When I go to the supermarkets in Shanghai it’s usually E-Mart, a large Korean supermarket chain. In the past I used to go to Carrefour, but I think I haven’t been to a Carrefour in Shanghai for at least five years – just because it’s less convenient to go there. It’s a shame, because they always had a good selection of Faber-Castel products with very low prices. Even though I’ve seen Tesco in Shanghai Tesco entered the Chinese market in 2004 when they bought the Chinese supermarket chain 乐购 (LeGou – Happy shopper) in the past, I’ve never actually visited one. This had to change. I mentioned Tesco in previous blog posts. It’s one of the biggest or the biggest supermaerket chain in the UK. Many Brits try to avoid Tesco for various reasons, but my wife and I usually don’t mind and visit more or less all supermarket chains nearby, we don’t have a particular favourite.
The Tesco I went to is in SongJiang, not far from the Shanghai Institute of Foreign Trade. The selection of stationery is fantastic, much better than in the English Tesco extra I usually visit. The stationery products on offer are dominated by Chinese brands, which is no surprise – there are a lot of Shanghainese M&G products in the shelves. Even though I did not notice this brand in the beginning of the decade, it has certainly been in all the supermarket chains in recent years. Pencil-wise the choice is not great, there are only a few different pencils to choose from. Most are hexagonal, some are triangular. Most space was reserved for Tesco’s own brand yellow pencils (I’ll try to check where they are made when I go there again), Staedtler’s yellow pencil 134 (produced in Shanghai) and Chung Hwa’s Drawing Pencil 101. Pens are surprisingly cheap, but I’ll write more about that another time. One brand that seems to grow year on year in China, Britain and Germany is Maped. Maped – Manufacture d’Articles de Précision Et de Dessin (Manufacture of Precision and Drawing Tools) is a French company established in 1947. Unlike companies like Staedtler or Faber-Castell, Maped concentrates more on non-pen stationery, like paper-clips, scissors, etc. Since 2006 they own Helit and Diplomat, two German companies. Helit manufactures Bakelite desk accessories and other items. You can see their Bakelite blotting roller in this blog post. This blotting roller is from a mould or based on a mould that is at least 90 years old. Back to Shanghai: I’m quite happy to have so much choice. You can be sure that I already bought quite a few stationery products in LeGou Tesco.
Before I start talking about the eco pencils I want to emphasise that I call them eco pencils because they are marketed in this or in a similar way. Why are they marketed like this? Because they do not use wood, but alternative materials. While I do believe that they could be more ecologically friendly than wooden pencils I have no proof and in the same way that for example biofuel or hybrid cars bring new problems, there might be hidden problem I do not know of when it comes to the production of the eco pencils.
When it comes to wooden pencils there are also big differences, e.g. between pencils using wood from certified e.g. FSC, PEFC, well-managed forests and pencils with wood from unknown and more dubious sources. It certainly would not be a problem to produce pencils without wood that are actually less environmentally friendly than traditional wooden pencils. In absence of any incriminating evidence I will however give the six eco pencils tested in this article the benefits of the doubt and will refer to them as eco pencils, as intended by their manufacturers.
First I will have a closer look at the extruded pencils.
Let’s start with the red pencil, made from recycled CD cases. I found this pencil a few weeks ago, somebody must have lost it …or forgotten it …or more likely: did not want to use it any more because it is so horrible (more on this later). When I first found it I was quite excited. The pencil point was broken off, so I could not use it and had to sharpened it in my Deli pencil sharpener 0635, which I soon regretted. You had to use considerably more force compared to sharpening a wooden pencil in the Deli and to be honest, the Deli has not been the same since. The red plastic is much harder than wood and must have somehow blunted the burr cylinder. The Deli 0635 still works, but does not operate as smoothly as in the past. Writing with this pencil is not very nice. The line is not particularly black and the pencil manages to give you a waxy and scratchy feeling the same time. The writing on the pencil reads “Pencil made from recycled CD cases”. I wish it stayed a CD case.
On to the next pencil. The Ticonderoga Renew, made from recycled tyres. I was quite excited when I received my pack of ten.This excitement started to disappear when I tried to sharpen these pencils. They are even harder to sharpen than the red CD case pencil. Rotating the pencil in any sharpener will make you fear for the sharpener. I fear the pencil will manage to blunt every blade it touches. Once I started using the pencil any last bit of enthusiasm I had left for this pencil was gone completely. It was scratchy and the line is certainly not dark at all. Sometimes it seems to perform better, so I suspect that the lead is of different quality in different parts …or maybe the difference in performance has to do with the writing angle or the degree of sharpening. Sometimes writing with this pencil is nearly acceptable, but only nearly. Overall it is even worse than the CD case pencil. BTW, there is a warning, printed on the box “Not for use with electric sharpeners”.
