a lot to live/write up to. Or perhaps the lack of a review of this Mighty Pencil on this blog has to do with a negative association I’ve harbored for a two and half decades.

In the late 1980s, in Cub Scouts, there was a huge cache of a Staedtler film pencil in our supply closet. They came in plastic boxes and were different from the pencils we used in school. We used them in Pencil Fights and for arts and crafts projects. But when it came to trying to write on paper with them, my young mind became overly frustrated with the faint line that even a large amount of pressure would produce. They were labeled as being intended for another use. But they wrote just enough to give one hope that they could also function as a writing pencil.

I attempted to use HB Mars 100s in graduate school and enjoyed them. At a conference, however, I experienced one of the most ridiculous and boring* papers through which I’ve ever suffered, holding one of these pencils. And I don’t recall buying more since then, though there are several of them around my house.

I don’t think I ever in my life purchased yellow Dixon Ticonderoga pencils until quite a bit after I started this website. I had the Black and the Woodgrain, even the yellow Tri-Write. But the regular yellow ones reminded me of kids in elementary school that made me think of trouble-makers and bad students (how Elitist of me, I know!). For some reason, I hated those pencils.

I’ve since gotten over this aversion to yellow and green Dixons, and I have made a commitment to give the Mars 100 the review it deserves.

But I find myself wondering what, if any, negative associations folks might have with Pencils In General that might keep them from using wood and graphite, not to mention other such associations Comrades might have with certain pencils or brands or types. Whether it’s a mark of childhood or sloppiness or a reminder of getting wacked in Catholic school (been there), the way that some people avoid pencils seems, at times, like something greater or more powerful than mere preference.

Often, adults I know seem to enjoy using a quality pencil to write or draw (doubly so if they get to sharpen it), reacting strongly to the tactile and aromatic experience of using a pencil. Or perhaps they are reminded of a positive association for pencils in general or a particular pencil — this could be a whole other post.

*(Being thoroughly ridiculous and completely boring at the same time is difficult to achieve. I know. It’s been suggested since 2005 about this blog.)

Harper Lee, with one Ticonderoga Pencil.

This story is five years old, but it could use a retelling. In 2007, volunteers set out to prove that a single pencil could copy one entire novel, namely, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. From To Write a Mockingbird:

How volunteers came together to copy the acclaimed novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” word-for-word with ONE PENCIL. It began May 4, 2007 at the Hollidaysburg Area Public Library and concluded on June 6.

This is truly a feat of prodigious patience, one that mirrors the life of the single pencil that the volunteers all used in this experiment. The pencil in question, an American-made Dixon Ticonderoga, survived the ordeal intact, though it required a bit of surgery to be useful.

The pencil in the “Bi-conderoga” mode that allows writing with a stub: The metal ferrule of another pencil joins the stub to an unsharpened pencil, and the combination is stabilized with tape and a splint (the shaft of a cotton swab).

(Perhaps those Comrades who find themselves in the trenches sans Pencil Extenders could use this method of Pencil Lengthening in their Extreme Writing endeavors.)

Listen to the writers on NPR, and read more at Discover magazine.

A Penchant for Paper, on Pencils.

Heather, over at A Penchant for Paper, writes about getting back into writing with pencils.

“Looking at this pencil makes me think that I should be sitting in an elementary school classroom, carving my name into the wooden edge of my desk, brushing eraser dust onto the floor, and watching the boys in the back of the room throw sharpened pencils at the ceiling.”

Read the rest of the post here.

(Image, from my daughter’s sketchbook, not sure by whom.)