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 Norica HB.

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I found these at Staples (in the US) a few weeks ago and bought a pack. At $10 for three dozen, it was a pretty good deal. Less than $3.50 for some quality pencils is something I’d find it difficult to pass up. But three dozen is…a commitment to make to the Pencil Gods, when the pencil might just be terrible. I mean, they are pencils. One can’t just throw them away if they turn out to be awful. Luckily, these pencils are not awful at all. Unluckily, having a Big Box means that I’ve given most of them away already.

I have two blue Norica 2B pencils from Matthias that I like very much. It’s a smooth and dark writing pencil, and one is actually in my Go-To Pencil Cup for quick notes. Heather has a review of the blue HB version available in Canada. I’d never seen them for sale in the US, and I was delighted to spot them in person, with some other new and unexpected (stay tuned!) Staedtler items at Staples.
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The finish is a nice matte black, very much like the last USA-made run of the Dixon “Black” and the 2010 edition of the Palomino Blackwing. The stamping is silver foil and much sharper than the Blackwing. The only marks are “STAEDTLER norica HB 2” on one side. The silver ferrules are affixed much better than those of any recent Dixon pencils. Topped with a white eraser, the black HB Norica is one attractive-looking pencil.

It’s made in Thailand out of a wood that I think is basswood (?). Truth be told, it smells like lumber when sharpened. Usually, non-cedar woods don’t smell much at all, but this is an exception. Out of the three dozen I originally bought, the cores were nearly perfectly centered in 90% of them and were still well-centered in the other 10%. I like that. I like that very much.

The core is pleasant to write with. For a pencil from Staples that sells for that price, it’s very smooth, with a pleasant darkness than runs along the lines of the current Dixon Chinese models in HB, possibly running a little more smoothly, definitely a touch more darkly. Despite not being made of cedar, the pencil sharpens well, with no splintering or cracking.

Smearing and ghosting are pretty much what can be expected for an HB core that runs a little to the Dark Side. If you’re a Comrade who requires very tidy papers, anything this dark is going to smear and ghost a little. But it’s not terrible with the Norica, certainly.
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The Norica erases completely via a Mars eraser, though the attached eraser leaves a bit of graphite traces behind. The Norica’s eraser is adequate, but (and we say this a lot) few, if any, pencil-topped erasers work half as well as a good plastic block eraser. I will add that the Norica’s white eraser does not hold dirt as some other pencil-topped erasers do (Dixon’s pink, Blackwing’s white, Mirado’s pink). As such, I find myself actually using this eraser.
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I was very happy to find good pencils, at Staples, in person, that come in a box, didn’t cost a fortune, and write and look very nicely. There’s not much more a Pencil Fan can ask for, or, at least, not much more one can expect. The outlay and volume commitment are certainly mitigating factors if Comrades find them at, or order them from, Staples. But if you’re in need of a good-sized box of very good pencils for the price of merely good pencils, this might be right up your alley. Oh, and my pack came with two free Rasoplast erasers!

Night Sky, Norica, Black Scarf.

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I took Baby Henry to his first trip to Staples this evening after supper. He stayed awake the whole time, oddly enough. Came home with a three-dozen pack of Staedtler Norica pencils in black. When I emptied my pocket, I realized that everything in it matched these pencils. (Review coming soon; I like ’em!)