First impression of the new Blackwing pencil

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In 1998, Eberhard Faber stopped making the Blackwing 602 pencil, and its cult users have been pining for them ever since. An unsharpened Blackwing can sell for $40 on eBay. One person told me his eBay auction for a box of Blackwings went to a "song writer/composer who's worked with Barry Manilow and on feature films, and chooses to only write music using the Blackwing 602."

Today I received in the mail two pre-production Palomino Blackwing pencils, made by California Cedar. Keeping in mind these are pre-production pencils, here are my impressions after using the pencil for a few minutes.

More photos and notes after the jump (click images to embiggen).


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• The color of the new Blackwing (NB) is flat black. The color of the original Blackwing is (OB) is a lustrous charcoal gray.

• NB has a gold band painted near the top of the wood, OB does not.

• OB has a black band painted on the ferrule, NB does not.

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• OB has stamped motto HALF THE PRESSURE, TWICE THE SPEED, NB does not.

• OB has pink eraser, NB has white eraser.


• NB has a stronger, spicy smell. Reminded me of Indian food. Not unpleasant. OB's smell is faint, but this could be due to its age (at least 12 years old).

PENCIL LEAD TEST (preliminary)

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• NB is softer and darker than OB.

• NB is quieter on the paper.

• OB holds a point longer than NB.

• I also compared the OB and NB to a Palomino HB, one of my favorite pencils. The Palomino actually seems closer to the OB than the NB does!

• A cheap pencil I found in my daughter's desk was so close in quality to the OB, NB, and Palomino HB that I found myself wondering why I was caring so darn much about pencils.


I like the OB for sentimental reasons. If the NB ends up looking almost exactly like the OB and costs under $2.00, I will buy it. Otherwise I will use any HB that ends up in my hand.

Here are some photos comparing the different pencil leads I tried:

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  1. I have to say I love the fact that you are test driving pencils. This is the kind of stuff you just won’t see anywhere else. With that said I expect someone to provide the other 300 places these new pencils have been reviewed.

    1. Yeah, sometimes old tech is better. I love this site because the editors seem to find a happy marriage between current and old school tech.

  2. Cool review! Even I can see the differences in the printing.

    But you need to do an audio capture of the various pencils scritch-scratching their way across the page.

    In stereo.

  3. I haven’t used a pencil in a long time. I always liked the ones that said “Eagle” on them. They usually stayed sharpened the longest. Do they still make those?

  4. Exactly what spocko said, it’s so great/random that you test drove these pencils for us. Even though I don’t use traditional pencils (I use mech), I still found this very intriguing and read every bit of it. :D

  5. You know what would be cool, is if the pencil could automagically (stressing the magically part) write down any new Tweets or RSS headlines that come in. Then I might spend 40 bucks on one.

    I actually feel kinda bad for people who will only use a certain type of pencil or typewriter or word processor. They give too much credit to an inanimate object. It’s like thanking your god for your 1337 Starcraft skillz. It’s not god, it the hours and weeks and years of your life you’ve dedicated to your craft to become good at it. A pencil is just a pencil…

  6. i write music with staedtler 2b, 4b and 6b. i should try the new blackwing, too. having a bit more wax in the lead sounds like a great idea.

    the unusual shape of the ferrule and eraser looks perfect for erasing single notes within chords. but then again, when i’m sketching, striking out what may be an error is my poor man’s cvs.

    i will check it out for fair copies at least. what an elegant pencil.


  7. Being an artist, I prefer powdered charcoal for charcoal washes, but if I were using a pencil to draw with I think I would go with the silky smoothness of that NB.

  8. I’m not entirely clear what this is a review for. It seems like a pencil is… a writing instrument? Made of wood and lead? That is also part knife, since it constantly needs sharpening?

    Seems really… unusual and exotic. Is this some west coast thing? You people have the strangest fads.

  9. I’m a fan of the Papermate Mirado Classic pencil which I just found out is no longer with us either. No wonder I payed $15 for a 72 pack last winter!

  10. I use any brand of 0.5 mechanical pencil. I can’t understand why you use such a non-eco-friendly tool as a sharpenable pencil.

    1. > I can’t understand why you use such a non-eco-friendly tool as a sharpenable pencil.

      Do you have some stats on the overall materials use and environmental impact of making the plastic or metal barrel of a mechanical pencil versus a bit of wood for a wooden pencil?

      That said, I can give you one reason I have for largely preferring wooden pencils to mechanical ones: You can’t hold a mechanical pencil sideways to draw with the side of the point for a light, imprecise line. This angle of grip also encourages you to draw with your shoulder and elbow rather than just your wrist, and is a big help in keeping the RSI fairy from visiting.

      Plus, mechanical pencils tend to gouge the hell out of your paper. Erase your rough and try to shade or color over it and you get these little white lines where you left troughs.

    2. I dunno. Throwing away a small biodegradable piece of wood versus buying a plastic and metal tool, with leads that come in durable plastic cases (and usually having to discard and replace the tool within a year anyhow because some part of the mechanism breaks or wears out).

      The wood ones are at least biodegradable and made from a renewable resource. They might be the better choice.

    3. I’m sure you could make an argument about producing more plastics is worse than using trees. Some pencil companies make a point to advertise how much they recycle and that the wood is taken from sustainable sources.

  11. What, no comment about the erasors? (I mean, besides their colors) I’m going to guess that the white one is nicer to erase with, because they often are. I, too, am curious about what the curled metal bit is for.

    I love it that people get all fetishy about writing instruments. It’s completely needless, but such a satisfying little private pleasure.

  12. Nos. 5 and 13, the little curl is the end of a metal band that holds the eraser in the ferrule. As the eraser gets worn down, you can pull it upward, and the band will hold it in place.

