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

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Pencils from friends.

I am finally getting around to this, I have a friend in France.  She is the daughter of part of the church family (not excluding her from it) and she has done amazingly well after college getting to teach English in France after college.  When she was setting off I had one request.  My request was a rather tall order to fill in my mind…”I would like some pencils from France please.”  

     After that the waiting begins, however her family visited over Christmas and hinted that they had a package for me!  Not only did she come through in fine fashion, but she got me the extra gift of a very nice little pencil bag made by Elba and a staedtler stick eraser to go with them.   

       The bag’s company I think is funny only to a history nerd…French pencil bag…made by Elba? Bwahahahahahahaha.  Anyhow, the bag has already supplanted my normal locking pencil case as part of my everyday kit.  It had a nice little note in it.   

       I was ridiculously eager to translate the bottom.  In fact I was so eager that as I sat down ralphie style to decode this my brain decided to let go of it’s crude grasp of most Latin based languages and I was actually surprised when I read the translation “a bag for your pencils.”  I still love it, I have not bothered to remove the tag, I believe I will keep it where it belongs.  I wanted to thank my friend again, and tell you to read her blog as well.  Kaitlinplachy.wordpress.com.  I love that some of them aren’t even French, what they are is popular.  These (I believe) are what the children and faculty of the school she teaches at use.  The Noris is the most popular European pencil my research shows.  What my friend did was not to simply find manufactures, but she stretched out her cultural feelers and found me cultural artifacts.  That is almost intoxicating in an anthropological way.

      I even showed how special these pencils were by giving one away.  I had six of the staedtler noris.  The day I got them one of my friends (Nicole) told me that she was unsarcastically enjoying my pencil blog.  She was rewarded with one of my favorite new things.

     As people learn of your love of great graphite they will begin to surprise you with pencils.  Today another woman at church surprised me with a French pencil, bought in Boston.  It is all black and made by La Compagnie Du Kraft.  Upon looking this unique object up, I now believe they don’t sel it, they included it with a special edition of a notebook, which makes it rarer.  

     I have decided that the best pencils are not the ones that you buy as expensive treats or have some rare feature.  The best pencils are pencils from friends who wanted to give you a smile for the day.  

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

Rules and tools.

Welcome back.  It is time to go for the second part of this life is an adventure blog.  This is where the rules and tools of the trades come in.  This will strike you as a little zombieland or NCIS, but it is a good way to live.  My Uncle Fred will attest that I have kept a little note book of reminders since before the movie so laugh all you want, but I am still alive.  You are also about to get a birds eye view into things I spend too much time thinking about.  Anyhow let us get right into the good stuff.  Your necessary gear list starts now.  Feel free to write this down hahahahaha (you’ll understand in a moment.)

Necessary Gear

  1.  A knife.
  2. A notebook.
  3. A pencil.
  4. A bag.

So part 1 is a knife.  This is also rule 1.  Again this is not a tv joke.  Live by the quote  A knifeless man (woman) is a lifeless man (woman).  The best tool you can have is a knife.  Multipurpose endless ammunition survival tool never ending uses knife.  Also make a note this is not the place to go cheap.  Your knife is your life, think that through when you are pricing them.

  

Some of my favorite pieces.  You have the Gerber folding tanto based off the IDF fighting knife, A gerber multi tool w/knife, the ever handy much knocked off Victorinox prize bragging rights of the school yard Swiss Army Knife, Skallywag Tactical dagger (advanced users only), the Gerber Bear Grylls survival knife (one of the best despite the name on it), and the beast of the western fighting force the Ka-Bar fighting knife (advanced users only).  Not pictured is the Case Medium Stockman, and the classic Opinel #8.  One day when Im running short on material I will do an in depth on each and every one of these beauties will get the job done, with a couple of caveats.  1.  do not just rely on a multi took, in fact have one of each if at all possible.  I personally have a fixed blade stashed somewhere with a folder in my pocket.  Congratulations you have now started your everyday carry kit.  Now that I have said it once I will henceforth refer to it as EDC.  These tools are not just for adventuring, it is just life.  It is a wacky wacky world.

2.  You are on an adventure! this is your life! write it down.  You need a notebook!  (also yes this is part of why I thought telling you to write it down earlier was funny.)

I love notebooks.  I have one for everything.  I have a journal (you see it in pictures on this blog) I don’t keep so much of a journal for myself anymore…I will work it out.  Anyhow Journal, rule/gear book, a notebook tracking which books I have read (and when), I keep the books in a notebook, a bucket list notebook, a notebook for when I read the Bible, and one day I will have a notebook to track what each notebook is for.  My notebook of choice is the great Moleskine.  It was the simple product of choice for years of adventurers, artists, writers, and whatever your hobby is they probably have a notebook specifically for that.  In the photo you will see some various choices.  Once you have payed for a nice knife you can rest assured that a simple composition book will do.  Whatever it is, there is not quite any feeling like seeing those pages fill up and knowing that it is your life, your story you are writing down.  The simple and sturdy notebook should you choose Moleskine has what you need and no more, a ribbon page marker, lined pages, an elastic strap to keep it closed, and a little accordion pocket for the odds and ends you pick up along the way.

3.  Along with the notebook comes another one of my favorite things in life is the pencil.  Humble lovable pencil, or as some call it The Russian Space Pen.

The pencil is your stylus of choice for any reason you can list.  Do not get me wrong, I love pens too, but the pencil is the way to go.  Reasons you ask?  The pencil doesn’t quit working despite still having ink, it does not dry out, it is unaffected by weird gravity fluctuations (despite the whole space pen, Russian story being just that), they just have that classic feel in your hand, the ink does run when wet, you can erase (some people say thats a reason not to use them), and when/if it breaks or gets dull you can use the knife that you most certainly have to resharpen your pencil, and you will feel awesome for having done so.  I keep a pretty large stash of pencils with me at all times (with my notebooks).  Whats not to love about a good #2???  Some of my favorites? Ticonderoga and Mirdao.

4.  Last but not least, a bag.  You will need a bag to carry everything with you.  The knife, a small notebook, and pencils can go in your pocket, but you can put more in a bag.  A bag holds your various other goodies, stuff you find, or your whole life when you are out on a journey.  Back pack is my norm, but I also enjoy a good messenger bag for a day at school.

These are my two carry all, be all bags for most every day.  Pictured is a black Goruck GR1, and a line of trade messenger bag.  Both of them are top of the line, and their price can reflect it.  The Goruck is meant to carry more crap than you can come up with, and the line of trade while it holds plenty is meant to carry the bare essentials.  I use the go ruck for everything you can imagine, during the week it carries my lunch, gym clothes and shoes, water bottle, and thermos.  The line of trade carries note book, pencils, and every school book and notebook, and computer for school.

These items are the start of your everyday carry and if you want to be able to pick up and go you will put them together.  Do not do it because I told you to, do it because you want to go where your feet carry you.

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