The Dixon Ticonderoga pencil has been around for ages, and seen numerous iterations — especially in the past decade or two, as production shifted from the U.S. to Mexico and China, production lines were changed and materials were tinkered with. The recent Chinese iteration of the well-known and often-used pencil was the subject of my first-ever review on this blog, and since then I haven’t felt particularly compelled to go back and revisit them, at least not to any extent worth writing about.
That is, until now. At this point in time I’ve got umpteen different pencil makes and models available to me, clogging up multiple desk drawers, but (in the States at least) the Dixon Ticonderoga has a funny way of hanging around and finding a way into your hand. In this case, the Ticonderoga pencil that events conspired to lead me to was one marked for its environmentally-friendly qualities and natural aesthetic: The Ticonderoga Renew.
This review was inspired in part by a post exploring the rise, fall, and perhaps second rise of the Ticonderoga by our Glorious Comrade Johnny, who stands at the vanguard of the invincible world Pencil Revolution. I’ve had this post cooking on the back burner for a while, actually; and given the aforementioned Ticonderoga buzz and the fact that my review of another pencil that shall remain nameless is taking a while, I figured it was high time to have a look at the Ticonderoga Renew.
The most noteworthy thing about the Ticonderoga Renew is its appearance. Unlike the more common lines of Ticonderoga — the ubiquitous classic yellow, along with the common variations such as black, neon, etc. — the Renew has no lacquer aside from a green foil imprint on one facet of the hex-shaped casing. Like the Cedar Pointe, it is completely unfinished; not even a clear coating sits between the writer’s hand and the wood, and over time the wood absorbs the oils and such from the writer’s hand to form a nice patina. Despite the lack of accouterments, Dixon has retained the trademark green metal, yellow-striped ferrule which, in this case, grips a green eraser to symbolize environmental wholesomeness.
Although not advertised on the box, the wood that forms the casings of the Ticonderoga Renew, believe it or not, is cedar — or at least partially so. And boy does it smell good! Especially when sniffing a freshly-sharpened business end. Without a coating on the barrel, it’s easy to see how Dixon manages to make cedar pencils out of 53% recycled wood. Rather than being made of two solid pieces of wood, the slats that form the Renew’s casing are formed by splicing smaller pieces of recycled scrap together with fresh wood using toothy joints that can be seen at various points along the barrel.
I’m not sure if cedar is the only species of wood used, or where exactly the wood scraps are obtained from (leftovers from production of solid-slat pencils, perhaps) but this is an interesting way to use up otherwise-wasted materials.
Discontinuities introduced by this process, which seem rare, are then filled with what appears to be graphite core material. It’s kind of an interesting way of doing it, which can lead to some odd-looking or even downright ugly points. However, in the ten-pack I picked up, only one needed this kind of patch job.
The quality control seems to be decent and an improvement over some of the Ticonderoga pencils I’ve had in the past. They aren’t exactly arrow-straight and roll with a slight wobble, but there are no big banana bends or other warpage to be concerned about. Likewise, a couple of the cores are a little off the center mark, but not problematically so. I’d say that in those respects, they’re no more worrisome than the middle-of-the-road general “school and office” pencils that I often review; perhaps the Renew comes out a little bit above-average, even.
My main concern prior to this review was how the wood splices would affect things like sharpening and the “structural integrity” (if one could use that term to describe a pencil). Will it be hard to get sharp? Will it fall apart or feel disjointed? My first observation is that the joints are sanded down nicely, so you really cannot feel them in your hand. That’s not an issue. When sharpening over the seams, it kind of adds a cool visual effect to the collar.
Otherwise, there doesn’t seem to be any noticeable effect due to the seam. Ticonderoga pencils are the type that I tend to subject to significant amounts of abuse, and the Renew has held up just fine.
I won’t perform a long analysis of the core characteristics of the Ticonderoga Renew, because it is a Made In China Ticonderoga that ostensibly, and by all objective measures, has the same core as the other PRC-made Ticonderoga pencils I reviewed for my first-ever post on this blog. However, I’ll give a basic recap for those of you who aren’t familiar with the Ticonderoga, or are just tuning in and want my take.
The Chinese Ticonderoga core is a little bit softer — e.g. darker, and with less point retention — than the typical HB-grade pencil, but not by a wide enough margin to say it’s graded inaccurately. The core is a little bit scratchy and abrasive, but it’s consistent; it is also quite smudge-prone compared to most of its HB counterparts. As far as breakage goes, the Chinese cores have about average durability.
As for other differences, the one that comes immediately to mind is the feeling of the pencil in the hand. I appreciate the Renew’s nudity (renewdity?) Compared to the slick, glossy lacquer of the other Ticonderoga lines, it gives a slightly better grip and it just feels…I don’t know…good, let’s say.
I went into this review assuming that the Renew also has the same eraser as the rest of the made-in-China Ticonderoga pencils I’ve tried, but for the sake of due diligence I put them to the test against one another, as well as a Mexican Ticonderoga eraser, and a Pentel Hi-Polymer block. The results were pretty surprising: the Renew eraser actually does a better job of getting rid of pencil marks than the normal, pink Chinese Ticonderoga eraser. It made more of a rubber mess doing it. Of course, it didn’t beat the Hi-Polymer block, and unsurprisingly the Mexican eraser just left a smudgy hot mess behind. But it performed slightly better than the mediocre eraser I expect from Chinese Ticonderogas even though it seems intuitive that they would be exactly the same other than the color. Huh. Go figure.
The Ticonderoga Renew is a fun pencil. In general, it has all of the other pros and cons of the made-in-China Ticonderoga: it’s smudgy, doesn’t have the most exacting quality-control standards, and the core is a little gritty; but it writes fairly dark for a HB pencil and is certainly usable. Dixon may think it’s the World’s Best Pencil, but I’d say that it’s the World’s Okayest Pencil.
All that said, I think the Renew is a cut above the standard PRC-made Ticonderoga. I like the raw finish — it looks, feels, and smells great. The wood splices actually add a nice aesthetic to the barrel of the pencil, in my opinion. And somehow — don’t ask me how — the eraser works better than other Ticonderoga pencils. Finally, I’m down with reducing waste. The fact that this pencil manages to accomplish that and improve on the basic design of its parent model is a win-win.
My favorite pencil? Not really. But, if I were going to grab a box of Ticonderoga pencils, this would be the one. It’s the best Ticonderoga I’ve reviewed so far, and overall, not too shabby.
So go on and make your Earth Mother proud!