pencil lead comparison

Q&A: How Do Pencil Leads Compare

pencil lead comparison


We have tried to put together a simple guide to comparing pencils leads from different brands. It is actually very hard to achieve this and represent it well on screen, but this is a fair representation of the various brands we have available. Since most non-specialist brands lean towards an HB lead (the middle compromise between an H hard lead and a B black lead), there is little to distinguish between the pencils.

The Blackwing pencils demonstrate the highest degree of change which is not surprising – their pencils don’t follow the standard H and B grading you find, but they are still graded from the harder 602 pencil to the softer Classic with the Pearl in between.

This chart was done on Rhodia paper but you will also find very different results if used on different papers, especially a paper with a grain to it. Since pencils will be used for drawing quite often, it follows that you may find the paper plays a big part in the result.

Top marks do go to the Blackwing pencils, unsurprinsingly, but other pencils that deserve a mention here are the Faber Castell 2001 Grip, and the Viking pencils. Both are quite smooth and consistent in how they write.

Blackwing Volumes 16.2

The ultimate guide to Blackwing Volumes

Blackwing Volumes

Celebrating a creative culture

Blackwing pencils have inspired a cult following and they are a dream to write with – Half the pressure, twice the speedᅠ- is the brand’s motto.

At first the number 602 was the name of the pencil after pencil 601 and before pencil 603. Over time however, as the following grew the 602 became a rockstar of graphite world. An icon that has been a part of creating Bugs Bunny, the Looney Tunes and many more.

“Over time, 602 has become a number with stories to tell…  What other numbers have stories to tell?” ~Blackwing (see more here)

The Blackwing Volumes are special editions that come out 3-4 times a year in limited quantities and tell interesting stories about locations, music & sports legends, film, photography etc. For stationery geeks (like us) the’ve transcended into a modern art form which we love to collect.  Listed below are all the Volumes that have been issued so far. How many of these can you remember and which one is your favourite?

We admire how creative Blackwing are with their pencils, so this post is an archive for all collectors out there 🙂

Enjoy! (^_~)

ps: We’ll keeping adding new Volumes as they come in …

Blackwing Volumes 205
Blackwing Volumes 73
RelasedVolume1. DesignInspired by
June 2015725The Sunburst Pencil - Sunburst Finish, Black Eraser, Gold Ferrule, White Imprint, Balanced Graphite. Writes similarly to the Blackwing Pearl pencil.Shiny gradient Fender Stratocaster guitar pencil tribute to Newport Folk Festival.
Blackwing Volumes 725
ReleasedVolume2. DesignInspired by
September 2015211The Natural Pencil - Natural Finish, Brown Eraser, Gold Ferrule, Brown Imprint, Firm Graphite. Writes similarly to the Blackwing 602 pencil.Pencil tribute to John Muir & John Muir Trail.
Blackwing Volumes 211
ReleasedVolume3. DesignInspired by
December 20151138The Sfi-Fi Pencil - Barcode Finish, Black Eraser, Silver Ferrule, Silver Imprint, Soft Graphite. Writes similarly to the Blackwing Classic pencil.Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon - film is condensed on the barcode that is printed on the pencil.
Blackwing Volumes 1138
ReleasedVolume4. DesignInspired by
March 201624The Writer’s Pencil - Black Finish, Black Eraser, Black Ferrule, Black Imprint, Extra-Firm Graphite. The firmest of all pencils.Shiny Black on Black pencil tribute to John Steinbeck.
Blackwing Volumes 24
ReleasedVolume5. DesignInspired by
July 201656 The Joe DiMaggio Pencil - Pinstripe Finish, Blue Eraser, Gold Ferrule, Gold imprint, Firm Graphite. Writes similarly to the Blackwing 602 pencil.Tribute to Baseball legend Joe DiMaggio and his 56 game hitting streak.
Blackwing Volumes 56

Autumn 2016. New logo & Sans Serif typeface. New improved eraser.

