Cool, Blue Sun-Star Pencil Gear, Part II.

IMG_2776IMG_2778

Sun-Star Sect Cylindrical Multi Pencil Sharpener
The sharpener is a cool little device. A dial clicks into five positions, giving you, in effect, five point options, from needle-sharp to pretty blunt. I have never owned a blade sharpener like this, and it’s a cool little device. The dial moves the sharpener inside of the body toward or away from the pencil you are trying to sharpen. If it’s far enough away, you can’t feed enough of your pencil through to get a very sharp point, which is ideal for fragile pencils like charcoal and colored pencils.

This is the sharpest point, #1. This is a nice angle, and the shavings were easily removed from this pencil.

IMG_2789

This is the most blunt point, #5. I did find that numbers 3-5 were all pretty blunt, while #1 to #2 and #2 to #3 were pretty big jumps.

IMG_2788

The sharpener itself is a nice blue plastic pocket sharpener. The issue I had was that cleaning it is a chore, if you use it more than a few times without emptying it. We don’t usually carry around the shavings from a dozen pencils, certainly, but this one holds some touch-ups and one or two starts from an unsharpened point before it clogs. The blade came sharp, but it is not replaceable. If you’re looking for a long-term relationship full of new blades, this is not the sharpener for you. But if you want to try an adjustable sharpener that really does make different points and that looks nice to boot, this is the one for you. And, think about it; getting to that $25 free shipping mark never looked so…blue.

New Palomino Pencil Finish.

IMG_2580

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.

IMG_2573

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.

IMG_2625

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.)

IMG_2616

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.

IMG_2612

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.

IMG_2607

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.

IMG_2618

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.)

Review of Write Notepads & Co Gear, Part II.

IMG_2338
Last week, we looked at the company who makes Write Notepads and at the large notebooks. In this review, we will take a look at the pocket notebooks and the pencils. Chris sent us over a pocket notebook in the regular and Paul Smith formats, both unlined. As much as I really liked the large notebooks, I find myself enjoying the pocket versions even more.

For one, these pages are not perforated for tearing out. While I can live with this feature in a larger notebook, I really don’t like the pages to fall out of my pocket notebooks, which I use most of all sizes. There’s precious [to me] stuff in there! It was also nice to find that the unlined paper performed just as well as the lined versions. These would make great sketchbooks, to be sure.
IMG_2361
These do actually fit well into a pocket, though not a side jeans pocket. There is more flex than I’d expect from something that feels so durable. But spirals don’t do it for me in the front pocket of my Levis. I have not subjected the spiral to a week under my posterior, in a back pocket, but the spiral feels like it would handle the test and stay together. While I could take the big rubberband or leave it on the large books, I use them all of the time on my pocket versions, to keep the pages closed in my puffy vest pocket or, ahem, diaper bag. These are also much less terrifyingly-sized. I will hide the larger ones when my brothers come to HQ this weekend for a little shindig.
IMG_2354
For size comparison purposes, the Write Notepads & Co pocket notebook with the Standard Memorandum from Word. and the current Field Notes edition. The WN&C book is slightly wider than the Field Notes with the spiral. This size is just about perfect for what this book is, and in the end, I can’t put my finger on what I like about these semi-chunky, semi-small notebooks full of really nice paper so much. But I can’t get enough of them, certainly.
IMG_2377
Chris also sent over some of Write Notepads’ pencils. These wooden implements are available in packs of five, for five smackers. They come in a nicely fitting resealable bag which feels heavy-duty enough that I’ll use it for something else when the pencils are gone. They are made in the USA by Musgrave and are very attractive.
IMG_2366
They are listed as cedar, though they don’t smell like any of my other cedar pencils. They smell familiar somehow, and the grain looks to Mr. Dan and I both like cedar. They certainly have a light weight, and they sharpen with ridiculous ease; seriously, even on sharpeners needing new blades, these were easily brought to a point. The printing is on a clear sticker of some sort. I really like the typography, though I’d like it much more if it were printed on the wood like the Field Notes pencil.
IMG_2371
What I think the Write Notepads & Co pencil has over the Field Notes pencil the most is the design. I am a sucker for a naturally-finished pencil with a pink eraser – doubly so with a gold ferrule. (See the older Prospector, of which I have only a precious few with pink erasers left.) The eraser on this pencil is soft and performs as well as the Field Notes version – pretty well, not great, not smeary. I have long suspected the Musgrave makes Field Notes’ pencils. So maybe this is the reason?

