It’s been too long since my last pencil post! So today, I’ll share my thoughts on some of the new pencils I’ve been trying, specifically the pencils with natural finish. I think Johnny of Pencil Revolution and The Erasable Podcast calls them “Wood On Display” (WOD) pencils. I like that! Here are all the WOD pencils in my stash, pictured, from top:
- Mitsubishi 9852EW HB (black eraser)
- Mitsubishi 9800EW B
- Tombow Kimonogatari LA-KEA B
- Tombow Kimonogatari LG-KEA HB (grey eraser)
- Tombow Kimonogatari “FSC” B
- Dixon Ticonderoga Renew HB (green eraser)
- Field Notes No. 2 (green eraser)
- General’s Cedar Pointe #333 No. 1 (black eraser)
- Palomino Blackwing Vol. 211 (brown eraser)
The following pencils should be in their own categories for comparison purposes but I’ll include them for quick mentions because why not.
The two most bottom pencils won’t be part of this post’s discussion since they aren’t as available as the rest. They’re part of my childhood collection. Thought I would include them in the pictures for fun. They're round with very smooth finish.
- Barunson Farm Story HB
- Barunson Brownie’s Family HB
Another note before I start rambling about different aspects of these natural pencils: my daily use of pencils is limited to short periods of time. I use pencils for making to-do lists, scribbling on notepads, writing blog post outlines, etc. I generally prefer soft graphites, somewhere around grade B. I wrote about my pencil history here, if you'd like more background.
Wood & Finish
Let’s start with the most obvious feature of these natural pencils: the exposed wood! The Tombow pencils (2nd through 5th in the very top picture) look the lightest to me, and the Mitsubishi 9852EW (1st) and the Kitaboshi (4th from bottom) looking the darkest with a red tint. But I’m sure this can vary widely even among pencils from the same line. That is one of the beauties of these natural-finish pencils: each pencil will look different and unique. As for the wood content, several of these are are made with incense cedar: General’s Cedar Pointe, Blackwing vol. 211, the Kitaboshi jumbo, and the Field Notes pencil (all pictured right above). My stuffed nose can’t tell right now but I’m sure they smell amazing. The wood content of the rest isn’t so clear but I know most of the Mitsubishis, Tombows, and the Ticonderoga Renew are made out of recycled wood, with one of the Tombows being FSC-certified (these are grouped together in the very top picture). I guess it’s not surprising that many of the WOD pencils are made with recycled wood. Except for the Tombow Kimonogatari with the FSC mark, you can see the joints where scraps of wood came together, which I find pretty cool. I should add, Kimonogatari (or tree story in Japanese) is Tombow’s environmentally-conscious line of stationery products. They have colored pencils from this line, too.
As for the finish on the wood, some of these pencils are clearly covered in a thin layer of lacquer, like the Gekkoso (pictured above), which has the glossiest finish in my eyes. It’s followed by the Tombows, the Kitaboshi, and then the Blackwing. General’s, Ticonderoga, Field Notes, and the Mitsubishis look like they have the most raw finish. Field Notes pencil says it's lacquer-free but it feels very smooth, perhaps due to its round barrel shape.
In my collection, the Mitsubishi 9800EW (pictured above, left) and the Cedar Pointe (right) feel the roughest. Which doesn’t mean they’re uncomfortable. I don’t have a clear preference on the finish yet, but for someone who’s more sensitive, I wonder if the texture on the Mitsubishi 9800EW would be too distracting. It has a lot of imprints, on 3 different sides, while the imprint on the Cedar Pointe is limited to one side. These all feel fine in my hands but like I said, I don’t use them for a long period of time. I’m more sensitive to the thickness of the barrel than its finish.
All these pencils are hexagonal, except for Field Notes (round), and Kitaboshi (triangular). So far, I’ve been ok with any shape but I don’t like it when the pencil is too thin. That’s why I was a bit disappointed by Ticonderoga Renew when I first tried it; while it writes well, its barrel size is smaller than average. Slightly thicker than the Renew are the Tombows and the Field Notes; they feel about average. The General’s and the Mitsubishis are next, and, excluding the jumbo pencils, the Blackwing feels the thickest by a hair (based on unscientific method!). That’s why I like the pencils in this last group the best.
Since I picked up these pencils in various grades, it’s not easy or fair to compare their graphites. For example, the Gekkoso 8B should be in its own category! But I can say that they all write nice and dark, with the exception of the Field Notes pencil, It’s a bit hard and scratchy for my liking. I had high hopes for the Kitaboshi but while it’s dark and soft enough, I find it powdery, and the sound it makes is not soft to my ears. It’s probably meant to be a different kind of B than the other Japanese Bs in this stash because it’s marketed as a drawing pencil. What I really enjoy are the Mitsubishis (less waxy than the Tombows) and the Blackwing vol. 211. Grade B or HB, they all write very smoothly. General’s Cedar Pointe in no. 1 is a recent addition, and I was pleasantly surprised by its graphite. It feels slightly less compact than the Japanese ones but I like the way it glides across the page effortlessly, and is just as dark.
