Pencil Review: Moon Try-Rex

Of the few pencil-makers still producing writing sticks in the USA, Moon Products, Inc. is probably the most stealthy. Their Tennessee plant cranks out countless lines of promotional and inspirational pencils, as well as pencils sold under other brands’ labels. The product lines that Moon puts out under it’s own name mostly fly under the radar, needles in the proverbial haystack. However, among the few models of pencil that they christen with their brand is an iconic American classic: the Try-Rex.

The Try-Rex is actually an invention of Richard Best Pencils, way back when, and was the first triangular pencil produced in the United States. Eventually Best’s outfit was bought up by the J.R. Moon company (which was later bought out itself) and its catalog folded into Moon’s holdings. However, the Try-Rex lives on, with homage paid to its originator in the B46 model number — B for “Best” — and is still made in the States, where it all began. I picked up a few of the standard-sized models so that I could give Moon pencils some love on the ol’ blog. Here, without further ado, is my review of the Try-Rex.

Construction Quality

As the name might suggest, the most notable feature of the Try-Rex is its triangular barrel. Triangular-cut casings aren’t exactly uncommon, but among American pencils they’re more of a rare breed, and the Try-Rex in particular has a shape that is a little bit different than most. It’s sort of a hybrid of triangular, round, and hex shapes. Like many triangular pencils, it starts off as a circular cut and then three sides are flattened to make a rounded triangle. However, the rounded bevels left behind are large enough that it looks and feels almost like a hex-shaped pencil, having six distinct facets of significance (three rounded and three flat). I find the shape to be really comfortable, kind of a best of both hexagonal and round worlds type thing.

The simple lacquer comes in fire engine red (which is, by the way, my favorite color and relatively rare in American pencils) and is applied fairly thick. It’s not especially smooth, but is slathered in abundant enough quantity that it’s slopped over the cut end of the pencil. A simple, white imprint on one facet of the barrel lets you know the name and model number, as well as where and by whom it’s made. The imprint has cool, throw-back, classic pencil vibes. It’s not a high-quality imprint but that kind of works for it. A typical brass-colored ferrule holds on a typical pink eraser nub.

The barrels of the Try-Rex all seem to be quite straight, rolling easily across the table with no arches or wobbles. The core-centering is a little suspect: of the three samples I bought to test, two looked dead-on but one was slightly askew. I chose the wonky one as my test subject.

I sharpened it by hand using the Kum Long-Point sharpener and found that the wood shaved off very smoothly. The waste that peeled away left a nice, spiraled flower. The wood finished up a little splintery and the collar was chipped away a bit around the throat of the core — a little disappointing. I’m not sure what type of wood it is, and from the looks of it it might be actual cedar — a deeper reddish-beige with distinctive grain lines. It lacks the characteristic scent, which doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not cedar, and since Moon operates a “stealth” operation without much of a web presence or advertising literature it’s hard to verify. The more I wrote with it and sharpened it, though, the more I became convinced that it’s the real deal.

The core seems to be quite brittle. I noticed some broken tips and points that cracked loose during sharpening right from jump street. The cores may have been torqued off by the sharpener (since Kum blades tend to do that, in my experience) but the tip breakage was a recurring thing and independent of sharpening device. It also seemed to occur continuously at random points throughout the life of the test pencil I chose. The bonding seems fine; the lead just seems easy to snap off.

Performance

When I first started writing with the Try-Rex, it struck me as darker and softer than I expected.

It doesn’t advertise itself as a #2 or HB pencil, but I’m assuming that’s what Moon is going for here because of the number 2 in the B46-2 model number, and because that just seems to be the default for all USA-made writing pencils unless stated otherwise. The darker side of the HB ballpark seems like it might be a suitable home for the Try-Rex pencil, but I’m entertaining thoughts that it might be a better fit for a bolder grade. It writes far darker than the Mexican Ticonderoga #2 and a bit darker than the Chinese version; also a bit darker than the General’s Supreme #2. It writes very similarly to the USA Gold #2 (spoiler alert: probably made in the Moon factory) and almost as dark as the Castell 9000 2B. Therefore, I’d say that the Try-Rex is a “dark HB” or maybe even a full-blown B in terms of darkness.