ReleasedVolume6. DesignInspired by
September 2016344 The Dorothea Lange Pencil - Deep Red Finish, Black Eraser, Red Ferrule, Red Imprint, Firm Graphite. Writes similarly to the Blackwing 602 pencil.Dark room (rolls of Film) like pencil, tribute to Dorothea Lange and her famous Migrant Mother photo.
Blackwing Volumes 344
ReleasedVolume7. DesignInspired by
December 2016530 The Eureka Moment - Gold Finish, Black Eraser, Striped Ferrule, Black Imprint, Extra-Firm Graphite. The firmest of all pencils.Gold Rush pencil celebrating Eureka moments.
Blackwing Volumes 530
ReleasedVolume8. DesignInspired by
March 2017205The Jade Pencil - Dual Jade Finishes. Green and White, Black Eraser, Gold Ferrule, Gold Imprint, Firm Graphite. Writes similarly to the Blackwing 602’s.First ever Volume that contains two different pencils representing Silk Road (white) trade and one of it’s most prominent goods - Jade (green).
Blackwing Volumes 205
ReleasedVolume9. DesignInspired by
June 201773The Tahoe Pencil - Tahoe Blue Finish, Raised Topography Texture, White Eraser, Silver Ferrule, White Imprint, Soft Graphite. Writes similarly to the Blackwing Classic.Inspired by the beauty of Lake Tahoe. 73 is a celebration of conservation success and represents Tahoe’s last measured Secchi depth.
Blackwing Volumes 73
ReleasedVolume10. DesignInspired by
October 20171Guy Clark Pencil - First Round Pencil, Matte Grey Washcoat Finish (Natural wood colour shows through) Denim Blue Eraser, Silver Ferrule, Silver Imprint, Balanced Graphite. Writes similarly to the Blackwing Pearl pencil.Pencil tribute to Guy Clark’s debut album Old No. 1 which is regarded as one of the most influential albums ever made.
Blackwing Volumes 1
ReleasedVolume11. DesignInspired by
December 201716.2Ada Lovelace Pencil - Matte white finish with white binary pattern stamp of Ada Lovelace’s initials, White Eraser, Matte Black Ferrule, Grey Imprint, Firm Graphite. Writes similarly to the Blackwing 602 pencil.Pencil tribute to mathematician, writer and visionary Ada Lovelace. Each pencil has a binary pattern stamp of the initials she used to sign her work, AAL. The number 16.2 is a nod to the Analytical Engine’s storage capacity of 16.2 kB.
Blackwing Volumes 16.2
ReleasedVolume12. DesignInspired by
April 201854Exquisite Corpse Pencil - Rose finish, Blue dust-free Eraser, Silver Ferrule, Crisp Teal Imprint, Extra-Firm Graphite. The firmest of all pencils.Pencil pays tribute to surrealism and creative exercises that force us to look beyond our narrow personal perspective. The number 54 is a nod to 54 rue due Chateau in Paris, the birthplace of Exquisite Corpse.
Blackwing Volumes 54

Blackwing Volumes are limited editions and they don't hang around for long!

essential summer top 10 stationery items

Top 10 Essential Stationery Items For The Summer

From Bureau exclusives to great offers, from exotic imports to reinvented cult classics, even something not really stationery at all.


Rhodia Heritage Notebooks

Rhodia Heritage notebooks

A brand new range of books that harks back to older ways of making things. We especially love the Raw Binding notebooks with their spine that has a…well, a raw feel to it. Sturdy, with the classic Rhodia 90gsm paper. One of the beauties of this binding is that it lies flat no matter where in the book you are.

Why you need this item:

It’s a notebook but so much more. Retro styling has been used for a great purpose meaning this notebook will last the course, can handle all the ink you throw at it and it will be a pleasure to use each time you get it out. What’s not to love?


Field Notes Campfire Edition Notebooks

Field Notes Campfire notebooks

Field Notes produce four limited editions a year, one for each season. The summer edition this year is the Campfire edition and it’s one of their best in a longtime. A set of 3 books, each with a different stage of campfire print on the cover (from dusk to night to dawn), plus a ‘campfire master’ sew-on patch. Release your inner scout.

Why you need this item:

A set of rugged little notebooks that you can sling in your bag or your pocket and it means you will always be able to jot down some important thought or note.


