What is in your pencil’s history? (National Pencil Day)

Today is National Pencil Day, and the pencil is by far the analog center of the savage’s world.  It is the thing in my pocket, that makes me use my notebook, that contains my entire world.

There will be a lot about national pencil day, but it seems the reason for the day (or at least being observed today) is because March 30, 1858 is when the United States first granted a patent for a wood cased pencil with an eraser on top.  I have seen various explanations for why pencils are usually yellow, and the one we will be going with is that it was to copy the Koh-I-Noor Hardmuth, but that is for another day.

My National Pencil Day bit will be about the pencils made by Mitsubishi.  Can you believe that these pencils are linked to the cause of the Korean War?

Now that you have read that outrageous and unnuanced claim let us get to the meat of it.  This will be a historical post.  In the interest of it not being forever long, it will be written in broad historical swaths.  If you would like to know the rest, I can provide it.  This is not meant to be a scholarly article, it is a blog post, but the history is good.

When people see my Mitsubishi pencils they say something like, ” Wow…Mitsubishi makes everything…”  That statement is not that far from being true, they do make an uncommonly large variety of products.  Off the top of my head I can think of they produce cars, television sets, pencils, microwaves, etc.  People do not seem to notice this until they see a pencil with the Mitsubishi brand.  When I hear this I show them the date (1887) on a pencil and embark on my little story.

In the late 19th century (1860s) Japan made the transfer from isolationist pre-industrial nation to effective imperial and industrialized nation.  Japan had seen the success and power of industrialized colonial powers and it was decided this was the way forward for Japan, constitution and all.  The Japanese had a large goal, to industrialize and catch up enough to be competitive within around twenty years.

This was a lofty goal indeed, but the Japanese pulled it off, remeber the Mitsubishi name is marked as established 1887.  Part of their method was to allow (again I am being broad here) wealthy families to invest massive capital into the hopeful national industries, in return, these families would hold pseudo-monopolies over the industries.  These families were the Zaibatsu or financial clique.  Similar to the early LLC of the United States if an example is needed.

Japan succeeded and by the late 1904 were able to defeat Russia in a war.  Later the industrialized and conquering Empire would take control of Korea.  With the Empire’s defeat in World War II, a power vacuum was opened in Korea, and like Germany, was essentially divided between the United States and The Soviet Union to sort out what should be done to fill the vacuum.  The Soviets set up the communist north, and the U.S. the anti-communist south.  The rest is history.

Now who could have known that all that history was contained in these tiny wooden pencils.

I hope you have a very good National Pencil Day, and that perhaps this is your chance to rediscover what is in my opinon, the best analog tool, the wooden pencil.

Ganger-Bjorn, The Analog Savage

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Lihit Labs Smart Fit notebook cover, A5, review 

Welcome back.

The Lihit Labs blurb on jetpens.com says everything I have been able to learn.  “…1938…Osaka…office supplies…STREAMLINE…”

Today we review the Lihit Labs Smart Fit Notebook cover, for sale here for 25$. (At the time of writing they are tellingly sold out, but I assure you with spoilers that you want to push the restock notification button)

Don’t forget to find us on Facebook!

At the words streamline, we have a jackpot, and I will attest that these products are very streamlined.  I also have their Bag in Bag A4, but that is another review.

In the beginning of this blog, back when, The Ganger told you the start of a list of items that one needs when venturing out into the savage lands.

  • A bag
  • A knife
  • A notebook
  • A pencil

Pretty sure that is where we left off.  The cover we are reviewing now is not a necessary item, but it is an amazing one.  The Pen Addict beat me to a review, in fact that is how I learned about it.  I bought this item out of pure excitement based on the word of the Pen Addict.  What this does is help you to contain the items you may want or need.  If you have a pencil and a notebook, as you should, then you may want this.  If you have multiple notebooks, for various purposes, to the point that you need a notebook to track what your notebooks are for, then you NEED this item.

It will quickly become a part of your EDC.  What is this item, in short?  It is a travelers notebook, updated to fit the modern world a bit more.  It is what would happen f you attempted to turn iPhone features into their analog counterparts and keep them together.  For me it carries a pencil, fountain pen, my business cards, an eraser, a journal, a floppy notebook of lists, an A5 letter pad, envelopes, address labels, a few letters I need to answer,  stamps, and no less than 6 pocket notebooks (workout tracker, passwords, faithless book, books read tracker, and of course the book of rules and tools.)

