Pencil for Long-Term Writing, Part 2: Pencils.


According to this blog’s stats, the post from 2010 about long-term writing and pencils is one of the most visited posts on this site. While we are behind in answering mail, we recently, we heard from Don, who asked

“I am wondering if you have any suggestions as to what kind of pencil lead to use for a high quality, long lasting journal?”

I think this is something to explore further, since some pencils (and some papers) perform better than others at keeping your writing safe for the future. Today, let us take a look at what makes a pencil effective for long-term writing, since (as we all know) Pencil is Forever. We’ll cover paper and accessories in two subsequent posts.

When I think of  good Journaling Pencil, there are some considerations I like to, er, consider. In re-reading this list, it could also serve as a Guide to Selecting the Write (!) Pencil in general, in some ways, though the models on that list might be somewhat, or even very, different if that was my intention here.

Darkness
While a German 4H will lend itself to an extreme degree of smear-resistance, it will not make a suitably dark mark for most users’ readability. While a hard pencil’s marks might actually be there on the page, I’d prefer to read them with the naked eye. And as I quickly approach Middle Age, that naked eyesight is not getting better.

Point Durability
A pencil is more likely to continue to make crisp lines if the point is durable and keeps its sharpness without crumbling and making a mess on the paper. I seldom go for the softest option. I like a point that stays crisp and clean for journaling.

Smoothness
A smooth pencil requires less pressure to make a mark. It indents the paper less, and that is always a good thing if you are being careful about your writing — not to mention fighting hand fatigue.

Smear-Resistance
Hard pencils resist smearing, but they can indent the paper due to the pressure required to make marks with them. However, some soft and/or dark pencils resist smearing more than others. This is a sort of Grail to which a lot of individual pencil models seem to aspire, along with a blend of darkness and point retention (a term I do not like).

Ghosting/Graphite Transfer
Almost all pencils and almost all bound books I have used involve the transfer of graphite between pages to some degree — at least when writing on a page which has writing on the other side. I always use a sheet of smooth paper between pages in such instances. A custom-cut piece of an outdated map (a method I’ve used for years) will last through several notebooks, and paper from a Rhodia pad cut to size works very well, too. Please note that cleaning the “blotter” sheet periodically with an eraser will yield maximum results.

Balance
What I look for is a pencil that is a good balance of darkness, smear-resistance, and smoothness. This is difficult to quantify or even to qualify. So I will list some examples of pencils which I personally find to be useful for long-term writing.

Staedtler Wopex – While there are many Comrades who eschew this extruded piece of weaponry, none can deny that the damned thing just won’t smear. It is also difficult to erase (possibly marring a journal full of mistakes, but maybe we shouldn’t run from our mistakes). You cannot have it all. But you can have this fantastic pencil in more colors if you buy from European sellers on eBay.

Blackwing (Firm or Extra-Firm cores only) – For some reason, the Balanced core in the Pearl (and 725) seems to smear more than the others. It has become my least favorite core for journaling. The MMX is lovely, but you can kill a quarter of a pencil writing about a good camping trip. The Firm core in the 602 (and 211, 56, and 344) and the Extra Firm in the 24 and 530 are both smooth and do not smear readily on good paper, though I learn more toward the smoother side of the spectrum of acceptable papers for long-term pencil writing.

General’s Layout – This pencil is oddly smear-resistant, with a durable point, for a pencil which produces such black marks. The slightly wider, round body is a bonus for True Writing Comfort.

Camel “Natural” HB – There’s not much to not like about this pencil. It definitely makes a much lighter  line than most Japanese HB pencils I use, but the point durability and aesthetics are top-notch. And I don’t always want something so soft and/or dark.

Faber-Castell Castell (9000 in the B-4B range) – This pencil can run easily through the 4B range without becoming a blunted, smeary mess. The exact grade you might enjoy will depend on how much darkness you demand and what paper on which you are writing. Try a 4B on Moleskine or Field Notes paper (see the next post), and you will understand that of which I speak.

General’s Cedar Pointe HB – This is a great all-around pencil. When I first tried them circa 2005, the leads were too hard for journaling. But they have softened the formula since then, and this is one of the most balanced cores I can think of. This certainly extends to long-term writing.

Premium Japanese HB – I cannot decide between the Tombow Mono 100 or the Mitsubishi Hi-Uni. Both make smooth, dark marks that stay put.