  13. That curly metal thing in the eraser looks like the eraser holder, which would allow you to make the eraser longer again by repositioning it in the holder as you can do with a mechanical pencil.

    And yeah, the Pentel Quicker Clicker 0.5 is enough pencil for me. Not that I don’t have a pencil sharpening fetish.

  14. I like to use a pencil when I’m writing (as in story writing) because it’s slower than typing, which gives me more time to think.

    I used to use .5mm mechanicals (Pentel T3, black barrel), but I’ve switched to .7mm mostly because I can’t seem to avoid breaking the lead.

    I try wood pencils once in a while, but they’re such a pain with the constant sharpening needs, and I’ve gotten used to the fat mechanical pencil bodies (there are fat wood pencils too, but then I feel like a kindergartner again). And it’s so hard to find good pencil sharpeners these days. There are some out there, but you have to bring your own if you want to be sure you have access to a good one.

    I wonder if there are places to get fancy mechanical pencil lead?

    1. Definitely are ways to get fancy mechanical pencil lead. Any store in Asia with a big selection of pens and pencils (and stationary and so on) will have a ridiculous variety of pencil leads. Had a hard time resisting buying a whole lot last time I was there, but I use a pencil rarely enough these days that a regular little thing of lead will last a couple years.

      That said, there’s only one pencil I’m really happy using – the Pentel P205 0.5mm. I used to use a cheaper Pentel for everything and thought it was great, but it had a gel grip thing. At the time I thought it helped, but it was actually making writing more painful in the end (I was in college at the time and taking a lot of notes).

      Then while in Wyoming somewhere out in the field looking at geology (I’m a geologist), I found a P205. In the woods, on top of a cliff. Perfect condition. The day before, I had lost the gel grip on the previous pencil. Obviously, it was meant to be.

      The pencil worked great in the field, and I still use it now a few years later, and have used it every time I’ve been in the field since then. I bought a replacement because I managed to accidentally crack part of the casing with some rocks, but I repaired it with gaffer’s tape and still use the cracked one.

      I know people who swear by cheaper ones made out of cheap plastic. I don’t know, they just feel so insubstantial and flimsy in my hands. Don’t like them. Buying really expensive ones is definitely overkill though – I’ve handled some and while nice, the P205 is only about $7-8 and it feels substantial in your hand yet is light because the body is a very high-quality plastic.

      1. Ah, yes, the Pentel P205 was a favorite of mine too, though I haven’t used one in a while, last one died a horrible death in the parking lot at work :(

        I understand the appeal of woodies too, but I don’t do a lot of the sort of things they tend to be better for, I usually just want it to feel nice and stay sharp.

        some company came out with a pencil that was made from sawdust with a hell of a lot of binder to hold it together. I think it probably got into the lead and the eraser as well so the marks were glossy and the eraser had this lead-smearing resin-y feel

        Those sawdust and glue pencils are awesome, but not for writing. Next time you see one, grab a lighter and warm up a spot in the middle, but be careful to not burn the paint. it’ll go all soft and you can bend it into crazy shapes, then leave it for people to lolwut over.

    2. @ #23
      Yeah, I remember that the Office Max near me sells stuff like rainbow pencil lead, that gradually changes color as you write.

  15. If mechanical pencils tickle your fancy, check out the O.G. of mech pencils – the Caran d’ache “fixpencil”. it truly makes wimpy .05 mech pencils look like nancy-boy gear, and they make the coolest pencil sharpeners in the world for them – they’re like mini grinders! talk about badass – you can even sharpen them with SANDPAPER!

    1. sharpening with sandpaper is a good idea. try sticking a strip of skateboard grip tape onto your favourite eraser. then you’ll have it where you need it, all the time.


  16. I totally understand the attachment to a totem. I am a skeptic and not superstitious but I understand. Almost 30 years ago I started graduate school (I finished a couple of years later). I bought a Staedler 0.5 mechanical pencil with my school’s colors and name. If I left it at home or misplaced it I became uneasy, fretful, distracted until I found it again. Then I put it through the washer. Despair! I went to the bookstore again to get another. They told me they were not getting them again. I bought the entire stock of 20 pencils. I wore the next-to-last one up about 8 years ago. The last one rests in a desk drawer not more than a foot away from my hands right now.

  17. Codesuidea: fancy pencil lead? Yes, yes there is. Check they also have a mechanical that rotates the lead as you write, which apparently means fewer breaks.

  18. Aesthetically, the NB looks cheap and crass, especially the white eraser. All the nice touches are gone: the painted band on the ferule, the stamped motto, the understated colour. I won’t buy it.

    1. “Aesthetically, the NB looks cheap and crass, especially the white eraser. All the nice touches are gone: the painted band on the ferule, the stamped motto, the understated colour. I won’t buy it.”

      Mina, I agree with you. I hope they are able to make the production models as elegant as the original Blackwing.

  19. I love a real wooden pencils. As a middle school teacher, I’m quickly frustrated by the cheap mechanical and “wooden” pencils kids bring to school. I have those ADHD kids that I’m just elated that they brought something to write with and then they spend 20 minutes trying to sharpen it or get the lead to stay in.

    Occasionally, I’m so frustrated that I buy the whole class a Mirado Black Warrior, or Staedtler Cadet only to be amused when they go “whoa – this pencil is awesome!” They’ll come back with a tiny nub, ever so impressed that they were able to sharpen it that far without the lead breaking and want a second one.

    I’ve never tried a Paliomino, but after Mark’s comments I’m tempted to order a pack for a class if they weren’t so damn expensive per pencil. And that’s probably the exact reason we’ve had to settle for cheap crappy pencils. Parent’s are too damn cheap to buy their little angel’s a descent writing utensil.

