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.