Top Five

This page will be an ever-evolving document as new things come out, items jockey for position, and my mind changes. These are what I think best describes me through stationery. Updated August 2017.



Cheap Pencils

  1. Staedtler Norica Black #2, 2014 - this is a pencil released by Staedtler Canada, made in Thailand, and most likely found in Staples. Why did I list the year on these? Because the year is everything. There must've been a massive quality control error, but the graphite in these things is super smooth and way darker than a #2 pencil typically is. It is a thick core. It is more like a Blackwing than a Norica. 36 packs at the time were between $5-8 depending on what sales were going on. You can still find them, unless you live in a 100 mile radius of me. Make sure to check the year on the side of the box.

  2. USA Gold - Made in the USA by Moon Products, these cheap yellow beauties are made of cedar. They have had a few versions of this pencil, but the current one that's out at the time of this writing is by far my favorite. Yellow with a blue imprint, with a blue ferrule stripe to match. They are a little hard, but not overly so, and are amazing on toothy paper. The current jumbo version of this pencil is the shape of the Moon Try-rex jumbos, which make it even cooler. These are also available in a Natural version.

  3. Palomino Golden Bear - Incense cedar pencils made in the USA by Musgrave for Palomino. The core is pretty decent, maybe a bit scratchy, and the eraser is a bit gritty (as is Musgrave tradition), but these pencils are beautifully designed and bat way above their league, when price and manufacturer is taken into consideration.

  4. Casemate (Pen+Gear) Pencils - this Walmart house brand is made by Hindustan Pencil Company from India. These are basically Nataraj pencils that can be had for super cheap, $1 per dozen in most cases. While they are presented cheaply and look even cheaper, the core inside is amazing. The jelutong wood (light color, pitted instead of grain) is starting to grow on me, although it is generally a sign of a cheap pencil.

  5. Dixon Ticonderoga - one caveat here: it must be the American Cedar wood version from China. What has long been the standard school pencil in the United States has gone from good to bad to worse to good again. I fell for this pencil again when I got a pack of the newer American Cedar Wood. The ferrules were painted better, the cores were centered better, the darkness of the lead was better. What was once like writing with a googly-eyed nail wrapped in bleached basswood is now a joy to write with.

  6. Honorable Mention - anything from Hindustan Pencils, really. Their brands Natural and Apsara are fun, colorful, have nice black cores, and are cheap.

Mid-range Pencils

  1. General's Cedar Pointe - get the #1. This is one of the few truly naked cedar wood pencils that are easily obtained, and the quality of these sticks is amazing. These are a rustic minimalist's dream.

  2. Apsara Absolute - From Hindustan Pencil Company, this is, in my opinion, their best pencil. It has a thick core that is hard but dark. A gray lacquer that has shades of 602 (maybe less blue). It is end dipped with a nice blue. These are hardly "mid-range" if you do the conversion to US$, however, they are more expensive than the other, less expensive Indian pencils.

  3. Kitaboshi 9606 HB - There are a few great eraser-tipped Japanese pencils that could be on this list, but I'm happy to put this one at the top of that category. Super-smooth core, amazing maroon lacquer, and the eraser is pretty good. The White-Fir-wooded Tombow 2558 finally got knocked off the list by this pencil, due to its cedar shaft being easier to sharpen in my favorite sharpener, the Pollux.

  4. Mitsubishi 9800 - these come in a variety of grades, my favorite is the B. The EW version is made from recycled wood and is naked, but I like the dark green lacquer of the standard 9800. A phenomenal pencil for the price, and would be just as good in a higher price range.

  5. Viking Skoleblyanten 029 HB - this is a nice yellow pencil, although the HB grade is definitely not the case...these write more like a soft B. I wasn't a fan at first, but I went back to a stub I had and threw in it my Staedtler 900 25 stub holder, I fell in love with it for what it was, not what I wanted it to be when I first reviewed it.

Expensive Pencils

  1. Palomino Blackwing 602 - This pencil has a great look, beautiful core, and the standard Blackwing ferrule. I usually take out the black eraser it comes with and replace it with a standard pink eraser, to give it a more classic look.

  2. Palomino Imagine - A simple, unbranded pencil with available in a bunch of different lacquer colors. This is exactly the same pencil as the Palomino HB, but without the branding. And we all know (read: speculate) that the Palomino HB core is the same as the Blackwing extra firm core that is in the 24 and 530 limited editions. You can literally get white, black, grey, silver, gold, yellow, green, red, orange, or blue. Perfect for matching your writing tool with your notebook, and you get a killer core to go along with it.

  3. Mitsubishi Hi-Uni HB - Essentially THE high end Japanese pencil. Comes in all grades, but I like the HB for long writing sessions when I want to feel fancy. And I do want to feel fancy.

  4. General's Test Scoring 580 - ungraded, but feels like a 2B. This is the successor to the IBM Electrographic, and is one of the best test scoring, exam grade, mark sheet (however you want to say it) pencils out there. It erases better than the rest, is dark and smooth. The branding is minimal, just a black lacquer and white text. The eraser is killer on this pencil. My first few samples were crumbly and had shattered cores, partly because of the way they're packaged, but once I got some that weren't damaged, I changed my tune and fell in love.

  5. Baron Fig Archer - the original Archer pencil is a slate gray minimalist's dream pencil: very light in the hand, a little firm and scratchy, but a perfectly-tuned tool for their toothy paper. This is the first thing I grab when writing in my Confidant, and while it may not be the best pencil for every job, the fact that it works flawlessly with their paper is a testament to the stationery system they've put together at Baron Fig.