I am sure that I am forgetting some, and I know I am leaning heavily on pencils I have used recently. What are some things Comrades consider and some favorite journaling pencils among us friends?

Field Notes Unexposed: Serious Neon Action.

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Look, it’s, like, a neon color spectrum, dude!

All of my fellow Paper Fiends now know about the latest offering from Field Notes: Unexposed. I will admit that I was less than excited  when I learned that I would not get all six, even as a subscriber. I ordered two more packs from [upcominggreatstorefront] before I saw my subscription packs. So I was not completely undone when I got two sets of doubles — only four of the six. Two more packs were on the way, and odds were on my side.
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But I checked out my two packs, nonetheless, even as An Incomplete Set. Look at this cool sleeve! It’s very well-executed, with the FN logo inside. I imagine that coating this in heavy packing tape could produce a pretty durable cover/case for carrying Field Notes.
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Out of the sleeve, these books kind of smell like chemicals. I imagine it will go away, however. Being packed into a Secret Box would probably make me stink a little, too. The texture feels like the Drink Local edition from last fall, which is a good thing. I like when my Field Notes get cracked and show wear, and I mean that. However, unlike the Drink Local, I would have rather seen these colors in the summer. Even if you don’t like beer, the Drink Local colors were sweetly autumnal. And imagine how great Arts and Sciences would have been for back-to-school!

The inside covers feature contrasting ink — they are the Color Shadow of the outside covers. The paper is the usual, which is friendly to everything it makes sense for a pocket notebook to be friendly to. It has the reticle grid; I was not crazy about this pattern in the Night Sky edition. It was dark enough to really distract me from graphite, especially since it did not “disappear” the way that lines or a grid might. My one pack of NS that I used is in my Big Box of Used Field Notes, and I can’t compare them just now. These do not *look* as dark. But everything is a little Chromatically Crazy after looking at these books for a while.

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I had to get four packs to get all six. I was terrifically…irked by this before I actually had my set of six, to be sure. Of course, when I had them all in hand Monday, I sung like a — I don’t know, a happy guy? We talked a lot about what this might mean to collectors in our Erasable Facebook Group. All four of my packs are open. The only sealed Field Notes in my possession are not really mine; they are my kids’ Birth Notes (Spring 2010 and Summer 2013). The folks at Field Notes print so many books of each edition now that I can’t imagine that the Stationery Trend is going to last long enough in its current zeal for these huge-run recent editions to be very valuable. But I certainly don’t want to start a fight. I am too busy filling my Field Notes.

Now, being a Good Comrade, how could I not pair these up with the Neon Wopexen??
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Check out Andy’s unboxing video and this first look.

(I bought these myself. Ain’t not messin with my opinions, man.)

Review of Staedtler’s THE PENCIL, 2 of 2.

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Yesterday, we took a long look at the cap/extender/sharpener of The Pencil. Today, we will finish our review by looking at the Luxury Wopex pencils that come with it.

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Depending on which end you pick up, you might notice that the pencil is black all of the way through to the core, or you might notice that the pencil is topped with a silver-mounted stylus, for use on modern touchscreen devices. I was joking IRL that I can’t figure out how to use a stylus correctly, though I can use these as well as I can use any others I have tried. And other Comrades at HQ had no problems getting them to work. So they are not merely a gimmick to include a feature missing on all of the Faber-Castell Perfect Pencils. They really give this tool another function, one which it performs well.

The silver plastic that holds the stylus is well-attached and fits perfectly into the Cap Assembly when The Pencil’s pencil gets too short to comfortably use. I have found that these pencils roll off of a table much more easily, but while stuck into the cap, this is no issue at all, since the cap square — and clipped to boot.

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If you picked up the point first, you’d notice a black pencil. A Black Pencil. Where the other Wopexen I have had the pleasure to use have a layer of rubbery material extruded on top of the “wooden” part, these are “unfinished” in a way, with lines running down the length of the pencils. The result is a Dry-Grip (not unlike an unfinished pencil) — and if you’re a Wopex fan like myself, a new Wopex experience. These round pencils are fantastic to hold and write with, and I hope very much that Staedtler might produce a round Wopex, perhaps even to replace their discontinued stenography pencil.*

These pencils run a bit shorter than a regular pencil. I thought that illustrating it with a new Neon Wopex would drive the point (!) home better than a number would. This is The Pencil’s pencil with the factory sharpening.

