Blackwing Volume 10001.


Blackwing begins the fourth year of the Volumes series with Volume 10001, a solute to Tetsuya Miyamoto and the KenKen puzzle. The copy from Blackwing explains it well:

Blackwing 10001 (壱万壱) pays tribute to Miyamoto Sensei’s puzzles and other creative ways of teaching and learning. 10001 is a numeral palindrome in Kanji as well as in Arabic numerals. It is also tied to one of Miyamoto Sensei’s favorite equations. The pencil features a red stained barrel, gold imprint and unique five-sided “Gōkaku pencil” shape. Translated literally from Japanese, Gōkaku means “passed,” as in a problem or exam. It is also a near-homophone for the Japanese word “Gokakukei,” meaning pentagon. Gōkaku pencils are given to every student who graduates from the Miyamoto Mathematics class.

While I enjoy the releases that speak to an interest I already have, these pencils honor a teacher and a puzzle of whom and of which I have never heard. But just as Moleskines introduced me to Bruce Chatwin, the Volumes series has encouraged me to explore a little as a result of the tributes in a few instances. This edition is definitely a case in point. I have always wanted to explore puzzles more, but where does one begin? The KenKen puzzle looks like a good launching point for me. The extra for subscribers is a set of puzzles printed on heavy stock, and the shredded paper is yellow (to echo the printing? Volume 54 had teal packing materials).

The pencils themselves, separate from the them/tribute? Beautiful. A few of the Volumes editions have been….unattractive in my view (Volumes 56 and 205, I’m looking at you). Many are lovely. Some are fantastic, gorgeous, exceptional. This is the latter. I love the combination of the red stain and the high-gloss clear lacquer. My first instinct was to want these to have pink erasers, but I like the black. Pink would have dulled some of the effect of the red stain. The printing is gold and, as usual, crisp. These feature the “firm” core, the same as the Blackwing 602.*

More remarkable is the shape of these pencils. Rather than the usual hexagon from Blackwing, the rare round cross-section, or the not-yet-seen triangular barrel, Blackwing went for a pentagonal pencil. These do not feel especially differently than a hex pencil, but my hand tells me…something is up when I hold one. The other difference with this shape is that the ferrules are aligned with the imprint. So they do not rest with the stamping at the top, making them difficult to photograph.

This is a lovely start to another year of Blackwing Volumes releases. I’m already thinking about picking up another box once my kids find these and dig in.

* And Volumes 211, 56, 344, 205, and 16.2.

New Palomino Pencil Finish.

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A few weeks ago, Pencils.com sent out an email unveiling the new Palomino. I bought a dozen of the orange HB Palominos as a gift only a few weeks before that, and I noticed that the imprint had been cut down to just the word “Palomino” and the grade. “California Republic Stationers” was gone. I was disappointed and went home and counted all of the orange HB Palominos in The Archive. I wished I’d saved some more, especially the blue end-dipped, which is one of my very favorite pencils ever.

I ordered a set of the mixed new grade Palominos, to compare them with the mixed grade pack I received for my birthday in August 2012. I ordered them Monday, and they came today, all of the way to Baltimore on the $1.70 shipping. Excellent.

The new Palomino is, finish-wise, more different than folks let on. But it’s the same ride under the, er, saddle. I thought I’d report on it here, in magical list of ten that I jotted down on a Rhodia pad tonight.

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1) I sharpened all seven grades with the same sharpener and tried them out on Rhodia paper. Good news: I cannot distinguish between the cores of the new and cores of the old.

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2) The orange is a bit different. I was seconded and thirded in blind tests at HQ, indicating that I am correct: the new color is ever-so-slightly less red. But I have noticed subtle changes in the orange and blue before, going back to 2005. I am not disturbed by this. On its own, the new pencil looks like the same orange enough. And who says it has to be the same?

3) As a Baltimorean, I should appreciate that the color scheme mirrors that of our major-league baseball team (I’m looking at you, Tim.)

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4) I like the black imprint, though it is not as crisp as the old Palomino or the Blackwing Pearl, which shares the black branding.

5) The end could use another coat of black. I can see the orange paint where the end of the wooden barrel and the plastic cap meet on all of the pencils in the box I bought.

6) Unless these are going to be sold individually, I do not understand the sudden appearance of the barcode. Indeed, I have often seen various Blackwing models for sale individually sans barcode. But if this is a sign that the Palomino’s market will increase to more brick-and-mortar art supply stores, then I heartily embrace it. (I feel badly for the staff at my favorite shop when they have to look up codes from the shelves when I buy pencils which lack barcodes.) I am also glad to see the country of origin included in the pencil, though I’m not quite sure why this makes me feel that way.

