Editor’s Note: I originally wrote a review of these two products for the now-defunct PencilThings.com blog in December, 2007. Nearly 3 years later, I am re-reviewing them. Check out the original review at the Internet Archive. (warning — there is a jarring lack of CSS styling. Scroll down for the article)
Here’s something I have never resolved in my love of pencils: the wood consumption. Although I would not consider myself an environmental activist, I try to live my life in a green manner — I drive a fuel-efficient small car. I recycle. I use the blank backsides of paper. I use travel mugs, not paper cups. Et cetera, et cetera.
So when I watched this video, sure — it makes me feel guilty:
I can at least partially reconcile it to myself that I’ve read up on the manufacturing process of California Cedar, and Dixon Ticonderoga (who use sustainable forests), the two top producers of pencils I use. Granted, I could be missing something, but their forestry practices look ethical and sustainable.
However, I do find myself intrigued by manufacturers like Oregon-based TreeSmart (in the video above) and French-based O’Bon. They have some exceptional pencils made from recycled newspaper broadsheets. Let’s first take them one by one.
O’Bon Protect Wildlife Newspaper Pencil 2B
This is a bright, pretty pencil that comes in animal prints. Although my favorite design is the one I reviewed previously, a green pencil featuring a turtle, the design I grabbed for this review is orange, and has a tiger on it.
When I sharpened it with my little KUM handheld, I noticed that unlike other newspaper pencils I’ve used before, this one didn’t produce shredded paper. It held together well, like a very high-grained wood. And it’s pretty, too, all white with black specks!
You may notice that the barrel says “2B” on it, so recalling your amazing respository of scribomechanical knowledge, you’ll know that this means it is somewhat softer lead than a regular HB pencil. It’s still well within the boundaries of normal writing pencils, however. This pencil wrote well, very dark and smooth. If you sharpen it to a very sharp point, however, you might want to give it a few strokes on scrap paper before you write something you’d turn in to teacher. Because the lead is softer than usual, a sharp point broke off with even a small amount of pressure applied to it. This leads to unsightly graphite crumbles on your page, and you don’t want that, do you?
Because this pencil is capped without an eraser, it’s extremely lightweight. I usually prefer an eraser tip, because it provides a good counterbalance for when you write. But this works aesthetically, and I respect their decision not to be-eraser it.
My TreeSmart pencil looks, to me, like what a recycled newspaper pencil should look! The unfinished barrel is devoid of any extra markings, so it’s easy to see the characters of the newsprint! My pencil looks like it is made from a Chinese newspaper, for example.
Using the pencil feels very much like a Field Notes brand pencil (see a great review from John at Pencil Revolution here). It’s a rounded, unlacquered barrel, (but doesn’t feel cheap like many promotional pencils with round barrels) And when John says of his Field Notes pencil, “I noticed a hint of scratchiness to the lead, but not so much that it bothers me,” that rings true with this TreeSmart product as well. It’s not as smooth as the O’Bon, but since it is two grades harder than the 2B Wildlife pencil, that’s expected in comparison.
When I sharpened the TreeSmart, I noticed it was a lot more uneven than the O’Bon. I can’t tell if there are little bubbles of air in the barrel, or what, but the shavings were lacy, and I noticed little pits in the point. I hope this picture gives you an idea of what I’m talking about. I feel fairly forgiving of this, because on their website, TreeSmart says the pencils are hand-rolled. Plus, it doesn’t seem to affect performance or detract from the overall structural integrity of the pencil.
I really shouldn’t be doing a side-by-side comparison. As a fledgling pencil blogger, I did just that in my original PencilThings review, but because the leads are two different grades, it’s comparing apples to oranges. That being said, I’ll show you a comparison.
As you can see, the O’Bon was darker. (Only the Original O’Bon newspaper pencils are in HB, and I couldn’t get a hold of any for review.) The TreeSmart pencil erased better than the O’Bon when I used a third-party eraser (one of my favorites consumer-grade erasers: a Papermate Black Pearl), and when I used the eraser attached to the Tree-Smart, it didn’t fare quite as well.
If you’re looking for performance, I say go with the O’Bon. It’s darker and smoother. Holistically, though, I recommend the TreeSmart. It’s unique in looks, feel, and the company seems a little more grass-roots. Plus, the TreeSmart is cheaper by about 20% (although it’s hard to pinpoint a per-pencil price, as each company sells different quantities of pencils per pack).