Unboxing the Field Notes Fall 2015 edition, Shenandoah

TJ Cosgrove from Wood & Graphite and I are falling into a good pattern here, I think — I send him some raw video of an unboxing, and he makes it look good and publishes it! Here’s this month’s release of the newest Field Notes COLORS edition: Shenandoah.

This is one of my favorites for a while, I think. I love the varying shades of green on the outside, with the brighter, “turned” colors duplexed on the inside. Time will tell how well that duplex holds together. This marks the first edition I’m using with my Field Notes Stuff Sheath to keep it nice in my back pocket.

The paper, for pencil, is very nice. It’s a little thicker than the old #50 stock paper, but thinner than the thicker, fountain pen-friendly #70 usually found in the summer editions.

My very favorite thing, though it’s kinda silly, is the belly band. They used a shaved wood on a substrate paper, like with Shelterwood and Cherry Wood, and that natural woodgrain with the green is just gorgeous. I think they captured the look and feel of autumn in the Shenandoah Valley really, really elegantly. This, to me, is why Field Notes stands out — great quality implementations of beautiful, simple themes.

This edition finally got me to convert to a COLORS subscriber, in fact — for the next three releases, I’ll be getting a couple packs automatically, along with a goodie or two. I’m definitely excited about that.

Buy a three-pack for $9.95 or subscribe, starting with this edition, at FieldNotesBrand.com.

Story Supply Co.: the TOMS of the stationery world

Have I mentioned lately how much I love the Erasable community? Well, a lot, I’m sure. But this is something special. One of our group members, Vito Grippi, recently launched a (successful!) Kickstarter campaign for his new company, Story Supply Co.

In a nutshell, they source and give away “story supply kits,” for kids to learn the art of creative writing, storytelling and journaling. They’re partnering with 826, a series of fantastic arts nonprofits that help kids with many of the same goals.

Here’s the video from Vito’s Kickstarter campaign:

Did you notice the cameos from a Mitsubishi Hi Uni and a couple Palomino Blackwings? I sure did.

This is the kind of thing I love — admittedly a pocket notebook and a pencil aren’t the most original offerings ever, but they’re tools for creation! It’s not about creating specialized notebooks with one purpose and one layout. It’s about making a good quality notebook, a good quality writing utensil, for a great cause — helping give kids the same opportunity.

I also love that they’re partnering with 826. I have a couple posters from 826LA, and I’m not too far from the original, 826 Valencia, which is in the Mission district of San Francisco.

Full disclosure: I pledged already, and Vito sent me a pack of notebooks and a pencil early for review purposes. So while I haven’t really paid for them, I am already a backer of this campaign.

I’m a bit late to this review (Johnny talked about it over on the venerable Pencil Revolution, and Gary Varner’s very active new upstart paper blog Papernery has a great review,) but I will mention a few things.

The Notebook

I’m definitely loving the simple, navy blue cover with the Story Supply Co. logo on the front. It’s clean, and the navy-over-cream cover stock seems thick and rugged. The cover has a bit of tooth, as I noticed that there’s a subtle fiber interwoven in the paper, sort of like a dollar bill.


I’ll mention that the cover itself is pretty bad at closing completely once opened, and when it’s open, it wants to fold up pretty bad. It’s not dissimilar from Scout Books in that regard, though I know for sure that this is not a Scout Books product.

The inside is a creamy, thick graph paper. According to Gary, it’s a luxurious 70# weight, which is more than enough for the darkest of pencils, and perfect for all but perhaps the thirstiest of fountain pens.


The 5 millimeter grid is a great size, though it’s laid out strangely on the page. It doesn’t quite meet the top of the paper, though there isn’t enough space for a non-gridded headline, and there’s a slightly thicker line running a quarter of the way in from the outside of the page, and a quarter of the way up. See?


Maybe that was intentional? I have no idea.

Still, though. It’s a bit rough around the edges, but it’s a damn fine notebook, especially considering it was their first run. As the company matures, I’m sure it’ll get better and better.

The Pencil


Now, this is an interesting one. Vito was kind enough to include one of their later offerings, a round, natural-finish pencil! It bears the name, tagline, and some other information about the company, and on top of a golden ferrule, it has a navy blue eraser that matches the silkscreen on the barrel! Swoon.

