Distillation and Archiving.

I have kept a lot of pocket notebooks over the last few years, since my very first Field Notes notebook. Before that, I largely used Moleskine notebooks, usually the hardbound pocket style. Once full, they were handy to sit down with and peruse at a later date, remembering ideas I had for projects, snippets of poetry, chronicles of adventures both large and small, and philosophical paragraphs that I thought I might not keep to myself. Before I had kids, a small Moleskine would last me at least a few months. (I have filled 3/5 of my current notebook, a lined pocket Moleskine, in 3 weeks; I wrote less back then).

The benefit of softbound pocket notebooks is that they’re very portable, and I fill them up very quickly. But their format and their sheer number make going back through these tiny volumes somewhat difficult. I’ve had my distillation and archiving project in mind for a long time, but I’ve never mustered the energy to start it. I am endeavoring to edit and transfer the contents from nearly a decade of pocket notebooks into large hardcover journals.

These are the pocket notebooks that I filled from 2011 to 2012, with three books from late 2010. During this period, I also kept a five-year diary and a traditional journal. But I did most of my writing in pocket notebooks, everyday. The stack from 2013 to 2014 is a little larger than this, and the stack that includes writings from 2015 and on has exploded and includes a reasonable number of hardcover notebooks itself. I have a few hundred of these notebooks to sort through.

I have no intention to copy the contents of these notebooks wholesale. I’m setting myself up at the start to be very selective regarding what will make it into the hardcover journal, in this case, a Moleskine expanded edition that I wrote about this spring. I’m not sure what the time commitment for this project will be, but I don’t want it to get out of hand and get in the way of actual capital w Writing.

I have heard the legend repeated that Marcus Aurelius ordered his journals to be burned when he died. A disobedient servant preserved them, and because of that, we have the rich philosophical book today that inspires many people. I am definitely no emperor and philosopher like Aurelius, but I have asked that my journals be burned if something happens to me. (However, I’m wondering if these distilled archives will be exempt from my macabre request.) My best friend and I have a pact that whoever dies first will burn the other’s journals — though I suspect that we will burn them all on a camping trip sometime in the next 30 or 40 years together and then play music to the ashes.

I realize this post is a rambling procrastination before I crack open some notes that are almost 10 years old. I imagine how much paper and ink and graphite I may have wasted complaining about a neighbor, taking notes on when a character uses a certain kind of stationary item in a television series, and just testing writing implements out over and over again. Is it a larger waste of time and resources to scour these various semi-disposable notebooks in an effort to gleen nuggets worth remembering and worth archiving? Will the trip down the proverbial Memory Lane make the entire endeavor worth it?

Am I just creating an egotistic and/or narcissistic commonplace book of my own words?

Reviewing the Dixon Ticonderoga.

A 2004/5 American-made Ticonderoga and a 2010 Chinese-made Ticonderoga, both well-loved.

This is a daunting task. The one and only time we ever published a review of the classic yellow Ticonderoga, it was 2005. The review was written by a professional reporter and photographer. It is still one of the most read posts according to the Magical Stats Machine. But the Ticonderoga is no longer made in the USA, and it’s more expensive now. It’s a completely different pencil.

Over a decade ago, Dixon moved their production out of the United States, and everything changed. Some of this was bad. Some was good. But nothing was consistent. To be honest, by the time my oldest child started school in 2014, the teacher’s insistence on Ticonderoga pencils was basically meaningless. The pencils sporting this brand were made in Mexico and China, and even the color of the barrels was inconsistent. The Mexican-made pencils seemed to have harder cores and sloppier paint jobs. The Chinese-made offerings were darker and softer (and, around 2010, more…yellow). There was Microban on some of the yellow pencils, and there was even a blue model made in Mexico who’s branding profile was that it was coated in that questionable substance.

Matte black Ticonderogas. The current version is glossy and disappointing next to this fragrant beauty.

Before that, the pencils were made in the USA, and there were two other variants. The “Black” has survived, though the Woodgrain is long gone. I owned exactly one pack of the former that I bought at a grocery store in Carbondale, Illinois. I’m fairly certain that this is the only one I have left. The Millennium (pictured) was a gift from Caroline Weaver, and the USA-made “Black” that superseded it might be my all-time favorite Ticonderoga for its matte finish and pleasant memories of fall 2004 and discovering the writing of Bruce Chatwin.

A version of these showed up around a decade ago as an extra in packs of yellow pencils. I’d love to track some down.

Like other manufacturers, Dixon used to make custom pencils with their own quality and branding, rather than the usually junk promotional pencils we see today. Behold, this lovely Baltimore City Government pencil from decades past, and its lovely green foil customization. Imagine having pencils you know will work well with your company’s name on them!

It’s just a Ticonderoga.
Wait, no. It’s a Charm City Dixon!

In recent years, we have found different colors of Ticonderoga. There have been Target-exclusive colors twice, neon models available at Staples (recently replaced by greatly improved versions), stripes, metallic paint, natural barrels, even muted hued Ticonderogas. The quality on these has never been consistent. They have been made in different countries. And the wood even varies. It’s frustrating that, for a number of years, you never knew what you were going to get when you bought a box of Ticonderogas. One would hope that such a veritably iconic brand would venture to be somewhat consistent, to maintain a level of quality control that could live up to the reputation of the pencil. But this has not been so.