Among the eraser-tipped pencils with natural finish, I would give the best eraser award to Tombow LG-KEA (3rd from right, pictured above). Not only does this grey eraser look awesome with the natural finish and the silver ferrule, it feels FANTASTIC. I expected the eraser on the Mitsubishi 9852EW (2nd from left) to work just as well, but I found it uncharacteristically messy for a Japanese pencil. It still feels better than the erasers on the Ticonderoga Renew (far right) or the Blackwing (far left) though. Those are too hard (brittle?) for my taste, the type that turned me off from American pencils long time ago. As for the Field Notes (2nd from right), I was surprised to find its green eraser just soft enough, definitely better than the Renew or the Blackwing. Even more surprising was the black eraser on General’s Cedar Pointe (3rd from left), which I found quite soft. I like that it’s chipping away at my bad impression of American pencils. Don’t get me wrong, these erasers all get the job done without tearing a hole on the paper. But I tend to like very soft, plastic erasers, and don’t require a pencil to be eraser-tipped, so I can be quite critical when it is. The eraser’s gotta earn its place, I say!
One of the benefits of using all natural-finish pencils is that they’re going to look harmonious in your pencil cup because of their common exposed wood look. Even so, each one has its own personality, and a lot of that comes from its imprint, ferrule and eraser. Several of these pencils are printed with either green or brown, no doubt to emphasize their recycled or “green” nature.
The Mitsubishi pencils, which I think have more personality than the Tombows, have matte, green imprints. You can feel the letters, as they were pressed in quite nicely and neatly. I especially like how the Mitsubishi 9852EW looks, with its dark, purple-ish ferrule + black eraser. The other pencil with green imprint is Ticonderoga Renew. Although I like the look of wood + green, I wish it wasn’t metallic green. Already not a fan of the green/yellow ferrule, I find the shiny green imprint distracting.
The Blackwing vol. 211 and the Tombow “FSC” are printed in brown (left and center in the picture above) while the imprint on Tombow LG-KEA (right) appears to be dark grey. The Tombow “FSC” actually has an interesting look overall: it has two long lines printed along its body, one in dark brown and one in white on the other side. And unlike the black bar codes found on other Japanese pencils, its bar code is brown and somewhat less obnoxious.
The General’s branding in black is very simple, albeit a bit boring, but I like that it’s minimal, and the matte black ferrule + black eraser is a fantastic combination to look at. The imprints on Kitaboshi and Gekkoso are very minimal, too. In fact, all the Kitaboshi pencil says is “B” on one side. Strange!
The Field Notes pencil, also printed in all black, comes with detailed information on what it’s made out of, topped with the fun silver ferrule + green eraser combination. Its ferrule is shinier than the one on Tombow LG-KEA, which I have to choose as one of my top favorites in terms of looks. I simply think that the silver ferrule + gray eraser combo goes really well with the natural-finish. The other ferrule + eraser look I like is on the Palomino Blackwing. The gold + brown looks very classy. As for the natural pencils with no erasers, I choose the Mitsubishi 9800EW (see next photo), for its green imprint and quirky typography and branding.
Well, that was a long way for me to say, I like many of these pencils! Probably because I’m still in the early phase of this new pencil discovery. There are a couple “meh”s but all in all, they perform well and are better than your average No. 2 pencils. So far, I’m most drawn to the Mitsubishi 9852EW and Tombow LG-KEA (both with erasers) for their looks and performance. I wish these came in the B grade, not just in HB. I'm glad I tried the General’s Cedar Pointe in No. 1 after hearing about its re-release on the Erasable Podcast. It surprised me in more ways than one, with its dark, smooth graphite, thicker barrel, and good eraser. I’ll definitely be road-testing it some more. Hm... most of my top favorites from this collection of “Wood on Display” pencils ended up being eraser-tipped. Maybe I’m warming up to the idea after all. :)
PS: I bought most of these pencils from either my local MaiDo stores or CW Pencils. If they're out of stock at CW, check back because they might restock. I also suggest you search JetPens. Ticonderoga is from Target, and Field Notes pencil was an extra directly from Field Notes. The Tombow LG-KEA with eraser is from MaiDo at SF Japantown specifically; the Tombow FSC pencil is from San Jose Kinokuniya.