Review of Staedtler Wopex HB.

I have been meaning to review the Staedtler Wopex for a long time. But it is a pencil about which I have thought so much that it became a daunting task. For starters, this is not the kind of pencil I expect to like. I usually like something a little darker, and the fake wood angle is not one that attracts me.* The lead feels waxy, but in a tacky – not necessarily smooth – way. And it was, until recently, difficult and/or expensive to build a Stash of them in The Archive. But there’s something about this hard-to-sharpen and heavy pencil that pleases me to no end. On yet another Snowday at HQ, I thought I’d sit down and write about it.
The Wopex is an extruded pencil made of recycled wood and plastic. This is nothing new. Nor is the finish being part of the extrusion new. But Staedtler has improved on the process, in my opinion. For starters, they released the Wopex during a time of greater ecological consciousness. I was young when Eagle came out with their extruded pencils, but it was certainly not a time of great eco-attention. One of my least favorite things about the older plastic pencils is their flexibility. Not only do the barrels feel like they might snap under my meaty grip; they actually bend when I write with them using anything but the lightest touch. The fact that these older plastic pencils have such light-marking leads that they require significant pressure for legible writing exacerbates their shortcomings, in my experience. The Wopex is dense, heavy and rigid. It is very comfortable to write with.
I bought a 10-pack from Amazon, at the end of summer 2013, for around $8-$9. These have the same subtle glittery-sparkly finish as the European models which Matthias was kind enough to send me. The feel is very…grippy, but not in the sticky manner of some grippy pens which attract lint and pieces of coffee grounds like Silly Putty. The newer Wopex pencils that I found at Staples this winter are a much brighter green, and the sparkles are gone. They have a nice, tactile sensation to their finish, but it is no more than half as tacky as the few European Wopexen I have or the eraser-tipped version I bought on Amazon a few months ago.
The lead is extruded with the barrel, and it is a plastic/graphite composite – similar to the leads for mechanical pencils. As I mentioned, it feels tacky and produces a light line. However, as several other bloggers have pointed out, this pencil’s marks stick to the page. They do not smear or transfer (ghost) easily. As such, I find that they make excellent pencils for pocket notebooks, and I keep shorter ones on my person.** I am surprised by how much I like it for Pocket Writing.

These pencils are marketed as eco-friendly because of the material of which they are constituted and because they are supposed to last twice as long as a wooden pencil. I have not found this to be the case. Because their line is a little light, I sharpen them more often. So whatever long-lasting properties the lead might have is rendered moot by its lightness. As the current price of $5 (US) for a dozen and a half, it is certainly an economical pencil. And I do not generally mind needing to sharpen a pencil more often.

As Matthias points out, the Wopex is tricky to sharpen. There are sharpeners from Staedtler with a small W on the underside that are supposed to be great for the Wopex. The only reason I have found this to be partly true is that the blades are very sharp and are held fast to the sharpener body. Any KUM sharpener with a similarly new blade that I have tried has given me the same results. With care, I can get a nice point with a wedge sharpener, and it is what I often use to sharpen a Wopex. Burr sharpeners do no work as well. I lost a good inch and a half from my first Wopex last year by using a crank sharpener. The Wopex material gives the blades so much resistance that the auto-stop does not work. Using such a sharpener with care and not making the Wopex point into a plastic needle works satisfactorily, if one stops the sharpening process short. A Deli 0668 that Matthias sent me works great, with the point adjustor dialed back from the sharpest setting a bit. Also, I have been improving my knife sharpening skills lately, venturing into blade sharpening on occasion.
The eraser is white and surprisingly good. It erases better than most of the Pencil-Mounted Erasers I have on hand, and even a few block erasers. To be sure, it’s no match for the Mars plastic eraser. But it does bunch its “dust” together into a tight ball in a similar fashion. It is soft, but stiff, and very securely clamped into the ferrule. I am trying to think of a pencil whose mounted eraser is better than the Wopex’s, and I am drawing a blank (or, at least, with a German 9H).

