Blackwing Natural Pencil Review

Blackwing Natural Pencil Review

Palomino has finally released the Extra Firm core in a full-time pencil, aptly named the Blackwing Natural because it has, you guessed it, a natural finish. It’s very very close to perfect, but nothing is so perfect that it can’t be criticized, so while I love this pencil 99.9%, I’ll gripe about a few of the choices they made (while hopefully realizing that I got what I want and not to look a gift horse in the mouth so damn much!)

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Palomino Blackwing 2017 Recap

Palomino Blackwing 2017 Recap

We're into Year 3 of the Volumes series. Palomino continued to do a few different things with the limited pencils this year, some cool, some not...along with a few head scratchers. Some thoughts on each Volumes series release, then we'll get into the rest of what they did with the line.

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TBT: Blackwing 211

TBT: Blackwing 211

For this week's Throwback Thursday post, I thought I'd revisit one of the most coveted modern pencil releases: the Blackwing 211. Original released as the second in the Blackwing Volumes series, the 211 has become something of a grail pencil for some people. Let's find out why.

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Palomino Blackwing Volume 1 Pencil Review

Palomino Blackwing Volume 1 Pencil Review

When I first saw a spoiler video of this pencil, I was convinced I wasn't going to like it. And while I still don't really care for the idea behind the theme, I really like the pencil itself, its color, roundness, and core. This edition is named for Guy Clark, a country music singer / songwriter from the 70s that had a debut album called Old No. 1 which Blackwing claims is regarded as one of the most influential records ever made.

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Palomino Blackwing Volume 73 Pencil Review

Video Review

I grew up in a lake town. Lake Shelbyville is a man-made lake, built in the 1960s to protect some farm land from flooding from the Kaskaskia River. The Army Corps of Engineers bought land from Shelbyville north to Sullivan along the river and bridges were built, a lake was excavated, and a dam was put up. My father, like many young men from the area, worked on those crews when he could, in the summers between school years.

When you grow up in a lake town, you either don't care about it much (because it's just always been there) or you're obsessed with it and spend as much time on it as you can, boating, fishing, hanging out on the beach, etc. I was in the "don't care" camp growing up. I've always liked to see my feet when I swim. I'm a pool person all the way. I don't have a fear, it's just what I prefer. The land around the lake is owned by the government, so luckily, there are no houses on it. The lake belongs to the people, not a few rich that can afford the property. I remember having a conversation with an Illinois gubernatorial candidate at a restaurant I worked at, and when he asked where I was from, he knew it because of the lake. "It'd be great if we could get that opened up" he said. I argued against it, and when he asked why, I said "So people like YOU can't say 'get off my lake' to people born and raised there."

The water of Lake Shelbyville is nowhere near as clean and clear as Lake Tahoe.  It's not surrounded by mountains or any other pristine land features, just corn fields. But I'm willing to guess that the people of Lake Tahoe love their lake as much as the people of Shelbyville love theirs.

Lake Tahoe is one of the most popular lakes in the United States, and most likely the cleanest. It's the largest alpine lake in the North America and is the largest lake after all the Great Lakes. If it's not popular enough for the clear water and water sports on the lake, the surrounding mountains are very popular for skiing and hiking, not to mention the casinos on the Nevada side.

What a blue!

Lacquer closeup.

Silver ferrules, white erasers.

The Blackwing 73 is a tribute to Lake Tahoe and its beauty. The 73 stands for the Secchi depth reading, which is a clarity reading. It was one of the clearest lakes, but it started to decline, hitting its low point in 1997. Through the efforts of The League to Save Lake Tahoe and other groups, they have gotten their most recent reading to 73. I can't see my feet when I'm waist-deep in Lake Shelbyville. The lacquer is blue (named "Lake Tahoe Blue" by Palomino) and the pencil is printed with a white imprint and a white topographical map wrapped around the pencil. The map is raised, and provides a little grip in the hand. The ferrule is silver this time, and the eraser is white. It's a welcome departure from the gold ferrule, black eraser doldrums we've been in for the last two releases. I like when they play with the colors of these. More colored erasers, please!

