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Review: Musgrave Tennessee Red Pencils

Musgrave recently went through an upgrade to their web presence and added a few new pencils to their line up. One of these is the Tennessee Red. This upgrade included an upgraded website, and web presence in general. They hired a great marketing team to do this work for them, and really it has brought the formerly dated site and presence into a modern era, and even made their website usable! I’m happy to see a venerable American pencil brand embrace the future and make their products available for more people.

Let’s talk about the Tennessee Red pencil. First, the presentation. WOW. Old Musgrave packaging consisted of a thin plastic bag that is heat sealed shut, one clear side and one white side. It looked and felt, well cheap. The packaging for the Tennessee Red is lovely. It’s a sliding cardboard box that protects the pencils from banging about in shipping and looks stunning. The bright cherry red with white lettering is an immediate classic and eye catching. I love the sliding box and how it feels both retro and modern at the same time. Retro in that pencil packaging once looked like this and modern in that we haven’t seen anything like this on the market in a long time. Sure Blackwing used cleave for the Volumes but this is so simple and effective I can’t help but to enjoy everything about this packaging.

Nestled in the box are a dozen lightly but glossy lacquered natural pencils. I wish they were raw wood, but I can’t win every time. Even with the light lacquer you can smell the cedar as soon as you open the package. Once sharpened my whole office smelled of cedar. Amazing. The red imprint is perfect and sharp and has historic calls out with the little 3 star Tennessee logo and the new Musgrave logo. A golden ferrule holding a crisp white eraser completes the look. An added bonus is that the eraser? It works. Which has been a point of steady complaint over the years. They work well too.

Musgrave has stepped up their pencil game.

The cedar is red cedar and delightfully fragrant. It reminds me of the slats of cedar you can buy for your closet to deter moths. It is a tad dense and my duller sharpeners seemed to struggle with it but my classroom friendly and Apsara hacked did really well. I immediately sharpened 4 of them. The hex is a traditional Musgrave sharp, and I really do wish they’d gone with a soft hex, because I don’t love a sharp hex but there is so much to love about this pencil.

I suppose a review of these can’t be made without mentioning the centered-ness of the cores. There are a few off center cores, only one or two of mine were badly off center. The rest were fine and in what I would think of as well within usability limits. More on this point in a minute. Let’s talk about that delicious core. It’s dark. It’s smooth. With my long point sharpeners it’s perfect. It’s also great for sketching. I’d say this is a good multi use pencil, you can get some decent gradation out of it and as such wouldn’t need to carry a full pencil case for writing or sketching.

I love everything about these pencils, their imperfections in wood and centered-ness mean that I don’t feel precious with them. I want to sharpen them up. At $9 a dozen they aren’t cheap but they aren’t $30 a box either. I don’t feel guilt in chewing through these. These are pencil lover’s pencils not pencils for collectors. I mean sure go ahead and buy some for your collection too, but buy a pack to use as well. The silky smooth graphite cased in fragrant cedar brings back pleasant childhood memories of back to school shopping and school. That Musgrave went with a usable eraser (though I rarely use the erasers on my pencils) is an added bonus. The red imprint paired with the gold ferule and white eraser with that luscious pink tan wood is pencil perfection. Sure they need to work on core centered-ness, but I for one will support Musgrave with another purchase (or two) of these pencils.

I’m late to reviewing these. Check out Johnny’s review here and Anna’s here and Deon’s here.

Again this review is brought to you by supporters and readers of this blog who have headed to my Ko-Fi page and supported me one or two coffees at a time. The money gifted through coffee is used for some coffee but mostly buying more pens and pencils and stationery supplies to review. I appreciate each and every coffee purchased and gifted to me. I have the best readers!

Making the Blackwing One Step Long (ish) Point Sharpener Better

The Blackwing One Step Durable Point Sharpener does an okay job, but if you want to carry it as pocket bling, well, you have to understand that it is a lot like carting around a salt shaker full of graphite dust in your pocket.

It turned everything in that pocket a lovely shade of silver gray, and my fingers came away with a dusting, and the graphite leaked through and onto my thigh. UGH. C’mon!

I decided I needed to cork it up. I’ve cut two little plugs. One from a wine cork that feels fiddly and works well enough and one from a pink pearl. you cannot pull an eraser from any average sized pencil, a semi-jumbo or jumbo could be whittled to fit.

I sat with a craft knife and whittled the edge of eraser down and plugged the hole. Now I can carry around the BWOSDPS in my pocket and not get dusted with graphite. Sweet.