    There are a lot of complaints about the cost of school supplies this time of year. Honestly, all I ask of my kids is that they have a good pen and/or pencil and nice notebook paper. Scissors, highlighters, notebooks, colored pencils be damned. I will buy those things if need be. Parents – good pencil, good pen, good paper. I’m not saying you’re angel will get an A, but everyone will be much happier.

    1. You’re a teacher Bookburn? Really? I give you an F. Six errors in two comments (five mistakes in the first comment alone) is too many.

      /riding off on my high horse/

  20. Sorry for a second wordy post. As I read back through the other comments, I laugh at the idea of the “noise” pencils make on paper. I write a damn challenging science exam, and sometimes I have to laugh when the students are testing because I’m suddenly conscious of 17 pencils scratching against paper and the noise is unbearable. Quiet pencils all around.

    And I disagree with t2knomanser’s comment that this is a silly little fad. Finding a writing utensil that I’m happy to doodle, draw, and write with is a very difficult and personal journey. And manufacture’s are always discontinuing product lines or changing the product against me.

  21. You use wooden pencils and not something like a Caran d’Ache mechanical? I don’t know what to say to such a primitive that they might understand what I am saying. What can I say?

  22. I guess I’m a more downscale type of gal and only allow myself the wonders of the Mirado Black Warrior.

    It’s still a damn fine pencil to be had and the pleasing smell of sharpening them in a vintage Apsco Giant pencil sharpener (marked “Property of U.S. Gov’t, even!) brings me back to the days of being a wee lass, indeed.

    Those kids today don’t even know what they are missing with their fancy pants “mechanical pencils” or particle board pencils that curve.


  23. I like that they went with the white vinyl eraser. I greatly prefer vinyl over the traditional pink rubber eraser, as they seem to erase much better (and are gentler on your paper.)

    Junior and piminnowcheez, you can see the whole eraser clip mechanism on this page, if that helps.

  24. It was in Richard William’s book “The Animator’s Survival Kit” that I became intrigued by the mystique of an animator’s pencil. I used a Blackwing once. It was soft, but I’ve found softer.

    Why didn’t you test the eraser? That is the single biggest change that caused me to say “whoaaaa whaaaaat.” That looks like a white eraser with a plastic polymer instead of rubber, to keep from burning into the paper. I just realized how useful that fancy tension prong curled at the end is: it keeps your eraser from being sawed apart by the ferrule as you flex it and also to clip it into place as you pull it out of the ferrule. This is modern yet stylish, hip. I think another commenter called it’s appearance “crass,” but I think one could only see it that way if they find audaciousness crass.

    How’s the flex? Is the choice of wood supposed to add to the pencil’s rigidity? I know the lead is soft, but I am sure it would be useful for creating broad aggressive strokes on a large piece of drawing paper. Some pencils I’ve used can stand the shouldering, but the drawing core sucks.

    @Enormo. This isn’t about making lines: it’s about character. (looks at your pRon.) What are we drawing?! Tiny heads on tiny bodies in tiny buildings?

    @#10 If I were writing music notes and wanted them to look musical, I would use this pencil.

    Adam C • #14 Being able to cut the tip with an exacto gives you full control over the slant and turning shape, which is useful for creating thick flourishes with just the right amount of volume for contour lines.

    All you mechanical punks git! We’re talking wood here~!

    Happy Friday everyone!

    1. Interesting that you post that. I’ve just fallen in love (again) with fountain pens, and was considering a Lamy, the very pen you linked, in fact. Do you own one, and how does it feel to write with?

      1. I’ve got two Lamy pens – both are AlStars, which are an aluminum-body equivalent to the Safari. I love both of them greatly and since getting them can’t bring myself to use a roller-ball for anything but signing checks/documents and pencils are strictly for drawing, now. I actually prefer taking notes in meetings with my Lamy to lugging my Dell notebook along!

        I’ve found that both of them are amazingly smooth on paper. I don’t know why, but when I write with a pencil I actually feel (for lack of a better way to describe it) the scratch of the graphite against the grain of the paper… in my back teeth. And I find ball-point pens to be fatiguing, especially with thicker ink where you have to both apply pressure and push them across the page. My fountain pens are so smooth that I can only describe it as “think about making a line and there’s ink on the page”.

        I do want to make one recommendation on the Lamy pens – get yourself a plunger converter and a bottle of ink rather than the cartridges. The ink is far less expensive, that way, and it will help keep the inside of the pen from getting buildup of dried ink in it. I can’t recall having to clean my pens out since I got the converters, but with cartridges, I was having to soak the whole nib and tip in water for hours after every two or three cartridges.

        One thing to keep in mind, though – don’t use fountain pens to sign anything. The ink is water soluble, so it can be “lifted” very easily. Plus, fountain pens don’t work well on credit-card receipt paper, anyhow. So you’ll still want a ball pen for those situations.

      2. I have a strong love for Lamy Safari pens (particularly the Al-Star ones, though I also have a couple of clear “demonstrator” Safaris that are awesome.

        I’ve kind of fallen out of using fountain pens — something to do with my ex-boss always grabbing my nice pens and banging them on desks and then somehow they’d wind up on HIS desk and I’d have to swipe them back, maybe — but the rollerball Safaris also feel nice in your hand.

        (But then, I’m also a fan of the Pilot G2 gel pen, and even the newish Sharpie pen, and a particular pen I picked up at a gaming industry convention with the Steamworks logo on it, and my Rotring Core, and… yeah.)

