Thursday, June 30, 2011

“The yellow pencil basically became a Chinese commodity,”

This is a quote by "Jim Weissenborn the CEO and owner of General Pencil company in an article posted on Bloomberg this week. I am sitting here with a box of made in the USA General's SEMI-HEX Pencils sitting in front of me on the desk and I am wondering if these gems will go the way of the Ticonderoga?

If that is the future of the SEMI-HEX pencil I may need to stock up on a rather large supply of them before this happens. After all, if nothing else I'd like my grandkids to know the pleasure of a quality Made in USA classic. What do you think? Should I buy a few gross of them and set them aside? You can still get Made in USA pencils from a couple of other companies out there.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Palomino Blackwing 602 Eraser Shootout

I started out with 3 pristine examples of the Palomino Blackwing replacement erasers. One of each color respectively.

Gentlemen, start your engines...

I began by setting up a test page on Stenographer's paper. The first test I ran for each eraser was on the heavily shaded block. The shaded block was created with a Palomino Blackwing 602. Each eraser first did an up-down (on left) then an up-down twice (in the middle) followed by an up-down three times (on right).

Just after the e-race.

Then each eraser was challenged by erasing completely the words Palomino Blackwing. This did not require a set amount of passes, I simply erased it as completely as I could. The erasers were mounted in a new 602.

My reasoning behind the two separate tests was to see which eraser performed the best with the fewest swipes and which was the best at getting the paper the cleanest overall regardless of the number of passes.

The black eraser was the best performer in the quick use test. Three passes left the paper very clean.

The black eraser does quite well.

The white and pink erasers seemed comparable to each other. The white eraser seemed more prone to smearing than either sibling.

Note the white erasers tendency to smear.

The pink eraser did not do as well as the white in this test yet it did not have the smearing issue that the white one did.

You can see that the pink eraser leaves quite a bit of graphite in it's path on the quick use test.

Under a magnifying glass the black and pink erasers appear to have a high amount of what I believe to be diatomaceous earth. (Can anybody confirm this for me?) If the white has any of this it is not visible. The white eraser is very similar to the Pentel high polymer erasers.

Hard to see but this picture does show the semi-reflective specks that I found in the pink and black erasers.

Semi reflective specks.

It is hard to be a fair judge when you clearly have a favorite. I am happy to say that the pink eraser seemed to be the best performer in the second test. It cleaned up the paper very well in comparison to the others.

Pink eraser seemed to leave the least behind overall.

The final verdict? I think the black and pink erasers are winners each with their respective strength, the white eraser is still a nice eraser it just didn't perform as well as the other two.

I know that would be glad to send you a pack of each color replacement eraser if you'd like to hold your own grand prix. If you decide to have such an event let me know how it goes and watch out for Amy!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Go speed eraser go...

When I was in first grade, the teacher rewarded my entire class with Pink Pearl erasers. I cannot remember what merited these precious gifts but I can still remember that day. I sat in the desk behind Amy. The reason I remember that I sat behind Amy is she stole my eraser. I was playing with my Pink Pearl on my desk. I imagined it was a very fast and sleek race car. As you may be aware, Pink Pearl erasers don't have wheels so my little "car" put the brakes on and rolled when i took one corner too fast. The accident was horrible and I never got a chance to see if the driver (picture speed racer in pink) made it out alive. Just as the bouncing and flipping stopped on the classroom floor under my desk, Amy (with her snarled, twine like, blonde braids) swooped down and grabbed my Pink Pearl. I could hear the driver screaming for help and I immediately shouted at Amy, upsetting the teacher. Instead of coming to my aid, the teacher hollered at me and asked Amy what had happened.

I could not get my protests out soon enough. Amy told the teacher that I had taken her eraser and that she had just taken it back.

To this day, whenever I see a pink pearl eraser I think of Amy with two of them. I imagine she still carries mine around with her. If you see her, could you check on my driver? Tell him I haven't forgotten that day and I hope he is well.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Palomino Blackwing 602 Review - Part 2 of 2

So begins part 2 of this pencil review. You can see in the image above that I have run my normal test comparison with the Turquoise 4B. Darkness on the Palomino Blackwing 602 pencil is nearly identical in tone to my test pencil. For lead performance excels in retaining it's point. In the next photo you can see that the tip is not nearly as worn on the pencil on the right (the PBW) as on the pencil on the left (the Turquoise 4B) I know it is not a great photo but in somewhat illustrates the point (no pun) I am trying to make. Each of the pencils was tested with a brand new point on them that was created by a Helix Metal sharpener. I used this pencil for some sketching last night and was very impressed with how easily it works the gradients. I can ease up on it and really get a smooth lighter line or get a nearly black grey when I really work it.