At first it felt a little gritty, but I second-guessed my initial reaction to the smoothness of the B46-2. Compared to the Ticonderoga of both present-day origins, it’s definitely smoother. It’s not premium-pencil smooth; compared to the Tombow Mono HB, for example, the abrasion of the paper is definitely more perceptible. Maybe what I’m feeling is that it’s a little bit chunky, referring to the type of random grit that some pencils have, although that seems pretty minor in this case. Anyway, there’s definitely something there; it’s not silky smooth. But it’s not bad, either. Maybe a step up from most No. 2’s. If you’re one of those folks who actually likes a little feedback from your pencil, maybe you’ll dig the Try-Rex: I’d say it’s pretty smooth for an HB, but still feels “present”.

The point retention of the Try-Rex comes across a little weak in practice. While jotting down notes at work, my impression was that I had to sharpen a bit more often than with most pencils. It turned out similar to Chinese Ticonderoga in hash-mark tests, and the 2B-graded Castell 9000 actually seemed a little better. Even though the Castell 9000 pencils wear tough, it’s still pretty bad for a No. 2 to get beat by a 2B; and the Chinese Ticonderoga isn’t exactly a hard HB. If point retention is your jam, this pencil will strike you as underwhelming.

Since I’m a big D&D nerd now, I used the Try-Rex to make some dungeon map drawings, which usually involves manhandling the page a little bit: swiping away eraser shavings, planting the heel of my hand on the page, etc. I really didn’t notice much smudging, which is great — and surprising. When deliberately smudged, it does leave a smear larger than the Castell 9000 HB and the Mirado Classic, about the same as the General’s Supreme, and smaller than the General’s Kimberly. So it’s certainly not smear-proof, just maybe smear-resistant, and if you really try hard enough you can make a mess on par with most HB pencils. However, maybe it’s just a tad less likely to smudge in the first place — and when it does, one perception I noted is that the smeared mark still seemed to retain more of its darkness instead of fading as it’s wiped away.

Unfortunately, that retention seems to carry over into deliberate erasing. Some other reviews I read said that the eraser on this pencil sucks but actually, I think the eraser itself isn’t bad. It’s not great, either, just middle of the road. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but it’s not as good at erasing as a Hi-Polymer block eraser, and it’s better than the Pink Pearl. Maybe even better than the Hi-Polymer pencil cap. I determined that by testing each of those erasers on the same heavily-shaded swatch of Try-Rex graphite. So, controlled for the type of lead, it’s clear that the eraser is actually somewhere in the middle of what I’d consider to be the acceptable range. Average; maybe a tick better, but definitely not worse.

So, then I did something I usually don’t do, which is control for the eraser and make the graphite the dependent variable. The built-in Try-Rex eraser didn’t fully erase any of the other HB pencil marks I made, but it did a better job at erasing the Kimberly, Castell 9000, Staedtler Rally and General’s Supreme marks than it did its own. Anecdotally, I’ve also had trouble erasing this pencil mark with the Tombow Mono Zero. So, my conclusion is that while it may be hard to erase the Try-Rex, don’t blame the eraser: blame the lead!

Conclusions

After writing all of that, I’m not really sure where I stand on the Try-Rex. I like the way it writes in general, but it’s a little frustrating how often I have to sharpen it — whether because the point retention sucks, or because the tips keep snapping off. The point retention thing I can get past because I like soft pencils, so I’m used to it. However, I have a hard time giving high praise to any pencil with brittle cores.

I do like the throwback vibes, and the unique cut of the triangular barrel feels great in the hand. I think it’s cool that the Try-Rex is still made in the USA and that the iconic model continues to be produced. I don’t like that it’s hard to erase the lead — either with its own eraser, or any other outside of a high-end plastic block eraser.

I guess all I can say is that the Moon Products Try-Rex is a fairly decent pencil with a mixed bags of ups and downs. You could also say that about a lot of general office/schoolhouse type pencils, but unfortunately the Try-Rex is one of the hardest to track down and get your hands on. I would only recommend going out of your way to order these specific pencils if you like triangular casings and write with a soft touch, in which case snapping tips won’t be so much of a problem and the dark core will be helpful. Otherwise, the only big plus I see in the Try-Rex over other general writing pencils is that it hits me right in the nostalgic feels. That might be enough to motivate me to keep one rattling around in my pencil cup as a conversation piece, and writing with it is certainly not a bad experience, but I won’t be ordering them by the gross any time soon.

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