Fjallraven Kanken Backpacks

Fjallraven Kanken backpacks

If you haven’t already spotted them around you soon will. This Swedish staple from 1978 is now a bone-fide classic on the streets here. And why? It does a simple job very well – unzip it fully and you’ll find everything you need, no rumaging around in endless pockets.

Why you need this item:

It strips back a backpack to its core function and does it very well. It is waterproof (Fjallraven are Swedish outdoors experts) and then there’s the colours – so many to choose from, whether bright or muted.


Lamy Safari Special Edition Fountain Pen 2017 - Petrol

special edition lamy safari fountain pen

Each year this pen is released with a new colour and it was always a big ask to follow on from last year’s purple. Who would want to be David Moyes to follow Alex Ferguson? (it’s a football reference, don’t worry). Lamy actually pulled it off though with the petrol pen, an unusual but smart teal-petrol green colour. Special editions sell out so when they’re gone they’re gone.

Whilst stocks last we have put this pen on promotion – grab it now for just £14.95

Why you need this item:

The Safari is widely regarded as an exceptional pen – it writes fantastically, is an easy pen to use for everyone and yet costs a fraction of many a more expensive pen. In other words, it’s worth every penny.


Kyoto Inks

kyoto inks from japan

A new ink range just in from Japan, and looking the part. Five colours, all lovely from a black-with-sheen to a dusky blue and a vibrant pink-red.

Why you need this item:

Sometimes you buy things because the sum of it is so much more than the parts. These inks just tick all the boxes, from the packaging to the bottle to the colours to the inks. Worth that indulgence once in a while to treat yourself.


Walk With Me Maps

Walk With Me maps

We all want to decorate our homes with something a little different and these are just that. Beautiful maps-as-artwork from a series of artists covering different neighbourhoods of London, Madrid and Barcelona.

Why you need this item:

Because maps let you dream of places and these are also beautiful to look at – hang one on your wall and it will transport you somewhere.


Taroko Breeze Notebook With Tomoe River Paper

Taroko Breeze notebook with Tomoe River paper

An exclusive notebook to Bureau, this book has it all. Right size, dot paper with an index and page numbers, and even with ink charts to record your favourite inks. Oh, and it has Tomoe River paper.

Why you need this item:

So many reasons but it’s the paper that does it – Tomoe River paper is lightweight Japanese paper that handles ink better than heavier papers, so it’s great to write with and yet packs in more paper for less weight.


Caran d'Ache 849 Fountain Pens

Caran d'Ache 849 fountain pen

The 849 pen is a classic, around since 1969. The addition of a fountain pen to the 849 range just means you can have an ink pen in the classic 849 hexagonal shape.

Why you need this item:

Those bright fluorescent colours were just made for summer.


Limited Edition Blackwing Vol.73 Pencils

Blackwing limited edition Volume 73 pencils

The limited edition Blackwing pencils always have a slightly convoluted naming convention, and this one is no exception (it has something to do with the measurement of the water clarity of Lake Tahoe, but please don’t ask). What is quite certain is that these pencils are a winner. The intense blue is inspired by the waters of Lake Tahoe and the nice touch of the topographic map etched onto the barrel works.

Why you need this item:

Blackwing are widely regarded as the best of all pencils, and so if you haven’t tried them yet then take the plunge and get yourself some. Time to find out why they are so highly rated.


Observer's Astronomy Notebooks

Astronomy notebook

An unusual mix of night-sky infographics and unusual paper rulings might make this book seem a bit too quirky for its own good, but it’s not. It’s really good fun, informative and refreshingly different.

Why you need this item:

Doesn’t everyone love to learn a bit more about the night skies above?

stationery and fashion

Stationery & Fashion

There’s an article in The Guardian today by Jess Cartner-Morley all about the link between fashion and stationery which makes for interesting reading. I liked the story about Tom Ford and the yellow-pencil-crisis. Sadly we don’t operate such a strict rule here in the Bureau offices although it would be quite pleasing to employ such standards. It also reminds me of an event many years ago when we were invited to a fashion show (I forget who the designer was) organised by Faber Castell, and the show featured models walking around with dresses made out of pencils. Very sharp pencils if I remember right which must have posed a bit of a risk.