What struck me about the new US version, aside from the brighter green, is the ferrule. I am not aware of owning other pencils with this feature. The ferrule is molded to both the eraser and the barrel. It is round where it holds the eraser. And it is actually hexagonal where it meets the barrel of the pencil. The result is an inexplicably pleasant feeling of Completeness. Please, Comrades, do not judge me too harshly for staring at one of these pencils long enough to find the source of this Completion Sensation. The other result of this Ideal Marriage of Ferrule Ends is that the ferrule does its job very well. You ain’t getting this pencil apart without large steel tools, several people or very very strong teeth.
The Wopex is available in quite a few colors in Europe, and I have considered attempting to collect them myself. I am glad that it is finally available in the US at all, and I hope we get a few more hues. There’s a market for neon pencils, Staedtler! I am a huge fan of these pencils. Send us some colors, and make us Happy.

*But I have recently acquired some eraser-tipped Bic Evolution pencils, after a recommendation by Speculator, and I am enjoying them.

**Perhaps subconsciously, I matched the case for my recently-purchased Android phone to the green of a Wopex, since they often ride in the same pocket.

Review of Scout Books Composition Book (lined).

The good folks at Scout Books sent a set of their Composition Books over to Pencil Revolution HQ a few weeks ago for review. After a few weeks and pencil points, I have to say that these books are really fantastic! They invite comparisons to Field Notes (packs of three on craft paper, made in the USA), the way that Field Notes invite comparisons to Moleskine Cahiers (packs of three on craft paper). But I’d like to examine these books on their own, if possible, comparing them for size only.

Scout Books are made in Oregon, using recycled material papers from domestic mills and vegetable-based inks. While this often used to mean an inferior paper, this is certainly not true of Scout Books, as we’ll see. They come in three packs and singles, with different color options and interior options. Prices are similar to other high-end pocket notebooks, though the DIY option clocks in at only $8 a pack. And: FREE SHIPPING to the USA! We got our review set very quickly. You can also design your own Scout Books, which is an idea I’ve been pondering since trying these books out. (Hmm…) Perhaps coolest of all, you can get Scout Books that are actually BOOKS, with illustrations by contemporary illustrators, like the American Lit pack I’ve dropped hints to my wife about, which contains stories by Poe, Jack London, et. al.

Scout Books are about the same width [3.5 inches] as Field Notes (end of comparison), but they are shorter [5 inches]. This not only makes them incredibly shirt pocket friendly; the shorter height actually makes them feel larger in your hand than they are, since they come closer to being square. It could just be my square hands, but they are easier to write in than I would have thought, given the size. The covers are very heavy, and they make writing standing up a cinch because the back of the book is nice and stiff — but not too stiff for a pocket. I had no issues with covers wearing out or the binding giving up the ghost. If anything, my review books looked too new since I filled them up too quickly to really break them in. But that’s really nothing to complain about. Scout Books are unusual in that their “contact” info is on the back cover, containing places for your name, notebook start date and end date, and the front cover of the Composition Books has a space to write whatever you want.

The paper is where these books really shine! They reminded me of Eco Jot’s paper at first, with the dotted lines and nice color. But this paper is smooth! Pencil glides across the lines, and I’d filled one up in days, trying out different pencils. Ghosting is very light, since the paper is relatively stiff and thick, and smearing is very minimal, as much so as any other pocket notebook I’ve tried (and much much much better than others). To be sure, only the softer leads I’ve been enjoying this summer (Baltimore is muggy!) ghosted at all, while German HB pencils do not. The paper hits that sweet spot, where it’s certainly not glossy and certainly not overly toothy. While the page count is disappointing sometimes (32 pages), the satisfaction of filling up a book and moving onto the next one comes more often.

Given the ecocreds, stellar design, USA production (and free USA shipping!) and amazing paper, anyone who wants to try some new pocket notebooks would do well to grab a set of these. There aren’t a lot of reviews floating around; I’d love to hear what other Comrades think, especially as we tinker around with the idea of Pencil Revolution Notebooks. Thanks again to Taryn at Scout Books!

*[Footnote: I did try ink in these books, and nothing bled — not bold gel pens, wet rollerballs, wide fiber-tips, or fine fountain pens. I don’t think any of it even qualifies as show-through, to tell the truth. It was very very good.]

“Buy one, give one” from EcoJot.

