Review of Musgrave Bugle.

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It’s been a long time since we’ve featured a plain-old-fashioned pencil review. Our first was published just over a decade ago, and tonight’s pencil boasts similar Woodgrain Goodness. We are checking out the Musgrave Bugle.

I bought a few of these on each of my three visits to CW Pencil Enterprise this past spring, and I gave away all but three. I ordered a dozen yesterday to restock, and I regret that I didn’t order double or triple that.

I might have a difficult time explaining why, but I love this pencil. First, there is the handsome woodgrain. I am a sucker for Wood On Display (WOD) in pencils. This pencil is unfinished at both ends and has a clear, glossy finish. The printing is in white and is stamped quite deeply into the wood. While I might have just been using a particularly well-stamped individual pencil lately, the printing stays put, unlike the Disappearing Stamp on the Bugle’s Ugly Cousin. I imagine Thoreau pencils looking similarly to this pencil — clear-finished, round, simple. And the idea of a Bugle brings to mind Reveille (and Boy Scout camp), which makes me think of the Morning and my favorite Chanticleer, Mr. Henry.

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I should stop and point out that this pencil is made in the USA and costs only a quarter. That’s right.

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Writing with this pencil is comfortable, due to the round shape, though it can get a little slippery. This could very well be an illusion brought on by the fact that a lot of the pencils that I like which look like wood are unfinished and feel like wood. It could be that my hands are slippery when I read.

I am pretty sure that the wood is not cedar. It lacks a discernible aroma, and I suspect it is made from basswood.

The core is a pleasant change from a lot of the other pencils in my rotation this month. While it is probably  not entirely unwaxed, the core in the Bugle has an only slightly waxy feel to it. It brings to mind a darker and less scratchy version of the Field Notes pencil. Smearing and erasability are about average for this level of darkness, but ghosting is very good. Point retention is a stand-out in this pencil, as a few weeks of casual use has only required 4 or 5 minor sharpening jobs on this pencil. Darkness remains in the grey area, rather than a shade of black. It’s about as dark as a Mexican-made Dixon, but certainly not as dark as a Japanese HB or even a General’s Cedar Pointe.

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This has been my go-to reading pencil in August, as I attempt to stick with my six monthly pencils, at least this once. I finished a picture book/essay about Hemingway today, and I found the aesthetic of this pencil suits a Papa Frame of Mind also. I have this pencil lined up for my next foray into fiction, when I gather the Necessary Trio of time, energy and cojones.

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Until the 14th, CWP has free shipping to this country, and you’ve probably been eyeing a few other pencils there as well. So go ahead and get a dozen. I am crossing my fingers that my own dozen of these will come in a cool box. But Musgrave’s generally terrible packaging makes me believe otherwise. Still, at the price of this pencil, it would be no great loss. Wait, it would be. There are few things that are quite like a well-printed pencil box. Nonetheless, unless you hate round or Naked A$$ed Pencils (NAP), pick some up some of these Chanticleer-esque pencils. They might brighten your morning.

USA Silver/Gold — A Frankenpencil.

IMG_3723I know that we write about the USA series from Write Dudes a lot. We reviewed the Golds and even reviewed the USA Silver. I love these pencils, and they keep getting better all of the time. I found a bizarre…error today, though, which worked out in my favor.

I was in a different part of town and wound up at a strange Walmart. I went to the pencil aisle immediately, and it smelled like cedar. I saw some 4-dozen packs of USA Silver pencils. I noticed that it said “premium wood,” and I sniffed the open part of the box.

Cedar.

Hmmm.

I pulled open a box, and what I found inside delighted me: USA Gold pencils, with the plain silver USA Silver ferrule — and they were $5.99. That’s a buck and half per dozen. And they look amazing.
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It’s not often that you find a genuine surprise, let alone an American made one. Anyone else notice an up-tick in Write Dudes’ pencil quality in the last season or two?
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Review of Scout Books Artist Notebooks.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

New Largest US Library.

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This is pretty cool and seems to warrant a trip to the Lone Star State, where I haven’t been in 11 years.