Read the article here


When pencils and art collide

Welcome to the strange world of Pencil-vanya

Discover an animated film set somewhere in Eastern Europe all about pencils, love and…well, all sorts of strange goings on. We featured this last year in Stationery Wednesday (edition 48) and yet somehow it failed to make it onto the website or blog. An oversight as this is a piece of stationery-animation genius. It is the work of Studio Tinto, and Alex in particular, as he was across the room when we were having a meeting with our friends at Sugarway on a project we’re working on. Inspired by all the talk of stationery he went away and produced an animated short film. I don’t remember much talk about pencils as we were largely focused on notepads if my memory serves me right, but nonetheless he has created a world that shows pencils in a way you will have never seen before. It is an animated short but when I say short, at over 4 minutes, it seems like a lot of work to me. Anyway, words cannot quite explain the world you’ll find here so the best solution is to sit back and watch it.



Staff Picks – Field Notes Carpenter Pencils

Kate’s Choice

field notes

Today I am starting off my Staff Pick with a little bit of science. Biology to be more specific. How interesting, I hear you say. And why have I chosen to do so? Well, when I was deciding which product to review, my mind wandered off on a bit of a tangent and I ended up thinking about my childhood. There are so many things that can prompt a trip down memory lane and take you back to a particular time in your life, it might be a song, a film, a food or most likely a smell. So here comes the science…

When you first smell a new scent, you link it to an event, a person, an object or even a moment. The brain forges a link between the smell and a memory, when you encounter that particular scent again the link is already in place, ready to elicit a memory or a mood almost instantaneously. This is because the primary olfactory cortex, which received information about smells from nerves in the nose, and links to the limbic system in the brain, more specifically the amygdala which controls expression and experience of emotion, and the hippocampus which controls the consolidation of memories. Memories that are evoked by scent can seem clearer and more intense than other memories because they appear to be more emotional than those triggered by visual, audio and other types of cues. According to research, apparently even studying information in the presence of a certain smell can actually increase the vividness and intensity of the remembered information when you smell the scent again.

Fascinating stuff eh? But what does this have to do with stationery? To be honest, it doesn’t really. But as you know, we moved offices and have completely redecorated, including taking up the carpet and sanding the unvarnished floorboards. As a result, the whole office smells of wood (to me anyway) which is a constant and glorious reminder of my childhood. My lovely Dad (here he is again) had a carpentry workshop and would come home from there covered in sawdust. To me, there is nothing that provokes a stronger memory of being young than this smell and I love it. Which is why I decided to review the Field Notes Carpenter Pencils (I got there in the end).

Field Notes are an unusual brand and have quickly developed a bona fide cult following over here. Apparently inspired by the ‘vanishing subgenre of agricultural memo books, ornate pocket ledgers and the simple, unassuming beauty of a well-crafted grocery list’ their products are truly charming to look at and very collectable.

Carpenter pencils are not that widely available but Field Notes have done a lovely job with these. For those of you who aren’t familiar with them, a carpenter’s pencil has at least two essential characteristics to distinguish it from run of the mill pencils. The shape is usually rectangular or elliptical to prevent it from rolling, and the lead must be strong enough to make a heavy mark on coarse surfaces. The leads are flat and wide, so make an accurate straight line which is easy to follow with a saw.

The Field Notes Carpenter Pencils come in a pack of three and are finished in Black with the Field Notes brand stamped in White, with brilliant touches such as ‘Measure twice ‘ and ‘Cut once’ just in case you were about to have some sort of carpentry related mishap….

My favourite thing about them though, is that they cannot be sharpened with traditional sharpeners because of their shape, so they have to pared down with a knife. My Dad still does this with his pencils and I love how they look, with the leads much longer than on an ordinary pencil. Maybe a bit annoying for those of you who don’t have a Stanley knife to hand but for those who do, it’s an incredibly satisfying task. But just be careful, I don’t want to be responsible for a spate of injuries. All jokes aside, if anything rustic, hand finished or dare I say this word ‘vintage’ in style appeals, these pencils are perfect. The simplicity of them is really pleasing,  and even if you never do any carpentry they are worth having.