Vikram Shah has two pencil videos that will prove Very Interesting to Comrades and Pencileers. We humbly request that you check these out.
In another possibly Shameless Plug for my hometown and the location of Pencil Revolution HQ, I have to mention the excellent Poe Collection at the Pratt in Baltimore. The collection includes letters, art, and artifacts. Baltimore itself is a bastion Poe-dom. We have Poe’s body, interred at Westminister Hall and Burying Ground. As such, the Poe Toaster also visited our fair city annually. The Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum is in Baltimore, not far from Poe’s final resting place. Of course, we also have the most literary-ily named NFL team: The Baltimore Ravens.
For more…information (or, a fictional view which presents some new historical facts) about Mr. Poe’s death, Comrades are urged to read Matthew Pearl’s The Poe Shadow, which depicts mid-19th century Baltimore in a unique light, especially for natives of Charm City.
Finally, the recent film, The Raven, which was widely panned by critics, is actually a fun film, even if not filmed in Baltimore. If nothing else, James McTeigue‘s direction (as in V for Vendetta) was excellent.
The good folks at Rite in the Rain were kind enough to send us a notebook and pen[cil] holder to review. After the “super storm”, we are finally ready to get our review out there. My better half prevented me from braving Super Storm Sandy last week to see how Frankenstorm-proof these books are. But! Boy, are they nice for pencil. Oh, and they are waterproof!
Everything made by Rite in the Rain is made in the USA, from the books, to the pens, to the accessories. It’s no secret that USA-production is a big plus around Pencil Revolution HQ. Green credentials are also wonderful, and Rite in the Rain doesn’t disappoint. Their paper can be recycled like regular paper (the coating is water-based), and the covers contain post-consumer materials. The paper inside is not made of recycled paper, however, since RiR says that it weakens the paper, which is designed to be durable. The waterproofing process is streamlined to be low-impact, environmentally speaking.
Rite in the Rain does sell all weather pens. They are made by Fisher (of Space Pen fame) but with specially designed ink for their paper. I haven’t tried the RiR pens (though I’d certainly like to), but my trusty 2002 model Space Pen performed pretty well, albeit with a little skipping. But that’s not what this amazing paper is designed for! Erin from RiR tells me that their paper was made for pencils, literally, since there were no special pens for use on waterproof paper in the 1920s, when their paper was developed.
We’ve touched on the archival aspects of pencils before. There is little shortage of archival-safe notebooks. But how many of them are also waterproof?
Rite in the Rain 20 & 32 lb. papers meet the archival criteria laid out by ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992 (R2002). This means that it is an archival quality paper and will last several hundred years under normal use. So… not only will it survive the elements, it will survive the attic! All of our books and copier papers are made from these grades.
Pencil on Rite in the Rain paper might be the best way to save writing for posterity. Only fire, theft, or a nefarious individual (or Crack Team of Baddies) with an eraser would delete one’s notes.
Onto the actual review!
The notebook we tested is the No. 373, a 4 5/8 x 7 inch book with a double spiral on the side (coated for rust resistance). It includes a nice title page, with space for contact info and a few lines for the “Project.” Flipping the page, we find a table of contents page, and then it’s on to the note pages. The lines are “encased” in a rectangle that does not allow for marginal notes but which made referencing a list of camping gear and procedures much easier for me. There are 64 pages all told (32 sheets), including the title and contents pages. For the cartographically inclined, each page features a scale at the bottom: “Scale: 1 square = ____”. The ink is a light blue, vegetable-based ink. The pages have rounded corners and are lined. Unusual to me are the dotted vertical lines running perpendicular to the “main” lines, allowing Comrades the option to use lined or graph paper. Rite in the Rain calls this their “Universal” page format. I like it a lot. The cover is a Stiffly Flexible yellow plastic. Combined with the pencil band, this book survived a camping trip in my daypack looking like I’d never used it at all.
This is a solid notebook, with thoughtful detailing and a sensible size. It’s not quite pocket-sized, but it fits well with other books and certainly into the smallest of daypacks. But my very favorite thing about this book is the paper, and not entirely because it’s waterproof.
