Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Pencil Review: Dixon No.2/HB (+ first thoughts on using a wooden pencil)

This is my very first review of a real pencil - that is, a wooden pencil, not a mechanical pencil.  I want to start using wooden pencils more for writing and sketching, so I thought I'd start with reviewing the (few) pencils that I have acquired so far.  This Dixon No.2/HB is actually one of my found pencils and, judging by the numbers of them that I find around the school yards, it must be one of those pencils that gets sold for 10 cents a dozen or some other such ridiculously low price around back-to-school time.  I chose this pencil to try out first because I thought it would be an easy, non-intimidating way to start using wooden pencils.


The Dixon No.2/HB is basically the stereotypical wooden pencil.  It has the classic yellow-orange hexagonal body, basic silver-toned ferrule, and pink eraser.  The name is simply printed on black on the end of the pencil; on mine, the letters are starting to wear off a bit.  Looking at this pencil makes me think that I should be sitting in an elementary school classroom, carving my name into the wooden edge of my desk, brushing eraser dust onto the floor, and watching the boys in the back of the room throw sharpened pencils at the ceiling.  (Did they do that at your school?)


This actually is the first time I've written seriously with a wooden pencil since elementary school (I think I switched to mechanical pencils around grade four or five), so a few things have caught my attention.  First of all, the sharp point actually lasts a surprisingly long time.  One of the main reasons why I switched to mechanical pencils all those years ago was that they they didn't need to be sharpened - a distinct improvement over wooden pencils which, in my memory, needed to be sharpened after every second word.  But I'm now well into my third paragraph of writing this review by hand and the point is still surprisingly sharp.  Another thing that impresses me - the pencil is surprisingly comfortable.  I would have thought that wooden pencils, with their narrow bodies with no grips or ergonomic features to speak of, would be very uncomfortable to write with.  But the hexagonal form of this pencil fits nicely into my hand, I don't feel the need to grip it as tightly as I would with a pen, and the wood feels pleasantly warm.  I also love the sound that the pencil lead makes on the paper - kind of a soft, scratchy sound.  I get that with my mechanical pencil too, but it seems somehow different with the wooden pencil.

Along with writing my first review of a wooden pencil, I've also decided to mix things up a bit by writing my pencil reviews in an unlined Field Notes notebook rather than the Rhodia Pad I use for my pen reviews.  Just keeping things interesting for you all. . . or something like that.
Given that the Dixon No.2/HB is generally just a cheap school pencil, I wasn't expecting anything too stellar from it.  The lead doesn't seem very dark, and it feels a wee bit softer than the HB lead I'm used to in my mechanical pencil - although that last point may be simply my imagination.  Or maybe there is some difference between mechanical pencil lead and wooden pencil lead generally?  The Dixon No.2/HB also sharpens relatively well, although, sadly, the shavings just come off in tiny little pieces and not in one nice curl.

The eraser has a rough feel on the page and leaves a considerable amount of shadow behind.  Even worse, if there is a lot of lead down on the page, the eraser seems to smudge things around more than actually erase.  The eraser feels loose, as though it might pop out of the ferrule if I erased too vigorously - but this is a found pencil after all, so, while it appears relatively pristine, I suppose it is possible that the eraser and ferrule may have received some injuries prior to ending up in my hands.  And I'm sure that most people who use wooden pencils probably carry a separate eraser as well and don't depend completely on the pencil eraser.

I was totally going to leave the eraser dust on the page when I took this photograph - but I totally forgot and brushed it away as I always do.  Oh well.  It wasn't really very interesting anyway.
I'm sure there are better pencils than the Dixon No.2/HB out there, but it still managed to welcome me back to the world of wooden pencils.  I look forward to trying out some more wooden pencils, and to using them more often in my writing and sketches.  I do have a few more wooden pencils lined up to review, but I would definitely appreciate any other pencil recommendations that you might care to offer!  And, because this was my first review of a wooden pencil, is there anything else that you would have liked to have seen me mention?

Related reviews: Stationery Traffic, The Wooden Pencil (this one's a comparison review of a number of different pencils).

