The Baron Fig notebook: worth the hype?

The Confidant, a notebook by Baron Fig. Photo from BaronFig.com.

The Confidant, a notebook by Baron Fig. Photo from BaronFig.com.

When it comes to the Baron Fig notebook, I totally missed the boat. I definitely heard about it the day the Kickstarter launched, but when it came time to pledge, I either didn’t have $20 I could spend on a pledge, or I just had other stuff going on. Excuses, excuses.

Long story short; I’m excited that they’re about to sell their notebook! According to the website, the Kickstarted product is called the “Confidant” and will be on sale for $20 starting Tuesday, March 4. Continue reading

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Bullet to bullet: the Midori brass pencil vs. the bulk, blank “umpire pencil”

This winter — I tell you what. It’s really kicked my butt so far. Between a record-setting month for snowfall, and several days of -12° (or less) weather, I’m ready to leave Indiana behind.

Being stuck at home has given me ample time to work on a big writing project, however, and that writing project has given me an opportunity to test out a few new products for review!

three-pencil-comparison-2

Top to bottom: Midori Brass Bullet Pencil, bulk “blank” umpire bullet pencil, and antique Fort Wayne Johnston Stock Yards bullet pencil (not reviewed)

Continue reading

A Palomino Blackwing Pearl review

I’ve been a bad pencil blogger, folks.

Pencils.com introduced the Blackwing Pearl back in early May — more than two months ago. I posted two different preview articles about them then, but have been silent since.

It’s not through lack of interest. I’ve used the Pearl almost exclusively since then, switching away to a different Blackwing or a Golden Bear just to compare and contrast.

Box of Palomino Pearl pencils by Pencils.com

I’ve gone through three pencils, and I finally think I’m ready for a review.

Aesthetics

I have to admit, the Blackwing Pearl is gorgeous.

The owner of a local winery (and a client of my employer) took notice of this pencil and bought several dozen to use in the wine tasting room. It compliments the minimalist style of the facility, and a good friend of mine who works there tells me they are running out — patrons keep taking them!

Two-EEs Winery bought a bunch of these pencils because of their style.

Two-EEs Winery bought a bunch of these pencils because of their style.

Visually, this is a logical follow up to the PB Classic and the PB 602 — the pearlescent lustre (that’s right, I spelled that like a British person) looks really nice next to the grey sharkskin of a 602, which sets off the matte black of the original PB.

The Palomino Blackwing family

You can tell which of the Blackwings is most loved in my arsenal.

I have a little bit of an OCD eye twitch that goes off when I think about how, from darkest to lightest, the color of the barrel is:

  • PB Classic
  • PB 602
  • PB Pearl

Yet, from darkest to lightest, the marking of the graphite is:

  • PB Classic
  • PB Pearl
  • PB 602

One thing I got wrong in my (otherwise amazing) mockup of the Pearl was the words stamped on the side. Rather than gold foil, it’s stamped with black, which provides a strong contrast to the barrel paint. And, it matches the black eraser, which brings a little continuity. It’s the little things; I love that.

The barrel of the Palomino Blackwing Pearl

The element that feels out of place, though, is the brass ferrule. I think a steel one would look better, and make the barrel look more pearly. The ferrule here isn’t too gold, though — it’s more subtle, so it still looks really, really good.

Performance

The Palomino Blackwing Pearl writing test against its siblings.

Pencils.com refers to the Pearl as “balanced and smooth”, as a medium ground between the soft PB Classic, which is great for sketching, and the harder PB 602, which is best for writing.

I’ll definitely agree with this assessment. It feels like a great balance between the two previous pencils. In fact, I’d say that it tends to run almost as dark as the Classic, but holds a point much longer, close to the 602.

The eraser does leave dust, but it erases pretty clearly.

The eraser is the same as what comes with the 602 — a black, pumice-like “dust free” eraser. It works great (though it’s not dust free), and it looks beautiful; in high-contrast glory with the white barrel.

