Nataraj Neon vs. Casemate Neon

Back to School season always gets me excited.  As a college student, I feel justified in purchasing extra notebooks, pencils, and erasers.  I peruse the aisles of the local Walmart or Target to see what's new and have found myself gravitating to the Ticonderogas or USA Golds.  There has been a lot of discussion recently in the Erasable Facebook group about Walmart's awesome deal on pencils from the Casemate line (97 cents for a dozen pencils and a sharpener).  A lot think that the canister of pencils is manufactured by Hindustan Pencil Company and are pretty much Nataraj pencils without the branding.  Even the sharpener that comes with the pencils says Nataraj. Now that back to school season is in full swing, I have seen the Casemate Neon pencils start to crop up.  There are two versions; the ones that are hexagonal and made in India and the ones that have a round barrel that are made in the Philippines.  DO NOT buy the round ones.  They are horrible and not worth your time.  What follows is a comparison of the Casemate (made in India) Neons and the Nataraj Neons. Upon opening the Casemate pencils, I immediately noticed that the production quality was not that great.  Chipped pencils and sloppy finish were on quite a few of the pencils.  The graphite cores seemed to be a tiny bit off center, but nothing drastic:

Hand sharpening was quite easy, but I noticed something interesting in the shavings-- the neon finish was separating from the wood of the pencil.  I do not have pictures, but the Nataraj pencils do not do this at all, so again I am left wondering if these are factory seconds or a few steps have been skipped in the manufacturing process to cut costs.


Both pencils are almost identical save for the few production errors I have found in the Casemate brand.  The neon color on the Nataraj pencils is a bit more vibrant, but from a quick glance one would not be able to see much difference.  The ferrules on both pencils are the same black aluminum, but the Nataraj pencil has a cleaner look to it (Nataraj pencil is on the right in all of the pics below):


Aesthetics aside, when it comes to writing, there is a noticeable difference.  I found that the Casemate pencil wrote a lot smoother than the Nataraj but laid down slightly lighter marks.  This observation does not seem to fit the experience, but I prefer this-- some may not.  I wonder if this is due to the fact that there might be some additives to the graphite in the Casemate pencil to cheapen the cost.  Both pencils were a delight to write with, but I found myself preferring the Casemate.


As you can see from the bottom of the writing sample, both pencils have HORRIBLE erasers.  Do not use them.  You can, but don't expect good results.  They shading erased beautifully, but trying to erase text is an exercise in futility.  At 97 cents a 12 pack, the Casemate pencils are a steal, but remember HEXAGONAL only.  If you are interested in Nataraj Neons, head over to Caroline where one can pick up a dozen for about three and a half dollars.

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:


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:


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?!


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:


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!



Viking 029 Skoleblyanten

Hello pencil pals!  I am back from about a month long hiatus.  Life-- mainly school, work, and moving to a new place got in the way of my ability to post regular updates.  I apologize for not keeping the blog updated, but going forward I should be back on track.  After all, I have quite the backlog of pencils and projects to post about!  OK.  Now onto this week's pencil, the Viking 029 Skoleblyanten (Skoleblyanten translates to school pencil in Danish).  Viking is a pencil company based out of Denmark and has a 100 year history of making pencils ever since a Danish matchstick company started making pencils.  For a deeper write-up on the history of Viking, head to Bleistift where you will find some great reviews and details about the brand. 20160702_232244

Appearance wise, the Viking 029 is more than just an ordinary yellow school pencil.  From the classic yellow lacquer of a school pencil, to the black stamping of a Viking ship on the hexagonal barrel, and the ferruleless dipped end, the Viking 029 is quite nice to look at.  The Viking 029 not only excels in form, but in function too.  While the pencil is classified as an HB grade, I felt as though it wrote a bit softer and darker than HB grade pencils I am used to.  The graphite is nice a smooth on paper and erases cleanly and easily.  The weight of the Viking 029 is nice.  I usually don't like the lightweight feel to ferruleless pencils, but the Viking 029 has just enough heft to it to feel comfortable.




