Pencil Review: Staedtler Tradition (HB)

Germany’s Staedtler has been making pencils for a long time, and unlike many of the American brands that seem to have consolidated to one or a handful of pencil lines and variations over the decades, they’re still putting out more models of wood-cased, graphite-leaded writing instruments than you can shake a…well, a pencil at. To name a few, you’ve got the Noris, ubiquitous throughout western Europe; the high-end Mars Lumograph; the Norica, which we’ve reviewed here before; and many more, including some I probably couldn’t name off the top of my head. Sometimes it’s hard to keep the hierarchy and niche of all of them straight.

For today’s review, I dug out a box of yet another offering from the noteworthy maker of writing supplies: the Staedtler Tradition pencil, in grade HB. Made in the company’s homeland of Germany, these pencils are perhaps almost as prolific as the Noris in that part of the world and, despite looking almost identical except for the color scheme, are apparently positioned one notch above their yellow-and-black kin on the pecking order of office and school pencils. So, let’s have a look at how the Staedtler Tradition functions, and compares to its siblings!

Construction Quality

I purchased a dozen pre-sharpened Staedtler Tradition HB pencils, which came in a cardboard box that would be totally unremarkable if it weren’t for the fact that it seems a little bit too big for the pencils. I think they could probably fit 14 pencils in there. As previously mentioned, the body of these pencils is almost identical to that of the Staedtler Noris except for the fact that the colored “racing stripes” which adorn four of the six facets of the semi-hex casing are, in this case, red, while the Noris’ are yellow. In this eraserless version, the end is capped with a similar domed, dipped crown that (at least in the case of the HB graded pencils) is black with a white embellishment. The lacquer is semi-glossy and somewhat smooth, although not luxurious. Imprinted in gold foil on one facet is the “made in Germany” designation, the Staedtler logo and brand name, the name of the Tradition model (stylized with lower-case T) and the HB grade. The gold imprint is sharp but gradually fades over time, wearing down as it is held in the writer’s hand. On the opposite facet in creamy screen-print is a bar code and some other industrial nonsense.

Just a quick note: I’ve learned that Staedtler has manufactured Tradition pencils in various countries, including the UK and Australia, at least historically — see this post from Bleistift for more on that. My review today refers specifically to the German iteration, and it seems that the other versions may no longer be in production. Here’s another quick review of the Aussie version over at Pencil Talk.

While not a fine piece of art, I think the Tradition looks pretty sharp. The red and black scheme, and simple black end dip, look a little more classy than the more colorful Noris (friends over at Pen Vibe agree). I may also be biased because red is my favorite color. But regardless, the stripes are a nice aesthetic departure from the standard solid yellow that those of us in the States are more familiar with. It is also very similar in appearance to some of the Asian pencils I’ve reviewed, like the Nataraj Bold and the Chung Hwa 6151.

The dozen pencils came pre-sharpened and, as far as pre-sharpened pencils go, the points aren’t bad. They’re not short and stubby like some pre-sharpened pencils are, and all of the tips happen to be intact.

Evaluating how well centered the cores are in pre-sharpened pencils is something that I always find to be a little bit tricky, but as far as I can tell they’re all pretty well oriented. Maybe a few of them are off by a smidge. I pushed each of them around my desk a bit, and none of them seemed to roll with a wobble or show any significant gaps of light beneath them. Overall, I’d say that the core centering and barrel straightness of the Tradition is very good.

Assuming that people don’t just throw their pencils away the first time the lead goes dull, I went ahead — despite the pre-sharpened ends — and tried re-sharpening the Tradition to see how it worked out. I first used my M+R three-hole sharpener to shape the point and found it to be a reasonably good experience. The wood, which is evidently cedar (I say “evidently” because it sure looks like it, but I’m no tree expert, and it doesn’t have that smell), sharpened adequately although it did feel slightly brittle and resistant and ended up slightly rough around the collar. The lead was easily carved to a needle-shaped point. Sharpening with my helical blade crank sharpener was a similar experience: a little more resistance than I would have liked, but it yielded a smooth collar and a nice long point without too much work.

After grinding a whole Tradition pencil down to a stub, I noted that I did not have any issues with broken tips or leads coming loose from the casing. At this point, I’d make the general observation that Staedtler pencils tend to have pretty good core strength and bonding, especially their German-made models.

Performance

After examining the pencil’s construction, I began the real test: writing with it. Off the bat, I really liked the way it felt to write with the Staedtler Tradition HB and the way my handwriting turned out. Notably, it seemed to write more smoothly than I expected. I actually spent a lot of time writing in my journal during this review period, and I enjoyed scrawling out several pages with the Tradition.

As far as the more objective tests go, I started by evaluating the grade of the lead darkness against other common No. 2 or HB pencils. I wrote some lines of text with the Tradition, as well as some commonplace pencils like the USA Gold, the Chinese Ticonderoga No. 2, and the General’s Supreme No. 2. To my eye, I really can’t tell much of a difference between the three. Although this might make it a little dark by comparison to other European pencil-makers and what they would consider HB, it is right in the mainstream as far as what we in North America might expect (and probably a little light if you compared it to Japanese HB pencils). In a nutshell, the Staedtler Tradition HB leaves a mark that looks like a pretty standard No. 2 pencil.