Breast cancer awareness pencil. My wife’s OB used to keep these around her office.

For instance, while someone in the company has denied this in a Facebook group, another pencil industry insider has confirmed this for me: the back to school Ticonderogas and the large packs available at places like Costco are not the same quality as regular Ticonderogas and are not intended to be (This could certainly no longer be true, and I’d be happy to have this information corrected!). In the past, such pencils have been made of non-cedar wood, and a quick glance spots shoddy paint and badly glued ferrules. These are clearly targeted at teachers and office managers who insist on yellow Dixon Ticonderoga pencils merely through brand recognition. Plus, over the last year, Ticondergas have been showing up with “premium wood,” not cedar. The packaging had been bragging about “American Cedar” for a few years, and I have bought at least one pack of pencils with that package that were very clearly not made of cedar inside over the last few months. With the current shortage of cedar, Dixon has opted for less fragrant wood species.

Three versions of the F grade pencil. Check out the episode we recorded about this special grade on Erasable. http://www.erasable.us/episode/57

However, in recent years, the quality had been on a considerate and almost consistent up-tick. While from 2009-2017, I would have to hunt around through the Ticonderoga offerings at the store to get a good box, by 2018, I was able to purchase them online and trust that I would get a quality set of pencils. I sent some to my children’s school and was happy that a brand I used to love seemed to be getting their act together. I am particularly talking about the pencils made in China. Production quality is at least as good as the last US-made runs of this pencil, and the cores are unquestionably superior. They are darker, smoother, and even stronger. The paint job is excellent for this price range. The new neon version (with blue, not purple, and matching erasers) is so lovely that I would stock up a gross or two if they were made of cedar.

A “hackwing” Ticonderoga I made from a pencil whose ferrule busted off when someone sat in it.

I still miss the Woodgrain and the matte-finished “Black” (formerly the Millennium), and I hope that Dixon returns to making their pencils from cedar in the near future. But the Ticonderoga pencil is definitely not the same pencil that it was ten years ago. Of course, that’s part of the problem. The well-recognized brand’s pencils only shared that famous ferrule in the last few years. If the quality and consistency stay where they have been for the last year or two, I would be a very happy penciler. We’ll be keeping an eye out and stocking up on the cedar versions that we can find.

A very short and fat My FIrst TIconderoga with a custom clip. This is from around 2010.

Check out Leadfast’s great post on checking out Ticonderoga.

Col. Jack and The Deep.

I hope that I’m not violating any non-disclosure agreement in sharing this. But the folks at Write Notepads & Co related this story to me. It is the real story of The Deep and Col. Jack. No names or places have been changed, with apologies to Col. Jack’s widow Debbie. The following was related to me late one night over seven or eight cups of espresso at the pier in Fell’s Point.

This is a piece of Charm City鈥檚 murky past. This edition is perhaps the most personal one Write has made so far, an homage to the amazing Col. Jack, who taught so many people all about the deep blue sea and also Deep herself.

Deep was an octopus living at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, not far from the Write bindery and print shop. Col. Jack used to visit her there and felt a particular affinity for her and wanted to free her somehow. If you have visited an aquarium, you can see how impossible this would be, but Col. Jack did his best.

He refused to disclose how he found out about the existence of the babies, and he just glared if you asked how he actually procured them. But Col. Jack came to own two of Deep鈥檚 babies. He planned to drive them to Ocean City straight away, rent a boat, and set them free.

No one said it was a good plan.

That night, Col. Jack left the two baby octopuses in a bucket of salt water in the bathtub while he went to the Royal Farm nearest his home in Canton and picked up some Western Fries to have with his supper. When he returned, he found his wife Debbie in the kitchen, frying up dinner. She looked at him and said quickly, 鈥淕ood, hon. Those will go good with these fresh squid you just caught.鈥 Col. Jack was too afraid to tell his wife what he had intended to do, and he ate the dinner she made him, with the mushy fried potatoes. As he swallowed the last bite and washed it down with a Natty Boh, he realized that he had no idea that his wife could cook an octopus.

That night, Col. Jack sweated in bed with dyspepsia and horrible guilt. Channel 13 reported that Deep the octopus had died, very suddenly, but she lived on in Col. Jack鈥檚 dreams, where she appeared as a silvery mist against cloudy blue water. Old Col. Jack said that she just floated there, and he could no longer stomach seafood or the Western Fries from Royal Farm.

Col. Jack took to consuming coffee by the gallon in order to avoid sleep and the dreams about the octopus he wronged by accident. Some tourists found him floating face-down near Pier 4, outside of the Aquarium. He and Deep are both said to haunt the area around Mr. Trash Wheel to this day.

Lead on, Macduff.

[Today’s post comes from guest writer Lara Connock who lives and writes in South Africa. Many thanks to Lara for this wonderful essay about the virtues of journaling in pencil!]

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a writer in possession of a good notebook must be in want of a pen. Then, having secured the pen (by which I mean a fountain pen) he or she will want ink. And so begins the eternal – some might say infernal – quest for the perfect combination of paper, pen and ink. I have spent the majority of my writing life on such a quest and have left in my wake a brace of abandoned pens, innumerable bottles of ink and teetering piles of nearly-new notebooks in which the quick brown fox features over and over again.

