Hell Freezes Over Twice!

(This is another fanfreakingtastic piece from Stephen Watts, whose efforts for Pencildom do nothing short of blow my mind!)

Hell Freezes Over Twice!

aka Father and Son Pencil Review VI
aka Final Review v4.0

From the June 2015 Father and Son Pencil Review V:

You know I never lie about these things, so believe me when I tell you that this is the end of our pencil reviews, unless and until I happen across a Blaisdell Calculator 600, that most rare of Steinbeck-sanctioned pencils. If that day comes, Hunter and I will sign ourselves out of the nursing home, come back to my den, blow the dust off the old computer and we’ll let you know where the third of Steinbeck’s favorite pencils falls in our list.

Friends, hell hath frozen over, and not just once, but twice.

You’re reading the second version of this review. After I submitted the first, something else happened that I doubted would ever occur: General Pencil Company advised Gary Varner of Notegeist that our pleas have been answered and the General’s Cedar Pointe #333-1 will have a second life. We will probably see it back on shelves before the end of the year! More on this later, but let’s get back to the original description of how hell has frozen over.

I was innocently minding my own business one day when I was assaulted by this eBay auction title:

Vintage Blaisdell Pencil Co. Calculator Special Grade No 660 Lot 11 Original Box

¿Qué? Special Grade 660? What was a “660?” What it was, it turns out, was a mistake. And that mistake may have been what allowed me to win an auction for a nearly full box of Blaisdell Calculator 600s at a fraction of what I might expect to pay for a box of far more plentiful vintage Blackwings. I’d begun to doubt I would ever run across a single one of these mythical creatures.

Continue reading “Hell Freezes Over Twice!”

From the Archives, Again, V. 8.2.

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

American-Made Ticonderogas (reviewed by Comrade Tom)

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

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

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

EcoSystem and Rhodia 2011 Planners.

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

EcoSystem 2011 “Advisor“, flexible black cover.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Field Notes Review, Part I: The Pencil.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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