As I mentioned above, this paper was designed for use with pencils. The coating is applied over paper that seems to have a bit of a tooth, and the coating allows this tooth to come through, possibly adding some of its own texture. What results is a paper that “drinks” up graphite the way that some papers drink liquid ink. While this paper is by no means rough, those of us who prefer a dark line will delight with the Graphite Shearing Action of this paper. Points don’t wear away very quickly, but they don’t last forever — though Lovers of Dark Lines may even delight in the pencil sharpening required by this Marriage of graphite and paper.
Mr. A from the fantastic La Vie Graphite told me a few years ago that General’s Layout is a wonderful pencil for this paper, and he was entirely correct. I tested quite a bit of graphite in this book, and the slightly chalky Layout is my current favorite, bolstered by the American Heritage it shares with the book itself. Other honorable mentions include pencils with unwaxed cores (Paper Mate Earth Write), USA stock Dixon pencils, and USA Gold. While very smooth pencils performed very well, the slightly…more textured leads produced the darkest, neatest results.
This is some of the most smear-resistant and ghosting-proof paper I have ever used. Only on a blank page can one spot graphite transfer, and a person really has to rub her or his hands on this paper to get the pencil to smear. It goes a long way toward keeping the pencil writing legible over time. Erasing is not much different than with regular paper, although I noticed that less soft and more abrasive erasers didn’t seem up to the task. Soft erasers did a nice job, and I wouldn’t use anything else, at the risk of removing some of the coating that makes the paper waterproof.
The pencil strap is very well, made, with a long, thick, elastic strap and strong velcro. It holds a pencil more tightly than you’d think and does a good job of protecting both the pencil point and the pages of the book in a backpack. Made of black Cordura, it looks like it will last for years.
Many thanks to the folks at Rite in the Rain, and stay tuned in the next few days or week for our Rite in the Rain Water Test!
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.”
(Image, from my daughter’s sketchbook, not sure by whom.)
Jetpens.com sent over a very nice package of gear to review, and we’re starting today with the Mitsu-bishi Hi-Uni pencil in HB. Several greater minds have already written about the virtues of this well-crafted pencil (in no intentional order). But, just as these reviews are unique among one another, we hope this review can add to the Pencil Consciousness regarding this burgundy beauty.
I first encountered a few Mitsu-bishi pencils briefly in 2005. Woodchuck included three in the original package of Palomino pencils he sent us. I’d never tried Japanese pencils, and I knew the Palomino used a Japanese lead. At the time, Mitsu-bishi pencils were difficult-to-impossible to come by in the United States. Still, well, I used mine right up. They were too good not to use!
So I was very excited to open a package containing a dozen Hi-Unis in HB! The pencils come in a hard plastic case with a hinged lid, inside of a cardboard sleeve. There is a plastic separator/stabilizer in the pencil box to keep the pencils from rolling around. While this may be there to keep the finishes looking their best, it has the added bonus of keeping the pencils from banging around after pencils are removed to be use. And my dozen stayed whole for all of five minutes after I opened the mail, when I sharpened one right up.
The first thing I noticed [after the package] was this pencil’s amazing finish. Not only does it blow away pencils like Dixon and General’s (sorry, guys!), but it surpassed even the Uni-Star and Uni. The Hi-Uni sports several layers of lacquer, finished so smoothly that one forgets that there is a wooden pencil in there. The ends are finished with a cap and gold and are very precisely topped off. The business ends are, well, perfect. There is no paint overlap, I can tell that the cores are as perfectly centered as every other Japanese pencil I’ve used. The barcode detracts from the pencil’s appearance, but I understand that this is a necessity in places where one can easily buy quality, open-stock pencils (unlike most shops in the USA).
The Hi-Uni reminds me of a Palomino’s finish, with the thick lacquer and clean ends. However, for better or worse, there’s a lot more print and design on the Hi-Uni. I’m not bothered by it, really, nor by other pencils with very minimalist tendencies. The Palomino looks great in the colors in which it comes, with minimal marking on the barrel of the pencil. Burgundy, however, benefits greatly from a little more gold and black design work.
There does seem to be something different about the wood used in this pencil, compared to others. It’s much more…red and very much more fragrant than other high-end cedar pencils. In fact, the lovely grain and aroma combine to serve as a pleasant juxtaposition to the ultra-smooth finish of this pencil – something about the natural material inside opposing the craftsmanship of the pencil.