鈥淎re you ever going to write anything real?鈥 my exasperated husband said one day. 鈥淚 hate seeing you wasting your time and talent like this.鈥滭br>
鈥淭hen don鈥檛 look!鈥 I snapped back. 鈥淭his is important!鈥滭br>
Although I hated to admit it, my husband had a point. My focus had always been on the form, so I鈥檇 never really got down to the function; you know, actually writing stuff (apart from that wretched fox/dog scenario). See, I鈥檓 a perfectionist with OCD, hence the search for the aforementioned combination that would ensure that my notebook would be uniform, consistent and, well, perfect. I tried to explain this to my husband but he wasn鈥檛 having any of it. 鈥淚f you really wanted to write, you鈥檇 write, and it wouldn鈥檛 matter what your notebook looked like. Imagine if Shakespeare had messed around the way you do!鈥 Naturally I ignored this.

A couple of days later I was testing a new pen, ink and paper (again). The nib was an extra-fine, the ink the driest I could get, and the paper easily ten times more absorbent than Kleenex. There was ink everywhere 鈥 on the paper, the desk, the wall, the cat, my fingers, my clothes. And. I. Was. Done. I could not, would not, waste another moment more on such an utterly pointless exercise. The pen went into the pen coffin with all the others, ditto the ink, and the notebook went into the bin.

They say that sometimes, when one gives up hope, one feels so much better. It鈥檚 true. Having crossed that particular Rubicon, I really did feel a sense of relief 鈥 but it was short-lived. You see, I still wanted to write. I just had to find something to write with. My husband鈥檚 groan of despair could be heard three provinces away. 鈥淛ust use a damn ballpoint!鈥 was his suggestion, which, though kindly meant, was patently ridiculous.

Honesty compels me to admit that I actually quailed at the thought of having to try out all those gel pens, liquid ink pens (isn鈥檛 all ink liquid?), rollerballs and fineliners. When did writing instruments get so complicated? One鈥檚 writing life in days of yore must have been so much simpler when all one had to write with was a bit of graphite and a raggedy old piece of vellum or whatever. Come to think of it, I鈥檓 pretty sure the Bard himself would have tossed his goose quill in the quill coffin, along with his iron gall ink and all its attendant issues, the moment he found out that he鈥檇 have far less hassle writing those plays of his with a stick of graphite wrapped in string. 鈥淥ut, damned quill! Is this a piece of graphite which I see before me, the sharp end toward me? Come, let me clutch thee.鈥滭br>
And there was the solution to all my problems. So simple. (My husband鈥檚 sigh of relief was deafening.) I bought a cheap notebook and an equally cheap pencil. Indeed, a pencil. Which, come to think of it, wasn鈥檛 actually that cheap. If I was going to be writing with a pencil, it had to be a good one. The art store offered two choices: locally produced pencils or imported German ones. It was the proverbial no-brainer, my thinking being that since this particular German company had been producing pencils since 1662, they had more than likely perfected their craft by now.

Pencils have, um, revolutionised my writing and journaling. They have taken away all the pain and left only the pleasure. I did get a bit sidetracked in the beginning by the myriad grades of hardness and darkness; my own fifty shades of grey, you might say. I settled on F-grade pencils, the baby-bear鈥檚-porridge grade: not too soft, not too light, just right. (FYI: an F pencil is a #2.5 in the US.)

Pencils are what an old friend of mine would call 鈥渨illing writers鈥? I know that when I put that beautifully sharpened point to paper (any paper!) it will write the first time. No skipping or hard starts because the ink isn鈥檛 flowing; no feathering or bleeding or ghosting either. I won鈥檛 be able to change my mind halfway through a journal entry about the colour of the ink or the feel of the nib or the tooth of the paper. And when the pencil has been worn down to the ferrule 鈥 having given up its life purely for my writing pleasure (cue violins) 鈥 there will be a quiver of its clones to choose from. They will all write in exactly the same way as their predecessor did, thereby ensuring that the pages of my notebook remain beautifully uniform and thus appealing to the twin gods of Perfectionism and OCD. (And did I mention the thrill of being able to erase mistakes?)

Consistency being a big thing for me, I like the fact that a 500-year-old piece of graphite (quaintly known as plumbago in those days) will write almost as well as a Koh-I-Noor or a Blackwing produced in 2019. (But I鈥檓 basing that assumption on the online community鈥檚 reviews of them, not yet having had the opportunity to test drive them myself.)


The world is a vastly different place now than it was when farmers in Britain’s Lake District, circa 1560, used the recently-discovered, new-fangled plumbago to mark their sheep. Fast forward five centuries and there are legions of six-year-olds clutching jumbo-sized, triangular-shaped pencils and learning to write their names for the first time.

Pencils have survived world wars, industrial and technological revolutions, feasts, famines, droughts and disasters, and are still here. Of course, in our digital world, Millennials, Generation Z鈥檚 and converts from Generation X might rather take notes on their smartphones or tablets, but that doesn鈥檛 mean that pencils have become obsolete. Far from it. People apparently love the vintage, the antique, the old fashioned things of bygone eras. (I suspect we may have Downton Abbey to thank for that.) Vinyl records have made made a comeback along with manual typewriters, fountain pens and 鈥 in certain homes 鈥 afternoon high tea.