      3. Just to add to what’s been said upstream, Lamys have the huge advantage of interchangeable nibs–very inexpensive too, not like Pelikan nibs, so you can experiment without breaking your piggy bank. Their regular nibs are an unspeakably cool black (I can’t think of any other fountain pen with a black nib offhand); alas, I don’t like the way they write so I use 1.1 and 1.5 italics on my two Lamys (one Al-Star and one Safari demonstrator, like one of the upstream posters). These have an ordinary silver finish, but write with a nice crisp italic line.

        Do handle a Lamy before you buy; you’ll find that there are two grooves on the gripping part of the section, intended to make you hold the pen the way the manufacturers want (they are German, after all). If your grip doesn’t match the grooves you’ll hate it. It’s an inexpensive pen–you shouldn’t have to pay more than $30 for a Safari–but still.

        As a fountain pen fanatic I think it’s all kinds of awesome that pencils can generate similar degrees of fetishism. Can’t really imagine anybody getting this passionate about a Bic, can you? I had not thought much about my own pencil before reading this thread; it turns out to be a Caran d’Ache 844, which I gather from remarks above is pretty spiffy. I should write with it more often–I can actually get some line variation out of it.

  25. You should do a double blind study with them. With several artists. See if there is an actual difference.

  26. Minas right.
    “Half the Pressure, twice the speed”
    that’s a cool little motto, twas a foolish move to leave that out.

  27. okay, someone help. “The O.G. of mech pencils”


    Old guard? Original god?
    I know I’m going to slap myself when I find out.

    1. it is one of those examples of hip hop slang that is mainstream enough that us under-thirty-five-types use it without realizing that not everyone knows what it means, I guess.

      It is originally west-coast gang slang (crips & bloods etc) which stands for “original gangster,” i.e. a guy from one of the original sets that doesn’t really soldier anymore, but is still known for his rep and has complete respect. “O.G.” came to mean any thing or person that is respected for being an originator of whatever is current. And now it is being used in a non-hip hop context to describe pencils on a nerdy blog :)

      Rapper Ice-T (former crip and current star of Law & Order SVU) named his greatest album “O.G.”(1990ish,) which probably went a long way in popularizing the term. It remains one of my favorites, btw.

    2. Original Gangsta- original gangster. Being, or being related to the stereotypical 1970’s gangster’s lifestyle. Someone who has paid their dues and is considered a more respected/ higher class member in the gang. So regarding these pencils they are old but well respected in some circles.

  28. Can you comment on how each pencil bites. Neither looked as if it had proper toothmarks. Please reply, my wellbeing, perhaps my entire existence is Now in suspense awaiting your reply.

  29. Off the subject. You seem like a guy who likes to make up words. I want a word that means I recorded it and watched it later, watching only the parts I wanted to see and ff the rest. I’ve been trying to use the word “flash” for this, but it can have unfortunate connotations, as in I flashed The Miss Universe Contest the other night. Any ideas?

  30. I cannot for the life of me begin to understand pencil fetishism. It’s almost like we created it here, on this page.

    Like many things in life, I figure you can only be passionate about them if you’ve had the pleasure of experiencing the best of something. It’s why people get into wine, watches, cars, and yes, pencils- they’ve all tried the everyday. It was some chance encounter, either from luck, or a rare soul that gives one a chance to experience the best of something that really ignites the passion for anything.

    I never understood the point of writing well until recently- despite having been trained in Japanese brushwork, Sho, by a master. It was my own curiosity in “whats all this hand-crafted pen stuff about, why do people buy nice writing utensils?” and one good shop in Sapporo that actually LET you write with the things, instead of locking them up.

    I picked up my Sailor Sapporo model Naginata Cross Medium, and instantly understood.

    350$ was and is a lot to spend on a writing implement. But by god, if you ever learn what using any Naginata tipped Sailor fountain pen is like, you’ll melt with desire. The lines, so free flowing, yet so bold. Smooth as silk to the page, glides effortlessly. The only regret I have is that is has to have a cap, and I can’t fit it in my wallet. I’m working on making a new wallet with a holder just for this pen.

    I don’t know about pencils. But I know this- no matter how absurd a pleasure or passion seems to an average person,

    IF you take the time to explain, and best of all, let them try what you love, and give them the best of what you have to enjoy for a short time, they will usually understand. Quality speaks for itself.

    That said, if I ever meet one of you pencil people, let me try one of these mystical things, or I’ll never get your passion, and neither will anyone else! Share your passion with as many people as you can- you’d be surprised who might end up caring too.

  31. I’m a mechanical pencil guy. I learned to love them when we wrote computer code on coding sheets and sometimes you had to take out whole sections. That works better for me with a .5mm lead.
    My fave is a Sheaffer’s 400 with military clip that I found at an antique store for $5. It’s probably 50 years old and sits in an ebony pencil stand on my desk that I made for favorite pencils.
    Weirdest pencil story. I was taking a phone call in an airport and needed to write something down. I ducked into a shop and asked for a pencil. A man handed me this table leg sized Mont Blanc Jumbo, which I used to scribble a note. When I went to hand it back he had the box and wrapping ready and asked me how I’d like to pay for my purchase. I was so taken aback by his nerve I just handed over a credit card. I keep this $225 reminder of my low sales resistance in my desk.

    1. That Mont Blanc Jumbo story is awesome! It was worth buying it just to have a great tale to tell.

  32. BTW, you can probably get the same quality cheaper but Mont Blanc’s mechanical pencil lead is hard to beat for smoothness.

  33. I would love to see a blinded test between pencils.

    Would stripping the paint and covering the eraser alter the feel or balance too much to judge? Or maybe blocking your own writing hand from your line of vision enough that you can only see the tip as you write?

    Whatever pencil makes one happy is fine with me, but if I were paying eBay prices for the original I would do a blinded study first.