I admit I bought this on a whim, but it very quickly became part of the stuff I do not know what I would do without, especially since I converted to bullet journaling,

The Grit:

The cover is made of heavy duty cordura and comes prepared to take two A5 notebooks or one notebook and a notepad, both A5.  There is a pen/pencil holder (holds two easily) a pocket, and a closeable pocket (conveniently field notes sized) all on the front.  

The inside features the two slots, two small pockets, and one larger one on the left inside cover, two ribbons for marking pages, and a stout elastic band for holding it all together.

I love this cover.  The only thing I have not found a use for is the large inside pocket and that is just because the only thing I want in here, that I do not have, is a sharpener, and I simply find them all too bulky to have under my notebook with my current setup.  

I have pushed this things capacity to the very edge of civility and sanity.  The notebook I use as my journal/bullet journal is a full-size Insights, and I keep a Rhodia A5 letter pad, a Write Brand softcover journal, and six pocket notebooks in it!  Just as a FYI, here is how to understand the notebook sizes.  So when I say standard or something similar, I mean that most journal sized notebooks are A5.  This Insights is like a Moleskine, or Rhodia A5.  The new Write Brand soft cover (shown) is also A5.  

I feel it is fair to say that I have found about what it will hold.  The point being, it filled a roll I didn’t really know how to address.  I shove this in the car and I have everything I need.  If I am going longboarding, I still have a fieldnotes and pencil in my pocket, and that information can come here later.  Otherwise, I am ready to workout, sketch, journal, shop, hand out a card, catch up on correspondence…

If I had to name a complaint, it would be that they didn’t find a way to make it to where you could put the notepad on either side, and I don’t think it can be done and have little Pockets.  As it is, you must put the notepad ok the right if you have one.   I am not counting the “notebook” it comes with.  It is obvious to us that you are not actually supposed to use it, it is something akin to the photo they put in frames to show you how it is supposed to go.

Bottom line:  five full stars, and a must have for the total notebook junkie, and analog over doer.

Ganger-Bjorn, Analog Savage

The Viarco 1950, vintage collection

Here is my take on the Viarco 1950 pencil from their vintage collection.

I will not give you measurements or anything like that, everybody does this, so this is just that I felt it is worth talking about.

Viarco:

Viarco is a Portuguese company that opened in 1907.  Their pencils range from the interesting (scented pencils which I do not want to try) to extremely handsome pencils.  That is part of why I like them.  They make a nice looking pencil.

Fun fact about Viarco, they are a pencil company that still operates today, who can say their production was affected by Portugal’s participation in World War I.

I received a Viarco Fine & Candy as part of the CW Pencils pencil of the month club.

In 2016 Viarco came out with their vintage line.  I had to try one.  I bought the 1950.  I liked the look of the box.  I admit it but just look.  Also, CW takes a good photo (this is their photo.)

Viarco_Vintage_Collection_1950_-_box_1024x1024.jpg

There are more than these, and can be found sold by CW Pencil Enterprise, but these were my pick.  Let’s get right down to the grit of it.

I have written one down to about the point that one more good sharpen will do it in for my hand size, which is about five inches of pencil (a little more if it has an eraser) and I will say that this pencil is a good example of an all around HB/#2.  The quality of the wood isn’t bad, and even when put into general twist sharpeners, it does not chip much.  The pencil holds an ok point, it never broke on me, if you put it through a masterpiece or a long point sharpener you will lose your tip.  It makes a very nice clean line.  The large test swatch testifies to the clay content, as you color over the previous portions you can hear the rubbing from the clay in this moderately hard pencil.

This pencil has a quality requires quality feel to it.  I wrote a seven page letter on a recycled paper legal pad and suddenly you could feel the grit in this.  It was not all the time, but it was enough that this is not a pencil I scream and should as amazing and must have.

Overall-3.5/5  get them if you want them, just use decent paper.

Ganger-Bjorn

The El Casco M-430

Today I joined the erasable podcast community on Facebook.  I began sharing some pictures of Liam and I getting my kit ready for the start of the coming semester.  A member excitedly commented on one of my photos that he had never seen an El Casco in the wild before.  What he was referring to is my El Casco M-430 Desktop Double Burr Handcrank Pencil Sharpener.


Why are they so rare you may ask? The ballpark retail price is around 500$.  That’s a steep price for a pencil sharpener.  Why would anyone engage in this? It is either the best or the cult status of it has everyone convinced it is the best.  I’m going with it is the best.  I learned things I needed to know about my pencils from this pencil sharpener.  Let us start with the beginning of how I learned of them to the end point of owning one.

