Pencil Review: Alpino Junior (HB)

Having thawed out on the Mediterranean for a bit, I’ve returned to the Great White North and my desktop computer where I can properly review pencils and blog about them. Thankfully, I also came back with a couple fists full of fresh pencils to review! Today, I’d like to dip into my Spanish pencil haul to have a look at a model I’d never heard of until about a week ago: the Alpino Junior.

I have to confess that until I found this pencil, I was still trying to figure out if any pencils are actually made in Spain. Thankfully a chaotic little papeleria in Madrid settled things for me when I stumbled upon the Junior in both dipped-end and eraser-tipped format, the latter of which clearly bears the name of its homeland. I think it’s very fitting that, upon return from my Spanish vacation, I should resume my pencil review duties with a look at the Alpino Junior, a pencil that’s actually from Spain.

Construction Quality

The Alpino Junior is an HB writing pencil that comes in a semi-hex casing. The corners of the hexagon feel a little sharper than most semi-hex pencils, but not quite Musgrave-esque. The pencil casings are encased in a dark blue lacquer with a white imprint, featuring that staple of European classroom pencils: the space to write your name, so you know which little shit classmate swiped yours. The lacquer seems to be pretty solid; it stood up to the teeth of my hand-crank sharpeners and all manner of other abuses without chipping. The imprint paint seems to be a little thinner and more prone to wearing off, though. The dipped version features a red tip, giving off a bit of a ‘Murica vibe that I am surprised more U.S. pencils don’t emulate. The eraser-tipped version features a simple ribbed aluminum “tin can” ferrule holding on a basic white eraser nub.

There are some slight variations between the version with an eraser, and the end-dipped version (besides the obvious). The Juniors with erasers have a slightly lighter color of blue; the dipped ones are a little deeper navy. The dipped versions also do not bear the “Spain” designation, nor the Alpino logo or brand. Further, the Junior logo on the dipped versions looks a little more, well, junior-ish whereas the eraser version seems a bit more serious and mature. I suppose that the eraser-tipped version could be a more adult, office-oriented model whereas the dipped one might be made to appeal more to school children. I find it more likely, however, that I just picked up models from before and after a subtle production change. Given the fantastical state of the shop I found them in, it wouldn’t surprise me if there were old stock mixed in with the new!

Pushing the Junior across my desk, I could detect very little warpage or misalignment in the five examples I brought home. One or two of them had a very mild bow; the rest seemed perfectly straight. Four of the five cores are centered pretty much dead-on. One is a little bit off kilter, but not enough to fuss about. Overall, these pencils seem to be put together really well.

Sharpening test — how well does it sharpen? What type of wood is the casing? Interestingly, it looks like the two variations I picked up might also be made of two different types of wood. Both are relatively light in color, and show very faint grain lines. Obviously, neither is cedar. The dipped version looks like it might be white fir or some similar species. The eraser-tipped version, though, is slightly pink tinged. It could be the same species but simply stained by something in the soil where the trees of that batch were planted.

Or it could be some type of Spanish wood that I’m not familiar with. So I did a little research on what types of trees are found in Spain. Apparently pine, oak and beech are the main source of commercial lumber in the country, although I feel like a pine or oak pencil would be less likely (and more obvious). That leaves beech as a candidate. Based on its description on The Wood Database, I think it might fit the bill: beech is workable, making it potential good for pencils. Most importantly, it “is typically a pale cream color, sometimes with a pink or brown hue.” Therefore, I’d say it’s not outside of the realm of possibility that the Alpino Junior pencil is made of Beech — the only pencil I’m aware of so far that uses that wood. Or, maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it’s some weird imported Asian wood I don’t even know about. But it’s fun to speculate.

Two paragraphs of amateur botany notwithstanding, the important thing is that this wood sharpens well enough with a hand blade. The shavings gave way consistently without much resistance and yielded almost perfect ribbons. The pinkish wood of the eraser-tipped version did finish a little splintery and rough on a small patch of the collar, but not bad.

From beginning to end, the core proved to be solid. I didn’t experience any tip breakage or poorly-bonded segments of graphite. The Junior’s core is well-made and secure.

