I am in the final stages of a general re-organization and purge that I started in the fall. That re-organization meant not only swapping around furniture to make a work area, given the continuing necessity of self-isolating because of COVID-19, but going through every item that I have in my current living area and trying to make better use of limited space. In listing and counting and purging pencils, I realized that while I had a very clear list of 5 favorite wood case pencils August of 2019, I now have a longer list of pencils that I consider “keepers.” In trying to reduce what I keep to those I’ll use, it’s gotten really difficult to isolate a short list. I managed to restrict the list to 8 pencils; these are all pencils I’ll happily write long form drafts with, or buy by the box. This is still not at all a complete list; there are a lot of reliably good affordable pencils out there, far more than I every imagined.
- General’s Cedar Pointe #1
- This is a natural pencil, and I’m partial to them. It’s also a strikingly affordable pencil with reliably B/#1 dark smooth graphite. This is one I buy to use and to give away. A box of a dozen General’s Cedar Pointe #1 pencils is currently $8.25 at Pencils.com and $10.68 at Amazon.
- Kitaboshi 9606 Academic Writing
- This was the first new-to-me pencil I tried in 2017. The other side of the pencil says General Writing. I love the color, a dark burgundy, and the gold foil imprint and I really love the smooth dark graphite and the California cedar. The eraser is tolerable. I have some difficulty distinguishing between this pencil and its core and that of the very similar looking and writing Mitsubishi, but the color is a little different and the Mitsubishi doesn’t use California cedar. I bought these from CWPencils.com, where Kitaboshi 9606 Academic Writing pencils are no longer available. Try Etsy and eBay.
- Mitsubishi 9852EW Master Writing
- I think (but reserve the right to change my mind), that the Mitsubishi Master Writing is the single pencil I’d pick if I could only have one. It’s another natural pencil, with attractive green foil imprint. It is smooth, quite dark, and doesn’t require sharpening as often as I’d expect, based on the way it writes. It’s also quite affordable; a dozen pencils on Amazon are less than $10.00.
- Musgrave Tennessee Cedar Red
- This is such a lovely pencil to look at, and the graphite is smooth and dark. I sharpen these pencils by hand (I sharpen all my pencils by hand, since my electric sharpener and my crank sharpener are on the other side of the country), which may be why I haven’t had the issues with them some others have. I don’t really care about centered cores; frankly, without a visual aid, I usually can’t see the core any way. I’ve noticed small differences between individual pencils, but they’re so small that I’m increasingly convinced that the graphite is pretty much the same between the Musgrave Tennessee Red and the Harvest Pro. At $9.00 a box from Musgrave Pencils, I have remind myself not to be a hoarder.
- Musgrave Harvest Pro #2
- These are a bright cheerful yellow-gold incense cedar body. I can’t see any differernce between the graphite in these and the core in the Musgrave Tennessee Red pencils. I like both very much; these aren’t as pretty, but they are lovely to write with and the yellow is cheerful on a gray day. They are also $9.00 a box of 12 from Musgrave Pencils.
- Palomino Forest Choice
- I love the unfinished natural wood. The graphite is reliably smooth. The price is fantastic; $5.00 for a dozen pencils at pencils.com. These are affordable enough that I give them away with impunity, as well as write with them. Honestly, these is a shockingly good Cedar pencil at the price.
- Palomino HB
- These come in blue and orange; I’m thinking very hard about buying a box of the orange as a way to cheer myself up this winter, around February if I hit my word counts. The graphite is a reliable dark and smooth #2; I suspect but do not know that it’s identical or very similar to the Balanced core in the Palomino Blackwing. They’re not cheap at $14.95 a box from pencils.com, but the blue is cheerful and the graphite pleasant.
- Viking Element 1
- This is a B or #1 graphite core. The Element is, I think, the “premier” or high-end pencil in the Viking line. I like the slim size. I like the white Viking ship against the black paint, and I really like the reliably smooth dark graphite. This one is on the soft side; I find myself sharpening it a bit more often. The absence of an eraser really doesn’t bother me. I bought them from C. W. Pencils, but haven’t spotted a source for them outside of haranguing friends traveling to Denmark.
I’ve listed these pencils in alphabetical order because honestly, I have a hard time narrowing these down in further or ranking them. They are all very similar in terms of how they write, because my taste is predictable.
I haven’t listed any Palomino Blackwings; I like them just fine, but they are expensive, and in terms of buying pencils to use by the box, as a tool, I don’t think the quality differential is worth the price, which is upwards of 24.95 a box. In terms of the “regular editions”, with the four standard cores, I like all four cores, but lean towards the Extra Firm or Natural finish for long form writing, 602 or Firm core, as a close second, though that may change. Both pencils are dark, and slightly smoother, maybe, than my other favorites, but not so much that I’ll be buying more of them at $25.00/ box for the standard, and more for the “editions.” I like the softest core the MMX or “Matte” as well, but it’s so soft it’s not suitable for all paper.
Blackwing Pencils are typically high quality in terms of the Japanese graphite they use; increasingly there are quality control issues with the “Limited” and “Special” editions, usually with the ferrule and the finish or paint. The problems include chipping, damaged ferrules, poorly fitting ferrules, bent metal clips on some of the ferrules scratching the other pencils and poor finish. While I’m not picky about minor cosmetic issues on pencils that write well (i.e. the Musgrave Tennessee Red), if I’m paying a premium price, I think I should absolutely get premium quality control, and that’s just not the case these days with Blackwing’s limited and special editions.
I mentioned the difficulty of restricting this list. I want remind myself and readers who might not know, about the high quality Apsara and Nataraj pencils from the Hindustani Pencil company. There are basically three levels of graphite for each of the two brands, and they’re all worth trying in an effort to find the one you prefer. You can sometimes find Hindustani pencils on Amazon, but you might be better off just going to eBay, and being patient about international shipping. Finally, I want to mention Camlinn Kokoyu pencils, particularly the HD Supreme and the Flora Classic. They’re both really attractive, pleasantly smooth HB range. Try eBay and Etsy, and don’t overpay on the pencils (which is less then $5.00 a box in India) or shipping.
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