I have been thinking a lot about what it is that makes me like a pencil. What is “it” that makes me reach for a pencil again and again over a similar but equally nice pencil?First there is the thing that makes any of us reach for a pencil in the first place: the looks. The looks consist of a few factors, finish, ferrule, imprint, and eraser. I look at the finish and I decide is it a premium finish like a Blackwing, MitsuBishi Hi Uni, or Tombow Mono100? IS it a standard grade finish like a Ticonderoga Neon, USA Gold, or EF ECOwriter? OR is it sub-par like the flaky finish of the PaperHate Mirado EarthWrite, General’s SemiYuck, or Dixon HB #2?
How is the imprint? Is it foil or paint? Can I read the imprint? Does it flake in use? What info is contained in the imprint? Is the wood crushed? Puckers in the paint or finish of the pencil created through the action of imprinting?
Then I consider how the ferrule is fitted to the body of the pencil. Is it tight to the body? Does it wiggle? Are there weird bends? Does it push the paint off the body of the pencil? Has it cut into the wood?
The eraser is my final consideration in looks. Is it standard pink or a funky color? Made of rubber or plastic? How does it perform? How is it fitted to the ferrule? How does it wear in use?
After I consider looks I start to think about the INSIDE of the pencil, the wood and core as well as how they are bonded together. I tend to favor pencils in the B grades generally using B or 2B pencils for writing and sketching. I know I am biased in this direction.
The wood of the pencil influences how well the pencil will sharpen. It doesn’t help a great core to be clinched into a wood that doesn’t sharpen very well. As in the case of some Walmart brand neon pencils that I found. Great core but impossible to sharpen without a fuzzy mess. First I look at what kind of wood is used- cedar, jelotung, or linden wood or other. How does it sharpen with a handheld wedge like the KUM Ellipse? Or Sonic Rachetta? Or the KUM automatic long point? What about with my Carl A-5 crank sharpener? Does the wood peel away or turn into little fibers?
Then there is the core. First I notice how it sharpens and if their are bubbles in the graphite. Bubbles are bad and indicate inferior graphite. Does the graphite shave away into dust or little shards? Does the tip look smooth and conical or like a jagged mountain top? Does it break off as I sharpen it? Is the core broken up inside the wood leading to missing pieces? Does the core spin in the sharpener and then fall out?
All of what I’ve written about are things I notice before I even really use the pencil. They are all about looks. The next step of the process of this is the use of the pencil and how it performs. I’ve noted above that I prefer darker and softer pencils for their dark smooth lines. Performance isn’t just about the core, the eraser, if there is one comes into play as well as feel.
Next up I think about the core. Is it as dark as I like? Does it smudge? How does the graphite feel as I write? Smooth? Silky? Buttahry? Gritty? Chalky? Waxy? Sticky? Pleasant? Unpleasant? Are there gritty pieces that make use of the pencil difficult or cut the page? Does the tip break off when sharpened with a long point sharpener? Do I need to use a wedge sharpener? Can I sharpen it with a knife? When I sharpen it is it easy or difficult? Do I subjectively like to use the pencil?
All of this combines into whether I like the pencil or not. There are instances when I like a pencil a lot though the finish is not great (Musgrave TS 100) or the eraser is a shoddy piece of junk (again Ticonderoga EnviroStik) or the graphite has a slightly gritty chalky quality (Stabilo GreenGraph.) In spite of the issues the pencils have there are overriding great qualities that make me like a pencil like the TS100. Great graphite will make me like a pencil a lot more even if the finish is thin and uneven. Thought the EnviroStik has an eraser that breaks off as it’s used, digging the ferrule into the paper, the core is fantastic and the unfinished pencil is awesome.
If I were to make this into a check list:
- Finish: Premium, Standard, Sub-Par
- Ferrule: secure, tight, well fitted vs loose, sloppy, too small/large
- Eraser: Pink/Other color, matching, well fitted
- Wood: Cedar, Jelotung, Linden (bass), other/unknown Does it sharpen well?
- Core: fractured, bubbles, spins in case, other issues
- When sharpened does the core: chip or shave, shatter, pull from wood, have other issues
- Finish: Chipping, flaking other issues
- Imprint: chipping, flaking, rubbing off vs legible through out life of pencil
- Ferrule: Get loose through use? Stay tight?
- Eraser: Eraser VS smudge? Wear quickly? Break off? Smooth or Gritty?
- Wood: sharpen well? Get fuzzy?
- Core: fractures, chips break, tip breakage, sharpener issues- core pulling from wood, shattering in sharpener, etc.