Fourth Anniversary

This week marks this blog’s fourth anniversary!

The website started in 2005 as a blog with irregular looks at stationery and pencils. The first post was about Rhodia and their enigmatic orange writing pads. The post was viewed many times, and quoted elsewhere, yet never received a comment.

The second post was about the Blackfeet Indian Pencil. Two hundred words and an amateur photo, it has received dozens of comments to date, some of which are stirring reminiscences. It became clear that woodcase pencils strike an emotional chord with many!

We started as a small website. We’re still a small website, but we’re also proud to have gained an international following of pencil users, aficionados, artists, drafters, and doodlers. We are held together by our interest in the woodcase pencil, which continues to delight and amaze us.

Some statistics about the blog after four years:

  • 425 posts
  • 1200 to 1500 page views per day
  • 700 RSS readers, 530 from Google Reader, and most of the remainder via browsers
  • Self hosted on a 300MHz Sun Ultra 2 (this may soon change)
  • Most popular posts:

    1. Knurly: the Rotring 600 mechanical pencil
    2. Faber-Castell Textliner 1148 highlighting pencil
    3. World’s Best Pencil – Guatanteed.
    4. Mechanical pencil lead diameters
    5. Faber-Castell Perfect Pencil – 1
    6. The Montblanc Leonardo Sketch Pen

    I’ve certainly debated what this means. Are these just the most findable posts? Most of them are not at the heart of what we’ve been discussing.

    Top search terms:

    1. pencil talk
    2. faber castell perfect pencil
    3. best pencil
    4. penciltalk
    5. mirado black warrior
    6. rotring 600

    There are some people looking for the blog – but also some seeking specific products.

    Top subjects of direct email:

    1. Where can I buy a particular item? (Answer: Probably in Japan.)
    2. How much is a particular pencil I have worth? (Answer: Unfortunately, probably nothing.)

    Some notable things have happened since starting the blog.

    The best benefit has been that I’ve been regularly exchanging both email and pencils with people from around the world! It has been great getting to know people I would probably never have otherwise crossed paths with.

    It’s also a pleasure to exchange messages with some inside the industry. While their positions don’t necessarily allow them to participate online, I can assure you that some of them are listening!

    The pencil quality promotion goal of the blog has been partially achieved, I would say. The woodcase pencils of Japan aren’t yet in European or North American retailers, but they’re much better known than even a year or two ago, and I’ll immodestly say that this blog has helped.

    On the not so good side, I’ve accumulated a lot of pencils, often just to feature on the blog. It was never my intent to collect or accumulate so many, and I do want to pare down the number on hand.

    I’ve also been busier than usual the last couple of months, and have been posting less. I hope you’re not losing interest!

    There have been a few contributions from guests, but I have to single out one, because I know it involved an effort greater than any other post yet seen here – the pencil-themed crossword puzzle from Barrel of a Pencil. Jim, I hope you are doing well.

    So I never imagined this would last so long. Thanks for sharing the voyage!

    3.15mm leadholders and mechanical pencils

    3.15mm leadholders and mechanical pencils

    Interested in a great graphite writing and drawing experience that might use a less well known writing implement? How about the opportunity to use colour leads, or even a ballpoint pen with the same pencil? Let’s take a look at 3.15mm leadholders!

    These pencils have a lead diameter that is about 50% thicker than the lead in a modern woodcase pencil, and is classified as a “wide” lead, with 3.15mm sitting in between 2.0mm and 5.6mm among the three major wide lead incarnations.

    I have always liked the category – it provides a comfortable experience, and despite support from some major manufacturers, is a relative rarity in pencildom.

    3.15mm leadholders and mechanical pencils

    The pencils
    The TK9400 from Faber-Castell is probably among the closest to being a pure drafting tool – a full length three-jaw clutch leadholder. It is comfortable to hold, and the dimensions remain the same as the lead wears down. The barrel is just a bit wider than that of most 2mm leadholders, which I like. It has a marking near the non-removable cap to indicate the lead grade. The intent is thus that one would acquire a series of leadholders, one corresponding to each grade in use.

    The Caran d’Ache Fixpencil has been previously mentioned. A four-jaw clutch leadholder, it has a classic look, and features a removable cap with sharpener.

    Next is something quite unusual – different retailers have different names for this pencil. It is marked “Japan”, but I don’t have definitive information on the manufacturer. It appears to be very solidly made, and is very attractive in a “less is more” sort of way. It is a mechanical pencil rather than a clutch leadholder, with a push button mechanism, and the cap advancing the lead. (The cap also unscrews to reveal a sharpener.)

    Unfortunately, it has a serious flaw. I bought my pencil from a vendor who seems to think that a bubble wrap envelope suffices as packaging, so of course the lead was broken after the postal authorities had a few days with the package. Replacing the lead, I found that it wouldn’t take a standard 3.15mm refill. With a micrometer, I found that the supplied lead was 3.03mm in diameter, and the pencil’s tolerance wouldn’t allow use of a standard lead. What I needed were “Transotype Nobby Design Pencil 3mm Nachfüllminen/Spare Nibs”. (Spare Nibs?) Great, a no-name pencil using a proprietary refill that I can only get from overseas vendors. It is close to becoming a paperweight while being brand new. Who thought this up?

    From Lamy comes the four-jaw Scribble. This may be the market’s pre-eminent 3.15mm leadholder. Solid (I had assumed it was metal until told otherwise) and with a modern design typical of Lamy, it is a functional product with superior design and aesthetics at a reasonable price. The body is a round bulb, with three flattended sections.

