Pencil Review(s) - Palomino Blackwing line

Real talk time before I launch into the review.  Have you ever had one of those dreams where there is something you need to do or somewhere you need to be, but you just can't seem to make anything happen because everything is going wrong and keeping you from making forward progress?  I have that kind of dream a lot when I'm stressed out about something.  Anyway, today is being one of those days, where everything is twice as hard as normal to do because nothing is working.  I was going to record a video to accompany this but the room where it's quiet has no light, and the room where the light is perfect is too loud.  Cue cursing and abandoning of filming.  Anyway, without further ado, let's get on with this, shall we?

From left to right, the Blackwing (MMX), the Blackwing 602, and the Blackwing Pearl

The Blackwing line is the flagship pencil produced by Palomino.  It consists of three distinct members, which are the Blackwing/MMX (MMX is a nickname given by the guys at the Erasable podcast and I will be using it for the duration of my review to eliminate confusion), the Pearl, and the 602.  In theory, these pencils are supposed to be a revival of the magical Eberhard Faber Blackwing, which was prized by many artists and writers and is increasingly difficult to obtain without selling a soul or first-born child.  You can read a blurb about the history from Palomino, or you can read this article and come to your own conclusions.  For the record, I don't really care how this pencil compares to the original because it is highly unlikely that I will ever use an original Blackwing so the comparison is moot.

Grey = 602, white = Pearl

All three Blackwings are made from cedar and sport a lacquer finish that can be used to distinguish them from each other.  The 602 and Pearl have a semi-gloss finish that is slightly metallic and has a bit of grip to it.  The MMX has a matte finish that is really quite nice and gives the pencil even more grip than the other two.  To me, the matte finish of the MMX combined with the gold lettering and stripe near the ferrule makes this pencil feel the most luxurious out of the three. 

Matte and magical MMX

All three are hexagonal pencils but are a bit softer hex and they feel similar in the hand to the Palomino HB, though the HB is a glossier surface.  I'm lucky enough to have a slightly larger sample size of Blackwings, around 10 total, and they all have flawless finishes and well-centered cores.

And, of course, part of the construction of the Blackwings is the goofy ferrule that you can see in the first picture of this review.  I know that it's part of what makes the pencil special and it's supposed to tie into the original, but I sort of hate it.  I do like the look of it, but only when the pencil has been used down to approximately 2/3 of its original length.  Otherwise the ferrule makes the pencil awkwardly long and I have to imagine that it's part of what contributes to the premium cost of these pencils.  

When it comes to sharpening, these pencils give no trouble whether you chose to use a wedge or a knife.  I find that I prefer using a knife because it is truly a joy to sharpen a pencil made with quality wood, and I enjoy getting a nice long point that isn't sharp and stabby at the end.

MMX sharpened with a wedge

Pearl sharpened with a knife

All three pencils are smooth, easy writers, though they differ in lead hardness.  If I had to guess, I would put the 602 around an HB hardness, the Pearl at a B, and the MMX at a 2B.  When writing the differences were not extreme but they are noticeable, and the MMX is definitely smoother on paper than the 602.  They all can hold a point for a least a full page of writing, assuming that you give it a longer point when sharpening and frequently rotate while writing.

When it came to smearing and erasing, they behaved the way that I expected - the harder lead of the 602 produced less smearing and cleaner erasing, with performance decreasing as the lead hardness did.  Even still, I did not find the MMX to be overly smear prone or difficult to erase.

Testing on Miquelruis paper

ForestChoice on the left, Field Notes on the right

Of course, on toothier papers like the Field Notes, the smearing and erasing problems were not as evident and I have had no problems using any of the three in my daily Field Notes.

As I mentioned before, these pencils are not cheap.  They will run you ~$22/dozen, which means that we are getting close to a $2 pencil.  If you don't burn through pencils and really want luxury writing tools, I don't think that buying a dozen is an awful idea.  On the other hand, there are certainly cheaper options out there too that are well finished and will make a lasting mark on paper.  Prior to sitting down to write this review, I was prepared to announce that I would definitely be buying a dozen of these pencils at the conclusion of pencil month and make them my daily user.  

Now, however, I'm not so sure.  Having pulled out my Palomino HB to compare them side-by-side, I am not convinced that any of the Blackwings are that much nicer and worth an extra $10 per dozen.  But, that's just me and I might change my mind yet again by the time the month is over.

These pencils were purchased with my own money and I am not being compensated for this review in any way.  All opinions expressed above are my own and you are free to disagree with them if you like.


Pencil Review - Palomino ForestChoice #2

Nobody revolted after my first pencil post, so I am going to push onward!  Today's pencil is definitely one that meets a lot of my requirements for what I'm looking for in a perfect pencil, but it does not wow me in other areas.  Meet the Palomino ForestChoice:

This is a really pretty, nakie pencil.  Especially with how crazy hot and humid it is here in Virginia, I really enjoy the raw wood because the pencil never became slippery or difficult to hold while writing.  The rustic look of the stamping and the green ferrule pull the whole thing together nicely, and what you get is a pencil akin to a farmer who has washed up at the end of a hard day - sure, you can tell that this is not the most polished pencil, but certainly nice enough to be allowed at the dinner table.