The lead feels a lot to me like the Field Notes pencil, though a touch smoother, darker and harder to erase. The eraser is crimped on (rather than glued), which I usually think looks better. The leads in our packs are well-centered, and these pencils are a pleasure to use. I’ll cop to using them 80% of the time I am writing/drawing in Write Notepads gear.
IMG_2372
Thanks again to Chris at Write Notepads & Co for the generous samples and for manufacturing stationery in Baltimore! I can’t say enough now much I enjoy these books, and I hope that we see more limited Baltimore editions soon! (I bought half of their run of the first limited edition as holiday gifts this year after testing these books in December — Okay, not exactly half of the run; you can still get ‘em.) Definitely get yourself some of these notebooks, and if you’re in Baltimore, hit up Trohv on The Avenue (Hon). And if you’re in Baltimore, hell, let’s all do a meet-up in the spring at one of our many good coffeeshops.

Review of Tombow Mono 100.

IMG_2150
[This review has been in the queue, waiting for the holidays to be over. If traffic stats are truthful, folks were happily not online much over the holidays – which is refreshing!]

Jetpens was kind enough to send a few Tombow Mono 100 pencils to Pencil Revolution HQ in HB and 2B. These are Top-Of-The-Line drawing and writing pencils from Japan, in a thick and very glossy lacquer. The printing is both informative and tasteful. And, golly, the gold stamping is nearly perfect. These are just beautiful pencils, and I did hesitate for a moment before sharpening them up. But I was glad I did.

IMG_2155

The Tombow Mono 100 is just as pleasing a pencil underneath all of that shiny paint. The cedar sharpens perfectly, and the cores are dead-center. The core is one of the best things about this pencil. At the risk of being…I don’t know what, I find it best to compare this pencil to its nearest cousin, the Mitsubishi Hi-Uni HB. The Tombow Mono 100 is darker, but the lead feels harder for some reason. Only through squinting mightily and repeating the tests could I figure out which pencil smears, erases and ghosts best. Unfortunately for the Tombow, the Hi-Uni smears less, ghosts less and erases more cleanly. But the differences are very slight and likely accounted for by the Mono 100′s increased darkness. I think it balances itself out, to be sure.

The 2B feels exactly like a slightly softer version of the HB pencil, which is one of the greatest compliments that one can pay to different grades of the same pencil. I cannot be not the first person to use two grades if the same pencil that feel like totally different pencils. This is far from the case with the Mono 100; the consistency is remarkable. I generally prefer a darker pencil for writing, but the 2B is a bit too dark for me. The HB is fantastic, and I would certainly love to try the B grade for writing, too.

Where the Tombow really differs from the Hi-Uni is in the color/temperature of the graphite mark. Like the Palomino Blackwing 602, I find the marks from the Mono 100 to be almost blue or cold in nature. This is certainly not a point against either pencil – or a point for it – but it was something I noticed and enjoyed noticing. Being January, I find this fitting.

IMG_2191

The case is very different from all other pencils I have owned, in that it seems to be designed for the desk top – as opposed to the desk drawer for the Hi-Uni or the supply cabinet for cardboard-boxed pencils. Frankly, it is just incredibly cool. Jetpens has great photos of the case on their site here.

IMG_2183

IMG_2185

I do have a few qualms with this pencil. The finish is so glossy that it shows scratches very easily. I don’t understand the aesthetic or symbolic rationale of putting an off-center white stripe onto the plastic endcaps. Indeed, mine did not all line up exactly, which is a surprising put-off for precision. Also, the case does not protect the finish of the pencils the way that the Hi-Uni’s case does. In fact, all of our samples were considerably scratched up from travelling across the country.

Oddly our 2B and HB pencils have different logos for Tombow and for the model itself. I am not sure which is newer, or if the difference is something else. Please do clue us in if you are In The Know.

IMG_2174

IMG_2178

The Tombow Mono 100 is a wonderful pencil, with a top-shelf finish as well as great wood and graphite under the hood. Even the case is nice. Certainly, they are expensive. But perhaps, like myself, Comrades cherish such Precious Pencils and use them until they are merely tiny stubs. I would not leave these on a desk at work, unless you really like your co-workers. Someone in my house walked off with a few already, since I left the case out — Unguarded. This does not happen in HQ as often as one might think, and the tastes around here run closed to sparkles and pink pencils. So this is a ringing endorsement from my daughter, who does not like a lot of high-end pencils.