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7) The grade is only stamped on the end on two sides, the same two that have printing on them further down the barrel. This threw me a bit, as pencils are often stamped on three sides for easier identification. But these new Palominos are still myriad times easier to select than the older version, with only one small grade identifier.

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8) The Palominos feel more like an art pencil than they did before. This is not necessarily a bad thing at all, and indeed might indicate the direction in which Cal Cedar plans to move the “original” Palomino pencil. However, with the long-standing, short spectrum of grades (2H-2B) dominating for nearly seven years, I always thought of the Palomino as a writing pencil, a fine writing pencil, and I think that distinction could very well have been a part of my affection for this pencil.

9) I have long wondered what would be the fate of the pencil which (unless I am mistaken) ultimately made the Palomino version[s] of the Blackwing possible. It is reassuring to know that the Palomino is still getting attention, after giving its name to the new branding. Cal Cedar seems to be breathing new life into this Senior Pencil. It’s also especially nice (to me) to know that things are the same on business end of the pencil – same core; same cedar; same excellent centering. It is the same writing experience that I have enjoyed since Woodchuck sent the first review pack almost nine years ago.

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10) I’m not sure that I like this treatment as much as the original finish, but I hope it will grow on me. It feels less like a “fancy” pencil and more like a Work Horse pencil now. And, despite my few qualms, it should tell Comrades something that I have replaced the gold-stampled Palomino in my small pencil box with one of the HBs in my new set.

(These were not provided by Cal Cedar. Opinions expressed about this model and about this brand toward which many folks feel very strongly – one way or the other – are my own.)

A Note From Santa.

From Comrade Dan, in the Medfield Outpost, comes a letter from Santa to two adorable kids.
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And, it seems, Santa likes Palominos?!

Review of KUM Tip-Top Pop Pencil Cap & Sharpener.

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That’s a mouthful, but this is a tool that, as my brother Tom might say, “gets ‘er done.” This is, in short, a very inexpensive version of The Perfect Pencil. This baby leaves your pencil Perfectly Portable, with an eraser cap, extender and sharpener all in one. Honestly, I use mine as a point protector/sharpener for pocket carrying. But the eraser is pretty good, as we’ll see.

This baby gives you a very short point. To give it a fair shake and a good test, I murdered the point of a Palomino with my trusty mid-90s Leatherman. I considered taking a shot of whiskey or getting my wife to hold my hand while I did this. But I didn’t want to catch my hand in those jaws. I have a chip on one of my front teeth from tightening the screw on this thing in 1999. The things a Pencil Blogger must do!

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This item used to show up as the Scribble sharpener (see review here). I like this design better. The colors are a bit…bright. But the blue matches my favorite style of Palomino pretty well. They also come in green, yellow (more like gold) and pink and are available on Amazon, but I got mine at Pencils.com for $2.95. Alberto already reviewed this version, and Comrades should check out his review, which features much better photos than I have here.

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The cap houses a pencil sharpener than pulls out of the top end. One could sharpener the pencil with the sharpener in place, in the cap. But I don’t think it would hold more than one sharpening’s worth of shavings. I remove the sharpener to use it, though it is a little difficult to find a place to grip it that way. The blade is screwed in, but I suspect this is a sharpener whose blade will prove difficult to find replacements for. I tell myself that this item will get smashed or lost before I dull the blade, so long as I only use it on the go. Since I usually sharpener my pocket pencil before leaving my house, this might be the case. Anyway, the sharpener fits nicely into the cap, and the plug hits home and stays there.

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In use, the cap fits very tightly onto most pencils. I have held the following pencils with success:

All current Blackwings
Palomino Blue
Faber-Castell Castell 9000
Staedtler Mars
Staedtler Wopex

Without success (pencil was too thin):

Dixon Ticonderoga (several versions) Edit: I fitted a Dixon Black by pushing it in pretty fare. There’s a little play, though, and the point hits the sharpener in the cap.
Faber-Castell Grip 2001

That is certainly not an exhaustive list, just the pencils I have tried, i.e., could reach on the table or in the box on the table. I should note that the pencil does not enter into the cap very far. This extends a very short pencil very well, but it does little to make a medium-length pencil fit into a pocket. For making stubs usable and for fitting a pencil into one’s pocket without the fear of a vampire-death by impaling, this cap is the ticket. The included pencil is even a little long.

