Blackwing Natural

It has been quite a long time since I have reviewed a Blackwing pencil— I stopped reviewing special editions since I was really only talking about form since function never really changes (besides hardness). This new offering is different though— it is something Blackwing fans have been asking for for a long time— a natural Blackwing. If we remember back to the time of the 211, we remember how loved that edition was (and still is). There was something about a “naked” Blackwing that seemed to please everyone. It is so nice to have an affordable 211 look-a-like, but does it live up to the hype and expectations of the community? Let’s find out:

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When opening up the box of the BW Naturals, I am immediately drawn to the beautiful wood grain of the cedar. There are many other natural pencils I have used before, but there is something about this smooth finish on the BW Natural that really makes it pop. The shiny gold ferrule is a perfect mate to the gold imprint on the barrel. The gray eraser on the other hand? Meh. I really think any other color would have worked here— I personally like the pink or the yellow, but there is an easy fix as Blackwing sells replacement erasers in almost every color.

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The Blackwing Natural is advertised as “Extra-Firm”, but I did not expect how dark of a line this pencil laid down. To me, it writes like a F which is on the lighter side of grades, but definitely not what I would classify as extra-firm (I’d put extra firm in the 2H/3H category). It erases okay with the provided eraser but even better with a Hinodewashi (my favorite eraser of course). Point retention is great considering how dark the pencil writes— I was pleasantly surprised here. When one factors in the aesthetics of this pencil coupled with its performance, I can see how this would be an EDC for some folks as it definitely is for me. At 21.95 for a box of 12, you really cannot go wrong here. They are so worth it!

Blackwing Volumes No. 1

It's been a while since I have reviewed any Blackwing products and I really wasn't going to do so this limited edition either, but something remarkable happened. I used a round pencil that I did not hate. Yes. You heard that correctly. I have always been a fan of hex or semi-hex pencils and prefer super sharp hex. There is a method to my madness-- I use the edge to rotate my pencil when I notice the point is wearing down at an angle. If I just rotate it ever so slightly to the next "side" it makes the point wear evenly. Needless to say, when I got the latest Volumes edition from Blackwing I first said "meh" and then was extra meh when I found out the pencils were round. As I heard others in the Erasable group talk about their own experiences with the latest edition, I heard a few people say that the finish on the barrel was unique and provided a distinct grip experience. I decided to take the plunge. I figured if I hated them I would just trade them for something else. Well I didn't. Here are my thoughts:

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Let's start with aesthetics. I didn't like this pencil at first visually. I think it was because pictures online really do not capture the right color of the pencil. Same thing with the eraser. In person I will say that they look much better. The matte finish on the barrel is very thin which allows the wood grain of the pencil to show through a bit. It is very reminiscent of furniture that you can buy at IKEA or fancy hardwood flooring. The blue eraser is a nod to Guy Clarke's (the name of the person this pencil was made in tribute to) blue collar of his favorite shirt. The blue is very subtle and at a quick glance one would think that it is more of a grey/black. 

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Performance wise this Blackwing edition does not disappoint. The graphite is not scratchy and erases well. The graphite formula used for this edition is the "balanced" formula. This balanced formula is what can be found in the Pearl and Volume 725. I usually prefer to 602 core to the Pearl, but I kinda liked using it this time around. Perhaps it's because I have been solely using Neon Casemates and I am used to that softer, darker core. Not sure, but I'll take it. The eraser performs better than the old formulation but still not up to the standards I like. I have been spoiled by foam erasers and the eraser on the Blackwing is a bit dusty for me and takes way to much effort to erase things cleanly. It's no Hinodewashi but it is not as bad as a Musgrave eraser. 

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I am not sure I would say that I am in love with this pencil, but I like it. I purchased a dozen and will probably use half of that for trade fodder in the future. Volume 1 does its job, looks decent enough, and comes with the quality one would expect from Palomino. Seriously though, where is the estrogen in these releases? The day you devote a pencil to a woman (and not a woman that happened to use a photo process/style because that felt like an aside) is the day I become a subscriber. 

 