The wood is, of course, cedar. I always forget how fragrant a box of Blackwings is until I open a new one. Every pencil should smell like this. But the real draw is the core: MMX! Soft! The softest core they make, from the standard Blackwing. The Volumes series hasn't had a soft core since the 1138. I know some people who will be happy. It doesn't erase the best, and it smudges, but that's to be expected of a core this soft, dark, and smooth.

The extra in the box is a Keep Tahoe Blue sticker, and even more importantly, every sale comes with a $2 donation to the cause. I'm willing to give up something extra to give to a cause like this.

Overall, I like this pencil. They tried some stuff with the printing, which works well, and they gave us a core we haven't seen since the second in the series (unless you wanna buy the boring plain one!). I personally don't like a pencil this super soft for the writing I do, but it is a good sketching pencil and fills a need. Now, for the real need: a year-around Extra Firm pencil...get on it!

Available from Blackwing, $24.95 for 12.

Palomino Blackwing Volumes 205 Pencil Review

Unboxing Video.

The Palomino Blackwing Volumes 205 is named such because of the molecular value of Jadeite, apparently the most sought-after type of jade. I didn't know there were different types of jade, so at least I learned something with this release. 

The theme with this release, if you stretch it, is the Exchange of Ideas. Jade was one of the most prominent goods traded on the Silk Road, according to the marketing text. Arguably, the ideas exchanged had a more lasting impact on the world than any product traded across the continent.

Also according to the marketing text, jade is believed to protect its owner in their travels, encourage creativity, and stimulate mental agility. Maybe if I carry this pencil with me everywhere, I'll have better luck?

The 205 has a "Jade" finish. What does that mean? It's a swirly print wrapped around the pencil. There are two color options, white and green, to represent the two different kinds of jade. The best thing about this release is that they've done something they haven't done before in the Blackwing line: put 6 of each color in the box. And subscribers get 2 of the archival tubes. I think that's pretty nifty and I'm glad that they aren't offering both colors as a separate box, which always seems like a money grab to me. The wrap is similar to the 1138 in terms of quality, however with the 205 it's a little easier to pick up on the pixellation of the printing. This is not to say it's bad, just there. It's almost like "halftone", like a dollar bill. The ferrule is gold, but seems to be a little more GOLD than some of the other gold ferrules in the Blackwing line. Brighter. The imprint is also gold. 

Back to the finish. It reminds me of a bowling ball or an Ebonite fountain pen. And I really am not a fan of the look. To me, it's cheesy. I would never buy one of those pens, no matter how awesome and expensive it was, and the same goes for this pencil; had I not gotten it in a subscription, the theme would not be enough to sway me to buy a box, especially when it has the 602 core in it. I can see this one being available for longer than most, like the 56 was. 

2 colors, both swirly.

A little closer on the imprint.

Halftone.

Of course this is made with premium California Incense Cedar. It wouldn't be a Blackwing without it. The core is the Firm core, which is the same as the Blackwing 602. Last year we got 2 pencils with the 602 "firm" core (344 and 56) and 2 pencils with the new "extra firm" core (24 and 530). I thought it would be either the soft or balanced core this time around, or even a new core. One can dream.

No writing sample this time around...I suspect that people reading pencil blogs know what the 602 firm core writes like.

Subscribers also get a pocket notebook called the Blackwing Clutch. It's got a sturdy, almost vinyl -like cover, 48 pages, dot grid (the dots are a bit dark) and it's sewn, so it lays flat. You can see all about it here.

My overall feelings on this pencil are this: if you like the look, get it. It's a well-made pencil, but all the Blackwings are. If you don't like the look, the pencil is the 602 with a different wrapper, so stick with the 602. The only thing this one has going for it is the look, and it's not for me. I don't see any extra boxes in my future.

Available from Pencils.com, and many other fine retailers, $24.95. 

