Pencil tentative conclusions

So I have been using a number of the pencils that I have posted about over the past few months, mostly in three contexts:

  1. writing in my work journal (these are actual notebooks I physically write in the office, which really disturbs some people);
  2. writing in my personal journal (currently a Midori Traveler’s Notebook with the ultra-thin paper);
  3. writing in pocket notebooks/pads.

Thoughts along the way:

  • Keeping a wooden pencil in your pocket is just asking for the point to break off. I don’t do this any more. A clicky ballpoint is what you want here.
  • Even keeping a wooden pencil in a bag results in the point breaking off every now and then. You should always carry a sharpener. I use a Kum Long Point sharpener—you can get these from lots of shops and they’re cheap. In the UK, cultpens stocks them; outside the UK, I don’t know, just google. They are good because the length of the resulting point means it goes blunter slower, which makes a lot of difference with soft leads like those on the Blackwing. The sharpener also keeps the shavings inside it so you don’t have to be near a bin.
  • I have found using even cheap pencils more comfortable than using even expensive mechanical pencils. They may be straight lengths of wood with lead in the middle but they feel much better in the hand and I write much more happily. I suspect it’s a combination of the weight, both overall lightness and balance, and the lead quality.
  • On the subject of expensive mechanical pencils—don’t buy them. They don’t write any better and they go wrong. Cheap mechanical pencils go wrong less. The best balance between expense and use I’ve found is the Uni Kuru-Toga, which is noticeably nicer to use than other mechanicals that need rotating a lot, but is still relatively inexpensive. On the other hand I bought an aluminium Super Promecha which stopped working after a couple of weeks.

But anyway, the pencils that I have ended up using the most:

  • Top pencil: the Field Notes No.2. These look simple but are excellent. The lead has a great balance between darkness and hardness; they smell lovely when you sharpen them; they are round, which does mean they roll off tables but also makes them easier to rotate to get precisely the lead angle you like; they have a proper rubber on the end. I write much more when I am using these pencils.
  • Equal top pencil but maybe slightly lower: the Blackwing 602. I bought a box of these because there was a coupon somewhere. I enjoy writing with Blackwings but they are so soft, I mean, aggravatingly soft. The 602 is the hardest one they make and a page of journalling will rub a freshly-sharpened point down to one that is noticeably broad. I end up sharpening them a lot, so I have lots of short Blackwings. The line they make is dark and deep and satisfying, and I love them just after I have sharpened them and wonder why I bother writing with anything else, and then a page later I remember.
  • Pencil that works perfectly well: anything by Staedtler apart from the WOPEX ones. If you haven’t heard of these, WOPEX pencils are made from compressed artificial wood and are horrible. Sharpening them just feels wrong, scraping-fingernails-on-blackboard wrong, and their leads are both too hard and not dark enough. But apart from the WOPEX, the rest are great. I prefer the Tradition because of the nice red and black colours; I’ve never noticed a difference when writing between those and the “premium” Mars line.

The Mitsubishi Hi-Uni and the Tombow Mono 100 that I mentioned in my last pencil post? They’re nice, but on consideration I don’t see enough benefit compared to the others to justify the price.

Interim pencil update

I have ordered a load of new pencils.

  • Mitsubishi Hi-Uni HB
  • Faber-Castell 9000 HB & B
  • Staedtler Mars Lumograph HB & B
  • Caran d’Ache Technograph HB (these are surprisingly pricey)

and a few literally old-school pencils for comparison – these were the pencils I used at school:

  • Staedtler Noris Pencil HB
  • Staedtler Tradition Pencil HB

I will post about them when I receive them.

My general observation so far is that “standard” pencils leave a lighter line than “posh” ones at the same hardness, but still erode at the same rate. I tried some Staedtler WOPEX HB pencils which were inexpensive but pretty much unusable as HB, unless you just wanted to leave a faint ghost impression on the page, or you pressed really absurdly hard on the paper. They’re not available as anything apart from HB, either. I don’t recommend WOPEX pencils. They don’t smell nice either, not being made of wood.

Out of the posh pencils that I have, the Tombow Mono 100 is proving to be the best so far. I have given up on the standard Blackwing – while I do appreciate being able to just drift a writing implement over paper to produce a line, it quite literally goes blunt before I have finished writing a word. The Blackwing 602 with the silver barrel is slightly harder, but it still seems to need more sharpening than the Mono 100, whilst producing a very similar sort of line in darkness/pressure terms.

The Mono 100 is pretty expensive here though, being a Japanese import, so I would be interested in finding a more local equivalent – that’s why I ordered a few of the Staedtler Mars and the Faber-Castell 9000, which are half the price. I’m interested to see whether there’s any practical difference between those and the consumer-grade Staedtlers, though, at HB, which is the grade that school pencils are designed for.

Random additions: I ordered a Mitsubishi Hi-Uni because I saw it on the Cult Pens website while I was looking at pencils. The same goes for the Caran D’Ache Technograph. I have no idea why the latter are so pricey – they’re £2.60 each including VAT.

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?