Friday Read

Happy belated new year! I hope the new year has treated you well. While perusing the news, I have stumbled upon a photo essay on one of the last pencil factories in America in The New York Times Magazine. Even though pencils are not often featured on this blog, it is an indispensable and constant presence in daily life. A seemingly humble pencil is a silent yet organic giant with many hidden intricacies.



Stad T’Gaal Pencil Sharpener

Pencil sharpening is very nostalgic to me.  Before I abandoned wooden pencils for the supposedly cool mechanical ones, my mother would sharpen all my pencils by blade every night when the bookpack was packed.  For some odd reason, I envied kids with sharpeners that came in various shapes, castles, animals, you name it, without considering the thought my mother put into a trivial detail, such as pencil sharpening.

When I regain my obsession with wooden pencils, I too sharpen them with a blade for nostalgic reason, but I do get lazy, since I am only human.  I tried a sharpener by Kum that is meant for hexagonal and triangular pencils, I was a bit disappointed.  It not only eats the wood, but also makes the lead look a bit awkward.  Back to the market to look for a small portable one.  When I see T’Gaal Pencil sharpener by Stad on JetPens, I am intrigued by different sharpening that this little sharpener can do.

T’Gaal sharpener is smaller than it appears, measures 5.72 cm ( 2.25 inch) on the longest part.  The shape of it makes it easy and comfortable to hold, for both children and adults.  The dial that adjusts different sharpening angles is a transparent but matching color to the body, and one would turn counterclockwise to adjust.  There is a printed chart on the back of the packaging tells you which angle is suitable for which pencil.  1 and 2 are for colored pencils, 3 and 4 for other graphite.  The larger the number, longer the lead core is sharpened.  There is also a closing mechanism so none of the pencil shaving would spill.

Pencil stitch

To open the sharpener, turn to its back and you will find a piece with grip mark/ grooves imprint.  Gently slide it open, and voila, you can empty the sharpener.


So, how does it sharpen?  I have to say that I am quite impressed.  I grab a handful of random pencils I can find in the pencil holder for test.  The picture on the left shows how they look like before getting a hair cut by the T’Gaal sharpener.

Pencils compare

If you look at the Rhodia pencil (the bright orange with black Linden Wood center), it was previously sharpened by Kum specialized sharpener.  The lead core looks a bit awkward, isn’t it?  The

If you look at the Rhodia pencil (the bright orange with black Linden Wood center), it was previously sharpened by Kum specialized sharpener.  The lead core looks a bit awkward, isn’t it?  The Lorex Project pencil (the one with the sunflower imprint) was a pain in the neck to sharpen by most sharpeners (even blade) due to the composite wood chip material. Now, look at the picture on the right.  Do they not look a bit happier?  The wooden shaving looks a bit more uniformed and the lead core are pointed and spiffy.

color pencils

How does it do with colored pencils?  This is the first time I ever sharpen these Staedtler Ergosoft, so I am a bit nervous as to how they would turn out.  You can see the result in the right picture.  The sharpening looks almost identical to the manufacturer’s.


Most people who adore wooden pencils love wood, so they feel the pinch on the heart when the pencils need to be sharpened.  How much wood does T’Gaal taken away?  From the above picture, it does not look much.  Each pencil is sharpened in about 2 complete rotation, if not 3.  Even if you are an avid pencil user, the pencils will not melt away right before your eyes.

T’Gaal definitely outperforms the Kum I bought previously and I would recommend this little sharpener to any pencil users.  It is portable, lightweight, and effective.

Want to see it for yourself?  You can find this dandy sharpener at JetPens and selected Kinokuniya stores.

DISCLAIMER:  This sharpener was purchased with a generous sponsorship provided by JetPens.  All opinions on the products are entirely mine.  I am not compensated monetarily otherwise, nor am I affiliated professionally with the company.

100th post giveaway

The goodies

It is hardly believable that I have written one hundred review posts, long and short.  I am in a bit shock that I have the perseverance to post my two-cents periodically.  Part of the motivation is from you, the readers, for supporting (and in some way tolerating) the existence of this blog.  As a token of appreciation, I am hosting a giveaway in name of this milestone and the little kit I put together somewhat summarizes what I have done in these one hundred posts.

In this kit, you will receive:
To see what I have said about any of the above products, click on the respective hyperlinks.
Please scroll down to fill out the Rafflecopter form for a chance to win.  This contest is open INTERNATIONALLY.  As long as US Postal Service delivers to your country, I will send it!  It will end July 21st, 2012 on 12AM, EST.  The winner will be announced on July 22nd.  
Thank you again for your support!

