A few months ago I put my mechanicals away and spent a week using woodcase pencils. Now I chose pencils available here in New Zealand which means they were from the German pencil companies, Staedtler and Faber-Castell. About that time a very friendly American comrade sent me a selection of fine pencils from some American companies, and as July 4 approached, it somehow seemed appropriate for me to once again put my mechanicals away and have an “American Revolutionary Wooden Week”.
When I first opened the package containing these American pencils I was astonished. How could something as simple, basic and generic as a pencil be so different in the USA to NZ? Now my wife has picked up a small amount of pencilness from me and she brought in the mail that day, and was curious to see what was in the package from America. When I opened it up she just took one look and said “Wow, they’re nice looking pencils”. So what’s so different about them? I think the first thing I noticed is that they pretty much all have eraser tips, and lots of fancy ferrules, whereas here in NZ, pencils just have plain ends. Then most of them were unsharpened, whereas here you get sharpened pencils. Most of them are plain one colour paint jobs whereas here they are often multi-coloured and/or striped. Several of them were “natural” wood-grain finish which I have never seen before, and none of them were brands that I had seen before - I didn’t really even know Papermate made woodcase pencils! So from this sampler of America’s finest I chose these for my working week:
- Papermate American Naturals HB 2
- California Cedar Products Forest Choice
- Papermate Mirado Classic HB 2
- Dixon Ticonderoga Black 2 Soft
- California Republic Palomino HB
So first up the American Naturals. I recalled Raven’s Revolutionary posting on sharpening with a knife so I thought I would give that a go with this plain simple piece of pencil wood. Actually I quite enjoyed it, and was surprised at how easy it is to carve the wood away, but let’s just say I need a lot more practice! There are far too many Health & Safety issues for me to get away with knife sharpening at work in the long-term. I wasn’t particularly impressed with the finish on the Naturals. Some sides of the hex were quite rough compared to others, but on the positive side it would improve the grip properties. The lead was OK, not particularly smooth feeling, but the eraser was just useless, smearing stuff around and not fully erasing.
Tuesday was Forest Choice. I just love the finish on this pencil, its fantastic. A smooth light lacquer really showcases the wood, and feels great to the touch. The lead was better than the Naturals, but perhaps not quite as dark. The eraser was miles better. On the one hand it’s good to have minimalist markings on a “natural” finish pencil like this, but I would prefer them to mark the grade (2, HB?) on the pencil. Overall a great pencil.
Wednesday was Papermates turn – who even knew they made woodcase pencils? The lead in the Mirado seemed pretty good to me. A fraction on the light side, but very smooth - I guess that’s extra wax in the core or something. A nice paint finish but not as good as some.
Thursday was Ticonderoga Black day. Obviously the marketing team at Dixon decided they were going to expand their export markets and start selling to New Zealand. So they sat down and came up with the Ticonderoga Black. Matt black body and eraser with silver writing, just like the uniforms of New Zealand national sporting teams, making us think of the All Blacks or the Silver Ferns every time we see that pencil. But then those clever Dixon marketing folk went even further, and just to clinch the deal, thought “Hey, lets paint the ferrule in the Australian national sporting colours so those Kiwi’s will not only be reminded of themselves but also of their constant rivalry with the Kangaroos”. Boy, it’s easy to see why those exec’s at Dixon get paid the big bucks. But then something went totally wrong and they forgot to send some to New Zealand. Go figure! The lead is really smooth and if it was just a little darker, this might well be the perfect pencil.
So onto Friday, and the much vaunted Palomino. It’s a great pencil with an excellent paint job, but without the eraser tip it was the odd-man out in this American sampler. I think this is the pencil I had to sharpen the most often, implying its lead was the softest.
Overall I really liked the extra weight and top-heavy balance provided by the eraser tips. These are all great pencils, (except perhaps the Naturals) but there are two stand-outs for me - the Forest Choice and the Ticonderoga Millennium Black. Both are now regulars in my wooden pencil holder.
OK, Long live the revolution!, but back to the mechs.