The one gripe I have about this pencil and rest assured this is a small gripe is with the gold-foil lettering. I really want this to be the very best pencil I have ever used. I want this pencil to be the pencil that replaces all others for me (ok that would be a bit drastic) I want this to be the pencil that I buy everybody I know for Christmas... but it isn't. The gold lettering wipes off so easily I startled myself with a single rub along the side of the pencil almost the entire logo came off leaving gold flecks all over my finger. I noticed that the stamping on the original Eberhard Faber 602 was much deeper into the pencil and that seems to form a valley of protection for the lettering. I know it is a small gripe, not a big deal. But I am the sort of guy who blogs about pencils and I cannot ignore this fault. Some may see it as a positive attribute.
The slogan on the back has thus far held up better but I am convinced that one swipe of the thumb would remove it from the pencil entirely as well. This always bothered me with my Tombow's and Faber Castell 9000's when the markings wipe off with my finger. I was thinking it is actually kind of funny that the markings wipe off with "half the pressure and twice the speed" of other markings from CalCedar. I would be curious to know if it has anything to do with how glossy the paint is.

The wood portion of the pencil is nearly perfect. The lead is absolutely centered, the grain is smooth and uniform in color and the further I got down sharpening this pencil I find that the cedar is much more aromatic than I experienced the first few times sharpening it.

This review covers the replacement pink eraser. Yes I am glad I bought the upgraded pink erasers of course that added about 30 cents to the per pencil price but I can live with that. I have decided that at a later data I will write a comparison of all 3 eraser colors, white, black and pink. I will have an eraser showdown. I am hearing from other pencil folks that the black eraser out performs the pink or white.

I am not disappointed at all with the pink eraser's performance, it is about what I expected. Like I said I will give the eraser a separate workup against it's siblings in a later post.

The wood has a really nice smooth grain. The shavings are more likely to stay intact that fall apart. I am saving them for the compost bin.

Here are some more photos of the ferrule that is identical to the original Palomino Blackwing with the minor exception that this one is slightly crooked and the gold lettering does not line up with the ferrule flats. I am not bothered one way or the other I just noticed that the original is lined up and always perfectly straight.

If I were to use some sort of a rating system, I'd give this a very high score. Like a 95% or something like that. The crooked ferrule and the gold lettering are the only marks against this pencil. It is a pleasure to write and draw with and it is a very good looking pencil.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Palomino Blackwing 602 Review - Part 1 of 2

This part of the review will focus on the user experience of using the new Palomino Blackwing 602. The second half (I plan to post that tomorrow) will focus on the technical and performance aspects with line samples etc.

Social Pencil
I have been using this new Blackwing for a full 24 hours now. Several meetings taking notes, some journal writing last night and even had it out for a study early this morning. I have actually had people who never seem to notice anything notice my pencil was different. The funny thing is I always have pencils that look different than your standard yellow no2.

I am really impressed with how it writes. It is very smooth but a little scratchier than the original Palomino BW. I am impressed with how dark it writes. the lead seems to last like a xx but the darkness is like a 2B or 4B. Of course that experience proves to be very similar to what other pencil bloggers are saying.

I mentioned yesterday that I was immediately impressed with the paint on the pencil. It goes from being steel colored to grayish to blue then even sometimes having a purple tint to it. It is a really beautiful paint. Placing it beside my Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602 (circa 1960's) the paint has a similar tone but the luster of the new pencil is brilliant and more metallic. My EF 602 has an almost green lettering on it and the lettering on this one is gold. I have noticed that the lettering is very weak, it takes almost no effort whatsoever to scratch the lettering off. Minor disappointment there but that is probably the OCD perfectionist in me.

So there has been a lot of discussion going back and forth about wether this pencil should have the pink or the black eraser. I have mostly stood on the side of it being a pink eraser and I immediately swapped out the black eraser for one of the pink replacements I purchased. Afterwards, I felt a tinge of guilt over wasting the brand new black one by sitting it in the pouch with the other replacements. In tomorrow's Post I will definitely stage a comparison of the eraser performance. The pink replacement eraser was very powdery feeling and dry. I am guessing there is some sort of baby powder in there with them. The pink eraser erases nicely and I am guessing that many connoisseurs of the EF 602 may find that they can replace the dried out erasers on their pencils with new ones from CalCedar. That would feel like using a brand new EF 602. I know it is not nice to mess with vintage but maybe you had a similar thought. Would that be like refinishing an antique dresser that you should have left as is?

