General's Semi-Hex #1

It has been quite a while since I have reviewed a good, classic pencil. Over the years, I have strayed away from just writing about pencils to writing about all things stationery. While I don’t see that as a negative thing, it is sometimes nice to get back to one’s roots. I’ve always loved a bright yellow number 2 pencil (in this case it’s a number 1, but I digress). There is something about a yellow school pencil that evokes a pang of nostalgia— a longing for simpler times punctuated by carefree school days where your only worry was how cool you looked when you walked to the pencil sharpener at the front of the classroom. Even though we can never get those days back, we can use of tools like the Semi-Hex to get those neurons firing that are responsible for feelings of nostalgia. Anyhow, here’s what I think:

The Semi-Hex is one of my favorite pencils from General Pencil Company (the other two are the Pacific and the Badger). Even though I prefer a sharp hex, the Semi-Hex offers me a nice break from those Musgrave Test Scoring pencils. It feels great in my hand and allows me to maintain my Hulk-like grip without feeling much fatigue. I chose this pencil in a #1 because I enjoy writing with a softer, darker graphite and I’d have to say that this pencil is a true B grade. Point retention is decent for a softer graphite and the eraser does a well enough job on a variety of papers. The overall quality of this pencil is what you would expect from General and after sharpening and using several Semi-Hex I have not encountered any barrel-splitting, broken leads, or quality control issues re: fit and finish. This pencil is an absolute deal at 65 cents and can be purchased from CW Pencil Enterprise.

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CW x General's Baseball Scoring Pencil

I love baseball. Growing up, my father’s love of the game was a focal point of my summer/early fall. He loved the Cincinnati Reds. We take a road trip most years to Ohio and would spend a few days in Pittsburgh to see the Pirates at Three Rivers Stadium for a few games and then onto see the Reds at Riverfront Stadium. Both of those stadiums are no longer there, but memories of my dad sitting next to me teaching me how to “keep the book” have lasted forever. When I was older, I used to keep the book when I would watch games on TV and would always delight when I could write that backwards “K” (a strikeout looking). Life has gotten busier and changed these past two decades, and I haven’t kept score of a baseball game in years. That’s why when I saw Caroline collaborate with General Pencil company to make a Baseball scoring pencil, I was hit with twinges of nostalgia and excitement.

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Everything about this collaboration is great— the packaging design is A++ and I really like how the lettering and color scheme take me back to the 50s when signs and lettering were hand done. The pencil itself is round-barreled and white with a gold ferrule and red lettering. What I really like about the design of the pencil is that there are three little v-shaped marks on each side of the lettering that make you instantly thing of the stitching on a baseball. They could have gone overboard with trying to make this pencil look like a baseball, but they didn’t and I like that the subtlety evokes the same sentiment without being over-designed.

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This pencil has a very smooth, dark graphite core. I’d say it falls in the B range. It is a bit too soft for me to comfortably write with as I have to sharpen frequently, but for keeping score the pencil is perfect. It works well on a variety of papers— toothy, smooth, standard printer paper, and notebook paper. I will say it really shines on toothier paper though. Marks make with this pencil erase well. I did have some trouble erasing all the marks I made while journaling in my Baron Fig Confidant, but I also press pretty hard, so that is an experience I have often. Next year, I plan on using these for score-keeping my good ol’ Cincinnati Reds, but I cannot bring myself to use these pencils in any other capacity. My heavy-handedness, dislike for round pencils, and impatience with having to sharpen every half page makes these a pass for me. These pencils are $2 a piece for $10 for half a dozen. I’d suggest ordering the six— you save two bucks and get the cool box.

Jumbo Pencil Round-Up

This review is something that I have been wanting to do for a while.  I don't often find myself using jumbo pencils a whole lot and because of that, I really do not know how they perform.  I spent the better part of a week with ten wonderful pencils and would love to share my observations.  Spoiler: Musgrave has cornered the market in jumbo pencils.