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Of course, the shorter pencil allows you to use your extender more quickly. Largely, though I think they made the pencils shorter because a full-sized pencil would never fit into a pocket with the Cap Assembly from The Pencil on it.

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The core of this pencil is everything you like (or don’t) about writing with a Wopex. It’s smooth, smear-resistant, light and somewhat tricky to sharpen at first. I know some Comrades do not enjoy them, but I love Wopexen enough that I actively collect them — something I rarely do with a particular pencil, especially one whose examples are usually not available to me in my home country.

So…is The Pencil better than Faber-Castell’s Perfect Pencil? To be sure, that’s personal. For my daily carry before reviewing this pencils, I toted around the Castell 9000 version of the Perfect Pencil. It is light and inexpensive and sort of glides under the radar in my pocket, looking like a pen. My platinum version sits in The Archive most of the time, because of its cost but, mostly, because of its weight. I do not have the UFO version.**

Staedtler’s The Pencil is sort of a different animal in some respects. For one, it looks more “modern” than the F-CPPs, and the stylus ends scream to be used in a way that platinum caps do not. Not being made of heavy metal, this is as portable as cap/extender/sharpeners come, with a nice eraser hidden in there for good measure. Whether or not it merits daily carry depends on one’s tastes and budget. I have to say that I am glad I took photos before I used and abused and reviewed The Pencil, because one of the black pencils is now fairly short, and I have been carrying this around quite a bit. It’s won a spot in my portable rotation when I have a shirt pocket in which to…display it. It does come with a little Strut.***

Comrades can purchase The Pencil set for $79. Replacement pencils are also available, for $19.

*Especially since the Wopex is so often noted for its point retention and resistance to smearing, a round Wopex would be a terrific stenography pencil.
**Though, Faber-Castell, if you’re reading this, SEND US ONE IN BROWN! We promise a great review. I have been drooling over this for a decade and have never pulled the proverbial trigger.
***Trademark pending.

(This set was provided to us by Staedtler North America, free of charge. Opinions, impressions, analyses and images are my own.)

Review of Staedtler’s THE PENCIL, 1 of 2.

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Now this is a piece of Pencil Beauty, and I hope I do it justice. A week after we received Primo Neon Wopexen at HQ, we received The Pencil. That is that name for Staedtler’s relatively new luxury pencil cap/extender/sharpener/eraser. Think of this as Staedtler’s answer to Faber-Castell’s Perfect Pencil, with an adage worthy of Don Draper’s best work.*

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The Pencil is a set of three unique pencils made of Wopex material, with stylus tips where you might expect erasers — and a cap which houses a hidden (really) sharpener, an excellent eraser and also functions as an extender. We’ll look at the Cap Assemply first.

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disassembledThe cap is plastic. Stephen pointed this out in his great review last year, and I was among those disappointed that this was not made of metal. However, I think that knowing it was plastic before I held it prepared me enough that I appreciate that it does not weigh as much as the platinum-plated Faber-Castell version, which can be somewhat awkward to carry.

The far end has a cap which displays the Staedtler logo, in a tasteful fashion. The sharpener can be used with the Cap Assembly in one piece or with it exploded, as you can see. There is a slot in the side of the cap which allows the ejection of pencil shavings. This allows a better grip than the Perfect Pencil that I carry around daily, which only has the sharpener attached to the very tip of the top. The clip is metal and sturdy, sticking well to everything to which I have stuck it. I don’t own a digital scale, but the weight of the entire cap is what I would call pleasing. It has enough weight to feel sturdy, but it’s certainly no Pocket Anchor. There is some play while the pencil is inserted into the cap, largely because the pencil is held in some sort of Mechanism which allows it to rotate, making possible the In-Cap Sharpening. It never really bothered me, since I did not use it for long as an extender because my The Pencil was not short enough to require it. The Cap Assembly holds onto The Pencil, though there is no Death Grip to leave makes on your Luxury Wopex. I am not certain why the Cap Assembly comes apart, if it’s not just to make it possible to clean out shavings and graphite residue, which is something that plagues the best of us — and something which I am very glad to be able to get rid of, should it arise from what I’ve discovered are notoriously dusty pencils (Wopexen).