Conclusion

I’m a big fan. For my purposes, it’s miles ahead of the PB Classic.

My go-to Blackwing of choice is still the 602, however. I’m more than happy to sacrifice a bit of darkness in my markings to keep the tip as sharp as possible for as long as possible. But then again, I use pencils almost exclusively to write. Coworkers who scribble notes as well as sketch have remarked that they love this; it truly is a great balance between the other two.

The Palomino Blackwing Pearl can be purchased from Pencils.com for $19.95 per dozen, or if you’re feeling ambitious, you can get a gross (that’s 144 pencils) for $163.98.

Elsewhere

There’s a few other pencil and scribomechanica bloggers who were on top of reviews. Check out their posts:

Refreshed product lineup at Pencils.com

 

product_lineup

DISCLAIMER: Okay, so it’s been two years since I’ve worked at Pencils.com, so at some point, I should stop disclaiming myself. But, I worked there in early 2011. I am no longer paid or affiliated with Pencils.com in any official capacity. They sent me the products you see above for free, but they do not compensate me financially in any way.

There have been some seemingly subtle changes going on in the Pencils.com store recently. But they are important to note.

The lineup

First, they’ve eliminated the “California Republic Stationers” brand and rolled the Golden Bear and the Prospector into the “Palomino” brand. So, like the Palomino Blackwing, they now have the Palomino Golden Bear and the Palomino Prospector.

A Palomino Golden Bear next to the old California Republic Golden Bear

A Palomino Golden Bear next to the old California Republic Golden Bear. I appreciate that they don’t come factory sharpened now.

I think this was a wise choice. The California Republic brand for CalCedar’s pencils was pretty weak. No one really identified their pencils with that name. The Palomino, one of my favorite pencils in existence, is a much stronger brand, and made much stronger by the visibility of the new Blackwings being wrapped into their brand.

That, along with the new packaging, really showcases the brand of these pencils.

Secondly, no longer are these pencils made in Taiwan Thailand (Thanks, Charles!) — they’re manufactured right here in the US of A, at the Musgrave Pencil Company in Shelbyville, Tennessee. (Warning: their website is atrocious, in sort of an awesome way.) And even with this radical change in supply line and vendors, the price has not increased (or, admittedly, decreased)!

The biggest change — which is tragic to me — is that the triangular Golden Bears were discontinued. I love triangular pencils, and I really loved these. According to Charles Berolzheimer, the Pencils.com President and CEO, Musgrave just doesn’t have the tooling capability to make the triangular barrels.

I’m glad that I have a whole bunch of them left, though I usually give them out when I explain to someone about fancy pencils. I may have to be a bit more miserly about them now.

Charles also tells me the oft-overlooked child-focused Spangle will be discontinued, too, as they sell through their current stock. While I have a few of them, I haven’t used them enough to really form a coherent opinion on them.

Coming later this year, Pencils.com will have some changes in the orange tipped and untipped Palominos, too. Hopefully I’ll be able to tell you more about them when I get to try them!

Differences in appearance and experience

First, the new USA-produced Golden Bears and Prospectors are noticeably heavier than the old ones. I need to get my hands on a digital scale to tell you how much heavier they are, but it’s not a burdensome heaviness — it feels more substantial, like it’s a fancy hardwood in the barrel.

The ridges of the hex shape are ever so slightly sharper, too, so you can feel the hexagonal shape. They’re not so sharp that they’d hurt your finger while you grip it, but you can definitely pick out every plane of the barrel. They’re not rounded edges like the old-style pencil.

There are some subtle changes in labeling besides the brand change. Instead of a “HB” label indicating the more classic European graphite hardness scale, there’s a “2”. From a marketing perspective, I understand why they did this. If someone was buying pencils for a standardized test, which explicitly say to use “#2” pencils, a typical American may be wary of a pencil that says “HB”.