1. Musgrave Cub ($0.60) 

Cub

The Cub is what is called a "mini" jumbo pencil.  It is in between a giant jumbo and a regular number two pencil.  I like this size a lot as it doesn't have that clunky hand feel some traditional sized jumbo pencils give you when you write.  In fact, if I wasn't paying attention, I would think that I was writing with a regular size pencil.  The Cub is on the darker side when compared to other offerings from Musgrave and if I were to put a grade on it, I'd say it is close to a B.  The graphite is nice and smooth and I did not have any problems with grit or scratchiness.  This is no Tombow, but it's not garbage either.  The Cub is made from Jelutong wood (for the uninitiated: Jelutong is a species mainly grown in the rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia.  This is for another post, but there is some controversy around using rainforest wood, but for now it is what it is).  The eraser should not be used under any circumstances.  It will tear your paper and a hole in your heart.  Musgrave clearly needs to up their eraser game.

2. Caran d'Ache Black Wood ($3.50)

Black Wood

The Black Wood comes at a pretty steep price, but you get what you pay for.  The graphite is super smooth and writes almost like the jumbo highlighter pencils Cd'A produces.  It is a traditional jumbo pencil, but unlike most jumbos, it is hexagonal.  This is a win for me since I tend to really dislike round pencils and prefer that sharper edge feel when I write.  Writing with the Black Wood is a pleasure and offsets the almost four dollar price tag.  Because of its dark, creamy graphite, the point retention is average to poor and the markings it makes are not always easy to erase. The weight of the Black Wood is also a bonus as it does not feel too light or flimsy.  I was unable to find out what kind of wood the pencil is made of, but it is (obviously) dyed black.  If I were to take a guess, I'd say basswood.

3. Musgrave Finger Fitter ($1.00) 

Finger Fitter

Besides the fact that I snicker whenever I see the title of this pencil, the Finger Fitter performs OK for what it is-- a triangular jumbo pencil.  The Finger Fitter is made out of basswood and the graphite is right in the middle when it comes to darkness (about HB).  The triangular shape of the pencil, while I thought would be beneficial, is not (at least for me).  Yes, it may help children learn how to hold their pencils properly, but for a 36-year-old pencil holder it is limiting.  Point retention is average and all graphite markings erase cleanly from the paper.  Again, do not use the provided eraser as it will destroy the paper you are writing on.

4. Musgrave Choo-Choo ($0.75)

Choo-Choo

The Choo-Choo is my favorite jumbo pencil when it comes to aesthetics.  It is a darker yellow pencil with blue foil stamping of a train and has a wonderful brushed gold ferrule and a bright pink eraser.  When writing with the pencil, you do not feel as good as you feel when you are looking at it.  It is a bit scratchy and because it is made of (what looks like) jelutong, it is light and hollow sounding.  The graphite is dark enough for me and erases ok, but the weight of the pencil is off putting.  While I am not in love with the way the pencil feels and writes, I love the way it looks so much that I carry one around with me if not for usage, but used as a conversation starter.

5. Musgrave My-Pal 2020 ($0.25)

My-Pal

The My-Pal is a mini jumbo pencil as it is a few millimeters larger than a standard sized pencil.  The pencil itself is jet black with white stamping and aesthetically reminds me of the the General's Layout.  Dark like the Layout it is not and lays down HB graphite lines.  The erasability of those lines is a tiny bit better than average.  Point retention is average and the pencil offers a medium amount of feedback when writing. The My-Pal is made of jelutong wood. As much as I gave it a chance, this pencil is meh for me and since there are a plethora of jumbos and mini jumbos to use, I don't foresee it making it into my regular rotation.  

6. Musgrave TOT ($0.40)

TOT

The TOT is one of the older offerings from Musgrave and has been produced, with its same stamping, for decades.  Made from jelutong, this pencil is very light in the hand and is quite noisy when writing with it.  The graphite, while the same darkness as most of Musgrave's other jumbo offerings, feels a bit smoother.  You have two color choices for the TOT: blue or red.  Both colors have a shiny look to them and from far away you would think they were sparkling.  I like the look of this pencil and it is currently in my pencil case when I am feeling in a jumbo kind of mood.  At forty cents, one really cannot go wrong with picking a few of these up. 