Mark sent us a video of his trip to Africa this fall, on EcoJot’s Kinderkits mission.  I really like EcoJot books largely because they’re well-made and a pleasure to use.  But you’re also buying something both green and socially conscious.  You’re getting a great book, and you’re helping to do, well, Good. You can’t beat that.

View the video here.

EcoSystem and Rhodia 2011 Planners.

In the packages from Rhodia and EcoSystem that we were lucky enough to receive this fall, there were two semi-large/medium black planners.  These are both the variety that start in the summer; so I have given these 6-8 weeks of testing (each!) personally.  And now, I am having trouble deciding which to use for 2011(and the Daycraft models we’ll look at tomorrow don’t help the decision).

EcoSystem 2011 “Advisor“, flexible black cover.

This is a great (and green!) EcoSystem notebook, printed with the days of the week on the left and lined note pages on the right.  The paper and binding are top-notch, and the entire book is eco-friendly to boot, featuring 100% post-consumer recycled paper, organic cotton elastic and bookmark, etc.  There’s the usual information one finds in the beginning of a planner and a nice pocket in the back to boot.  I’ve actually beat the heck out of this thing since early November, and it’s come out looking practically new.  If you’ve had a Moleskine in the soft-cover variety that’s had the “moleskin” and cardstock cover materials separate, fear not.  In my own experience at least, this flexible and matte cover is as tough as a hardcover.  And I really like the tacky material of which it’s made.

The printing is nice and unobtrusive, and the binding is tight.  Maybe I need to just crack it, but the binding was tight enough that this book’s biggest flaw (which is, to be sure, slight) is that it doesn’t sit quite as flatly on one’s desk as some other books do.  Still, the elastic is snappy, and the bookmark is beefy.  “2011” is debossed in the upper right of the cover, and it’s classy-looking.  This is definitely a planner that will last through the year intact.

In some ways, EcoSystem’s planner functions like a Moleskine, only, well, better.  (I’ll talk more about that when we review the pocket “kiwi” EcoSystem book in the new year.)  This might be worth mentioning for some Comrades: this book has the best moon cycle symbols I’ve seen.  If you follow the moon (like I do), you might appreciate this.  The fonts and inks are definitely a plush for this book.

Rhodia 2010-2011 Academic “Weekly Notebook“, black flexible cover.

This book is actually an academic (summer-summer) planner, but the 2011 model seems to have the same features.  This Rhodia planner has the week on the left, and heavy graph lines on the right, on very very very white paper.  The 6 x 9 inch dimensions render it rather large, but it’s actually very thin and carries well.  It opens completely flatly on the table, all by itself.  The elastic even “closes” into a straight line along the back cover when it’s open, helping it to both stay out of the way and help the book lay down well.

If there’s something I wasn’t crazy about regarding this book it’s that all the printing and graph lines are a little obtrusive and darkly-printed.  One thing I always appreciated about Moleskines was that the printing inside was grey and out of the way.  Using pencil, the heavy lines took some getting used to.  This is probably a person thing, though.  The colorful inks and well-planned fonts make up for it.

The Rhodia planner has great information about holidays around the world, not merely a mention that there is a holiday in a certain country on a certain day.  It also has the best maps I have seen in a planner.  We usually find one global map with timezones on it, sometimes even country outlines/labels.  But the Rhodia has a total of seven pages of detailed maps!  If maps and/or geography interest you, you might agree with me that this is a great thing.  With the holiday listings and detailed maps, one might expect this planner to be unwieldy.  But, as I mentioned, it’s thin and light and very portable.  With the nice paper and great contents, don’t ask me how Rhodia pulled this off.

Review of EcoSystem Architect Notebook.

[Today’s review comes from Frankie in Baltimore. She is the coordinator of the Community Art Corps (AmeriCorps) program at Maryland Institute College of Art. This and two other lovely books were sent to the Pencil Revolution HQ for review this fall from the good folks at EcoSystem. As always, opinions are those of the reviewer.]

I’ve kept a journal off and on since elementary school. Now that I’m nearing (gulp) thirty, I’ve graduated from the lock-and-key kind to a more minimalist style: a plain notebook, no spirals, easy to stack and store upon completion. About three years ago, my journal of choice became the squared Moleskine. Writing within those gridlines allowed me to fit a good-sized weekly journal entry in the space of two pages – which meant a single journal could cover an impressive timespan, usually more than a year. I love to go back through the same journal and see what I was thinking (or obsessing) about that time a year ago. It reminds me that things can, and do, and must change, and that always gives me hope.

