California Cedar Products “Forest Choice” #2 (HB) Pencil
At heart I’m a 0.5mm mechanical pencil type of guy, so I always have a few issues with the much thicker leads in woodcase pencils. I have found that I often hold the pencil fairly high up thus getting a low acute angle to the paper which helps keep the lead sharp. My weeks of using woodcase pencils have reinforced to me how important the sharpener is to woodcase pencils. So, I tried out a selection of sharpeners as part of the review, namely Staedtler 512 001, Dahle 53443 (both with plastic shavings containers) and a small KUM wedge sharpener.
These three sharpeners had rather different characteristics in use. Firstly they all felt like they had a different “bite” on the pencil, with the KUM being the roughest, peeling the thickest layer of wood off the pencil. The Staedtler was similar, but the Dahle was very different, taking off a much thinner layer of wood, almost shaving rather than cutting or peeling a layer off like the others. The effect on the lead was also noticeable, with the lead being much less prone to having fractures or shattered rough sections when sharpened by the Dahle.
Now you probably won’t be totally surprised that I felt it necessary to try and quantify this difference in the sharpeners. So, out with my trusty micrometer to try and measure the thickness of the shavings. It’s still rather subjective in that how hard you push the pencil into the sharpener makes a big difference, but I tried to be consistent. My experimental results are fairly clear – the thickness of the shavings were:
KUM = 0.27 – 0.34mm, average = 0.31mm
Staedtler = 0.26 – 0.31mm, average 0.29mm
Dahle = 0.15 – 0.25mm, average = 0.19mm
This was all in line with my visual assessment of the sharpeners. Like I said, Dahle was very “gentle” compared to the others.
All this sharpening does of course allow plenty of opportunities to get a whiff of incense cedar.
In use, the lead of the Forest Choice is quite dark for an HB grade woodcase pencil. It is clearly darker then the Staedtler Mars Lumograph HB lead. Its about a B or maybe a 2B on the Staedtler scale. On the other hand, it is a little more smearable than the Staedtler HB.
The Forest Choice has a soft pinkish rubber eraser tip, and it’s actually quite a good eraser. I have recently become rather addicted to a book of logic puzzles, and I find the eraser very useful for correcting errors, tidying up working calculations, etc. I thought I would do a quick comparison between the Forest Choice eraser tip and the standard Staedtler Mars Plastic vinyl eraser. With lightly applied Forest Choice pencilling, both erasers work well, but with heavily applied lead, the Mars Plastic is better, although the Forest Choice eraser tip was still fairly good.Photo: Eraser test
Some final words. The Forest Choice #2 is a great pencil, I really like it, but it’s not perfect. In particular, the leads seem to have a few quality control problems. They lay down a good smooth dark solid line when everything’s going according to plan. But…over the past few months I used three different pencils from three different packages bought at different times. With one pencil the lead was very prone to breakages, on another the lead had many hard inclusions that were annoying and very scratchy on the paper, and everything was “A-OK” with the third one.
Link to the review of Forest Choice at Pencil Revolution.
You can check out the California Cedar company and their products via sites such as Forest Choice, Timberlines blog, and CalCedar.
Staedtler “Mars Lumograph” 100-HB Pencil
Staedtler are one of the heavyweights of the international woodcase pencil industry, and have been involved in the industry since its infancy. The Mars Lumograph is their flagship pencil, so you would expect a lot from it.
Unlike the Forest Choice, the Mars Lumograph is usually sold untipped, well at least around here anyway. It has a smooth high quality lacquer finish – a mid blue for the main body with a white ring and black cap on the top. The Staedtler name, etc is printed on in silver, and barcode etc in white. It’s a nice look, but personally I prefer the Forest Choice au natural. Even though both Forest Choice and Mars Lumograph are both HB grade lead, they are very different. The Mars Lumograph lead is considerably lighter that the Forest Choice, but it is still very smooth, a little firmer, the point lasts a little longer, and it has none of the quality control issues I mentioned above with the Forest Choice lead. Not that the Forest Choice lead is weak, but I think Mars Lumograph is stronger.
Photo: Box of 12 Mars LumographsPhoto: Check out the claim,"...unbelievably..."
Although I haven’t reviewed them here, the Mars Lumograph is available in a full range of lead hardness grades, unlike Forest Choice. Also there is a traditional stenographers round pencil version, the Mars Stenofix 101-HB. Same pencil, just the body is round instead of hexagonal. The dieing art of shorthand – in my first year at work, we had a secretary who took dictation in shorthand with a pencil. Cool.