Pencils !?!?!?

My current pencil drawer
This is my current pencil drawer. Pencils are consumable, so I shouldn’t need more space. Right?

As I mentioned in the last couple of Trail Logs, I become rather infatuated with the Tennessee Red pencil from Musgrave, triggered by this review. Yes, a pencil post is strange for a blog with this name, but in my defense, I learned about the review in the Pen Addict newsletter. This then revived a dormant interest in pencils. I’d previously had a very short-lived pencil interest about 6 years ago. I sharpened a couple pencils (maybe), and either put the rest into storage or gave them away. After reading that review I added a box of Tennessee Red pencils to my shopping cart at CW Pencils, and left them there. A few days later I was looking forward to their arrival, so I returned to the shopping cart, added a couple of things to my cart, and placed the order. They arrived on Monday.

The main problem I have with pencils is that when I’m using a pencil, I’m not using a fountain pen. The second problem I have is that pencils, and the lead, can be as varied in performance as pen and ink. I’m not going to like them all. And, I’m not about to do all sorts of research before buying them. I much rather learn by doing instead of reading. But a big plus is that pencils are considerably less expensive than pencils fountain pens (with exceptions of course).

I had some pencils still around from my previous foray into pencils, almost all were untouched by my sharpener. I usually write the first drafts of any posts about a pen using the pen I’m writing about. So it would have made sense to write the draft of this one with the Tennessee Red, but I didn’t. Instead, I used one of the pencils from my earlier foray. I’ll include my thoughts about the pencil later in this post. But first, here’s the pencil-related stuff that I’m starting with…

The CW Pencils (full name CW Pencil Enterprises) order that arrived on Monday:

A box of Tennessee Red pencils

A box of 12 Tennessee Red pencils.As the review said:

It is perfectly usable

In regards to the lead, and

It isn’t a good pencil. Yet it is unusual and compelling…

Regarding the pencil overall.

I expected to find the cedar scent pleasing, but I did not. I neither liked, nor disliked the scent. I also would not have identified it as cedar. When I was a kid the house had a cedar closet and my memory is that thoroughly enjoyed the scent. These pencils contain cedar sapwood and cedar heartwood. Maybe the closet contained a different variant. I did pull out all my pencils to organize them, and while I can’t blame the Tennessee Red specifically, over time the scent from the pencils on the table near me did start to bother me. More of a minor throat and nose irritation than a bad smell. That was a bit depressing.

While I knew the pencils had two different wood types, and I had seen pictures, I was still struck by the variations between each pencil in the box.

CWPE Pencil sampler

The CWPE Sample Set with seven different pencils.

I figured that a selection of pencils for comparison would be a good idea so I ordered this sampler set. Of course, this assumes that my pencil interest doesn’t flame out in a week. What clinched this sampler set for me is that I wanted to try a Caran D’Ache Scots Pine pencil, but a box was far too expensive just to satisfy my curiosity. The Scots Pine is made with wood slats that are different than what’s used for other pencils. I can already tell, my interest is being drawn to the bad, and what’s different.

A 12 pack of Cub Mini Jumbo Pencils

Like fountain pens, I thought I might find a girthier pencil more comfortable to use if I started using pencils for longer writing sessions. Besides, six of them are green, my favorite color. Although that’s balanced by the other six being blue, and while there are worse colors, it isn’t a color I seek out or choose.

M+R Brass Bullet Sharpener with keyring

Möbious + Ruppert (M+R) Brass Bullet Sharpener along with a 3-pack of replacement blades

This sharpener was mentioned in the review as one that could handle the Tennessee Red pencil, while others could not. The sharpener is relatively inexpensive, and I have a hard time saying no to anything brass. The replacement blades may be more aspirational than practical, but I tend to buy consumables with the product if they aren’t too expensive or hard to store. I have little doubt, that this will be a lifetime supply of sharpener blades.

Pencils Pulled From Storage

I pulled the following pencils from my storage boxes:

Palimino sample pack

I have a Palomino Sample Pack of 9 pencils: two Prospectors, two Golden Bears, and one each of Forest Choice, Blackwing 602, Palomino HB, Palomino Blackwing (no other description), and Blackwing Pearl.