  34. By God I love the internet. Pencils! Who knew folks were so eloquent about this sort of thing?

    In the late 70’s as a bored teenager I used to go into stationary stores and just look at stuff. I thought I was weird, but I bet a lot of you did the same thing!

    Independent art supplies stores are the modern equivalent. Staples and Michaels just doesn’t do it for me.

    Viva la, um, styli?

  35. I’m curious about the wood.

    When I was a kid, I used the standard General no. 2 graphite pencil with cedar as the wood (loved that smell).
    By the time I was a teenager, some company came out with a pencil that was made from sawdust with a hell of a lot of binder to hold it together. I think it probably got into the lead and the eraser as well so the marks were glossy and the eraser had this lead-smearing resin-y feel. I don’t know the name of the brand, but I remember the feel so well, I can spot them even in the dark. I hate, hate, hate those pencils.

  36. I really enjoyed seeing this. I’ve read about the originals but just couldn’t justify dropping $15 or so to buy a half used Blackwing. And Palomino makes mighty fine pencils, so I can’t wait to try the new ones. I’m betting it’ll erase better because white erasers seem to work better than pink.
    And a pencil isn’t just a pencil. If that were true of all objects, then a car is just a car. So a Geo Metro is the same as a Rolls Royce. Despite the fact that one is handmade of finer materials. And the difference between a well made finer pencil, and the increasingly low quality easy to find cheap ones in stores is not crazy for how long a pencil will last an adult. Kids lose and break stuff, so why give them anything nice….ever?
    What I find interesting (or disturbing) is how myopic some people can be. Just because you’re not a woodcase pencil user doesn’t mean all of us shouldn’t be. Writing, like eating, reading, or whatever, is very personal. What feels natural in your hand might make me feel like I’m clutching a giant charcoal stick overhand.
    I’ve gone back to school after many years and have started writing much more with pencils. I tried to find the pencils that wrote the best for me, and stumbled across the pencil culture. I ordered some finer pencils and finer erasers from Jet pens or, or Some were worth the money, some not. But all I can offer to someone who doesn’t get it is to try writing for a while with a California Republic, Mitsu-bishi Hi-Uni, Tombow Mono 100, or a Musgrave or even a Dixon Ticonderoga Tri-write. Get a nice eraser like Faber-Castell or Pentel. Find one you want to try, sharpen it, smell the incense cedar, and write. And if you still don’t like them, can I have them, please?
    I don’t doubt there is fetishism involved for some. I don’t doubt for some people it’s status, or trying to be different. But a good woodcase pencil is just fine to write with. A good pencil makes me want to keep writing. A bad pencil doesn’t. Surely pen and mechanical pencil people can share that feeling?

  37. Hmm. No one mentions David Rees’ Artisanal Pencil Sharpeninga?

    Anyway, I hereby say ‘absolutely, you are right!’ to whoever argues that it’s important to find the right tools for whatever job you’re doing, even writing or drawing or tracing or drafting.

  38. Wow, Mark. I love your handwriting and would gladly pay for a font of it. Any chance I could get you to submit a sample to ?

  39. If their own HB is closer to the original Blackwing, why aren’t they just using that as the basis of the new one?

    As for the eraser, screw pink rubber. Those white ones RULE, they banish pencil lead to the land of wind and ghosts.

  40. Isn’t this just a ‘pre-production’ sample? I think that changes could possibly be in the making with some constructive criticism. For those of you that are completely out of control with the negativity, I don’t think it is necessary. Mark, changes are a possibility, right?

  41. I desperately need cheap, cheapcheapcheap bic roller pens, $2 for a dozen, cheap, smooth, wide ball-point pens to write with. I can’t take thinner pens. They bug me.

    Also, I have CDO. It’s like OCD, but the letters are in alphabetical order AS THEY SHOULD BE.

    confession: I stole that last line from a friend.

  42. Though I actually do get the pencil fetish and the joy of a really good instrument, this reminds me of putting a $100 price tag on a $10 bottle of wine and watching people rave about how good it is and “well worth the price”

  43. Damned pencil snobs. First it was wine, then it was chocolate, then it was coffee. When do the factory tours and “pencil scribblings” start? Pretty soon some movie will come out starring Paul Giamatti as a writer trying to find himself through pencil shavings and eraser crumbs.

  44. If I’m doing something like taking a test that demands a “#2 pencil” (you know the ones) then I grab my Dixon Ticonderogas. Otherwise, my pencil of choice for drawing is Staedtler Mars Lumographs, from H to 6B if I’m drawing freehand, and Staedler Mars Lumograph leads in a ‘Mars Technico 782 holder if I’m doing a technical drawing.

    If Staedtler goes out of business, I’ll just find another pencil.

  45. With all the coverage here, I’ve realized that “the pencils with the funky erasers” I found mixed into my art room’s pencil drawers back in high school-still fewer than five years ago- must have been Blackwings. I remember liking the pencil itself, but HATING the erasers. I’m sure much of it was due to the blatant disregard for pencil/eraser care since they were community pencils acquired over decades. For some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to use a secondary detail eraser while using a pencil already outfitted with its own. Despite the changes in lead and design they seem to have made, I applaud what appears to be a change from a pencil-mounted hard eraser to one which is softer, cleaner, and more easily maintained.

    I’m sure this is heresy of the highest order, but I am no pencil purist.

  46. The color of the new Blackwing (NB) is flat black. The color of the original Blackwing is (OB) is a lustrous charcoal gray.

    Look at that subtle lustrous charcoal coloyring. The tasteful thickness of it.
    Oh my God, it even has a gold ring. *grip weakens until pencil drops*

  47. I feel sort of out of step. I use Dixon No. 2 HB pencils (not the crappy yellow Ticonderogas with green text and trim, but the orange ones with black text and silver trim) and Bic Cristal ballpoints. Does this make me awful?