Pencils have never really gone out, and in the last decade or so they have enjoyed 鈥 and are still enjoying 鈥 an increase in popularity. The difference now is that people are buying, collecting and using pencils because they want to, not because they have to.

No pencil article would be worth its weight in graphite if there was no mention made of those literary greats who loved pencils 鈥 Hemingway, Steinbeck and Thoreau, and, before them, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Leonardo da Vinci. I鈥檓 not going to repeat everything that has already been written about John Steinbeck鈥檚 passion for Blackwings because any pencil lover who doesn鈥檛 know about it must be living on a remote, nameless island or in an underground bunker previously occupied by hobbits.

Today, more than 20 billion pencils are produced worldwide every year. Currently there are upwards of 40 blogs devoted to pencils, my host鈥檚 included. Online stores are doing roaring trades, as is the now famous pencil store in New York owned and run by Caroline Weaver. (One day, when I don鈥檛 have to pay 14 South African Rand for one US dollar, I鈥檒l make my pilgrimage. Until then, I鈥檒l just skulk around the place online.)

Don鈥檛 get me wrong. Just because I鈥檓 a new convert to pencils does not mean I鈥檝e fallen out of love with fountain pens. This isn鈥檛 a rebel song about their many vagaries or a protest march against the cost and elitism of fountain pen friendly paper. And don鈥檛 think I don鈥檛 see you glowering at me from the sidelines, you Pilots and Sailors and TWSBIs, and your besties, Clairefontaine, Rhodia and Tomoe. You all still have your place; it just isn鈥檛 in any of my notebooks. I tried so hard to love and bond with you, I really did, but I just don鈥檛 feel it. Now I鈥檝e lost my heart to the product of an old German family, the House of Faber-Castell, and I鈥檓 committed for life.

Even so, it isn鈥檛 happily-ever-after just yet. I still have to find the ultimate pencil sharper and the apogee of erasers, along with pencil caps, pencil extenders and a pencil case to carry it all. So, lead on, Macduff.

Mechanical Pleasures.


We are lucky to publish another essay by the wonderful writer Vivian Wagner (see her 2017 piece here). Many thanks to Comrade Vivian! What do other Comrades think of mechanical pencils?

Mechanical Pleasures, by Vivian Wagner

I know what David Rees says in How to Sharpen Pencils: 鈥淢echanical pencils are bullshit.鈥滭/p>

For a while, I agreed with him. I鈥檇 fallen in love with all kinds of fancy, fabulous wood-cased pencils 鈥 and that love affair continues to this day. On principle, I stayed away from mechanical pencils. I had everything I needed with my Blackwings and Tombows and Mitsubishis.

One day, though, I found myself at my college鈥檚 bookstore, hanging out, as one does, in the stationery aisle. I happened to see some packages of Bic Atlantis 0.5mm pencils for a few dollars each. I鈥檝e always liked Bic Atlantis ballpoint pens, and these seemed worth a try. I hesitated a moment, what with my loyalty to wood pencils and the fact that Rees鈥檚 words were seared on my conscience.

But, I thought, what the hell? No one鈥檚 going to know. So I bought a few to try out.

Reader, they were lovely. Even with the basic, French-made Bic lead in them, they were smooth and fun, and 鈥 as a bonus 鈥 I didn鈥檛 need to sharpen them. I could write and write and write 鈥 something I spend a lot of time doing 鈥 and I didn鈥檛 have to stop to refresh my point.

They weren鈥檛 wooden pencils, to be sure, but they were just fine. Better than just fine, in fact. They were a good, useful addition to my daily routine. I began carrying one with me in my journal, finding it was easier to have a mechanical pencil on hand than a wooden pencil while teaching and going through my day, when I couldn鈥檛 always stop to sharpen. In the evenings, I returned home to my wood pencils at my desk, but the Bic mechanicals quickly became a part of my everyday carry.

I discovered, as well, the world of nice, soft, dark 4B Uni and Pilot leads, and these changed the game even more. Suddenly, it was truly a pleasure to write with mechanicals.

Since that fateful day in the bookstore, I鈥檝e discovered that Bic Atlantis 0.5mm pencils are pretty hard to come by these days. Those packages I found, apparently, were old stock. I鈥檝e been experimenting with a few others, including a Ohto wooden Sharp Pencil, a TWSBI Jr. Pagoda, and a Pilot G-2, and a few others. I like all of them, but my favorite is still the Bic Atlantis 0.5mm, maybe just because it was my first.

I still love wood-cased pencils, but I鈥檓 here to say that mechanical pencils have a place, at least in my world. And they aren鈥檛 bullshit.


Vivian Wagner lives in New Concord, Ohio, where she English at Muskingum University. She鈥檚 the author of Fiddle: One Woman, Four Strings, and 8,000 Miles of Music (Citadel-Kensington), The Village (Kelsay Books), and Making (Origami Poems Project). Visit her website at VivianWagner.net.

We Who Like Pencils.

[Stephen Watts is back, with another fantastic contribution! Thanks, Stephen, and we hope this is the first of more pieces for Pencil Revolution!]

