A pencil review?! I thought this was thatonepen.com, not thatonepencil.com. That’s true but doesn’t everyone pick up a pencil at least now and then? In my job as a chemistry teacher, my analog writing time is divided something like 70:30 between pen and pencil. Like most folks, I write most of my notes or to-do lists with a favorite pen. Unlike most folks, I need to do a fair amount of scientific problem solving/thinking. Maybe it’s just habit, but these process just feel more natural with a pencil in hand.
Back in my student days (Don’t ask how long ago. Suffice it to say that I was writing organic chemistry mechanisms before anyone heard of a little known governor from Arkansas), I did most of my problem sets and tests with a mechanical pencil (typically 0.7 mm) and one of those clicky erasures. I didn’t have anything against wooden pencils, but a couple of mechanical pencils loaded with “leads” seemed like a more efficient approach than walking into a test with a fist full of wooden pencils. In graduate school, I had to use pen in my lab notebook of course (Anyone remember these bad boys?) but I picked up the habit of using a wooden pencil from my research advisor. He always had a Cross Century ballpoint in his shirt pocket, but he also kept a cup of sharpened wooden pencil handy on his desk. Maybe I was trying to suck up or maybe I thought that if wood pencils were good enough for one of the smartest people I knew they were good enough for me, who knows. Regardless, pencils, in one form or another, have always been close at hand in my world.
Fast forward to today and this little pen blogging hobby has brought about a number of minor life experiences and opportunities including two pen shows, more than a few ebay purchases, much more than a few orders to JetPens and Goulet Pens, a Field Notes Colors subscription, custom-made pen holders and a few reminders. I’m reminded every day that I, and you if you’re reading this post, care much more about what I write with than the typical (read “normal”) person. More recently, I’ve been reminded that this writing implement snobbery extends to pencils as well. It was always there, but folks like the Erasable podcast gents and sites like Dave’s Mechanical Pencils have made me come to terms with this part of my personality. In short, my name is Todd and I’m a pen AND pencil snob. (Paper too but let’s confront one demon at a time.)
Well, that was more preamble than I original planned so let’s get to the present pencils shall we. Like most casual users of pencils, the idea of using a pencil that doesn’t have an erasure just seemed inefficient to me. Then again, what are all those clicky erasures doing on my desk and in my book bag? Upon further review, it was clear that I dismissed a larger portion, probably a majority, of finer pencil options for no good reason over this erasure issue. I came to Tombow brand pencils after ordering a bunch of different wooden pencils from Pencils.com and Jet Pens. Specifically, I got the Palomino collection pack from Pencils.com and a couple of different Tombow 2558s from Jet Pens. While I liked aspects of nearly all of these pencils, I found myself going back to the Tombow 2558 (H) most frequently. So, with my no-erasure pencil bias eliminated and my Tombow preference in tow, I walked the aisles of Blick Art looking for other options – enter the Tombow Mono.
First, the pencils looks awesome. The black finish and white end produce a sharp chiaroscuro. Add the gold-colored lettering that resists chipping or fading and you’ve got yourself a classy pencil. Maybe this sounds strange, but this wooden pencil also feels solidly built. Compared to bodies of other wooden pencils I have that demonstrate a bit of flex, the Tombow Mono almost seems not to be made of wood. I can even hear a difference. When I roll multiple Palomino, Dixon or other pencils in my hands the sound is dull, almost hollow, compared to the higher pitched “click clack” I hear when rolling the Monos in my hands. The label on one facet of the Monos reads “hi-precision DRAFTING” and I think the description fits well. These are wooden pencils that, when sharpened nicely, feel very much like a mechanical drafting pencil. It’s a weird analogy, but I think this will work. Tombow Monos are the cyborg of pencils – fundamentally organic yet with a mechanical, precise feel.
How do the pencils write? Let’s start with the HB grade. Compared to other quality HB-ish pencils I have, the Tombow Mono HB definitely favors the hard end of the HB spectrum. For instance, compared to the Palomino Blackwing 602 or the standard Palomino California Republic I have, the Tombow Mono HB graphite is clearly made of sturdier stuff. While I don’t have one to compare directly, I suspect we’ll need to get into a Mono 2B range to find something comparable to the 602 or Palomino. As we move to the F and H Monos, the graphite cores clearly get harder but, importantly, they maintain a surprisingly smooth writing experience. Right now, I think the F is my preferred grade. It’s very smooth, lays down a decently dark line but doesn’t require the frequency of sharpening of an HB core. My preference isn’t so profound that I seek out the F grade exclusively. Usually, I just grab any of the Mono’s out of the cup and go with the flow. However, If I’m looking to pair pencil grade with writing circumstance, then I’ll grab the HB for smooth paper like Rhodia, the H grade for cheap notecards and most legal pads and the F grade for copy paper and Field Notes. Yeah, you know it’s bad when you’re selecting your pencil grade based on the paper you’re using. Goodness help us all. Yes, I do mean “us” because you’ve read this far haven’t you, you pencil freak.
So, there it is – my first pencil review. It won’t be my last but I suspect it may be a while before a wooden pencil that compares so favorably to the Tombow Mono comes to my attention.