A while back I took the Paper Mate Mirado Classic — which I did not expect to actually enjoy — for a spin and found it to be quite a nice little pencil. But the fun doesn’t stop there, because that unassuming little schoolhouse-yellow, office-desk-drawer-inhabiting pencil has a slightly more adventurous sibling: the Mirado Black Warrior.
The Black Warrior is one pencil which, under one brand name or another, has been around for quite some time. It was part of the Eagle family prior to 1969, when the company was bought by Berol; it then passed hands to Sandford and eventually the Newell-Rubbermaid conglomorate that makes pencils under the Paper Mate brand. Somewhere along the line, it got coupled up with the Mirado pencil to become the Mirado Black Warrior, and here we are. The classic iterations of the pencil have been a favorite of numerous writers over the years, but how does the present-day version stand up? Let’s take a look at it and see.
As the name implies, the lacquer is jet black; the paint job is a very handsome matte finish which, except for a few small defects, is fairly smooth (although not especially thick). Unlike the Mirado Classic, the Black Warrior comes with a round barrel. This is a nod to its lineage; the Black Warrior pencil has almost always been produced in a round cut. A modest gold foil imprint bears only the pertinent information: “Mirado Black Warrior”, “HB”, “2”, and the Paper Mate trademark double hearts. The imprint isn’t very tidy and I’m not a fan of the font, but I do appreciate the minimalism. The Mirado’s signature red-banded ferrule and pink eraser top things off and link the Black Warrior into the Mirado family.
Of the eight pencils in the pack, a few of them had cores were obviously quite off-center. I tried a couple of the wonky ones, though, and it wasn’t bad enough to cause any headaches. Almost, but not quite. They did pretty good in the roll test, indicating that each of the pencils was straight; either perfectly so, or with just the tiniest bow to it. Although the core centering is marginal, the straightness of the wood casing is exceptional.
I first sharpened one of these guys while sitting on a concrete block in a parking lot, and according to my notes from the time it sharpened smoothly. Of course I tested it under “ideal conditions” in the office and came to the same conclusion. The wood peeled away with ease, leaving behind a smooth, even collar that transitioned straight into the graphite tip. The waste product consisted of a perfect, single, solid ribbon of wood. The wood is not cedar, but a lighter-colored wood with some discernible grain pattern to it.
I’ve actually used several of these pencils and haven’t experienced any deficiencies related to the integrity of the core. No snapping tips, no dislodged lead chunks. The cores seem strong and well-bonded throughout.
To my eye, the Mirado Black Warrior writes dark for an ol’ Number 2. It struck me as laying down a bold graphite line the moment I first sharpened it up and put it to use, but I did a few swatches and confirmed that the Black Warrior is indeed one of the darker examples of an HB pencil. It’s darker than the No. 2 iterations Chinese Ticonderoga, and the Cedar Pointe, but not as dark as any of the 2B pencils I grabbed.
Boldly, the package claims that the Black Warrior is “the world’s smoothest write — guaranteed!” I mean…I’m not even sure how to respond to that. So, let’s just say, it’s not. Now, it’s not awful, but it’s definitely on the scratchier end of the HB bracket, hanging in there with pencils like the Cedar Pointe. The good news is that it’s consistent: although it generates some general feedback while writing, the Black Warrior’s core doesn’t have the snags and grit that seem to plague HB pencils these days.
Despite the darkness of the mark, this pencil continued to hold a page-worthy tip for longer than fellow HB pencils Cedar Pointe and Ticonderoga (made-in-China) during hashmark testing. That seems consistent with real-life performance; I could fill a composition notebook page without feeling like I needed to stop to re-sharpen.
Smudge-resistance is pretty good as well. I did a streak test, and it smeared about the same as the General’s Supreme, and less than the made-in-China Ticonderoga. In real-life usage, I didn’t really notice any graphite smudges or smears on paper.
The eraser is pretty mediocre. I have a hunch that it’s just a smaller Pink Pearl crimped onto the end of the pencil, and the Pink Pearl is kind of a “meh” eraser. It’s usually good enough for a rubber tip, but I’d suggest keeping a nice block eraser handy in case you need to do any serious correction.
Given that I’ve already reviewed the Mirado Classic pencil, you may be wondering: do the two pencils have the same core, or is the Black Warrior something different? I can say with about 90% certainty that the cores of those two instruments come from a common formula. In only the smoothness or pagefeel category could I discern any difference, and even then it’s slight enough that I would assume that the discrepancy is due to factors like variance from batch to batch. Otherwise, the two pencils performed identically.
I have to say, I dig the Black Warrior. I enjoyed its more generic Mirado sibling and find the Black Warrior to have all of the same characteristics: a solid-performing core that’s a touch darker than most HB pencils. They’re not premium, high-end stuff; but if you don’t mind the scratchiness of the lead, or the crappy eraser, they’re both great budget pencils.
Between the two, I like the Black Warrior better than the standard Mirado. I enjoy the fact that it’s got something about it that stands out. The round barrel really feels comfortable, too, and is a shape that’s relatively rare these days. I have to give credit to Paper Mate’s corporate overlords where credit is due; although it feels like they’ve driven a stake through the heart of many a legendary line of wooden pencil, retaining the circular cross-section of the Black Warrior is a nod to its heritage as more than a “Mirado, but painted black” and I appreciate that they’re keeping some part of the Warrior’s spirit alive.
If you’re interested in some other takes on the Mirado Black Warrior, I searched around the usual suspects and found it to be thoroughly vetted by the internet’s pencil folk. The Well-Appointed Desk, Scribomechanica and Art Supply Critic all have their take on this writin’ stick up on their blogs.
The Black Warrior is a legendary pencil with a long history. The present-day Paper Mate version of it is much-maligned by those who long for the Black Warrior of old, but don’t let that put you off. I think the Mirado Black Warrior is worthy of a spot in my pencil cup any day.