The blue Golden Bear (with orange eraser) changed in fairly subtle ways. Instead of a blue stripe on the ferrule, there’s a red stripe.

The Palomino Prospector Pencil, top, compared to the California Republic Stationer's Prospector, below. Both from Pencils.com. Apologies for the light wash in this image.

The Palomino Prospector Pencil, top, compared to the California Republic Stationer’s Prospector, below. Both from Pencils.com. Apologies for the light wash in this image.

Differences in performance

Both Golden Bears and the Prospectors pencils by Pencils.com were put through a performance test.

Both Golden Bears and the Prospectors pencils by Pencils.com were put through a performance test. Click to embiggen. (Also, please pretend that said THAILAND, not TAIWAN. That was a factual error on my part.

I alternated use of each pencil on-and-off for about a week. I can tell you that I noticed no difference in performance in the Golden Bears, good or bad. To me, that’s a good thing — I really like the way they write. (I’d compare them to a Dixon Ticonderoga, but with the tactile feel closer to a Palomino.)

I’ve never been a huge fan of the way the Prospectors write, but at $2.25 for a dozen, they’re definitely worth the price. Both Prospectors are a bit scratchier than a Golden Bear, though the new one was the TINIEST bit smoother.

The erasers, which look and feel identical on both Golden Bears, performs identically. (I didn’t have my red Golden Bears with blue erasers when doing this eraser test, so just the erasers on the blue Golden Bear and the Prospectors were used.)

The Prospector was a different story. The new erasers feel a bit more vinyl than the grainy Taiwan Thailand-made Prospector. It erased better, too, if you notice in the photo above.

And in conclusion…

Before, I used my Palomino Blackwing (602) and my Palomino Proper almost exclusively, though I had a few triangular Golden Bears at work for quick notes. I think I may need to add these new blue Golden Bears to my rotation, though — it’s just a gorgeous pencil, full of color and personality, and now it feels better in my hand. I’m excited that the Palomino line is going to be made in the US, and for the same price as before.

The linkage

Review of the Pencils.com Palomino-branded hardcover notebook


About a month ago, Alex from Pencils.com was kind enough to send me a box of new paper products Pencils.com is selling — I wrote about them on this blog previously.

It’s been a month, and I’ve been using a few of those products pretty thoroughly. My very favorite is the hardcover Palomino Luxury Notebook, sized medium.

A contemporary of the Moleskine and its kin, I lament the passing of Black Cover, the blog in search of “the perfect little black notebook” that gained so much momentum in its fairly brief existence and its even briefer re-appearance early this year. Nick, the blogger, is a tremendous reviewer — I wonder if he ever got one to try!

In order to appreciate these little hardcover notebooks, you have to embrace the subtle differences. Relatively speaking, almost all of the $15-$20 5×8″ notebooks are generally the same quality, serve generally the same function, and are styled generally the same. I’ll try to highlight the differences here, as I see them:

Style and Features
The Palomino Notebook’s most obvious, and to me, the best difference between it and others is the orange stripe that runs along the spine. I love orange, and I especially love Palomino Orange (and Golden Bear orange). When I’m using one of those pencils, it makes a great match. When I’m not using one of those pencils, it still looks great on its own. What a difference a splash of color makes!

I love the orange spine on this notebook.

The little stitched pattern on the sides are nice, too — I’m not sure if it is a tribute to something, or is a style all its own, but it gives it the look of an old, hand-sewn Italian stitch.

Like a Moleskine it has a cover page spread where you can put your name and contact information in case you lose it. It’s on a really lovely heavyweight paper that just drinks in your ink (Yes, I used a pen to put my name on this page, since it should be permanent) and doesn’t bleed through.

Also like a Moleskine, it has a pocket in the back! It’s made out of what looks like folded-over tear-proof paper, so you can put some stuff back there (sometime I hoard cash in it, but don’t spread that around) without tear.

