Best Pencils for Field Notes Utility Edition.


I received my subscription pack of Field Notes’ spring release about two weeks ago, the Field Notes Brand Utility Edition. I had been pretty excited about the design from the start, and the books are the colors of the Maryland state flag to boot. The quality control issues were a bit of a let-down when my books came actually torn on the spine, and there were a few spirited exchanges going on over the weekend on social media. Of course, Brian at Field Notes sent me replacement books right away. Seems that the thick paper causes trouble with cutting/trimming. Some blamed the size of this release, the contractor, postage. I think a lot of the books just came out very badly. Field Notes made a bit of a mistake, and they (as they always do) have been making it right where necessary. I’d be happy with their now standard 60# paper myself. It’s wonderful for pencil and still works in a pocket.

With all of the…talk about the quality control of the Utility, I forgot about the paper being so very different from the usually smooth paper Field Notes uses. The paper in Utility is Mohawk Via Vellum 70#T “Pure White,” and it’s toothy as all get out. With the fall 2012 Traveling Salesman release, it took me until my fifth (of six) notebooks to identify the perfect pencil for that toothy green paper. The Mitsubishi Hi-Uni in HB was perfect on that Mohawk Via 70#T “Light Green” paper. I suspect that list would be longer now, but those books are gone anyway.

Just as I do not enjoy soft pencils for very smooth paper (think Rhodia), I really do not like soft pencils for toothy paper — crumbly pencils doubly so. Being on a bit of a Blackwing kick lately, I had to put these aside when I set about to write in my new Utility edition books.

Some pencils that worked very poorly were immediately:

All Blackwings
Natarag Deep Dark
General’s Layout
Anything soft

I certainly haven’t tested more than a few dozen pencils, but this is a short list of pencils that have worked extremely well on this paper for me so far:

Viking Element 1
General’s Draughting
General’s Cedar Pointe #2/HB
Staedtler Wopex*
Faber-Castell Castell 9008 Steno 2B**
Mitsubishi 9000 HB
Apsara Beauty
America’s Pencil (USA Gold) Natural
Camel Natural HB

When looking at this toothy paper, I thought right away about harder pencils, but this was not ideal. The Castell 9000 in HB writes even more like a nail than it usually does, for instance, and the Mexican Ticonderoga (Target exclusive, 2014, blue) I tried was even worse. There is something successful in the target of a pencil which is smooth but generally leaves something to be desired in the darkness column (Element 1, Wopex, Draughting) and even a few that just seem to perform well on most papers (USA Gold, Cedar Pointe, Camel). Your mileage may vary, but I’ve been enjoying the Viking Element 1 the most, largely because it matches the covers of these lovely books so well.

And, if you’re feeling inky, the Uniball AIR is amazing and does not bleed through this paper.

* (If you make jokes about this evolved pencil, you might try one on this paper. It’s actually the smoothest on this list, and it won’t smear.)
** (I need a source for more of these F-C Steno pencils. Anyone know any?)

Graphite Report on the New Reporter’s Notebooks.

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In case you have either slept through the last ten days or are not hugely interested in notebooks, there were two reporter’s notebooks unveiled last week, on the same day.

The John Dickerson-inspired Field Notes Byline edition is the summer 2016 release. Subscribers also received a laptop sticker of the Byline logo. These books contain 35 sheets (70 pages) of Cougar Natural 70#T vellum, with college-ruled [0.28 inch] lines in the usual Field Notes innards color. There is a pocket in the rear and a concealed spiral binding. The notebooks come in at 3.75 inches by 8 inches — a little more narrow than traditional reporter’s notebooks.

Write Notepads & Co.’s reporter pads are something I’ve been needling Chris to make for a good two years, after I saw the first Ledger prototypes. These contain the new paperstock Write Pads will be using: 60 sheets,  “120 pages of 1/4″ ruled paper printed in our trademark subtle non-reproducible blue-green.” (This paper will be in their own summer release, unveiled this weekend and coming soon to lucky mailboxes near you.) This book is the traditional 4 inches by 8 inches.

Corners show the different cover materials.
Corners show the different cover materials.

Cover/Construction

The Byline’s cover is made of Neenah Environment 120#DTC “Wrought Iron”. There is a pocket in the rear of the book and Field Notes-style information all over the cover. I love the cheeky data, and the pocket is a great idea. In practice, things keep falling out of mine. This book is very flexible and surfs a pocket well. However, the odd concealed binding means that the cover material has to flex both when opening and closing the book, and the covers take a beating in your pocket. If this book had more paper, I am not sure that the cover/seams would survive life in a pocket. On the flip side, like most of my favorite offerings from Field Notes, the beat-on patina of this book looks amazing, especially with the grey cover.