    I’ve always been fascinated by stationary fetishism. I’m just too cheap to take the plunge myself, unfortunately.

  48. I won’t rest until I know the origins of your daughter’s pencil.

    Thank u for this, and please, more pencil reviews.

  49. Perhaps you could arrange a panel of pencilphiliacs to do some double-blind testing with a mix of high-end and supermarket-grade pencils? Paper sleeve, standard paper, standard text? Blindfolded sniffing? Second panel judging a sample of writing and scoring it for colour etc? If I’m going to lay out $40 for a few inches of graphite-filled wood I’m gonna want me some scientific evidence that they’re worth it.

  50. Mechanical and wooden pencils are for amateurs. What you really want is a Staedtler Mars technico 2mm lead holder.

    It’s like a Cro-Mango version of modern wimpy mechanical pensils.

  51. interesting article and interesting discussion.

    My two cents:
    I write quite a bit but my handwriting isn’t particularly beautiful. Using decent quality tools and papers really makes a big difference though, it takes me out of scratchy first grader status onto a much higher level and has given me a chance to practice and (hopefully) improve.
    Even more importantly, when you need to write large amounts of text by hand it just saves your hand and wrist to have a writing utensil which writes smoothly and requires low force.

    A decent 0.5 mechanical pencil running B or 2B lead gives me best results. To tell the truth I’ve not really felt a big difference between leads from the various manufacturers which are commonly available here. But having such a soft lead really makes writing easier and gives less cramps when answering sixteen pages of exam in five hours.

    A nice fountain pen is also brilliant for notes as the force required is super low. Fine or Medium points seem most useful, with fine being less messy for most writers. Of course it’s different between manufacturers.
    To the commenter linking to the Lamy Safari, that’s my next fountain pen. The reviews it gets are really good at any price, and at that price it seems almost unbeatable.

    I’ve never tried good quality pencils for writing (I have my drawing pencils, they’re pretty decent) but will do so promptly.

  52. Reading this thread, all I could think was, why don’t these people use leadholders? Yeah, big hunky sexy leadholders for when you aren’t messing around.

    Of course, I’ve lost the one I used back in the seventies that I loves so much. Don’t even recall the brand. It had different lead ratings(?) printed on it and a little metal bracket that slid up and down to mark what kind you currently had in the holder. It was a beaut. It also doubled nicely as a roach clip. Try and use your Blackwings, new or old, for that. HA!

    Also found this site for heavy-breathing leadholder porn;

    Pencils are nice. But a good leadholder is so butch!

    1. Ooooh — leadholders. I had no idea they were called that, but my father had those when I was a child (in the 70s). Even cooler than the leadholders, for me, are those cool revolving lead

      1. Yes, how do you all sharpen your pencils, please? I need a decent compact, portable pencil sharpener.

        In frustration yesterday, I threw two pencil destroyers across the room and into the trash. Both of them had a weird gap at the end that first broke off the leads, and then the blades either tore the wood or cut it to a blunt nub. It happened consistently with multiple pencils. What’s a good portable sharpener with a tight blade angle that will produce a nice long, sharp tip on my pencils?

    2. This is a strangely lazy review for someone obsessed with pencils. I get the impression you don’t actually use pencils that often, or at least only to write things down.

      I am surprised there aren’t more people with an issue here

      1. Oh my, is that seventh one a mont blanc something or other? I have a pen EXACTLY like that which I got on a flight to somewhere or other when I had a pad of paper and nothing to write with and no one in the seats close to me had pens or had pens they were willing to borrow.

        Well one bloke had a fountain pen, but christ my fountain penmanship ends at the point where there’s ink all over and I have no fucking clue what I’m doing. Still though, I bought that pen!

        Pen brothers, holla.

    3. You have nice handwriting! No wonder you’re such a fan of using pencils. I can’t remember the last time I held one.

    4. The best pencil for most of us is the one closest to our hand.

      After all, isn’t the inherent beauty of a pencil the power it brought to the masses and not the elegance?

      I am old enough to remember the fountain pens with ink cartridges we used in elementary school. The shirt pockets of every boy were stained with ink.

      The cheap pencil and cheap paper allowed anyone to communicate without forethought. I imagine the loss of a writing implement, 300 years ago, was a big deal.

      As a former teacher and school principal, I love precise, elegant, and well designed writing implements. They fell into my hands and even more quickly disappeared.

      The nubby pencil is an equal opportunity tool. What comes from it is what counts.

    5. I would hope that they decide to use the original grey color and stamp the motto “Halt the Pressure, Twice the Speed” on the New Blackwings . For me that’s part of the charm .

      Of course the most important part is how it feels and looks when drawing. If they can get the graphite formulation correct so it feels like an old Blackwing , then I’d definitely buy it. But I would want it to also LOOK as much like the old Blackwing as possible. The appeal is that it’s a resurrection of the legendary Blackwing so DETAILS COUNT.

    6. 2 mm lead holders or .8mm mechanical is where it’s at. All this wood sheathing is unnecessary.

      Favorite lead holder ever:
      Koh-I-Noor Super-Adapto 5616

    7. Thank you for the review! I am keen to test the new Blackwing myself. – I have used only one old Blackwing so far (here’s my review in German); to me the Pentel Black Polymer 999 is very close (and unfortunately discontinued too but some retailers have remaining stock).

    8. I can understand the fascination.

      I have to admit to my own obsession in writing instruments; I use Sanford Uniball Micro pens almost exclusively. Nice fine line, just feels right to me, and fortunately they’re cheap. (The regular Uniball or Uniball Fine are no good – too fat a line.) There are some Japanese gel type pens which are very close in feel, but I haven’t worked out which brands feel OK yet.