We Who Like Pencils (or 鈥淲WLP,鈥 pronounced 鈥淲WLP鈥? routinely deal with any number of annoyances in the pursuit of our inexplicable obsession. One of my pet peeves has been the scarcity of suitable pencil display options.

There aren鈥檛 many choices available unless you鈥檙e okay with hiding one end of your pencils in a cup or stand. I prefer my pencils to proudly stand out in the open, reveling in their naked glory for all the world to see. Acrylic holders that horizontally showcase 1-13 pencils worked well for me until my collection outgrew them.

Several years ago, I succumbed to the madness and beyond all reason purchased a $500 lockable jewelry display cabinet. My son Hunter was with me the week it arrived and when, conveniently, my wife was away with Hunter鈥檚 twin brother Garrett. The exorbitant shipping charges should have been a clue that the cabinet was so heavy it had to be shipped on a pallet in a moving van. Hunter and I stared, dumbfounded, as we watched the platform on the back of the trailer slowly lower the beast to the ground. Desperate to hide all evidence of the crime, my deputized accomplice and I decided the smartest thing to do was get the cabinet upstairs in the den and mounted on the wall before my wife got back home. 200 pound painful-to-hold lockable jewelry display cabinets, we learned, don鈥檛 travel easily up twisting flights of stairs.

Fortunately, through destructive trial and error and before my wife arrived back home, Hunter and I got the Heavy Beast from Hell securely fastened to the wall and populated by a relieved flock of vintage pencils.

Dazed by a celebratory excess of potato chips and Mountain Dew, we forgot about the empty pallet which remained in the front yard awaiting bulk refuse pickup. Our ill-conceived plan to pretend as though nothing happened instantly collapsed when my wife pulled into the driveway and cried out to Garrett 鈥淗ow many pencils did he have to buy for them to be delivered on a PALLET?鈥滭/p>

My wife never found out how much I paid for the cabinet or how tiny our tax deduction was when we donated the cabinet to Goodwill a few years later as we downsized into an apartment three states away.

Once again, I needed to find a way to display these little treasures. Typical searches unearthed descriptions of how to construct my own suitable-for-framing display using thick poster board and elastic cord. This utterly ridiculous, labor-intensive solution brings with it the reprehensible requirements of patience and the ability to evenly punch holes in the poster board so one can thread the cord through perfectly-spaced holes while leaving enough slack in the elastic to hold the pencils. Sure, I found images of terrific-looking results. But with intentional deception, the instructions never revealed that such craftsmanship, in real-world scenarios outside the laboratory, is achievable only by skilled lunatics unaware they can more profitably spend their time binge-watching Netflix.

Time and again in my quests I found myself staring admiringly at the readily available but wholly unsuitable golf pencil displays. The ubiquity of these pretentiously perfect products is especially maddening because we know that golfers don鈥檛 care about their itty bitty 3.5 inch 鈥減encils,鈥 more accurately referred to by normal people as 鈥渟tubs,鈥 or we can separate ourselves from them altogether and call the teeny pencils 鈥渢eencils.鈥 Golfers aren鈥檛 displaying their teencils, they鈥檙e displaying how many golf courses they visited. The irony here is that golf itself doesn鈥檛 even matter. To quote the authoritative July 1979 Sports issue of National Lampoon Magazine, 鈥淚f you want to take long walks, take long walks. If you want to hit things with a stick, hit things with a stick. But there鈥檚 no excuse for combining the two and putting the results on TV.鈥滭/p>

After looking at these displays time and again, either I saw one model for the first time or for the first time realized what I could do with one model and it dawned on me the answer to my problem was hiding in plain sight.

If you鈥檙e like me, not just uninterested in golf but adamantly opposed to it, you鈥檒l appreciate how I鈥檝e discovered a way to cheat the golf cabal鈥檚 clever little system: Yes, available to both golfers and humans alike, there exists a beautiful display case intended to hold 64 embarrassed 3.5 inch teencils that can be repurposed to triumphantly hold one row of 32 anatomically correct pencils. It鈥檚 available in a cherry or oak finish and can be found at Great Golf Memories and Amazon. I purchased two, and a full month after putting these displays on my wall I still spend whole days standing in front of them, silently weeping with joy.

Author’s Note: I don鈥檛 work for the companies that create or sell these display cases. I just revel in this 鈥渉ack鈥 and hope that if you go this route, you won鈥檛 spoil it for the rest of the WWLP crowd by admitting your true purpose to the golf mafia.

Metal Shop Timber Twist Review, by Harry Marks.


[I kidded Mr. Harry Marks after he sent a review to my Very Good Comrade Andy at Woodclinched, and we’re lucky enough to publish his review of a piece of Pencil Gear that I own by never talk about: the Timber Twist from Metal Shop CT. Many thanks to Harry!]

When a pencil has been worn to where its ferrule touches the thumb, it is known as the 鈥淈a href="https://blackwing602.com/steinbeck-pencil-length/">Steinbeck stage,鈥 so named for John Steinbeck, who discarded his pencils once they reached such a length. It sounds wasteful鈥攅ven odd. A pencil at half-length still has plenty of words left in it, plenty of sketching left to do.

