As far as I remember there’s one episode of The Pen Addict podcast where Myke, living in the UK like me, got his Field Notes subscription before Brad. Usually, though, it takes a bit longer for a subscription delivery to hit this side of the pond – but in the end (about two weeks later than most) the 34th quarterly edition ‘Utility’ hit my letterbox.
Overall Build Quality
Lead Fast’s review of the Utility edition mentions poorly cut notebook corners and splits at the bottom of the spine. Well, I must have been lucky: My corners look good, no problems at all, while some other Field Notes of mine, like the Cherry Graph notebooks I bought from Fred Aldous, are cut in a poorly fashion.
The spine? A small tear, not even worth mentioning.
Instead, some of the covers were a bit dirty, something brown or dark red on front and back. With that bright colour and surface you can see marks more easily on this edition ..but hey, they’re gonna get dirty anyway with use, so that’s not really worth mentioning either. I only mention it because the issue of build quality was brought up in the Lead Fast review, so I report back that overall my Utilities arrived in great condition.
Graphite on Paper
Let’s have a look at the paper used: Mohawk Via Vellum 70#T “Pure White” paper with “Get-It-Done Gray” soy-based Saphira ink.
To test it I followed the usual procedure explained here: The pencil lead used has a nominal diameter of 0.7mm and an actual diameter of 0.68mm (more info about nominal vs actual diameters can be found here). This is equivalent to a surface area of 0.36mm². A force of 1.5N is used, which, in this case, is equivalent to 4.17 MegaPascals for this surface area.
As you can see in the image above I also had a look at the blank paper this time. You can see the “Pure White” and “Get-It-Done Gray” brightness coming in at around 2.9 and 2.5 respectively. 3.0 would be a perfect white, at the top of the y-axis. Lower values, toward the bottom of the y-axis, represent darker colours.
I then measured how dark the line on the paper is.
The Mohawk Via Vellum paper produces much darker lines than any of the other papers used in Field Notes I have tested so far.
A quick explanation: the wider a violin plot the more measurements of that shade of grey there are (white at the top, black at the bottom). The top of a violin plot represents the whitest shade of grey measured in a sample, the bottom of a violin plot represents the darkest shade measured. The lower the violin plot is placed the darker the line the lead produced on this paper. The higher the starting point at the top of a violin plot the whiter the lightest spots measured, which usually means the higher the starting point the whiter the paper. The Black Ice post contains a video with more explanations.
To see more information about the violin plots from this blog post please open the images in a new tab, you can then read the labels which are rather small when the images are unenlarged and formatted for this blog post.
I haven’t looked at point retention at all. More out of lack of time rather than lack of interest. You might very well think that there’s a causal relationship between darkness and point retention, but I couldn’t possibly comment as this wasn’t measured and is not what this violin plot is about. One thing to mention though, if you use a thin lead mechanical pencil (0.2mm, 0.3mm) the (undetermined) abrasiveness of the paper doesn’t make much difference as you are usually writing without rotating the pencil which will form a chisel point very soon, but your line on the paper will still be thin thanks to the thin lead.
What does this mean?
What it means for you depends on what kind of pencils or leads you use, how you write or how you want your lines to be.
I prefer to write small to get more onto a page, so I love mechanical pencils with 0.2mm and 0.3mm leads as well as pencil sharpeners that produce points with acute angles and slightly harder pencil, like F, just so that the fine point lasts for a few words1.
When the Palomino Blackwing came out Sean send me a few. I took them to a meeting at work and writing with them was literally pointless as they didn’t hold their point for my style of writing for more than one word. I haven’t really used them since as they are too soft for my writing. The fact that the company just stole Sean’s work and, as far as I know, hasn’t apologised to this day hasn’t helped to convince me to try other Blackwings either. Hmm, someone powerful doing whatever they want to normal people like you and me, where have I seen that recently. Anyway, the point here is that for me this paper is great, maybe because I don’t write using soft pencils anyway. At Pencil Revolution HQ, where soft pencils are more common, it’s a different matter and only some pencils are working well on this paper as explained in a blog post.
I’m quite excited and think this might become one of my favourite Field Notes editions. A great choice of paper and finally a metric ruler. I have often wished that the ruler printed in all Field Notes had metric labels, too.
- By the way, this is not reflected in the labels of the plots, I had to write big there so that it’s easy to read. [↩]