The Pencil Rabbit Hole

My Pencil Journey

I had come to a point in my stationery obsession that I never would have thought I would reach for a wooden pencil. Why? It’s because I have my fountain pens, rollerballs, and the occasional mechanical pencil that were so much more interesting to me and satisfies every need I have. The rollerballs and gel pens are smoother, the selection is endless with fountain pens (also smoother), and my mechanical pencils is just like a pen that can be erased. Wooden pencils have always been the ugly cousin in my books.

The only time I used wooden pencils was in school when we had to bring 24 #2 pencils to class at the start of the year. Of course we all got the cheapest pencils at Walmart, unless there were some really cool looking foil wrapped ones that we had to beg for. The frustration came when I actually had to use the things. The lead would always break, I constantly had to be getting up to use the pencil sharpener at the front of the class, and then the sharpener would just bust up the pencil and eat it up. Writing with them was no better. It was always so scratchy and made me want to reach for my pen instead. From my school years, I do not recall having a single positive experience using a wooden pencil for it’s intended use.

I did however have a few good experience with pencils not related to writing. I liked poking holes in my erasers, breaking the lead off inside so I could dig it out. I liked to play hockey with them on my desk or on the floor. We would play “pencil wars” where we would hit our pencils against each others and see who’s broke. Has anyone ever had those really bendy plastic like pencils (not a Wopex)? I loved those for fidgeting and would always see how many times I could snap a single pencil in half since they broke so cleanly. You could also make a slingshot with 2 pencils and an elastic band, so that was always fun. Finally we have the classic “sticking pencils in the roof” that we always see in the movies. I was never very good at it, but it was fun trying! As you can see, none of these positive experiences have nothing to do with writing, so it was no wonder I reached for a pen over a pencil. Well that changed about 6 months ago.

The first question I’ll answer is just how did I get into pencils? It started when I finally got through all of The Pen Addict episodes (late starter) and was looking for something new to listen to on my way to work. Brad mentioned that he recently got into pencils and would occasionally plug The Erasable Podcast and the pencils he liked. After being very skeptical about how entertaining a podcast about pencils could be (ironic coming from someone who enjoys a pen podcast) and how I could enjoy something that I always avoided like the plague.

Coming from fountain pens and ink options for every colour under the rainbow, graphite seemed a little dull to me. Well I gave the podcast a shot and found the first few episode quite overwhelming since I had never heard of any of the pencil brands they were talking about besides Blackwing. However, the more I listened, the more curious I got since the guys (Andy, Johnny, and Tim) kept on saying how great these pencils were, so I started looking around for them. I found Pencils.com and had a sudden realization, all of the great pencils talked about (to an extent) on the podcast could be purchased here… and they are cheap!! At the same time I discovered the Blackwing Volumes editions and slowly started loving them more and more, just like I did with Field Notes. The 344s were new at the time and I thought they looked great. They also had some 56s in stock (I love baseball), so I tossed a box of each in my cart and was ready to pull the trigger. I then thought to myself, why not order more since I will be paying a decent sized shipping charge to Canada anyways. I decided to try out some of these cheaper pencils that I’ve heard of and bought almost every $3/dozen I could find, so all of a sudden I had a truck load of pencils coming my way that I was excited to try out.

Since receiving them and trying out my new pencils, I have come to a conclusion. I enjoy writing with wooden pencils. Not as much as my fountain pens, but enough to reach for them every once in awhile and not complain about it.

Why Do I Now Like Pencils?

This was a question that I didn’t think I would ever ask myself up until recently. However, once I sat down to think about it, I actually came up with a pretty long list, so I will try to keep each point short.

  1. They are cheap. You don’t have to dish out hundreds of dollars (unless you are looking for rare vintage pencils) to get into the hobby. Even when you get deeper down the rabbit hole it’s not bad. A mid-range fountain pen will cost around $50-$200 after you want to upgrade your entry level Safari or Metropolitan. Of course you don’t have to spend that much to enjoy writing with a nice fountain pen, but it’s pretty easy to want more. The beauty about pencils is that you can get a dozen of the most premium pencil for $25, or if you want to get really crazy, you can spend $5 to get an exotic wood pencil from Caran d’Ache. If you use pencils as much as I do, these pencils will last you for a very long time and you will have a ton of variety.
  2. They don’t dry out. As my fountain pen collection grows, I find my desire to use all of my pens at once, frequently seeing the number of inked pens rising to 12 or more. This usually results in many of them drying out before I can use all of the ink in them or giving me the odd hard start if I haven’t used them recently. A pencil will always write when you pick it up, even if you may have to sharpen it.
  3. They are erasable. This was the main difference between pens & pencils for me as a kid since I never knew what my colour options were yet. I have never been a big eraser guy (as in one who erases, not one who is an eraser) in school and was completely fine with just scratching things out and keep on going. I still have that mentality, but I do appreciate the fact that you can erase a pencil.
  4. The writing experience is actually good. This is not the same writing experience as the pencils from your local Staples. They are smooth, can be dark, and don’t break from normal use. You can pick one up and it will write in any weather, so you don’t have to worry about pulling it out in -30 degree weather beside keeping your fingers warm.
  5. “Dries instantly”. Discounting smudges, once you put graphite on a page, it is on the page. You don’t have to wait for the ink to dry before you turn the page. Writing the draft for this post was really the first time I noticed this advantage since I rarely write long hand with pencils. That might change as I am realizing that I actually enjoy it.
  6. Sharpening gives you a nice break. I never thought of this as an advantage until hearing the Erasable Podcast guys talking about it. I usually stop to think quite often when writing with a pen, so being forced to stop and take a mini break is nice. If you don’t want that constant stopping, you can sharpen a bunch of pencils at once and use them all until they are all dull.
  7. They look pretty damn cool. There are cheaper Golden Bears that are the same colour as the Edmonton Oilers (awesome), cool looking natural finished pencils (Forest Choice), and some pretty sweet limited editions (Blackwing Volumes & Baron Fig). I have no doubt that you will find one (or ten) that you will love the look of. Plus, who can’t resist a good limited edition?

I’m Not Giving Up Pens

Even though I just spent this entire post raving about my toys & tools, my pens still hold the top spot in my heart (in the stationery world). Most of the advantages of pencils over pens that I just listed are actually not that big of a deal for me. I’ve already talked about the disadvantages of fountain pens, so I know that there are downsides, but it is too hard to ignore the vast benefits.

I find writing with pencils cool and they provide utility to me at the same time, so I am definitely going to incorporate them into my everyday use. I somewhat doubt that I will ever use all of my pencils since I’ve barely noticed any of mine getting much shorter. This is what happens when there are so many nice ones that never dry out. Even with this in mind, I will probably keep buying the cool pencils that catch my eye as they are so cheap and I love writing utensils (hence why I have a pen blog).

To conclude, I have found something new that I like, but will continue to use all of my awesome tools. I no longer have the mindset of “Pens vs. Pencils” and now believe that we are all just one big happy community. Pen Addicts & Erasable groups unite!