However, there comes a time when a pencil becomes too cumbersome to hold. When fingers scrunch and contort like commuters on a packed subway car just to eke out a few more strokes before the tool is tossed away and the finish is being sheared away on a fresh stick. What happens to those stubs? Like good little soldiers they do their tours of duty and get retired, but we can鈥檛 bear to part with them. They鈥檝e served us well. We drop them into desk drawers and mason jars in the hopes a child might come along and use one to scratch out a wobbly, hesitant letter A. That child never comes. Those remnants are relegated to 鈥渄esk duty.鈥 Forgotten.

I had tried to assuage my guilt about discarding stubby pencils by purchasing an extender from CW Pencil Enterprise. More akin to a Roaring 鈥?0s cigarette holder, the little wooden stick had a metal opening to slip the stub into with a ring that would slide down and clamp the pencil in place. It performed as expected, but I didn鈥檛 love it. The unprotected tip of the pencil often snapped off in my bag and the dyed wood made marks on the page. It was too long and the uneven metal hurt my fingers after extensive writing sessions. I needed something better, more compact, and easier to carry.

I鈥檇 been familiar with Metal Shop鈥檚 original bullet pencils for a while, but the aesthetic hadn鈥檛 appealed to my tastes. Made out of copper, aluminum, brass, and other materials, their original lineup seemed too cold despite the presence of a piece of wood sticking out of one side. Perhaps it had been the shape. Vintage bullet pencils had been made of plastic and metal and covered in advertisements for vacuum cleaner repair shops and insurance companies. They resembled their namesake, but without the deadly connotations. Metal Shop鈥檚 offerings, however, seemed to take the 鈥渂ullet鈥 part of the name more seriously. They were intimidating, meant for 鈥渞ugged鈥 types who photographed the contents of their rucksacks for tactical 鈥淈a href="http://everydaycarry.com">EDC鈥 websites. I stayed away.

Then Metal Shop鈥檚 owner, Jon Fontane, mentioned he was looking for the perfect name for a new bullet pencil鈥攐ne made out of wood. The Timber Twist, as it had come to be called, carried the same form factor as its metal forefather in a less threatening wooden body. This was it, I thought. This would replace the pencil holder chomping on a 1-inch Blackwing stub in my bag, but that $46 price tag gave me pause. Twenty-five dollars on a box of Blackwings had been my limit. Twelve pencils would last me a long time before I鈥檇 need to replenish my stock, but $46 for a tiny cylinder of wood and aluminum? I waited.

Months went by before the urge grew too strong to ignore. One night while perusing Metal Shop鈥檚 website, I realized I鈥檇 been thinking about this all wrong. I wasn鈥檛 paying $46 for one pencil. I was paying $46 for a lifetime of pencils. It wasn鈥檛 that there was anything wrong with the cheap pencil holder, but I wanted more. I wanted an accessory that would last a long time, maybe forever, a piece of me for my son to carry long after I鈥檇 gone.

The day it arrived, I pulled the flat cardboard box from the envelope and cursed at its weightlessness. I was prepared to write an angry letter to Metal Shop inquiring about the expensive accessory they鈥檇 forgotten to include inside. Then I pried the lid off and saw it sitting there, pinned like a butterfly to be examined with two extra Blackwing 602 stubs and a few erasers rattling around it. Save for the polished aluminum end piece and the bright Pepto-Bismol eraser at the top, this looked like an antique. Metal Shop had done something truly unique: they鈥檇 paid homage to a vintage object by making something new that looked like a vintage object.

As I slipped it from its box, I marveled at how light it felt. It had been constructed of mahogany and aluminum. I expected something more substantial. I wanted my pocket to sag under its heft. I wanted the paper to gasp with each stroke, as though I was tattooing my words on its skin. This would not do. This didn鈥檛 feel worth the luxury price.

I unscrewed the cap and flipped it over, exposing the 602 stub that had been fastened to the other side, and screwed it in. I now held an almost full-length pencil in my hand and began writing. The weight鈥攐r absence of it鈥攕uddenly made sense. My hand wouldn鈥檛 cramp. I wouldn鈥檛 tire as easily as if the Timber Twist had been made of a solid block of wood. I鈥檇 exhaust the stub, pull out what was left, attach a new one, and keep going. This bullet pencil seemed to have been made with writers in mind.

The eraser didn鈥檛 get much more out of me than a shrug. Its hardness left behind a lot of residue. Traces of the pencil remained on the page. For future buyers, I suggest either not worrying about erasing or carrying a better eraser in your bag. Of course, one doesn鈥檛 buy a Timber Twist for the eraser. They buy it for its looks鈥攁nd what a looker it is.

I purchased the mahogany version with the aluminum trim. The silver of the 鈥渂ullet鈥 part of the pencil amplifies wood鈥檚 cherry tones. Carrying it in my pocket and my bag daily for the past few weeks has put a nice patina on the metal. The wood still looks new, though it won鈥檛 be long before it, too, comes down with a case of wabi-sabi. The Timber Twist already had an heirloom feel out of the box. I can鈥檛 imagine how good it will look with a couple of handwritten novels behind it.

That鈥檚 why we gravitate toward analog tools like these, right? The beauty of such objects is not in how pristine we can keep them, but how much of ourselves we鈥檙e able to pour into them. We refer to paperbacks with worn spines and dog-eared pages as 鈥渨ell-loved.鈥 In a few months, the glisten on the finish of my Timber Twist will dull. Fingerprints will cloud the aluminum and the other objects in my bag will scar the grain. It will go through hell and come out changed, not unlike the remains at the bottoms of those desk drawers.

Except this little soldier will enlist the others. No more desk duty for those forgotten stubs. They will slog through short stories and to-do lists, novels and notes, marching along until they鈥檝e taken their last strokes and can truly rest. And the Timber Twist will keep marching, marching along鈥?/p>

 

In Praise of Moleskines.


I’ve been working on (and off) a review of the Moleskine Voyageur travel journal, and my thoughts about Moleskines in general kept slowing me down.

I turned the later into their own essay, and the good folks at The Cramped published it last week.

“I am writing to praise what鈥檚 become 鈥 to my mind 鈥 the聽humble聽Moleskine. The brand seems to be flourishing these days. There are always more licensed editions to buy, more planner options, more colors, more accessories. There is even a聽Moleskine caf茅, and I will marry whomever whisks me away there. While I feel like Civilians are as into Moleskines as ever, within the fancy聽stationery community (and especially the stationery blogger community), Moleskine can be a dirty word. I might even be guilty of writing them off, but 鈥 for me 鈥斅爄t all started with a Moleskine.”

Read more, and thanks again to Patrick and Shawn!

A Dozen Years.


On this day, in 2005, your humble Editor was a graduate student studying for my preliminary exams so that I could pass on to PhD candidacy and start proposing my dissertation topic. To keep sane, I went through with something I’d been thinking about for a year, ever since picking up a pack of American Naturals and falling in love with pencils while reading Hemingway.


It all started with this pencil in 2004 and this post in 2005.

These days, a lot of my Stationery Time is spent on The Erasable Podcast, which I am lucky enough to co-host with two wonderful Comrades: Andy and Tim. Even more time is spent on the community we’ve seen build itself out of this little show, to which all Comrades are cordially invited here.

A lot has changed since 2005. Blackwings exist again, and we even get four new models every year. This is not the only pencil blog — something that makes me very happy, since so many of them are sooooooo good. I became Dr. Dad to three adorable kids. Moleskines are still around and popular, and pocket notebooks are big business still. Hemingway and Thoreau are still in the national consciousness, even increasingly so. We still can read paper books, but you can read on your phone now too. There’s the Pollux and the Masterpiece to get your longpoints on the go. We are even lucky enough, in 2017, to live in a world that has a pencil store! Pencils aren’t going anywhere. While some US factories have closed, new markets and sources are open to us that we did not have in 2005. Members of the Erasable community trade globally, and my pencil box is half full of pencils which would not have been available to me even five years ago. The Pencil Love is spreading more all the time, though we still mourn the passing of USA-made Ticonderogas and Mirados. There are pencils from all over the world still left to be discovered, and the web makes this possible. It still strikes me as fantastically odd, that the digital aids the analog to such an extent.

No matter what happens, everything you wrote in pencil in 2005 hasn’t faded one little bit. Nor will it.

Pencil is Forever.

In Defense of Doodling.

[This wonderful post is both written and illustrated by Pencil Hero聽Vivian Wagner. Many thanks to Vivian for allowing us to publish this fantastic piece!]

I doodle. I admit it. I doodle a lot. In fact, around a third of what fills my notebooks when I鈥檓 presumably writing is actually doodling. Drawing circles, squares, wine bottles, flowers, scribbles, bird silhouettes, random buildings, peculiar faces. Sometimes I just use whatever I鈥檓 writing with 鈥 often, lately, a pencil 鈥 to fill in an area with cross-hatching. It鈥檚 what I do. I can鈥檛 imagine writing longhand without doodling.

What I鈥檓 finding is that though doodling might seem secondary to the work of writing, it鈥檚 actually central to my process. It gives my brain a chance to pull away from whatever I鈥檓 focusing on, become a little daydreamy. And in that liminal, relaxed, seemingly unfocused space, I make connections. I have new thoughts. I imagine different directions. And I return to my writing refreshed, calm, and ready to think about it anew. Doodling is like a little vacation, but without all the hassle.

I鈥檓 realizing, too, that my affection for doodling is one of the main reasons I like to write longhand. Sure, there are ways to doodle on a screen. There are apps for that, and I鈥檝e experimented with them, especially on my iPad. But there鈥檚 something vital about the visceral laying down of graphite, ink, or pigment. This, too, is part of the process. The physicality of writing and doodling on paper keeps me grounded and helps me remember that I inhabit a body, that I live on a planet. My hand鈥檚 movements across the page link me to the electricity firing in my brain, to the sound of rain and wind, to the feel of my chair sliding on the floor.

Usually, even when I鈥檓 composing on my MacBook Air 鈥 which I鈥檓 doing with this essay, in fact 鈥 I鈥檒l have an open notebook next to my keyboard, along with a few sharpened graphite and colored pencils and pens. Every few minutes, I鈥檒l stop typing, turn to my notebook 鈥 in this case Baron Fig鈥檚 Metamorphosis, which, by the way, has wonderful paper for both doodling and writing 鈥 and absentmindedly scratch out a few lines and shadings. Sometimes, too, I鈥檒l flip back to earlier doodles in my notebook, looking for pencil drawings that I can fill in with color. In this way, my doodles become my own self-created, anxiety-relieving coloring pages.

