I’m back! I’ve returned to the Great White North after a week-plus stint on the Gulf Coast to try and thaw out a little bit, as well as a little bit of a grad-school-induced hiatus from blogging. Anyway, a lack of money and time on my part, combined with an apparent lack of interested in the woodclinched graphite writing instrument on the part of the fine folks of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida panhandle, resulted in a net gain of negative-one pencils on this trip. The good news is that I still have a huge backlog on hand to review, including some from last fall’s trip to Spain. Today I decided to break into that stash and sharpen up one of my European finds: the Lyra Robinson, in this case with a 2B-graded core.
Lyra, as you may recall, is a German pencil-maker that produces numerous lines of writing implements, including the previously-reviewed Groove Slim. Their graphite pencils are a little bit hard to come by here in the States — I imagine that being a FILA affiliate, their parent company isn’t trying to steal market share from Dixon Ticonderoga. That makes testing out one of their products a rare treat for me, so today I’m going to jump right in to it. Here we go!
The yellow, general-purpose “No. 2” pencil is an American staple. Ask someone who grew up in the States to describe a pencil, and they’ll probably say it has a yellow barrel and a pink eraser. It’s a safer thing to bet your life on than a game of Russian roulette, anyway. As much as we try to brag about how good we are at innovation, we Americans also tend to love it when all of the choices available to us are exactly the same. One time my ex-wife and I flew from Anchorage to Miami for vacation. What did we eat for lunch when we got there? Subway. We traveled across four time zones to experience something identical to what we’d have back home. That’s the American way. Pencils are no different. They’re supposed to be yellow. Everyone knows that.
Other countries, such as Japan, aren’t as stuck in a rut about this stuff as we are here in the States. They’ve got all of these wacky colors like red and green. Japanese pencils tend to be pretty good, and Tombow is a particular favorite of mine, but I can imagine the considerable anxiety and distress many of my fellow Americans might feel if I suggested they give something like the 8900 a try. Thankfully, Tombow has the solution to that problem: model number 2558. This yellow, general-purpose, everyday writing pencil comes in three grades (H, HB, and B) but only one color of lacquer — yellow! — and even has a pink eraser nub attached to the end. Just like we like it. So, I grabbed a few HB and B models (sorry, hard pencil lovers, I haven’t reviewed the H version…yet!) to see how the Japanese take on our favorite pencil scheme stands up.
The first thing I did when I rolled into the office this Monday was pick out a new pencil to test. I poked around a little bit through my cheap big-box pencils. I picked up a few Japanese ones. Then, it occurred to me…it’s been a little bit since I’ve tried out a pencil from India. Ah! We have a winner: the DOMS X1.
This ungraded pencil has been sitting in my stash for a while. Somehow I accidentally ordered two boxes, so not only will this review satisfy any readers particularly interested in pencils from India, but it will also clear two boxes out of the to-review drawer (which has actually overflowed onto the top of my desk and could probably occupy two drawers now). It’s a win-win. So, without further ado, let’s find out of the DOMS X1 itself is a win…
Imagine my surprise when I fired up the old WordPress dashboard this morning to find my review of the Musgrave News, a pencil that I kind of pooh-poohed, became the most-viewed post on this blog almost overnight. That’s actually appropriate, because the whole reason I went there was to post a little bit more about my experiences with that particular pencil. In the review I panned the News for the purposes of writing, but conceded that it may have niche purposes that I haven’t found.
Well, I think I found one: carpenter pencil. As it turns out, these guys are great for use when marking measurements and cut lines on lumber, sheetrock, and other building materials.
It makes a nice, dark mark which is easy to find when you go to make your cut. I use a lot of lumber which I reclaim from other things I demolish around the house and yard, and the wood is often weathered and gray — the perfect camouflage for hard-leaded pencil marks. Not with the Musgrave News! Its rich, black graphite really stands out, which saves me a lot of time and frustration when I don’t have to scour the length of an 8-foot board to find my mark.
The fact that the lead is soft doesn’t seem to matter, because all pencils lose their point fast in this line of work. In fact, the soft lead might even be a plus: other, more brittle pencil tips often snap off when marking on things like wood, but the News doesn’t.
I reckon I’ll be putting my box of Musgrave News pencils out in the tool shed!
Thailand, I discovered, is a great place to be if you’re a pencil dork. Things there generally run a little cheaper than they do in the west, which is always nice. The state of the Thai retail economy is such that the distribution of goods generally seems to flow through market vendors and Mom & Pop shops moreso than big box stores. I also perceived there to be a greater appreciation for stationery-type items, and learned that there are several pencil factories in Thailand which make products for both the domestic and export (to them) markets. All of this combined means that a leisurely stroll down a shop-lined street will often result in stumbling upon a small, dusty stationery shop stocked with a variety of hitherto unknown pencils, all to be had for just a few Baht.