The platinum grade incense cedar in this is very nice. it has a light aromatic quality that is not overpowering and frankly a little weaker that I prefer. I believe that the cedar of the pencil is like the flavor of a cigar. This one is good but very mild. There is no explosion of aroma when sharpened and that could simply be this pencil. Alas I have 11 more!

This pencil is quite an achievement. In all likelihood it will become a go to pencil for me. It is the sort of pencil that despite any flaws it could be used to evangelize pencil converts.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Finally! The package came... First Impressions of the new 602

So, through a bit of a mixup the post office mis-delivered my package. It just got to me a few minutes ago considering I ordered them on June 8th at about 4 am this has been a long wait (154 hours of waiting for new pencils, sick I know, but you are the one reading this blog post so I am guessing I am not the only one with problems).

My first impression is the paint is amazing on them. It feels smooth like the Tombow Mono. I want a car with this paint on it. I pulled out my Helix handheld metal sharpener and sharpened the first one leaving a single shaving on the desk. It only broke into two when I picked it up to move it for the photo.

I noticed on this pencil that the ferrule is not square with the lettering the way that Palomino's other Blackwing offering is. It is off center like the EF 602. One minor flaw, the ferrule on my first pencil is slightly crooked too. I have not put the pencil through all the paces yet and will get back to you but I am excited to take this one with me to my next meeting for note-taking. I will be sure to outfit it with a pink eraser before I head that way.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Whatever happened to innocence? I had a Herbie Pencil when I was a kid...

I just got done reading an article posted on the Guardian newspaper's website. The writer asks this: 

Photo Courtesy of
"What goes through the mind of an 11-year-old girl as she picks a Playboy bunny-emblazoned pencil case from the shop display? I want to be a lap dancer when I grow up? I can't believe I've been co-opted into the mainstreaming of soft porn?"
That got me thinking...  part of what I like about pencils is the idea that a pencil is pure, untainted and innocent. My love for pencils started when I was young. My favorite pencil when I was a kid was a Love Bug pencil. My first grade teacher (I love you Miss Halbmeier) gave it to me and I loved it so much. I used to daydream about driving Herbie around my desk (during class). That year "Herbie Goes Bananas" came out and I can remember watching it with my parents and whiny little brothers at the drive in theater. The only thing that could have made that memory any cooler would be if my parents had owned a Bug.

How do we get from pencils that have a little white VW with a personality of its own emblazoned on them to pencils with the logo of a grown-up company on them? Hugh Hefner is not one of the icons that come to mind when I think of Pencils.

Will anyone look back on a Playboy pencil and think fondly, "That is what got me into my sex career"? I don't think so. Pencil advertising has always been about giving the customer something that would remind them that your company appreciated their business and you hoped they would come back. Let's keep kids pencils safe for kids.

My Herbie Pencil was about reminding me about Herbie's adventures and setting my imagination free to daydream and even to draw a picture of the Volkswagen Beetle I hoped I would someday own.

Just a thought.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Happy Gross-Day Frank

Woodclinched was good enough to remind us that an avid pencil enthusiast, Frank Lloyd Wright would have turned 144 years old today.

Seeing that 144 is a significant number in the pencil world, I just figured I'd honor Frank too. 1867 was a good year.

My favorite Frank Lloyd Wright artwork is the Monona Terrace Convention Center in Madison Wisconson. Post your favorite in the comments. To Frank!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Am I insane?

So I recently did a review of the Palomino Blackwing and I must say this is definitely the week for Blackwing fever. Tonight at midnight (Pacific Time?) the new ones go on sale but only for the subscribers of the newsletter. Everybody else has to wait until the 9th. Just to let you know I will not be staying up that late. You may need to have this information as you evaluate my sanity later on in this post.

Somebody at work caught a glimpse of my Palomino BW today at work and they reacted with a, "you need help" look and said something that was even harsher. Let me show you my pencil.

I'd rather not waste the buttery goodness this pencil has provided so I took the famous ferrule off the thing and put it in a pencil extender. The end result was something like this.

It is definitely a bit of a bummer to not have the ferrule and eraser on there but the thing still writes beautifully.

So tell me, am I insane?

Just tell me in the comments area.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Stupid Pencil Maker

One of my all time favorite poets is Shel Silverstein. In this poem he writes what is the first pencil review that I ever read.