The lead is just, wow. It’s as smooth as any HB I have ever tried, with a darkness anyone familiar with Palominos would find welcome. This core achieves a nice balance between blackness and point retention, also. While the core reminds me of the HB Palomino that I hold very dearly (the blue end-capped HB is one of my favorite pencils in the world), I have to admit that the Hi-Uni does hold its point a little bit longer. I feel like it’s ever so slightly less dark than an HB Palomino, but it’s really hard to tell. (It could be the same lead for all I know!) Smearing and ghosting, for a pencil that writes like this, are very very good. This pencil smears less than a lot of considerably lighter-writing HB pencils, and the ghosting is no worse, either. In fact, given the black line the Hi-Uni lays down, I was expecting them to smear quite a bit and to be messy pencils. On the contrary, they are precise, neat and, again, dark for HB pencils.
I should mention that these pencils are also noticeably wider than most pencils. I am told this is a quality of Japanese pencils, along with darker cores. If you’re a wide-fingered Comrade like me, this is a good quality. They are certainly not so much wider as to be difficult to sharpen. On the contrary, they fit better into my favorite (German) brass KUM wedge than my (German) Faber-Castells do.
Thanks again to David at Jetpens for the very generous review pencils, and I hope that Comrades who like a dark and smooth pencil find some Pencil Happiness with the Mitsu-bishi Hi-Uni! I am, frankly, smitten by this pencil.
Comrade Dan (a very good Comrade of mine) sent some photos of a sharpener at the school he went to, in its present state.
He tells us that this sharpener has been there since he was in school. Mr. Dan and I are…not so young these days; it’s been there for quite some time!
I love the groves worn into the wood from decades of turning the crank.
[Images, D.K., used with kind permission.]
Join us now on Facebook! This is different than the “group.” We’re moving on up to a page, wherein Comrades can receive updates, and there will be a “wall” on which anyone can post.
Karen was kind enough to send us a nice package of goodies to review this fall, and it’s time we publish some more reviews! I thought we’d go with a pad I’ve been especially enjoying: the Dot Pad — especially after the announcement of the Dot Webbie, which might be one of the greatest notebooks available.
Cover Material: Coated cardstock.
Paper: 80 g acid-free; light lilac grid with 5mm intervals between dots.
Size: Assorted; 6 ” x 8 ¼ ” as tested.
Page Count: 80.
Unique Characteristics: Foldable cover; dot=grid.
As you can guess, the Dot Pad has dots in place of the squared lines regular Rhodia paper has. While this might seem like a small deal at first, I think this means several things. First, this paper photocopies better. Second, one can more easily ignore the dots, easier than ignoring purple lines, anyway. Third — and most important to pencil users — it makes what you write or draw easier to see! I have long loved Rhodia pads, but I have usually felt compelled to use a dark/soft pencil because the graph lines are a little heavy. It never bothered me enough to steer me away from Rhodia pads — to be sure — but the Dot Pad is still refreshing and, well, fun. While I appreciate the orange of Rhodia pads, I like the departure for black, and I really like the graphic/logo work for the Dot Pad.
As as always the case with Rhodia, the construction and design are both solid. The way the cover folds over and the extra cardboard backing are just intelligent and functional. Period. The paper is smooth and wonderful. While Rhodia paper usually wins praise from Comrades who love fountain pens, the pads are also excellent for graphite. (It’s no accident that the first post on Pencil Talk was about Rhodia pads.) Smearability on Rhodia paper has never been a problem for me at all. What’s more, strangely, the Dot Pad seems somehow extraordinarily smear-resistant. Ghosting is not an issue with a Rhodia pad because of the construction of the pad itself. I mean, I suppose one could write on the back. But it would be pretty difficult, at least if you have meaty hands like I do.
Another thing I always like about Rhodia pads are that they are easy to find in person and relatively inexpensive. I’m willing to bet that if you live in even a medium-sized city, you can find them at an art shop or even Target. I can walk to several shops from my office in midtown Baltimore and find them, for instance (though none of these locations sell the pencils).