Performance

The Alpino Junior had me sold from the get-go. It feels like a good HB pencil but writes a little better, in my opinion.

The shade of the Junior’s mark seemed at first glance to be slightly darker than its HB grade suggests. Subsequent comparisons showed that it’s a fairly dark HB pencil, but still within the bounds of that classification. It writes a little darker than the General’s Supreme No. 2, and about the same as the Musgrave Ceres No. 2. It’s definitely also a little darker than the Castell 9000 in HB grade. It’s definitely reasonable to call the Junior an HB/No. 2 pencil, but within that subset it stands out relatively strong on the page.

While not the smoothest pencil in the world, it’s also pretty decent for an HB. I felt less abrasion with the Junior than with the General’s Supreme, Mirado Classic, and others on the scratchier end of the No. 2 spectrum. It felt pretty similar to the Chinese Ticonderoga (e.g. the good one), but didn’t have the silkiness of the typical, softer 2B.

The point retention of the Junior seems pretty good. It doesn’t feel like the type of pencil that can go on and on forever, but I can scrawl out at least one full page in a composition notebook, so it’s definitely adequate. In a side-by-side comparison, I thought the writing tip held up similarly to the Cedar Pointe No. 2, which is solid. The mark on the page holds up pretty well also; I didn’t notice many hand-induced smears on the page, and when testing smudginess intentionally it seemed to perform about the same as other HB pencils.

There has to be some downside, right? Well, in this case, it’s the eraser. The first thing I noticed is that the ferrule isn’t especially well-fit or securely crimped to either the nub itself or the pencil barrel, so the whole thing is kind of loosey goosey. The white eraser tip does an okay job of erasing marks, but it leaves a lot of dust behind, as well as a little bit of smudged graphite that it seems to just smear around the page instead of picking up. It’s not awful, but I’d say it performs slightly below average. Combined with the fact that the mediocre eraser feels like it’s going to fly off at any moment when in use, it’s an experience I’d prefer to just avoid.

Conclusions

The Alpino Junior is the type of pencil that I will gladly use for any writing purpose, from beginning to end. It is well-constructed and seems to have all of the upsides of an HB pencil with the advantage of writing slightly darker. The only downsides seem to be the eraser (on the tipped version), and the fact that it looks kind of juvenile (literally calling itself “Junior”). I poked around on the Apino website and, unfortunately, it doesn’t look like they make a wood-cased pencil that is more grown-up. Oh well. I’ll throw a Hi-Polymer cap on them and try not to take them into any power meetings.

Making a price-point reference is a little challenging since I’ve only seen these pencils for sale in one location, which was a mom and pop shop. But for what it’s worth these were the cheapest pencils in the joint — cheap enough that I decided to buy a few extra because, “why not?” I’m glad I did!

The Junior is a good all-around pencil, and it’s cool that it’s actually made in Spain. Outside of that country — or even within it — they seem to be a little hard to get one’s hands on. So, if you happen to come across them, don’t hesitate to pick up a few. If you’re ever in the market for a good, all-purpose writing pencil, I think you’ll like them.

2 thoughts on “Pencil Review: Alpino Junior (HB)

  1. David J. Santos November 28, 2019 / 10:45 am

    Great and complete review, Jesse. There is a nice post in the pencilvania blog on the Masat family from Catalonia. They were in the pencil business for a long time; the Junior pencils were made initially by them. I think they sold the business, but the new owners still produce the Junior pencils from Barcelona. There is an interesting picture on this post (http://pencilvaniablog.blogspot.com/2013/03/lapices-masats-una-sardana-de-gran.html) showing the evolution of the Junior.

    Like

    • Raúl December 19, 2019 / 11:48 am

      Estimado amante de los lápices. Desde España es curioso leer sobre un lápiz tan conocido por aquí desde hace muchos años. Desgraciadamente Alpino desde hace diez años por lo menos que cerró su fábrica en Cataluña. Actualmente son hechos en China y por tanto lamentablemente tampoco son de haya. Todavía puedes encontrar algún Alpino catalán en alguna perdida papelería de barrio o de pueblo. En tu próxima visita a la Península Ibérica, prueba a comprar lapices Milan.
      Agradecido por tan jugosas lecturas de tu blog.

      Like

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