    Also from Lamy, the abc is also a mechanical pencil rather than a clutch leadholder. Lamy has since switched to using 1.4mm lead, but I like this older model. The twist mechanism allows for both advancement and retraction of the lead! Though it is aimed at children, I can’t think of another wide lead pencil with this mechanism. If you’re aware of one, please leave a comment and share your knowledge.

    The Wörther Shorty four-jaw clutch pencil has also been mentioned before. Compared with other writing implements, and based on the build quality, design, and inclusion of red, white, and soft graphite refills, I found the Shorty a reasonable price at $C25 to $29 at retail in Canada. (As I write this, $C1.00 = $US0.96.) What I’ve also noticed is that it sells or less than half that internationally. If you can get one for $10 to $15 – go for it, it is definitely a standout in that price range.

    The Kaweco Acrylic and Sport Classic we’ve also mentioned before, here and here. The Classic has three jaws, and the Acrylic five. I’m mentioning the number of jaws as a mechanism variation between pencils, but can’t say that I notice any practical defference as an end user. Any other thoughts on this?

    Since I wrote the Kaweco posts, I have to say that I’ve found the pencils to be fine for occasional use, but they are both too short for comfortable regular use. The Wörther has a body only slightly longer, yet that seems to make a major difference.

    The Bexley Mini-Max was a response to the 5.6mm Multi-Max (which I’ve been meaning to write about for years now.) It is also a pocket pencil, and came in a tin with some interesting refills.

    3.15mm leadholders and mechanical pencils

    Other 3.15mm pencils
    Faber-Castell and Caran d’Ache seem to be alone in offering drafting leadholder style pencils. Stabilo has a new product, the s’move, aimed at children. Koh-I-Noor, e+m Holzprodukte, Kaweco, and Wörther all have additional offerings. At the high end, Delta and David Hayward Designs both have some amazing products. (Write to David directly – the 3.15mm products are not displayed on his website.)

    I’ve had queries about these refills. Unfortunately, choices are few. Thanks to the success of the Scribble, Lamy’s M43 refill – a package of three – is probably the easiest to find. There is also the M42 colour set – one each in red, green, and blue. Wörther also offers a variety of refills – the red and white ones that came with my Shorty are very high quality, and I’d like to try some of their other colours.

    3.15mm leadholders and mechanical pencils

    For full 60mm length refills, Faber-Castell and Caran d’Ache seem to be the last two suppliers.

    Finally, there is a manufacturer of both colour and graphite refills whose products seem to be resold under various labels, though I don’t know the original manufacturer. They are typically sold in round or rectangular plastic tubes.

    Unfortunately, this small number of sources seems to mean high prices. I’ve see online prices of up to three dollars per lead! I’d recommend looking around first.

    An alternative
    Bexley deserves some credit for selling a very interesting accessory (I don’t know if they are the creator or not) – they have taken a ballpoint mini-refill and attached a plastic collar, making the diameter 3.15mm and thus grippable by any of these clutch pencils! You can convert from pencil to pen in seconds.

    Sharpening can be done with a variety of instruments. The Staedtler 502 won’t work with this lead diameter, but the Gedess does.

    If you’re willing to try something a bit different, maybe this unusual format might be for you?

    Double ended colour pencils

    Double ended colour pencils

    While red and blue pencils are a sublime and beautiful example of the pencil maker’s art, other colour leads can be combined though the same process for an amazing result.

    Double ended colour pencils

    Colleen is a company we’ve mentioned many times. With leadership from a former manager of Japan’s now defunct Colleen Pencil Co., the revived company in Thailand seems to have separate lines – aimed at first, the Thai and international market, and second, the Japanese market. This particular set is for the Thai and international market. Twenty-four double ended pencils, with combinations such as “Warm Gray & Royal Purple” or “Cream Yellow & Russet Brown”.

    Double ended colour pencils

    The unsharpened pencils come in a modest yet pleasing carboard box. But I think it is a set of 24, not 48! Am I wrong?

    They are a fantastic visual treat:

    Double ended colour pencils

    For the price, I think it is a very innovative product that would delight both children and adults.

    Double ended colour pencils

    There are others on the market. Here are double ended sets from Bruynzeel and Laurentien:

    Double ended colour pencils

    Bruynzeel is a Netherlands brand now owned by Sakura of Japan. Their ColorExpress 12 Twinpoints are hexagonal and factory sharpened.

    Double ended colour pencils

    Laurentien is a Canadian brand in the Sanford empire. Take a look at the brand website, which shows quite a bit of the brand history, including the product rename from the anglicized “Laurentian”. See also this article from the Canadian Design Resource website.

    The round factory sharpened pencils have an interesting twist – a “regular” colour, and a metallic version at the other end.

    They also have some specific sharpening recommendations:

    Double ended colour pencils

    Agreed, handheld sharpeners are not as useful as they should be! I am curious about the cosmetic sharpener recommendation – are those blades made to a higher standard? I suppose it’s possible, with cosmetic pencils costing magnitudes more than writing or drawing pencils.

    Double ended colour pencils

    Just as the pencils have more than one identity, so do the manufacturers. Colleen is an originally Japanese brand, now located and manufacturing in Thailand, and noting that “Japan Lead” is used. Laurentian is a Canadian brand, owned by a US company, with the product made in Indonesia. Bruynzeel is a Dutch brand with a Japanese owner, with the product made in China.

    Double ended colour pencils

    As befits products immensely appealing to children, all the pencils do have safety badges – the Colleen bears the CE EN71 logo, the Laurentien the ASTM logo, and Bruynzeel bears both.

    Double ended colour pencils

    My thanks for Gunther from Lexikaliker for kindly sending me the Bruynzeel pencils.

    See also: The Lyra Super Ferby Duo (July, 2008)