While it physically resembles the Field Notes pencil, I’m convinced it’s better quality. The wood isn’t as splintery when I sharpened it (with my KUM Masterpiece!) and while the pencil itself isn’t as fragrant as the Field Notes pencil, the shavings are more so.


I’m not sure why that is, but I’m guessing that there’s an ever-so-thin layer of clear lacquer or sealant over the Story Supply Co. pencil. It’s thin enough to leave you feeling like you’re gripping a natural-finish pencil, but it’s not splintery at all, like I find the Field Notes pencil to be.

(It’s worth noting that this is a Musgrave-sourced pencil, so there’s a good chance it’s basswood, which seems to be confirmed when the shavings are next to the more pink Field Notes pencil. I also see a definite woodgrain, which makes it seem like the Story Supply Co. pencil isn’t processed wood.)

They leave very similar marks, but the Story Supply Co. pencil is noticeably smoother to write with than the scratchy Field Notes pencil.


In fact, the only things I think the Field Notes pencil has over this one is a) the typography is better (because, duh, Aaron Draplin) and the ferrule is more unique. Though maybe not as effective — a lot of people have told me the eraser comes out easily.

Story Supply Co.’s ferrule isn’t particularly special but it seems to do it’s job, which is what it’s all about, right?

The Kickstarter

The Story Supply Co. Kickstarter campaign successfully reached its $5,000 goal four days after launching, which is impressive and commendable. At the time of this writing, it’s at $7,167, which seems like it’s still got a lot of momentum in it.

For five dollars, you’ll get a sticker and a pencil, which is a pretty fantastic deal. For just double that, you can get a pack of notebooks in plain, ruled, or graph, and donate a kit to “a kid with a story to tell.”

I can’t wait to see Vito’s stretch goals!

This is the way to do it, folks. I’m loving Vito’s vision for the company, and his Kickstarter prowess.

Check out more about Story Supply Co. at their website, or go straight to their Kickstarter page.

If neither pencil nor pen, then what is it? Reviewing the Napkin Prima

Pen Chalet is such a cool online shop. I wish I could give them more love on this blog than I do. But, alas, there are far better fountain pen reviews on other blogs than I could provide, and Pen Chalet is really intended for the fountain pen and finer rollerball market. Wooden pencil blogs lie pretty far outside that market.

I did write about this mechanical pencil, but other than that, there isn’t much I can rightfully cover on this blog.

Here’s something cool they just started carrying recently — something I’ve been wanting to try for a while. It’s often called a “forever pencil”, though that’s kind of a misnomer.

This chopstick-looking thing is called a Prima, made by an Italian company called Napkin. Pen Chalet sells writing utensils in three varieties that writes in a pretty unique way. This is the budget option, at $49.

According to the Napkin brand page on Pen Chalet’s site, it writes “using oxidation when it contacts paper. This leaves a unique mark different from a pen or a pencil and the tip lasts forever.”

From the way this is worded, it’s unclear whether or not:

  1. The alloy tip oxidizes the paper on contact,
  2. or an oxidation forms on the tip, and rubs off when it makes contact with the paper.

Keith McCleary is a chemist, and a lister of the Erasable Podcast. He’s pretty active in our fantastic Facebook group and when we were discussing how the Napkin products work, he postulated the latter, that the alloy quickly oxidizes and rubs off onto the paper. He thinks the tip could be made from a blend of lead, tin and possibly bismuth, all of which have black oxides.

What’s fascinating to me is that, if this is true, it can oxidize fast enough to continuously generate rust to rub off as you’re writing. Keith confirms — that the combination of heat from friction and air can cause that reaction instantly.

So is this thing a pencil? Or a pen? I think it’s still up in the air. It doesn’t leave bits of itself behind to write like a pencil, but it also doesn’t distribute a medium that introduces pigment to a surface, like a pen. It causes a chemical reaction that rubs off to make a mark. It’s a science pen!

Ergonomics and aesthetics

Visually, the Prima is striking. It’s long and skinny, and it gently tapers to a point. The other two products in the Napkin line carried by Pen Chalet are also striking, through in completely different ways.

