The Colleen Woods series represents an exciting vision of woodcase pencil manufacturing. The series is also a profoundly simple and beautiful pencil set. Pencils have been made from cedar for a century or more, and more recently from jelutong, pulai, and basswood. Pine and fir have also been used.
Yet – out of thousands of global tree species and raw materials – why have so few been used?
Altering a core aspect of a pencil isn’t done lightly. There have been some experiments with shape, and many with a pencil’s finish. But what about the pencil’s core materials – specifically the type of wood?
Twelve years ago, Colleen recognized that pencil slats could be made from any wood that the machinery could cut, and created a varied set as an artistic exploration.
Though others have competently explored the pencil’s potential, Colleen seems to have mined a much deeper vein, changing the pencil’s wood.
The presentation is modest, and probably quite different from how a North American company would present a luxury product – a plain cardboard box.
Twelve pencils are presented – each marked with the number in the series, the HB grade, the bilingual (English and Japanese) wood species and country/area of origin, and a most unusual number – the specific gravity of the pencil’s wood. Some species are familiar, and some are more exotic.
Specific gravity is a measure of density relative to water at 4 degrees C.
Meaning – woods with a specific gravity greater than 1.0 will sink in water! The ebony pencil weighs a remarkable 8.7g – more than double a modern cedar pencil, which typically weighs around 3.8g. It is a memorable experience to hold. In fact each pencil is an amazing delight, and together they form an incredible set.
Here is a chart listing the pencils, place of origin, specific gravity, and links to additional sources of information about the tree species.
|Ceylon ebony||Thailand||1.16||Wikipedia – Ebony|
|Pao rosa||Central Africa||0.93||cirad.fr – Pao Rosa (PDF)|
|Zebra wood||Cameroon||0.81||Wikipedia – Zebrawood|
|Ternstroemia||Japan||0.80||NCSU – Ternstroemia|
|Asamela||West Africa||0.75||Wood Explorer – Asamela|
|Japanese zelkova||Japan||0.69||NCSU – Zelkova|
|Madrone||North America||0.69||Wikipedia – Madrone|
|Oak||Japan||0.68||Wikipedia – Oak|
|European maple||Denmark||0.60||kahrs.com – European Maple|
|Mahogany||Brazil||0.55||Wikipedia – Mahogany|
|Japanese torreya||Japan||0.53||Wikipedia – Torreya|
|Japanese cypress||Japan||0.44||Wikipedia – Cypress|
I’ve not found anyone who has seen the set in person to not be amazed.
My sincere and deep thanks to Kero556 for this amazing gift.
[UPDATE, June 9, 2009] Thanks to a flattering post at Yellowgoat (thank you!), I rediscovered Kero556’s Flickr photos, including this one, which appears to show the slats used to create these pencils.