I’ve been using this particular pad as a bedside reading notebook, and I definitely plan to get more when I fill this one up. Right now, it’s recording all the pencil mentions in For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Comrade Brian sent this very cool dispatch from Portland (OR):
“I checked a book out from the Library called The Boy Mechanic: 200 Classic Things to Build, which is a neat little book that collects a bunch of old D.I.Y. projects from old Popular Mechanics articles, and this little blurb about a sharpener that collects the its own debris made me think of you, and your recent posting on Pencil Revolution. I made a scan of the article for you. I don’t know how practical such a device would actually be, but it’s fun to think that someone tried solving your dilemma.”
With some very nice wood (read: red cedar!) and an attractive handle, this could be a great device to keep on your desk, to sharpen the dulled-but-exposed lead in your pencils.
Today we are reviewing General’s Semi-Hex, the flagship pencil from one of the last American pencil companies, based in Jersey City, New Jersey. For some reason, we’ve never actually reviewed anything from General’s. We’ll, hopefully, follow up with the Cedar Pointe in the near future. To cut to the chase, there’s not much about the Semi-Hex that I don’t like, and its American heritage is a nice bonus. I’ve even been putting it through the paces for NaNoWriMo, and it’s a champ of a pencil.
Material: Premium Incense Cedar.
Shape: Hexagonal, with slightly rounded corners.
Finish: Yellow gloss with green foil details.
Ferrule: Aluminium — gold with black painted band.
Eraser: Pink rubber (?).
Core: Ceramic/graphite composite. Available in B, HB, F, H and 2H. (We tested the HB.)
Markings: Bonded — USA SINCE 1889 — GENERAL’S SEMI-HEX — 498-2/HB — SOFT.
Availability: From General’s and Pencils.Com — and select online retailers. (I’ve never seen them in person myself.)
The first thing you notice when you order (or buy in person) a dozen Semi-Hex pencils is the green cardboard box with retro graphics. While some companies do still use cardboard boxes from time to time (I have some by Dixon, Mirado, even recent ones), what you usually find is a blister pack. That’s not necessarily bad, especially if you like to see the pencils to pick the batch you like best. But, still, the old-timey American box makes me feel like these are pencils with work to do! And, with NaNoWriMo under way, they are!
The pencil’s appearance reminds me of the USA made Dixon Ticonderoga (pictured above with a Semi-Hex), being yellow with green foil lettering. Even some of the old grade markings look the same. I should probably look up to see which came first, but perhaps some Comrade who is generous with her or his time might do so?
The finish is solid, evenly applied and…modestly glossy. I like that these are sold unsharpened, and they don’t have that annoying paint overhang that Mirados always seem to have, and even a lot of recent Dixons. The wood is incredibly nice and very fragrant. If I’m not mistaken, all of General’s pencils are cedar, even their budget lines. This is the flagship pencil in the “school pencil” range, or, more accurately, the “writing” pencil range (although I suppose some people might write with the Kimberly; I do sometimes). If you enjoy the Cedar Pointe (and I sure do), this pencil is even, well, nicer. I would go so far as to say that this is the nicest yellow, eraser-capped pencil I have ever used.
However, if there’s one thing I don’t like about this pencil, it’s that it’s kind of boring to look at. The ferrules are well-attached, and the lettering is top-notch. But I wince at yellow pencils sometimes, even ones I enjoy like the Dixon and classic Mirado. If General’s Pencil Company decided to get funky and make this in a black finish like the Dixon Black (especially the USA made one with the matte finish) well, heck, I’d be in love. The stripe on the ferrule is badly done on most of the pencils in my dozen, but it’s not a huge deal. The eraser, a pink rubber (?) ender is really very effective. It’s a darker color than Dixons or Pink Pearls and feels somewhere between the two, and it erases as well as either of them.
But! This pencil has one thing that redeems its somewhat boring appearance: the lead! This is one smooth-writing, dark pencil. For this level of darkness and smoothness, the point retention is actually pretty good (between an HB Dixon and HB Palomino, but closer to the Dixon). I have yet to break one in any sharpener or on any page, or even in my pocket or bag. I did chop an eraser in half slamming my pencil box closed, but I glued it back together with clear tacky glue — why not? Or course, darkness here comes with increased ghosting, but it’s nothing terrible. Smearability, at this darkness, is actually pretty impressive, as I’ve found with other of General’s products.