Last in the category of extruded pencils is the Staedtler Wopex. According to Staedtler the fibre material is made from 70% wood. The pencil is much easier to sharpen then the previous two pencils, but it is still not anywhere near a wooden pencil. As the lead is extruded, not made the traditional way, writing with it is more similar to writing with the previous two pencils than it is to writing with a pencil that has a traditional lead. Luckily there is no scratchiness, instead the lead is quite waxy. The line of the Wopex is also much darker, more like a line from a traditional pencil. Having used the Wopex for a few weeks now I have to say that depending on the paper and writing surface used, writing with the Wopex can be a very pleasant experience. Its lines are a bit more difficult to erase than those of most traditional pencils and it is about twice as heavy as a traditional pencil, which is quite nice. Another nice feature is its nice, “grippy” surface.
Next I will have a look at the pencils that use rolled paper instead of wood.
Recently I had a closer look at the Eco Bridge pencils, so I will not go into too much detail again. It is a nice pencil, but one thing I noticed is that, compared to other paper pencils, the rolled paper is more likely to get ripped away during sharpening, presumably because of no, less or different glue applied to the paper before rolling.
Next is the O’Bon Newsprint pencil. Mine seems to be made from paper that might have been part of a financial newspaper from mainland China. The pencil is made in China, but the newspaper you can see on the packaging of the pencils seems to be from Malaysia, which is where O’Bon seems to have its origins (don’t quote me on this, I am only 99% sure). Malaysia seems to be the new El Dorado for stationery lovers. If you like pens from the higher end of the market you might have come across Pen Gallery, an online shop from Malaysia. Pelikan is kind of Malaysian too. Pelikan, and recently Herlitz, were bought by a Malaysian business man and stationery aficionado who, according to some newspaper articles I read, fulfilled his lifelong dream when he bought this stationery giant. A lot of Faber-Castell products are made in Malaysia, too …so now it turns out O’Bon is from Malaysia as well. I wonder whether this is more than a coincidence. On the other hand Staedtler closed its factory in Malaysia this year. OK, one last Malaysia pencil fact: The most common pencil grade in Malaysia is 2B. Getting other grades is even quite difficult. Back to the O’Bon pencils: they are actually very good. Even though they are 2B they hardly smudge and the line is nice and dark. Unlike the Eco Bridge pencils the O’Bon pencils can be sharpened and still look good, as the paper does not rip away.
Now to the last paper pencil. The Tesco paper pencil is quite similar to the O’Bon as it is also made from real newspaper, while the Eco Bridge seems to use paper specially made for the pencils, which reduces the eco-ness considerably. The Tesco pencil is also slightly slimmer than the other two paper pencils and much cheaper. The surface is smooth like the O’Bon’s surface while the Eco Bridge pencil has a rough paper surface. By far the biggest drawback of the Tesco pencil is that it smells horribly for several days after taking it out of the package. Something that makes me think that the glues being used cannot be too healthy. On the plus side the Tesco pencil is one of the cheapest pencils around, but my local Tesco stopped stocking them so I fear they might be difficult to come by in the future.
Unfortunately most of the pencils are only available in some markets. The Ticonderoga Renew box has a UK address printed on the reverse, but I have never seen this pencil in the UK. Staedtler has a worlwide distribution network, but the Wopex does not seem to be available in all markets.
The Staedtler Wopex is, without a shadow of a doubt, the winner of the extruded pencils tested here. There are of course also other extruded pencils, like the ones from BIC, but they were not included as I have never used them. Last time I used other extruded pencils they were horrible writers, similar to the CD case pencil and the Ticonderoga Renew, so I assume that there are not many nice extruded pencils available. One problem with the Wopex that I should point out is that the last millimetre of the point can break easily if you have over-sharpened it.
The winner of the rolled paper pencils is the O’Bon Newsprint. It can be sharpened without problems, the surface finish is really nice and it does not have the horrible smell the Tesco pencil has in th ebeginning.
One interesting point I should mention is that some of the eco pencils (Wopex & O’Bon) claim that they last longer than normal pencils. I have not looked into this yet and cannot comment on it. If you think you noticed that they last longer please let me know.
I would like to thank Kevin from O’Bon for sending me the Newsprint pencils free of charge. Even though I received them free of charge I tried to be objective and believe that this article was not influence by the fact that I received the O’Bon pencils without having to pay for them. You can find a review of O’Bon pencils at pencil talk.
Pencil pots, pencil stands, whatever you call them, you will find them on most desks. These days most pencil stand are made from plastic, but you can also find some made from wood, glass, metal, ceramic or other materials. Unfortunately the big manufacturers of pens and pencils do not offer many pencil stands in their catalogues, resulting in a situation where there are many cheap pencil stands available from supermarkets, office supply stores and other retailers, but only few mid-priced ones (e.g. from Faber-Castell) and expensive ones (e.g. from El Casco).