Blue Cats Quirks Notebooks.

IMG_2071

IMG_2067
A long-time friend and Comrade of mine has started making/selling custom notebooks on Etsy at Blue Cats’ Quirks. These are standard pocket-sized notebooks in packs of four (not three!). What I like best is that the paper is missing until you order them. You get to pick what kind of paper you want in your covers.

“Individually handmade pocket sized notebooks made to order. Each notebook is 32 pages, approximately 3.5″x 5.5″, features a cardstock paper cover with rounded corners and a stapled spine. Sold in sets of 4 notebooks. (Please select which set you want. RANDOM includes 4 random covers on your choice of inside paper). Buyer choice of page type (once choice per set): blank, grid or ‘two-faced’ (when opened, each pair of two pages alternates between grid and blank) all of aprox. 16lb paper. Perfect size to slip in your back pocket or purse for those times when you just have to write things down. Great holiday or birthday gift! “

IMG_2069

I was lucky enough to receive a pack of these last Christmas, and I tore through them. They stood up to Pocket and Toddler abuse as well as any of my “branded” notebooks. Plus, they are made in Baltimore! Jenn put a special Hello Kitty-covered book in my latest pack for Charlotte, who, ahem, cutes (if I can make that a verb) her way into acquiring my notebooks and pencils. This prompted the statement, “Aunt Jenn is a nice lady.” Too true. So go and buy her notebooks! Through January 1, 2014, Jenn is offering a discount to Comrades, good for 10% off purchase if coupon is entered at time of purchase. Code: PENCILREVOLUTION1

IMG_2074

Review of Staedtler Noris HB.

IMG_1917

I have held off on reviewing the Staedtler Noris for over a year. It is not officially available in the United States. But, if our traffic statistics do not lie, then a large portion of our readers read from Western European Outposts. Add the number of sellers on eBay who will ship packs of these German Beauties to our shores, and this pencil is far from a stranger to our little community – at least potentially. My daughter loves this pencil (see handicraft piece), and, finally, Staedtler sent some (as result of that piece) to HQ last month. It has become semi-ridiculous to have not reviewed this pencil by now.

IMG_1918

I am fortunate enough to have great Pencil Friends like Matthias and Gunther, both of whom have sent me wonderful Noris gear. The beautiful vintage Noris pencils in the photos are from Gunther. Matthias sent the sharpener (which is the envy of my peers who pass through Pencil Revolution HQ) and multi-grade Noris packs. I would be foolishly remiss not to mention that Comrades interested in the Noris (or pencils in general!) would do well to visit the wonderful posts about and photos of Noris pencils at Bleistift and Lexikaliker.

IMG_1914

I will be confining myself to the red-capped HB version of the Noris for now. This hexagonal pencil features two black sides and four yellow, with a black stripe running the length of the yellow sides’ intersections. The effect is striking. The ends are dipped in white lacquer and then (in the case of the HB) into red lacquer, resulting in a layered cap that further sets this pencil apart. The gold stamping is as fine as the haloed Mars Lumograph, though the texture and quality of the Noris’s paint job is certainly not as smooth or glossy as the top-tiered Lumograph. But that is neither the market nor the price-range of this pencil. Every Noris I have seen comes pre-sharpened and ready for action.

IMG_1931

A note on the print. Some of the German Norises I have on hand say:

MADE IN GERMANY [Mars logo] STAEDTLER Noris HB [boxed 2]

while others say:

MADE IN GERMANT [Mar slogo] STAEDTLER Noris school pencil [boxed HB]

I do not discern any quality differences between the two, though the former’s lead seems somewhat more waxy. I assume that the difference is in marketing, since the Noris (unlike the Lumograph) is billed as a writing pencil, not an art pencil. (Please, Comrades, do amend any mistakes I am making here, honestly.)

IMG_1929

I cannot tell what kind of wood this pencil is made of. I have read of the Noris being made of cedar and of jelutong. But none of mine smell like cedar or look like jelutong. (Perhaps this article by the always excellent Pencil Talk could be helpful.) The pencil’s wood is light-weight and is treated to sharpen very well. Despite not having the incensed aroma, whatever wood it is of which these pencils are constituted performs well as a pencil casing.