Can’t wait for the result? You can get these goodies from the following retailers:

  • Pilot Petit1:  MyMaido
  • “Keep it Green” Alfabet Recycled Notebook:  At most Barnes and Noble stores.
  • Wopex pencils:  Du-All
  • Staedtler eraser: Amazon, and other chained stationery retailers
  • Zebra Surari Emulsion ink pen:  JetPens, Tokyo Pen Shop.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Pencil Review: Milan Graphite B from RAH

I am a believer that receiving surprising mails and packages will elevate the dopamine level, though I do not have concrete scientific evidence.  One day, I found a small package from Rad and Hungry (RAH) in my mailbox.  Puzzled by it, since I did not recall ordering anything from them, unless I did sleepshop.  When I opened it, I found a simple triangular shaped pencil with a handwritten note, then I recalled that I have enrolled in the Pencil Pals hosted by RAH awhile back.  Pencil Pals essentially is a pencil exchange program, where you will receive a pencil from one of the participants, and you will need to send one back in return.  This initiative mimics RAH’s concept of traveling and stationery because it is open world-wide.  Neat idea, right?
Here is the mighty pencil:  Milan from the sourcing trip to Spain!  The design is simple; the body is in alternating gray and green stripes.  Its triangular shape is ergonomic and comfortable to hold.  According to Milan’s website, since all products by Milan are meant for children, therefore, the varnish coating is non-toxic.  The company is also dedicated to environmental preservation that the wood source for the pencil is not extracted from rainforest.  Most fascinating of it all, Milan is a family-owned business rooted in Spain, and currently is managed by the fourth generation of family.
One façade:  white “MILAN” imprint, plus the grade of the pencil

The other façade:  barcode with possible item number.  
The end of the pencil.  
When I put Milan close to my nose, all I can smell is faint fragrance of the wood.  The wood grain is smooth to touch, no rough spots that could put splinter in your fingers.  That also means it is easy to sharpen. 
Got a quick haircut by KUM Sharpener.
Not the best sharpening job, at least the wooden part
is not completely eaten.
Closer look of the wood.

One of my odd test to see whether I like a pencil is to sharpen it by blade, mainly to get a sense of how the wood sharpens and feels.  The pencil sharpens without much force applying to the blade; the wood slides right off like butter.

How does it write?  The B lead is as glossy as its finish.  It is not as soft and dark as the one in Japanese pencil, but it is still prominent on paper.

Pardon my rudimentary drawing.  

From the above writing sample, Milan’s lead hardness is between Wopex and Blackwing, which is expected since the lead grade is B.  Though the lead is on the softer side, it does not smear easily so lefties do not need to fret about leaving a graphite trail on paper.

Here comes to the challenge.  It is possible that my Internet search skill is questionable, I cannot find online stores that sell Milan pencils.  According to the distributor’s website, Dick Blick Art Supplies sells it, but I cannot find it on its website.  If there is one near you, give it a call before you head in.

If you are ready for a unique pencil adventure, check out RAH’s Pencil Pals program!

Pencil Review: Staedtler Wopex HB Pencil

Good thing frequently comes when you least expect it.  I often find sationery goodies at university bookstores that are not easily found elsewhere.  While I peruse through the bookstore, all of the sudden a beam of green light (very much like the one in The Great Gatsby) shining at the display.  When I look closer, this is what I see:

The surface of the pencil is satin smooth and the texture of the material resembles many pencils that are made of recycled materials that I have used in the past.  Given that Staedtler manufactures great wooden pencils, I decide to give this revolutionary material a try.

According to Staedtler, Wopex pencils are different from traditional wooden pencils in the following respects:

  • Wopex utilizes most of the tree, hence reduce total number of trees involve in pencil making.
  • The manufacturing process uses energy efficient equipment and is solvent free.
  • Lead is break resistant, so it lasts twice as long as traditional pencils.

Click here for complete details from Staedtler’s official website.

As seen from the above picture, these pencils are pre-sharpened thus can be enjoyed out of the package.  First impression is that the lead is as silky smooth as the body!  It offers very little resistance and writing becomes effortless.  The writing experience is summed up with the writing sample below:

Writing sample.  I remember why I like using pencils so much!
For some reason, erasing writing done by Wopex can be tough at time, even Mars Plastic cannot remove the scribble completely.  
I have always interested in pencils made with recycle materials, so how does Wopex compare to its competitors?  I just happened to have a Ticonderoga Renew hanging around in the office, so I scribble with both pencils for comparison:
I like the idea of making pencils out of post-consumer materials, but Ticonderoga does not write as dark as conventional HB pencils, and the writing is tough to remove with eraser.  Wopex, in contrast, writes like a regular pencil if not better, and the writing is relatively easy to erase, in most cases.
One puzzling element about Wopex is sharpening.  The picture below shows how Wopex looks before sharpening:
Original look
This picture shows how it looks like after being sharpened by an electric pencil sharpener:  
A little bit more “up-do” on the sharpening edge.
The plastic coating does not sharpened as well as the wood inside.  With a regular portable sharpener, Wopex does quite well, but the lead is unevenly sharpened, but most likely because of the sharpener not the pencil.
Sharpened by KUM sharpener.
Unlike conventional wooden pencil, Wopex does not have an eraser at the end and I actually prefer that, since most eraser at the end is not of best quality.  The pack I purchased happened to come with five free PVC and latex free eraser topers, which bear the Staedtler logo.  It is a bit softer than regular Staedtler Mars plastic, but it gets the job done a lot better than the little eraser knob.  

Overall, Wopex exceeds my expectation of regular writing pencils.  Its bright shimmering coating definitely uplift user’s mood.  It is dependable, and it seems to stay sharp longer than conventional pencils, so even after extended usage writing remains crisp and legible.  It is the combination of the comfort of wooden pencils and environmental consciousness.

Here are some more reviews on the same product:

Oddly, I can only find a few less-known online retailers for Wopex.  If you have seen them around, please let me know so I can add them to the list of places to buy.