I have spent the past few weeks writing with this pencil and I can honestly say that while it writes a little bit darker than a standard HB, its point retention is great.  Breakage was non-existent and no grittiness was felt while writing at any point.  The graphite had almost a soft waxy feel to it, but it didn't crumble like most waxy feeling graphite pencils do.  I can easily say that this pencil will make it into my school year rotation in the Fall.  The Viking 029 can be found at CW Pencil Enterprise for $1.25 a pencil and it is well worth throwing a few in your cart next time you shop.  For more information on Viking's other products check out their beautiful page.



Palomino Prospector


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.


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.

Camel HB

Ever since CW Pencil Enterprise began carrying the Camel HB in their store, I was in love.  The unique ferrule-less design drew me in and I was excited to try out some good Japanese graphite.  My first impression when observing the Camel is it's nice maple, golden brown color (it actually reminded me of the color of a camel).  The contrast of the bright white stamping on the barrel really makes the branding pop and goes along great with the eraser.  20160228_150517 The Camel sharpens really well.  Not a single point break or crumble and the point retention is perfect for my heavy writing days.  I must say that I am not sure if this is due to the fact that I am slowly learning that pressing hard is not a necessity, or if it is really that good, but measures such as point retention and graphite darkness are subjective anyway.  The eraser is quite the opposite and very disappointing.  I really did want to love the eraser since I had never seen a pencil without a ferrule before, but this eraser falls flat.  It smudges more than erases and when it does erase you have to press down really hard and risk ripping your paper.  I very quickly switched and used my Mitsubishi Boxy as it was becoming near impossible to work with.  I was curious as to how the eraser was attached onto the barrel of the pencil, so I twisted it off and it is just a pencil cap of sorts:

While I was disappointed by this discovery, an eraser does make a pencil.  With a price point of $1.50 a pencil at CW Pencils, the Camel is moderately priced.  If you are placing an order with Caroline, throw one in your bag; it's not a "must own" pencil, but definitely earned its keep this week.  Overall 7.5/10

Viarco ECO HB

My mother always told me never to judge a book by its cover.  This week's pencil, the Viarco ECO HB, would prove that you should always listen to your mother.  I was admittedly excited to use a the Viarco ECO; it had a nice natural look it it and it was from one of the oldest pencil companies in Europe.  While it has a clear lacquer over the natural wood (I prefer no lacquer on my natural pencils), the ECO was still a beauty.  Its green imprint on the ferrule-less barrel coupled with the simple, yet elegant script of "Viarco" had me excited to get sharpening. 20160221_182725

My first experience with the Viarco was a fair one, a bit scratchy, but decent darkness for an HB.  As I progressed throughout the week, my disappointment would set it.  I had to sharpen this pencil a lot.  So much so that it was a hindrance to my note taking.  I am not quite sure why that is since it felt as though it was on the harder, scratchier side, but this thing dulled quick if I wasn't mindful enough to rotate while writing.  On about my fourth or fifth sharpening, problems started to surface.  First, the tip would always break, or should I say crumble, off.  I tried using my Masterpiece, KUM Wedge, and the Classroom Friendly all with the same results.  There also was an interesting issue with the barrel of the pencil about halfway through as it started to split as I sharpened.  See pictures below:

I am not sure what wood is used in the ECO, but it was a strange texture.  When sharpening with the Masterpiece, the shavings were very dusty and had little to no odor to them.  Erasing the Viarco was a breeze and my Mitsubishi Boxy took care of any evidence of graphite markings.  At 75 cents a pencil, I guess I expected more.  Overall 5/10

Mitsubishi 9000 HB


I must say, with full disclosure, that Japanese-made pencils will always have a special spot in my pencil loving heart.  It was the Tombow MONO that first piqued my interest and sent me down the rabbit hole of pencil using/collecting.  There is something about Japanese pencils; the darkness and strength of their graphite, the beautiful finish and attention to detail that goes into each brand, and the overall consistency I am met with each time I pick up a new pencil to use.  This week, I used the Mitsubishi 9000 HB and fell in love with its smooth lay-down and beautiful color scheme.  First, the pencil itself is a sight to behold.  It has a shiny green lacquer with a darker Kelly green stripe around the top where the lead grade is located.  The gold foil stamping is precise and really shines with the green color.  One one side (and perhaps one of my favorite imprints to date) it has "Made by elaborate process" stamped proudly and reassuringly.  And see, that's just it.  I really feel as though so much went into the making of this pencil and that careful scrutiny accompanied it during its entire journey into my possession. 20160221_180342-1