Note: Expect these lists to change the most as I get more into pens...I've always been a pencil pusher.

Rolling Pens

  1. Paper Mate Ink Joy Gel Pen - I just found this pen and it has quickly moved to my #1 spot. What an amazingly smooth, virtually skip-free writer! I am only now seeing how great this pen is because so many of the other Paper Mate products are complete crap, but this thing is amazing. All the colors write really well (the 4 I tried, anyway) but by far, they have my favorite green in any gel pen. It's a deep green, bordering on dark, but not Forest and has no Emerald tint to it. The Zebra Sarasa comes in a close second for gel pens.

  2. Pilot Precise V7 - Black black black black. This rollerball pen is beautifully black (if you choose the black one, which you should) and is my favorite rollerball out there.

  3. Lamy Safari Roller Ball - The classic Lamy Safari look without all the fountain pen fussiness, although the Safari is one of the least fussy fountain pens out there. The only downside to this pen is that the refills are Lamy-only, so you're limited on colors.

  4. Baron Fig Squire - This all-aluminum pen is great. I only have one, the limited edition, green Experiment 108, but it's a lovely roller ball and definitely worthy of my Top 5. All the Squires are the same, there are just color and imprint differences. They use a re-branded Schmidt P8126 Capless Rollerball refill, but sell them for cheaper than you can buy them at JetPens. If you want gel, the Monteverde Parker-Style Capless fine point gel pen refills supposedly fit this pen, but I haven't yet used one personally.

  5. Parker Jotter - what a cool ballpoint pen. I love the look, and I love the fact that I can still use a pen that I've seen time and time again. They've made millions of these over the years and the recent ones are just as great as the older ones. The refill ain't half bad either.

Fountain Pens

  1. Lamy 2000 - a classic design, virtually unchanged since it came out in the 60s. A hooded, platinum-coated gold nib. Piston-filler. Amazing.

  2. Kaweco Sport - I find myself grabbing this more and more. A pocket pen with a killer design for expanding into full size while posted. Super light-weight and an easy writer.

  3. TWSBI 580AL - Such a good pen for the price. Switching the nibs around is easy and hell, even kinda fun, I've been playing with a stub nib a lot in this one, I have the F, but I'm looking at getting the whole lineup, to make this even more versatile than it already is. Another piston filler to make the list, I'm getting more and more into pens that can deal with their own ink so I don't have to worry about converters.

  4. Lamy AL-Star / Safari - I listed two here, but they're the exact same, it just depends on the material you want, aluminum or plastic. The nibs are super easy to swap (and super easy to lose!). This is a classic entry-level fountain pen and one you could keep for a long time.

  5. Pilot Metropolitan - I wanted not to like this pen at first, but it is simply great for the price. The fine nib is really fine for my tastes, but it writes well and is way less fussy than most of my other fountain pens. This is one of the few pens I have multiples of, and they even make a rollerball body that I have to put gel refills into. This has got a classic, timeless look and writes like a champ. For $15, this is worth about 3 times that.


Field Notes

  1. Shenandoah - Nothing pleases me more than a standard Field Notes elevated. 120# cover with 70# paper, this book is a tough mother. Green is a favorite color of mine, so the covers of these books make me happy. I carry most of my Field Notes in my back pocket, and these have held up the best so far.

  2. Workshop Companion - Another set of beefy books. 100# cover and 70# paper, both French Paper "Kraft-tone" paper, which kinda looks like chip board. Dot grid. It takes pencil well, but is hard to erase, and leaves behind more than I would prefer.

  3. America the Beautiful - Those covers! That paper! Beautiful retro-printed photos on the covers and it was the first release with GREAT paper. And ruled. Boom. But they do like to fall apart in your pocket, the cover likes to release the paper.

  4. County Fair - These have some great covers. A 100# linen paper cover in red, yellow, & blue. Standard paper keeps this from being higher, but the fact that it's an everyday release is a plus.

  5. Kraft - The standard edition. The one that started it all. In recent printings, these have gotten a bit better, and they've bumped up the weight of the paper from 50# to 60#. Sometimes when I'm feeling minimalist, I'll grab one of these and remind myself why I use Field Notes in the first place.

I did all Field Notes releases only, nothing from their collaborations with other brands. If I had, Carhartt would definitely be on this list.


Other Notebooks

  1. Kindred Spirit - Write Notepads makes my favorite non-FN pocket notebooks and their Kindred Spirit has been my favorite release of theirs so far. Beautiful Butcher Orange cover surrounding that great Write paper. And the presentation was amazing.

  2. Write Notepads Steno - I use this for my "at the desk" notes. Small enough to be out of the way, big enough to not have to flip it over all day.

  3. Rhodia No 16 Pad - Amazing for fountain pens. I've recently just gotten into these books because of my recent fountain pen excursions.

  4. Baron Fig Confidant - Great hardcover. As I've said about Baron Fig in the past, in my mind, they are Moleskine elevated.

  5. Story Supply Co. Pocket Staple - A lovely, fountain pen friendly notebook. Here's my full review. Uses the same paper as the Field Notes Byline edition, in a pocket-sized format. For an almost fountain pen proof book, check out their 407 edition.


There's changes and more lists to come as I get deeper into this journey. Thanks for taking it with me.