Cover Material: Acrylic-coated paper.
Paper: 100% post-consumer recycled.
Binding: Sewn.
Size: Assorted; 5.25 ” x 8.25” as tested.
Page Count: 192.
Unique Characteristics: Register-able identification number that coordinates with several features on the Ecosystem website.
Origin: USA.
Availability: Barnes and Noble, Amazon, etc.

I dove into EcoSystem‘s Architect notebook, the graph paper variety produced by Ecosystem, looking forward to a similar experience. I should say that I don’t think the Architect is designed to serve as a journal for narrative writing. The company produces four kinds of notebooks: the Advisor, a planner; the Artist, with blank pages; the Author, with lined pages; and the Architect, which Ecosystem describes as meant for “an environmentally aware person who creates strength and order with lines.” Each is available in one of six hip colors: onyx, watermelon, kiwi, lagoon, grape, and the one I chose, clementine. The gridlines are much narrower and darker than those in the squared Moleskine, and so using the Architect as a journal is daunting at first.

But I got an opportunity to battle-test the Architect one night when my eight month-old daughter had her first fever. The late-night answering service at our doctor’s office called back with advice, and I grabbed my Architect to write down their instructions. My pencil of choice, an orange Palomino, looks even more luscious than usual on the Architect’s smooth pages. The Palomino Blackwing is also a good choice. I would definitely recommend a darker pencil to show up against the Architect’s gridlines. But their tight assembly encouraged me to abandon the compulsiveness with which I am accustomed to writing in squared notebooks. Rather than scrunching my writing to fit between the horizontal gridlines, my pencil ventured beyond its usual boundaries. One sentence took up two gridlines, then three. The flights of freedom were good for the soul. In addition to its surprising potential as a journal, I can foresee using the Architect to sketch knitting patterns and transcribe the free ones I find on the internet. The grid translates nicely to knitting gauges.

Ecosystem stands out among manufacturers for its green practices. “Every component that makes up an ecosystem book has been researched to ensure the most environmentally friendly materials or production methods are being used,” the website explains. Each notebook has a unique identification code that can be entered on the company’s website. What follows is a detailed list of the origin of the materials used for each part of the journal, from the paper (Park Falls, Wisconsin) to the organic cotton ribbon bookmark (from Philadelphia). You can also register your notebook on the site and post to the Lost and Found page for the notebook that goes wandering.

At 192 pages, the Architect feels a bit heavier than other comparably-sized notebooks. But you’ll get your money’s worth. This is a welcome and colorful new addition to my library of journals.

(Text, F.G. Photos, J.G. Used with permission.)

Review of EcoJot Journals.

Mark at EcoJot was kind enough to send a package of samples to Pencil Revolution HQ in Baltimore (thanks, Mark!) a couple of weeks ago. We’ll be dealing with the journals in this post, with a review of the “workbooks” closer to NaNoWriMo, since I think they’d be a great tool for intrepid souls bent on writing their novels in longhand.

EcoJot is known as such because they are a brand of 100% post-consumer recycled stationery. Sure, there are myriad such brands these days. EcoJot is unique because their paper quality is top-notch (as we’ll discuss); their philanthropic efforts really excel; and because, well, these don’t have that “feel” that a lot of “green” stationery has. You don’t have to sacrifice writing pleasure to save the planet.

Cover Material: Very thick, very stiff recycled board.
Paper: 100% recycled, acid-free paper with vegetable-based inks (green lines and unlined).
Binding: Steel spiral.
Size: Varies (Test units: 6X9; 5X7; 3X4 inches).
Page Count: Varies (Test units: 150 lined; 80 lines; 50 unlined).
Unique Characteristics: 100% post-consumer recycled and still high quality; huge variety of cover art and formats.
Origin: Canada.
Availability: From select online and brick-and-mortar retailers (I even found them at the bookstore of the university at which I work).

One of our test units is a Giant Panda from the line supporting the Jane Goodall Institute. “Ecojot’s ‘Buy One, We Give One‘ campaign is our company’s new business model committed to directly advocate children’s arts and literacy in developing countries.”