First I read about it in the book How to Sharpen Pencils by David Rees.  I won’t go hunt for the exact quote but Rees described it as one of the three things he owned that cost more than 500$, the other two being his house and car.  This is paraphrasing, hunt the quote if you wish.  He sang this sharpeners praises.  I immediately looked them up and then stopped looking at them.  The price tag was more than I was willing to go in for no matter my great love of pencils.


I started to consistently watch them on eBay and read and Re read the point of the whole thing (pun fully intended) which is that it is the best, it has a window that allows you to watch the pencil being sharpened, it creates a flat and consistent thickness writing point on your pencil, comes with four point settings, suctions to the table, has a telescoping opening for the pencil that will fit just about anything you can feed it and a file on the shavings drawer for customizing those flat points if you must.

 Fast forward some.  It’s on my bucket list to at least try one, one day.  I tell my friends about them as if they are the dream car I will one day but when I’m rich.  I often recieve an “oh geez” from my friend Sarah at school.  My wife went to look at getting one for me for Christmas this year, she saw the price tag and laughed and signed me up for the last big run of the CW Pencil Enterprises pencil of the month club instead, which in my opinion was the better choice, not to impune the El Casco.

I had developed a habit of scanning eBay for them every so often.

  1. There were never many of them, mane three or four at any given time.
  2. They were either perfect or beaten to death, none that were just well loved.
  3. They all started with an opening bid of at least 150$, usually 250$.
  4. They all sold and it was always close to 400$ even for the ones a car had ran over.

Then I came across the one that I have.  Opening bid? 45$.  This can’t be right.  The seller has only 15 feedback, the sharpener was a littler dirty, description read and I quote “good condition” the window appeared scratched beyond repair, and the seller would not respond to any emails about it.  I watched t anyways.  The day came.  I threw a bid in.  One guy bid one time to test the waters.  That was it no more at all, I didn’t even have to fight for it.  In the end I gambled a total of 57$.  I was shocked that I had won.  So imagine my surprise when it arrived in perfect working order and cleaned up with a little windex.  That’s right a fully functioning El Casco M-430 for 57$.  Now for the review.

It weighs 3lbs, you could brain someone with it.  The window is cool, but you can barely ever see the pencils, still cool but you just get a full view of the burrs turning.


There is some pencil on the middle left, that’s about what you see.  The telescoping opening is pretty sweet, I don’t even hold the pencil most of the time.


The suction base works surprisingly well.  It has a lever that you flip over and you can feel it secure to the table as you push the lever down.  Sometimes I have to work to get the sharpener off the table and it leave no damage.


In general the sharpening experience is beyond amazing.  It does what you expect in a perfect world.  It doesn’t continue to eat the pencil like some of the newer ones do, so no wasted pencil, and as you crank it gradually becomes smoother until it feels like you are doing nothing at all.  The best however is the point settings.

It has four.  They vary in graphite exposure length and thickness.  To change them you pull the spring held wheel, rotate the pin into the slot of the pictured point you wish to achieve and that’s it, let go of the wheel.  I will show all four choices.  I am starting with four unsharpened Ticonderoga 2 HB pencils.

Point 1.


Point 2.


Point 3.


Point 4.

As you can see they become progressively shorter and thicker.  Note the flattened points.  This is one of the signatures of this machine.  I have a three hole magnesium hand sharpener that creates something similar.  This is a writing point.  I did not like it at first. Here is what I have learned by putting pencils through the torture test of me learning cursive (a later post).  These points do not break when you put them on the paper where the tip is thin.  These points are thick and strong, less total breaks period, not just less wonky points from where the end crumbled.  These points are not tapered for the most part, so while they start out thicker than a regular point they will remain the same consistent thickness throughout usage, gone are the days of your pencil gradually fattening and destroying your writing style.  Point one is my favorite.  If you feel you must there is a file on the shavings drawer.  It is not a fine grad file and has a learning curve, prepare to experiment.  I have been won over by these points.


No mocking my penmanship, but that point did that for almost three pages.  I am in love with this machine.  Altogether I sharpened 55 pencils with it today.  46 for school, 4 for this review, and 5 because why not.  The metal crank handle will leave you the makings of a callouse if you are marathoning like that.


I do not know what else to say that I haven’t said and I hope this helps your love of this machine or satisfies some of the craving.  If you wish to see one in person stop by CW Pencil Enterprises and observe through the glass the glory that is El Casco.  Enjoy and thank you for reading.

Hrolf the Ganger

The Blackwing 602 (Palomino)

Welcome back cultists of the crayon!  Today’s subject is the Blackwing 602 by Palomino.