Now. The name. As the name states, this is a rounded hexagonal pencil (think half-rounds, for my fellow musicians). Sounds good. Is it? Yes. Are most other hexagonal pencils rounded? Pretty much. The shape is not noticeably rounder than a Dixon, Cedar Point, Palomino, etc. But it is comfortable. Maybe this was a bigger deal when this pencil was first introduced? I do have some vintage pencils with edges so sharp that my poor middle finger hurts looking at them. It is a big deal if you write a lot. Maybe I’m holding my pencil wrongly (wait, I definitely do), but sharp-edge pencils like the Faber-Castell 9000 just hurt after a few pages, even at softer grades. And this is coming from someone with woolly hands full of calluses from music and camping and cooking. While the Semi-Hex shape is not exactly unique these days, it’s certainly comfortable.
In conclusion, this is not just a great American pencil. Heck, with so few left, that’s not a hard pair of shoes to fill. This is a fantastic pencil. It’s well-made, not prohibitively expensive (I paid $4 for a dozen), and with really just a great lead. Frankly, it’s everything you wish a Dixon Ticonderoga could be. (Here’s a nudge to Pencils.Com to carry more grades, and also thanks that they are one of the few places you can even get the Semi-Hex at all.)
I’ve mentioned before (from Zack and from Dan) that I have a lot of very nice and generous friends who gift me with pencils — and that I am always happy to receive them (!). My friend (and roommate in college) Brian (also a Pencil Revolution contributor) was in Baltimore yesterday. He came to supper at a local Mexican restaurant bearing a present consisting of a pack of My First Ticonderoga pencils and the iron sculpture you see in the photo.
It turns out that Brian has been taking blacksmith classes and made me this iron pencil, inscribed with the word “REVOLUTION” on it! It’s really incredible to hold, and, well, beautiful. He says he doesn’t have more for sale, but, hey, if enough people ask, perhaps the pencil deities will inspire him to create more?
I was in the storage area of the department in the university where I work yesterday with another lady in my office. We were talking about the archival quality of the creepy basement and ink and paper. When we got back upstairs, I had to check-out certain archived materials with her so that I could take them to my office to peruse them. She wrote down everything that I took with a pencil bearing our university’s logo. I noticed a yellow pencil by her keyboard that she had been using earlier. More in cups.
J: R, do you like pencils?
R: What? Oh, yes.
J: Me, too (in a whisper).
R: I don’t trust pens. They never work when you need them to.
J: I’m taking some boys camping this weekend, and I told them to bring a notebook and pencil because it’s likely to be too cold for ink to flow where we’re going…
And I went back to my office glad that I’m not quite the only pencil geek at work.
“I have a mild obsession with pencils, especially the General Pencil Semi-Hex 498 2 2/4. Mmm, ceder. Some years ago, I needed a pencil to mark up a book I was reading for seminary, and went looking for one. I did not find one pencil. I found fourteen scattered through the house. I would have stopped at one, but my curiosity was piqued to see all the different brands and styles that we’d accumulated. I decided that I couldn’t just pick one at random, I would pick the best one. So I sharpened them all and put them to the test. Of course I had to smell each one before writing, just to take note of the “nose” (the winner had that powerful ceder aroma that true pencil aficionados prefer. I think.)….
….Low-tech wonders stand out when compared to their replacements, the products that are manufactured to improve and supplant them. I think of all the ergonomic mechanical pencils and gel-grip disposable pens, none of which impress me or replace my pencil. The pencil has a beautiful simplicity to it, and an efficiency, and 95 percent of it is compostable (versus the landfill that is the fate of plastic writing tools). And there is some mystery to the pencil too. How does rubber (named for it’s ability to “rub” pencil marks away) erase the marks of the graphite without causing it to smudge? It’s the original word processor, complete with backspace.”
Stay tuned for the Pencil Revolution review of General’s Semi-Hex pencils, which we’re hard at work testing and enjoying!
With National Novel Writing Month fast approaching, some Comrades might be flirting with the idea of writing a novel longhand — or, at least, parts. We’re planning on featuring some equipment to make this easier on Comrades’ hands and spirits.
