This is the first in a series of posts called “Pencils in Community”, where I share the stories of other people in the pencil world alongside me. Today’s guest is John Smith, someone I met through the Erasable Podcast Facebook group. Here’s John’s story!
I’m in my 40s, living in England and of mixed English/Scottish descent. I returned to education in 2014 in order to obtain a degree in Criminology and Social Policy. Before I could study for the degree, I first of all had to take an Access course, and re-sit my Maths and English GCSEs. It was whilst studying Maths that I found myself struggling with cheap pencils. Having been out of education for such a long time, my collection of stationery amounted to a few freebie pens and no pencils. I went on Amazon and just purchased the cheapest pencils that I could find. They were awful! The wood crumbled in the sharpener, the graphite crumbled as I wrote and they felt all scratchy on the paper. I tried some cheap Bic mechanical pencils and they were just as bad. The graphite made an awful squeaking sound as I wrote and the tip kept retracting whenever I applied the slightest pressure. All of this was interfering with my studies and I figured that there must be a better way. I did some Googling and found some recommendations for the Dixon Ticonderoga. Whilst it was far superior to the terrible pencils that I had been using, I was soon to learn that it was also a very long way from being the best pencil out there. I did some more Googling and learned about names such as Tombow, General’s, Faber-Castell and Palomino. I also learned that Mitsubishi is one of the world’s largest manufacturer of pens and pencils. Before long, I found myself ordering pencils from all over the world. If I was prepared to wait, the postage hardly cost anything and there was a whole world of pencils to be discovered. It wasn’t long before I stumbled upon a certain Facebook group and found a number of like-minded people who have done nothing but fuel my obsession. As well as being obsessed with pencils, I have probably become equally obsessed with the devices that are used to sharpen pencils. For periods of intensive study, there will usually be at least one single-burr hand crank sharpener on my desk (usually a Carl Angel-5 or a Deli 0635). When I’m sitting down for some more relaxed note-taking, I tend to use a KUM Masterpiece. I have just received a Möbius & Ruppert Pollux sharpener but I have only used this a couple of times so far and am still deciding where it best sits in my current rotation.
What pencil made you fall in love with pencils?
Of all pencils, it was the Dixon Ticonderoga. I had only just started using pencils again and, if you don’t know much about pencils, this is the one that Google and Amazon will usually tell you to buy.
What is your current favorite pencil?
My current favourite pencil is the Mitsubishi Hi-Uni. I have brief flirtations with others but I keep coming back to the Hi-Uni. Runners up include the Tombow Mono 100, General’s Cedar Pointe and pretty much anything else made by Mitsubishi. Whilst I do like the Blackwings, I find them to be overrated for the price. I’m going to say that they are the ‘Apple’ of the pencil world. The most expensive, for sure, but certainly not the best.
What is your go-to pencil?
My day-to-day, go-to pencil is a Staedtler Noris. Once a year, Tesco has them on offer (in August, when the kids go back to school) at £1.50 for a pack of 10 with an eraser and sharpener. I usually stock up and buy enough to last me through until the next year. Whilst they are not as good as the Mitsubishi Hi-Uni, they are cheap, made from good quality Cedar wood and the cores are usually well centered. In my mind, these are the most important factors after point retention and smoothness. I’d say that the (often underrated) Noris is about the best entry-level pencil out there.
What do you say to people who don’t know about this whole world of pencils that are curious about it?
I tell them that my obsession with pencils is like a mid-life crisis, but I couldn’t afford the sports car. I generally don’t try to ‘convert’ people or preach about my obsession with pencils. However, people find my obsession to be a source of amusement and often let me waffle on for ages. People are usually in a state of disbelief when I tell them how I took my wife and daughter on holiday to Keswick so that we could visit the Cumberland Pencil Museum. I also find myself telling people how pencils do wonders for the creative flow. If I’m planning an essay and I’m stuck for what to write next, I pause and sharpen my pencil. There’s something about a fresh burst of that Cedar scent, along with a newly sharpened point that almost acts like a magnet, pulling the pencil towards the paper. Some folk say that chewing the end of a pencil helps them to concentrate. I don’t find that myself but each to their own.
Strangest reaction you’ve had to you being a “pencil person”
I recently had someone literally crying tears of laughter when I was trying to explain about the rotating tip mechanism contained within a Uni-Ball Kuru Toga mechanical pencil. As I went on to explain how I felt a sense of panic when I had less than 10 of any particular type of pencil, her mascara was running down her face. She asked me how many pencils I had. When I told her that it was well over a thousand, she made a kind of ‘hybrid’ sound, somewhere between a snort and a squeal, that caused those around her to ask if she was ok. Other than that, I often get asked, “So, how come you use a pencil? Did you never just learn to use a pen?”
If you would like to have your story of how you discovered the pencil world featured, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org