Well Made Things from Blackwing

Not every day is cameras and photography. Today I’d like to talk to you about simple pleasures, and a couple of my favorite well made things.

This is a Blackwing Pencil. The famous (infamous?) $40 pencil.

Picture of a blackwing 602 pencil in gray, sharpened, with a black metal tip protector
Blackwing 602 pencil with a tip protector

The first pencil to look like this hand have these features was made by the Eberhard Faber Pencil Company as model 602. It became the favorite of many creatives. Authors like John Steinbeck and Truman Capote. Songwriters and musical artists like Stephen Sondheim and Quincy Jones. Animators like Chuck Jones and Shamus Culhane. When it was discontinued the prices for them went up to $40 each on eBay.

In 2010, the California Cedar Products Company and the Palomino brand reintroduced this pencil, and it is the best pencil I have ever used.

Let’s start with the downside: a critique of the eraser. Let’s face it, the erasers on most pencils are just sad. They never last as long as the pencil does. Honestly, if they just left the eraser off of the pencil and gave me a good square pink eraser, that would be awesome. The eraser on the 602 is better than every other eraser I’ve tried on a pencil, but I just wish it could be done better.

The rest of the 602 pencil is, well, flawless. The wood is incense cedar from the forests of Oregon and California. The graphite slides effortlessly across the page, nearly silent. What it lacks in point retention is more than made up for by how it just flows. Blackwing’s website uses the word “buttery” and it is not hyperbole. They use European lead grades, which makes the 602’s graphite fall under the “Firm” heading. It’s pretty much a B lead. Most writing pencils are harder, but it’s not quite as soft as a sketching pencil would be. Plus the need to maintain a sharp point is offset by the purchase of one of the sharpeners.

I am a huge fan of the Blackwing One-Step Long Point sharpener.

A picture of a Blackwing One-Step Long Point sharpener. It looks like the handle of a screwdriver with an offset hole to insert a pencil and twist to sharpen.
Blackwing One-Step Long Point sharpener

From reading some reviews the original issue of these did not sharpen well. I missed those, fortunately. My wife brought me her One-Step and said “You want to do something really cool?” before offering it to me to use sharpening a pencil. It works like, well, magic. It gives you a perfect point with a few twists. But those twists are among the most satisfying sensations I have experienced. This pencil sharpener is the Leica shutter sound of pencil sharpeners. So, so very satisfying the first time, and all the following times. And for only $20.

I left it at home the other day and the only way I had to sharpen my pencil was an electric sharpener. I actually experienced revulsion at the thought. I took my pencil home and used a proper sharpener instead. Using a harsh electric sharpener is bad and should make you feel bad.

A dozen 602s will set you back $27 these days, far cheaper than the panic price of $40 each. I did find a reviewer who did a direct comparison between an original and the Palomino version and found that aside from some lettering differences, the only real change was the graphite is a little bit lighter. Buying a new dozen is a steal.

Pencils seem to be the latest addition to analog creativity. I’m using them to make lighting guides for shoots and marking up maps, in style.

Order yours here

3 Comments

  1. Earl Dunbar
    January 14, 2023
    Reply

    I discovered Blackwings some time ago and I concur 100% – they are the best (non-mechanical) pencil ever. I don’t have the bullet sharpener. I’ve bought a few other sharpeners and one I like has a holes for both larger and standard pencils (good if you have grand/kids that use the larger diameter) and a fairly large chamber for collecting shavings. It works really well. So, naturally, it’s discontinued.

  2. January 14, 2023
    Reply

    I attempted to resist the Cult of Blackwing, but when someone threw a free one in with an order, the resistance of course melted. I’ve used a black one, and have a couple others in reserve. I’ve also tried a few other brands–the Mono/Tombow are also nice. Still, the Blackwing is not my regular pencil, as for drawing on-the-go I really appreciate the convenience of mechanical pencils. And I’m lucky that there’s a few shops here where I can buy them individually for $3 a pop–while I’ve spent loads on art supplies and fountain pens over the past couple years, I don’t really need to spend almost $30 on a box of pencils right now.

    • Earl Dunbar
      January 15, 2023
      Reply

      Resistance is futile.

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