Speaking of which, the pencil this set comes with is a nice one. It’s matte black, round, uncapped and has a nice lead that feels like a Castell 9000 2B to me. The eraser works better than the ones on the backs of the pencils I’ve tried it with, though it wears away quickly. I wouldn’t buy it for the eraser. To me, the pencil and eraser were free with the interesting cap/sharpener.

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As I mentioned above, this sharpener makes one short point. While I’m not generally a fan of such points, I can live with this. For one, a blunt point is the one I want in my shirt pocket or my hip pocket while on my bike. This is certainly just a “mental thing,” but I’m sure I’ve mentioned my abiding fear of Pencil Impalement before. Also, this cap’s utility makes whatever point it wants to give up more than good enough for me. If I will be away from home long enough to dull more than one pencil, I generally carry more than one pencil. But if I need more, forget one, or break that sum-gun, this cap will certainly help. Plus: it just looks way cooler than a small plastic point protector.

This little set is a winner, and at that price, definitely worth a spot in the pockets of Comrades everywhere.

From the Archives, Again, V. 8.2.


Sadly, among our first reviews are two pencils Comrades would have trouble tracking down in 2013. But others are still around. We should probably re-review the Ticonderoga and Black Warrior, especially since those reviews continually rank among our most popular posts.


American-Made Ticonderogas (reviewed by Comrade Tom)


American Naturals (on which I wish I’d stocked up before they went away.)


Our very first review was of Forest Choice pencils, still ranked among my favorites.

It seems like Palominos have been around forever, but we Humbly (!!!!) reviewed them first here at Pencil Revolution. I still have that first pack, with slightly different paint colors.

Chuck Talk Panel Discussion.


I totally watched this whole video while everyone else in HQ was at the library for summer story time. It’s not about pencils or Blackwings really, but is instead largely about creativity.

I like the bit about limitation enhancing creativity. I had a short fantasy of locking myself in a room with:

1 type of pencil (EGAD!)
1 composition notebook
1 US gallon of coffee

and not coming out until they were all spent, and something was, well, written. Instead, I had a single large cup of French-pressed coffee and made notes to make more (and better) notes.

Pencils and Early April Camping.

Not pictured: my mandolin and a nice fire.
Not pictured: my mandolin and a nice fire.

I mentioned that a couple of us at Pencil Revolution HQ went camping early last month. I learned a few things about pencils and about camping.

First, if you are prone to cracking fingers (and if you have no idea what I’m talking about, count yourself lucky!), take a fat pencil with you. My pocket-knife sharpened My First Ticonderoga came in handy when I was bandaged one night.

US Army issue messkit with said roughly-sharpened pencil.
US Army issue messkit with said roughly-sharpened pencil.

Also: pencil shavings are way way way more flammable than I thought. Comrade Dan shaved magnesium from a block designed for the purpose of making fire. There was too much wind Friday night (and we were hungry) to get it to light. We resorted to matches. Saturday, just for fun, he shaved a nice pile of magnesium shards into a box of a few months’ worth of pencil shavings from my house. Despite fierce sparking, none of the magnesium lit. But the pencil shavings did, and we lit a fine fire that way — which burned for about 20 hours until we thoroughly extinguished it.

Pencil shaving Tinderbox.
Pencil shaving Tinderbox.

Finally, (and I think I knew this), naturally finished pencils are perfect for camping. They grip well, get nice and dirty, and when you get home, they smell like fire forever.

Palomino Blackwing Pearl: First Shots.

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I’m working hard on the review, but I thought I’d share a few photos of what the pencil looks like. Though, certainly, they weren’t kidding when they said this finish resists revealing itself to a camera lens.

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Stay tuned this week for the review. We’re getting lots of rain in Charm City; so it’s good weather to test this pencil at the coffee shop, drawing with my daughter.

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Review of Palomino Blackwing 602.

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In 2011, when the Palomino Blackwing 602 came out, Pencils.Com graciously sent us a box. I was literally about to move (I think they came on moving day) from one apartment to another, and we never reviewed them. Add to that the plethora of reviews already out and some controversy. Inspired by the upcoming Blackwing Pearl, I think I’m finally ready to throw my review out there. But what can I say about the Palomino Blackwing 602 that hasn’t already been said? It’s beautiful and smooth and features a unique ferrule and eraser. The cedar is top-notch, and Comrades are sure to start conversations using one in public or at work.