Mail and Other Musings

So this blog has evolved into a non-weekly endeavor and is not really fulfilling its "weekly pencil" duties.  At the very beginning of this idea a year ago, I had dove into the hobby of collecting and using pencils of all sorts.  I was excited and wanted to share that with the world.  As I made new friends in the Erasable group, I was encouraged to post more and every week I used one pencil and then wrote about my thoughts on said pencil.  The idea seemed simple enough, but what I didn't take into account was the fact that life happens and even the most loved hobbies can fall victim of disinterest and immense obligation.  Let me explain.  I still love pencils.  I will always love pencils, but keeping up with the blog on a weekly basis became a burden when life got in the way.  I became resentful in my new role as "pencil blogger/reviewer" and my posts every Sunday became this awful "thing" I had to do.  My need to stay current began to tarnish my love of pencils and the community that surrounded me.  That is why I took a step back.  I have received comments along the lines of "when are you posting again?  This isn't the weekly pencil anymore?"  I appreciate followers, but I wish some would realize that this is 100 percent funded by myself both monetarily and emotionally.  Besides two items I have reviewed, I have paid for every item out of my own pocket.  I am not complaining about spending money here either.  Hell, I'd be buying pencils anyway, but I wish some would realize that this is not my job.  *Important note here-- I am not calling any individual out here, I just am making broad statements of my general experience with this blog*  I love all of you followers and get super excited when other are enthusiastic in this niche hobby.  Just know that this blog will evolve a bit and include ALL of my passions (pencils, stationery, games, etc.).  I will keep the same URL for now, but the site design and title may change in the future.  Now onto the fun stuff!  MAIL  FROM CW PENCIL ENTERPRISE!!!! Nothing is finer than when you expect a pencil package and you hear the subtle beep of the mail person's scanner and a solid *thunk* on your porch.  I raced downstairs immediately and there it was-- a package from Caroline and her crew:

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I always enjoy pencil-related mail, but getting a package from CW Pencil Enterprise is something really special.  From their packaging to their unique and personal attention to detail with every order, you really feel like you are something special.  This was my note:

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Not only did I get this adorable note from Caitlin, but there is something about the way they individually wrap everything.  Knowing that Caitlin herself walked around the shop and personally packaged my pencils makes me warm and fuzzy inside.  For at least a few minutes I had a personal pencil shopper.  How much better can pencil buying get?!

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Even though I already knew what was inside these lovely yellow wrapped packages I was excited to discover their contents.  I think that pictures will speak for themselves, but if you are interested, here are links to all I ordered: Blackwing Volumes, Camel Pastel HB, Nataraj Joi 2B, and Milan Graphite and Highlighter Pencil.  Now onto my pics:

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I plan on doing reviews on all of these products at some point, but I am really itching to try out the Graphite/Highlighter pencil.  Stay tuned for that review sometime in the near future!

 

 

Palomino Prospector

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After a grueling finals week at school, I am back in action with my reviews!  I decided to go budget this week and choose the Prospector.  I love the bright green color and the hexagonal barrel-- no semi-hex here.  Have I hit gold with a nice-looking budget pencil or have I missed the gold rush?  Let's take a look: 20160504_142800

Aesthetically speaking, the Prospector looks damn great for a pencil that sells for $2.25 a dozen (that's about 19 cents per pencil).  I enjoy the gold foil stamping as it makes me feel as though it was a nod to the fact that the pencil is called the Prospector.  The pencil itself is made of basswood and its graphite core is HB.  Speaking of the graphite core, this pencil sharpens up beautifully and I had no point breakage while sharpening (I exclusively used the Masterpiece).  The darkness is on par for a number 2 pencil and while it certainly does not write nice and smooth, the Prospector is not too scratchy either.  There were a few times that I notice a bit of scratchiness in the graphite, but that cleared up with a few scribbles to wear down the rough patch.  Point retention is great and I am just about at the Steinbeck stage after using it for two weeks.  I did a lot of transcribing by hand (6 to 7 whole pages) and found myself having to sharpen every two pages or so.

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The eraser on the Prospector is what you would expect for a pencil that sells for under a quarter.  It's good in a pinch, but definitely bring your own eraser to the party.  I can really see this pencil entering into my rotation as it is cheap and performs well.  Honestly, I think teachers should either be using the Prospector or Ticonderoga in the classroom.  You cannot beat the price and value that comes from this pencil.

Palomino Blackwing 24

The Blackwing 24 is the fourth installment of Palomino's limited edition pencil line.  Four times a year, you can have a dozen (plus one archival pencil) limited edition Blackwings delivered to your door along with additional goodies that correspond with that quarter's edition.  If you are not a subscriber, you may buy a box of the pencils for $24.95, but you do not get any of the collectibles that you receive with the subscription.  Usually, the featured pencil uses one of Palomino's three Blackwing cores (Pearl, 602, Blackwing/MMX).  The 24 on the other hand, uses a brand new graphite core that is "slightly firmer than the 602 without sacrificing the darkness."  The entire story behind the Blackwing 24 can be found here. Blackwing24HorizontalSmall-1030x251

 

The moment I opened my first box the the 24, I was enamored.  The super glossy finish, black ferrule, black eraser, and blacked out stamping won me over instantly.  I am so glad that Palomino did not decide to dye the wood as well since my experience with dyed wood pencils has been a bit meh.  Plus, the natural cedar makes the black gloss pop even more.  Speaking of the black gloss finish, I found it made the pencil super comfortable to hold albeit a bit slippery when my hand got sweaty.  This is not an inherent flaw, I think it is just my intense grip and sweaty hands that made the slippage happen.  Normal, non-Hulk gripped individuals should not face the same fate.