First a little bit of background.  If you google terms along the lines of “best pencil in the world” or “world’s best pencil” or “pencil pricey enough to take two people to the movies for the price of a box,” odds are you will come up with the Blackwing 602.  Now they are very nice, but as you will see in the history portion of this, these pencils have a bit of a cult following, and it may be that following that drives them now.

The Blackwing pencil was originally produced by the Eberhart Faber company.  I did not find a start date for production, but Eberhart Faber opened in 1861 in New York City, the factory was located at the present site of the United Nations.  What we do know is that the pencil was produced up until 1994.  The problem was apparently the very iconic ferule and eraser.

The “paint brush” eraser is held in by a custom clip.  That clip (which you can see) was made by a custom machine, which in 1994 broke (wikipedia the blackwing for this) they may also have been victim to a decreasing market.  Either way the argument is that there were enough of these clamps to continue sales until 1998.  Then that was it, the original Blackwing was gone.  Now It was beloved by the likes of Stephen Sondheim and John Steinbeck, enough that their mention of the tool is enough to have created part of the cult following.  The most excellent article I have ever read about the Blackwing original (contained on a forum solely for posts about this specific pencil) is here.  I will not attempt to out do the author, as I am not here to talk about the old pencil, I am here to say they have been back for over three years and what I think of them.

Palomino resurrected this rather excellent pencil in 2012.  Now I have to be specific, their first attempt was just called the Blackwing and it was a tribute pencil.  Fans of the 602 were not pleased, they felt it strayed too far.  So Palomino came back with what we now call the 602.  They actually have three.  The blackwing (soft), the 602 (firm) and the pearl (balanced.)  I will only be covering the 602 today.

I am a little concerned about the pencils that they believe to be soft and balanced as I find the 602, their firm model to be a little soft.  The Japanese graphite found with in is not a let down, but the pencil does wear down somewhat quickly.  However a note on that, the pencil boasts “half the pressure, twice the speed.” It may be the part about half the pressure that is my issue, I am heavy handed and I know it.  ( I FEEL IT IN MY FINGAS…)  This is an incredibly smooth writing tool.  Also you can customize it by replacing the eraser with different colored ones.  I first sharpened up about half the box of twelve.

This will be fairly standard practice for this blog.  I used the brass bullet, the two stage feature of an M+R Tri hole, a Kum magnesium, and my new double burr hand crank.  Now I was afraid to feed that hand crank a 602 as it is still being broken in, but I suppose the fear drove me to be more careful.  After sharpening I went to work.  The new torture test for new pencils will be thirty minutes of cursive practice.  Yes I am an adult who does not know how to write in cursive, I am working on it.  There will probably be a post about it.

Each block of practice was done with a different point, the winner was the tri-hole as it creates a somewhat flat and not brittle point (similar to what I imagine of the El Casco) with the double burr coming in close second.  I still say these pencils wear down fast, but again that sweet smooth ride makes up for it, and I also wield a pencil like a club.  Ferule and all it measured in at eight inches.  The silver finish is incredibly smooth as well.  Again this is not a pencil you stumble onto, it is something you hear about.  Your perceptions may be influenced by those who told you about this piece of wiring greatness.  It is made of California cedar, and Japanese graphite.  Palomino makes lots of pencils (more reviews to come.)  You have to want it with these, they are about 25$ per twelve.

It rated in at an easy B grade (the graphite) I wouldn’t call it an HB and this lends a little validity to my argument that they wear down quickly.  However I am a junkie of the first order.  I am easy to please when it comes to things I am passionate about, and I am easily effected by the Blackwing cult.  As so this will be the standard of a pencil for me.  This is not your work horse, it is a treat.  They can be found on Amazon (if they are in stock) cwpencils.com, and eBay.  I hope you start spotting them in my photos soon.  Have a happy New Year.

Hrolf the Ganger

The Dixon Ticonderoga #2 HB

I have espoused to you before my great love of the wooden pencil.  Now that I am on a short break from school I am going to get down to some straight blogging.  First post will be about one of my great passions, the wooden pencil.  Today’s subject, as the title suggests, is The Dixon Ticonderoga #2 HB yellow pencil.

 This is THE yellow pencil.  is what people think of when they think of pencils.  That wonderful school yellow, the smell of cedar, a nice pinkish eraser…brings up great memories of Ms. Norris and Ms. Gentry/Carmona in their various grades at John H. Allen Elementary School, Soddy Daisy Tennessee.

