I’m surprised I haven’t written a review of this pencil sooner. My stash of Tombow 8900 pencils has been languishing in a drawer for a while as I’ve sampled all of the wonderful (and not-so-wonderful) goods that the pencil universe has to offer; but prior to starting this blog, the Tombow 8900 in 2B was one of my go-to pencils. So, yeah, I may have gone into this review with a tiny bit of a preconceived notion.
However, when I first stumbled upon the 8900 pencil, I was a dumb new guy. I knew that Blackwing pencils were great, Ticonderoga pencils were good, and as far as I could tell everything else was garbage. It might have been Tombow’s workhorse “general writing” model that opened up this Pandora’s box. So, now that I’ve been around the pencil block and have a few more notches on my wood-and-graphite belt, I want to revisit it, and see if a more systematic, critical review will yield the same satisfaction I experienced during my original honeymoon period with the 2B Tombow 8900. So, here goes. I’ll try to leave my bias behind, starting with the next paragraph!
The Tombow 8900 is a hex-shaped, untipped pencil that comes coated in a glossy green lacquer. The paint job isn’t as thick or smooth as some of Tombow’s higher-end products, but it’s definitely a step above the typical cheap-o yellow #2. The hue is something like a bright olive green, or “Ninja Turtle” green as I like to think of it. If you’re familiar with General’s Kimberly green, it’s like that, but more yellow and less blue. Like the Kimberly, its main imprint is done in a very precise and clean gold foil which features the Tombow name and dragonfly logo, as well as the grade and some marketing info. The barrel is fairly cluttered: two other facets have white silk-screen, one with a barcode, and the other informing the user that the pencil is “for general writing”. The 2B grade is reproduced on all three facets, which makes it easier to find in your pencil cup.
Tombow is a Japanese company; one of the big two up there with Mitsubishi. Both makers have a reputation for high quality standards. That said, it’s worth noting that this pencil is actually made in Vietnam.
The casings of the 8900 are pretty close to being perfectly straight, and the cores are impeccably centered among the handful that I looked at for this review. This is consistent with my experience using these pencils as daily-use writers in the past: of the many I’ve consumed down to nubs, I’ve never had a tolerance-related problem.
The wood casing of the Tombow 8900 yields to a good hand wedge sharpener with wonderful smoothness. A nice, solid ribbon peels off with minimal feedback. The hand-sharpened point is a little splintery around the collar area, so it’s not perfect, but the wood isn’t too fibrous and overall it results in a pretty clean finish. Of course, it comes out nearly perfect when using a helical crank sharpener.
I’m not sure what kind of wood it’s composed of. A lot of other bloggers, and also a lot of retailers, say it’s cedar, and it does have a similar hue. One of those retailers is pencils.com, run by the folks at Cal Cedar, so part of me wants to believe that they’d know what they’re talking about. But compared to most cedar pencils, this one has a more subtle grain and absolutely no scent, leaving me a little skeptical. At the end of the day, does it matter? The wood works well; that’s all I really care about.
When freshly sharpened, the very tip of the 8900 2B does have an occasional tendency to crumble. However, I’d not say that it is excessive or even frequent, and for a pencil this soft, it’s not entirely unexpected. Otherwise, there are no problems; no big chunks of core coming dislodged, or things like that.
This pencil runs dark — very dark for a 2B. Compared to the Mitsubishi 4563 2B, Marco Grip-Rite 2B, and Blackwing 602, the 8900 2B has a very black core. I’d say it compares most comparably to the base Palomino Blackwing or the Nataraj Bold, so we are talking about a core that is far beyond what most pencil makers would consider 2B.
The Tombow 8900 2B is also extremely silky-smooth. It writes like a gel pen, producing just enough of a rubbing sound on the paper to let you know that you’re making your mark.
As you might have guessed, though, the point retention kind of sucks. It really only manages to make it through a few sentences before a fresh sharpening is required. This is definitely not a pencil for those who are bothered by having to re-sharpen frequently, or for use in a situation where stopping to freshen up the point is an inconvenience. A corollary of this is that the 8900 2B isn’t very long-lasting at all. It only takes a couple days of serious writing to grind through one.
Tombow’s 8900 2B is moderately smudgy, but not bad considering how dark it is. The Ticonderoga and Cedar Pointe #2 pencils, predictably, leave behind a more stable mark; but Tombow’s pencil is no worse than the comparably-cored Blackwing (maybe a hair better) and definitely resists smearing better than the Nataraj Bold. I think it’s on par with the Marco Grip-Rite and the Mitsubishi 4563, both in 2B; I complained about how messy those pencils were, but to be fair, the 8900 is a softer pencil despite the common 2B designation. In the end, I guess it depends how you look at it: yeah, it’ll smudge and smear, but if you’ve already accepted that as a trade-off for a smooth, dark laydown, it’s not any worse than similar pencils.
It’s also worth noting that the above comparison only pertains to “laboratory” conditions. During daily-life use, I really haven’t noticed a lot of smearing, smudging, or fingerprinting at all.
You’ll need a separate eraser for this tipless pencil, and I recommend a good one. The dark graphite of the 8900 2B likes to cling to pages, even ones that aren’t especially toothy. Even the Pentel Hi-Polymer had a hard time picking up the last traces of this pencil’s lead.
The Tombow 8900 with 2B-grade core was, at one point in my life, my hands-down favorite pencil. A dark, luxurious core in a highly affordable, well-built package — there’s a lot to like. The major downside, though, is that the cores are very soft and need to be constantly re-sharpened (the minor downside being that it doesn’t erase well). Now that I’ve gone out into the pencil world and poked around a bit, this is a bit more of a bummer to me.
The good news is that they ring up at about $5 a dozen. For a pencil that writes this nicely, that’s a good price — good enough that it won’t hurt so bad when you end up shaving a pencil down to a stub in just a few days.
Interestingly enough, Leadfast weighed in on the HB model and noted that the core was actually hard (by Japanese standards, anyway) and had great point retention; while Comfortable Shoes Studio said it was “very dark and very smooth”. I’m definitely interested in taking the HB 8900 for a spin and seeing if it captures some of the magic of the 2B while moderating some of its wild tendencies.
When it’s all said and done, I still think the Tombow 8900 2B is quite a solid pencil. The only thing missing that would make it a great pencil is if the cores hold a sharp tip for just a little bit longer.