I like the core/lead very much, especially for what I understand is currently (?) a budget pencil in some markets. What it lacks in the smoothness of its Blue and Black Cousin, it more than makes up for in darkness. This core exhibits a nice balance of smear-resistance and erasability. Often a mark’s resistance to smearing makes erasing difficult, and, at other times, pencils whose marks are easier to erase make a smeary mess of a notebook. Point retention is average at best, and I find myself sharpening this pencil more often than any other German pencil I use in the HB grade. So my Noris pencils do not retrain their original measurements for long. Perhaps I was inspired by this photo of Gunther’s. But this is a pencil that looks good short! As I finally have more than a few stashed away in The Archive, I find myself reaching for this pencil, no matter how stubby the current one gets. To be sure, there is a very short Noris in my NaNoWriMo pencil box this year.

I heartily recommend the Noris, especially to American Comrades who might not be familiar with this pencil. It is available via a few eBay sellers who will ship overseas, some of whom even have reasonable shipping rates. I get a lot of comments when I use this pencil, whereupon I tell folks that it is commonplace, in, say, England – which I still find surprising — with a little jealousy that the common pencil depicted in our country is certainly not this distinctive.

Word. Bandana Books.

IMG_1846
Word. sent us a pack of their new limited-edition Bandana edition books last week. You’ll remember that I loved Word. books, especially their paper. These are very cool notebooks, with a wonderful printing job. I like the vintage feel of this design, being a Bandana/Hanky Carrying Man myself. While Word. says that they don’t recommend wiping one’s brow with these books, I did spill coffee all over one. It was fine, and now it smells like French Roast!
IMG_1853

From Word:

Long associated with tireless work, devilish deeds and classic American style, the bandana is entrenched in U.S. history. Despite its global popularity, the paisley accessory is perhaps most strongly linked to the cowboys out West during the 19th century who wore them to protect against dirt and dust on the trail.

The latest Word. Notebook is inspired by the classic Western staple. It’s an ode to hard work and sharp design. Sporting a unique paisley pattern, each is perfect for tossing in your pocket to keep track of all the things you have to get done even if a cattle drive isn’t on your list.

While we wouldn’t recommend wiping your brow with it after a day in the sun, you’ll be glad you have it by your side.

We have the black version here, and there is also a red version that looks very Autumnal and attractive.
IMG_1862
And have you seen The Standard Memorandum? I have added one of these to my Christmas List. Check out the video, which features vintage diaries written in pencil. And I have to repeat that I love this paper for graphite. Everything feels particularly…crisp on this stock.

Thanks again to Word. for the review samples, which were a very nice surprise to find at HQ one grey day last week.

Review of Scout Books Artist Notebooks.

IMG_1416

Scout Books makes some gorgeous blank books with covers by contemporary artist. I saw the Meg Hunt edition of this book, which I meant to order (and still haven’t, for no good reason) next time I got around to getting some new pocket notebooks. But then Scout Books and Trohv hosted a “Notebook Party”* last month in Baltimore to launch two new sets by Baltimore-based artists. Taryn sent us the Perrin set, which are three of the prettiest pocket notebooks I have ever used, including seasonal editions of one of my other favorite brands. The printing job on that thick chipboard  cover is amazing. Despite the texture, there are no gaps in the ink (see below). I tore these right open and used one up, lest they sit unused in their beauty.

IMG_1413

I said that I would mention something else I have discovered about the paper that Scout Books uses: It has a nice texture and tooth, but it does not shave the points from pencils. I find that I can use a wide range of graphite on this paper, from HB German pencils (as hard a pencil as I likely to use) to soft drawing pencils. This is no small feat. The combinations of soft pencils on Moleskines** or hard pencils on Field Notes do not work well for me, personally.

IMG_1425

Pencil Glory to you if you can tell me which British television character my bad little drawing is supposed to be.

These are great little books. The covers are stiff enough that they are far easier to write/draw in standing up or on one’s lap than some other pocket notebooks. The paper is fantastic (and takes ink well, though I am certainly not a Fountain Pen Person, knowing little about them and owning exactly one that is not inked) and very white. Behold: the graphite in the above little drawing, in all of its High Contrast Splendor! I forget what pencil that was — probably a modern Blackwing 602? They have fewer pages than other brands at 32 (Field Notes and Word. books have 48), but the shipping is free. And their size makes them seem a little less intimidating. You’re not going to fit a novel in there. So get busy filling it up!

