I was quite excited when I received some of the new Palomino Blackwings yesterday. I sharpened one in my Deli 0635 pencil sharpener and took it to the office. Later that day I tried the Palomino Blackwing out, writing a word or two and was amazed: The pencil was incredibly smooth, very dark and did not smear as much as expected from such a soft pencil. In the afternoon I took it to a meeting to take some notes, but when I tried to use it in a real life situation I became disillusioned pretty fast. I found it necessary to constantly rotate the pencil to keep the point from becoming too wide. I usually use very few pressure and in this case, too, I used very few pressure (this type of pressure and angle normally does not even make the Kuru Toga engine revolve), still the point was just eroding away more and more.
This behaviour is very different to a Blackwing 602, which will keep the point for much longer. The Palomino Blackwing did actually remind me of another pencil I like, the TiTi T-Prime B (previously mentioned here). Both are very dark, very soft, the Palomino Blackwing even more so, but both are not pencils I would like to pick up when I have to write something, just because they use up so fast that they need constant sharpening.
Please do no think that this is supposed to be an objective review. Without specialist equipment to replicate the same conditions this is obviously not possible, e.g. applying the same pressure. (In a previous blog post Lexikaliker mentioned two devices that would do just that, the Elcometer 501 and 3086). Despite my unscientific approach: the thickness of the lines in the beginning and the end should give an indication of what I tried to describe. The pencils were sharpened using a Möbius + Ruppert’s grenade. The paper is from Rhodia (Bloc Rhodia Nº 13).
The Palomino Blackwing is a great pencil, one of the smoothest pencils I have ever used …I just find it too impractical for writing small text (my lower-case letters are usually 2mm (1/16″) high). It might be better suited for other tasks, such as drawing or writing large letters, where you need a thicker line. Who knows, the Palomino Blackwing might still become a success story despite this problem, maybe it will be the new Moleskine. Moleskine’s paper does not seem to be the best for fountain pens, but we all know how popular it is today. I was told that in Chinese fairy tales the beautiful girl is usually ‘a bit ill’, which is supposed to make her even more ‘precious’. This reminds me of Moleskine and the Palomino Blackwing.
I would like to thank Kent for the TiTi T-Prime B.
The Blackwing 602 used in this comparison is the version with U.S.A. printed on the body, but without the black stripe on the ferrule.
I referred to the Elcometer and a blog post from Lexikaliker. These devices move a pencil over a surface under a fixed pressure and angle to the surface. The purpose of these tests, scratch hardness tests (Wolff-Willborn tests) is actually to determine the resistance of coating materials or lacquers to scratch effects on the surface, not to test the pencils themselves.
When it comes to the recognition value of their pencils there is one company that – in my opinion – does by far the best job: Staedtler. Compared to other companies in this industry Staedtler is quite unusual as the company belongs to the Staedtler foundation whose main purpose is the promotion of scientific research… but I digress. Let’s get back to the pencils: As much as I like to use pencils from other companies, the Faber-Castell 9000 for example, for me the archetype of a pencil is the Staedtler Noris, available in two versions: as the 120 (without eraser) and as the 122 (with eraser).
The Noris is a pencil that is very common in Europe, but I would not say that it dominates the market. Noris as a brand name for pencils has been registered in 1901 and the name Noris itself is closely related to Staedtler: the nymph Noris is the personification of Nuremberg, the city where Staedtler has its headquarters. The Noris pencil is definitely quite popular in Germany. In UK it is also quite popular: in supermarkets you can usually find at least two types of pencils, often more, but a no name pencil and the Staedtler Noris seem to be the common denominator.
Somehow the look of the Noris is easy to remember, but this is not a feature unique to the Noris: Staedtler also did a great job in that respect with some of their other pencils: the tradition and the Mars Lumograph. These three models are instantly recognisable and unless you count the yellow Koh-I-Noor which was not the first yellow pencil, but seemed to have sparked the popularity of yellow pencils in America they seem to be the most copied pencils in the world.
The Staedtler Noris was the antetype for the Chunghwa 6181, reviewed at oh! super tooth, but even though the Noris has probably been less often copied than the tradition and the Mars Lumograph, it can be seen on TV more often, usually used by somebody who is probably not even aware what make or model it is.
In one episode of Black Books the main character is using a Noris to control who is allowed to talk. I just saw the Noris again last week in a BBC documentary unrelated to pencils, and I see an icon that looks like the Noris on a daily basis in Okular, the document viewer in KDE 4.
Slightly younger than the Noris, with Mars being registered as a pencil brand in 1900, but with the Lumograph being released about 30 years later, the Mars Lumographwould probably have to top the list when it comes to how often the look of a pencil has been copied by no name pencils. I have seen no name pencils with the look of the Mars Lumograph, but without any writing on it countless times. Sometimes you can also see copies of this pencil with the name of the manufacturer on it, e.g. the Chunghwa Drawing pencil, reviewed at Blyantsiden (Google translation) or the Medicise Drawing pencil 9002. Of course the Mars Lumograph also got its fair share of TV presence. Just to name one example, there is a Derrick episode from the Seventies where a secretary is using a pencil, unmistakably a Mars Lumograph.
The distinct look of the Staetdler pencils makes recognising them so easy. This must surely be an important factor that influences the decision of customers when they are in front of a shelf of pencils and need to decide which pencil to buy.
Unfortunately Staedtler stopped producing pencils in Australia and Great Britain, but some shops still have stock left that was produced in these two countries. You might know where this is going… After this really long-winded introduction I will now compare Staedtler pencils from different countries, to be more precise: I will be comparing the Staedtler tradition 110 from Australia, Germany and Great Britain. For this comparison I used recently produced pencils from the three different factories. It would be wrong to assume that there is no variation in the production, so please do not take this comparison too seriously.
When comparing the different HB versions Even though I have most grades of the British (actually Welsh to be precise) and of the Australian tradition I only have the HB version of the German tradition. you can see that the Australian version has the thinnest layer of paint. I have to say that I actually like it, because you can see the texture of the wood through the paint. On a negative note I also have to add that the Australian pencils (all grades) have the paint applied less consistently. All pencils came pre-sharpened, but the pencil from the German factory has been pre-sharpened using a different method than the other pencils. The pencil from Great Britain is definitely softer than the other two. It also smudges a bit more. When I tried to erase all three using the Mars plastic eraser pen (528 50) there was no real difference between the different pencils.
Comparing the Australian 4B and the British 4B I also thought that the British pencil was a tick softer, but this was definitely not as noticeable as it was for the HB pencils. Using the Mars plastic eraser pen the Australian 4B was maybe a bit easier to erase than the British 4B, but again there was not a big difference.
Conclusion: The tradition is a really good pencil. I am not sure why, but the German Staedtler web site lists the tradition in the artist category, not in the category for pencils used for writing. Nevertheless the tradition is very suitable for writing. Stock of Australian and British tradition pencils will be exhausted soon, so get some while you can …not that the performance of the German tradition is worse, but if you just spent a few minutes reading this post you must be pencil-crazy enough to want the Australian and British version as well.
I would like to thank David from Dave’s Mechanical Pencils for the selection of Australian pencils, including the Staedtler tradition, he sent me.
The photo of Stephen Wiltshire using a Staedtler Tradition has been taken from Top Gear Episode 5 of Series 14. I believe that the use of this image falls under “fair dealing” as described by the UK Copyright service.
The pencil icon has been taken from Okular, the document viewer in KDE 4.
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.