Review: Steadtler essentials HB Graphite Pencils

I’ve seen some whispering around the stationery groups regarding these pencils. Staedtler’s new offering for the American Back-to-School crowd. These look like a riff on their Yellow Pencil 134 HB, only not. These were priced at $1.88 at Walmart for an 8-pack. 

The packaging of these is my least favorite type- a plastic bag. The pencils knock around in transit and often arrive with broken cores. I’ve received other staedtler pencils broken in half and in disastrous condition. These seem okay, well not harmed by the crap packaging.

Once opened the pencils were revealed to have a decent lacquer finish a nice bright yellow. The ferrule is silver and holds a dark pink eraser which is quite stiff and gritty despite being latex free. It works well enough but isn’t anything to get excited about. The wood beneath the lacquer is jelutong and sharpens well with all my usual sharpeners- including the Pollux. Kind of amazing. The imprint is good on 4/8 while the other 4 suffer from either too much paint or not enough and not enough or too much pressure. The imprint is shoddy. The cores are centered well enough.

The core is standard HB for Staedtler USA. That is to say that it is smooth, but also darker than some other brands but pretty middle of the road as HB pencils go. I’ve tested these on a couple of different types of paper, from a toothy composition notebook to a smooth toothy paper to smooth less toothy paper. It performs best on a paper like the Yoobi composition book. This is a pencil that does well with toothy paper. It’s also nicely dark on those papers. On less toothy paper it’s a little light for my taste. It is smooth when compared to other school pencils.

At $1.88 it’s a bit overpriced for 8 pencils though. That’s nearly 24 cents per pencil. When compared to other pencils like the Pen+ Gear plain yellow school pencil, well it’s not a question. The only reason to buy these over the P+G is for the brand, which as you know is something that teen Less would have considered (Ahhh the issues of a poor kid) but adult Less will chose performance over brand any day. So all that said, skip these.

It says something when Staedtler USA doesn’t even list these on their website. They aren’t proud of these pencils.

Review: KUM Masterpiece

I mention the KUM Masterpiece pretty often in my pencil reviews. With good reason too, it’s a fantastic sharpener. Compared to the dramatic teasing of the Pollux from M+R, KUM did the roll out for the Masterpiece juuuust right. Initially it was only available in Germany then someone was able to do a group buy for a decent price. Finally, CWPE was able to get them in stock.The Masterpiece is machined from a solid block of aluminum, possibly an alloy. With a sliding blue plastic stop for your lead. The stop also has a slot on the underside to hold 2 replacement blade, and arrives with 2 in the slot. The blades are standard sharpener blades. I use M+R blades that are available in 10-packs all over the place. The Masterpiece arrives swaddled in neoprene and in a hard plastic case. I’ve ditched my plastic and neoprene for a mini mint tin, but that matters not. It comes with a neat neoprene case for carting around in your bag in cushioned safety. To use the Masterpiece you first sharpen the wood away in hole 1, which is on the left side of the sharpener. On a pencil with a well centered core it sharpens only the wood away. After you’ve shaved off the wood you slide the exposed lead into hole number 2 to the right, using a light touch it shaves off the graphite to a perfectly pointy long point. With practice you can learn to stop before you get a needlepoint hat snaps when you touch it to paper. I’ve found that I can usually touch up my point 2 or 3 times without sharpening the wood again.

If the blade in hole 2 is dull it will take forever to get a point and occasionally the lead will snap off. I rotate my blades. So I’ll recycled blade 1, moving the dull blade 2 to hole 1 and putting a fresh blade onto hole2. Generally the Masterpiece will sharpen any pencil any time without issue. It just works 99% of the time, unlike the Pollux. Replacement blades are cheap.

The Masterpiece is available for $18 plus shipping at CWPE and $15 at Pencil(dot)com plus rather high shipping. You can also get it at JetPens for $22, and free shipping at $25.

Pricing aside, the Masterpiece is ready to go the moment you get it and it just works and works. This thing is a workhorse of a sharpener. Sharpening everything from the cheapest Dixon no name to the priciest Blackwing volumes. I love it. Continue reading

Review: Ito-ya Helvetica Pencil

The Ito-ya pencil is made by Camel. Per CWPE the eraser was designed for Camel by Eiichi Kato. Most pencils with this sort of ferrule-free eraser experience are made by Camel. I’ve reviewed another Camel pencil here.