The Write Notepads & Co. book is beefy. It’s the same recycled kraft coverstock we’ve come to expect, with the same bulletproof spiral. The cover is even oriented with the grain such that the book will flex vertically but not horizontally. There are few frills, in keeping with the Write Pads aesthetic. The included (and removable) rubber band is a welcome addition and kept my pages from getting bent up.

Very different approaches to the bindings.
Very different approaches to the bindings.

These two books have not been in existence long enough for me to fill them up completely and to really see how they will look/feel after the last page is full of dumb things from my head. But I suspect that the Write Pads book will survive intact longer because it is made of stronger materials and because the spiral is naked. The Byline’s cover doubles as part of the binding, and I wonder if it is up to the task.

These books have different strengths in their forms. The Field Notes book is easier to carry, but the Write Pads book is easier to write in and to read. I’ve been using them each accordingly.

Aesthetics

Write Notepads & Co., while departing for their subscription series, has an aesthetic that is part of their branding. The reporter’s pad, ledger, and stenography pad (which I keep trying to get WNP to rename The Tablet) all have similar looks. On the other hand, the Byline is a complete departure for Field Notes. I feel stuck deciding which I enjoy more: the dependable gumption of the Write Pads book or the new-for-them look of the Byline.

Lines and paper hue are different.
Lines and paper hues are different.

Writing

These books both perform extremely well for graphite, and I think they serve to illustrate the difference that paper makes for the performance of a given pencil. I’m going to utilize my scanner to look at this more closely.

Interestingly (and I’m not sure if this comes out in the scans), I think that the Write Pads paper brings out lighter pencils, while the Byline brings out darker pencils. Both really shine in the way that they add an extra touch of contrast to mid-range pencils (think Cedar Pointe HB; Ticonderoga; Noris HB…). These are both papers that are a pleasure for pencils.

Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.

The Bylines has noticeably smoother paper, since it’s stocked with a nice, cream-colored vellum. I really like this paper, especially for the larger page of a Byline. Pencil still makes its mark, though, and the results are really surprising on such smooth paper. Even a Wopex leaves a nice mark on this paper. The tooth in the Write Pads book still renders it smoother than a lot of papers, and it is sized such that it certainly does not sand down a pencil point. To repeat myself a bit: these are both two very enjoyable papers to write on, and I am not going to call one better on texture alone.

Erasing is almost equal on these two papers. The Byline’s vellum has sizing that seems to make the pencil’s point leave a deeper indentation, and this affects the real erasure abilities here, just a touch.

Graphite stability is also close, but I think that Write Pads edges ahead of the Field Notes here. Vellum’s smoothness usually leads to smearing and ghosting (use a Blackwing MMX on Rhodia paper, and you’ll see what I mean). While the Byline’s paper is definitely better than Rhodia’s at preventing Graphite Soup (TM), it does smear a little. It is no worse than other papers, however, which surprises me for vellum. So the Write Pad’s paper is not more smear resistant than the paper in the Byline because of the vellum; it’s because the Write Pad’s paper is amazing for graphite. I’ll avoid waxing poetic, but Chris took graphite (not just fountain pens) into consideration when deciding on a new paperstock. Pencil stays put. Period.

Which Should You Buy?

Uh, both. For $13, you get two Field Notes Brand Bylines (70 sheets/140 pages total). For $12, you get one Write Pads reporter’s pad (60 sheets/120 pages total), and both are amazing books. If you’re looking for something to stick in your pocket, I’d lean toward the thinner profile of the Byline, though I am not sure how long the cover will stick together. For a bag or for your desk, the Write Notepads & Co. reporter’s pad is a heavy-duty notebook. In fact, I have had a “thing” for reporter’s books for a few years, and this is by far the beefiest I’ve seen (the Bob State “Harvard Square Reporter” comes in second and deserves its own post).

I’m happy to see two great new offerings from my two favorite notebook companies in an oft-neglected format that I enjoy and use more often than, say, a six by nine nook or a legal pad.

Gary at Papernery wrote up his review last week, after we discussed co-posting. I both dropped the ball and received damaged Bylines and am a week late. Apologies for the delay!

[Disclaimer: While the Byline books were part of my subscription and paid for with my own money, I received the Write Notepads & Co. reporter pad for free via messenger on the day it was released.]

Pile of 114 Used Field Notes.

114 Full Field Notes, in no particular order. (Click to enlarge)
114 Full Field Notes, in no particular order. (Click to enlarge)

Prompted by both a thread on the Field Nuts group and a great post on The Finer Point, here are my pocket notebooks from late 2010 to the present, not counting the ones I am still using. Pictured above, 114 Full Field Notes. Below, other branded books, including the number/alphabet books that might be too large/thick to qualify for this category.