When I review a pencil, usually there is one thing that is the star of the pencil. USA Gold and Silver pencils, which we reviewed recently, feature their nice cores as the star. Some pencils feature a wonderful core and also impressive finishes, such as the Mitsubishi Hi-Uni and, say, a Staedtler Lumograph 100 or Faber-Castell Castell 9000. Some pencils feature something unique, like the dyed leads in a No Blot “ink pencil.” The Blackwing 602 is different. Its starring attributes are its appearance, its core and its “different” features (the squared ferrule/eraser).

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What I like best about the finish of the Blackwing 602 is that the color and sheen mirror graphite itself. Rare are the photos that really capture its sheen. (I can’t do it.) I know next to nothing about lacquers, but it looks like several layers are used here, different colors that blend together for the sheen. The stamping is crisp (but doesn’t last long; see below), featuring the famous slogan, “HALF THE PRESSURE, TWICE THE SPEED,” and the graphics are gracefully few. It does not suffer from the “flaking” that plagued the first Palomino Blackwing. It’s gorgeous.

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The core is just, wow. It’s hard to describe the darkness because I find that I can get a lot of different tones out of this pencil, depending on the pressure I use and the pointing method. Sharpened in The Machine and written with normal pressure, this core produces dark, crisp lines. With a shorter point and less pressure, it feels like a smooth sketching pencil. Pressing with a long point produces seriously dark lines which resist smearing impressively. I’ve read that it mirrors other cores in the Palomino line, but I find the…color of the core a little different. It’s “colder” somehow, looking a little more blue-ish than other leads, where I find the Palomino range to be a little “warm.” Certainly, there are other cores out there that feel a little like the Blackwing 602. But, to me, nothing feels exactly like it, for better or worse. Certainly, this is not the only pencil that makes me feel that way. I suspect that users of the original Blackwing 602 may feel that way about the discontinue model. I see that Eberhard and Faber-Castell Blackwing 602s still fetch pre-Palomino Blackwing prices on eBay. I don’t own one myself, to compare them. Point retention, for the darkness, is fantastic. I can get a few pages out of a long point without resorting to shortening the pencil again.

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The eraser and ferrule are, truly, just cool. But they are not the selling point for me. The sharp piece that holds the eraser into the ferrule pokes me when I use the Blackwing 602 as a Pocket Pencil sometimes, and it does make using a short pencil a little uncomfortable because rotating the barrel to keep a point gets hitched by the square ferrule between my thumb and index finger. But, like I said, it’s too cool for me to be bothered by it. And it does start conversations, some of which have led to me confessing to having a pencil blog (hello to you if you got here that way!).

I don’t find that the eraser is, well, sufficient for the pencil in which it is housed. It works well enough. But scratchy pencils “work” well enough, and this is certainly not one of those. This is a Blackwing. I’m not sure what such a worthy eraser would be like or how one could get a Mars or Faber-Castell plastic eraser onto a pencil (are they too soft?). While I have long been a fan of Cal Cedar’s pencils (we featured the first Palomino review ever in 2005), I have always been disappointed in their erasers. Truly, I rarely use erasers on pencils anyway. I usually strike-thru when I make a mistake, and half of the time, I’m carrying an eraser-free pencil anyway.

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I do have a few other minor gripes with the Blackwing 602. The gold stamping, as others have mentioned, does come off freakishly easily. The “regular” Palominos in Cal Cedar’s range only exhibit this after some serious use. I assume that it’s possible to “fix” the printing better. The pretty ferrules on a few of mine have small gaps between the finish and the ferrule; they show a little naked wood. This is strange on such a premium pencil.

These days, I am completely tickled by any pencils that come in a box (not a blister pack). Don’t get me wrong. But the box holding the Blackwing 602s is a little flimsy. The newer Golden Bear and Prospector boxes are sturdy, and the plastic boxes that now house Palominos are very nice. I wonder if my Blackwing Pearls will come in a different box? The Blackwing line should have the best boxes in Cal Cedar’s line-up, I think.

Sure, Blackwing 602s are expensive for pencils. But these are something entirely different from what one thinks of when we think of a “pencil,” no? These are well-crafted and useful objects for writing and drawing, not scratchy yellow pencils to stick in a forgotten cup for the occasional crossword puzzle. I assume that most people who have wanted to try these have already done so by now. But, if not, I think they really are worth $20 a dozen. I use mine to little nubs.

Selected reviews from other sites, in alphabetical order (certainly not a complete list):
Boing Boing
Lexikaliker
No Pen Intended
Office Supply Geek
Pen Addict
Pencil Reviewer
Planet Millie
Recording Thoughts
Stationery Traffic
Woodclinched