Don’t tell Donald Trump that I told you this, but I’ve been ordering more pencils from China. It’s also been a minute since I’ve delved into my giant stash and reviewed one of them. Sure, I’ve reviewed a few pencils that were made in China in recent weeks, but I think it’s high time to look at a another pencil made for China.
A while back, I took a look at the Chung Hwa 101; a pencil which is marketed as a drawing pencil, but is often used for writing. However, China First Pencil Co. also makes a dedicated writing pencil, the Chung Hwa 6151. I picked up a package of these to have a look at, and gave them a thorough review.
The barrels are lacquered in black with red stripes, which in China seems to be equivalent to what solid yellow is in the USA: the default color scheme for general writing pencils. The semi-hex barrel is emblazoned on one side with a gold imprint featuring the Chung Hwa “totem pole” logo, the 6151 model number, and the HB grade, as well as some Chinese writing that I can’t read. On the flip side, in white screen print, is the company name. The gold imprint is fine, if not absolutely impressive. The white screen printing seems a little cheap. The lacquer is thin and chippy. This pencil definitely doesn’t have premium looks, although I do like the ferrule; although it’s just a simple variation on the typical tin-can style, I like that it has “swoopy” lines that form a band around the circumference of it. Otherwise, if the Communist Party of China delivered the specifications for a purely utilitarian pencil to be made widely available to the Chinese proletariat, this is probably what it would look like.
Having a look down the unsharpened ends, I can tell that the core centering is hit-or-miss: certainly not the best I’ve seen, but not the worst. I sharpened the off-kilter one as my test subject and it was usable. This is pretty typical. As far as warping goes, these barrels are all quite straight. They’re not all perfect, but definitely all within acceptable tolerances, and my evaluation of them in general is that they’re above-average in this respect.
The wood is your run-of-the-mill basswood/whatever type of grey, grainless material. Blade sharpening is easy and smooth. With a simple brass wedge, I was able to turn off a solid ribbon of shavings effortlessly to yield a smooth collar with a seamless transition into the tip. Whatever this mystery wood is, I’ll gladly take it over a Genuine Incense Cedar (TM) pencil that sharpens roughly and ends up all splintery. The point was equally clean and easy with a helical sharpener.
At one point during my review, a pretty significant chunk of core came dislodged from the point — right during a meeting, to boot, and I had to sit there cranking away on a hand sharpener to get it tipped up again. The section of core was about 1/2 inch, maybe 3/4 inch long, which doesn’t speak well to the bonding of these pencils. Thankfully once I got it sharpened again — and it took some cranking, having to remove that much wood just to get to the graphite again — the core stayed put and I haven’t had a similar problem since. I’ve also not had any problems with snapping tips, so it seems like the core is durable. As for the core bonding, I’ll put a pin in that thought before I slam Chung Hwa for it, but it may be hit or miss.
The first thing I noticed was the page-feel of the Chung Hwa 6151 HB. The more I used it, the more I became intrigued by the unique balance between feel, darkness, and durability that this pencil offers.
For an HB pencil, the 6151 feels really smooth. I ran it up against the Cedar Pointe, the Ticonderoga, and the Mirado — it gave less feedback than all of them. Interestingly enough, it’s even smoother than the Chung Hwa 101 in 2B, which is actually a little mind-blowing in that the same manufacturer is producing HB cores that feel smoother than their 2B cores. I kept doing some alternate-line comparisons and discovered that, in fact, the Chung Hwa 6151 HB feels a lot like the Kimberly 2B or the Blackwing 602 (which is to say, pretty smooth).
Gritty inconsistencies were minimal. I believe I encountered a few rough particles here and there, but they were very uncommon and relatively subtle.
It’s not common to find an Asian pencil that is softer than Americans might expect, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. The smoothness discussed above isn’t due to a case of mis-grading, because in terms of line darkness the 6151 HB is right in there with the other pencils of the HB world. Looking at the page of writing I used to test for scratchiness, I really couldn’t pick the Chung Hwa out from any of the other HB pencils I used, while the Kimberly 2B and the Blackwing 602 were clearly darker. Doing a more explicit swatch test, I could see that Chung Hwa’s pencil was right up there with the Kimberly HB and darker than the Castell 9000 HB. So it’s totally within the range of a true HB, but maybe a half-shade darker than average.
Point retention is also preserved despite the pencil’s smoothness. It seemed to hold up better than the Golden Bear and the Cedar Pointe, and even hang in there with the Castell 9000 in HB. Really, that’s pretty impressive. While using the 6151 at work, I could write plenty of notes on a single sharpen, so the observations I made during testing definitely translate to real life.
The Chung Hwa 6151’s writing stands up against smudging fairly well. I did some intentional-smudging tests and it held up really well, besting some of its HB counterparts like the Staedtler Rally or the Dixon Ticoneroga. In fact — and I had to test it out more than once to verify this — it actually seems to resist smears about as well as the Castell 9000 in HB (can you believe it’s the second time I’ve compared these two pencils favorably?)
The ferrules look like they are crimped on very tightly, but that doesn’t seem to stop them from wobbling a little loose by the end of the pencil. The eraser itself is not good. It feels very squishy, yet rough, and leaves an excess amount of pink chunks all over the place. Its performance in erasing the line is OK although it looks like it actually scratched the paper where I tried to use it. It was at this point I decided to switch to an eraser cap for the duration of the pencil. Definitely don’t trust the eraser on the 6151 — I’d make sure to add an eraser cap to the tip, not only to upgrade your erasing performance, but also to prevent yourself from accidentally using the built-in one and damaging your work.
The Chung Hwa 6151 HB is a very interesting pencil. The core has a lot going for it, most notably its smoothness. Yet despite that smoothness, it is not a soft pencil; the HB grade seems right on the money, and the 6151 rivals premium pencils in some such aspects like point retention and smudge resistance.
The problem is that the core is one component of a larger pencil that really isn’t put together that well. The cores tend to be a little bit off-center, and I’m skeptical about how well-bonded they are to the casing. The eraser is really bad and the ferrule holding it on tends to wobble loose. It definitely doesn’t have a premium look to it, either, with chipped thin lacquer and cheapish imprinting. Obviously a pencil’s lead is, well, at the core of things; I’ve seen other manufacturers go the other route and put a crappy core in a well-built pencil. I find that far more frustrating. Yet, it is still worth considering how well-built a pencil is at least as far as it affects the ability to sharpen it and keep it in service. Also, I know that bad erasers are a deal-breaker for some, so it’s definitely worth mentioning that as well.
That being said, I can imagine a specific type of writer who might really love this pencil. I know there are probably some people out there who like everything about the typical HB pencil — valuing point retention and relative cleanliness over darkness — except that they tend to be scratchy and gritty. If that describes you, try to scrounge up some of these pencils. They’re pretty much what you’d expect from an HB pencil, but way smoother. You might really like them.
When it’s all said and done, though, I give the Chung Hwa 6151 HB a rating of “okay”. It’s not bad. Depending on what someone looks for in a pencil, they might even find it to be pretty good. But generally speaking, I think most people would find it to be pretty average. I personally don’t see myself going out of my way to grab another one now that my test specimen is ground down to a stub.