Of all the pencils I’ve ordered from China, the Deli brand somehow stands out to me. Perhaps its the sheer volume of different lines they have, or their success in luring me in with branding and aesthetics, but I’d say something about the company also indicates a quality product. Sad to say, and despite the numerous examples I have practically exploding from my to-review drawer, I’ve only actually reviewed one of their pencils (the S905) since I was turned on to them! And that’s hardly enough of a sample size to make an argument with any merit about quality.
So today, that’s going to change. One box of pencils I’ve been sitting on (not literally, ouch) for quite some time is the tri-barreled Deli 37106 in HB grade, which appears to be among a new line of pencils that the Chinese manufacturer began putting out at some point in the last year or so. So here, without further delay, are my notes from my latest pencil experiment.
Deli’s 37016 is a fine-looking pencil. The wooden casing is cut into a rounded triangular shape with beveled corners; the same “ergonomic triangle” form factor as the previously-reviewed S905. However, this Deli HB features several aesthetic upgrades over the previously-reviewed version. The base of the lacquer is a fairly smooth, matte, dark gray finish with a fluorescent orange stripe running down the length of each beveled corner. Two of the three main facets are labelled with a mirrored silver foil imprint; the main facet looks quite precise and clean. The fine lines of the other silver imprint, and the screen-printed white barcode on the final side, don’t seem to be quite as impeccable, but are still OK. The other defining feature of this model is a very elegant, smooth, and well-applied domed end-dip in black. I find the orange stripes to be a little loud, but other than that it is a very nice-looking pencil.
The lacquer does a pretty good job of withstanding the crunch of crank-sharpener jaws (perhaps aided by the firmness of the wood); it doesn’t tend to chip off where it’s gripped by the sharpener, nor is it susceptible to as much indention as most. Overall, I think Deli’s latest offerings show a good attention to detail in the finishing, and I think this model is a good example of that.
The wood casing has kind of a pinkish, rusty red hue to it that I can’t recall seeing in any other pencil. It doesn’t have a conspicuous grain structure, nor is it visibly porous like some Asian woods. This would make identifying the species by eye difficult, although (thankfully) the box clearly indicates that it is “high-quality soften [sic] basswood”. I wonder if the wood is intentionally dyed, or perhaps naturally absorbed some sort of mineral during growth, but I suppose that’s not super relevant to this discussion.
Whatever the origin of the unusual wood, it’s more or less straight. A few of the 37016 specimens of the dozen in the box were as straight as an arrow; the rest were slightly less than perfect, but none of them were bad. The wood also lends itself quite nicely to sharpening (as most basswood pencils tend to do). I was a little bit skeptical because — “soften[ed]” claim notwithstanding — the casing material felt a little hard when I pressed into it with my thumbnail, or clamped down on it with a mechanical sharpener. But it sure peeled off smoothly! The HB 37016’s shavings just melted away in a consistent ribbon and left an almost perfectly smooth, nearly chip- and splinter-free collar.
The dipped ends and the pre-sharpened triangular points made it a little hard to judge the centeredness of the cores. I could tell that centering of these Deli pencils did not tend to be right on the money, but I didn’t see any that were comically off. I picked a couple of the worst ones out of the bunch and, when sharpened with an actual sharpener (not whatever heavy machinery they use in the Deli factory) they seemed fine. I wouldn’t worry too much about the cores being wonky.
I had no problems, whatsoever, in keeping the core intact. There were no broken tips, and the lead stayed attached to the wood. The bonding and strength of the HB core were as good as could be expected.
In a nutshell: this is an HB pencil if I’ve ever written with one. I could tell right off the bat that this was going to be pretty standard fare.
The box advertises “intense black graphite”, but I did not find the line left by this Deli pencil to be remarkable for an HB pencil. It’s actually hard to distinguish the writing from this pencil from any of the other HB or No. 2 pencils I compared it to — both in everyday note taking, and in deliberate swatch and written-line comparisons — which is a pretty good indicator that it sits right smack dab in the middle of the HB spectrum. So, kudos to Deli for accurately grading their pencil on the HB scale, but “intense black” isn’t exactly a descriptor I’d use for a middle-of-the-road HB.
