Review of Camel Natural HB Pencil.


Around this time last year, CW Pencil Enterprise started carrying this beautiful clear-lacquered pencil that I lusted after. But I was going to visit in person with my daughter soon after that (and I like to drop $100+ on pencils in person when I can, right?). So I waited until April. And I kicked myself a little for waiting because this has become one of my favorite pencils, period.

The Camel HB Japan we’re looking at is made in Japan and available at CW Pencils for $1.50 each. They are not cheap, but they last a long time. I own less than a dozen, more than a half, and I need to get more.

These are available in two colors: grey-capped with an ashy stain and white-capped with a reddish stain. They are both lovely, but I gravitate toward the grey because it stays cleaner-looking in my pencil tin. The imprint is white and simple and does not rub off (ahem, Layout pencil!).


But: Lo! That cap is an eraser, and it works pretty well. I have had one come off on me, but it stayed back on with a tiny drop of glue and two minutes of my time. And, in fairness, I sat on that pencil a few times before that.

The core is part of the reason I like this pencil so much. It’s smooth, but it’s not as soft or dark as what you’d expect from a Japanese HB. I’d suggest that this core feels like the Balanced Offspring of:

A Faber-Castell “Castell 9000” in 3B
and
A Mitsubishi “Hi-Uni” in H (maybe 2H)

The point durability and smear-resistance remind me of a German pencil, but the stress on the woodgrain and the smoothness remind me of a Japanese pencil. Darkness is in-between, I’d suggest. It’s a perfect pencil for pocket carry (the core is durable and won’t require much sharpening) and for long-haul writing (the smoothness, darkness, and point durability combine for comfort and better focus because it won’t let you down).

In Write Notepads “In The Pines” edition.

The cedar fragrance is strong with this one (!), though the thick lacquer requires you to sharpen the pencil before you can get High On Cedar (HOC).

In short, this is a daily-use pencil that you should buy if you like pencils enough to have read this far into a pencil review. It’s a little expensive, but a few of them will last you…until your next Necessary Order from CW Pencils.

See also:
The Finer Point
Pen Addict
The Weekly Pencil

Vikram’s Pencil Videos.

Vikram Shah has two pencil videos that will prove Very Interesting to Comrades and Pencileers. We humbly request that you check these out.

E. A. Poe at the Pratt and Baltimore.

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.

Review of Rite in the Rain Notebook No. 373.


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!

A Penchant for Paper, on Pencils.


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

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

Read the rest of the post here.

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

Review of Mitsu-bishi Hi-Uni, HB.


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.

Vintage Sharpener at St. Francis, Baltimore.


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.]

Pencil Revolution on Facebook.


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.

Review of Rhodia Dot Pad.


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.

Vitals:
Cover Material: Coated cardstock.
Paper: 80 g acid-free; light lilac grid with 5mm intervals between dots.
Binding: Stapled.
Size: Assorted; 6 ” x 8 ¼ ” as tested.
Page Count: 80.
Unique Characteristics: Foldable cover; dot=grid.
Origin: France.
Availability: Everywhere!

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.

Clean Pencil Sharpener.

(Click to enlarge.)

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.