There’s the $59 cigar-shaped Cuban with a round, blunt tip intended for drawing and shading.

And, at $119 (more than twice the price of the Prima), the Pininfarina Cambiano is (in my opinion), the handsomest and most ergonomically friendly. Its tip seems to be about the same fineness as the Prima, though I admit I’ve never tried this or the Cuban.

The Prima itself comes in aluminum, anodized in seven colors — mine is “Airforce Blue”. It’s just over seven inches long — slightly shorter than an unsharpened Palomino Blackwing — but also much thinner at the writing end than a typical pencil. It’s perhaps too thin to effectively hold and write with. If I could hold it at the opposite end, it would be perfect.


Roger Ebert is said to have reviewed movies based on, not what they are, but if they accomplished what they were trying to be. That’s why he gave good reviews to so many bad movies — they weren’t trying to be some seminal works of art. They were just trying to be mindless diversions. And they were.

That said, I’m no Roger Ebert, but I do try to emulate review process. Should I compare the Napkin Prima to, say, a Palomino Blackwing, or a nice smooth rollerball pen?

I don’t think the Prima is trying to be either. From their website:

Different from all other writing and drawing tools, the mark is achieved by oxidation, due to contact between tip and paper. So the mark left is very particular, it seems like a pencil but it cannot be erased like a pen, and this makes our writing tool unique in the world.

So here’s my conundrum: the Napkin products are “unique in the world,” so how do I tell if they’re good or not?

For my particular use case, it’s not ideal. It lays down a light mark, lighter than a 3 or 4H pencil, and it’s not smooth to write with, even it is just a metal tip. The tip is slightly sticky and laggy while it slides across the page.

After trying it on several kinds of paper, the best kind to use it with is something more toothy than smooth. Think Ampad, rather than Rhodia.

After a tip from Chris Rothe, the proprietor of Write Notepads (and a guest on Episode 30 of Erasable), I tried the paper in a Write pad. It was indeed noticeably better than the other papers I’ve tried. Just as toothy paper grabs more graphite than smoother paper, it seems to grab more oxidization from the Prima, leaving a darker mark.

(Chris, in fact, loves his Pininfarina — he uses it every day to write thank-you notes to those who place orders with him.)

So, what is an ideal use-case for a Napkin product?

I’m just not sure. If you love the novelty and the lack of maintainance that this brings — you never need to sharpen it, refill it, or as far as anyone knows, replace it — it’d be perfect for you. You can write and write and write, and you’ll run out of paper before you run out of Prima.

But personally, I like being able to switch it up a bit. When my pencil is running out, I can switch to a new one. Same thing with pens, though admittedly I usually lose them before they run dry.

Would I buy a Napkin for myself? Probably not. It’s expensive and the performance just doesn’t rival a nice pencil or pen. Am I glad I have one? Absolutely. It was fun to try out, and dang, it beautiful to look at. It’s a novelty for sure, but I’m sure I’ll bring it out to show someone every now and then.

If you want to try one for yourself, head over to PenChalet.com and pick one up for $49 here.

Disclaimer: I acquired the Napkin Prima from Pen Chalet for review purposes, and paid no money for it. Other than the product, I have not received any financial recompense whatsoever from Pen Chalet.

Unboxing the Summer 2015 Field Notes Workshop Companion Edition

I’m a bit late posting this one, but for good reason. I’m trying a little something out with pencil friend and professional videographer TJ Cosgrove of the blog Wood & Graphite. He’s a pretty active group member, and has shared his time and talents with the Erasable crew in several ways.

Anyway, here’s an unboxing of the pack of Field Notes Workshop Companion edition that Coudal and Draplin released this summer:

Overall, I like it this edition, but it’s far from my favorite. Part of it is that I don’t really have a workshop, or work on auto repair, plumbing, or gardening projects. Obviously, I don’t need to use each book for this prescribed use, but I prefer the ones that center around a theme aesthetically, rather than a particular use case.

Still, though. That thick paper that seem to be traditionally released in summer is so nice and creamy. The cover, a new “Kraft-Tone” stock by French Paper Company, is thick and wears really well.

Thanks, TJ, for making this video great!

