The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune: a review of the Baron Fig Archer pencil

This has been a long time coming, folks.

Ever since I first met Baron Fig founders Joey and Adam in person, last year in April, they’ve been intensely interested in wooden pencils. We had a great chat, sitting on a park bench in Washington Square Park in NYC. I told them what I thought made a good pencil, and they told me a bit about their design philosophy.

And while I had nothing to do with the creation of this pencil, I do feel a bit of pride in it — I don’t know if I’ve ever followed someone’s process from ideation to creation before.

The Baron Fig Archer pencils with the Three Legged Juggler Confidant notebook

It’s unclear how the idea started — perhaps it was a whole bevy of Baron Fig users telling the guys how pencil-friendly their paper was: toothy but not rough; thick but not plush. Perhaps it was that pencils can express their design philosophy to a level that pens never can — ultimate simplicity expressed. No refills, no moving parts. Just wood, graphite and paint.

But honestly, does it matter? I’m happy they decided to go for it. There’s a lot of (valid) criticism of the Baron Fig aesthetic out there: extreme minimalism, cold, clean lines, inexplicably feudal naming conventions. But for me, personally, I like it. I find warmth in their Confidant journals from the fabric covers, and though many of the designers I work with love the grey, I vastly prefer some color in my notebooks (I love, love my orange Three-Legged Juggler that I stashed away for a year or two before breaking open).

Their product lines has explored notebooks just about as far as they could go. They have the Confidant, the Apprentice (their soft-covered pocket notebook) and the Vanguard (the larger, multi-sized soft-covered notebooks). They released a Confidant cover, the Guardian, and even a planner variant of the Confidant.

Last year, they released the Squire, a pen that I wrote about here. It seemed only logical that a pencil would follow. I was worried it might be a mechanical pencil version of the Squire, but I was happy to see they went with a woodcase pencil.

Let me walk through a few different aspects of this pencil that really stood out to me.


Joey texted me back in August with this amazing photo:

From the moment I saw it, I knew it would be a perfect fit in their lineup. The grey barrel is finished with a really soft matte lacquer, that makes it fairly non-stick. Even with clammy hands, this shouldn’t slip from your fingers.

Like the Squire before it, the insignia (icon?) on the barrel indicating the name is a simple line illustration. Instead of a sword, of course, there’s an arrow. Opposite it, “BARON FIG” is written. Both markings are, I believe, screenprinted on — there’s no sign it was debossed or stamped.

Closeup of the barrel of the Baron Fig Archer pencilPersonally, I would have loved a little bit of color — maybe the yellow accent color they use for bookmarks in their Confidante, or the Baron Fig wine color on their boxes and branding. But I’m not too bent out of shape about it — I expected a monochromatic pencil, and I think the majority of their audience will prefer it.

Closeup of the Baron Fig Archer barrel on the Confidant notebook

It’s definitely not going to turn any heads or start conversations, like a Blackwing or, say, a flashy Hi-Uni Penmanship. But that’s not what it’s for — this is designed to be a distraction-free workhorse. And while it’s fun to explain the story behind the Blackwing to strangers, it’s definitely a distraction. This is for focused sketching of wireframes, or writing important to-do lists, or just musing in your notebooks at breakfast to finish your Morning Pages.


Johnny, Tim and I were lucky enough to get an advance dozen of the pencils a couple weeks before the launch so we could try them out and talk to them about it on the latest episode (check it out!). I used it almost exclusively for a week, and wrote all over — in my Confidante, my Field Notes, on cheap Post-it notes — you name it.

Shavings from the Baron Fig Archer pencil, sharpened by a KUM Masterpiece

When I sharpened it with my Kum Masterpiece, the wood looks blemish-free but still pretty woodgrainey. It doesn’t seem like they’re using a composite wood. I’m not sure what it is made of — I doubt it’s incense cedar because of how lightweight it is. Still, I’m a big fan. It smells like a wooden pencil. And it sharpens like a champ.

The first thing I noticed was how incredibly lightweight it is. I don’t have a postage scale with me, but even considering there is no ferrule, it feels exceptionally light. So, at first, I thought it was going to feel cheap and scratchy.


I was so pleased to be wrong. On every paper I used it on, the graphite was exceptionally well-balanced. It wasn’t buttery-smooth like a Blackwing (even the 602 is way smoother than others of its hardness), nor was it scratchy like its featherweight sibling, the extremely light and scratchy Faber-Castell Grip 2001.