My other two will probably be broken in before you read this review.

*As my daughter, who was my date, called it.
** Though I only have a Little Prince planner and rarely use Moleskines Ever or At All, these days.

Review of Scout Books Mega DIY Notebooks.

IMG_1427
Taryn at Scout Books sent over some of their newest offerings recently. I love Scout Books (see our review from last year). Their proportions make them feel roomier than they are, and the covers have a…cuddly texture that I wanted to pet the first time I ever came across one. And their ever-growing catalog is a cause of wonder to me. They do a fantastic job with all of their books, and I wish they got more attention in the stationery blogosphere.

IMG_1430

What’s more: they are ahead in the softcover notebook game, with their new “Mega” format. These are 5×7 inch notebooks with 48 pages. They come two to a pack, and they pack a punch that is worthy of their name! I am in love with this size! I can imagine some pockets that would hold one of these (cargo shorts, suit jacket hip pocket, cycling jersey, tummy pocket on a pair of overalls, etc.), but there is a glorious amount of their paper that I like immensely. The covers are Scout Books’ DIY version, blank chipboard to Rock in any way that Comrades might choose.

IMG_1432

The Mega books come in four page-styles currently: blank, lined, graph and dot-grid. Taryn sent us the lined and dot-grid. The lines are the same as the pocket notebooks we reviewed last year: excellent. The dot-grid is my current favorite dot-grid available. The top and bottom rows of dots are darker, to serve as a sort of margin or border. And the dots on the rest of the pages are very small and light. The whole point (!) of dot-grid, as I understand it, is to stay out of the way. When such dots are usually grey for some reason (I’ve never seen brown dots, for instance), this is especially important for Users of Graphite. These smaller and lighter dots are very…mellow, as you can see below.

IMG_1457

The paper is the heavy stock that is one of the things that sets Scout Books apart from other popular pocket notebook brands. (I’ve written about this paper before, and I’ll talk more tomorrow on the Artist Notebook post.) These notebooks are, frankly, Great and a great deal to boot at $10. Remember that Scout Books always offers free USA shipping. You can’t go wrong. I’m thinking of using these for NaNoWriMo, if I am brave enough to give up even more sleep next month.

Review of Sonic Ratchetta Sharpener.


Apologies for the lapse in posts these past few days, and many thanks for those who sent well wishes. Today, we have the Ratchetta sharpener, sent to us for free from the fine folks at Jet Pens. Sonic makes an entire line of these sharpeners, including three colors that have an adjustable point dial, which would be fun to test as well. We are reviewing here the orange model with an auto-stop feature built in.

IMG_1375

This is a pretty…fancy pocket sharpener; so I’ll quote from Jet Pens:

“The innovative ratchet mechanism in Sonic’s Ratchetta pencil sharpener makes hand-sharpening your pencils quick and easy. You no longer need to repeatedly let go and re-grip the pencil while sharpening! Simply rotating the pencil back and forth does the job. The mechanism is similar to that of a ratcheting screwdriver. The Ratchetta also has a compartment for shavings, and a lid for covering the pencil hole when not in use.

This Notification sharpener has a button that you press down before sharpening. As you sharpen, when your pencil point is sharp and ready, the button pops up with a click sound, notifying you that you are done sharpening. Thus your pencils are saved from over-sharpening.”

Honestly, I forgot about the ratcheting action for the first few rounds with this sharpener, and I was already impressed. The points produced are of a nice angle (think KUM wedge), but they even resemble those excellent points produced by a brass bullet sharpener. The blade is sharp and stable. I’m not sure if it is replaceable, but it would surprise me if there is nowhere on earth to get them. The ratcheting mechanism is pretty neat, and it caught Pencil Revolution Contributor Dan‘s attention for a long while the last time we went for a night bike ride and chai tea on the stoop. It’s smooth and quiet, and I could definitely stand for it to be louder, just for kicks.

IMG_1390

The compartment door and the pencil-hole-cover close tightly and open smoothly. Honestly, this sharpener feels like it costs a lot more than $3.30. I’d venture to say that only a Seriously Sharpening Comrade without access to a trashcan, tinderbox or compost pile would need to store more shavings than this little guy can hold. Still, it remains very pocket-friendly.