A review of the Palomino Blackwing 725: the inaugural Volumes edition

Yesterday was a big day! After I got home from a design lecture at Facebook (featuring Aaron Draplin!), there was a package waiting for me. It was just a plain, padded manila envelope, but the big words at the top of it made me so excited: “PALOMINO.” My first Blackwing Volumes subscription had arrived!


Last week, Palomino teased the edition through social media with a tiny nugget about the edition. It was simply a three-digit number: 725.

Next week. Subscribe at Blackwing602.com. #BlackwingVolumes #Volume725

A photo posted by Blackwing (@blackwing) on

I posted in the Erasable group with some of my theories about what that number means. Most of my ideas centered around the idea of “725” being a model number, like how the Eberhard Faber Blackwing was “602.” Thanks to Bob Truby’s amazing site Brand Name Pencils and a quick search for “725,” I came up with a few great pencils:

Wouldn’t it have been fun if the Blackwing was sapphire blue like the EF Sapphire?

It’s all right, though. The actual reason for the 725 is much more interesting and true-to-brand for Palomino and their arts and music-centric interests.

A Pencil inspired by a guitar

Here’s why this sunbursted pencil bears the number 725, according to product page on the Blackwing website:

The Blackwing 725 pays tribute to Newport as it celebrates the 50th anniversary of the 1965 festival and its impact on music and culture. The pencil’s unique lacquer is inspired by the sunburst finish on the Fender Stratocaster that fueled what Rolling Stone Magazine called one of “50 Moments that Changed Rock n’ Roll.” The 25th day of the 7th month marks the date of Dylan’s memorable set.

It makes good sense. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Stratocaster in person, or if I have, I didn’t notice, but after some image-searching on Google, it’s a great intepretation:

Even on its own, the integrity of the 725 holds up. The lacquer that gradates from black near the eraser, to glowing yellow at the tip is really unique and lovely. I have no idea how the process happened, but in looking closely at it, the color is not halftoned or pixelated, so it seems like maybe it wasn’t just printed onto the barrel.

I noticed, both in the promotional picture and on the pencils I’ve used, that the gradated lacquer seems to be a topcoat on a white pencil. Notice the thing white line on the border of where the paint meets the tip:

I’m not entirely sure why this is here — I have a few theories:

  • Perhaps they just painted over a Blackwing Pearl, since the core seems to be the same or similar. I doubt this, though.
  • Because of the large minimums they must need from the manufacturer to place an order, the Volumes editions are a series of blanks that are basically a fully formed Palomino but with a plain white barrel, sort of like primer coat of paint that’s laid down when you’re painting a wall. If their Blackwings came like this from the manufacturer with cores from the same three varieties, all they’d have to do is apply a topcoat of lacquer, stamp a custom name/model number on, and ship it.
  • That yellow at the tip is so bright and vibrant that they needed a white base layer in order to make it shine.

I’m leaning toward the second one, from a matter of economics and practicality from Palomino’s standpoint, but I am not sure.

In his review of the 725, Pencil Revolution editor (and my good friend and podcast co-host) Johnny Gamber said something really interesting about how they fit into the product lineup:

Also, this is the first truly glossy Blackwing I have ever seen. The MMX is matte; the 602 is metallic; the Pearl is, well, opalescent. The 725 reminds me of the finish on an instrument, which is, of course, what they were going for.

Presentation matters

The thing I was most impressed with was the amazing presentation of these pencils. They came in a thick, matte black box with a simple “Blackwing” subtly debossed on the top.

If you buy a dozen of 725 from a retailer, it comes with a really beautiful sleeve over the box with a picture of the pencil, and text pressed into the thick cardstock. I managed to score one of these sleeves, and I recommended to Palomino that in future editions, they give those sleeves to subscribers, too. It really adds to the aesthetic value of the box.

They say packaging doesn’t matter, but to someone like me who appreciates really nicely designed products, it really makes a difference.

Subscribers also get a thirteenth “archival” pencil; all sealed in a tube with a label on it documenting the edition. The plastic tube it comes in has a rubberized cap on both ends, and while you can easily unseal it, it should stay pretty airtight to preserve your eraser for years and years.