EcoJot’s eco-claims are the real deal:

* We use acid-free, processed chlorine free paper & board.
* All our inks & glues are vegetable based, therefore bio-degradable.
* No new trees are used to make our paper & the paper mill is powered by biogas harnessed from a nearby landfill.
* All our protective packaging is corn-based. Furthermore, we try and use as much locally made raw material as possible.

But this is a review of EcoJot’s journals for the purpose of being something for pencil writing and drawing. And this is where EcoJot’s books really set themselves apart from other “green” notebook lines.

Frankly, I love this paper!  It’s white with soft, green lines.  At first I thought the spacing was a little wide.  But, for pencil, I like something wider than tiny lines like we find on a lot of notebooks.  It has a very nice tooth for pencil writing.  Too-smooth papers (like Moleskine’s regular paper) leave graphite all over the place, since there aren’t enough nooks and crannies for graphite to hide in.  This has a nice texture to actually wear away some graphite, without rendering it necessary to sharpen anything softer than an HB every page.  It’s not as shockingly white as Rhodia paper, and it’s not as smooth.  Neither of these are bad aspects to me at all, but quite the opposite.  This paper doesn’t “feel” like other recycled paper.  It’s relatively thick, very stiff (for paper) and doesn’t have chunks of anything in it.  This texture lends itself very well to erasing, even the new Blackwing (which some folks report erases badly in general).  Smearability is really minimal.  And, my favorite part, no ghosting!  It took a heavy hard and very soft pencils to product any ghosting at all.  Writing pencils (General’s Semi-Hex and Cedar Pointe; Faber-Castel Grip 2001; modern Mirado Classic; old USA stock Dixon Ticonderoga; Palomino; Forest Choice — all HB grade) didn’t leave any ghosting whatsoever.  If you journal in pencil, you might appreciate this pleasingly unique characteristic in a spiral-bound book.

Speaking of which, construction is outstanding.  The spirals are flexible, while the holes don’t have pages catching like happens on cheap spiral-bound notebooks.  The covers are very stiff and strong, and the whole thing is cut perfectly and put together very nicely.  Each book has a page in the beginning that explains EcoJot’s mission and what the book is made of.  The graphics are really outstanding.  I especially like “The City” and would love to get my hands on the journals in that line.

And that is the conclusion I drew when I tested this book: I want more!  And, thankfully, these are not very hard to find, even offline.  The prices are fair, and (especially the jumbo) the journals have a lot of pages in them.

We also tested a tiny green notepad/journal and an orange jumbo “solids” book.  Like the medium Panda book, these were outstanding.  A box of pencils and a jumbo book has “longhand novel” written all over it.  And, of course, a box of Forest Choice matches nicely, in theme and appearance (and works wonderfully on EcoJot paper to boot!).

You can follow developments on EcoJot’s blog.  To be perfectly honest, I try to find something positive to say about things I review. Or, put differently, I don’t review things I hate (haven’t done it yet).  I don’t want to convey that my raving is par for the course.  But these notebooks are really just worth ordering right away if you like spiral books with heavy covers, nice paper and serious eco-credentials.

Field Notes Review, Part I: The Pencil.

The nice people at Field Notes sent a parcel to the Pencil Revolution HQ last week for review purposes. It contained a mixed set of their excellent notebooks, a pin, a rubber band and two Field Notes pencils. The first part our two-part Field Notes review is a reflection on this striking pencil.

Material: California Incense Cedar.
Shape: Round.
Finish: None at all.
Ferrule: Aluminum, bare and plain.
Eraser: Green (in color and gradability).
Core: Ceramic/graphite composite. Available in #2/HB.
Markings: “ | FIELD NOTES | BONDED LEAD | No. 2 / ABOUT THIS PENCIL | Lacquer-free Renewable Cal-Cedar Wood Casing, Recyclable Aluminum Ferrule, Enviro-Green Degradable Eraser and Certified Non-Toxic Imprint Inks”
Packaging: Pack of six; also inserted into parcels of Field Notes notebooks, legend has it.
Origin: United States.
Availability: From FieldNotesBrand.Com and select online and brick-and-mortar retailers.