“There are thousands of abandoned big box stores sitting empty all over America, including hundreds of former Walmart stores. With each store taking up enough space for 2.5 football fields, Walmart’s use of more than 698 million square feet of land in the U.S. is one of its biggest environmental impacts. But at least one of those buildings has been transformed into something arguably much more useful: the nation’s largest library.”

Read more!

Review of Write Dudes USA Gold Pencil.

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The USA Gold pencil from Write Dudes. Comrades have probably seen this now ubiquitous yellow pencil around big-box stores and schools. To my knowledge, this is the most widely-available USA-made pencil on this continent. But are they any good?

In short, for their price, target market and audience, yes.

These pencils have a barrel that’s noticeably more narrow than most other pencils. I’m not sure why they are made that way. I have moderately beefy fingers (and hand injuries to boot), but I didn’t find the narrower barrel to be uncomfortable in any way. For reference, they are a bit thinner that the current incarnation of the Castell 9000, which is a little thinner than, say, a Staedtler pencil.

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The core! This is a standard HB/#2 core. I can’t tell if the core is waxed or not, but they have a very nice texture and darkness. They feel somewhat like a General’s core, which is to say, not waxy, but not scratchy. The darkness is pleasant, running a nice balance of point retention and darkness. It’s a much better core than the current Ticonderogas from Mexico, both in terms of smoothness and darkness, among cedar pencils found in schools. For being relatively dark, smear resistance is quite good. Our review pack had pretty well-centered cores. A few are perfect, a few “off” enough to be annoying, but none were unusable.
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The finish can leave a little to be desired. The Mega Brands URL detracts the most, making the pencil look a promotional pencil for that website. The foil stamping is inconsistent, though Edit: I heard back from Write Dudes today that they are not going to put the URL on the pencils anymore. This is great news! I do like the fonts and choice of colors. The paint is acceptable for the price, and usually very good. The ferrule features a navy blue band that complements the color of the lacquer nicely; the band is applied evenly.
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The erasers are short for some reason, where Dixons are a little long. They perform surprisingly well, especially for an included eraser. If Write Dudes were to remove the website and stamp the pencils a little more neatly, this pencil could certainly compete better with with higher-end pencils. But by no means is the pencil ugly or shoddy.
I was formerly under the impression that the name referred to the color of the paint: yellow-gold. But there are a few other finishes under this series. I assume the defining feature of this series is the incense cedar used in their construction, and that’s a good thing. They sharpen perfectly and smell great.
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Seeing as how easily these pencils are obtained and how inexpensive they are, I really hope they stick around. Touring pre-schools lately, I’ve noticed these all over the place. I hope they take the website URL off of the pencil and perhaps address the stamping issues. However, given the price point, I can certainly live with the stamping.

Many thanks to Write Dudes for the free review samples – and for keeping American produced pencils easy to find!

Review of Rite in the Rain Notebook No. 373.


The good folks at Rite in the Rain were kind enough to send us a notebook and pen[cil] holder to review. After the “super storm”, we are finally ready to get our review out there. My better half prevented me from braving Super Storm Sandy last week to see how Frankenstorm-proof these books are. But! Boy, are they nice for pencil. Oh, and they are waterproof!

Everything made by Rite in the Rain is made in the USA, from the books, to the pens, to the accessories. It’s no secret that USA-production is a big plus around Pencil Revolution HQ. Green credentials are also wonderful, and Rite in the Rain doesn’t disappoint. Their paper can be recycled like regular paper (the coating is water-based), and the covers contain post-consumer materials. The paper inside is not made of recycled paper, however, since RiR says that it weakens the paper, which is designed to be durable. The waterproofing process is streamlined to be low-impact, environmentally speaking.

Rite in the Rain does sell all weather pens. They are made by Fisher (of Space Pen fame) but with specially designed ink for their paper. I haven’t tried the RiR pens (though I’d certainly like to), but my trusty 2002 model Space Pen performed pretty well, albeit with a little skipping. But that’s not what this amazing paper is designed for! Erin from RiR tells me that their paper was made for pencils, literally, since there were no special pens for use on waterproof paper in the 1920s, when their paper was developed.

