I feel a little bit of shame admitting this, but I routinely scroll through the “wooden pencil” category on Amazon, AliExpress, etc. and save everything that happens to catch my eye. In fact, on Amazon I have a huge wish list that covers the spectrum of price points, core grades, and countries of origin. Every once in a while I flip through the list and treat myself to something new; and one of my latest self-treats is the Steadtler Rally.
The Staedtler Rally comes in a dozen-pack that can be had at a competitive price. Some Googling reveals that these pencils are/were made in different factories in various locations, but the box that arrived in my mail was made in Indonesia. The packaging indicates that Staedtler intends for these pre-sharpened pencils to serve a utility role, with an “A+” homework assignment and a marked-up Scantron form prominently displayed on the graphics (another hint is that they feel compelled to specify both #2 and HB). Of course, that category of pencil covers a wide spectrum. Are they workhorses? Are they hidden gems? Are they complete garbage? Well, read on my friend, and you shall find out…
The Staedtler Rally pencil comes in a fetching navy blue and white color scheme; if you’re familiar with Staedtler products, you know what I mean. An uncolored aluminum ferrule couples a clean white eraser to the back-end of the barrel. I like the alternating navy/white stripes, although the lacquer isn’t especially thick or masterfully applied, some imprints are notably off-center, and the bar code is lame. It’s definitely not a knock-out, but the stripes in trademark Staedtler colors beat the schoolhouse yellow of its direct competitors.
The hex-shaped barrels of the Indonesian-made Rally all pass the roll test. One or two of the pencils out of the dozen pack showed a little bit of a wobble as they roll across my desk, but nothing to worry about. None of them are perceptibly crooked in the hand, and all of the collars are nice and even. For the most part the barrels are nice and straight.
As far as pre-sharpened pencils go, I have to say that Staedtler has done a great job making the Rally ready to go right out of the box. Instead of little stubby tips, these pencils come with a nice, long, concave point. This is one of the first pre-sharpened pencils I’ve reviewed that didn’t make me wonder why they even bothered.
Still, a person can only write for so long before needing to dress it up. The wood of the Rally peels away nicely with a hand sharpener, creating exactly the type of ribbons I like to see. The FSC-certified, grainless, white casing (described on the package only as “100% wood”) is clearly not made of cedar. Yet it does have an aroma to it that is reasonably pleasant and evokes a similar nostalgic wood-shop feeling. It reminds me of plywood, 2x4s, or something otherwise found in the lumber aisle of Home Depot. It also completely throws me for a loop as far as what species wood the Rally might be made of. Despite getting sucked several pages deep into Google, I’ve got nothing as far as tree of origin goes. So we’ll just call it “mystery wood” and move on.
Unfortunately, the cores aren’t centered within the tightest of tolerances. So far I haven’t experienced any issues with wooden “fingernails” getting in my way, but a few of the Rally pencils I’ve tested have come awfully close. As far as the cores themselves are concerned, they seem to be fairly sturdy. I did have one chunk of core come dislodged from the casing over the course of my testing, but only once; other than that, I did not experience any core breakage issues of note.
The darkness of the Rally is about what a person would expect from a #2/HB-graded pencil. The swatches I made appear comparable to the “true HB” cored (in my opinion) samples I put them up against, such as the General’s Supreme; and darker than the Mitsu-Bishi 9800, which I perceive to be on the lighter end of the HB category. As expected, the swatches and writing were noticeably fainter than the soft-cored Blackwing Pearl. I’d say the HB grade on the Rally core is right on the money. I wrote a paragraph of work notes while randomly alternating between the Rally, the Supreme, and the Chinese-made Ticonderoga, and couldn’t match the pencil to the writing.
The page-feel of the Staetdler Rally is certainly not smooth. It’s not annoyingly gritty, either; but it does have that “budget HB” feel to it. If you’ve written with a Ticonderoga, it’s about like that. The Mitsu-Bishi 9800 HB — a smooth-writing HB — feels like butter in comparison. However, the scratchiness of the Rally is totally acceptable for a low-cost HB.
The point retention is as good as, or better than, what I’d expect from a typical HB. With one sharpen from my desktop sharpener I can squeeze an entire college-ruled page of work notes, which is pretty solid performance, but not remarkably so. Smudginess is another area where the Rally performs average-to-good.
The eraser feels a little dry and scratchy, but it seems to work alright– thought definitely not as good as a Pentel Hi-Polymer pencil cap when put into action. The Well-Appointed Desk wasn’t a fan of these erasers back in 2015, but the pencils in that review were made in Thailand; perhaps the Indonesian factory is making better erasers in 2019. Or maybe I just have lower standards.
The Staedtler Rally is selling on Amazon for about four bucks for a dozen (with free Prime shipping), and that seems pretty consistent with their going rate in brick & mortar stores according to the internet (I’ve never seen them for sale in person). That divides out to 30 cents per pencil, which puts it in the company of the usual suspects found at supermarkets and big box stores. At that price point and market position, the Rally stands up.
It’s hard to make a list of pros and cons for the Staedtler Rally, because almost every aspect of the pencil that I can assign a value judgment to has a “but” associated with it. The finish isn’t fancy, but the color scheme looks sharp. The barrels are pretty straight, but not perfect. The cores tend to be off-center, but not enough to be a show-stopper. They’re pretty durable, but on rare occasion a chunk of core will come loose. They’re scratchy, but not any more than their peers. Point retention is good, but not amazing. The eraser feels rough but does an okay job of erasing marks. It’s truly a good pencil, but not a great pencil.
And that’s OK. Blackwing-caliber pencils aren’t suitable for every purpose, and Steadtler isn’t trying to market the Rally as a Blackwing-killer. So don’t expect a “sleeper” here that performs way above its pay grade (unless, for some reason, you can’t sharpen your own pencils; the pre-sharpened tips on these are bomb). But if your intention is to find an affordable “workhorse” pencil that doesn’t suck, the Rally fits the bill, and sets itself apart from that pack by looking a little bit cooler.