Another interesting part of this sharpener is its “Notification.” There is a little button you press (the green one, pictured above) in. It stays in. When your pencil is sharp, it pops out with a nicely audible notification. It’s not often that a nice feature like this is included in a pocket sharpener, and less often that it actually works.

IMG_1385

The pin is pushed by the sharp pencil point until it nudges the button.

IMG_1384

It pops up, and you have a lovely, sharp point.

IMG_1379

(Faber-Castell Bonanza and Palomino Blackwing 602, auto-pointed with a ratcheting flavor.)

This is definitely a sharpener for The People. It’s inexpensive, unique, and it even has an auto-stop. My daughter might find that Santa picks up the pink one for Christmas. Above all, it sharpens well! And it holds enough shavings to smell wonderfully after a few days. We held off publishing this review for a week or two until they were back in stock, and I don’t expect them to be for long. The orange one is perfect for autumn, but there are a few other colors as well.

 

Review of Mixed Grade Hi-Unis from Jet Pens.

IMG_1352
I’d bet that a lot of Stationery Buff Comrades know that Jet Pens stocks a lot of great pencils and pencil gear. They sell hard-to-get pencils like the Tombow Mono 100 and the Mitsubishi Hi-Uni (a lovely dozen of which they sent us last year), in addition to pencil sharpeners and accessories I have never seen elsewhere myself.

The good folks at Jet Pens HQ sent us a little package with a Hi-Uni in F, HB and 9B. I thought we’d do something we’ve never done before and compare different grades of a pencil. Generally, we review HBs, but this is interesting — if nothing else, then because I think F is an cool grade that not all lines include.

IMG_1354

The finish and pencil exteriors remain the same: gorgeous. When viewed at the business end, the 9B has one massive core. This produced interesting shavings. While the F and HB rendered shavings like most pencils, the 9B (out of a KUM brass wedge) produced “shorter” wood shavings and long, lovely graphite splinters. I take the fact that there were splinters in the pile (and not merely dust) to indicated that the 9B is a strong lead, albeit a soft one. Sharpening a Hi-Uni is always a pleasure. They sharpen very easily and evenly. But what’s more; they smell incredibly cedarlicious.

IMG_1364

The F grade is as smooth as the HB, with the difference being one of point-retention and darkness. I feel like I should stress this. As the pencil grade moves toward the harder end of the line, it does not get less smooth. The transition between the HB and F is also very subtle. This is also remarkable. I, for one, have used grades of certain pencils wherein, say, 2H-HB feel like very different pencils than B and darker. (I’m not naming names. Not now.) Since F is really a semi-grade between H and HB, this is an even greater accomplishment.

IMG_1366

When faced with a Japanese 9B pencil, I was at a bit of a loss because we usually review pencils for writing. I have been known to use very dark pencils for signage and for drawing. But I thought I’d give making some letters a try with this pencil. It is very dark and very smooth. Honestly, at 9B (a grade most manufacturers actually stop short of), this is to be expected. But what pleased me the most is the fact that this pencil resists smearing at such a very soft grade. Sure, it smears a little, but I’ve seen some HB pencils smear this much. To be sure, frequent sharpening and the wide core will keep it from being a go-to pencil for NaNoWriMo participants. But I have used this pencil in place of a Sharpie more than once over the last week, to make huge words — for grocery lists, putting “please do not bend” on a package, and even just to stress something in a notebook.

If the entire range of Hi-Uni pencils is this smooth and has transitions this subtle, I look forward to trying more of the extreme and in-between grades myself.

Hit up Jet Pens if you’d like to try them yourself. The cost of Hi-Uni pencils does help you get free shipping at $25! And these are well-worth it — check out our review again for more details.

 

 

 

 

Review of Helix Pencil Top Sharpener Combo.

IMG_1206
I found these at Office Depot during back-to-school shopping season. They cost $0.99 for a pack of two with one yellow pencil. I figured these were certainly worth a chance, and I am happy I bought more than one pack.

These are marketed as a combo-solution. There is a plastic sharpener encased within a rubbery housing. The housing is an eraser. To boot, one can use this as a semi-efficient point protector; turning the pencil in such a situation sharpens it a bit. I can’t find the item on Helix’s website, since they are now part of Maped. I’ve seen a few Maped items at USA stores lately, and I am hoping they might bring their pencils here.