When you remove a Field Notes pencil from whatever package or bag in which it came, you won’t first notice the unfinished wood, the interesting graphics or the green eraser first. You will be hit full-force with a strong smell of cedar. But, of course, that is not a bad thing but winds up being one of my favorite things about this very nice pencil.

There is no finish whatsoever on the Field Notes pencil. It is round and sanded, like a little dowel full of lead. The print on the barrel is dark, sharp and in keeping with the aesthetic of Field Notes gear in general. Both of our test models had very well-centered cores. Combined with the fine wood, this allowed some of the easiest sharpening I’ve seen lately on a pencil that runs for under $1 a piece. The ferrule appears to be glued onto the pencil, rather than crimped. One of the test models had a few splinters at the ferrule, but these came off in second with my thumbnail. The ferrule/eraser assembly is fairly well-centered, though not perfectly centered, which puts it on par with most quality “office pencils” for sale in the United States. The eraser also appears to be glued. Interestingly, the units we were sent for review have two different eraser lengths; one was longer than most pencil erasers. However, it is firmly stuck into the ferrule. So I view it as a bit of serendipity in having a slightly larger eraser. I am a sucker for unfinished pencils. I get a kick out of the veneer that my sweaty hands leaves on the virgin wood, the dark tinge that it gets from my dirty mitts. Field Notes has succeeded in making a very visually appealing pencil to go with their well-designed notebooks.

The core writes very well under most circumstances. The HB runs a little darker than a Mirado/Black Warrior HB and feels very much like General’s Cedar Pointe to me. Considering that the pencil is made in the US and that there are very few pencil factories operating within US borders, I wonder if the manufacturing of the Field Notes pencil might not be contracted out to General’s Pencil Company (?). I noticed a hint of scratchiness to the lead, but not so much that it bothers me. There are certainly instances wherein I prefer a pencil that lets me know I’m using it and that there’s writing being accomplished. In the dark or when I’m writing standing up (or even while walking), I like to know that my pencil is making marks on paper. I might even stretch this line of thinking to say that the Field Notes pencil, because you know you’re writing with it, goes with the entire field notes (small F and N) concept. Smearability is pretty average, I think, running about the same as an HB Dixon. The mild scratchiness on the Field Notes pencil could even come from the fact that there is no paint or finish to dampen vibrations. I have some unfinished sample pencils from another manufacturer, and they are a bit on the rough side for writing, despite their finished counterparts (with identical cores) being extremely smooth.

The eraser is green and soft and works reasonably well. There’s not much to say about it except that I would really like to see a Field Notes eraser as a block with their graphics on it, made from this pleasant green substance. The eraser takes the graphite off, leaves the paper and more or less performs the way that it is supposed to. And I have to mention its color again. It’s somehow retro-looking and matches the Field Notes aesthetic perfectly.

As I said earlier, the most striking feature of this pencil, for me, is its aroma. I’ve never used a pencil that smells this strongly of cedar and have seldom ever used one to match it. It’s been a pleasure for my nose to use, and I’ve caught myself in at least one important meeting sniffing it like some sort of pencil junky. The unit that I’ve been carrying around and using has actually been the object of envy from my father, a retired Warrant Officer, because of the aromatic assets of this pencil. When Field Notes gets more in stock (or if they’d like to send us some to spread the word to the People!), I’ll definitely be gifting these lovely pencils.

I’d offer Field Notes a few suggestions, aside from the big green Field Notes eraser. While I love this pencil, it doesn’t fit into a shirt pocket with a Field Notes notebook because it’s just too long. I could cut it to size, but I can’t waste half of a pencil. I’d love to see 1/2-sized Field Notes pencils with pocket clips and point protectors, so that they can travel more easily with their paper Comrades. Or, to avoid having to stock two different kinds of pencils, Field Notes could offer a set of a metal point protector and a pencil clip, which the user could attach to a shortened pencil. We’d lose the graphics, but Field Notes are as much about handiness as they are about great design — at least in my mind.

In the end, this is a great pencil that I wish I could find more easily locally. The eraser and graphite work well, and the designed lack of finish and enhanced aroma (though the latter could be a happy accident) make this pencil not just a keeper, but one Comrades are likely to actively seek out.  Just don’t get caught sniffing it in a meeting.