Pink eraser fans, here you go.

Point using a wedge sharpener.

As with the Palomino HB, my sample size for this pencil is N = 1, but on the one I have the lead is fairly centered.  When sharpened with my wedge sharpener it did a weird thing where the wood seemed to get chewed away right at the core, but the core itself was not damaged.  Is there a name for this phenomenon?

When sharpened with a knife, I found this pencil to be on par with the other Palominos I have tried.  I say it that way because I am obviously no expert at knife sharpening, but it certainly doesn't feel like a huge struggle to get a decent (and long) point on this pencil.

Point using a pocket knife.

Like the HB, I found the writing performance of this pencil to be solid, but nothing special.  It definitely works best on slightly rougher paper, like that in a Field Notes or even copy paper.  I wrote up the bulk of my review on some the nicest paper I've ever used, a Clairefontaine Triomphe pad (review to come, eventually) and it was actually so smooth that it was unpleasant.  I felt like I needed to have a death grip on the pencil to keep it from running away from me.

Smearing and erasing on Clairefontaine paper.

Smearing and erasing on ForestChoice notebook (left) and Field Notes Pitch Black (right).

Though this pencil writes a bit lighter than I would prefer, that does mean that it resists smearing fairly well and erased quite a bit after just a back and forth pass.  I found the eraser on the pencil to be serviceable, though a bit hard until you wear it down some.

As a pencil that sells for just $3/dozen, I think this would be great as a heavy use pencil.  Definitely a solid choice for school kids because it is pretty cheap (you can get a gross of them for less than dinner at a decent restaurant) for a quality pencil.  And it's FSC certified so you know that it's not killing the planet.  At the same time, this is a pencil that I probably would not be willing to pay too much more for, simply because it isn't that nice.  Give me one in a B or 2B and maybe I'll change my mind.

This pencil was purchased with my own money and I am not being compensated for this review in any way.  All opinions above are my own and you are free to disagree with them if you like.

Pencil Review - Palomino HB

As I've mentioned before, I'm a big fan of The Erasable Podcast.  And they are my inspiration to really dive into pencils and explore this new world of writing goodness.  So, it seemed only fair to start out with the pencil that Tim Wasem raves about, over and over and over - the Palomino HB.

The colors are a little wonky in this picture, but when I try to mess with it I lose the vibrancy of the orange, so I'm going with the original.

After playing with this pencil for a few days, I think I get it.  It has a really beautiful, high-gloss finish that is exceedingly orange (or blue, if that's your thing).  The only branding on the pencil is what you see in the picture above, and the gold foil really is quite striking along with the gold ferrule and white eraser.  Based on looks alone, I actually think I like this better than the Blackwings because I think the Blackwing ferrule is goofy looking.  But that's for another review...

This pencil is made from cedar with an HB core, as the name suggests.  Though I only have a sample size of one, the core was well centered on my pencil.  When it came to sharpening, I found it much smoother going with a knife over my little wedge sharpener, which seemed to get bound up in the wood sometimes.  Perhaps a dull blade?  Either way, I prefer the visceral pleasure that comes from taking a knife to a pencil and getting a nice long point on it.

When it came to writing with the pencil, it was okay.  I don't mean to knock it by saying that it was just okay - it was smooth and pleasant to write with and has probably set the standard for how I would like an HB pencil to write, but it didn't change my life.  It wrote well, was acceptably dark (but not as dark as I would prefer), and held a point for more than a few lines.

Smearing and eraser tests on Miquerius paper, the same really smooth, "good stuff" I use for my ink reviews

Smearing and eraser tests on ForestChoice (left) and Field Notes Pitch Black (right)

Overall this pencil fared well when it came to smearing and erasing.  To test the smearability of the graphite I ran a finger over the word "smear" for ten passes (five to the left, five to the right). The erasing was one pass left, followed by one pass right with the pencil's own eraser and then with a standalone eraser.  I found that with more passes the line erases almost completely, but I had to keep it standardized for the review so that there will be some basis of comparison later on.

When it comes to value, this pencil is not bad.  It sells for $13/dozen, and I think that price is right on par with the quality of construction and writing experience.  It is obviously a pencil that received more attention and thus should cost more than the cheaps and semi-cheaps out there but less than the luxury pencils.  For that price, I would buy a dozen, though I think I would prefer the blue to the orange (I've mentioned before my issues with orange).  I would also recommend this pencil for someone who is looking to move beyond the really cheap pencils but isn't feeling ready to spend nearly $2/pencil for a dozen Blackwings.

This pencil was purchased with my own money and I am not being compensated for this review in any way.  All opinions above are my own are you are free to disagree if you like.