IMG_1217
The sharpener is actually pretty good, giving a point similar in angle to a standard wedge sharpener. I tested a very cheap pencil first, as these are generally difficult to sharpen. The shavings came off in a nice long ribbon, which I found very surprising for some reason. I suppose that this item smacked of being “gimmicky” with its price and bizzarre design. Designing two items which are eaten away in use (sharpener that goes dull and an eraser that goes to dust) together is pretty smart, and it echoes the ephemeral nature of a wooden pencil itself.

IMG_1211
The screw is designed to not be removable (for safety, I assume). So replacing the blades looks impossible. At $0.50 each, though, this is not terrible — doubly so because so much of the material is usable as an eraser.

Speaking of the eraser — I’m not sure we’ve ever actually reviewed erasers. Part of this is that I just don’t like them. Or, at least, I used to not like them. They reminded me of nuns standing over my shoulder looking angry that my math homework was sloppy (though correct!). I think I’m over that now (sigh). And this is unavoidable anyway. We can’t review this without mentioning the eraser.

For another surprise, I’m, well, surprised by how well the eraser works! The performance on the black one I tested feels like a Black Pearl or black Factis. But it erases better, with with less effort.

IMG_1203
While it is unremarkable looking at best (I think it’s more…ugly), the pencil the set comes with is not bad. It produces a nice, dark line, though the finish is pretty disappointing. The label is already coming off. The UK versions have pencils which coordinate with the sharpeners, but all of the US versions I have seen only have yellow pencils. (Go figure.)

So this set winds up coming with a decent (if ugly) pencil and two good sharpeners held by excellent erasers. All for a buck. I was surprised by the quality of each item/function. Comrades, this eraser and sharpener combo is a keeper. Nab some, if you can find them. I’m not linking to sellers, but I’ve seen very good deals on eBay…

Review of AquaNotes®: When Inspiration Strikes in the Shower.

[Today's review comes from Comrade Gary Varner, long-time friend and contributor to Pencil Revolution.]
Where and when do your ideas come? And do you always remember them later when you want to use them? If you’re like me, it’s usually when I’m wet and about to get soapy. And that’s why I started using AquaNotes®.

aquanotes-2

AquaNotes® is 40 waterproof 3-1/2 x 5-1/4 inch pages bound in a pad with rear suction cups to adhere to your shower or tub walls, along with a water-resistant pencil with it’s own special suction cup holder. Not only are AquaNotes® made and assembled in the USA, they’re eco-friendly as well. From their Web site:

“…waterproof paper that is totally recyclable, environmentally friendly, and non-toxic. Each pencil is water resistant and is made with Incense Cedar wood, a responsibly harvested renewable resource meeting stringent environmental requirements. Even the ink used to print the logo and company information on the notepad is soy based.”

In the past I’ve tried Rite in the Rain and other waterproof pads, Fisher pens, and even waterproof pencils. But invariably when the idea comes I can’t find the pen or the pencil or the pad. With AquaNotes, it’s on the wall at the ready when your next great idea strikes you during lather or rinse (and sometimes both!).
aquanotes-1
There’s definitely a lot of science behind why ideas come more easily to us when in the shower. This great article from the Bufferapp.com blog gives some details on brain science and creativity and why showers are a great incubation place for ideas. And as the video below shows, its common for the relaxing effects of water on the body to open up the flow of ideas, and I for one don’t like relying on my memory to capture those gems! With AquaNotes® I’m ready when the ideas decide to show up.

http://youtu.be/itaHohHGuQg

You can buy the pads or parts, and even bulk packs straight from the manufacturer’s site, but places like Amazon.com, Vat19.com, and SwimOutlet.com carry the basic pad kits as well.

Gary Varner writes about communication, productivity, and core skills at garyvarner.com, and on Twitter @GaryLVarner.

Field Notes Pencil in Action.

DSCN0550
One of the projects of my summer has involved putting in a new laminate floor at my parents’ house with one of my brothers. This is a frame house in Baltimore that dates back to at least 1880 and didn’t have plumbing, electricity or heat when it was built. Having houses of our own, it is difficult for Joe and I to find time (and energy) for this project. But it did provide a great opportunity to try my Field Notes Carpenter Pencil in The Field.

We also tried a promotion carpenter pencil we found in my mother’s antique desk (that’s been there since for nearly two decades, I’d imagine) and a USA-made Home Depot carpenter pencil with the date 2003 (bought in 2006).

