Pencil Review: Bruynzeel Burotek 1605 (HB)

The Netherlands. What comes to mind when you think of good ol’ Holland? Legalized cannabis and sex work? Wooden clogs? Europe’s best baseball team? Don’t try to tell me you thought of pencils — unless, of course, your favorite pencil ever happens to be a pencil from the Bruynzeel company. Then I might believe you.

For the rest of us, yes; believe it or not, there is a Dutch company that manufacturers pencils. Bruynzeel has been mass-producing wood & graphite writing instruments since 1948. They are still turning out a few different lines of woodcased pencils, and for today’s review I picked up a twelve-pack of their No. 1605 “Burotek” pencil in grade 2B. So get your finger out of that dike, crank up your windmill and slice open a wheel of Gouda cheese, because we’re about to talk Dutch pencils.

Construction Quality

Clearly meant for the desks of students and office workers, the Bruynzeel Burotek — which, to my American ear, seems like a name that Nikita Khrushchev would dream up — comes in classic yellow with a black imprint. Unlike the American yellow pencil, though, the 1605 has a dipped end rather than an eraser, and comes in more than one grade (because Europe). Different grades have different color dips and the 2B version — which this review will focus squarely on — has a red-dipped end with the 2B grade written in white on the main facet. The lacquer is glossy with moderate thickness and smoothness. The imprints are a little hit-or-miss as far as precision and consistency are concerned, but have a pretty cool vibe to them.

All of the pencils in the twelve-pack I ordered were decently straight. About half of them had a slight warp, but not enough to get bent out of shape over. (See what I did there?)

Core centering was another story all together though — I’d say that at least half of them were visibly off-center; no small feat considering the dipped ends and the pre-sharpened points make it harder to notice. I chose two of the worst-centered ones for my test subjects. This was an annoyance, although in the end it turned out to be merely an aesthetic one.

I’m not too sure about the casing wood, either. It has a grey appearance, and has but the faintest grain and odor. I’m not picking up cedar vibes. I have a fantasy that it’s something exotic and very European that I don’t even know about, but I can’t find much info and the Bruynzeel website isn’t a whole lot of help, so I’ll let the species remain a mystery. Whatever it’s made of, the wood casing doesn’t seem to sharpen that great. It yields fairly easily to a bladed brass wedge sharpener, and peels off in a solid ribbon; but the point left behind is very fibrous and splintery. Fortunately, my helical hand-crank sharpener was able to tame it.

The cores come across as somewhat brittle; the tip of my test-subject pencil had an annoying habit of breaking off a significant distance up the shaft. Not enough that it’s a matter of the core coming out of the wood, but enough to make me sigh and immediately re-sharpen, again.

I also got the impression that the Bruynzeel 1605’s core is a little bit thicker than the typical graphite pencil. This is hard to tell when looking at a sharpened point. We are talking about fractions of a millimeter, and I don’t own vernier calipers or any such tools. Trying to take a photograph of the points that close up, with a ruler for comparison, was also a little tricky. So, I did what any reasonable person would do: I hacked the dipped end off with a serrated kitchen knife. Then, using some cheap clip-on lenses for my cell phone that I got off AliExpress, I managed to capture a photo that (while being far from a masterpiece of photography) manages to clearly show the difference.

Left: Bruynzeel 1605 2B. Right: Palomino Blackwing Pearl

It turns out that my eyes were not deceiving me. The Bruynzeel 1605 2B core is pushing a full 3mm in diameter. Compare this to the Blackwing pencils, as well as more mundane pencils like the Papermate Mirado, which all have lean 2mm cores. Other pencils might measure up to about 2.5mm. Bruynzeel isn’t messing around, though, giving you a fat 3mm of lead. This might also help alleviate the woes of the off-centered cores (another thing I confirmed after hacking the dipped end off).

Performance

As I began to jot down some work notes with the Bruynzeel Burotek 2B, I made a few observations: the lead felt very firm, yet not abrasive, and made a surprisingly dark line for such a solid core. The firmness of the lead had me forgetting that I was writing with a 2B pencil.

Comparing the writing of the 1605 2B, it seems comparable to other 2B pencils — just a hair lighter than the Kimberly, and a little darker the Castell 9000 of the same grade. I’d say that puts it pretty squarely in the 2B ballpark.