7. Moon Try-Rex ($0.60)

Try-Rex

Let me first say that I love the Try-Rex.  The shape of this pencil is quite unique and is really hard to explain.  It is a beveled triangle shape and has a wonderful hand feel.  The Try-Rex is a tiny bit scratchy, but lays down HB graphite and erases like a charm.  I love this pencil so much because it really helps with my hand fatigue.  I grip the pencil tightly and press hard on the paper, and I guess due to the unique shape the Try-Rex takes the pressure off of the right points.  The eraser on this pencil is no Hinodewashi, but it is better than Musgrave's offerings and can be used in a pinch.  The wood the Try-Rex is made of has a slight cedar smell, but is not as dark as regular cedar, so I am not sure what it is made of, but it has a nice heft to it.

8. General's Big Bear ($1.30)

Big Bear

The General's Big Bear is the winner of this pencil comparison piece.  The Big Bear is a mini jumbo pencil and writes like a dream.  I really never expect less from General's but compared to Musgraves and Moons, this pencil writes like a Blackwing.  The graphite it lays down is nice a smooth and erases OK.  The provided eraser works, but is very dusty and mine was a bit hard.  I am not sure if this is because of the formulation of the rubber or from exposure to air.  Either way, you can use it in a pinch, but do not count on it for big lines of text.  This pencil is the only pencil on the list that is made of incense cedar.  Because of its cedar composition, the Big Bear has a nice heft to it which only helps you enjoy the experience of writing with it.  Look wise the Big Bear is adorable with a gold foil imprint of a smiling bear on the barrel.  Buy a bunch of these.  You won't regret it.   

9. Koh-I-Noor Magnum ($2.00)

Magnum

Made in the Czech Republic, the Magnum is hexagonal jumbo pencil made from basswood.  While it lays down a nice HB line, it is VERY loud when writing with it.  The noise is probably due to the way the feedback from the paper resonates through the lighter basswood.  The point retention on this pencil is great and easily erased.  The hex on the Magnum is a bit sharper than the hex on the Black Wood which may be a deal breaker for some (not me!).  The gold foil stamping on the pencil is solidly executed and is not sloppy like some Musgraves can be.  Sadly there is a giant barcode on one of the sides of the pencil towards the top, so you have to look at that for the entire life of the pencil.  It may not matter much to some, but to me its frustratingly annoying.  Playing around with this pencil made me discover that it is the best out of the other eight for shading and sketching since it lays down just enough graphite on the paper to achieve your desired darkness.

***For those that pay attention to details: disregard the natural wood 2b pencil in the header picture.  I am not sure how it made it into the group pic, but it is not a jumbo as its core is standard sized***

Birthdays, Spirits, Erasable Notebooks, and Moleskines

General Pencil Company Turns 127

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General Pencil Company has been creating pencils since 1889 and is located in my home state of New Jersey.  Not only is it a great feat to have an American-run business last for 127 years, but the fact that a wooden pencil company has lasted that long is incredible.  I enjoy General's products and have reviewed them in the past.  While General pencils are not Tombow MONOs, they are great for what they cost.  I'd recommend trying the Pacific, Cedar Pointe, and the Supreme.

shin sharpens your spirit

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Um, OK.  I am always a fan of sometimes overly priced pretentious bullshit, but this sharpener makes some intense claims.  From the description:

The Shin sharpener is a whetstone-style pencil sharpener that turns the ordinary task of sharpening your pencil into a meditative practice. The repetitive task of sharpening the edge of your pencil is supposed to support concentration, inspiration and inner peace...