Performance matters too, but not as much in this case

In my last post announcing the Volumes program, I was wondering (well, hoping) that they were going to reformulate the pencil for each edition. I don’t believe that they did that. And I guess I understand why not; it’s a giant pain in the butt to birth a new graphite formulation — lots of iterating, lots of research and development, and lots of communication between parties.

And to do that every three months? I can’t imagine a giant pencil company like Staedtler or Tombow doing that, let alone a tiny company like Palomino.

When Palomino announced this pencil, they referred to the graphite core as “Balanced”. That seemed to me to send a clear message that this would be based on the Palomino Pearl pencil, which bears the description “Balanced and Smooth” on the box (as opposed to the Blackwing MMX’s “Soft and Smooth” and the 602’s “Firm and Smooth”).

When I tried it out, it wrote very much like the Pearl. Which I appreciated — the Pearl is a damn fine pencil. So much so, I’m guessing that the 725 has an identical core to the Pearl.

I won’t retrace my steps here, so check out my original Pearl review from about two years ago. I think the performance section of the review holds true for this pencil, too.


If you’re on the fence about a Blackwing Volumes subscription, I understand. $111 (including shipping) is a lot to pay for four dozen pencils. But, it’s not particularly more than if you were to buy four dozen Palominos straight off the website, and the presentation is just so good. As Johnny mentioned, it feels like Palomino spent a lot more on packaging and shipping than subscribers paid for.

Check out the Palomino Blackwing 725 product page to purchase a boxed dozen of them for $24.95, or to subscribe for a year for $99.

Blackwing launches a pencil subscription service

It’s pretty fortiutious that I even saw this in a timely manner — I’m traveling — but, I ran across something pretty cool:

Volumes: a limited edition pencil series celebrating the iconic stories that define a creative culture

Though a bit overstated, once you dig into the meat of the page, you can see what they’re saying: They’re launching a quarterly subscription service!

Much like Field Notes, you get four editions a year for $100 (plus $12 for shipping). Each shipment includes a dozen pencils in fancy gift boxes, plus a pencil sealed for archival purposes, (which is a nice touch for us hoarders, er, collectors). And, to further appease collectors, each pencil will be numbered

In talking with a couple people on Twitter about this, the Pencils.com folks have a lot to do if they want to be profitable. They need to reinvent a unique, appealing, quality pencil every three months, and they need to meet the significant minimums manufactures are sure to require from them.

If anyone can do that, though, it’s Charles Berolzheimer and his gang over in Stockton.

And it’s good to see a Friend-of-Erasable, Wood & Graphite‘s own TJ Cosgove, get some work out of it! He made the video to accompany the announcement blog post:

It seems to me that the target demographic for a pencil subscription service is much smaller and more niche than the Field Notes crowd; and generally, pencil users are a bit more thrifty, too. $100 for 48 pencils is not a cheap price, even if it is for limited edition, fancy pencils.

Still, though — I’m excited about it, and I plan on subscribing soon. I look forward to seeing the makers of two of my top five favorite pencils do something like this. It should keep them creative, innovative and hopefully nimble, as they’ll quickly learn if the edition they release is a hit or not.

For those who think the subscription is a bit steep — fear not! It looks like they’ll be offering packs of the limited edition pencils a la carte, though probably in limited quantities. As it is, if you buy at least four dozen Blackwings a year, you’re probably just about paying this amount already.

Finally, it’s nice to see that a portion of the subscription payment is going torward music education for children! Charles is an advocate for the Arts and, through the Blackwing brand, has supported musicians and artists over the years.

Unboxing the Field Notes Spring 2015 “Two Rivers” Edition

I’m a bit late with creating this video, but I just got my Field Notes order today. It’s a pretty fantastic edition, and so different than anything they’ve created before.

I mentioned this in my last post, but you should definitely listen to Aaron Draplin himself discuss the particulars on the last episode — episode 5 —  of Dot GridCheck it out here.

I’m almost through my Ambition memo book, and I think one of these beauties will be my next one. But which one?

I have the blue-and-white backwards-“ONE” book:

The green-and-khaki camo “O”

Or the blue and red one with kitschy mid-century farm animal heads.
I’m willing to bet the Two Rivers edition will go fast. They made 25,000 packs, and each one is unique. Buy them here for about $10.