in Pencils

Pencils and the Atlantic

I’ve started on pencils.


There is a specific reason why I started buying, and using pencils. Actually there are a few but the primary one is that I find it very difficult to tell the difference between pencils. With fountain pens, tiny details of the ink and the flow and the writing angle and the grip obsess and distract me while I am trying to write. I even have this problem with ballpoints, which were my next attempt to find something I couldn’t spend all my time messing about with – people find it hard to believe, but there is a lot of difference between a bog standard Bic and, say, a Schneider Slider (my favourite biro – I have a big box of them).

The English don’t romanticise pencils in my experience. For some reason, U.S. commentators seem to be more likely to – not only are there many pencil blogs, but compare the comments on pencils on and I picked the top result searching for “pencil”. There are 11 comments on .uk, mostly vaguely positive one-liners like:

Good quality at a good price, couldn’t resist; decent bulk buy for the school, the kids prefer the rubber tipped ones.

These traditional looking pencils work well, they draw nicely and the rubber is useful and hasn’t fallen off. They sharpen well and are useful. They feel OK in the hand.

whereas on .com there are 147 comments, highly opinionated and often running into multiple paragraphs. Just some of the shorter ones:

These pencils are absolute garbage. You can’t even sharpen then without the wood splitting down the middle. If you are lucky enough to get past that, the lead is very weak and breaks off everytime you try and write with it. This is the WORST PENCIL EVER!

This is the absolutely the greatest pencil you can purchase. It writes smoothly and works like a charm. It is easy to sharpen and erase. This pencil is magical.

Sharpen…start to write…break. Sharpen…writes for 1 minute…break. ETC. ETC. ETC. The WHOLE BOX. These pencils are AWFUL. The teachers in the school recommended these…maybe they used to be good…but not anymore.
Unless there is a public statement from Ticonderoga that they made a mistake and have rectified the problem…stay far away.
I never knew I could get so FRUSTRATED by a simple pencil. Guess I have to write in INK from now on.

though this chap probably qualifies for a UK passport:

So yeah. These are pencils. When it comes to pencils, there are really only two things that come to mind: is the eraser good and does it sharpen easily. Fortunately, these pencils are pretty good. The eraser won’t smear your writing and make it illegible, and the pencil is pretty easy to sharpen. So yeah. Pretty decent box of pencils, I’ll probably buy another sometime.

Pencils just aren’t a thing here. The Staedtler ones I linked to are really standard-issue at schools, either those or the black and red “Tradition” ones, but one really isn’t expected to care in the slightest about pencils after early primary school, unless one is an artist or architect or something (and I am not, so can’t speak for gear obsession there). Basically pencils are what children get until they can be trusted with ink. If anything can stop me getting too obsessed with a stationery item for itself, it is this.

I might as well just quickly run down what I thought of these pencils.

  • Tombow Mono 100 – good quality, light in the hand, for an HB delivers a nice dark line whilst still being hard enough not to need sharpening every word. It looks very ordinary but I can sort of see why people like these.

  • Palomino Blackwing (black) – lovely smooth lead, needs very little pressure, needs sharpening every word, or in fact halfway through long words. If you don’t mind rotating the pencil constantly, or you don’t mind thick lines a lot of the time, this a great pencil. I’m getting annoyed with it though.

  • Palomino Blackwing 602 – noticeably harder lead than the standard Blackwing, which was why I bought one after reading American pencil blogs. Actually it still needs sharpening quite a bit but not nearly as much as the Blackwing does. One can actually write a whole sentence.

  • Field Notes pencil – for some reason I have a pack of these. I don’t know why. I must have got them as a free gift at some point because there is no way I would have bought them. This is my favourite pencil here though because (a) it smells really nice – proper cedar scent (b) it looks really nice – plain wood with simple black printing on it, straight silver ferrule, green eraser, no messing about – and (c) it also writes well – smooth point, dark line but not too soft.

  • Kimberley 525 – this really quite soft, which is more my fault for buying a 2B. It feels, you know, kind of like a pencil, but the lead is a bit soft for writing. I can’t blame the pencil for this – it’s not like the Blackwing, which says “hey I am a writing pencil look at all my faux-historical references”. I should really get an HB one if I’m going to properly compare and contrast.

Reading back, I’m doomed, aren’t I?