In many cases, one rabbit hole leads to another, and in the case of writing utensils, my head-first dive into pens has officially bled into a graphite smear. When I finally caught up with the 200+ The Pen Addict podcast episodes, I did what every normal stationery addict would do. I started at the beginning of a pencil podcast called The Erasable Podcast. I wanted a systematic way to test a variety of different pencils that they discussed on the show, and so I decided to start by trying to obtain each of the pencils on the Erasable Top 5 page. Each of the three hosts (Andy, Johnny, and Tim) list their top five choices in wooden pencils on the page.
It turns out some of the pencils are easier to obtain than others, and I'm still waiting on a couple of the pencils to arrive. Surprisingly, my first complete set of five is arguably the most difficult set of five to obtain. Johnny included two limited edition Blackwings on his list, and both are long sold out. One, in particular, the Blackwing 211, is nearly impossible to find unless you are willing to shell out a three digit chunk of change per dozen. Enter the incredible generosity of random fellow stationery aficionados. I naively sent out a request to buy a single on the Erasable Facebook group, and instead received over half a dozen free pencils in the mail including the coveted 211. Amazing.
Two of Johnny's top five come pre-sharpened, while the rest arrive unsharpened. Each of the pencils have a hexagonal barrel, except for the Faber-Castell Grip Black which is triangular.
The only two pencils of the group with ferrrules or erasers are the two Blackwings of the bunch. Two of the remaining pencils are dipped, while the Caran d'Ache Natura remains bare at the end.
Let's take each pencil one-by-one.
I was really surprised by how wide the core of this pencil really is. After testing each of the pencils, this pencil felt like the biggest outlier of the bunch- and not in a bad way. The marks this pencil makes are darker than any other in the grouping, and maybe the most impressive aspect of the using the pencil the line variation you can achieve depending on how the pressure you apply as you write. I can definitely see how this pencil is a perfect choice for practicing Chinese characters.
In terms of point retention, the length of time that this pencil produces the type of OCD completely clean and thin lines I prefer is short lived. However, the darker thicker lines have a character of their own. Also of note, due to the insane amount of graphite at the core of this pencil, It makes more of mess than any of the other pencils here when sharpened with a portable sharper. Then again, there's not another pencil I have used that made me want to "play" as much as this one.
It's hard to start from an unbiased place when you have a pencil easily worth $30 on the secondary market in your hands. This pencil is infamous and beloved to say the least. I'll start with the obvious. It's a beautiful pencil. The natural finish paired with the iconic ferrule and brown eraser are a match made in heaven. With no extra finish or lacquer covering the California cedar, it's especially fragrant.
The core is the same core as any modern 602 pencil you can buy, and the 602 is the one pencil I have used for several months before beginning these tests. It puts down a nice dark line, but the graphite is firm enough to be a "daily writer" type pencil for me.
Is the Blackwing 211 as amazing as people say it is? I can't really find a flaw in it, but on the other hand I couldn't bring myself to shell out +$100/ dozen for these guys either when I can get the same performance with a 602. Maybe thats the newbie talking.
Compared to the natural look of Blackwing 211, the Caran d' Ache feels even more natural. It's just a little less polished, a little more simplistic, and the finish is a little less smooth than it's Blackwing counterpart. The graphite feels firmer, and as such the point was retained longer in my testing. In addition, it seems easier to write in smaller print size than with the others I have tested so far. Maybe it's the "Blackwing" effect, but this one isn't as fragrant. Still, its a joy to write with. There's something bare and simple about it that draws me to it.
You can not fully appreciate this pencil without reading the story and meaning behind the seemingly random pattern on it's barrel. That type of intricate printing process and attention to detail is the type of thing that really draws me into a product, and so I was pretty smitten with this pencil before I even started using it. That being said, the soft graphite core make the experience of using this Blackwing significantly different than a 602 or the 211. For a basic sketching pencil, I think this pencil is maybe the most ideal of the bunch for me personally. For an writing pencil, I think this would be the least likely candidate to make it to my daily carry. Also of note, sharpening this pencil with the KUM Masterpiece Long Point sharpener, especially for the first time, was an absolute joy.
I knew I would like the stealth all black look of this pencil, but I was genuinely surprised how much I enjoyed writing with this one. By my estimation, it is the hardest graphite of the grouping. I don't think I re-sharpened the pencil more than once during the entire time I was testing it. The soft-grip section was comfortable to use, and this is by far the lightest pencil in weight of this test. I thought that might bother me, but in the end I enjoyed it. If I was going to sit down and write multiple pages of notes, I think this would be the one of this five that I would grab first. In fact, much to my surprise, this is the pencil I most want to pick back up at the end of this test. It is the opposite outlier of the Penmanship, and just as fun to use in a very different way.
I really enjoyed testing my way through the first Erasable Top 5 list. When it comes to writing, pens still rule the roost in my daily arsenal. But when it comes to sketching, doodling, and writing at my desk- there's something both endearing and inspiring about sharpening a wooden pencil and getting to work.
Time to add testing for Tim and Andy's picks to the docket.