Palomino Blackwing 2016 Recap

We’re into Year Two of the Blackwing Volumes series and Palomino has continued to release interesting pencils, if not maybe a little stale at times…this year there were only 2 leads used out of the 4 Volumes releases. I’ll go down my thoughts on the releases, then a few items on some things that happened in 2016.

Volume 24: John Steinbeck Edition

The introduction of the extra firm lead. All black: the lacquer, the ferrule, and the eraser. Imprinted but not foil stamped. Although this is the hardest Blackwing lead, still dark and somewhat soft. I liken the core to a high-end Japanese B. My favorite of the Blackwing releases, and my favorite pencil of the year. In honor of John Steinbeck, a prolific original EF Blackwing user, who, according to his son, would’ve loved this pencil.

Volume 56: Joe DiMaggio Edition

Dedicated to the 56 game hitting streak of Joe DiMaggio, this pencil is striped like the Yankee uniforms he played in. It uses the 602 core and is foil stamped in gold with a gold ferrule and blue eraser. I ended up buying red erasers for this and making it a Cubs pencil.

Volume 344: Dorothea Lange Edition

Dedicated to Dorothea Lange and her famous photographs, 344 stands for the lot number at the Library of Congress that contains many of her photos, including the famous, iconic “Migrant Mother”. The core is 602…again. It has a deep red barrel (closer to brown, to my eyes), red imprint, red ferrule and black eraser. It’s supposed to look like a 602 pencil in a dark room. This was the first Vol. Edition to get the new logo and word mark, as well as the new erasers…more on that below.

Volume 530: Gold Rush Edition

Sutter’s Mill, California is the place where gold was first discovered, and is CA Historical Site 530, the namesake of this pencil. Gold barrel and ferrule with a black stripe, black imprint and black eraser. This has the extra firm, or 24, core in it. Not dedicated to a person, but a feeling, the feeling of striking gold, of those “Eureka!” moments. See my full review and my video.

Rebranding of Palomino

This year Palomino rebranded, taking away the horse logo and replacing it with a Three Tree logo. The first Volumes pencil to have it was the 344, but they rebranded all their pencils this year. They also changed the word mark from a thin, extended sans-serif to a more geometric sans-serif, furthering the homogenization of basically every word mark on the planet. I don’t mind the logo change, Palomino is owned by Cal-Cedar and their logo is 3 trees, and it further puts the brand under the umbrella, but the word mark change bugs me. Was the old word mark ugly and dated? Yeah. It was time for something different. But to use the same thing that everyone else is doing, moving word marks to plain geometric sans-serif fonts…it just rubs me the wrong way. I would’ve rather stayed with the old ugly one than this. This is a huge misstep that’s overshadowed by the fact that no one really pays attention to this type of thing.

New wordmark. Along with everyone else.

We three trees.

New Eraser style

Finally we got dust-free erasers. They’re still nowhere near as good as the Tomboy 2558 eraser, but I can happily say that, after a few months with these, they have satisfied my want to NOT carry a separate eraser with me, and the day I’m carrying a Blackwing, I don’t have to.

Blackwing Point Guard

See my full review and video. This thing is junk and was not well thought out. I understand the need for wanting to do something different and something all-in-one, with no pieces to slide up and down to hold it in place, the need for something solid…but this ain’t it, folks. It makes a long pencil much longer, and I just don’t see the use case for it. It certainly struggles to fit in a pencil case when using it on a newly started Blackwing.

Blackwing Colors Colored Pencils

Special wax core, only 12 colors. I didn’t get any, nor do I care to. Instead, I’ll let Ana do the talking.


I think that about wraps it up for Palomino’s 2016. Overall, it was a good year for them, but not a homerun. I would like to see a little more exploration in cores next year, as they really only have 4 they play with and we only saw two this year. I would like to see a year-round offering with the Extra-Firm 24 core in it, and maybe another natural offering. More to come in my 2017 Wish List post…be on the lookout for that.