While comparing it to these other HB pencils, though, I noticed that the Tradition again felt notably smoother. I switched back and forth a few times and confirmed that, indeed, the Tradition writes with a little more of a silky touch than other HBs. That finding provoked me to dig around in my pencil bag for something else that might be an interesting comparison point, and I produced a Kita-Boshi 9500 in HB. The comparison is pretty remarkable. Even though the line darkness of the HB-graded Tradition is similar to its peers in the No. 2 range, it feels a lot like writing with a pencil from Japan, a country noted for their smooth and luxurious pencil leads.

The feeling of the core is consistent throughout the length of the pencil, and I didn’t run into any sporadic bits of hardness or other perceptible flaws.

The typical downside to a smoother pencil is that they tend to wear faster due to having a softer lead. That’s another vibe that I got from the Tradition HB early on in my evaluation, and that perception seemed to hold up during my comparisons. I did some testing by writing multiple lines with the Tradition, and then with the General’s Supreme, just to get a feel for how fast the two of them went “dull” (not exactly an objective measure, but I tried not to be biased). I got the impression that the Tradition could use a sharpening a little more often than the typical HB. It’s not terrible; while writing work notes, I can fill about one page of a composition notebook without feeling the urge to resharpen. But, it’s just a little less durable than its most comparable competitors.

I don’t seem to recall feeling like the Tradition’s markings were particularly messy or smudge-prone during my time using it in the wild. When I did an intentional smudge test against a few other HB pencils I had rattling around in my pencil bag, I was pleased to find out that it performed well at resisting smears versus the Cedar Point #2, Moon Bare Wood, and Chinese Ticonderoga No. 2.

Finally, although this version of the Staedtler Trad didn’t come with an eraser (there is a less-prolific variant which does have one), I wanted to see if the core responded well to some typical erasers that writers might have handy. Early on in my review phase, I stuck a pink PaperMate Arrowhead eraser on the end. The barrel of the pencil held the cap eraser on tightly and I was satisfied with the lead’s willingness to get picked up by the rubber. I did a quick, but more deliberate test in a Field Notes and found that this holds true. Of course, I also found that a Pentel Hi-Polymer block eraser will get rid of the Tradition’s markings even better, but this isn’t an eraser review. The point is, the Tradition’s HB lead responds just fine to erasing.

Conclusions

Overall, the Staedtler Tradition HB is a good, utilitarian pencil with a little bit of a nice edge. Although the grade of HB seems pretty accurate, it writes more smoothly than its peers in that category. Of course, the tradeoff is that it doesn’t hold its point quite as long. That isn’t a big deal for me because I’m never far from a pencil sharpener, but for those of you who don’t have as extensive a collection of stationery and associated paraphenalia, it might be relevant.

Now, let’s talk about how it compares to some of the other common Staedtler pencils, or at least one of them in particular. I’ve given the Staedtler Tradition HB the benefit of the doubt this whole time, and tried not to bias my findings toward this preconceived notion once it appeared that the results might be headed in this direction, but: this review is sounding a whole lot like one I wrote for the Staedtler Noris HB back in 2020. Is there really any difference between the two, other than the paint scheme? And is it enough to justify the small price jump from the Noris to the Tradition? If I were Bob Seger — e.g. a Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man — I’d bet that the cores are the same exact formula, made on the same (or identical) production lines. The wood might be different. I actually like the Noris’ casings better, but I know that I’m an odd duck and that most pencil nerds will pay more for Real Cedar (if the Tradition is indeed cedar, like I think it is). Then there’s the fact that the Tradition might look a little more “mature” than the Noris, so people with jobs and, thus, paychecks might be willing to pay a little more for pencils than schoolchildren. Or, the parents of school children who know not to splurge on nicer pencils for their kids since they will probably just get lost, chewed on, or stuck in a ceiling tile.

I guess the choice is yours: spend a few pence, Euro cents, or whatever for the more adult-looking and (probably) cedar-cased Tradition. Or, pinch some pennies and get the Noris.

Either way, you’re going to get a pretty good pencil for your money. The Tradition, just like its sibling the Noris, is a solid offering from one of the world’s most estimable pencil-makers. Is it the most luxurious high-end graphite writing implement ever made? No. But it’s great for school or office work, and writes just a little bit better than the typical pencil in that category.

One thought on “Pencil Review: Staedtler Tradition (HB)

  1. Kevin October 7, 2021 / 8:47 pm

    thanks, jesse..great review. The Tradition is sold much more widely in Australia than the Noris. I find the Tradition is a better pencil than the Noris…the Noris has more drag on the paper and only comes in a few grades, 2H to 2B, whereas the Tradition goes up to 6B on the soft side of the range. Probably my overall assessment is slightly higher than yours and is barely below the Staedtler Lumograph 100, at less than a 1/3 of the price here in Australia. A true bargain.

    Like

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