In an age of instant information, computers that can perform millions of calculations in a second, some of us still prefer the tried-and-true analog pencil, pen and notebook. There are those that settle for a dollar store notebook and cheap no-name pencils, and then there’s those people that must have the best. If you are one that has a distinguished taste and an uncompromising passion for the finest writing instruments that can be had on a reasonable budget, look no further than the Palomino Blackwing.
Blackwing Pencil History
The Blackwing pencil has a surprisingly rich history, not known to many people other than true enthusiasts.
In the 1930’s, the original Blackwing 602 pencil was introduced by the Eberhard Faber pencil company as a pencil that required only “Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed.” Over the following years, the popularity of the Blackwing pencil skyrocketed and it became “the” pencil of choice for artists, musicians and people from just about every career and field.
Greats such as John Steinbeck, Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein and Chuck Jones, who proudly used Blackwing pencils to create Bugs Bunny and countless other Looney Tunes characters.
Three Types Of Blackwing Pencils
Palomino Blackwing offers three different pencils you can choose from. Besides for the color of the barrel and eraser, each one has a different softness designed for different purposes.
Blackwing 602 General Use
The Blackwing 602 is primarily a general use pencil that offers a medium hardness that lays down much like a 2B pencil, and is fairly long lasting. Check Current Price
Blackwing Perl (white)
The Blackwing Perl is more for those that like a bolder 3B line in their writing or sketching, yet still want the pencil to maintain it’s tip for a reasonable amount of time. Check Current Price
The Blackwing is a much darker graphite that offers something around a 4B softness and darkness. It’s not terribly good for writing and precision drawing, but is perfect for general sketching and shading. Check Current Price
Blackwing Pencils: My First Impressions
I came across the Blackwing pencils quite by accident. I’d actually never heard of them before I walked into this trinket shop. It was one of those old fashioned stores you might see in golden era movies or something, but they have wonderful stuff for both adults and kids alike. Many of the toy trinkets they sell are just 50 cents to $1.00 making them affordable for any kid.
The Blackwing pencils were sitting by the register in a cup holder that had a sticky note that just said “Best Pencils Ever: $2.00”.
The Unique Blackwing Pencil Replaceable Eraser
It wasn’t the price that caught my eye, however. I’d never seen a pencil with such a unique ferrule (eraser housing). The ferrule itself is shiny bronze, which is no different, but at a glance, it’s obvious that this eraser has a lot more going on than a normal pencil.
Most wooden pencils don’t have replaceable erasers, but the Blackwing pencils do!
It sure makes sense, though. It’s an inevitable fact of life that you’ll use up the eraser on a pencil way before you use up the pencil itself. Most of the time, the eraser is gone with over two thirds of the pencil left.
The eraser sits in a steel clip, and is about one and a half longer than normal erasers. The thing is that when you use up a normal eraser, there’s still a quarter inch of the eraser left buried in the ferrule that you just can’t use.
On a Blackwing pencil, you just pull the eraser out by the clip, raise the eraser up a bit, and then reinsert the eraser back into the ferrule and keep going.
When you do use up the eraser on a Blackwing, you can get yourself replacement erasers, and just pop a new one in. Erasers are about $4 shipped for a pack of eight, and they come in various colors or the standard black, white and pink.
My $4 Impulse Purchase
Given the unique design of these pencils, I decided to purchase two on impulse.
Getting home, and putting them through the pencil sharpener, I soon discovered why these are touted as the best pencils in the world.
Writing and drawing with the Blackwing can only be described as “like nothing you’ve ever felt before“.
Blackwing Appearance and Finish
Just holding the pencil in your hand feels amazing. Unlike Ticonderoga pencils and other cheaper brands, the feeling is silky smooth. I wouldn’t have noticed before, but now that I have both pencils side by side, the difference is night and day.
Looking down the barrel of the pencil, the Blackwing is perfectly smooth with no imperfections. The Ticonderoga, on the other hand, is pitted and rough, even with it’s paint coat. Additionally, the lettering on the side of the Ticonderoga is imperfect whereas the Blackwing is.
The paint finish on the Blackwing seems to be more polished and the white perl has a satin feel to it, which just feels good.
I really like the lettering on the barrel of all the Blackwing Pencils. The lettering is bold and stands out in a clean, crisp appearance that you just don’t see with many other pencils.
Sharpening the Blackwing Pencil
Sharpening a pencil isn’t something that you’d normally think about, but the difference in sharpening a Blackwing and a budget pencil such as my Ticonderoga is like night and day.
Mechanical (Manual) Sharpeners
The secret is in the quality of the wood used in the pencil. Traditionally, pencils were made from Incense-Cedar wood, found in Northern California and the pacific northwest. Most of the budget pencils today use either a wood and synthetic blend, cheaper woods or full synthetic barrels.
In a mechanical sharpener, it’s easy to spot cheap wood from the real deal. Cheap pencil wood will break easily as the shavings come off the sharpener, and by appearance, are usually jagged and rough.
True Incense Cedar pencils on the other hand, maintain their uniformity throughout the shave with very little evidence of jagged edges or rough spots.
Because Incense Cedar pencils do not resist the cutting blade like the rougher budget pencils do, it’s far easier to get that needle like point out of a real Incense Cedar pencil.
Budget pencils will tend to break the lead as you sharpen them, or the tip breaks at the first hint of pressure on the paper because the sharpening process fractured the point.
I have several manual sharpeners, but my favorite is the two-step KUM Long Point hand sharpener. It has two holes, but they aren’t there to accommodate two pencil sizes, rather it’s a two step sharpening process for standard pencil diameters only.
Most cheap pencils (Including the Ticonderoga) will not survive the sharpening process in the KUM, even on the first hole as you first cut away the outer wood to expose about five millimeters of the graphite core.
If the cheap pencil does survive the initial cutting on the first hole, the second hole that hones the point will most likely break the lead on budget pencils. You’ll notice that the pencil graphite will fracture and break away without “powdering” like a superior pencil would do. You might still get a sharp point, but you’ll notice that if you look closely, it’s point is only sharp because parts of the core have snapped away rather than powdering under the blade.
You will even notice this happen on standard (single hole) handheld sharpeners as well. Most people assume that it’s the sharpener’s fault, but in most cases, it’s actually the pencil’s fault as to why it doesn’t sharpen well.
Rotatory Sharpeners (Crank or Electric)
Rotary sharpeners can sharpen budget pencils far better than manual sharpeners. It’s because the cutter has multiple blades spin around the pencil itself, reducing the amount of shaving area per blade. It’s not a perfect solution, however. Often times, you’ll still experience pencil leads breaking, but this time it’s more due to the force needed either crank the wheel or the amount of push you have to give the pencil to get it to sharpen.
Blackwing Pencils, along with other higher quality Incense Cedar pencils, don’t have either of these issues as a general rule of thumb. You’ll notice that the wood is a lot more uniform coming off the pencil, and since the graphite / clay core uses higher quality materials, it powders better than a cheap pencil.
The result, of course, after all said, is that the Blackwing can offer a sharper, more sturdier point than a budget pencil could offer.
One pain point about knife sharpening – The knife blade always snags on the graphite core. This tends to put a lot of stress on the pencil and you’ll end up breaking the core if you’re even a little bit too rough.
While the Blackwing is susceptible to the same breakage when sharpening with a knife, it’s far easier to cut through the Incense-Cedar than it is to cut through whatever they use on the Ticonderoga pencils. Since the Blackwing wood s easier to cut through, you don’t have to use as much force and in the end, you won’t break the core as much.