The 37016 also writes with a fairly substantial scratch. It’s perhaps one of the rougher HB pencils I’ve used, I’d guess. It’s not as smooth as the Norica or the No. 2 Ticonderoga (the one which is also made in China). It’s about the same as the Mirado Classic, and the General’s Supreme — pencils that I feel are pretty rough. It’s not exceptionally abrasive for an HB, but it’s definitely on the scratchier end of that spectrum. I also noted some sadly distinct inclusions within the core. While not the worst I’ve experienced in terms of either frequency or hardness, there was still enough of an occasional snag that it would be remiss of me if I didn’t mention it.
I think the point retention is the area where this pencil really stands out. As I went about my business, taking work notes with the 37016, I found myself thinking something along the lines of: “have I sharpened this pencil at all this morning?” I can get about a whole leaf of comp book paper (front and back) out of a single sharpen — and yes, I’ve been working on this review for quite some time, since it writes for a while before I need to fresh the point up and consume more pencil. More “scientific” head to head testing confirmed my anecdotal evidence. I don’t mean to go overboard with it — this pencil doesn’t have phenomenal stamina or anything — but it’s really pretty durable.
I did quite a bit of long-form handwriting with this pencil, on various papers, and found that it isn’t exactly immune to smudging. Weird smears and fingerprints popped up more often than I would usually expect. When doing controlled, head-to-head smear tests, it streaked a little bit longer than other No. 2 pencils in my arsenal against which I tested it. I’d conclude that this is probably not the best pencil for lefties, or for pages that will be handled often.
When a pencil lacks an eraser of its own, I always at least double-check to see how well an eraser cap fits. 99% of the time it’s fine. In this case, though, it’s a little bit problematic. I don’t know if it’s due to the triangular barrel, the dome of the end-dip, or some other factor, but Pentel Hi-Polymer caps seem to want to wiggle loose if you get carried away with erasing. Caps that tend to fit a little more snugly — such as the Helix and Arrowhead erasers — work just fine, though.
Among those three eraser caps, it appears that the pink Arrowhead actually does the best job of handling the Deli 37016, which is remarkable since I found the Hi-Polymer to be the best performer during my previous shootout post. Actually, the Helix and Hi-Polymer cap only performed about on par with the Pink Pearl eraser, which is kind of the bottom bookend for acceptability. As expected, the Hi-Polymer block did the best job of erasing it, but didn’t completely wipe out the mark. I’d say that this pencil is a little tough to erase (and the results will depend heavily on which eraser you use).
Like most pencils, the Deli 37016 HB has its ups and downs. Despite being marketed as having an “intense” black lead, the core writes like a middle-of-the-road No. 2 pencil, and feels like it’s on the scratchier end of that spectrum. If smoothness or darkness are what you seek, you won’t find them here. What you will find is a pencil that is well-built, sharpens easily, and stays sharp longer.
Out of curiosity, I fished one of the Deli S905s out of my stockpile of already-reviewed pencils. It seems intuitive to me that the two models could be essentially the same pencil in different dress; although looking back at my earlier review, I did draw different conclusions. I still find the S905 to be much smoother than the 37016, but the line darkness is practically identical. I could only speculate about why that might be, but it’s interesting nonetheless.
While it has nothing to do with the quality of the pencil, I do want to comment on something I’ve noticed about Deli pencils (and many Chinese pencils in general): it drives me crazy that they don’t give them a name! It’s just a little weird writing an article about “the 37016”. They should really call it something. They could name it Zhou Enlai’s Instrument of Proletarian Penmanship if they wanted; that would feel slightly less awkward than a five-digit code.
I’m not over the moon about the Deli 37106, but it’s not too shabby. Blackwing lovers will probably pan it for its scratchiness and the mundane hue of its mark, but those who tend toward harder pencils will appreciate its longevity. I think everyone will be satisfied with the build quality of this pencil. If you love a good ol’, middle-of-the-road HB pencil, but want one that’s more ergonomic, sexy, or just well-built, give a box of these a try.