Case in point: the twelve-pack of Masterart Blacklead Wood 2B pencils I picked up in Bangkok for 30 Baht (less than $1, USD). Made by DHA Siamwalla — the same company that makes the Elephant — these are Thai pencils made for Thai writers. I’ve had them stashed in my drawer for over six months, waiting for the right moment to give them a whirl. Today, I’m excited to share my findings with you.
I have a confession to make: I have been starting to feel like all pencils are pretty much the same. Sure, there are minor differences to most of them, and some of them deviate from the mean significantly; but it’s definitely been a while since I saw something that was was really, surprisingly different.
And then I met this little guy: The Musgrave News 600 pencil. The Musgrave website alluded to the fact that this ungraded pencil writes a bit different than the rest of their products, even going so far as to say that it is “very soft”. But I wasn’t at all prepared for what was in store for me when I finally got around to giving it a whirl!
I’m going to come right out and say it: I’m a little burnt out on reading about a certain pencil from a certain company that sells its products for two bucks a pop and periodically releases special editions that send the pencil nerdosphere into a Beanie Baby level craze. So for this week’s review, I’m going to go in a completely different direction. Something cheap. Something Made in China. Something nobody is buzzing about. And yet, something reminiscent (in some ways) of the aforementioned, unnamed company’s flagship offering. I’m talking about the Marco Grip-Rite 2B (model 9002).
A product of Axus Stationery in Shanghai, the Marco brand is most well known in the west due to a strong following for their affordable colored pencils. Their Raffine and Renoir colored sets have a positive reputation among artists. However, Marco is no slouch when it comes to the graphite game. They produce several lines of graphite writing pencils, and today we’re going to zero in on one that looked particularly enticing when I recently dug through my to-review drawer: the Grip-Rite 9002 in a 2B core.
Japanese pencils: most pencil snobs think they’re awesome. I mean, even the Blackwing pencils (everyone’s favorite) are made in Japan. And among the various Japanese pencil-makers, Mitsubishi — maker of the 9800 and the very fancy, highly-fawned-over Hi-Uni — has a reputation for making a very, very nice pencil.
Mitsubishi Pencils aren’t just for pretentious Americans, though. In Japan, their product lines reach all the way down to the everyday pencil-pusher (like me!) and even the elementary school desk, where kids grapple with writing for the first time. That’s where you’ll find pencils like the 4563. Does Mitsubishi’s quality trickle down with it? I got my hands on a box of the 2B grade pencils to find out.
Today’s review is going to get a little weird, because it’s going to involve two pencils. But, actually, maybe just one. Clear as mud? I’m talking about the “No. 2/HB” store brand pencil(s) from Walmart. One is a “throwback” thrift-store find from the Casemate brand; the other is current-production material of the Pen+Gear make.
Why review them both simultaneously? In order to answer that, a little backstory is necessary. A few years back, Walmart’s Casemate brand started putting out cheap “no-name” yellow pencils that were made in India. Rumor on the internet was that these pencils were actually made by Hindustan Pencil Co., maker of the Nataraj Bold pencil (which I really like). At some point Walmart dropped the “Casemate” label in favor of “Pen+Gear”, and — rumor also has it — started to source their store-brand pencils from another manufacturer. Rumor also has it that they kinda went to hell at this point. Well, I happened to come upon both old and new models of their pencils and noticed that they are almost identical with only minor changes. So, what’s going on here? Are they the same pencil with different branding? Are they different pencils? And, most importantly…are they any good?
In February of this year, my partner and I took our first ever trip to Thailand. In fact, it was the first time either of us had been to Asia. We had a great time, made a lot of memories, picked up a little Thai, and learned a lot about their history and culture. Oh, and their cuisine, of course! We really tried our hardest to stay as far away from the tourist areas as reasonably prudent, and engage ourselves with the locals. Much to my delight, I learned that Thai folks seem to have an appreciation for stationery shops, and I made it a point to wander as many of the dusty, cramped, mom & pop pencil and notebook stores as I could. That’s where I found, for the low low price of 35 baht, a dozen sharp-looking, dipped-end, 2B Elephant Blacklead pencils (with a free eraser, even).
Elephant Blacklead Pencils are made by DHA Siamwalla Ltd. of Bangkok. DHAS has been in business for over 100 years, and is a manufacturer of many of the office supply products found in Thailand, as well as a distributor of many international brands there. Although the Elephant Blacklead Pencils are made by a Thai company, for Thai distribution, they are actually made in China and come in both 2B and HB form. They also, apparently, come either eraser-capped or dipped. I happened to pick up a pack of dipped 2B pencils. And now, after hoarding them for months, I’m finally ready to sharpen them up and write up a review!