The 24 sharpens up nicely and has a perfectly centered core.  As always, I enjoy the rich fragrant smell of cedar that Palomino uses and have to admit I am a bit spoiled by it.  I expect the best and consistently receive the best with every Blackwing pencil I use.  I just have one bone-- or should I say eraser-- to pick.  The eraser sucks.  Now an eraser does not make the pencil and in fact, half the pencils I use do not come with an eraser, but I guess I expected a bit more from my favorite brand.  This is by no means ever going to change my view of the Blackwing, and in fact, I'd much rather Palomino put money into developing cooler designs and different graphite formulations.  I just am disappointed.  The best way to sum up the eraser performance is this: NO.  Stick with your Boxy or Sakura eraser.

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Writing with the 24 all week has been great.  I had a lot of continuous writing in a psychology class I am taking (involves client/helper observation) and the 24 lived up to its promises.  I was writing on standard copy paper and I sharpened the pencil once in a 50-minute class.  With my gorilla grip that is amazing performance.  The darkness of the 24 is just right and the graphite glides smoothly across the paper with little effort.  I have compared the 24 to another one of my favorite pencils for writing, the Semi-Hex.  As you can see from the (poorly lit photo) writing sample, the darkness of each pencil is about the same and the differences are negligible.  Where the 24 wins out is its smoothness.  The Semi-Hex is a lot scratchier, but it is not as smudgy as the 24.  You can see in the photo below that the the first "Sara" that was written with the 24 is a bit smudged.  Smudging is by no means a deal-breaker for me, but its definitely something to note.  Especially for lefties.

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All in all, the Blackwing 24 is a great addition to the Blackwing Subscription and I suspect these will sell out pretty quickly.  Head over to blackwing602.com to subscribe or grab a box.

 

Palomino Golden Bear #2

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From an aesthetics standpoint, I absolutely love the Golden Bear.  With two color options-blue barrel; orange eraser or orange barrel; blue eraser- the Golden Bear is perfect for NY Mets or Knicks fans.  All kidding aside, for a pencil that is twenty five cents, you cannot beat the quality that Palomino offers.  This pencil may not perform like a Blackwing, but you definitely get your money's worth.  The lacquer on the barrel is superbly shiny and the barrel itself has just the right amount of edge (somewhere between a Ticonderoga and a Musgrave Testing).  The ferrule is gold to match the gold foil stamp and has an orange (or blue) band around the center of it.  The cedar smell is fairly strong and the graphite is about standard for a number 2 pencil.20160131_144344-1 Performance wise, the Golden Bear has some high points,but just as many low points.  Starting with the positive, the point retention is great for a budget number 2 pencil.  It was nice to not have to sharpen as frequently as I am used to.  Also, the craftsmanship of the Golden Bear is amazing considering it is so cheap.  Palomino really knows how to manufacture quality pencils and it shows.  I cannot get over how shiny the lacquer is or how centered the graphite cores are.  Well done.  Now for the negative.  The eraser is horrible as it barely erases its own graphite and leaves a ton of dust.  Not really a deal breaker for me since I prefer to use a block eraser anyway, but still.  Not good.  Another negative was the amount of smear and transfer to opposite pages I got with this pencil.  I cannot see myself using this pencil regularly due to the way I like to keep my notes, but for classroom use this pencil would be perfect.

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Overall: 6/10

One can find a pack of these pencils at http://www.pencils.com

Palomino Blackwing 211

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This week has been the best pencil week ever!  I had been dying to get my hands on the limited edition Blackwing 211 since it sold out a week after release.  Thankfully, the pencil community came through and my pencil pal Andi sent me a few to review.  Andi has a blog as well and you should definitely check it out!  So now on to the 211: IMG_20151012_153230

One can see the sheer beauty of the 211 as its natural wood-grain contrasts with its gold ferrule and brown eraser.  The barrel of the pencil is nice and smooth and the black stamping is perfect and precise.  I could not wait to sharpen this pencil!  I sharpened the 211 with my usual tool, the Palomino Long Point Sharpener.

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As you can see, I love how sharp the slats appear after sharpening-- this pencil is really a beauty.  All aesthetics aside, let's get to the writing portion of the review.  I had a lot of note-taking this week for my classes and the Blackwing 211 came through.  Point retention is amazing and the pencil writes so velvety smooth that I almost did not want to ever review another pencil again.  I had no trouble with point breakage in the sharpener and by the end of my busy week, I still had so much pencil left to use.  It could be surmised that this pencil would last one for two weeks with pretty consistent writing which makes the price of this pencil worth it.

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The above picture is the pencil length after 7 solid days of use.  Not only is the Blackwing 211 photogenic, but she's useful too!  The only way you can come across this pencil is finding an odd retailer that still has some in stock or on Ebay.  Fret not though because I have been told that the graphite is the same as the Blackwing 602, a pencil that is always available.  No, you will not have this gorgeous wood-grain version, but to me a pencil's utility is worth more than what it looks like.  Still, you can't help but marvel in the 211's glory. Overall 10/10!

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*For any of you wondering how you can get your hands on these awesome Blackwing limited edition pencils, you can sign up for a Volumes subscription here.