Baron Fig paper is widely considered to be pretty great for pencil, and this pencil is pretty great with this paper. I spent some considerable time writing with it in my Three-Legged Juggler Confidante, and it didn’t lay down the darkest mark in the world, but it barely smudged when I smeared it with my finger. And it erased very cleanly.


The Packaging

I think that the packaging deserves its own category here. Baron Fig has always been obsessed with amazing packaging — Their Confidantes come in a perfectly engineered box. Unboxing it is an experience, much like an Apple product or other fine electronics. The Archers are no different.


When I got the tube in the mail, I thought it was impossibly thin to fit. There was no way a dozen regular-sized pencils were going to fit in there! I showed the unopened tube to my wife, and asked her how many pencil she thought were in there, and her guess was around four to six pencils.


Finally, I lifted the top of the tube off, and sure enough, 12 pencils were fit together in a 3x3x3 honeycomb triangle. When we were recording, I asked Joey and Adam how long it took to design that packaging — Adam admitted to doing a lot of math in order to make that happen. It certainly paid off.


I’m a big fan of these little guys. I still prefer pencils with erasers on the end. Blame it on my very American background — I maintain the eraser gives it a nice counterbalance when I’m writing, not to mention a super handy tool for when I need to rub out a mistake. But sometimes when I’m sketching or writing fast, I want a very lightweight pencil unencumbered by the extra weight a ferrule and eraser brings. These are sure to be a standard go-to for me.


I think the price is perfect, too. It’s not cheap by any means, but at $15 a dozen, that means it’s $1.25 per pencil, which is quite a bit less than the $1.82 Blackwing.

Like Apple, Baron Fig puts intentionality and design into everything they do. They strip out the cruft that’s worked its way into stationery and office supplies, leaving only the necessities. If that appeals to you, you’re going to love the Archer. Pick up a dozen or two over on their website for $15 a dozen.

And thank you, Joey and Adam for this fantastic addition to your lineup, and for letting me feel like I was able to come along on the journey!

(These pencils were given to me at no charge by Baron Fig for review purposes.)

Review of the Bookblock Original

Just about a year ago, I got an email from Stefan Johnson, the creative director of a design agency in London, who was planning a Kickstarter campaign for a notebook. It stood out to me because, unlike most other Moleskine-style notebooks, this was for a completely customizeable notebook — from the cover to the spine, the elastic band to the bookmark, you could pick the design and the color, and you could do it without being required to order in quantity — each was completely one-off.

The Kickstarter campaign

I was intrigued, so I pledged £10 (disclosure: I pledged at a level that had a discounted rate for bloggers who reviewed the product. And here is that review). The campaign launched on August 18, and closed a couple months later on October about £600 over the £10,000 goal.

Pretty soon after, Stefan sent me a template to fit into my design. I really wanted to put the production process through its paces, so I wanted a fairly complicated, precise design. Which led me to this, based on TJ Cosgrove’s amazing reproduction of an old Eberhard Faber Blackwing box for Erasable:


In addition to this design, I chose a black elastic band, and a red bookmark to accent the red on the cover.

That was in mid-August, right after the campaign ended.

And then, everything stopped.

I heard back from Stefan again in March, apologizing for being silent for seven months, and letting me know my notebook was ready.

I responded, and then there was silence again for a couple months, when I heard from someone else from Bookblock — Phoebe — that she was going to send me the notebook.

A week later, 10 months after the campaign ended, the notebook came.


The notebook’s production quality

Well, first of all, the order was wrong. I asked for a black elastic band and a red ribbon, and got a navy blue band and a white ribbon.

However, the design itself was implemented from the template with exacting precision. I lined it up so the spine had a pencil right in the center — if it was off even by a fraction of an inch, it would be pretty noticeable.

The Bookblock Original came pretty darn close to the original design I submitted. Excellent work by whomever set up the template.

The quality of the printing is… decent. It has the resolution of maybe a nice color laser printer, and although the color is pretty true to the digital design, it was finished with what looks like a clear, matte coating that just dulls the whole design.

The Bookblock Original cover is covered with a dull finish and bubbles have appeared in places.

This is just a guess, but it looks like the design was printed on paper that was applied beneath some kind of contact paper — there are multiple instances where there are bubbles between those layers, especially around edges. It cheapens the looks significantly.

The notebook’s materials

Phoebe told me that Monsieur Notebooks was a “sister company” of the Bookblock Original, which looks to mean that they produce the notebook itself — the binding, the paper and the materials. If I were to guess, Bookblock Original wraps their designs around the Monsieur journal.

