Colleen Woods Pencils

Colleen Woods Pencils

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.

Colleen Woods Pencils

Yet – out of thousands of global tree species and raw materials – why have so few been used?

Colleen Woods Pencils

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?

Colleen Woods Pencils

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.

Colleen Woods Pencils

Though others have competently explored the pencil’s potential, Colleen seems to have mined a much deeper vein, changing the pencil’s wood.

Colleen Woods Pencils

The presentation is modest, and probably quite different from how a North American company would present a luxury product – a plain cardboard box.

Colleen Woods Pencils

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.

Colleen Woods Pencils

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.

Colleen Woods Pencils

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 – 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 – 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.

Colleen Woods Pencils

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.

20 Replies to “Colleen Woods Pencils”

  1. That is one Epic set of pencils! Congratulations on getting such a prize and thanks for sharing all the pictures and information on them.

  2. Very cool. Any ideas on how to find these? Can perhaps distribute them?

  3. wow!! I think in the idea of why manufacturers don’t make pencils with differents woods a lot of times becouse I make wood furniture and I work with a lot of woods, but now I see that somebody think the same before!!

    this collection it’s great, congratulations!

  4. Delightful is indeed the word! Thank you for sharing this. A pity the original Coleen isn’t among us anymore.
    Pleased to see Denmark represented here, we aren’t exactly a “pencil country”.

  5. A truly delightful work of art.

    On a practical level, I suppose that the harder woods would be a problem to sharpen – not that you’d want to sharpen these.

  6. Thanks for the comments.

    The Colleen Pencil Company ceased to exist some years ago, so their products are no longer available through retail channels. A former Colleen manager has attempted to revive the brand in Thailand, and has already produced an outstanding exotic wood set using teak!

    Henrik, I wish I had Volume 1! A clue may be in Marco Ferreri’s book Pencils, which shows a set of 24 pencils in a tin, differing from the ones show here in having their species/location information only in Japanese. That set appears to be different version of the pencils seen here. If so, Volume 1 probably has another twelve wood varieties – sandalwood, oak, beech, cherry, maple, and others.

  7. These are indeed very nice pencils. With such exotic woods I would prefer less text as to showcase the beauty of each wood species. I would also love to write with them, sharpening them wouldn’t present a problem for me unless of course I only had one set. ;]

  8. Wow this is really fantastic item!. I really wanna get one and sharpen it and smell it!

    Thanks for nice information and pictures.

  9. Oh my! I love this set of pencils. I’d seen them in Mostre Giorgetti’s “Pencils” book, and have been looking for them since!

  10. Any idea if they sell these great stuffs in singapore? Am quite despo to get my hands on these!!

  11. Elaine (and others) – the manufacturer of these pencils unfortunately went bankrupt over a decade ago, so they will not be available at retail sources.

    It is gratifying to know that so many others agree that Colleen achieved something remarkable with these pencils.

  12. Beautiful? Absolutely. But I’m concerned about the source material–many of the woods typically come from endangered tropical forests. Does Colleen Woods Pencils take any measures to ensure wood is sustainably harvested?

  13. This is truly an astonishing thing to see. After my first professional offer, I’m committing to working on pencil-carving and was looking for the perfect supplies, as each pencil for me is unique. If anyone knows how to get this or something similar, please be sure to say!

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