The shapener produces a nicely-angled point. Here is the factory sharpening, next to the result produced by the included sharpener.
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Putting a point on a Wopex is something that puts strain on a sharpener, and this one performs well, shaving thin layers of extruded wood flour and graphite.
shavings

The eraser works very well, though I would only use it in a pinch. Staedtler tells us that they do not currently offer replacements, and this is an eraser whose existence and presence I’d like to count on when I find myself pushing a stroller with nothing on me but this device and a coffeeshop receipt on which to scroll that Brilliant Idea about Existence that I will keep to myself.

Perhaps best of all, the Cap Assembly fits normal pencils as well. My fancy Faber-Castell version does not, and the refills are expensive. Not only does this cap fit a regular Wopex; the silver looks great with the colors of Wopexen available to us here in North America.
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We certainly don’t mean that we are not using the Luxury Wopexen that came with this set. And as this review is getting long, we’ll cut this in half and let WordPress self-publish a post dedicated to the pencils in this set tomorrow. (Stay tuned!)

*I am wondering (and I mean this without snark but with earnest excitement) if Faber-Castell is cooking up an “answer” to the Wopex.)

(This set was provided to us by Staedtler North America, free of charge. Opinions, impressions, analyses and images are my own.)

Neon Wopexen!

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Ever since Gunther’s post last year featuring the gorgeous neon Wopexen available in Europe, I wanted some 0f my own and to be able to get more. I lusted for these 80s throw-back pencils made of Millennial Materials. I teasingly begged for these to Come to America last summer. Now I’m certainly not saying that Staedtler brought these neon Wopexen to our vast shores because of that, but, ahem, a little Hope goes a long way, no?

Staedtler kindly sent us a pristine pack of these brightly-colored beauties. I wondered what Thoreau would think about the Wopex material, as I read the email on the train back to Boston from Concord (and what Thoreau would think of me checking my email on a train, on the very rail-bed he so loathed).

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I have done my very best to capture the Sheen and Texture of these pencils for you here. They are magnificent! They remind me more of the European finish, which is more rubbery and sparkly than the North American version we reviewed this spring. Everything I loved about the green Wopex, I love about this pencil.

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Aside from the obvious color differences, these are more…Grippy. And there are no barcodes.* The ferrules are well-attached, and the erasers are very effective. In addition to the inclusion of blue (ahem, Ticonderoga, you got it right this year), one major plus that these pencils have over other neon pencils is the crisp, reflective silver stamping, which allows the neon colors to shine through in their True Hues.

So far as I know these are only available online from Staples. Under four bucks for premium German pencils is a steal, in my opinion. I plan to Hoard some of these, especially since my daughter has already Raided mine.

Many thanks to Staedtler for the samples, and stay tuned for our review of The Pencil, which is exciting and very WOPEXILICOUS.

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*The samples we received from Staedtler North America lack the barcode that the Staples purple Wopex has for some reason.

Review of Staedtler Wopex HB.

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I have been meaning to review the Staedtler Wopex for a long time. But it is a pencil about which I have thought so much that it became a daunting task. For starters, this is not the kind of pencil I expect to like. I usually like something a little darker, and the fake wood angle is not one that attracts me.* The lead feels waxy, but in a tacky – not necessarily smooth – way. And it was, until recently, difficult and/or expensive to build a Stash of them in The Archive. But there’s something about this hard-to-sharpen and heavy pencil that pleases me to no end. On yet another Snowday at HQ, I thought I’d sit down and write about it.
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The Wopex is an extruded pencil made of recycled wood and plastic. This is nothing new. Nor is the finish being part of the extrusion new. But Staedtler has improved on the process, in my opinion. For starters, they released the Wopex during a time of greater ecological consciousness. I was young when Eagle came out with their extruded pencils, but it was certainly not a time of great eco-attention. One of my least favorite things about the older plastic pencils is their flexibility. Not only do the barrels feel like they might snap under my meaty grip; they actually bend when I write with them using anything but the lightest touch. The fact that these older plastic pencils have such light-marking leads that they require significant pressure for legible writing exacerbates their shortcomings, in my experience. The Wopex is dense, heavy and rigid. It is very comfortable to write with.
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I bought a 10-pack from Amazon, at the end of summer 2013, for around $8-$9. These have the same subtle glittery-sparkly finish as the European models which Matthias was kind enough to send me. The feel is very…grippy, but not in the sticky manner of some grippy pens which attract lint and pieces of coffee grounds like Silly Putty. The newer Wopex pencils that I found at Staples this winter are a much brighter green, and the sparkles are gone. They have a nice, tactile sensation to their finish, but it is no more than half as tacky as the few European Wopexen I have or the eraser-tipped version I bought on Amazon a few months ago.
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The lead is extruded with the barrel, and it is a plastic/graphite composite – similar to the leads for mechanical pencils. As I mentioned, it feels tacky and produces a light line. However, as several other bloggers have pointed out, this pencil’s marks stick to the page. They do not smear or transfer (ghost) easily. As such, I find that they make excellent pencils for pocket notebooks, and I keep shorter ones on my person.** I am surprised by how much I like it for Pocket Writing.