In this post I will look at two plastic pencil stands. One is the Two-part Design pencil stand from Faber-Castell, the other one is the Pencil pot from Tesco.
Let’s start with the pencil stand from Faber-Castell and some numbers. I bought mine from Cult Pens for £ 14.95 (~ € 16.60), but you can get the same pencil stand from blah! for under £ 11 (~ under € 12) and on the Continent you can get it for under € 11 (~ under £ 10). I could not find a shop selling the pencil stand in the USA, so I am not sure how much it is in the States.
The pencil stand is black, made of plastic and produced in China. When both halves are closed it is a black cuboid, when you separate both halves you have two identical pencil stand with a wave profile. The outside is matt, while the plastic of the wavy surface is glossy. It looks really nice on the desk, but when it is closed it is a bit too high on most desks. Another problem is that you can see dust quite easily on the surface. Altogether a great pencil stand, with a modern look that will fit on most desks. Compared to other pencil stands it is maybe a bit expensive. The same money could have bought you a pencil stand from SUCK UK: very different, but probably one that friends of stationery might prefer.
Tesco, a UK supermarket chain, is selling a pencil pot that is also made in China. It is available in black and white. The label suggests that is is sold in the UK, Ireland, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Turkey. In the UK the pencil pot sells for £ 1 (~ € 1.10). The shape is simple, but nice and because the plastic is fairly thick the pot looks quite good in my opinion. The material even looks a bit like bakelite, which is why I bought this pencil pot in the first place.
Both are great pencil stands. The one from Tesco is very good value for £ 1 and especially the black one looks really good and has a charming simplicity. The stand from Faber-Castell is also very nice, maybe a bit expensive, but you actually get two solidly built pencil stands for your money (with more than 350 grams each). If you are a big fan of stationery you might however want to spend your £ 15 on the pencil stand from SUCK UK instead.
Tesco, a British supermarket chain, is currently selling a battery operated pencil sharpener for £ 3 (~ € 3.30). The sharpener is part of the “Tesco range”, which previously included very good stationery …like their pencils made from paper. Unfortunately some of these good products have suddenly disappeared in the last weeks, so I thought I should buy one of these sharpeners before it is too late.
The sharpener is available in silver and black and looks quite “plasticy”, but the design is not bad. If you look closer you see that the mould and the paint could have been done better, but for a product in this price range the appearance and workmanship is good. For those who do not know Tesco: this is typical for products from their own range, be it LED torches, padlocks or any other non-food item.
The sharpener is made in China and operated by 4 AA batteries. The languages on the labels suggest that except in the UK and Ireland the sharpener is also sold in Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungaru and Turkey. As usual batteries are not included, but to my surprise the sharpener comes with an extra blade. This is very good news as the blade seems to be of very good quality, but more on this later. When you remove the shavings container you can see that the cutting unit inside resembles a manual sharpener that is rotating when a pencil is inserted. You will also find the replacement blade there, held by sticky tape. The cutting unit itself seems to be plastic mounted. Similar to other battery operated sharpeners, like the Staedtler Mars Desk battery operated pencil sharpener, the Tesco sharpener will not work if the shavings container is removed.
I assume that the model number is 94g, as 94g is printed on the label and the weight of the sharpener (without batteries) is a bit over 140 grams, certainly not 94 grams. That said, if you put the Hungarian text from the label in Google Translate it comes up with “Weight: 94g”, so either the label was made for an earlier, lighter version of the sharpener or the translation is wrong. Whatever the standard deviation for weight of this sharpener is, I rule out that my sharpener is 50% heavier than it should be and that my scales are that inaccurate.
How does it perform?
The sharpener itself works very well. You have to hold the sharpener, otherwise the sharpener will rotate around the pencil. It is also moving rather fast, so you have to pull the pencil out fairly quickly if you want to avoid using it up unnecessarily. The blade of my Tesco sharpener works extremely well for a sharpener of such a low price. It does certainly not perform as well as a great sharpener, like the grenade from Möbius & Ruppert, but it performs much better than most average sharpeners. The wood and the lead have a smooth surface when sharpened with the Tesco sharpener, which is not common with cheap sharpeners, but there is some rough scraping of the wood, sometmies in the form a visible line where the blade stopped when the pencil was removed.
One problem I noticed is that the often resharpened pencils tend to be sharpened more on one side than the other (see picture). It could be a coincidence or the fact that the speed of the Tesco sharpener made me sharpen often but little, reinserting the pencil with the previously shaved side towards the blade.
Altogether this sharpener offers great value for money. Assuming the blade is this good in the other “94g” sharpeners they are certainly worth buying.
Update April & May 2011:
I noticed that Tesco raised the price to £3.30 and that Sainsbury started selling the same model for £2.99.