Pencil Review - Caran d'Ache Swiss Wood

It is a dreary, rainy day here and I have a bit of writers block.  So that this review actually gets posted, I'm going to write up just my overall thoughts on the pencil as well as some pictures and my video review.

Overall thoughts:
At $4.50 per pencil, the Swiss Wood is stupidly expensive.  But, it's also a really good writer and quite easy on the eyes.  I definitely recommend that everyone try one of these at some point, but I would make it more of a "treat yo-self" kind of pencil, not a daily workhorse.

If you want more info, check out the video review below.

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.

Twist Bullet Pencil Review

Alright y'all, it's finally here.  The review of the Twist Bullet Pencil, which is what convinced me that pencils could work for me.  I've been using this bullet pencil ever since the DC Pen Show, but I waited this long for the review because I wanted to review my own bullet pencil and the colors I wanted were out of stock until just recently.

If you are unfamiliar with what a bullet pencil is, the basic concept is that it is both a pencil extender and protector, and they used to be made out of actual bullet casings, hence the name.  In order for it to do both jobs (extending and protecting), a bullet pencil is made up of two parts - a short nub that grips the pencil itself, and a longer tube that the nub fits into with the pencil either sticking out or inserted within.  The tube can also hold an eraser or clip at the other end, if desired.

What makes the Twist Bullet Pencil (from now on I'm going to abbreviate it as the TBP) unique is that it dispenses with the tradition friction-fit system of holding the pencil into the nub and the nub into the tube, and instead employs threads in these areas.  What you are left with is a bullet pencil that is very secure regardless of whether it is retracted or deployed, as well as a really solid grip on the pencil within the nub.

Physical Presence

The TBP is a machined item, with options for either brass or aluminum parts.  As is the case with all machined writing instruments, you run the risk of the final product being too much - too heavy, too large, etc.  I can happily report that the TBP does not cross that line, and instead remains substantial without getting cumbersome.

The TBP next to a Kaweco Al-Sport

When closed, the TBP is approximately the same size as as a Kaweco Sport, with a similar weight as well.  This makes it a great size for carrying in a pocket or purse, and the heavier weight (opposed to something made of plastic) ensures that if it is misplaced you will notice quickly.

Another area where machined writing instruments can fail is in the finishing.  If care is not taken, even anodized pens/pencils can feel rough and irritate the hand.  On all three of the TBP I have handled, I found the anodized finish to be smooth and pleasant to hold while not being too slippery.

As I mentioned, the TBP can be bought with either aluminum or brass barrels and nubs, and these can be mixed and matched as desired.  When reading some reviews written by other people, I found some complaints that the all aluminum version was quite back-heavy and made writing difficult.  Having never used this configuration, I cannot confirm or deny that, but I am not surprised.  I find that the heavy brass nub balances out the weight of the barrel and shifts the balance towards the tip, making writing quite pleasant.  Plus, the brass with form a really great patina, so there's that.

Brass nubs/tips

You might have noticed that in the first picture, one of my pencils has a clip and the other does not.  The clip is an add-on feature that must be purchased separately and again can be customized with options for still holding an eraser and material.  I find that adding the clip is a double-edged sword.  I chose a brass clip to complement the brass bullet, but this does make the pencil back heavy again.  However, for me the added utility of the clip (which is very beefy and strong, reminiscent of the clip on my Tactile Turn) is more than worth it, especially since I tend to use this pencil for jotting down brief notes.

Writing Experience

I suppose that I already covered the balance issues in my previous section, so I won't rehash that here.  Otherwise, the writing experience is completely determined by the type of pencil you use.  While the TBP can accept pretty much any size pencil stub (they even have videos on the website that show to how use thicker or thinner pencils), it comes with three Palomino Blackwing 602 stubs so that you can be writing right away.  I appreciate this touch and the 602, with its harder lead and good point retention, is definitely a smart choice to pair with a bullet pencil.  The TBP also comes with two erasers, in your choice of pink or white, but I cannot comment on the performance of them because I don't use them.

Filling System

Hmm, I covered this in the previous section, didn't I?  Well then, moving right along...

Closing Thoughts

Obviously I really like the TBP.  Besides being a really well made product, it has a simple purpose and fulfills it really well.  For me, it was exactly the thing I needed to show me that pencils can be a part of my daily carry while not being fragile.  You could probably roll a TBP across a freeway of heavy traffic and still have a nice sharp point on your pencil when it reaches the other side.  

On the other hand, if you don't need something quite so beefy and prefer the lightweight feel of a bare pencil, I don't think this is for you.  A couple packs of point protectors is probably easier and far more economical if that's your jam.


If you made it this far, yay!  When I was ordering my TBP, I could not decide whether I wanted the silver or black version and I had some extra funds in my PayPal from selling a pen, so I bought both.  However, I don't need two of these bullet pencils and I want to share some pencil love with you, my readers.  Thus, I am giving away the silver bullet pencil in the pictures above, which has never been used except to take the pictures here.  (I fell for the black one when I saw how well it matched my Al-Sport, can you blame me?)  If you win, you will get the silver bullet pencil with brass nub, the two pink erasers, and three 602 stubs.  And maybe some other goodies, who knows.  :-)

All you need to do to enter is fill out the form below and make sure to put in your email address so that I can contact you if you win.  I'll run this until the end of the month and draw a winner on October 1st.  Feel free to enter regardless of where you live, but bear in mind that if you are international I will chose the most economical shipping method available so it might take a while to get there.

Check This Out! Part 1

As you can probably tell, I'm not really the type to do link compilation posts.  I love these types of posts, but I think that there are a lot of other bloggers out there that do them so mine would be a bit redundant.  But, I would like to start making note of exceptionally well done posts that I think are worth a look, if you aren't following the blog already.  Most of the time these will be pen/pencil/stationery related posts, but who knows what I might dig up?

Let's start this off with a really well-done piece from my friend Paul, who is a frequent enabler of my ink loving ways.  He compiled a comparison of seven pens that use the Pilot "Super Quality" nib and feed, as well as talking a bit about that nib and feed system.  If you are getting sick of my pencil reviews, this should help you get your fountain pen fix.

The pens in question (his picture, obviously)

The pens in question (his picture, obviously)

While Pilot has a wonderful line of gold nibbed fountain pens and some disposable and fibre feed fountain pens at exceptionally low price points, the bulk of people purchasing a Pilot fountain pen for the first time will take home one of their steel nibbed offerings. The steel nibbed pens shown above all share the same feed and their nibs are interchangeable from model to model. Users of these pens are greeted with a wide variety of nib sizes and pen bodies that range from conservative to ultra funky.

Seriously, this is some great reference material for anyone who likes Pilot pens (I do!) and totally worth a look.  I know it has taken Paul a non-negligible amount of time to procure all of these pens, so I think it's worth reading for that alone, if I haven't already convinced you.  Check it out here and don't hesitate to read some of his other posts as well.  It's good stuff.  :-)

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.