We’ve touched on the archival aspects of pencils before. There is little shortage of archival-safe notebooks. But how many of them are also waterproof?

Rite in the Rain 20 & 32 lb. papers meet the archival criteria laid out by ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992 (R2002). This means that it is an archival quality paper and will last several hundred years under normal use. So… not only will it survive the elements, it will survive the attic! All of our books and copier papers are made from these grades.

Pencil on Rite in the Rain paper might be the best way to save writing for posterity. Only fire, theft, or a nefarious individual (or Crack Team of Baddies) with an eraser would delete one’s notes.

Onto the actual review!

The notebook we tested is the No. 373, a 4 5/8 x 7 inch book with a double spiral on the side (coated for rust resistance). It includes a nice title page, with space for contact info and a few lines for  the “Project.” Flipping the page, we find a table of contents page, and then it’s on to the note pages. The lines are “encased” in a rectangle that does not allow for marginal notes but which made referencing a list of camping gear and procedures much easier for me. There are 64 pages all told (32 sheets), including the title and contents pages. For the cartographically inclined, each page features a scale at the bottom: “Scale: 1 square = ____”. The ink is a light blue, vegetable-based ink. The pages have rounded corners and are lined. Unusual to me are the dotted vertical lines running perpendicular to the “main” lines, allowing Comrades the option to use lined or graph paper. Rite in the Rain calls this their “Universal” page format. I like it a lot. The cover is a Stiffly Flexible yellow plastic. Combined with the pencil band, this book survived a camping trip in my daypack looking like I’d never used it at all.

This is a solid notebook, with thoughtful detailing and a sensible size. It’s not quite pocket-sized, but it fits well with other books and certainly into the smallest of daypacks. But my very favorite thing about this book is the paper, and not entirely because it’s waterproof.

As I mentioned above, this paper was designed for use with pencils. The coating is applied over paper that seems to have a bit of a tooth, and the coating allows this tooth to come through, possibly adding some of its own texture. What results is a paper that “drinks” up graphite the way that some papers drink liquid ink. While this paper is by no means rough, those of us who prefer a dark line will delight with the Graphite Shearing Action of this paper. Points don’t wear away very quickly, but they don’t last forever — though Lovers of Dark Lines may even delight in the pencil sharpening required by this Marriage of graphite and paper.

Mr. A from the fantastic La Vie Graphite told me a few years ago that General’s Layout is a wonderful pencil for this paper, and he was entirely correct. I tested quite a bit of graphite in this book, and the slightly chalky Layout is my current favorite, bolstered by the American Heritage it shares with the book itself. Other honorable mentions include pencils with unwaxed cores (Paper Mate Earth Write), USA stock Dixon pencils, and USA Gold. While very smooth pencils performed very well, the slightly…more textured leads produced the darkest, neatest results.

This is some of the most smear-resistant and ghosting-proof paper I have ever used. Only on a blank page can one spot graphite transfer, and a person really has to rub her or his hands on this paper to get the pencil to smear. It goes a long way toward keeping the pencil writing legible over time. Erasing is not much different than with regular paper, although I noticed that less soft and more abrasive erasers didn’t seem up to the task. Soft erasers did a nice job, and I wouldn’t use anything else, at the risk of removing some of the coating that makes the paper waterproof.

The pencil strap is very well, made, with a long, thick, elastic strap and strong velcro. It holds a pencil more tightly than you’d think and does a good job of protecting both the pencil point and the pages of the book in a backpack. Made of black Cordura, it looks like it will last for years.

Many thanks to the folks at Rite in the Rain, and stay tuned in the next few days or week for our Rite in the Rain Water Test!

Interview with Mr. Aaron Draplin, Draplin Design Co. and Field Notes Brand (Part 1).


Mr. Aaron Draplin, of Field Notes and design fame, was kind enough to do an interview with Pencil Revolution.  Below is Part 1 (of 2) of his answers to some very pencil-specific questions.