Stupid Pencil Maker

Some dummy built this pencil wrong - The eraser's down here where the point belongs. And the point's at the top - So it's no good to me. It's amazing how stupid some people can be.

This pencil review can be found in his book called "Falling Up."

15 Things Pencils Are Better For:

1. Golf. It's pretty hard to cheat er, correct mistakes with a pen.
2. Math. Regardless of wether you love or hate math, doing it with a pen sucks.
3. Journaling. When I sit down with my journal and relax I make mistakes that need erasing, plus when I am lost in thought the aroma of cedar is sometimes all it takes to bring that thought out and get it onto paper.
4. Self Defense. In a dark alley with an attacker I'd rather defend myself with a pencil than a pen. Easier to break part of it off in them with a pencil, talk about the ultimate splinter. I bet CSIs would love me.
5. Space Travel. My Fisher space pen is nice but for the same money I could have a box of platinum grade pencils. They'd add a nice natural smell to what I imagine would be a rather stinky cabin. Plus pencils weigh much less than a space pen.
6. Canoeing. I used to teach canoeing in Minnesota, if you have your map out and want to make notes, a pencil floats in the water and is biodegradable if you lose it. A metal pen will sink and a plastic pen will pollute, the right pencil will do neither.
7. The Glovebox. It does not matter how cold or how hot it is outside, a pencil will still write. Plus, wood has a lower heat capacity than plastic or metal so you won't burn your hand on a pencil (ever grab hot bread out of an oven?) like you would on a pen.
8. Bowling. See golf.
9. Being Eccentric. About the only pen that makes people ask about your writing instrument, is a fountain pen or a quill. When I pull even the most common of pencils from my pocket, especially if I get my sharpener out too, people notice. Sharpening the point of a pencil gives me a moment to think before I speak.
10. Collecting. Everybody remembers that you are the guy who collects pencils. Pencils are, in my opinion, the only truly ubiquitous technology the world has ever known. They are everywhere, are useful to all generations and you find them in the gift shops of most tourist traps and airports for about a buck.
11. Taking Notes for Class. See golf.
12. Marking Textbooks. You can mark it up all you want and sell them back when you are done (as long as you erase).
13. Drawing. You can use your finger to blend, shade and lighten pencil lines. Pencils are a joy to draw with.
14. Playing Card Games. See golf.
15. To Do Lists. Instead of checking it off, try erasing it for closure.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

10 Things Pencils have in Common With Cigars

1. A bad one can ruin your day.
2. A good one can be one of life's simple pleasures.
3. They smell great.
4. People who don't appreciate them think their price is too high.
5. You can compost what's left when you are done with them.
6. Sometimes the name, label and where they came from inspires imagination.
7. They both go great with a journal and a sunset.
8. There is a real art to creating a good one.
9. They can get black sooty goodness all over your fingers.
10. Life is too short for cheap imitations.

Koh-I-Noor Mephisto Writing 465

I got a half gross of these on eBay for 99¢. hard to pass up a vintage deal like that. To my surprise the erasers are still quite soft and pliable.

All of the original packaging is in place and it includes a rather unique "pencil shaker" feature where you lift a small flap on the inner and outer boxes and get a sharpened pencil.

Instead of the typical box with two rows of six these boxes have three rows of four.

I like this box setup because it seems to me that the pencils are better protected from warping. I am not positive what year these were made but I am guessing circa 1970-80s simply due to the packaging style and the fact that this Czechoslovakian company no longer manufactures pencils in the USA.

The pencils are made of incense cedar and have a very strong (almost sexy) aromatic quality to them. For their age the cedar oils have definitely stuck around.

I really like the Kolor-Koded red tops on these. They stand out as being very different looking than the typical yellow #2. I have not been able to find any other hardness levels of this pencil to compare the top colors to but the idea of being able to readily assess the hardness without reading the pencil is pretty cool.

It is hard to see in the pictures but the presharpening follows the hexagon shaping of the pencil. You can see that in comparison to the Turquoise 4B (my favorite comparison pencil) this writing pencil is very dark. The led lasts very long keeping a sharp point longer than I expected.

I am so glad I stumbled upon these little gems and I am quite surprised there isn't a bunch of pencil lore for them the way the Blackwing and others have. I mentioned that the erasers on these are still soft and pliable. On a vintage pencil I normally would not plan to put the erasers through a test but these are fully capable of holding their own.

The paint is not as smooth as I like but it is somewhat glossy. Overall this little writing pencil is a treasure that unfortunately has been lost to the Made in USA fans.