The promotional pencil is now two inches long. Nothing would sharpen the porous wood and crumbly lead. My brother was attempting to use this on the first day before I got there with better pencils. He was relieved that it was not his sharpening efforts but, rather, a truly junky pencil that was frustrating him. The naturally-finished Home Depot pencil was actually very good, the best “commercial” carpenter pencil I’ve used. The wood (not cedar; I doubt it) was very…waxy from a successful treatment to make it easy to sharpener with a knife or utility blade. The lead left a bit of a light line, but it didn’t crumble or break. It was smeary though, leaving graphite all over the sharpened wood of the pencil. This surprised me for a pencil that made such a light mark.

I might have been biased because the Field Notes pencil was the most expensive and the one I wanted to work best. But it performed very well. The wood sharpened as well as the Home Depot pencil, and the lead was very strong. Even better, the lead was darker and didn’t seem to stain the wood and our project. The line stayed put. It performed on wood like a soft Castell 9000 does on paper, producing a sharp, dark line. The wood is not cedar, but the finish of the pencil is pretty nice. The black paint and white lettering are sharp, though we did lose it a few times because it was dark on the opposite side and hid itself in shadows while we had the ceiling fan and light down (before installing the new one).

Also, envy my wonderful sharpening job (accomplished with a very sharp blade and a few minutes of careful cutting)!
DSCN0552

Finally, I gave sharpening a carpenter pencil with an oscillating tool a shot, just to see what it was like. Don’t do it! In addition to doing an even worse job of sharpening the pencil than I thought I would, I am probably lucky to still have all of my digits. This could largely be because I do not have a lot of skill with this tool. But I don’t think this is a good way to practice to perfection skills with a tool I do not actually like.

The Field Notes carpenter pencils are available in three packs for $4.95. I bought these the first time I saw them this winter. (There are white and red ones floating around, for the collectors out there.) While you’re there, could someone please explain to me how there are still America the Beautiful editions left? That edition has probably the most graphite-friendly paper Field Notes has ever used. I am down to my last notebook from my last set of those, which I have been using very sparingly. Try one! This is one of my three favorite editions, I think.

Review of Neon Ticonderogas.

IMG_0893
This is more of a News Bulletin than a review — more of a Go Get Yours Now. At Target today, checking out their back-to-school offerings, I came across a pack of neon Dixon Ticonderoga pencils. These are made in Mexico and come pre-sharpened. They have the green and yellow ferrules and pink erasers we’ve come to expect. I paid $2.89 US for a pack of ten.
IMG_0874
The package contains 10 pencils: two each of neon yellow, green, orange, pink and purple. Oddly, the yellow could fool one into thinking it’s a regular yellow pencil — and perhaps that something’s wrong with one’s eyes. Neon blue would have been nice instead, or even to make it an even dozen. But I suppose that no 80s throw-back product is really complete without neon yellow. In addition to stating that these are exclusive to Target, the label says that these pencils are made of “premium wood.” I have little idea of what this means. They look and sharpen like cedar but don’t smell like it. When I’m more awake, I’ll have to wear some down and do some sharpening and sniffing.
IMG_0879
The cores are nice and smooth, yet firm. I haven’t gotten a chance to compare them to Chinese and Mexican stocks from recent runs since I wanted to get this up ASAP, before my daughter and her friends run off with all of these bright pencils and before Target sells out of them. But the leads seem to be as smooth as the Chinese Dixons I’ve encountered lately, which is a good thing — only less dark and smeary. They feel similar to the last American Ticonderogas to me, though I’ll have to try them more to confirm.
IMG_0887
What’s perhaps most interesting, especially to Retro Grouch Comrades, is the recent addition/reintroduction of the word SOFT to the HB/#2 Ticonderoga pencils I’ve seen for sale this year. (I saw some yellow ones at Big Lots but left them there for some reason.) The printing is not as crisp as usual, but I like the reprise of the lead description.The simple graphics of today’s Dixon Ticondergas are nice, especially the lead number designation that is enclosed in the shape of the barrel’s cross-section. But the oddly…boastful printing of yore is missed, certainly.

Finally, an odd note: while Target sells a lot of Write Dudes pencils (most of the USA-made varieties), they do not sell those fat kids’ pencils I like. A lady we saw even checked with an employee. Bizarre. But if you like the Dixon Ticonderoga and very brightly colored pencils, these are a good catch. I have to squirrel away an orange one for camping/finding in my backpack.

%d bloggers like this: