Sunday, October 02, 2011

Happiness is a New Box of Pencils: Palomino Blackwing 602s!

Actually, true happiness is another subject entirely.  But pencils don't hurt...

Ever since I first heard California Cedar Products had come out with a new version of the famed Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602 pencil, I've wanted to try some, just to say I did.  And I finally broke down and bought a box.

Palomino Blackwing 602

At 19.99 a dozen, they are very pricey as pencils go, though less than comparable high-end Japanese brands: a dozen Tombow Mono 100s will set you back $28(!!).  I'm scared to even try those!  My Blackwings arrived at the end of last week, and I spent part of the weekend putting one through its paces and comparing to other pencils. ( I finished the rough draft of a short story--woot!)

Blackwing slogan
This cracks me up...hooray for old school, over the top slogans!

I have to say, they are awful nice.  Sooo smooth, and they manage to write a pretty dark line without needing a ton of sharpening, just as the reviews say, and without much pressure. There is something to be said for a pencil that requires almost as little pressure as a fountain pen.   And because they're so smooth, they take longer to get to that draggy stage you eventually hit with a less-than-sharp pencil.  Also, they're gorgeous: glossy, metallic charcoal grey, the distinctive gold ferrule and flat eraser, and with that famous (if a bit goofy) slogan down one side and the model name down the other in gold lettering.  From what I've read, there was a certain amount of brouhaha over the choice of using a black eraser (the original had a pink eraser), but since I never used the original, I don't really have strong feelings either way.  I think the pink eraser might be a cool-looking contrast, but the black eraser looks sharp and works well.

My problems with them are mostly just that--my problems.  If I had unlimited funds, maybe I'd use nothing but Blackwings forever.  But I don't.  And they're twenty bucks a dozen.  I can just about buy a gross of California Republic Golden Bears for the same price as a dozen Blackwings.  Do I really like the Blackwings enough to justify that much of a price difference?  I doubt it.

Also, I'm intimidated by them, partly because of their price, partly because of their beautiful glossy metallic finish.  I've gotten accustomed to the lonnnnng points my Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener produces, but it does leave marks on the pencils.  At first I just sharpened a Blackwing with the hand-held Kum wedge, but I missed the long point terribly, and finally broke down and used the big sharpener.  It left marks, of course, which hurts.  I spent a certain amount of time this weekend explaining to myself that pretty though they are, these pencils are tools, and I should feel OK with treating them as such, but...

Still, I'm glad I get to experience them!

And now I really, really need to not buy any more pencils.  Like...ever.  I came across an interesting acronym among yarn craft folks the other day: SABLE.  It stands for "Stash Accumulation Beyond Life Expectancy."  I have a fairly optimistic view of my own life expectancy, but...well...sometimes I veer dangerously close to SABLE status when it comes to paper and ink and pencils.


Cameron said...

I know absolutely NOTHING about least, until I read your blog post today. I might have to splurge on a dozen myself, some time.

May you create many fine things with your Palomino Blackwing 602s!!

Mike Speegle said...

Having been a life-long adherent to the cult of Ticonderoga, I HAVE TO TRY THOSE PENCILS.

You must always remember what the incredibly wise Speculator once told me, pencils were meant to be used, no matter how fancy. It's what they're for!

Anonymous said...

Arrrrggghhhh! Levengers has a package of Rhodia pencils at a cost of about 2 bucks a pencil. I was able to resist such extravagence. Now you tempt us with these Blackwings for just a little less! And they are supposed to be great pencils!! Can I withstand the pressure to order a box? Do I have any need for such an expense? Tune in again, same Bat time, same Bat channel!

Actually, I would order some in a heartbeat but, like you, I have enough pencils (and art supplies) to last beyond my lifetime. And I have a good shot at another thirty to forty years.

I might crack and order some. Desire often outstrips reality. But I won't hesitate to use them. That's what they exist for.

Word veriication: "cultiver" = soemone who grows cacti.

Jeff The Bear

Duffy Moon said...

"half the pressure, twice the speed" sounds like a NaNoWriMo slogan. Except for the pressure thing.

(word verif = "felldepr". I fell in love with your last pencilpron post. With this one? I felldepr.)

Little Flower Petals said...

Duffy - maybe I could hack a special NaNoWriMo edition by carving off the word "HALF" and replacing with another "TWICE"?

Anonymous said...

Dang! It was supposed to say:

Word verification: cactiver = grower of cacti?

I really should wake up before I get on the computer.

Jeff The Bear

Little Flower Petals said...

If I had a nickel for every typo I'd ever made in a comment box...well, prices being what they are, I *might* have enough to buy a strong cup of coffee to help prevent me making more typos in comment boxes.

Did a bunch more playing with pencils this morning, comparing the Blackwing to a few others. They do hold a point admirably well (I was able to write a full, letter-sized sheet without stopping to sharpen, and it still had a decent point left), and the writing doesn't smear very easily...but some of my other pencils seem darker. So I dunno. The jury is still out on the value vs price thing. Currently the pencils I'm liking most are the General's Semi-Hex and some Mongol 482s.

I think the paper makes a difference, though. What works well for one paper doesn't always work well on others. I shall go forth and over-analyze some more.

Robert M. said...

They're good pencils. I think I would have been more receptive of the original Palomino Blackwing had they possessed the fit and finish of the 602s.

I use the expensive Japanese pencils you mention, but I get them either locally (I live in East Asia), or I order from the Japanese stationer Bundoki via sites like and The prices there for the premium pencils are generally a great deal lower than what you get from some of the American companies. You can even order singles to try out different grades.

No affiliation, just a customer.

Though I've got a bunch of those really sexy Japanese pencils, the Palomino Blackwing 602 so far has satisfied me. It really is a beautiful instrument, and I like the understated look with fairly minimal text. They are daily users for me.

Little Flower Petals said...

I'm glad you stopped by! I was somewhat curious how these compare to the much-praised high end Japanese pencils. (Though, in a way, aren't these Japanese pencils as well?)

I think I'm going to try an experiment and use one pretty much exclusively for a week or so before comparing to others. Yes, that means wear...but as others have pointed out, they're meant to be used! Bouncing back and forth without much time to get a full impression is confusing me.

The thing that stands out so far is that these really do take very little pressure to create a nice mark. And that mark is smooth and dark, without the sort of powdery darkness some others produce (i.e. the regular Palomino, which I've tried). They're great pencils for the long haul.

Robert M. said...

I think once you get to higher end pencils, the nuances get finer and finer, especially since some of the differences boil down essentially to how hard the lead actually is.

The Palomino Blackwing 602s I have are very good pencils in that HB-B range that seems to be a good balance for writing. It's dark in the range of a Mono 100 HB, or slightly darker than a Hi-Uni HB, with what, to my hand, seems like slightly inferior point retention. It doesn't compare in darkness or smoothness to B or softer grades of those pencils, so I'd put it in that "HBB" range that is sometimes used for mechanical pencil leads (though the lead is not reminiscent of polymer leads). I do not know the actual manufacturer of the lead cores in these pencils, but there are a number of makers in Japan. Of course, Mitsubishi and Tombow and (until recently at least) Pentel have been sitting at the top, and I'm not sure CalCedar is working at that level (Kita-Boshi, perhaps? I really don't know).

I think the metallic paint job is beautiful, and the overall look is excellent. It is firm and not extremely dark with standard writing pressure, but the mix is still very dark, and is capable of producing very dark marks with pressure. I made a quick chart comparing the maximum darkness achieved by a few different pencils:

I was not planning to buy more CalCedar pencils really after the initial Blackwing fiasco, but the 602 has swayed me enough to get me to keep a couple boxes. Granted, I have many more pencils from the other Japanese big names, but I'm quite happy with the latest Blackwing. It's too bad that the busiest pencil blogs do not offer it much attention (perhaps, again, due to the issues surrounding the initial PBW release). It seems to be a very nice product overall.

Little Flower Petals said...

Interesting chart--thank you for that! There really is a rather wide variance in darkness within the more-or-less HB range, isn't there? Some of it is variance in hardness, some of it seems to be that the actual core is greyer in some brands--the newer Ticonderogas are a lighter colored core, for sure. Some days I like one thing, sometimes another, though I tend to stay more or less in the HB realm. The darkness of the softer grades is seductive, but I think for writing purposes, the smearing would drive me crazy. Some of the time I prefer pencils on the harder side of HB, like the Forest Choice and the General's Cedar Pointe, and I recently picked up some F/#2.5 pencils as well. I never ended up buying any of the original Palomino Blackwings because from the reviews, it sounded too soft to use as a regular writing pencil, though maybe nice for drawing.

Despite all I said about not buying pencils, someday I want to try some of the famous Japanese brands, especially if I can find somewhere that sells singles and charges a reasonable price to ship to the US.

Robert M. said...

In my previous comment, I put in a plug for and, both of which are English sites run by Bundoki, both of which offer singles, and both of which ship internationally for relatively low rates (I am in East Asia, but not Japan).

I don't know if you'll find the top Japanese pencils magical or anything, but they are very nice, well-crafted tools for the most part.

Little Flower Petals said... you did. Thank you, I'll check those out next time I have some extra pocket change.