      They’re particularly great for writing on source code printouts, for those who still need to see code on paper sometimes.

      I’ve been teased over it by coworkers, but I also found one who copped to the identical … fascination? requirement?

    9. I just bought a new mechanical Staedtler Triplus Micro 05. It has this cool twist up eraser attacher that is actually useful, a rare thing in a mechanical. Plus, that trademark triangular Staedtler grip shape…. mmmm.

      German stationary fetishism FTW!

    10. I’m with a few of the other commenters here in that I’ve more of an obsession with pens, not pencils. I have a Parker that a friend got for me, but it really doesnt write darkly and it’s difficult to grip. My favorite is the Pilot EasyTouch Retractable ball point medium. It’s cheap and writes perfectly. For ultra-smoothness and filling out forms I usually go with the Pilot PreciseGRIP rolling ball or Pilot Precise V7 Retractable.

      Yet somehow I always find one that looks like it’s 5 years old that writes thick, dark, and smoothly, usually from somewhere like Dr. Joe Schmoe’s Orthopedic Footwear! or whatever.

    11. Mark, thank you for this review. I am a big fan of the old Blackwing and have been disappointed for several years now that Sanford ended their production. I still have a few Blackwings and still use them.

      I was most interested to read your description of the performance of the lead in the new Blackwing, because for me, this is the crucial reason that Blackwings are so special. No pencil that I know of can float across the paper like a Blackwing.

      It appears to me from your review that California Cedar Products Co. did not replicate the old Blackwing’s lead. If that is true, I am not sure why Cal Cedar even bothered to acquire the trademark “Blackwing.” My message to Cal Cedar is: don’t toy with us Blackwing fans — if you’re going to reincarnate the Blackwing, bring back the Blackwing lead.

    12. “A cheap pencil I found in my daughter’s desk was so close in quality to the OB, NB, and Palomino HB that I found myself wondering why I was caring so darn much about pencils.”

      ROFLMAO hugely. Seems like nearly all the Blackwing fanboys managed to conveniently ignore this.

    13. I’ve been a mechanical pencil girl since elementary school. In third grade, I got a set (around 24, I think) of pencils with my name on them, as there was a rash of pencil thefts in my small class. It turns out the real culprit was the classroom hand-crank pencil sharpener– it chowed through and broke leads and entire pencils like nobody’s business!

      Today, I favor a 0.5 lead for note-taking and most drawing, usually the Pentel Techniclick II. Sometimes I’ll use the 0.9 Pentel Twist-Erase, and if there’s some strange need for 0.7, I’ll go with the closest at hand. Right now, that’s a basic BiC MatiC grip pencil.

    14. nice test drive, you even gave it the smell test!

      i like the old black band as well; i think including the old “half the pressure” would tempt me out of the “black warrior” camp for a box. but maybe the funny shaped eraser would do that anyway.

    15. Keep up with these posts! Ever since I was a kid I’ve had a pen and pencil fetish. My dad probably started me on it. I still haven’t found the Sharpie Pencil yet but I admit I haven’t been in any places that have that big of a selection. Ill have to check out this pencil here.

      I’ll never forget the day in 4th grade when my dad gave me my first Cross Pen and Pencil set. It was a silver set. He gave me his old gold set when he upgraded later on.

      What does interest me will kids today or even of this last generation have the opportunity to acquire a pen or pencil fetish?

      Do kids even pass notes in class anymore? A sad day indeed.

    16. I use regular pencils.

      Bought at the local drug store for mere pennies. Years of experience have taught me that the type of wood, lead, and eraser are of little importance. However, the SHARPENING is another matter entirely and I am very precise in how those pencils are prepared. I own an elderly Portuguese man who I keep in a climate controlled tool shed on my compound in North Dakota. I bought him on a trip to Ottawa in 1974. I’ve had my pencils sharpened by many artisans from all over the world, but no one sharpens pencils like Eusebio.

      I will never, ever, ever let him free.

    17. I think the difference between a leadholder and a mechanical pencil is that a mech. pencil will advance the lead incrementally but with a leadholder the user repositions the lead manually. Is this correct, pencil experts? I’m gonna go look for some lead holders now…

    18. I obsess over pencils (mechanical and wooden) as well as pens. Big fan of the original Blackwing, although I think the Palomino and the Uni-Ball Hi-Uni are as good or better.

      As for sharpeners, I hear that the Japanese Carl sharpeners are the best ever. Link to a review: Good luck trying to find them in the U.S. I’ve tried a Caran D’Ache tabletop model and it’s great, but also an import I believe.

      Since I haven’t yet justified the shipping from Japan, I make do with a Kum Automatic Long Point sharpener.

    19. I use a Pilot H-325 Drafting Mechanical Pencil, and antoher mechanical pencil that I can’t recall what it is since my art supplies burried in one of the boxes I’ve yet to unpack. What ever it is, it cost around 5 or 7$ and has a bloody nice heft to it. I am very borderline OCD about pens & mechanical pencils I use if I’m drawing.

    20. How anyone can compare the aesthetic of using a wooden-cased pencil (shudder) with the only drafting implement a sensitive soul can possibly use – a sterling silver mechanical pencil with a reasonably soft lead around 0.9 mm diameter – I don’t know. It must be silver; other white metals just don’t have that lustrous fattiness, while gold is the hallmark of the meretricious arriviste.

      The apogee of mechanical pencil making came in the period 1945 to 1955, and good examples can still be bought secondhand for £UK 25 to 50 (35 to 80 USD). They will last a lifetime and satisfy your soul every time you use them. Keep the point sharp with a small piece of sandpaper velcro’d to the side of your writing slope.