The Bookblock Original inside cover, with the Monsieur logo.

Monsieur’s a pretty popular producer of custom notebooks — if you’ve ever gotten a pretty nice customized journal that seemed nicer than and more personalized than a Moleskine with a stamp on the cover, it could very well have been a Monsieur.

The Bookblock Original inside spread. The paper is of decent quality and is pretty pencil-friendly.

The paper inside is really nice. It’s medium-heavy weight, about 90 gsm, and has some tooth to it (but not too much tooth), much like the Baron Fig Confidante. This means it’s pretty pencil-friendly. My General’s Cedar Pointe #1 wrote in it like a dream, smooth but dark.

The Bookblock Original page closeup.

The signatures of the book are visible and are pretty noticeable. I’m not sure what that indicates, but it seems to me to indicate that it’s been hastily assembled. Even most Moleskines, which have dropped in quality over the years, seem to be bound and cut carefully enough that it’s hard to pick out where the signatures in the binding start and end.

The price and market fit

Now that the Kickstarter is over, these notebooks are available publicly. The Bookblock Original’s website says that the notebooks start at $18, though they aren’t clear up front what features cost more until you’ve completed the process to design your own.

It’s also unclear what Bookblock Original’s relationship is to Bookblock, or what their relationship is to Monsieur. The original Kickstarter mentioned nothing about differentiating the “Original” from the brand name.

If Bookblock Original improves their production, $18 is a perfectly reasonable price to pay for the amount of customization you’ll be able to do to a reasonable quality notebook. It’s great for one to, say, five notebooks decked out with your favorite design.

I was hoping to be impressed by this enough to buy Johnny, Tim and TJ all a copy of this Erasable Podcast notebook, but until the dull finish is more vibrant and there are no bubbles in the cover, I don’t think I’ll be spending more money here. Now that they’re in regular production and out of the setup phase, hopefully that’ll be soon.

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

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 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.

Number 2 (Pencil Shavings) Perfume Review

I’m a very visual person — it’s generally hard for me to talk and write about something that I can’t see or read. I don’t usually write about music, the taste of food or drink, or other non-visual stuff.

That’s why I never thought I’d be writing about a scent — especially on a pencil blog.

One of our amazing Erasable listeners and Facebook group members, Mica Thomas*, sent Johnny and me some samples of a perfume her friend, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of DSH Perfumes, created. It’s called “#2 (Pencil Shavings)”.

That’s right — a pencil-scented perfume.

Where do I even begin? First, wow. This is right up there with the pencil/wine pairings that David Rees put in his book, How to Sharpen Pencils (when we interviewed him on Episode 15 of Erasable, he told us that was completely legit — a friend who owned a wine shop sat down with him and helped develop that section!).

After receiving a cool little package in the mail, I opened it and found some goodies from Mica.

The scent came in one of those little glass vials they pass out of perfume at a department store cosmetics counter.

The smell, though

Right after unpopping the cap, the smell was too intense to really discern any particularly woody scent. It smelled really odd — bitter, maybe, and slightly unpleasant. After applying to my skin, or to cloth, the intensity of the scent stayed for a few more seconds, and then it fades into something a bit more familiar.

As Johnny described it on the most recent episode of the podcast, it smells more like red cedar than incense cedar; more of an old fashioned pencil. I’d have to agree, though I don’t think my experience with cedar is as rich as his.

(I wish I had some kind of visual to show you here, but I don’t.) 
I feel like, though, there’s a touch of something else in it. Something more sharp or mineral-y. Graphite, maybe? After all, that’s present in the pencil shavings too. It’s not unpleasant at all — it smells a bit like being in grade school and emptying the container of shavings from the old Boston crank sharpener on the wall into the trash can.

The bottom line

Dawn says that the scent will be available as both a wearable essence and as an ambient scent in, say, a reed diffuser. I can defintiely see the latter being more popular than the former — retired elementary teachers, maybe, could scent their living room if they miss the atmosphere of their classroom.

I’d like to thank Mica and Dawn for this really interesting experience! And, of course, I’ll update this post with a link as soon as it is available for purchase in a couple weeks. In the meantime, check out the rest of Dawn’s scents on her website, DSH Perfumes.

(By the way, Mica is the general manager of a really cool company that makes and repairs guitars — by hand! — called Alembic, and they were recently featured in Rolling Stone Magazine!)