Sharpening the Mitsubishi 9000 was a joy and not once did a point prematurely break.  AS with all of my pencils, the first sharpen is made by the Classroom Friendly and then I switch over to the KUM Masterpiece (which is now on US soil...see Caroline!).  My entire week of writing with this pencil was a joy.  With a heavy note-taking week behind me, I still have about half a pencil left.  It erases effortlessly with the Mitsubishi Boxy and  does not smudge or smear.


This pencil will definitely make it into my rotation and I recommend that everyone should try one at least once.  They are moderately priced at $1.00 a pencil, but with its durable graphite, I feel as though this pencil will last you twice as long.  If you are interested, as always, head to Caroline.  Overall 9.5/10






Dixon Ticonderoga Renew HB Soft


Ever since I reviewed the Blackwing 211 a few weeks ago, I have been in love with pencils that have an unpainted, natural look.  Now there are two categories of natural pencils: "finished" which is what the 211 was and "raw" which is what the Ticonderoga Renew is.  I have no real preference for either, but performance wise I did notice a few interesting things about this "raw" pencil. 20151116_112231

I really like the color scheme of this pencil; the green eraser, the classic Ticonderoga ferrule, and the green foil stamping really make the natural barrel shine.  I also like that on most of the pencils in the box I have, you can see the interlocking wood slats which I think is super cool.  The Renew sharpened up nicely and the graphite core was perfectly centered.


There was slight resistance when sharpening the Renew; it was almost as if the raw finish gave me a bit of resistance while turning the sharpener.  This did not effect the sharpening process, it just made it a tad bit more difficult (I also worried that it was a bit rough on the blade of my Masterpiece).  Because the Renews are made with a little over half of pre-consumer recycled wood, I am unsure what the make up of the pencil is.  It definitely has a smell to it that is unique and not very cedar-like (actually-- and don't laugh-- it kind of smells like strong body odor when sharpened).  The eraser was effective, but was very dusty and wore away about halfway through the pencil.  I had to resort to using my Mitsubishi Boxy the rest of my time with the Renew.


Once I had the Renew sharpened, it was time to write.  I first started taking notes in a Gold Fibre Retro Pad, but found writing to be uncomfortable.  The Gold Fibre by Ampad has this beautiful ivory paper, but it is a bit toothy.  Once I switched back to my Kokuyo Campus paper all was well.  The Ticonderoga Renew wore down slowly and I only broke lead once while sharpening (I think it was my fault).  I am on the fence about whether or not to agree with their "soft" assertion, but the graphite wasn't bad by any means.  It was OK on my own subjective darkness scale, but YMMV.  One other thing I am not sure of is how it stacks up to other Ticonderogas.  At around $5.50 for a ten-pack, they are affordable and worth giving a try.  I don't foresee the Renew getting a place in my pencil rotation, but it definitely earned its keep this week.  Overall: 7/10

Caran d'Ache Edelweiss HB

caran_dache_logo_detail This week's pencil is from Caran d'Ache, a Swiss company that is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.  Here is a little history:

Caran d’Ache is the pen name by which Russian-born French illustrator, Emmanuel Poiré, achieved worldwide renown in the 19th century. The choice turned out to be a salient one, since “karandash” is the Russian term for “pencil” and in turn comes from the Turkish root “kara tash” which refers to black stone – the origins of graphite.

This natural material found in the mountains of Switzerland gave rise to the first Swiss pencil factory set up in Geneva in 1915. Nine years later, in the hands of its founder, the visionary Arnold Schweitzer, it took the name of the famous illustrator became known as Caran d’Ache.