Assorted pocket notebooks, fall 2012-present. (Click to enlarge)
Assorted pocket notebooks, fall 2012-present. (Click to enlarge)

I have been meaning to do something like this for a while. But:

1) It feels like bragging.

2) It feels like confessing to a problem.

3) I am lazy.

I have a small stash of empty Field Notes and assorted other pocket notebooks around, but they will soon move to the full pile. I keep them in a Sam Adams box that is literally splitting because I am a creature of habit and have stuffed way more into that space than really fit.

Field Notes Unexposed: Serious Neon Action.

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Look, it’s, like, a neon color spectrum, dude!

All of my fellow Paper Fiends now know about the latest offering from Field Notes: Unexposed. I will admit that I was less than excited  when I learned that I would not get all six, even as a subscriber. I ordered two more packs from [upcominggreatstorefront] before I saw my subscription packs. So I was not completely undone when I got two sets of doubles — only four of the six. Two more packs were on the way, and odds were on my side.
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But I checked out my two packs, nonetheless, even as An Incomplete Set. Look at this cool sleeve! It’s very well-executed, with the FN logo inside. I imagine that coating this in heavy packing tape could produce a pretty durable cover/case for carrying Field Notes.
sleeve

Out of the sleeve, these books kind of smell like chemicals. I imagine it will go away, however. Being packed into a Secret Box would probably make me stink a little, too. The texture feels like the Drink Local edition from last fall, which is a good thing. I like when my Field Notes get cracked and show wear, and I mean that. However, unlike the Drink Local, I would have rather seen these colors in the summer. Even if you don’t like beer, the Drink Local colors were sweetly autumnal. And imagine how great Arts and Sciences would have been for back-to-school!

The inside covers feature contrasting ink — they are the Color Shadow of the outside covers. The paper is the usual, which is friendly to everything it makes sense for a pocket notebook to be friendly to. It has the reticle grid; I was not crazy about this pattern in the Night Sky edition. It was dark enough to really distract me from graphite, especially since it did not “disappear” the way that lines or a grid might. My one pack of NS that I used is in my Big Box of Used Field Notes, and I can’t compare them just now. These do not *look* as dark. But everything is a little Chromatically Crazy after looking at these books for a while.

insidecover

I had to get four packs to get all six. I was terrifically…irked by this before I actually had my set of six, to be sure. Of course, when I had them all in hand Monday, I sung like a — I don’t know, a happy guy? We talked a lot about what this might mean to collectors in our Erasable Facebook Group. All four of my packs are open. The only sealed Field Notes in my possession are not really mine; they are my kids’ Birth Notes (Spring 2010 and Summer 2013). The folks at Field Notes print so many books of each edition now that I can’t imagine that the Stationery Trend is going to last long enough in its current zeal for these huge-run recent editions to be very valuable. But I certainly don’t want to start a fight. I am too busy filling my Field Notes.

Now, being a Good Comrade, how could I not pair these up with the Neon Wopexen??
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Check out Andy’s unboxing video and this first look.

(I bought these myself. Ain’t not messin with my opinions, man.)

Improving Carpenter Pencil Technique.

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While on an errand to get some supplies at the home improvement store today, I picked up a simple, USA-made utility knife for the pencil kit.
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I am trying to master the art of sharpening carpenter pencils, using only a blade. (I don’t know why.) I think I’m getting better at it. Hopefully.

Field Notes, at the State Fair.


For my birthday two weeks ago, I was treated to a night at the Maryland State Fair by my family. I couldn’t resist breaking in my last County Fair edition between packs of the Day Game edition, for my Fairly Pocket Notebook. This was a Thursday.

That Sunday, I got caught — sans umbrella — in a long and heavy downpour and was soaked to the skin. Even my hardier cargo shorts were no match for this deluge. There were a few notes in this book in pen, and liquid inks (Flair, Zebra Regal) just made a huge mess, some enough to not be able to make out what I wrote. Everything in pencil (at least 90% of the book) was Okay.

One of my favorite things about the County Fair edition and Field Notes in general is how much better they look when they get worn-in. For instance, the corners and edges of these linen covers lose their floodcoated ink and aged in white, while the covers developed some prominent creases. I was sorely sorry when this was full.

This is also something I have always liked about pencils: they are not [always] neat. I catch myself trying to put an end to GHOSTING and things like that. But, in the end, anything but water/fade-proof ink on waterproof paper (can you combine them?) is going to look beat-up after some time in one’s pocket.

Why not embrace it?