Review Palomino Blackwing 602
Review Whitelines Perfect Bound Black Pocket Lined Notebook
Review California Republic Palomino Stationers KUM Long Point Automatic Sharpener
Review Cheap Pencil Topper Erasers
A few thoughts about a recent order I received from Pencils.com on a rainy Minnesota day:
For someone like me who is more of a writer than a visual artist, California Republic’s newest offering, the Palomino Blackwing 602 (the “PBW 602”), is a marked improvement over their first homage to the cultish Eberhard Faber Blackwing (the “EFBW”). The reason that the PBW 602 is such an improvement has nothing to do with its dazzling paint job; a sort of semi-metallic grayish blue lacquer with a deep luster that is said to be a dead wringer for the last iteration of the EFBW; or the old-timey slogan, HALF THE PRESSURE, TWICE THE SPEED, stamped onto one of the pencil’s hexagonal edges in gold foil lettering; and the black eraser, which looks nice, but is unfaithful to the original EFBW makes little difference to me. No, what makes the PBW 602 so much better than the first PBW is the harder lead that holds a point for more than two lines of text. The PBW 602 still lays down a smooth dark line, but does so without mandating a re-sharpening every two minutes to keep the ideas flowing.
I’ve been using this pencil at work for the last week or so and have found it a nice little touch of luxury for my very unluxurious office job. In the long and proud tradition of pointless wood case pencil reviews I’ve sharpened up one of California Republic’s original PBW’s and a Faber Castell 9000 5B that I found in my pencil bag. For each pencil I wrote the good old standby typewriter test “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy sleeping dog.” Next, I shaded a squarish block for each pencil, starting with a fair amount of pressure to produce as dark of a mark as possible and easing off to a faint trace of pencil led. These samples can be seen in the scans of the handwritten draft of this review in my photostream.
After conducting my writing tests, I was struck by what a great smooth writer the original PBW was. I’d forgotten how incredibly smooth that first Palomino Blackwing was. If I did more drawing I’m sure that I’d find a good use for those inky black graphite lines. Even the Eberhard Faber 5B doesn’t match the PBW when it comes to the feel of the PBW’s point sliding across a sheet of cheap paper. But as I mentioned earlier, the point retention of the PBW 602 wins the game for writing prose. If I could have the smoothness of the PBW and the wear time of the PBW602 that would be ideal, but everything is a compromise. Gain a little wear time, lose a little smoothness, it’s a reasonable trade-off.
Along with the PBW 602 California Republic released interchangeable erasers for separate purchase. The idea is that even though the PBW 602 came fitted with that black eraser, one can purchase pink or white erasers for a few extra bucks to ‘hack’ their Blackwings. Since I’m a sucker for all things stationery related I purchased a set of pink erasers to get that authentic vintage Blackwing look, thus maintaining my street cred’ with all of the pencil hipsters out there (as if such a thing actually exists). From a purely aesthetic point of view, the black eraser and white eraser look much better to me than the retro pink eraser. I tested out all of the erasers I had sitting around by shading a big square onto my notebook and running each eraser across the swatch exactly one time. It was a highly scientific process and provided irrefutable evidence of eraser performance.
The California Republic erasers, including the black, white, and pink versions all performed about the same, erasing some of the pencil marks but leaving plenty for additional eraser scrubbing.
The schoolhouse classic, the Papermate Pink Pearl, did about the same amount of erasing as the California Republic pencil top erasers, but since I’m fond of it for nostalgic reasons I’ll just go ahead and proclaim that it blew the PBW erasers out of the water. No competition.
The no-name pointy pencil top eraser compares favorably with the California Republic erasers and is handy because it can be added to pencils that were foolishly manufactured without erasers, such as the Faber Castel 9000’s and most other art-supply pencils. To be honest, I actually prefer pencils without an eraser since my eraser of choice is the Pentel Clic-type affair. Given the choice, I usually purchase the eraser-less version of pencils.