One feature lament: I really, really like gridded pages. I’d love to see a Palomino notebook sporting that option, besides the lined or plain pages currently offered.

Quality
It is of superb quality. It has more of a hardcover book-like binding the Moleskine, and though it’s a bit stiffer when I lay it out on a tabletop, it’s getting better, and I don’t feel like I’m pulling the paper out while doing it.

The paper itself is nice. In a discussion with John at PencilWrap.com, he mentioned that the paper was really smooth. Agreed. (Also, go check out his review of the “flex notebook” cahiers, because he took way better pictures than I did, and compared them side-by-side to the Moleskines!)

Though it’s very smooth, I felt like it had a bit of tooth, since it’s supposedly optimized for a pencil. A pleasure to write on, at least with a Palomino Blackwing 602, a Dixon Ticonderoga, and a Golden Bear, all three of which I’ve had with me this week.

I also think that the cover of the Palomino is better. It’s a bit more leathery, a bit more supple, and does not bubble up like some of my Moleskines have been known to do.

If, say, the Moleskine was the standard of which people use hardcover notebooks, and if we set that value at 10, I’d give the Palomino notebook a solid 13. It’s a great price, at $17.95, exactly the same as a Moleskine. Admittedly, Moleskine has a better variety of pages (they have formats for storyboarding, music composition, etc.), and currently offers a special Star Wars collection, which would clinch me right there if I was actively in the market for a notebook.

However, I love the California Republic brand, and the Palomino line, so I’m excited to have a notebook in this brand, too.

Coming soon(ish): Thoughts and photos of some of the other notebooks!

Disclaimer: As I’ve written before, I am formerly an employee of Pencils.com. I no longer work there or receive any money from them, so this review is not being funded by them. This product was sent to me free, however.

Gallery of Images
(Click to embiggen) 

The Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener

For as many different kinds of wooden pencils I use, I’m not usually too adventurous with my pencil sharpener. I usually exclusively prefer hand-held sharpeners, like my left-handed sharpener, my Palomino KUM Long-point sharpener, and the KUM Ellipse I keep in my jacket pocket almost all the time.

I remember with disdain the giant Cold War-era Boston sharpener of yore that would hungrily eat my pencil with its two giant dull grinders. It left me with a long, dull tip and the wood surrounding it half-eaten and dirty. Sure, it didn’t take as long to sharpen with that monstrocity, but it was loud, messy, and ineffective.

This summer, I got an email from Troy Decoff, who developed what he calls the “Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener“. It seemed to combine the heavy-duty nature of the wall-mounted sharpener with a smaller footprint and sharper grinders.

It operates very similarly to the Dahle Fifty-50, which I’ve reviewed on this site just over a year ago. Pull out the front, pinch the holders together, put your pencil in, and start cranking.

The benefits of this sharpener over the Dahle? Well, first, the pencil holder locks into place when it’s fully extended, unlike the Dahle, and it’s sturdier, with an all-metal case. And, most importantly, the point is much much longer.

Look how sharp! Buffy the Vampire Slayer would appreciate this sharpener.

While the point is not quite as long with the Palomino KUM Long-point Sharpener, it’s still very long. And very sharp. If the two-step manual process of the Palomino sharpener is too hard, this will be much easier.

One disadvantage is that, much like the Dahle, the grippers will leave a mark on the barrel of the pencil. If you’re just using, say, a Ticonderoga, it’s no biggie, but I don’t want to ruin the nice sheen on my Blackwing or my Hi-Uni!

I’ve brought it to work and keep it at my desk. It’s perfect because it’s quiet enough to not disturb my office-mates, and it’s quick enough to re-sharpen a dull pencil in less than 10 seconds.

Thanks, Troy, for making such a great product! I like this much better than most of the desktop electric sharpeners you see at office supply stores nowadays.

The Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener | $19.95 from Classroom Friendly Supplies.com