I have an odd obsession; pencils.
Don’t laugh, I’m serious, there is even a podcast that exclusively discusses pencils.
Obviously I’ve used bog standard pencils for years, generally without giving them much thought aside from noting which ones pissed me off when the leads broke in sharpeners, the wood split or they were gritty and scratchy when writing. Since finishing school my use of pencils diminished in favour of pens, especially as my use of handwriting moved from the presentation of finished work to being used for writing rough drafts that would end up typed into a computer.
With the superior presentation facilitated by computers and laser printers, handwriting for me has become something that generally only I see and a thinking tool for getting ideas onto paper away from screens and gadgets. These days my handwriting no longer needs to be neat or free from cross-outs, meaning that pen is as convenient as any other writing tool. Pens don’t need to be sharpened and the tips don’t break as do pencil leads.
However, with my change of occupation back to being a lab technician after over ten years in office environments, I’m finding pencils are more versatile, being easier to manipulate with gloves on and quicker to use for brief notes. Pencils work instantly and write on surfaces that ballpoint pens don’t, such as damp or frozen labels, thermal paper, and electrophoresis strips. Obviously pencils are also erasable and in my job we often use paper checklists and need to erase the previous set of check marks so pencil is the only option there. Somehow the simplicity and disposability of a wooden pencil seems more appropriate in an environment where we have concerns and regulations about chemical and biological contamination.
Beyond the lab I am enjoying using pencils again for general note taking and writing tasks such as drafting blog posts. I prefer to write my drafts by hand and with pen the result is a lot of cross outs as I correct my spelling or think of a better way to phrase something. With pencil I can rub out the mistakes and end up with a cleaner draft that is easier to follow as I type it into WordPress.
A major contributor to my new enjoyment in using pencils is the discovery of better quality pencils. I used to think that pencils came in two categories, those that were OK and the crappy ones with spilt wood and fragile, scratchy leads. Through listening to Tim, Johnny and Andy on the Erasable Podcast I learned about the iconic Palomino Blackwing 602 so ordered a couple online and was amazed at how nice they are to write with compared to the Staedtler Tradition pencils I’m accustomed to using. There is a real difference between el cheapo pencils and quality pencils.
My next step down the rabbit hole of pencil geekery was to order an assortment of pencils from what may be the only retail shop in the world that specialises in pencils and related accessories, CW Pencil Enterprise. I’m still in the process of trying those out so will reserve judgement until I’ve used them enough to determine which are my favourites.
(I wrote this over a year ago but never published it until now. At least this enables me to say confidently that my all round favourite pencil is the Swiss Wood, it is smooth to write with and holds its point really well. The main drawback is the price at about NZ$7 each by the time you get it shipped from the UK or US.)
Some interesting links:
- A description of touring a pencil factory by Caitlin Elgin