I own a Caran d'Ache 849 ballpoint pen and I am familiar with the quality products CdA puts out.  I might even say that the 849 is the best ballpoint pen I have ever used, but alas, we are talking about pencils here.  When I did my random pick of this past week's pencil, I initially felt disappointed.  The pencil itself is very light and I tend to prefer something with a bit more mass.  I did like the Edelweiss's red finish and the bright white imprint on its barrel.  The only disappointing thing was that there was also a barcode on the opposite side of this beautiful imprint.  I understand why manufacturers have to do this in order to sell singles, but does it have to be in the center of the pencil??  Here is the prettier side:


The Edelweiss HB writes sharpens to a nice point and I only encountered one instance of breakage (and I think it was actually my fault for being heavy handed).  The point retention on this pencil is average to above-average which is good for a heavy writer like myself, but I found that the graphite was not as smooth as I would have liked it to be.  At about one dollar a pencil, the Edelweiss is quite pricey for just a plain old school pencil to the layperson.  The fact that I have not even used half the pencil in a week worth of note-taking makes up for the cost and I am comfortable in saying that the pencil would most likely last me two weeks.  As far as darkness is concerned, it performs as expected for an HB pencil although it is a shade lighter than I personally prefer.  I experienced no smudging or transferring with the CdA (which was a good thing, because my notes are a mess from the Musgrave last week!) and erasing was a breeze.


I would have to say that this pencil hits most of the marks for me: point retention, attractiveness, graphite strength, and erasability.  The Edelweiss does not knock it out of the park for me, but I could see it becoming a part of my rotation.  Overall: 6.5/10

**If you would like to try out your own Caran d'Ache Edelweiss in either HB, F or 3B, head over to CW Pencil Supply and give Caroline your money** (note: I was not paid for this review or solicited by anyone.  I just think CW is amazing and you should too!)

Staedtler Norica HB 2

I was quite underwhelmed this week when using the Staedtler Norica: point breakage, quick wear, and crappy eraser.  I suppose I expected more out of this German-made pencil (note: this pencil is made in Thailand, I stand corrected), but-- then again-- how much could I expect from a common school pencil?  The Norica looks pretty; it has a nice, sharp hexagonal barrel and a bright white eraser held in by a silver ferrule. 20151026_173615 (1)

This pencil had a busy week between stats notes and test-taking that I began to wonder if it could keep up.  Since obtaining Kum's Masterpiece sharpener, I have not had the excessive amounts of point breakage as I did the with Long Point sharpener.  I chalk that up to less flexibility since the Masterpiece is (I think) magnesium.  This was the first pencil that proved me wrong.  I deduced that it was probably a break in the graphite core within the pencil since it was such a clean break, but nonetheless this happened about three or four times during the week.

20151029_153237 (1)

Another gripe was the fact that I had to sharpen the Norica so damn much while note-taking.  Usually, I sharpen once per side of paper I write on (I use B5 size paper).  The Norica sometimes barely made it through two-thirds of the page before I had to sharpen her which left me frustrated and my hand cramped from sharpening so much.  I really thought that this pencil would not make it to the end of the school week, but it did-- barely.

20151029_153734 (1)

The picture above shows how quick the pencil wore down (this was taken on Thursday of a week that runs until Saturday).  What the above picture also shows is the next thing I am going to gripe about: the ferrule.  I usually try to use the eraser if the pencil comes with one to see how it does and whether or not it is useful.  I wore down the eraser a lot since it had a hard time erasing and I had to follow up with my Boxy.  About halfway through the Norica, I noticed that the ferrule was loose.  Like it was separating from the barrel of the pencil.  It wobbled quite a bit while erasing or while I was using the pencil in general and I noticed that it was only attached via four little punches in the aluminum (?) that adhered it to the pencil.  The smaller the pencil got, the more I noticed the loose ferrule.

20151101_190104 (1)

This week was a crap week with lots of school work and a bad pencil.  I do realize that since I am working my way through my entire collection of pencils I am bound to work with some bad ones, but please pencil gods: let my next random pick be a Swiss Wood!  Overall: 4/10