I love the look of ferrule-free erasers. That’s no different on the Helvetica pencils. All the erasers are black, no matter the color of the pencil. They are available in white, black, red, and gray. You can find mixed packs on Amazon. I purchased a 12 pack with 6 red and 6 black pencils. The paint is thick and well applied to a perfect satin finish. It’s not quite dull enough to call it matte but also not shiny. The black paint and eraser feel stealthy. TThe imprint is printed rather than debossed. On all the pencils the imprint is glossy black. It stands out quite well on all the colors, even the black on black it looks great. Very minimalist.

Inside the paint is nicely fragrant cedar, which sharpens up in any sharpener I own. Inside that lovely cedar is smooth dark graphite. The writing experience with these is silky smooth. The graphite is dark too. If you own the Camel 60 pencil the Helvetica is significantly softer and darker. I’d liken it to a B Misubishi 9850 or Nataraj Super Black pencil. That is to say, dark and smooth.

Honestly, when I bought these I didn’t put mine down until it hit Steinbeck stage, then I immediately sharpened up another. Though these are $15 for a 12-pack, they are so pleasant to use that I keep an eye on Amazon and keep them in my future to buy cart. I also like to include them in trades and pencil gift package.

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Review: Target Dollar Spot Pencils

The majority of the Dollar Spot Pencils are from the company Made for Retail (MfR). They are made in Vietnam and feature a variety of paint, imprints, and other fun stuff. I’ve bought a bunch of them and I’ve been happy. For this review I’m focusing on one particular pencil, their version of the “rainbow” pencil.

Rainbow is in quotes above for a specific reason- these at first glance look like a rainbow but when you look closer- not a rainbow. The colors are as follows: violet, pink, orange, yellow, blue, and purple. They are all surrounded by white and finished with a glossy smooth coating. Each pencil has a gold foil imprint near the business end with made for retail and a series of numbers.

Inside the fun wrapped paper exterior is a smooth, dark core. It’s darker and softer than a typical HB but not so dark or soft that I’d think of it as a B or 2B. The core is typical of all of the Made for Retail pencils. All of the MfR pencils I’ve used have the same core.

You might think that you recognize these from Kickstarter. We’ll you’d be partially right, these are a knock off of the Duncan Shotton rainbow pencils. Those featured a true rainbow inside and the option of white or black exterior. The MfR have a better core- it’s darker and more pleasant. The Shotton pencils are hard and a tad scratchy. I do prefer the matte exterior of the Shotton version over the glossy white version made by MfR.

If you can get past buying the knock off of a kickstarter item these are a fantastic pencil.

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Review: Baron Fig Archer

So I’m a few days late and a few bucks short when it comes to this review. I’ve been sitting on it hoping my opinion would change. For the TL;DR crowd- it is pretty, if you like pretty, go ahead and buy them. If you want performance, go elsewhere.

I picked up a few of these from a friend for a few bucks. I didn’t want to spring for a 12-pack of pencils where the whispered undertone to all the reviews read, “scratchy.” I sharpened one up and used it extensively in a cheap Staples comp notebook during NaNoWriMo. I’ve forced myself to use it on slick as teflon Tomoe River paper and silky smooth Maruman and Life notebook pages. I’ve even jotted a shopping list on the nondescript paper in Field Notes.

Ignoring the feeling of the point on paper, the looks of these pencils is gorgeous. The matte finished cool gray paint with a perfectly end dipped darker charcoal gray end is just pretty. It is simplistic and pretty. It works. The imprint is also minimalist- a simple Baron Fig on one flat, with a stylized arrow on the opposite- both in crisp perfectly imprinted white. The pencil is perfectly minimalistic in design. They are gorgeous to look at.

I sharpened mine in, gasp, the Carl Angel-5 with it’s dangerously chewy teeth, which chomped into the soft linden wood body.  I suggest linden over bass based off scent. Linden smells like bay leaves to me and these pencils when freshly sharpened have that dusty odor of impending kitchen magic. Linden is ridiculously light weight. These pencils feel lighter than most pencils. I have not weighed them to be sure. the absence of a ferrule and eraser make them lighter but even compared to other pencils without ferrule and eraser they feel significantly lighter. I should weigh them and and take the subjective out of this review, but I’ll leave this here to let you know they FEEL lighter than other pencils. I prefer a little bit of heft to my pencils

This brings me to the core of these pencils. Scratchy is an apt description of these pretty pretty pencils. I’d lean more toward gritty. They are the antithesis of smooth.  If you are a fan of pencil points gliding over your page like butter on a hot griddle, look elsewhere, these aren’t the fix you are seeking.  They have a durable point that lasts for a good long time. I found myself getting pages in the comp book with the Archer. But it was an effort to write with- I had to force the graphite off the pencil. Compared to *gasp* my penny-per-pencil Casemates, these were a disappointment in use. Going back to kitchen based comparison- writing with these on most papers, even the glassy smooth Tomoe River, is like spreading chilled butter on cold toast- a gritty mess that is simply unpleasant.

