Pencil parade...

by Amanda Fleet

I love a good pencil, me. Emphasis is on good though. Scratchy pencils - you know, those ones that seem to have a grain of sand in them as you write - well, they can take a running jump, frankly. But a pencil that writes smoothly, has a decent darkness to the line yet holds its point over many lines of writing...? Well, that's every pencil-lover's dream, isn't it?

I'm a writer. I am never without a notebook and a pencil. Several, in fact. I also lean firmly towards analogue, not digital. I have a paper diary/planner. I write my to do lists/jot random notes in pencil (or fountain pen if that's what's in my hand) in a notebook. I print out drafts of my books for editing, and write on the print-outs in pencil before typing up. I plan. And plan and plan and plan my books, most often in fountain pen, but if not fountain pen then pencil. I sketch (less than I used to) - sometimes little more than a doodle; sometimes trying to draw something that's in a book, to help me to describe it verbally. Pencils to me are work-horses. They don't have to be pretty, but they do have to do their job!

"Ideas are elusive, slippery things. Best to keep a pad of paper and a pencil at your bedside, so you can stab them during the night before they get away." ~ Earl Nightingale

Let me give you a flavour of 9 different pencils and what they're good for. Some of them are definitely writing pencils. Some of them are softer and at a push, could be used for sketching or doodling. For each pencil, I did a short summary of how it felt and a quick doodle/sketch, plus I resharpened each pencil to the same point and wrote a full page of random thoughts, to see how the points lasted. I won't share those witterings, but just the results (you'll all be pleased to hear!). The scores out of 10 are entirely my personal ratings!

Let the pictures do the talking... [notebook used is a Calepino]

1. Viking 029 HB

The full page writing was a smooth ride. It felt marginally softer than many HB pencils but held its point pretty well. If I was using it for editing/writing, I'd be pretty happy 7.5/10

2. Viking 400 HB

It had a slightly smoother write than the 029, but it held its point well and the line was dark and clear. 8/10

3. Viking Graphite writing pencil HB Element 1

This felt more like a true HB - a little harder than the previous two Vikings and was a less smooth ride than them. I wonder what the difference in the graphite is? 7/10

4. Viarco 3000 No. 2

 Shiny! Again it felt a fairly true HB. I find the round shape easier than the more standard hexagonal (possibly for the same reasons that I hate Lamy pens - they feel all wrong in my hand - I suspect I hold pens/pencils in an odd way!). Not a bad pencil, but I prefer something a little softer (but that's my personal preference). 7/10

5. Viarco 1950 Desenho No. 2

 This was a tiny bit softer than the shiny turquoise one, but it was pretty marginal. It held the point well, but (As before) I prefer something a little softer. Not my favourite, but a decent pencil! 7/10

6. Viarco 1951 Super Desenho No. 2

Slightly softer feel than the other two Viarco pencils (because it's a super desenho??). I don't know if there are meant to be differences in the leads. It had a pretty true HB feel to it and made for a decent writing pencil. 7.5/10

7. Tombow Mono100 Homograph

Labelled HB, but definitely softer than the Viarco pencils and the Vikings. I'd have pitched it closer to a B. Beautifully smooth to write with it was certainly nice enough (and held its point well enough) for a long writing session, but was soft enough to doodle or sketch too. Lovely! 8.5/10

8. Pebble Stationery Co.

In many ways, my favourite to write with. It was softer than an HB and very smooth to write with. But (and this may be just the pencil I have) the lead broke frequently and I was aware I was writing gently to make sure it didn't break. It would be a 9/10 for the lead, but 4/10 for the fact the lead broke so easily.

9. Musgrave Choo Choo pencil

My least favourite by a country mile! I struggled to find a sharpener that could deal with the 1 cm diameter (my trusty mechanical sharpener couldn't take it). It wrote as a fairly standard HB, but the diameter made my hand cramp and the lead didn't keep a brilliant point. The weight of it felt all wrong in my hand, too. I think the pencil is designed for children, so maybe I'm being harsh. Between the cramping and sharpening it being a right royal pain in the behind, I'm afraid it's only getting 5/10 from me. I suspect one of the grandkids will get it!

Where to get all of these these lovely items? Well, from Nero, of course: 

General pencil pages (where there are all sorts of lovelies, way beyond this testing set!)

Viking 029

Viking 400

Viking graphite writing pencil

Viarco 3000

Viarco 1951

Viarco 1950

Pebble Stationery Co.

Tombow Homograph Mono100

Choo Choo 8500