I cannot explain to you the love of pencils, maybe I am just a technophobe (I have some pens as well that are not by any means standard, but its the pencil that I love) this is my drug.  It is like that feeling when a pain killer kicks in, there is a thrill to a new pencil.  My wife got The Ganger a subscription to CW Pencil Enterprises Pencil of the Month club.  The last year they will be doing of the club as a matter of fact.  I have considered going into this enterprise for myself, I will think it over. Anyhow for me pencils are euphoria, and the wonderful ladies at CW Pencil Enterprises, New York City, are a bastion of civilization.  I am planning a train trip to New York soon and that will be worth of a post all to itself.

People discover this obsession in various ways.  For my good friend Carl it was rather by accident.  He observed my engaging my senses with a pencil…in other words I forgot he was in the room when I decided to smell a pencil (most likely a Ticonderoga) what could I do but tell him to smell it.  His response, in true Carl fashion, was to smell the pencil and say “yep that is a number two pencil.)  For my peers at school they either observe my locking pencil case, or in the case of Andrew, he was nearly knocked off the walkway when I crossed by him suddenly to snatch an abandoned pencil off the ground.  For the rest of that class the moment arrived when they found out they would need pencils to complete the final, pencils they didn’t have as they all carry pens, and i was able to shout “MY DAY HAS COME!” while holding up my pencil case.  However the moment comes for you when your friends and family realize that you are a Crayonophile (working custom term) you will learn who truly loves you.

 The Dixon Ticonderoga company was founded in or around 1795 by Joseph Dixon.  They do make other pencils than just Ticonderoga, usually under the name Dixon, but this is all about the Ticonderoga.  The name Ticonderoga didn’t come in until 1815, thats where the Graphite Ore was processed, Ticonderoga New York.  For a long time the packaging sported an awesome picture of a minute man.  I speculate that this is an obvious reference to all the ‘Merica reference to Fort Ticonderoga.  The Ticonderoga pencil began being cranked out in New Jersey (around the time the name came about) and became an American Staple.

 Now for that American part…The pencil is no longer manufactured in America.  However I have not noticed a downturn in quality from the globalization of this pencils manufacture.  I have not found any sources that say that their foreign labor practices are unfair or equate to slavery so with those concerns put to rest, we won’t get into my thoughts on outsourcing jobs, we will just accept that we live in a global world ( you are reading a blog…).

The Ticonderoga’s stats.

  • Length: 7.7 inches
  • diameter: 3 centimeters (best measurement I will improve soon)
  • color: yellow
  • logo: green
  • ferule: this is where the signature of the maker is to be found (at least in this instance) the Ticonderoga ferule is always green with two yellow bands at the top and bottom, making Ticonderoga pencils instantly identifiable. 
  • Material: PEFC certified cedar
  • Special features: one of Ticonderoga’s features is that their pencils finish has Microban, which prevents the growth of bacteria on the pencil (they intend for you to have them for a while.
  • The hardness claims to be HB.  Pencil grading is not an exact science.  I choose to use the HB scale (chart found on pencils.com) and I check my pencils against the scale physically.  I agree this one is close to HB give or take a grade. 

With all the grading scales out there the words “Number 2 pencil” do not really mean a lot.  However in this case the pencil, in my opinion, rates HB as in hard and black.  Later you will see number two pencils that will easily fall into the 8 or 9 range. Basically the harder the pencil the less of a mark it will leave, and the less it will need to be sharpened.  The softer the pencil the darker the mark with less pressure, but the more you will need to sharpen it.

**UPDATE** I forgot to say this earlier.  Fun historical note.  This was the favorite pencil of author Roald Dhal.  When he went back to England he had them shipped over.

The Ticonderoga #2, HB yellow pencil (note I did not say soft) is in conclusion always a winner.  I would call it a 4 star pencil, but I will give it 5 for consistency. The eraser is everything that you need.  I usually keep stick erasers around because I hate to have a pencil with no eraser on it, but this nice pink number will take away the mistake with little streaking. That is the point (take what you will from the pun) the fancy pencils might have some faults or something quirky about them, but the Ticonderoga is almost always consistent and you can get them for a reasonable price…depending on where you look.  The standard I’ve seen is about three dollars to twelve pencils, but at a Walgreens I saw them for eight dollars for 12 which is ridiculous.  This teachers dream can even be found in nice large bulk boxes and one day I will buy one just for the fun of it.  Grab a Ticonderoga and engage your senses.  If you love pencils you will keep this in your arsenal the way that I do.  Get these in your adventure pack.

Hrolf The Ganger

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