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Comparison of Sharpeners: Long Point

Here’s a little reference of points produced by long point sharpeners.

Included are:

  • Carl Angel-5
  • KUM  Automatic Long Point
  • KUM  5L or Stenographer
  • KUM Masterpiece
  • Apsara Long Point

These are all sharpened on a #2/HB Ticonderoga of som sort. The natural wooden pencil in the various pics is a factory sharpened General’s Cedar Pointe #1


Comparison of Sharpeners

I sharpened pencils with my collection of sharpeners (not all of them) and took pics of the points next to factory sharpened General’s Cedar Pointe #1 pencils for someone in the Erasable group. It’s good to preserve those images before they disappear into the abyss of the FaceBook group feed. (searchable yet never found again.)

In the pics you can see that the blade on my KUM brass wedge is dull.

Review: Casemate Premium No. 2 Pencils

I found these due to a post on the Erasable Facebook group. Casemates is Walmart’s private label office goods brand.I found a wide assortment of Casemate (CM) goods- from legal pads to pencils to journals in their office aisle. You name it, they have a Casemate logo slapped onto it. The majority of the goods, well, it is easy to see that they are simply rebranded things from other manufacturers. Such is the case with all private label goods*. With careful purchasing you can buy a product that is ALMOST the same as the regular product for a fraction of the price**.CMPP CMPP

The CM Premium Pencils (CMPP) are sold in an 8-pack for 97 cents. The 8-pack comes in a tin and plastic tube that doubles as a sturdy pencil case or stand. It does dent easily, but it is not crushed with ease. Inside the case are 8 pencils and a sharpener. The sharpener is pretty meh, but it does the job. It sharpens to a standard short point. The sharpener is labeled “Nataraj.” Which leads me to believe that the pencils are made by the Hindustan company which manufactures the Nataraj pencil brand***.

The pencils are quite nice. They have a thickly applied glossy lacquer in silver and black. The color scheme appeals to my inner angsty teen. The imprint is in silver foil and simply says, “No.2/HB.” the imprint is done well on some and not so well on others. On  a few of mine only part of the imprint was there the rest it was fine.CMPP

The wood appears to be linden/basswood. It’s light in color and sharpens well. When sharpened it has the smell of bay leaves. The ferrule is affixed to all of mine well. It holds a useless nubbin of an eraser that must’ve been added as a joke. It’s a white rubbery blob that is too small to fit properly into the ferrule and does an absolutely shit job of erasing graphite from anything I’ve tried- from Field Note to Story Supply Company to 3×5 card to Reporter notebook to my Mt Tom. It was a useless turd of an eraser. It sort of dust gathers, but mostly the pristine white eraser turns a shade of gray and feels mushy. This thing sucks sooooo bad.CMPP

The core itself is dark, smooth, sharpens easily, and holds a point remarkably well for a pencil this dark. I didn’t have to sharpen the pencil for page after page of writing. Holy smokes awesome. I was able to keep on going and going. Amazing point retention. However I would not call this an HB pencil, no, it is easily a B if not a 2B. Cores are mostly well centered, with one or two of the 24 I purchased off centered enough to notice a problem during sharpening.

Now the reason these pencils are kind of a big deal? Well first off the whole package- case, sharpener, and pencils are only 97 cents. That a pencil this dark and smooth is available for 97 cents is pretty amazing. The other part of the awesome is that these look and feel just like the Nataraj Platinum Extra Dark 2b pencil. Which is an awesome pencil with all the same flaws I’ve listed above. More importantly is availability. Previously, you have to order from CWPE (not a bad option) or find them via Amazon or eBay. None of these are deal breakers, but if you go the Amazon/ebay route you could wait weeks to a month to get your pencils, and pay more than 12 cents a pencil, plus you don’t get a sweet hackable metal case. The sharpener is okay, but nothing special. It’s the case that makes this a sweet deal. The case holds 13 pencils packed full, and is so much fun to decorate. I really really enjoy this tin.CMPP

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