      1. Funny you should mention silver. There’s a big difference besides weight. Silver oxidizes quickly and the oxidized surface is very grippy. Comparing a sterling, matte black and chrome Cross pencil here I can easily tell them apart by feel. The chrome one is too slippery for a good grip and the silver one is just right. I have a small collection of Wahl Eversharp ‘antique’ mechanicals. The silver ones are much more pleasant to use than the gold.

    21. People are willing to NOT use a pencil because it doesn’t have a black band around the ferrule, or a pithy motto? I like a good pencil as much as anyone, but I care how it writes, not whether it had “God is Dead” stamped on it, or if it’s color matches the original.

      Maybe this pencil IS shit, but to dismiss it out of hand for seemingly petty reasons is just silly. Not that such an occurrence would uncommon to BB.

      1. Aesthetics matters to some people. Would you enjoy a tasty meal if it was colored and shaped to resemble dog shit?

        1. Mark, I understand that aesthetics do play into a person’s enjoyment of anything, but you seem to contend that this pencil should not be be used purely from an aesthetic standpoint. Do you find yourself staring at your pencil while you’re using it, or do you simply enjoy the results it produces?

          Your example of food is interesting on two fronts.

          You’re asserting that this pencil is to the previous version as a pile of dogshit is to a fine meal. If it’s truly that bad of a pencil, don’t use it. But it seems you won’t get that far because it isn’t pretty enough.

          Also, there’s a restaurant I’d love to try in Chicago called Moto, which, among the disturbing visuals their place on their patron’s plates is a “Roadkill” dish. It designed to look unappetizing at the very least, and perhaps even revolt.

          My point is: Try it before you dismiss it out of hand due to petty cosmetic differences. If it sucks, then complain about the poor substitute that has sullied the Blackwing name.

          Thanks for replying.

    22. The pink erasers have rigidifed and are useless on my original Blackwing pencils. Do the new white vinyl erasers fit the original Blackwings? Any experiences replacing the erasers? Of course, I can keep the pencils as they are and use a separate eraser. Glad to have this info.

    23. Mechanical / Wood pencil is like arguing between screwdrivers or hammers. It depends on the job.

      During my engineering school, the mechanical was king. Especially during those thermodynamics lectures which were little more then proving you could copy down math forumlas as fast as the ta could write them in chalk. No time for pencil sharpeners here!

      But doing sketch work, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody use a mechanical pencil for that. A wood pencil, or better, many wood pencils of different hardness, offer much more.

      Also, I had to chuckle a bit at the “exotic nature” of “California ceder”. Ceder is the cockroach of the tree world. When there’s granite three inches below acidic topsoil and the environment doesn’t support trees more then 15 feet tall, look around and you’ll notice you see nothing but ceder trees.

    24. I wish the school district that I work for would ban wooden pencils or ban pencil sharpening at desks. Little kids dump the shavings on the floor, where the powdered graphite gets smeared into the floor wax and forms an ugly nimbus of grime around the desks of obsessive sharpeners. An otherwise clean room can fail inspection because it takes power- scrubbing the floor with chemicals to get the graphite off.
      And don’t get me started on crayons…

    25. I prefer to write with any pencil over a pen. The friction against the paper improves my nearly illegible writing and I’m less likely to cross out words when I mean to underline them.

    26. ‘Half the pressure, twice the speed?’ I’m in. I’m both a writer and a visual artist, so if my hand isn’t cramped up from typing, it’s curled into a gnarled ball from sketching. I’ve lost all ability to write legibly. I NEED this. Maybe Santa will be nice to me this year. Too pricey for my own budget.

    27. 1. Purchase any .09 mechanical pencil
      2. Throw away the HB lead that comes with it
      3. Go to any art supply store and get 2B leads
      4. Don’t look back

    28. The differences between the vintage Blackwing lead and the new lead (as Mr. Frauenfelder mentioned) could be due to the age of the lead. In addition to graphite and a clay binder which are both impervious to change, pencil lead formulations include waxes, oils, and other pigments which can harden with age.

      In the article referenced below, the reviewer compares his vintage Blackwing to a new Sanford “Turquoise” 4B drawing pencil which even accounting for variations among manufacturers, would be much softer than an HB.

      A good article on the Eberhard Faber Blackwing:

      Not to sound as if defending the new Blackwing, but not all Blackwings had the black stripe on the ferrule, nor did all of them have the “half the pressure…” slogan. One thing they did all have was the non-water-based finish, whereas, I am willing to wager, the Palomino finish is water-based and may never live up to the original.

      Another classic pencil reissue of note is the Gesner pencil, a reproduction of the first known pencil:

      My favorite currently produced wooden pencil is the Staedtler Lumograph 2B.

    29. You know…I would totally go buy some expensive mech pencils – with the thinnest lead possible….but any time I buy any pencils more expensive than the dirt cheap Bics, they end up with a tiny chip of lead jammed in them somewhere that’s impossible to remove. The Bics last until I lose them, anything else is lucky to make it two weeks. Granted, I’ve never tried anything better than the most expensive pencils they sell at Staples, but given my experiences, I’m not about to go spend $50 on a pencil that may not make it past next tuesday.

    30. yes!! i am so exited. When i was two i stole my grandma’s blackwing and used it for all my hard essay’s. When i went to buy more i was devastated to discover they were out of business. Now i have a tiny stub from my last blackwing in my desk drawer. I have been too afraid to use it, but now i can!

    31. To be honest, I have of Blackwings, but never really understood the fascination … until now. This post, the accompanying comments, have been most informative and truly appreciate everyone’s input.

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