Howdy, folks! Guess what? I’m not dead. I just kind of turned into a potato thanks, in part, to COVID. After falling off of my routine over the past year or so, I’m trying to get my butt back in gear — including blogging. So, I figure, what better way to pick it back up than to jump right in by finishing a review that’s been a long time in the making?
It seems like only yesterday that it was back to school time here in Alaska, whether that be literally going to a school or studying from home. Back to school means one thing — inexpensive school supplies, including pencils, everywhere — so I jumped on the chance back then and picked up some new review fodder. I’ve already reviewed some of the more common “schoolhouse” pencils out there, such as several iterations of the Dixon Ticonderoga, the Staedtler Noris that is the standard in Europe, and a few others. Today I want to review a pencil from a company whose products are perhaps as universally-used as either of those, but much lesser known: J. R. Moon.
I’m not a complete stranger to Moon pencils; in fact, I wrote a review of their Try-Rex some time ago. It would seem that the bulk of their sales, though, originate from elementary school teachers who buy the company’s colorful, cheery motivational pencils. Thus far I haven’t felt inclined to review their “Fifth Graders are No. 1!” model, or one of the numerous other similar options, so I haven’t written a whole lot about the company’s offerings. However, I recently picked up a fresh dozen of the pencil maker’s entry into the nudist pencil category — Moon’s Bare Wood. Here’s my take on it…
The Bare Wood is — spoiler alert — made of bare wood. That in itself is no big surprise, but it’s actually a little remarkable just how bare these pencils are. In addition to lacking any sort of transparent lacquer, they also have absolutely no imprint or markings of any kind. It’s just a graphite core encased in a semi-hex wood stick, with a simple brassy ferrule holding a pink eraser to one end. It doesn’t get much more “stripped down” than this.
I’m not sure if I’m just noticing it because of the complete nudity of these pencils, or if it has something to do with Moon’s production processes or wood sourcing, but the wood grain on the barrels of these pencils immediately popped out at me. There are a lot of variations in the grain size, shape, and orientation that makes each individual pencil unique. Yes, I know that these are not supposed to be pieces of art; these are inexpensive pencils from a budget-minded manufacturer, and the lack of bells and whistles was probably driven more by frugality than by aesthetics. Nonetheless, I think they’re beautiful and love that there is nothing to distract from that.
Grasping the dozen in my fist and examining the unsharpened ends. I was also surprised at how uniformly centered the cores seem to be. I could spot maybe one or two that were off-axis by a smidge, but nothing to get antsy about. Most of them looked pretty much perfect. A gentle push was all it took to send each one rolling across the desk. Most of them had a slight wobble but overall the barrels are as straight as could be reasonably expected. I definitely can’t discern any sort of curvature by eye or feeling.
I chose a specimen to be my test subject, and prepared the tip with a trusty M+R hand sharpener. The wood seemed a little bit dry and brittle, but overall it was soft and facilitated smooth sharpening. Sadly, though, the first time I sharpened one of these pencils up by hand, a chunk of core snapped off and got wedged in the sharpener. Even the finest pencils have this sort of failure sometimes, and I was impressed with the quality of Moon’s pencil so far, so I continued with my review hoping that this would not be the start of a pattern. Anyway, I went ahead and gave it a crank in my mechanical helix sharpener, which resulted in a tip that was as perfect as could be. The teeth of the sharpener sure seemed to bite deeply into the soft wood of the barrel, though.
Fortunately, I didn’t have any other issues with the cores separating or snapping off — and I’ve definitely put this pencil through its paces, moreso than probably any other I’ve reviewed. I’d say that’s not an issue with this pencil outside of the rare occasion.
Similar to the Try-Rex, the exact wood species is hard to discern. The reddish color and the distinctive grain would seem to indicate classic cedar, but these pencils don’t have that tell-tale aroma that cedar pencils usually do. However, it seems to have all of the other characteristics of cedar, and upon a little more internet sleuthing I found that the gross case for sale on Amazon indeed specifies “natural cedar” as the source of the slats. So, there you have it. I’d assume that’s the case for the Try-Rex as well.
