Posts tagged Faber-Castell
Experiment 12: The Perfect Sample Pack?

What makes a perfect "sampler" pack?

In the analog writing tools world, there are many examples of such packs. Jet Pens has an amazing selection of samplers, CW pencils has a pack of favorite things, and Pencils.com has a Sampler Pack. After acquiring several of the aforementioned, I thought testing them here on Inkpothesis would be fun. They have been sitting patiently to the side while waiting for enough time and sufficient lighting. 

I wasn't sure which sampler I would start with until a recent conversation started in The Erasable Podcast Pencil Community on Facebook. A member posted about the possibility of creating a small grouping of pencils what would help newcomers identify their preferences in pencils, and help us answer the question "What's the best pencil for me?" This grouping of pencils would include pencils across a range of attributes- different shapes, sizes, grades, weights, and end types. Being semi-new to pencils, but also having acquired a ridiculous number of different types fairly quickly- this process is very much at the front of my mind. I knew the Pencils.com Sample Pack included a good amount of variety, so I decided to put it to the test first and pair it with some discussion of how this pack is similar and different than my "ideal" pencil starter set.

The Pencils.com Sample Pack

The Pencils.com Sample Pack

The Pencils.com Sampler Pack includes 6 pencils for $7.95 which is less than a dollar mark-up from their "individual" prices, and you would need to buy a dozen of many of them to get them to those prices. Immediately upon opening the pack, you notice that the pencils are varying in length and diameter. The Jumbo Palomino Golden Bear immediately put a smile on my face. I have several dozen regular sized Golden Bears, and apparently I didn't read the description of this pack very closely because I had no idea a Jumbo version even existed. Being the visual the outlier of the group, it was the first one I reached for. 

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The next three of the group were all ones I had previously tried, a sci-fi-fi looking Musgrave Test Scoring along side two natural finish pencils, the Generals and the ForestChoice. The Musgrave is a full-hex pencil with a very thin one-paint layer finish. The thin finish shows off the stark sides of the hex shape, and also contrasts against the other thick lacquered pencils in the pack. The finishes of the two natural pencils are similar, but have a definite different tactile feel. The ForestChoice is a little smoother, while the General's is a much more "raw/grainy" wood feel by my estimation.

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I had not tried the final two pencils, the Caran d'Ache Grafwood and the Faber-Castell 9000. As soon as I picked up the Grafwood, I loved it. The thick lacquered finish and slightly larger diameter of the pencil give it a nice weight even without an eraser. The Faber-Castell 9000 also has a very nice lacquer finish, and the design of the dipped end cap is just plain good-looking.

Even without writing with a single one of these pencils, it has already helped identify some of my personal pencil preferences. Semi-hex vs. full-hex vs. round, Jumbo vs. regular vs. in-between, and thin paint finish vs. natural vs. thick lacquer.

Now let's get down to the business of writing. 

Results in Pictures:

First lines down...

First lines down...

Various Grades Included in the Pack

Various Grades Included in the Pack

Pack Grade Comparisons vs. the Hi-Uni Grade Scale

Pack Grade Comparisons vs. the Hi-Uni Grade Scale

The Packs vs. The Erasers

The Packs vs. The Erasers

Points Pre-test vs. Points Post-test... No Sharpening In-between

Points Pre-test vs. Points Post-test... No Sharpening In-between

Pictoral Pencils Stats 

Pictoral Pencils Stats 

In general, the two biggest outliers in terms of writing experience in this pack at the buttery Musgrave Test Scoring and the light firm Caran d'Ache Natura. The Faber Castell is the next softest grade coming in at a B, and three remaining pencils are all HB (although there are certainly differences among them especially due to the thick core of the Palomino Golden Bear). Again, there is much to be learned here in terms of preferences. For me, the thick-lacquered dipped Grafwood is by-far my favorite pencil in the hand. And I don't know what it is, but I really don't like the feel of the raw General's pencil. I love the look of raw pencils, but I'm not sure I've found one that I truly love in terms of tactile feel. I really want to like the natural finish, as I know how popular they are among pencil aficionados, but so far in general- it's just not for me. The beauty of a sample pack is that it teaches you about yourself.

In terms of writing experience, the Grafwood is a little hard and light for my every day writing preferences, but would be great for something like lettering where I like to erase and trace over drawings with pen. The Musgrave glides across the page, but doesn't retain a point enough to create the kind of crisp lines I prefer. However, for drawing purposes I see great utility for the pencil, especially considering the price. I was impressed with the point retention of the 9000 in my hands considering the darkness of the lines and the grade B graphite. Again, these are just my personal preferences, and likely yours would be completely different. 

In general, I think the Pencils.com Sample Pack is a great start for someone wanting to figure out their preferences- especially for the price. 

What is missing from this pack in terms of features? There are no triangular pencils, matte finish pencils, lighter weight pencils, or bare ended pencils. Additionally, the range of grades is only H-Bish. 

I have been thinking a lot about what my perfect pencil sampler pack might look like if I was trying to help someone identify their own preferences based on pencils I have tried so far. More on this later, but here's a preview of my first attempt on a sample pack. Back to the discussion in the Erasable group, minimizing the number of pencils while maximizing the range of features covered and minimizing the price while maximizing the quality are both important here. My pack comes in at 8 pencils for $10.04. Still being pretty new to this world, I'm sure my perspective will change over time- and there are likely things even now I am missing/ leaving out/ could improve. I would love to hear your perspective! What would you include in your perfect sampler? What ranges of features do view as most important?

  1. Hester & Cook Jumbo Hex
  2. Dixon Ticonderoga Laddie
  3. Mitsubishi Penmanship (Triangular)
  4. Blackwing 602
  5. Musgrave Test Scoring 100
  6. Field Notes Pencil
  7. Caran d'Ache Natura
  8. Faber Castell Grip 2001
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Experiment 8: A Pencil Newbie Tests the Erasable Top 5's
Johnny Gamber's Top 5

Johnny Gamber's Top 5

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. 

The Business End

The Business End

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 Personality

The Personality

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. 

1) Mitshbishi Penmanship 4B

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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