13 comments:

  1. I had some major problems with the Dixon no. 2 I just tried. I found one in my drawer that was never used, and I couldn't get it to sharpen properly. I tried 2 of my trust sharpeners, and in both, the lead would break everytime it would start to get sharp. I ended up having to sharpen the pencil to about half of the original length, just to get a point that wasn't broken off. :( I've never had that problem with any of my other pencils.

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    1. Wow, that sounds incredibly annoying! I just finished sharpening several dozen of my found pencils, which included many of these Dixons, and I have to say that some of them, like the one I reviewed, sharpened relatively well, while others just wouldn't sharpen and kept breaking. So I guess it's just a matter of chance whether you get one that sharpens or not. Like I said in the review, there are definitely better pencils out there.

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  2. Dixon's other yellow pencil, the Ticonderoga is even better, with real cedar and a smoother "lead" -- not made in the USA anymore, but still pretty good pencils. :)

    Welcome to the Wide World of Graphite!

    http://www.pencilrevolution.com/2012/08/a-penchant-for-paper-on-pencils/

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    1. Thanks, John! I have found a few Ticonderogas already, but they were a bit too tattered for review. Maybe with the new school year beginning soon I'll find one in better shape.

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  3. Wood-cased pencils may be an acquired taste these days, especially for younger folks who've known only very modestly priced mechanical pencils.

    Yes, some of the bargain pencils, the dozen for a USD $1 sort, are pretty awful. Still, I'll spy the occasional found pencil, sharpen it with my Opinel, and it'll write okay.

    Wood-cased pencils held roughly sideways can shade a drawing as a mechanical pencil can not. There are plastic and metal pencil point protectors, too. (I think www.pencilthings.com is one source.) I'll use KUM sharpeners, rarely my Opinel knife, and, also rarely, a sanding block.

    I'll buy Staedtler Lumographs, Mitubishi Hi-Uni, and one or two other premium brands that I can't recall. They're USD $15-$25 a dozen, or thereabouts. That sounds like a bundle, but, when used in rotation with your mechanical pencils, they'll last a long time. Pencil holders (e. g., Derwent) will guarantee you can use your wood-cased pencil comfortably down to a stub. Jack/Ohio

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    1. Thanks for all your tips, Jack!

      I find many wood pencils in the school yards but very few mechanical pencils or pens - although I'm sure the students use those as well, maybe they value them higher than their wood pencils and so are less likely to lose them?

      I've never used pencils for sketching or drawing before, but I do want to try that out at some point. I actually do have a Staedtler Lumograph that I bought singly a couple years ago to use for sketching - but I haven't used it yet. Now that I've started with wooden pencils, however, I think that I'll feel more comfortable giving it a try.

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    2. Thanks, Heather. One of the small joys of writing gear, at least in my opinion, is that it's often easily possible to buy best-in-class products on pauper's wages.

      Found pencils are something of a "thing" with me, maybe genetic in origin. My Dad had a comfortable income mostly (he owned three houses), yet he could be found at Army surplus stores scrounging for tools and other useful things, and even stopping at times to pull something from a garbage pile. Like him, I think, I'm quietly revolted at seeing a manufactured product, with a whole lot of human capital behind it, cast aside when it still has some useful life to it.

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  4. Thanks for the review. About the leads in mechanical pencils vs. the wooden ones: you're absolutely right. Mechanical pencil leads are in general made with a different kind of binder - high polymer, whereas the wooden pencils use ceramic leads, with clay as the main binder. Staedtler and Pentel have some excellent PDF files on this at their sites. I prefer the ceramic leads, because IMHO they can be softer and more black without making a "shiny" line.

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    1. Thank you very much for that information, Henrik! I'm glad to hear that it was not simply my imagination about the difference between mechanical pencil and wooden pencil leads :).

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  5. Henrik, thanks. General's even has a pencil (its #595) that combines graphite with charcoal for an extraordinarily dark, marker-type line. Jack/Ohio

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  6. Fun review. I'd be happy to mail you a handful of wood pencils for you to try out, if you're interested.

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  7. It is important to notice that Dixon labels several of their pencils as the above. The above pencil is the Econimizer.

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    1. Thanks for that clarification, Wesley!

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