First up is some very interesting gear from Idea Sun in the UK. John sent us an Easyriter pencil, sharpener and pen, gratis, for review. First, the pencil.
Material: Extruded plastic, with wood pulp.
Shape: Triangular, concave/flat sides.
Core: Polymer/graphite composite. Available in #2/HB.
Availability: From IdeaSun.Com and brick and mortar retailers.
This is a very striking pencil. As you can see, it is very plain and very oddly-shaped. What you cannot see is that it is also somewhat flexible. This is due to the fact that the lead and barrel are both extruded plastic. This marks a first for Pencil Revolution, where we usually seem stuck-up enough to only discuss wooden pencils (and usually only cedar at that). But that doesn’t mean that there is no place for plastic. The “wood” in the Easyriter is made of recycled wood, mixed with polymer. At first glance, it looked like a large, weird golf pencil. It’s nothing fancy to look at.
But that’s not the point of the Easyriter. Rather, its shape mimics the grasp of a three-fingered pencil hold. We’ve seen this general concept applied to different triangular pencils. But the Easyriter takes it a step further. The three sides are not equally-shaped. One is flat (the part that meets your middle finger), while the other two are concave. Because of this innovation, increased pressured merely squooshes your fingers into one other, not into the pencil. This wide pencil is, honestly, incredibly comfortable for writing. The woodpulp/polymer barrel provides a nice grip, and the pencil is also extremely lightweight. And, while I’m not generally a fan of plastic pencils, this pencil would be ridiculously expensive to make out of wood, since each one would have to be shaped either by hand or by special machinery. The wood pulp content does make you forget, and it’s got a nice texture. The lead is surprisingly dark for a polymer pencil, and it’s nice and smooth. I’d rate the darkness in general as pretty middle for an HB (Dixon-dark), and that says a lot with an extruded core. I usually have to hammer those things to make a mark at all. If you have to press too hard to make a mark, this pencil would defeat its own purpose. But. You don’t, and it doesn’t. The lead is probably the best extruded cored pencil I’ve ever used.
I really like the included sharpener. It’s a large-diameter sharpener, but with only one hole! [Here it is next to one of my favorite sharpeners, a KUM brass wedge.] John at IdeaSun tells us that it’s a stock item from India but they they are thinking of using their own specs in the future. This is the only single-holed, large diameter sharpener I’ve ever used, and I hope that, if they do re-spec it, they keep this general design.
Technical Information (For Sharpener):
Shavings Receptacle: None.
Point Type: Medium (for wide-body pencils).
Place of Manufacture: India.
Availability: From IdeaSun.Com.
Frankly, it’s a great sharpener, and I think the Dixon Tri-Conderoga would have been better with this than with the cheap-looking (though nicely-performing) plastic sharpener with which they come. Sharpening is not as easy as with a round pencil, as is the case with most triangular pencils. In fact, my first sharpening with the included sharpener was a little awkward because the angles of the factory sharpening were different that what this cool little sharpener was making. After the first sharpening, however, it was smooth-going. Triangular pencils produce really interesting shavings (see here for a great photo by Comrade Mark). This pencil makes extremely cool-looking little shavings. And, once you get the point in line with the included sharpener, they are long and smooth, just like sharpening a cedar pencil in a good wedge sharpener. You certainly have to take care because of the severe angles. But I am usually a careful sharpener anyway.
There’s also an Easyriter pen, if you just have to use dirty old ink (!). Actually, it’s got a nice weight and feel and is at least as comfortable as the pencil is to write with. My father was visiting my daughter and I for lunch (dill potato soup!) the day that the package came, and I think he was coveting the pen (he cannot use pencil at work). It’s a black ballpoint pen with the same shape as the pencil.
If you’re thinking of doing some loooonnnngggg writing next month for National Novel Writing Month, you might seriously enjoy the Easyriter pencil (and pen). If nothing else, it’s just a really cool, really comfortable pencil. I can picture these in different colors, with capped ends being very attractive. A ferrule might be nearly impossible (without being very expensive), but different colors (black!) with a dipped end and no factory sharpening, and this pencil could be quite beautiful. As it stands now, it’s, again, COMFORTABLE, and that’s the point.