Friday, November 18, 2005

Wood Cased vs. Mechanical

A little while back there was an interesting debate among Pencil Revolutionaries regarding the various benefits and drawbacks of wood cased vs. mechanical pencils. (See "Can't Corral that Palomino") I was of course happy such a passionate discourse resulted from a post on our new Palomino Mixed Grade Graphite pencil set, but the real benefit for me came from the comments themselves.

As an industry participant I was intrigued by the detailed consideration of performance characteristics of these alternate pencil types. It was somewhat like sitting in on a focus group discussion and though certainly a limited sample size of true enthusiasts I did find some ideas that we manufacturers and marketers could further explore. Of course, many of these ideas have already been addressed in various forms by manufacturers of both styles of pencils. However, the challenging aspect for me is to think about what performance benefits and objections people expressed regarding wood cased pencils and how creative product solutions to those might expand the wood cased market through new customer conversion.

One of the key "objections" about wood cased for mechanical pencil fans is the need to continuously sharpen pencils versus the simple clicking action of mechanical when doing extended writing or note taking as opposed to drawing or sketching where most seemed to favor wood cased. Harder grade leads are certainly one option to reduce frequency of sharpening. This has it's limitations though as it negatively effects the darkness many pencil users prefer from softer leads, which by the nature of their physical properties simply wear at a faster rate. Naturally, it seems that perhaps a "sharpenless" wood cased pencil might find a niche of new converts if it combined the ease of use of a mechanical with the attractive feel an emotional sache of a good wood cased pencil.

Other than simply encasing a mechanical type pencil with a wood casing, which is not a new idea, I can't say that today I have a real design concept for a truly unique sharpenless wood cased pencil. Whether such a concept is achievable or there really would be an attractive demand is uncertain. The world is full of interesting product concepts that don't really achieve mcuh commercial success. Recently we received a proposal to market someone's design for a pencil with about 1/2 of the total length made up of a long eraser. The concept allowed the user to peel back the "cardboard type" ferrule to expose more eraser as needed. We declined as I could not see the economics working well for this combination versus the simple use of an eraser topper wihch is reusable with other pencils and more cost effective. More often than not the typical pencil eraser is not fully utilized and is wasted anyway, so why make it longer.

In the meantime I can announce our first eBay auction listing in our new "Vintage & Collectables" Category on the Pencil World Creativity Store. This is a single Palomino Wood Cased Ball Point Pen which is one of a limited set produced as Premium gifts when we first initiated our California Republic product line. Unfortunately, I don't have any of these which are mechanical pencils with a Palomino quality lead that I might call the "Sharpenless Palomino Pencil". Perhaps one day.

Finally, I am pleased to note that following an important Revolutionary's detailed technical analysis our Palomino HB and 2B pencils has resulted in their selection as the winners of the most favored replacement to the famous Blackwing 602 pencil which is no longer in production. In addition, we are pleased to announce that the Palomino HB is now also available as part of the new Moleskine Gift Sets at Ninth Wave Designs eBay Store. Ninth Wave Designs has become an authorized dealer of our California Republic and ForestChoice pencils and we look forward to seeing more combination Moleskine pencil sets using our Palomino and ForestChoice pencils in the future.


Greg said...

Regarding wood cased pencils and mechanical pencils, I have often wondered which were more environmentally benign. I can anticipate the case against wood cased, but the forest resources are renewable. As for mechanical pencils, certainly oil ends up in the pencil in one manner or another in the plastics and the energy to make the pencil would seem to be more than a wood cased pencil. Then there is the landfill impact, which I would guess mechanical pencils are much worse. Have you done any such study or seen any related data?

WoodChuck said...

An interesting comment and question. Naturally, the renewable aspect of wood cased pencils provides a benefit as you suggest relative to plastic. It's my understanding that solid wood product manufacturing industries are generally considered more benign than industries relying much more heavily on chemical and petroleum proceessing. Of course the particular forest management practices utilized by any given forest region, land owner or country would likely lead to some regional variations within the wood products arena.

About 8 or 10 years ago the Incense Cedar Institute commissioned a study of the environmental impacts of the "cradle to grave lifescycle" of cedar pencils vs. extruded plastic pencils and pencils produced from recycled paper materials. I would have to dig that study out to get into any specific detail of the results.

My recollection is that Cedar came out favorably to each of the other two pencil options when you consider the entire value chain of processes involved with raw material supply through to finished product production. I would speculate a plastic mechanical pencil would be comparable to a plastic extruded pencil in a life cycle impact study.

Timerever said...

I for one have a very simple stand in pencils:
Mechanical pencils for writing, no one is going to shapen a pencil in a middle or something. Triangular ones are a must.
Wood cased pencils for drawing 'cause mech pencils simply are inadequate for the job. Triangular ones would also be a must but there are no decent pencils for drawing like that yet... sure Ergosoft are nice but their range (HB, B & 2B) makes them unsuitable for everything. Faber Castell Grip feel to fragile and I don't quite like them.

Pencil Revolution said...

I had no idea that the Incense Cedar Institute did such a study. I for one would be really interested in taking a look at the results. Were they published somewhere a library might have?

The impact is certainly important, but I think the connection you feel between a wood-cased pencil and where it come from beats a mechanical pencil anyday, even if said mechanical pencil were made of wood. Faber-Castell makes some mechanical pencils and pencils out of wood. While they're nice and everything, wood-cased pencils they are not:)

Pencil Revolution said...

came. Sorry:)

Philofaxer said...

The intended use of the pencil would seem to be an extremely important consideration. I assume that most technical draftspersons would not only prefer but require the precision of a mechanical pencil. However, many or most "creative" drawers would probably prefer the broader range of expression possible with a wood-cased pencil.

My pencil usage is restricted now to writing in my smallish planner, and a 0.5mm mechanical setup is my choice so far. (I also cannot secure a wood-cased pencil in the pen loop in my planner, which would be a problem for me.)

However, in using the mechanical pencil, I do kind of feel like I'm watching a colorized version of Gone With The Wind, or eating a steak made of tofu. I fear something may be lost in translation.

Henrik Neble said...

A great blog! pencil fans are few on the web.
I know, this post is rather old, but I just saw it now, and as it is still open for comments I would like to pass on my wiew on these matters.
Beeing a teacher of handwriting and a part time artist I have a little experiance with the use of pencils for both the mentioned purposes: writing and sketching. And with the difficulties in carrying one around, and the need for sharpening at odd times.
The last issue I think Faber-Castell has a great solution for: the perfect pencil idea - a pencil extender with a build in sharpener. And if I can't find a place to dump the shavings, I use the sharpener box allso F.Castell.
I prefer woodcased pencil to mechanical ones - because of the darkness and the crispness of the line. Mechanical pencils does not seem to be able to produce that, no matter the brand or the diameter of the lead.Unless I use a lot of pressure, the line becomes "woolly" and faint grey - I suspect the highpolymer leads and the efforts to make writing smooth.
Anyway, the do not work for me - specially when my work has to be scanned or copied - so I stick to the soft pencils - with extender,clip and sharpener
greetings from DK