Steno pencils: pencils with a job

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Steno pencils

Faber-Castell and Staedtler each make a specialty extension to their premier lines – a “steno pencil”, aimed at shorthand practitioners. They are round versions of the Castell 9000 and Lumograph 100.

Staedtler’s entry is the Mars Stenofix, model 101. A round version of the Lumograph 100 (a Lumograph 101?), it is dark blue, but with the cap in turquoise rather than black. My thanks to Dave for providing this pencil. It is unfortunately not locally available to me.

Steno pencils

Faber-Castell’s offering is the 9008 Steno, corresponding to the Castell 9000 series. In appearance, it looks just like a round 9000.

Each is a high quality pencil, and I couldn’t detect any difference between the lead used in the mainstream pencils and the steno versions.

Steno pencils

The Stenofix is available solely in HB, while the 9008 is offered in HB, B, and 2B.

There is one other practical difference – the Stenofix has a full size diameter at about 7.45mm, while the 9008 has a thinner 7.25mm diameter.

They are interesting, quality pencils, and it’s unfortunate that they aren’t more widely available.

Mirado Black Warrior pencil

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Mirado Black Warrior pencil

After posting about pencil shapes and round pencils, topics which inevitably reference the Mirado Black Warrior, I decided to give these pencils a try, and use them at home and work for a couple of weeks. Many of my observations about their quality have already been noted by past commenters.

A few years ago, I didn’t typically see them at retail, but today they seem to be available from a variety of retail sources, such as department and office supply stores. They are part of the PaperMate brand, which is owned by Sanford, a division of the Newell Rubbermaid corporation. The official product page of the pencil is here.

The pencils are round, and painted black. They have a gold coloured ferrule with a red band, and a “Pink Pearl” pink eraser.

They are marked with gold colour lettering:

USA Mirado Black Warrior B 1 [logo]

The box is pleasant enough, and announces that they are “The World’s Smoothest Writing Pencil – Guaranteed!” As least Sanford can spell the word. And the guarantee looks real – they have an address for returning the product “if it fails to perform to your satisfaction.”

Mirado Black Warrior pencil

My first impression of the pencils is not good – the black paint has crept up over the ferrule, and even on to the eraser on a number of pencils. (I bought two boxes in B/No. 1 grade.)

The stamping appears quite second-rate, with the gold letters in “Mirado Black Warrior” blurring into one another.

Some people say round pencils are harder to sharpen, but with various handheld sharpeners, including the “long point” variety, I didn’t perceive any special trouble.

Now let me address the issue of the pencils rolling away on one’s desk – most of these pencils are warped, right out of the box, and won’t roll away. One of them has a deep vertical crack. I couldn’t believe it, but it’s true.

Mirado Black Warrior pencil

Perhaps these came from a bad lot or batch. Still, Newell Rubbermaid is a huge corporation that must have the capacity for some sort of quality control.

Now I know there are people who adore this pencil – but presumably you are not regularly seeing these serious quality issues?

For writing, I think it’s possible that the round shape is more comfortable over the course of a day. It’s certainly a personal preference.

The lead is okay, and did not break, but I don’t think it’s as smooth as our reference Lumograph 100 or the Castell 9000. To be fair, the Black Warrior is sold at a much lower price point than those pencils.

Mirado Black Warrior pencil

Overall, I am somewhat perplexed. The pencils are so badly made that they occupy their own unique category. I cannot recall ever buying any other brand of pencil with so many quality issues. Yet, the Mirado seems to have commercial success, with an ongoing following. Is this because they are almost alone in the category? Would the market have room for a higher quality round pencil?

Round pencils

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Round pencils

Round pencils were by far the least popular format in November’s poll. I had a look around my pencil box (okay, boxes) to see what I could find.

The pencils in the photo are (top to bottom): The Kita-Boshi Hit 9900, Nava pencil, Derwent Sketching pencil, Koh-I-Noor Hardmuth Progresso 8911, Mirado Black Warrior, and the PaperMate Primer Print.

Not everyday names? I’ve only referred to two of these in the past. The Derwent and Koh-I-Noor are specialty art pencils, the PaperMate a learning/children’s pencil, the Nava isn’t widely distributed and might be called a boutique pencil. The Hit is not widely available outside Japan, and only uses the round shape for the softer artist-oriented pencils. The Black Warrior is the only general purpose pencil in this lot.

Promotional pencils are usually round – but round is the cheapest format for printing.

So what gives? Is there really only one general purpose round pencil on the market, and why? Would people use round pencils if there were more choices? Or do we really, really not want our pencils to roll away?