I also have a small assortment of other miscellaneous pencils from Field Notes, Write Notepads, and some others.

Box of Blackwing 1138 pencils

Blackwing Vol. 1138
This was the third Volumes edition that Blackwing released. I was drawn in by the look of the pencil, along with the story behind it, so I got a box of 12 back in 2015. I removed one from the box to sharpen and still have it. I don’t remember my thoughts back then, but it’s telling that I barely used it. I used this pencil to write the draft of this post, and my thoughts are below.

Blackwing Vol. 1138 Thoughts

I am completely unqualified to do a pencil review, so this isn’t one. Rather, just my experience and thoughts after trying the pencil and lessons learned.

I bought this pencil on looks and back story alone. I like the grey/black ascetic. It’s based on an early Sci-Fi movie that set new standards for movies in general, way back in 1902. While the pencil was already sharpened when I pulled it from storage yesterday, I didn’t remember what it was like to use. The fact that I couldn’t remember, and that it was barely used, meant that I certainly wasn’t inspired to keep using it.

The draft of this post took three 8 1/2″ by 11″ sheets of a Doane Paper Writing Pad. I did not enjoy the experience and had to force myself to finish the draft with the pencil, and not switch to a fountain pen. Rather than switch, I decided to do some basic research to find an explanation for my discomfort, and see if there was a solution. (Spoiler: the solution is a different pencil.)

First off, I found that the pencil uses a soft lead, much more suitable for drawing. I knew the lead was “soft” just from using the pencil, but the pencil and box didn’t have any grading information. My big box store Ticonderoga pencils are certainly preferable, with a harder, pointier lead. The soft lead is the root of all my complaints.

The lead wore down quickly, and I was forever sharpening it. It’s been years since I sharpened a pencil, so I’m sure my lack of practice played a part, but this pencil was a pain to sharpen to a sharp point. And if I did get a sharp point, it didn’t last long, which is depressing and made me feel like I was wasting my time. The constant interruption to my train of thought was also a problem. This pencil wants to be a broad nib, and I hate using broad nibs (to put it in fountain pen terms).

Of the sharpeners that I have, I found that the new M+R Brass Bullet sharpener gave me the most pleasing results. Although that may be because I tried it last, so I had some experience with the others. The Staedtler tub sharpener I tried also did a good job. Two small metal Kum sharpeners of unknown origin were terrible, although that may have been due to my inexperience.

In any case, I had to sharpen this pencil far too often for my tastes. And it annoyed me, even once I got the hang of using the sharpener.

Lessons Learned:

  • Soft leads are not for me. Not at all. Never buy another pencil with lead described as soft. I should probably be referring to this as “cores”, but for now I’ll stick with “lead” since this is the reference my brain wants to use, even though it isn’t made with lead. If for some reason I needed to use a pencil with soft lead I’ll need to sharpen them by the dozen so I can simply pick up the next pencil and keep going. Write by day, sharpen by night.
  • Pencil sharpener performance varies (not unexpected). I’ve little doubt that sharpener performance will also vary by pencil. Since I like thin nibs I’m going to be drawn to sharpeners that can deliver a long, pointy pencil tip. If my interest in pencils sticks around more than a month or two, I may start searching for a long point sharpener. Maybe I’ll switch to using a knife or a Høvel pencil plane.
  • I liked the experience of using the pencil to see what I do and don’t like, then researching the pencil’s characteristics as I use it. Reading about the pencil first could bias my thoughts, or keep me from learning from my mistakes. I like to learn from mistakes since the lessons tend to stick.

Observations:

  • I like the ferrule’s design. A flat erasure that’s easily removed and replaced. Although, my history with pens still has me crossing out, rather than erasing. I did try the eraser, it was fine. I don’t plan to buy spares.

Wrapping Up

I’ve yet to sharpen one of the Tennessee Reds that re-started me down this rabbit hole. My biggest problem with pencils is that when I use one, I’m not using a fountain pen. The process of exploring and learning about pencils will keep me interested for a while. I have plenty of pencils to keep me going, so I don’t plan to buy anymore until I’ve at least tried the ones that I have.

Now I have to decide: do I ink up sharpen several different pencils, or work through them one at a time.