A few of my favorite: Woodcased pencils (with erasers)

Throughout this piece, I link to products on CWPE. This post has been a couple of months in the making, and in the midst of my idleness, CWPE announced that they’re closing down in 2021-11. I’ll try to find other stockists in the future and update the links, but at least two of the recommendations were exclusive to the shop, so… all around disappointing.

I have a Thing I’ve been meaning to start trying to write and draw. And while I keep failing to start trying in a meaningful sense, I have done the most important first step – going through a bunch of my woodcased pencils, buying a couple more to try out, and figuring out what still feels best to me. You get more of a selection, and a better selection if you go for pencils without that nubby little eraser on the end. This is doubly true for myself, someone who prefers a lead density much softer than 2/HB. But, there’s something aesthetically and functionally lovely about an eraser-ferruled pencil, and that’s what I’ll be centering this post on.

That said, I don’t personally think there’s a huge amount of difference between pencils; this won’t be the meticulous examination that any pencil blog has to offer. But, I know that a Musgrave 320 has edges that are too sharp for me to comfortably grip, and I know that the lead on a Blackwing Matte has a tendency to crumble in an unpleasant way. Also, and of far more importance to this post, I know I prefer the sort of rough feel of raw wood vs. paint/lacquer, I know I prefer somewhat rounded/triangular grips vs. purely hexagonal, and I know I prefer softer/darker densities of lead. My favorites, listed here, will reflect this.

Faber-Castell Grip 2001

These pencils are things of beauty. They’re a pleasing, soft grey with black accents in the grip, text, and ferrule. The ferrule and eraser are perfectly triangular to match the triangular body of the pencil. Most high quality woodcased pencils are made of cedar; these are made of Jelutong, a wood which is lighter and sharpens quite cleanly. I love everything about this pencil – except for that grip. Each side of the top 23 or so of the pencil is covered in these raised, rubbery dots. They’re not very soft, to the point that they hurt to write with after just a short period of time. Faber-Castell claims that they afford “a secure, non-slip grip,” which… is not a problem I’ve ever needed to have solved. I’ve never experienced a pencil so slippery that holding it securely is an issue. Maybe this problem manifests in a particularly slippery environment, but I think the overall texture of a pencil is pretty much solved. It’s doubly a shame because the matte varnish they use feels so good to the touch, about on par with the nicer raw pencils I have. This pencil could easily be at the top of my list, if not for those little nubbins. Hardness wise, Faber-Castell labels these a 2 12 (which is charming) or HB. It is likely the second-hardest lead I’ll discuss in this post, but it does write smoothly. I just wish they’d do away with the grip.

Moon Futura

This is specifically the modern version of the classic Futura pencil. It is, essentially, the pink version of the Try-Rex. It should be obvious from the design of this blog that I appreciate the existence of, and prefer, this pink version (pink down to the ferrule!). At any rate, the thing that sets the Try-Rex apart is the shape of its body. It’s a hexagon, but with three of the faces rounded (in an alternating pattern – flat, rounded, flat, rounded, flat, rounded). This makes all of the curves smooth, and the narrowness that the rounding adds gives the body a very triangular feel. In fact, it seems to give the illusion that it’s a hexagon smushed into a bit of a triangle, but if you measure the edges, it’s at least quite close to being a regular hexagon. It just… bulges, like all great shapes. The lacquer is smooth but lightly tacky, and this combined with the Try-Rex shape makes for a pretty comfortable hold. I do, of course, prefer a raw or at least matte finish, but for a glossy lacquer, it’s nice. And pink. Moon’s lead is some of my favorite lead; its ‘Soft 2’ is certainly on the darker side of a 2, and it’s clean and smooth.

General’s Cedar Pointe

This has long been my favorite woodcased pancil. I can get it in a lead hardness of 1, it’s raw cedar, and it has an aesthetically-pleasing black eraser, ferrule, and text. The raw finish is very smooth while still having a grippy texture. It’s hard to explain this, but I tried a Mitsubishi ‘Master Writing’ 9852EW1, made of spare wood bits2, and the feel was just rough. We’re not talking about splinter-level here, these are all made to be held in bare hands of course. But that’s what makes it hard to describe, these differences are subtle but noticeable on an object that one forms an intimate connection to. At any rate, the Cedar Point feels better to the touch, which is why it’s on this list and not the harder-to-acquire Mitsubishi. Moon makes a bare pencil3, as does Musgrave; both of these feel about the same as the Cedar Pointe, I’d be happy using either if I couldn’t get the General’s. But everything about the Cedar Pointe just feels right to me, and it remains my ‘daily driver.’