1) Pencils are strongly represented in the DDC “longhand” series, and the Field Notes pencil seems to follow the eponymous notebooks in adventures all over the planet.  What do you like about pencils so much?

There’s just something simple and soothing about them. I mean, I don’t want to get too existential about bonded lead or anything, but, hell, there’s just so much possibility in each one! It freaks me out. That little pencil…the tool aspect…is this little gateway to a million ideas. I think about that kind of stuff with each one I crack into. In a world where things are more and more compacted, complicated, sped up and digitized, a regular old wood pencil is always there for you. Never needing to be recharged, you know?

The more I think about it, the more pencils—on some weird level—represent “complete freedom.” Freedom from digital ubiquity and predictability. There’s something cool about how you feel human when using a pencil. That feeling goes way back to guys shaping rocks into cutting tools and stuff, I’d reckon. Or, maybe only in my head!

I like feeling one with the paper. Like this odd sense of “get it down now, or it’ll be forever gone” fills my head and hands, and I just go to work. Impermanent. Graphite can be erased. Imperfect. My hands screw up all the time. Interesting. The lines vary and never come out quite like you expected them to. I hope I’m making sense, readers!

2) What are some of your favorite pencils?  Vintage, current, perhaps a great individual find?  What do you look for in a pencil?

Basically, anything that’s natural wood, and, hexagonal! Now, for the readers, who are undoubtedly “masters of the genre,” this might sound a little vague. Basically, anything that feels good in the hand. I usually go after softer leads. Just so I can sketch and keep shit freed up. Also, if the thing is “Made in the U.S.A.” that always sends a little jolt up the wrist. And finally, there’s just something incredible about an old pencil that’s seen 60 years whip by. Never, ever throw out an old pencil. Respect yer elders, citizens!

To try and get brand-specific, I had a good run with a pack of pencils by Papermate called “American Naturals.” Unfinished wood, made in the States and hexagonal. Good feel to those little guys. Still using the last one of the litter.

3) What is your preferred way to sharpen a pencil?  Blade-type-manual-sharpener, crank model, Bowie knife?

Forever, I’ve simply used my pocket knife to keep things sharp. I like the little pile of shavings it makes! I grew up with a wall mount Berol that hung over the stairs down to our basement. So there was this sense of floating when you’d lean around the wall, and hang on the pencil sharpener while sharpening. I haven’t thought of that one in a long time. Awesome. That’s what I remember.

In my junkin’ over the years, I’ve amassed a healthy collection of vintage pencil sharpeners. In fact, that’s one of the first things I look for when I enter an estate sale garage or basement workshop. And shit, I just pry that thing right off the wall and put it in my pile. Rescued! Even if I don’t use it, it’ll go to a buddy who needs one. The idea of some half-ass estate sale worker tearing it off and throwing it out just makes me sick to my stomach. So I always grab them!

Stay tuned this week for the second half of the interview, and MEGA thanks to Aaron for agreeing to do this!

[Images, A.D. Used with permission.]

Iowa Farmers’ Gear Collectors.


This was in my bookmarks (for, ahem, lunchtime reading) on my office computer. As my contract is up at the end of the month, I’m cleaning it all out. This is an interesting article, though I can’t remember where/how I found it. If you sent it to me and I’ve forgotten, thank you!

“Who would have guessed the huge old stockyards that once dotted the Midwest would best be remembered in something as small and simple as a pencil?…

….Twedt also collects the bullet pencils, so-named because of their shape. Each came with a metal cover over the leaded end of the pencil, making the pencil look a bit like a bullet.

Most bullet pencils, like most other stockyard memorabilia, were handed out by consigners at the stockyards. The consigners would contract with the farmer to sell the livestock to one of the various area packers around the stockyards.”

[Read the rest at Iowa Farmer Today.]

Surrounded by Dixons.


There are packs [and pencils] from recent Dixon purchases all over my table. I need to write about the contemporary (i.e., non-USA) Dixons. Definitely. Stayed tuned in the next week or two for a review of the new EnviroStiks.