Rough Drift

"Small" writing challenges for my small writing talent. Hotel note pads are the only space allowed. Let's see if I can strip it down and tighten it up to learn something. Improving my skill of weird fiction.

Review: Better pencils?


I got the job. I start with a new airline, hopefully the last job I’ll ever have to get, in a month and a half. The whole process has brought forward many memories. To answer the interview questions, I basically had to mine my past twenty years for stories of interactions and events. In short, I had to do flash-memoir work. The process also triggered something else that I need to start – Journaling my next twenty-two years I have left in the industry. Along with that, my past memories will resurface In relation and those desperately need to be documented as well. To do this right, I need to use the proper archival equipment. Acid-free papers and pens, or as I found out, a pencil will also work for this purpose.

Really? A pencil? Well, think about it. No acid in that graphite, no fade and rather water-resistant. All the things an archivist needs. But, pencils suck don’t they? Also, some writers nerding out on the scripting interface might mention details of fountain pens. But honestly, a pencil might surprise you. When NASA commissioned all of that work to produce a pen that will write underwater on the sun, Russia just gave their cosmonauts a pencil. It wrote just fine in space and they wouldn’t need to write underwater but I hear a pencil might do that as well on the right surface.

The last time I used a pencil for more than a grocery list was nearly twenty years ago and it was just a school quality pencil on school quality paper. I began my search for journaling products and what came up? Apparently some still journal and write with a pencil. Really? I had no idea there were enthusiasts about pencils. I understand the pen thing, but, pencils? I pulled one of my daughter’s pencils out of the pile on her desk and sharpened it up. Today I would write with it. I found a notebook and took it with me to my youngest daughter’s soccer class. There I scratched and hacked my way across a Mead notebook using a DIXON-Ticonderoga yellow no.2 HB.


I scratched along and found a simple pleasure. The only thing I had to worry about was sharpening the thing. I didn’t have to worry about pulling out a spare pen or finding a new one somewhere, or a refill cartridge or ink well. I didn’t need to think about any mechanicals at hand in my . . . hand. I just wrote, sharpened, and wrote some more. In the meantime, I also read notes from my phone on pencils.


I googled fine writing pencil and despite the absurdity of doing such a futuristic thing about one of the most arcane steam-punk devices of the modern era, I was blown away by the number of returns on the subject. There’re some real pencil fetishes with the feel of writing. Among the favorite pencils – the Palomino Blackwing 602 pencil seems to reign supreme. That’s what history and the internet say. Seriously famous people who wrote music and movies and animated films and, themselves, journaled their famous trips abroad, all have sworn by the discontinued Faber-Castell Blackwing 602 and the rest of the world tends to follow suit, but is there a good reason? The revived name and product line are faithfully produced as close as possible to the legend so it’s not just a name badge for sale. I wanted to find out why they were all so impressed. I went to the office supply store after practice to find an example. I was disappointed but I did find something else. So I googled a term, Blackwing vs. Staedtler, and the result guided a purchase.

On more than one occasion, The Staedtler Norica HB2 ran very close and in one review, exceeded the Blackwing 602’s goodness. So for $10 I bought a pack of 24 and later found out I was very lucky. Any box of Norica HB2’s stamped with a 2015 copyright date or later are made differently and lesser quality. I might have to stock up on these “pre-15’s” while I can. Oh, is a new sickness on the horizon? I just crossed the line between curiosity and know-it-all-ness.


Once home, I pulled one of these flat black beauties out and began to write on the same Mead pages. The difference was shockingly great – almost as if I had a graphite pen that needed an occasional sharpening. Not much scratching and it just put down a great line. Mind you, I was still using the Mead spiral-bound book of school quality pages. Once I was able to try Moleskine paper, the Staedtler increased its distance from the Ticonderoga yellow and kept pulling the lead. It really is a great pencil. Is there any downside? Well, perhaps sharpening it 20% more often is a price to pay but that all relates to how it’s used. I did find that I didn’t have to press as hard and when I re-learned how that affects pencil wear, it became a non-issue. It was just plain superior all over the place.


But, I do have to compare it to the Cadillac class of Blackwing pencil. I’m ordering some 602’s today at $21 for twelve. I don’t have to say it but Staedtler wins the price/performance competition already. Near fifty cents a pencil vs. $2? It had better write smoother than a uni-ball Jetstream for that money as well as performing household favors. It’s a pencil, but we shall see what it really is later this week. For now, the Staedtler Norica HB2, pre-2015, is a joy to write with.

What’s your experience with the most basic of writing tools?


6 comments on “Review: Better pencils?

  1. Tastyniblets
    May 16, 2016

    Great post- you’ve inspired me to find the perfect pencil!


    • Rob40
      May 17, 2016

      Absolutely! Grab a set of the staedtlers at Staples, check the copyright date for 2014 or earlier or order a set of blackwings. Just for the heck of it. Write through a few sharpenings on good paper, no radio or tv in the background. Let me know how it feels!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tastyniblets
        May 17, 2016

        I’m on the hunt for some Blackwings as I don’t think they stock the Staedtlers here in Sydney ☹️ will let you know how it goes!


      • Tastyniblets
        June 29, 2016

        Well, I got myself a few Blackwings (pearl and classic). All I need now is my moleskin notebook and a nice cafe somewhere in Paris where I can smoke inside all day, and that bestseller will practically be writing itself! 😉


  2. Rob40
    May 29, 2016

    After considerable use, the Blackwing Pearl is where it’s at! The 602 is just a bit harder, the Pearl is just right and holds its point much longer than the Norica. Real joy in that pencil.


  3. Pingback: A harder yet more perfect pencil? Blackwing’s lineup. | Rough Drift

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: