Ask The Desk: Less Smudgy Pencils

Ask The Desk Header

Ian asked:

As a student, I frequently have to go back and reference older papers and essays (stored in binders) I have written. Though work in pen poses no problem, work in pencil, especially that older then a month, often becomes an unreadable gray smear due to pages sliding across each other. I use standard HB pencils (both mechanical and woodcase), but have often wondered if a harder grade would help mitigate this issue. Also, I have recently fallen in love with the FC 9000 pencils and am wondering how they are on the smudging issue, especially the HB grade ones.

I called in the pencil experts, the cast of the Erasable podcast to help get you the best answers. Here’s what the boys had to say:

Johnny from Pencil Revolution definitely supports your enthusiasm for the Castell 9000. He says its “definitely smear-resistant, even through some numbered B grades. On binder/office paper, I would not go softer than the B, though, which brings me to what I suspect the problem might be.
Office papers have so much tooth that they take ‘extra’ graphite from the pencil, and it doesn’t stay put, causing it to smear. Certainly some harder pencils will help. But I think a certain amount of smearing on looseleaf and printer paper is unavoidable. Plus, the loose nature of a binder causing more rubbing than a bound book.
Maybe a composition book, where the pages aren’t moving against one another so much, might help?”
Tim from The Writing Arsenal concurred with both Johnny and Andy so there’s a lot of pencil authority there.
My final recommendations are, if you want to stick with loose leaf papers, is to try Hi-Polymer pencil leads, used in mechanical pencils. They tend to be less smudgy than standard woodcase pencil leads available from your local office supply store. Upgrading to the higher quality Faber-Castell 9000 or Hi-Uni pencils might also reduce smudging. You could also try some of Rhodia’s 3-hole punched paper which is not quite as toothy as standard loose leaf paper.
Best of luck and if you try any of this, let us know how it works for you.

Link Love: Official Mascot and more catch-up

Link Love Link MascotFirst, I’d like you to all admire my new and fully customized Link mascot thanks to my pal and co-worker Adan who, clearly, is a fabulous illustrator. I think I need Link on a t-shirt!

Now, on to the links:

Paper:

Pens:

Inks:

Pencils:

Misc:

 

What’s The Big Deal About Vintage Pencils?

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I realized I’d never really talked about what I like about vintage pencils, beyond the obvious that they look cool and are old and are often relics of domestic factories of companies still in business. So I thought I’d take a moment to show you some vintage pencils in action.

Vintage Pencils

One of the great things about vintage pencils is that, no matter how old they are, they are going to write if you sharpen them. If it has an eraser, avoid it completely though. The erasers will dry out in a matter of a year or two so trust me when I tell you that a 40 year old eraser will either do nothing at all or leave a dark smudge on your paper. So don’t bother with it. But the lead? Its all good.

Vintage Pencils

Some pencils will have unusual grading as opposed to the modern B (for black or soft leads) and H (for hard and therefore lighter leads). Some vintage pencils may simply say HARD or VERY HARD like the ones shown above or a combination of text.

In the past, pencils were used for lots of purposes beyond just Scantronic tests and math homework. Remember, the pencil had its heyday in the world before computers and the power of the undo.

I have a few “film lead” pencils that were designed to write on plastic film for printing or photography. Hard lead pencils were favored by draftsmen and artists and soft leads could be used to write on wood. Pencils allowed folks to apply pressure to their writing in order to easily and cheaply use carbon copies like a store receipt or invoice.

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This is a writing sample of several of my vintage pencils. There were three stand-outs in writing quality: the Futura Medium F, the Eagle Chemi*Sealed Mirado 174 and the USA Black Flyer 4500. I was stunned at how smoothly they wrote.

I also loved writing with the Press 260 Jet Black. It reminded me of the Faber-Castell Design Ebony pencil and the General’s Layout Extra Black but when I compared them, The Press 260 was light years darker and smoother. If you like either of those modern pencils, its worth it to seek out the Press 260 Jet Black.

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On the second page, I wanted to also include some modern pencils so you could have a point of reference for how dark or light the writing is.

I would say that the USA Black Flyer is comparable to the Blackwing 602 but the Flyer is a smooth round barrel while the Blackwing is a hexagonal. The Flyer is unfinished on the end. Potentially, you could sharpen it from both ends or add an eraser cap were you to find one of these at a yard sale. The Faber-Castell Grip 2001 has a similar feel, graphite-wise, to the vintage Mirado but the barrel shapes are different, not to mention the overall appearance.

I love modern and vintage pencils with equal enthusiasm. Would I give up my stash of modern Blackwing 602s for another vintage Mirado? No way. I like having the chance to sample old pencils like rare, fine wines. I enjoy them while I can and save the little, stumpy ends like corks. And modern pencils provide me with a steady stream of writing enjoyment.

Writing sample was done on Rhodia blank pad and all erasing was done with a Staedtler Mars Plastic eraser.

A.W. Faber Sure-Grip 6803 Clutch Pencil

A.W. Faber Sure-Grip Clutch Pencil

Thanks to the fact that my neighborhood is filled with artists both working and retired, yard sales tend to be a jackpot for vintage office supplies. This little gem is a vintage A.W. Faber Sure-Grip 6803. Its a clutch-style leadholder pencil that takes 2mm leads. These are popular with architects and draftsmen (draftspeople?) as the lead is strong and can be sharpened to a wicked point using a lead pointer. It’s stamped “USA” as well.

Digging in Wikipedia and various web sites, Faber was actually part of the Castell empire as far back as the 19th century so they must have had a manufacturing facility in the US. This looks like a mid-20th century lead holder by which time, I suspect, the pencil empire required manufacturing facilities in many countries.

A.W. Faber Sure-Grip vintage clutch pencil

This particular leadholder had a pre-sharpened lead so sharp I think I could have impaled someone with it. Isn’t it fantastic? I suspect the previous owner is responsible for this and that it did not come from the factory like this.

The pencil body itself is a combination of a metal knurled grip section and a metal clutch with a metallic painted hexagonal pencil body. The button on the end to release the clutch is also metal (painted a nice red).  I like it because the painted plastic section makes the whole pencil lighter and with a lower center of gravity than an all-metal leadholder.

Overall, I can tell by the construction that this was an everyday tool on the budget side of the spectrum. As a collector’s item, its probably not worth more than about $5 but I really like it and know that it came from the nice, retired draftsman down the street who was thrilled to know it was going to someone who would appreciate it. Oh, if he only knew!

 

More about Pencil Tourism

Pencil Tourism Pencils

After my post last week about “pencil tourism,” I thought I’d share a few pencils I’ve collected over the years from various shops, tourist destinations, museums and hotels. The hotels in China always had pencils by the bedside table rather than lame ballpoint pens so I, of course, liberated those. I have a couple vintage pencils from a shop and school in Portland — the school pencil is charmingly chewed on so I wonder if some young student was stressed out during a test. I swiped a pencil from the local Geeks Who Drink quiz night as well.

Once my pencil collecting habits became known, friends and relatives started bringing me pencils from their travels like the Madeline Island pencils and the Gaudi Barcelona pencils. Unlike other tchotchkes that people have brought me over the years, I remember who gave me each pencil and the story behind them. Kind of cool, huh?

Film King Dur-O-Lite Twist Pencil

Film King Dur-o-Lite

This Film King Dur-O-Lite pencil. It is one of those weird and wonderful pencil goodies that occasionally find their way to me. This one came from my pal Bryan over at Field Notes (much obliged!).

It’s branding includes where is was made “Melrose Park, Illinois” (yeah!) and “Film lead D-1″. It appears to be a wood case pencil but it has a twist mechanism to reveal the lead. Around the lead point end of the pencil is a metal graduated cone in weirdly Clearasil flesh color with a gold clamp ring keeping it taut. Twisting the fleshy end will reveal more lead. I attempted to hack the pencil to see if it could be refilled and it seems a bit fussy in that regard.

Film pencils were designed with a different type of graphite to hold up better on film, mylar and other plastic-y papers used in drafting, print pre-production and by photographers and the motion picture industry. The characteristics of the graphite that made them write better on film is not as important to a modern pencil connoisseur as very few people have need of this specialized ability. I like the history of tool like this though. Dave’s Mechanical Pencils has a longer article about film leads, if you’re curious.

Leadholder has some great images of an ordering brochure for the Dur-o-Lite Pencil Company which has a great typography and a fabulous illustration. From the brochure, I can establish that D-1 is probably on the harder end of the lead grades offered and that it was touted as a disposable pencil with a cedar casing.

Finally, I found a short stub on Wikipedia that indicated that Dur-o-lite and Auto-Point were rivals in their hey day. Dur-o-lite shuttered its operations in the 90s but Auto-Point is still in operation. I love that they still produce their classic Twinpoint.

I found one Dur-o-Lite film pencil on Ebay with a Buy It Now price of $3.35.

Link Love of Epic Proportions!

Clampersand (via Domesticated Desk)

Clampersand (via Domesticated Desk)

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Ink:

Pencils:

Writing & Letter-Writing:

Paper & Notebooks:

10 Tools I Can’t Live Without

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the tools I use everyday, my absolute must-haves. While I love having an assortment of gel pens, fountain pens and a bevvy of different notebooks, I realized that there are a few tools I use everyday, without fail. I also have some tools very specific to my job that might not be of interest to readers but I thought I’d share the everyday go-to tools, in no particular order.

  1. Hobonichi Planner ¥2,500 for the planner, covers start at ¥1,500
  2. 3×5 blank index cards $1.49/100 cards
  3. Field Notes $9.95/3-pack (or comparable pocket-sized notebook. I always have one on me)
  4. Kaweco Sports Fountain Pen $23.50
  5. Staedtler Mars Plastic eraser $1.25 THE eraser by which all other erasers are measured.
  6. Marvy LePen $1.15 (could potentially substitute a standard Sharpie marker here though I’m more likely to use the LePen everyday than a Sharpie)
  7. Palomino Blackwing 602 $19.95/dozen
  8. Tombow Mono Adhesive Permanent $7.29, refills $11.99/3-pack (I know this seems odd but it’s excellent for sealing envelopes and a much tidier way to attach scraps to my planner or notebook)
  9. Evernote FREE (I am now storing all sorts of text bits, digital detritus, links and blog starters here. I can access the content on all my digital devices)
  10. Alfred FREE (Until you’ve used the Alfred App, you don’t know what you’re missing. I hate working on someone else’s computer that doesn’t have Alfred installed. It’s free, go try it)

What are the tools you can’t live without?