A Pencil Review

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Get The Lead Out

If you’re thinking, like I am, of that era when that phrase could only mean one thing, then read on pilgrim, because we’re going to hotwire the wayback machine and bubble in some Scantrons!

I know what you’re thinking, this is a typewriter blog, not a pencil blog. For that, this guy or this guy are your go-to guys. But in the spirit of getting unglued from the laptop and connecting with your writing in a let-it-go-and-get-in-the-flow-way, a pencil is a typewriter’s favorite cousin.

But what about pens, they have ink just like typewriter ribbons? True. And I may yet get into the pen thing, but for now, the allure of the woodsy pencil calls. After all, up here in the Northern Hemisphere, summer is dawning and in that spirit of getting out in nature, what better tool to write with than the all natural pencil? They’re lightweight, portable and come in lots of styles.

While taking your typewriter outside may prove challenging, there should be nothing holding you back from porting pencil and pad. All those judgy looks will disappear. There will be no cause for alarm. Man and beast will pass by with hardly a glance. Well, perhaps, they’ll think of better uses of one’s time than doodling on a pad, because what adult actually writes anything anymore on paper?

Now that you’ve gone incognito, a pencil is a pencil, right?

While I haven’t explored the vast kingdom of wood and lead, a good place to start is in the footsteps of giants. And few loom larger than John Steinbeck. He famously wrote his manuscripts with the legendary Palomino Blackwing 602. Even the name conjures serious writing. And in case you’re wondering, they’ve got the lead out and in its place the smoother and stronger graphite — allowing a firm stroke without fear of breaking the tip, while giving your words a bold appearance.

Because, face it, versus the highly readable pen, most pencils leave a lighter imprint.

Not so with the Blackwing 602. It’s dark, even if you have a light touch. And what really sets the 602 apart is the extendable eraser. While most pencils have a fixed eraser, if you run the 602’s down to the nub, pull it out and you’ve got more to go.

But I was not content with the standard issue 602, so I went for the limited series Blackwing Volumes – Vol. 24 — the John Steinbeck tribute edition. It’s all black from graphite tip to eraser. “My father despised yellow pencils,” says his son, Thom Steinbeck from an interview done by Palomino. Vol. 24 refers to the number of pencils Steinbeck sharpened at a time, because he didn’t want to stop writing to sharpen the pencil, so he had a box of 24 pre-sharpened pencils at the ready.

It has firmer graphite than the standard issue 602 to keep a sharper point for more writing. And the all black appearance offers distraction free writing. Finally, while the pencil has the same extendable eraser as the 602, Steinbeck used this feature to remove the eraser all together. Again, his son Thom says, “He thought erasers were the ultimate lack of courage.”

Never go back. On a typewriter or with a pencil, keep the words moving forward. This, mi amigo, is the ultimate writer’s pencil.

It’s a limited edition series, so you might want to grab a box or two if you’re up for the Steinbeck style of writing with 24 at a time. ($24.95/box of 12)

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