I usually don鈥檛 show anyone my doodles. They鈥檙e not art, really. They鈥檙e not meant for any outside audience, any more than my unedited handwritten pages are. But they鈥檙e a record of a mind at work, and an integral part of my creative process. Nothing that I write and publish is ever done without the shadow world of my doodles behind it, and I鈥檓 grateful for all the analog tools that allow me to experiment, to assay my way through my thoughts and world.

Probably most people doodle, secretly, on the corners of to-do lists or the backs of envelopes. I鈥檇 like to just give all of us permission and encouragement to keep doodling. Keep making marks. Doodling is like doing yoga, meditating, vacationing, brainstorming, improvising, daydreaming, and even sleeping. It鈥檚 not secondary to our real work. It is our real work.

And, besides, it鈥檚 fun.


Vivian Wagner writes and doodles in New Concord, Ohio, where she teaches English at Muskingum University. She鈥檚 the author of a memoir, Fiddle: One Woman, Four Strings, and 8,000 Miles of Music (Citadel-Kensington), and a poetry collection, The Village (Kelsay Books). Visit her website at www.vivianwagner.net.

The Fitzgerald Pencil Collection.

[This article comes from Jan Jeffrey Hoover, who recently visited The Fitzgerald Collection聽at Jackson, Mississippi. Many thanks for letting us share this piece and these photos!]

For more than 40 years, from the 1930s until the 1970s, Frank Stanley Fitzgerald and his wife Erva Mae Fitzgerald collected Americana, now housed in a single rustic building at the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum in Jackson, Mississippi. Their 鈥渃ollection of collections鈥 includes arrowheads, flatirons, guns, glass insulators, hand tools鈥?.and pencils. According to the museum, their collection of more than 7,000 pencils was once cited in the Guinness Book of world records.

The Fitzgerald pencils are displayed in a single glass-fronted case in the middle of the exhibit. There are no labels or information cards, but specimens are arranged in broad categories and are turned so that their imprints are clearly visible for enthusiasts. The top shelf is a hodgepodge of writing implements obscured by the upper surface of the cabinet, but the lower shelves are easily observed. Extemporaneous cell phone photography can be challenging, but a low conveniently-situated rail encourages visitors to try pictures from various angles.

Many of the pencils, and most of those of those on the second shelf, are promotional, principally from Mississippi-based businesses and officials, particularly those of the Delta which was home territory for the Fitzgeralds. They represent the diverse commerce of the region. Numerous pencils promote agriculture- and forestry-based interests, while others promote products available in feed and general stores. Oversized pencils are well-represented. One appropriately colored pink-and-black pencil bears the imprint 鈥淪incerely Yours Elvis Presley鈥 but is sub-titled with the name of a business.


The third shelf contains specialized material. There聽is a collection of 鈥渉ammers and nails鈥 鈥 mallet-shaped with perpendicular double erasers and metallic-colored with flat-caps and lacking ferrules. Not surprisingly, some of these advertise lumber companies. Also pictured above聽is a collection of 鈥渂ullets鈥 鈥 always appealing to the pencil connoisseur.

The bottom of the case functions as a bin 鈥 holding a voluminous, colorful scatter of pencils. Some are familiar national brands, but, like the bulk of the collection, are largely聽representative of Mississippi Delta business and industry that thrived during the mid-20th century. The Fitzgerald鈥檚 pencils then are not just a testament to a couple鈥檚 unusual hobby. They represent a tangible and enduring historical record of the Delta economy.

[Text and images, Jan Jeffrey Hoover, 2017. Used with kind permission.]

Pencil for Long-Term Writing, Part 4: Accoutrements.


(Continued from 2010, Part 2: Pencils, and Part 3: Paper, and the original post in 2010.)

We will conclude our series of posts about maximizing the performance of pencils for long-term writing with a short look at pencil accessories.

Sharpeners
For journaling, I almost always prefer a long point. I like a point that starts sharp and is able to continue making neat lines without having to stop and sharpen every paragraph, or even every page. And the concave point produced by a crank sharpener like the Classroom Friendly model fits the bill perfectly. On the go (or if you prefer more control of your point), the KUM Masterpiece makes an insanely long point/longpoint and does not draw as much attention in a cafe’ as cranking a large metal contraption might.

Erasers
The best erasers for preserving pencil writing will not smear, will erase completely, and they will not mar the paper. Generally speaking, some kind of plastic eraser fits the bill for all three of these requirements. This blog is lacking in eraser reviews, but I generally reach for the Staedtler Mars plastic eraser or the Faber-Castell version for journaling.

Blotters
As mentioned earlier, I prefer a piece of an old map, a cut sheet from a Rhodia pad, or some other smooth and flexible paper for my blotter sheets. This helps to keep your journal neat in the first place, and stationery nerds seem to gravitate toward maps. Win-win.

Do Comrades have other tips or pieces of gear they use for keeping pencil writing safe for future Revolutionaries?