Based on my tests, clearly the Pentel Clic Eraser is the winner when it comes to taking care of mistakes. I’m not sure if this is because the actual eraser is that much better or if it’s just a hair wider and easier to put a bit more pressure on it. Possibly, I’m just exceptionally skilled at wielding a Clic Eraser compared to the other entrants.
After writing out this much of my review long-hand I’ve had a chance to sharpen a few pencils, and now that I’ve used the KUM Automatic Long-Point Pencil Sharpener I want to throw away all of my other miscellaneous pencil sharpeners that just barely manage to chew a point onto a pencil. An untrained beaver could do a better job than most of the piece of trash sharpeners I’ve come across lately. It’s funny, but I don’t remember having pencil-sharpening problems in grade school. The cheap-ass pencil sharpeners from Target that I kept under my desk always seemed to work just fine. Maybe I was less critical and had lower expectations when I was eight years old. Still, I can’t help but feeling like just about everything I buy these days is a fatally flawed piece of crap. When something actually works half-way decent for the purpose for which it was built I’m shocked, amazed, and delighted. There’s something wrong with that. The KUM Long-Point has two sharpening blades and sharpens pencils in a two-step process. The first blade peels the wood back from the graphite pencil core and doesn’t put any kind of a point on the pencil, that’s the job of the second blade. After getting rid of the wood you insert the pencil into hole #2 and after a couple turns of the pencil a lovely long, sharp point emerges. Shavings are stored under a clear plastic flip-top until a convenient wastebasket can be found. I’m tempted to buy a few more of these sharpeners I like it so much. It even outperforms my X-Acto rotary burr sharpener. Considering how much smaller and portable it is than a vacuum-mount desk sharpener what’s not to like about the KUM Long-Point? As an added bonus, the plastic casing that holds the actual sharpener even has a slot where two replacement blades are stored.
The last item I have to comment on from my big exciting pencils.com purchase is the Whitelines notebook that I wrote my little pencil product reviews in. The Whitelines notebook seems to be pretty much what it says it is on the back cover, a pocket sized notebook that has white lines on a subtly gray tinted paper. The idea is that the white lines won’t show up on a photocopy and the gray shaded paper isn’t blinding to look at in harsh sunlight, which I’ve found is a legitimate problem with stark white paper when writing down at the park on a picnic table. I’m less enthusiastic about having lines that vanish when being copied than having a writing medium that’s easy on the eyes. Other than trying to show off how straight I can write across a page without the apparent use of pre-printed lines, I don’t see a great value to that particular feature.
I’m pretty happy with the pocket Moleskine notebooks for now, although this Whitelines notebook has the advantage of a soft cardboard cover that is easily bent and probably feels a bit nicer traveling in one’s pocket. The pages don’t seem to be designed for easy removal, that is to say, the notebook was meant to be left intact. I tried tugging out the last page of the notebook to see if it would release from the glued binding without too much effort, but the paper started tearing before the binding decided to give up the page, so for writing down a list or driving directions to give away I’d stick with a micro-perforated Rhodia notepad.
Writing with a Noodler’s Piston Filler fountain pen inked with Noodler’s Polar Blue Eternal, which I’ve found to be a very wet combination, the bleed-through on the Whitelines paper is much better than with Moleskine paper. Better of course, meaning less bleed-through. With Moleskine paper it’s sometimes very difficult to read the writing on the back of a page because of all the ink globs seeping through. The Whitelines paper is just a touch thicker than Moleskine paper I think, which makes all the difference.
As an afterthought to my pointless stationery musings I wanted to mention the change in packaging for the Palomino Blackwings. My original order of the PBW’s came in a black box with a gold foil label featuring a picture of a horse and the text Palomino Blackwing. Inside the box, the pencils were neatly arranged in two layers with a plastic corrugated tray separating the top and bottom layers. The PBW 602’s came in a more retail oriented box, complete with UPC symbol and is not nearly as classy in my opinion considering that each pencil costs nearly two dollars. I feel that the packing should have more of an exclusive premium feel to it. Not a big deal either way. After all, it’s only packaging, and these are only pencils.