And yet, writing with the Burotek 2B elicits a much firmer push-back from the page. It doesn’t seem particularly scratchy; it actually glides over the page fairly smoothly. It just feels more “solid” than other 2B pencils that seem to have more give to them. I think it’s pretty comparable to the Musgrave Ceres #2 in terms of page-feel.

For a 2B pencil, the point retention seems pretty good. It certainly doesn’t dull annoyingly fast. It can’t quite hold its sharpness as long as the HB Cedar Pointe, but that would be a tall order for a 2B-graded pencil. On the flip side, it outperforms the Kimberly 2B by a substantial amount, and in practice — when the brittle tip doesn’t snap off — I’m able to get a couple of paragraphs down before I feel the urge to sharpen. The 2B 1605 doesn’t manage to attain HB-caliber point retention, but for a 2B pencil it’s definitely above average.

The interesting combination of firmness and darkness of the core reminds me a lot of the Chung Hwa 101 in 2B, although the 101 is a little bit lighter and substantially scratchier than the Bruynzeel 1605.

Bruynzeel’s 2B-graded 1605 is a little messy, but holds up to smudginess OK. The Castell 9000 in 2B beats the pants off of it in terms of resisting smear marks, but it performed pretty similarly to the Kimberly 2B and a little less than the Cedar Pointe HB. For a 2B, it’s solidly average in this regard. While not a complete mess, it will leave a few graphite smears, smudges, and fingerprints around your page. A lot of it seemed due to some errant graphite dust that it would tend to leave around the page. If smear-resistance is a must for you, I’d look to a pencil graded HB or invest in a more premium soft pencil like the Castell 9000.

And finally, let’s talk about erasing. The Hi-polymer eraser did a good job of completely removing the Burotek 2B’s marks; however, it responded to heavy shading by leaving a pretty big, permanent, graphite smear. When tasked with only erasing text, though, the Pentel block left no mark behind. The Pink Pearl and Tombow Mono also made a more clean erasure, but — as is typical of those erasers — left a shadow of the erased mark behind. All of that is to say, it erases as well as any other pencil as long as you don’t have any big blobs of sketching or heavy fill.

Conclusions

There’s definitely something about the Bruynzeel “Burotek” 1605 2B. It has a very rare hard darkness to it. This is the type of pencil that I love to use for precision work; I’m completing my master’s degree and it was just right for some groundwater hydrology homework. Another example would be paying bills and working my monthly budget, which I do in a quad-ruled composition notebook. It’s dark enough to stand out on a busy page, but still feels…clean. Accurate. Meticulous.

For a 2B pencil, the 1605 has pretty good point retention — if you can get the tip to stay attached. I feel like Bruynzeel has accomplished a dark lead with firmness and point retention by making one that’s brittle instead of soft. This makes point breakage a routine ordeal, at least for me. Granted, I tend to death-grip everything. So, heavy-handed writers beware. However, if you’re looking for a good balance between darkness and point retention, I think this pencil strikes one. If you write a little more gingerly than I do, perhaps the darkness will suit your hand and the brittle tips won’t be an issue for you.

With that all out of the way, I should point out that while it was fun to operate under the belief that these Dutch pencils were made in the Netherlands, a close examination of the box revealed the somewhat-disappointing truth: the Bruynzeel Burotek pencil is made in China, making this a “Dutch” pencil in the same sense that the Dixon Ticonderoga is an “American” pencil. Now, not that I have anything at all against Chinese pencils. If you read this blog with any frequency, you know that I feel quite the opposite (although I do tend to be skeptical of Chinese pencils manufactured specifically for export, like these). Just that the whole point of this review was to try a European pencil — like, a real European one — and the fact that it clearly states “Holland” on the barrel of the pencil, even though it’s not made in Holland, seems a little sketchy. So, that’s a bit of a bummer.

Issues of origin notwithstanding, I’d say that the Bruynzeel 1605 2B pencil is definitely interesting, and probably even “good”. It’s got its ups and downs, but I like it. If you use a blade to sharpen your pencils, it’ll fight you. If you are heavy-handed, you’ll snap leads like nobody’s business. If you like 2B pencils for the decidedly soft feeling, the Burotek will feel a little stiff. However, if none of those are show-stoppers for you and you’re looking for a pencil that writes dark but still holds a point for more than a line or two, give the 1605 in grade 2B a try.

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