The Moon Bare Wood made a favorable first impression with me when I put the pencil to paper and began my writing tests. With a freshly-sharpened point on an Ampad Gold Fibre pad, my handwriting looked great, which always scores big points with me.
Although it isn’t written anywhere on the pencil, the packaging indicates that the Bare Wood is intended to be a No. 2 pencil, so I started comparing it to a sampling of HB pencils. It was certainly darker than the Mexican Ticonderoga, and probably a bit darker than the Mitsubishi 9000. It seemed to also lay down a bit of a bolder line, leaving more graphite on the page. I did another comparison with the Cedar Pointe No. 2 and the Viking Skoleblyanten, and again, it seemed similar but perhaps a wee bit darker. The Bare Wood is, I’d say, a strong-marking HB.
In terms of smoothness, it feels pretty good on the page, too. My initial impression was that it was smoother than the No. 2 Cedar Pointe, and actually about equivalent to the Mitsubishi 9000 HB. That’s a pretty remarkable comparison, given that I find Mitsubishi pencils to be smoother than average for their grade. I have to caveat that by saying that the Moon core isn’t made of some magical formula; it definitely has some feedback to it. If you put it up against something in a 2B grade, or something silky like the Blackwing Pearl, you could probably tell which one is the No. 2 blindfolded. Anyway, I’ve kind of taken a liking to a little bit of a tactile feel to my pencils, and although it does write with a little friction it doesn’t feel scratchy or gritty.
Not surprisingly, given the above, I do perceive the No. 2 core of the Moon pencil to be a little soft in terms of point retention. As I jotted down some work notes in a composition book, or worked on a to-do list on my notepad, it struck me that I was feeling the urge to re-sharpen more than I’d expect.
At this point I’m realizing that my conclusions about the core are sounding pretty consistent with those I came up with for the Try-Rex, which makes sense: they are both Moon-made HB pencils, so they probably have the same core. Of course, I had to do my due diligence to verify rather than just assuming, but there’s no need to recreate the wheel here. If you want to see how I put this same core to the test in greater detail, feel free to check out my Try-Rex review.
I’m also sticking with my story about the eraser; I was a little bit let down with the erasing performance of this pencil. That said, I came to the conclusion previously that the actual core of the Moon pencil, rather than the eraser, was to blame, so I’m thinking that’s probably the same case here. Either way, keep a good plastic block eraser if you’re doing anything critical. At least the eraser isn’t too messy.
I originally started writing this review several months ago, and since then I’ve burned through several Moon Bare Wood pencils. I have to say, they’ve definitely become one of my go-to writing implements since then.
I love the totally bare, stripped-down, natural look of a “naked” pencil. With no imprint whatsoever, this thing is as nude as it gets. The core really hits that sweet spot for me where it’s just a little bit darker than the typical No. 2, but not as soft as something like a 2B. The only thing I don’t really like about it is the eraser and/or the eraseability of the core. As a result, I skipped the Bare Wood on the few occasions I did any sketch work or artistic lettering. It’s good enough for a “daily driver” pencil, though.
What about the price? These bad boys are on Amazon right now at about $30 for a gross. That’s 21 cents per pencil. If you don’t think you need 144 of them, you can pick up a dozen for under $7. Okay, so not the cheapest out there, but that’s pretty typical for a budget “schoolhouse” pencil. And they’re definitely one of the better ones out there.
Well, what can I say? I dig it. The Moon Bare Wood pencil is a great budget pencil and a pretty damn good pencil overall. You might think they’re bottom-shelf pencils since the company didn’t even bother to put their name on them, but you’d be totally wrong. I often find myself pushing nicer-looking companions in my pencil cup aside to find one of these.