Recently, I published a review of a Thai pencil made in China (the Masterart Wood 2B). So, it seemed like the natural next review would be a German pencil made in Thailand. Perfect timing, because a package of Staedtler Norica pencils just arrived in the mail!
Staedtler is known among pencil nerds for its venerable Mars Lumograph line of high-end graphite pencils. On the other end of the spectrum are products such as the Rally, marketed toward more of the general-purpose, use-it-and-lose-it crowd. The Norica seems to sit somewhere in between: a pencil geared for the typical everyday writer who wants an upgrade in quality without splurging on a fancy drawing pencil. Let’s see how well it fills that niche.
The Norica comes in a few variations — some of which I intend to get into in later reviews — but the standard HB version we’re concerned with today comes in a simple blue/silver/white scheme. The blue lacquer, which looks very similar to the blue Golden Bear paint job, is glossy with medium thickness. The brand and model names, model number, and HB/No. 2 grade are imprinted in silver foil on a single facet, while a shiny aluminum ferrule holds on a simple white eraser nub. I’m not a big fan of the imprint because I find it a bit hard to read, but I do like the overall color scheme — unique, and very Staedtleresque.
The cores of the Norica seem to be very well-centered. Out of the dozen I ordered, only one or two seemed to be noticeably off-kilter, but even those worked fine. The rest were dead-on. As far as the barrels are concerned, they all struck me as arrow-straight. I couldn’t detect any curvature whatsoever.
The wood that composes the Norica’s casing is light-colored with little or no grain. It’s slightly cream-tinged, and has a bit of a lumber-type smell to it, so I’m guessing it is not basswood. I pulled up the FSC certificate listed on the back of the package, and it looks like Staedtler’s factories — including its Thai enterprise — also have certifications for kadam and poplar. I’m going out on a limb and suggesting that it is the latter species, given the rosy aroma of the wood.
Integrity of the core seems to be pretty solid overall. I did have the very tip of the tip snap off on me one time, but other than that I haven’t experienced any issues. I found the lead to be solid and well-bonded to the casing.
The Norica actually feels pretty smooth for an HB-graded pencil. It’s definitely got a leg up on pencils like the Ticonderoga (both countries of manufacture) and the General’s Kimberly HB. It also feels a little bit more silky than one of Staedtler’s other HB pencils, the Rally. On the flip side, it’s not quite 2B-grade smooth; it doesn’t write as slick as the Blackwing 602, the Kimberly 2B, and pencils of that type. So don’t get your hopes up for something too crazy, but as far as HB pencils go it’s pretty nice.
It also lays down a fairly strong line for its grade — it’s really probably one of the darkest HB or No. 2 pencils I have on hand, but not quite as dark as any of my available 2B types. I compared it directly with several different HBs kickin’ around in my pencil cup, with the Blackwing 602 thrown in for good measure. It’s not too far off the mark for its grade, but definitely darker than average.
My first impression of the Norica’s point retention was favorable. While writing out some work notes, I found it to hold up pretty well. I did some hash mark tests on an index card, and perceived it to be slightly better than the Cedar Pointe and the Chinese Ticonderoga in terms of holding a point. It couldn’t beat the Castell 9000 HB, but no pencil ever does. It’s good to know that the darkness and smoothness doesn’t come at a big cost in terms of point retention, though.
It also seems to hold up well enough against smudging. When I deliberately smeared its mark, it left a shorter streak than both the Cedar Pointe and the Mexican Ticonderoga. In real-world usage, I haven’t noticed any smudges, fingerprints, etc. at all and it doesn’t excessively transfer from one page to the back of the previous one.
The only downside I can find, performance-wise, is that the Norica’s eraser just kind of sucks. Part of it may be that the lead is hard to erase; even the Hi-Polymer has a bit of a hard time picking up the Norica’s graphite. But the built-in nub on this pencil is mediocre at best. It has a solid but forgiving texture and doesn’t tear up paper, but it doesn’t seem to remove the mark very well either.
The Staedtler Norica HB is a big hit with me. It’s got a lot going for it: a smoother, darker core for an HB without any noticeable sacrifice in point retention and smudge-resistance. The eraser isn’t wonderful, but whatever; get a Pentel cap and don’t worry about it. They’re well-built with centered cores and straight barrels.
I paid about eight bucks US for the twelve-pack I received. This is a little steep compared to mainstream budget pencils, but that’s still under a buck a piece. Given that the quality is a notch above the typical school/office pencil, but not quite high-end, I’d say that’s a very fair and reasonable price point for what you get.
The Norica is a well-known, and well-reviewed pencil. Although their posts are a little old (a lot can happen in the world of pencils in six years, believe it or not) I’m happy that my take on the pencil is not too far off from the conclusions published on Pencil Revolution and A Penchant For Paper.
Overall, I’d say that the Norica is a winner. If you’re looking for a basic, no-frills HB general writing pencil with good quality and just a little something extra, give it a whirl!