These pencils are marketed as eco-friendly because of the material of which they are constituted and because they are supposed to last twice as long as a wooden pencil. I have not found this to be the case. Because their line is a little light, I sharpen them more often. So whatever long-lasting properties the lead might have is rendered moot by its lightness. As the current price of $5 (US) for a dozen and a half, it is certainly an economical pencil. And I do not generally mind needing to sharpen a pencil more often.
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As Matthias points out, the Wopex is tricky to sharpen. There are sharpeners from Staedtler with a small W on the underside that are supposed to be great for the Wopex. The only reason I have found this to be partly true is that the blades are very sharp and are held fast to the sharpener body. Any KUM sharpener with a similarly new blade that I have tried has given me the same results. With care, I can get a nice point with a wedge sharpener, and it is what I often use to sharpen a Wopex. Burr sharpeners do no work as well. I lost a good inch and a half from my first Wopex last year by using a crank sharpener. The Wopex material gives the blades so much resistance that the auto-stop does not work. Using such a sharpener with care and not making the Wopex point into a plastic needle works satisfactorily, if one stops the sharpening process short. A Deli 0668 that Matthias sent me works great, with the point adjustor dialed back from the sharpest setting a bit. Also, I have been improving my knife sharpening skills lately, venturing into blade sharpening on occasion.
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The eraser is white and surprisingly good. It erases better than most of the Pencil-Mounted Erasers I have on hand, and even a few block erasers. To be sure, it’s no match for the Mars plastic eraser. But it does bunch its “dust” together into a tight ball in a similar fashion. It is soft, but stiff, and very securely clamped into the ferrule. I am trying to think of a pencil whose mounted eraser is better than the Wopex’s, and I am drawing a blank (or, at least, with a German 9H).

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What struck me about the new US version, aside from the brighter green, is the ferrule. I am not aware of owning other pencils with this feature. The ferrule is molded to both the eraser and the barrel. It is round where it holds the eraser. And it is actually hexagonal where it meets the barrel of the pencil. The result is an inexplicably pleasant feeling of Completeness. Please, Comrades, do not judge me too harshly for staring at one of these pencils long enough to find the source of this Completion Sensation. The other result of this Ideal Marriage of Ferrule Ends is that the ferrule does its job very well. You ain’t getting this pencil apart without large steel tools, several people or very very strong teeth.
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The Wopex is available in quite a few colors in Europe, and I have considered attempting to collect them myself. I am glad that it is finally available in the US at all, and I hope we get a few more hues. There’s a market for neon pencils, Staedtler! I am a huge fan of these pencils. Send us some colors, and make us Happy.

*But I have recently acquired some eraser-tipped Bic Evolution pencils, after a recommendation by Speculator, and I am enjoying them.

**Perhaps subconsciously, I matched the case for my recently-purchased Android phone to the green of a Wopex, since they often ride in the same pocket.

Wopex Pencils at Staples.

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Thanks to this helpful comment at Pencil Talk, I learned that Staples carries Wopex pencils in 18 packs. They were listed at $4.99, marked down to $3 in the store. Gracious! I stopped by today with my daughter in tow, and packs of Wopexes (Wopexen? Wopexi?) were piled on a rack as we come through the door.
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I have a few of these eraser-topped versions from an over-priced pack I bought on Amazon a few months ago. But $3 for 18 pencils is a budget pencil price — for premium pencils? There is even a layer of foam protecting the sharpened cores in the plastic box. I wonder if Staedtler will bring over the attractive yellow versions and some of the colors I have only seen in photos? In any case, the color is less important to me than that they are here. I have been obsessed with this pencil since Matthias sent me a few in 2012.

Now I have lost all of my excuses not to review this pencil.

Review of Staedtler Noris HB.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 GERMANY [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.)

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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 retain 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.