While I have to admit that there is something zen-like about getting a point to perfection, my spirit has never been sharpened by the act.  At $165, I'd much rather put it towards and el Casco or a handful of Polluxes.  The sharpener itself is a great conversation piece, but to me it looks like they repurposed a stick incense holder and shoe-horned a sharpener into it.  I shouldn't be surprised that this product is listed on a site that sells a $320 brass fertilizing syringe for gardening.

Everlast Notebook

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The Everlast Notebook is the antithesis to everything I look for in a notebook-- you cannot use pencil and it is made to be a digital product wrapped in a loose shell of an analog format.  The concept of having one notebook may be appealing to millennials (the Kickstarter for this thing is almost at a million dollars!), but I like my notebooks to be permanent.  There is something to be said for a stack of well-used notebooks that I can flip through and see what pen or pencil I have used.  Writing in a traditional notebook is such a tactile experience, I'd be horrified to erase my scribblings after I have essentially taken a picture of what I spent time on writing.  I think one positive of this product is how it can automatically catalog what you have written by ticking off a symbol on the bottom of each page.  While I am first an analog junkie, being organized comes in a close second.  Because one of my New Year's resolutions is to unplug, I'll have to pass on this one, but it's a cool concept anyway.

Moleskine Has a Banner Year

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Even though this new story is written on Yahoo Sports! (I have NO IDEA why; perhaps notebook writing could be a sport), it is nice to see some coverage about analog writing in mainstream news sites.  Even though I feel like the analog movement is still a niche group, I welcome any boost to my most loved hobby and passion.  I wish other, more quality, notebooks got some coverage (Write Notepads, Field Notes, Baron Fig) since I have noticed the overall quality of Moleskine notebooks to be declining since I first started using them years ago.  I am sure that this is a product of a need to cut costs and increase profits, but I think for the market they want to attract they miss the mark.  For the same price I could purchase something that is locally produced with better quality.  For a niche hobby like stationery and notebook using, Moleskine's approach falls short.  I do realize that an uninitiated individual has no clue as to what else is out there, but I suppose that is why the universe that surrounds our hobby is so small.

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.

 

General's Badger #2

Sometimes using fancy pencils spoils you when you have to revert back to cheaper pencils.  And sometimes you really wish that you strategically planned out your pencil choices so massive disappointment did not happen.  Even further, you wish that there was some sort of "palate cleanser" pencil to use for a day or two to get your mind off of the joy that was enveloping you the previous week.  Unfortunately, I am human and am subject to bias and extreme subjectivity.  That does not mean I still didn't have a good time writing this week, it was just that I as underwhelmed. 20151019_122230

This week, I randomly selected my pencil and the General's Badger was the lucky guy to get chosen.  I really love the name of the Badger and equally love the classic yellow hexagonal barrel and green foil imprint.  The Badger has a nice weight to it and sharpened up perfectly with no breakage or crumbling.  The cedar smell was nice-- not as intense as I prefer-- but it was there.

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I have quite the soft spot for General Pencil Co. since they are based out of my home state of New Jersey and was excited to put graphite to paper (note: the Badger is manufactured in Shelbyville, TN).  My statistics class always gives me a challenge since I not only have to write notes, but draw bell curves and formulas.  Writing with the 211 last week was amazing and a hell of a lot easier on my hand and wrist (I tend to press a bit hard when writing).  Well, this is where my earlier statement about being spoiled comes in.  After a page of writing, my hand was killing me!  It was not the darkness of the graphite, but the smoothness of the writing.  I do not write in cursive (I don't know how to anymore sadly) so I do realize that printing doesn't allow for as much fluidity as script does, but I found myself not able to keep up.  I will say that the graphite was not gritty, but just not smooth (if that makes any sense).  The eraser on the Badger is effective, but very dusty and wears away quickly.  Performance aside, I really am in love with the look of the Badger.

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At around 75 cents a pencil, this performs as it should for a budget pencil.  The Badger wore down at a slow enough pace that I only had to sharpen every 2 pages (B5 size).  This pencil will go on my maybe list for a bulk buy and while there is nothing really wrong with this pencil, do not use it after using a Blackwing.  Overall 7/10.