CWPE Bridge Pencil (made by Musgrave)

This is my purse pencil. Bridge pencils are skinnier than normal pencils and while I’ve historically had a few vintage ones kicking around, I’m glad that CWPE got Musgrave to produce a modern version4. There’s not much else to say about this one – the lacquer is fine, the lead is fine, overall it’s just fine. But for slipping in a slim pocket of a bag, a skinny pencil like this is great to have. I keep it sharpened to a very short point using a Kutsuwa T’GAAL sharpener; shorter points are considerably more durable5.

Staedtler WOPEX

Staedtler WOPEX pencils are made of a wood-fiber composite6. I’ve used a few other non-wood woodcased pencils over the years (like some of the early attempts at recycled cases by Skilcraft) and they were all… bad. Primarily, they were miserable to sharpen and very bendy. The bendiness meant that the lead often broke, or that weird leads had to be bonded to try to mitigate the problem. I expected WOPEX to not be much better, but… it’s honestly pretty good. They’re slightly harder to sharpen than cedar, but not much. They’re much more rigid than older attempts at this sort of thing7. The lead used – essentially the same sort of lead used in mechanical pencils – is harder and lighter than I like, but it’s smooth and strong. I might use these as a ‘daily driver’ if they put a softer lead in the eraser-clad version, but for the time being I love these as a pencil to throw in a toolbox or a bag of miscellanea8. Again, with a short point for durability.

Musgrave Tennessee Red

Most decent pencils are made from incense cedar. Incense cedar, despite its name, does not have the strong fragrance that I tend to associate with cedar. The Musgrave Tennessee Red is made of aromatic red cedar, and it smells delightful. Unfortunately it’s lacquered and not unfinished; were it bare, it would easily take over the Cedar Pointe as a daily driver. But the lacquer is comfortable enough to use, and the rest of the pencil does what it’s supposed to, so it’s enough for me to keep one around, uncapped, in the pencil case as a backup that makes things smell great.

  1. ‘Master Writing’ and similar grades on many Japanese pencils are a holdover from classification and labeling regulations. ↩︎
  2. While these are joined pieces of scrap wood (the joins make for a neat aesthetic!), my understanding is that it’s scrap wood from their pencil factory. It’s not just random wood from wherever, it’s pencil-grade wood. ↩︎
  3. I have only seen these sold by Amazon and eBay sellers, and J.R. Moon doesn’t even seem to have a website. I therefore don’t have a link I’m comfortable including. ↩︎
  4. Sigh. ↩︎
  5. I don’t understand the long point obsession. Aesthetically and functionally, I prefer a short-medium point. The T’GAAL is a great sharpener for varying point length, but my go-to is the same brand’s 2 Maiba, which quickly gets me a nice medium point via a two-blade configuration. ↩︎
  6. I expected this to still just basically be plastic, but I burned a bunch of shavings and now I feel like there has to be a fairly high percentage of wood. It burnt rather than melting, and smelled more of burning wood than burning plastic. Anyway, don’t try this, but it was interesting to me. ↩︎
  7. They’re heavy, too. In my unofficial measurement, an unlacquered Uni 9852EW weighs 4.5g, a rather basic lacquered Musgrave 320 weighs 5.8g, and the WOPEX weighs a whopping 9.1g. I actually really love this extra weight. ↩︎
  8. The Apsara Absolute is often referenced as a go-to for this sort of thing, but I’ve had mixed luck with them. They’re certainly interesting pencils, but in my non-scientific tests, the WOPEXes are just stronger. That light lead, though… ↩︎

this post is part of the series, a few of my favorite:
  1. Pink pencils
  2. Slide rules
  3. Tetrises (Tetrii? Tetrodes?)
  4. Woodcased pencils (with erasers)