Friday, July 14, 2006

The Lead Cup - In Review

So, what has this whole Lead Cup and related postings revealed? Well here are a few thoughts.

Firstly it got a few folk questioning my mental state, although most of them at least said “strange but interesting” so I’ll just concentrate on the “interesting” bit! Personally I just thought it was worthwhile to try and decide which leads were the best and a “competition” seemed like one way of livening the whole thing up . A bit of harmless online nonsense. Anyway, no big deal, onto more lead related things.

How reliable are the results? Well the elimination, semi-final and finals were all blind tests, in that I didn’t know which lead was in which pencil, so there wasn’t any personal bias to a particular lead. All the tests were pretty subjective though, as I didn’t have machines breaking the lead, or measuring blackness, etc. On the other hand if we track back and look at Caran d’Ache’s results in the pool, elimination, semi-final and final (in that order):

Blackness = first, win, win, “losing draw”.
Erasability = second, lose, lose, lose.
Smear Resistance = third, win, win, win.
Strength = first, draw, win, lose.

Overall that’s a pretty consistent pattern which implies my judging was reasonably consistent, though the pool result for smear resistance looks anomalous.

What I don’t know is things like:
  • How good is the manufacturers’ quality control? Was I testing a lead from a particularly good or bad production batch?
  • Does age matter? I tend to think not, but some leads could be brand new but others I’ve had for a few years and they could have been in the wholesale to retail chain for a few years prior to my purchasing them.

Do some of the tests matter? I just arbitrarily decided that blackness was a good thing. You could just as easily say “Hey Dave, use a darker grade” and therefor blackness is irrelevant. Some artists might like a lead that you can smear out a bit. As for erasability, well they all rub out with a good PVC eraser, just some a little easier than others. Perhaps strength is really the only absolute.

Can you extrapolate these 0.5mm HB grade results to other grades and sizes? Probably, but then I note that most of my Faber-Castell 0.5mm leads are made in Brazil, and the 0.7mm ones are made in Germany, but there is a bit of a mixture. Also, does strength matter so much with 0.7mm? An average strength formulation might be borderline in 0.5mm, but all you would ever need when made into a 0.7 or 0.9mm diameter lead.

I was rather surprised to see how much the Japanese manufactured leads dominated, and how no German leads did that well. Not all the leads clearly state their country of manufacture, but there were 5 leads made in Germany, and none made it out of pool play. On the other hand 5 of the 6 that did make it out of the pool play into the elimination round were of Japanese manufacture – Pentel, Papermate, Cross, Zebra and Pilot, all made in Japan. So it seems pretty clear where the centre of excellence is. I was surprised at the Faber-Castell result, so much that I “cheated” and did a re-test, but the results were the same. Maybe I had a really bad batch?

At the end of the day though, all the leads from the major brands are actually pretty good. I use Staedtler quite a lot simply because it’s the one in the supply cupboard at work, and even though it’s not the strongest, it’s not that bad. Happy pencilling.


Anonymous said...

Well put. but dude i really didnt mean anything bad by my OCD comments. They were in fact meant to be vociferous support of your endeaver. ( see, i'm the crazy one) I did something similar awhile back but not onlinE. in front of a group of friends. And i won money betting on pentel. ($20)Sorry if you got a different impression, I meant only harmless banter among fellow pencil freaks

Kiwi-d said...

Hey, no worries buddy! Harmless online nonsense & banter. Keep the comments coming. I'm not that sensitive! As someone said to me re their website, "Heh, thats just for kicks online".

I apllaude the money making endeavour. So, now reveal all - who did the other person bet on?Did you give odds?

Anonymous said...

He bet on this brand that BIC had going at the time. Bic has since then changed their lead but it doesnt seem to hold up any better. The other contender i cant remember but it was a stateside company if i recall. 3 people (myself included) put down $10.
The US brand lost to BIC. Bic got ahead of pentel in the blackness test by a marginal amount but lost in smoothness and strength. I had Pentel and supplied the pencils and 2 of the leads used. Matics. all with different color clips fresh out of the bag. The leads were replaced and given to 2 of our friend who did not know the brands. the red clip won overall, Pentel. My two friends begrudgingly gave me their money.
So no odds but still an elaborate bet. The testing really only went into strength darkness and smoothness. while the last category was subjective Pentel came out with both judges.

Kiwi-d said...

Interesting. You know just as an aside, here we would say you won $30 as thats the amount you got back, inc your own stake.

Do BIC sell leads in the US? Certainly they don't here. The Matic uses those extra long leads? There are no replacements available here so you just use ordinary 60mm length ones to replace them. Well actually you can buy some Chinese extra long ones but they are as shocking and useless as their price would suggest.

Anonymous said...

Bic sells 60mm leads that are identical in every other respect to the ones included with the Matic.
I did replace it as a matter of form but I didnt have to. Actually when i come to think about it I havent seen them in a while...maybe they ceased production.

Kiwi-d said...

Uh oh! OCD kick in. Now I'm going to have to go on a BIC search!

Anonymous said...

"You have learned well grasshopper"