Craft Design Technology item 17: Pencil.

This pencil has been receiving some attention lately, and rumors have been laid to rest that it was discontinued. I think the rumor started with the Bundoki website listing for the pencil, which stated that stock was limited because it was discontinued (perhaps they meant that they were just going to discontinue carrying them). Furthermore, the pencils were being made by Pentel who had recently discontinued their Black Polymer pencils, so it made sense that CDT’s pencil could be disappearing as well. The question was cleared-up and you can read more about it here.

It’s a nice HB, though some have reported mixed results with regard to the finish. The few I have don’t have any problems, but several people have noted that theirs have defects in the lacquer (e.g. sloppy, or thin in places). Not such a big deal if this were a common item that you could pick up at the local store, but when you have to go to such lengths to get them (in this case, from Japan), the disappointment can become amplified if things aren’t right.

The leads are polymer-based instead of having clay in them, which means they are smooth to write with. It would be nice if CDT could offer a wider range of grades, but seeing how they tend to offer just one of everything in their catalog, it seems unlikely.

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6 Responses to Craft Design Technology item 17: Pencil.

  1. Kevin says:

    It seems there are now 2 definite strands of pencil technology for grading the graphite – clay and polymer…or is the polymer a graphite substitute?. Can’t find much on this subject online, although I am aware that mechanical pencil leads are polymer based, I think because of the thinness of the lead. Now if there are 2 definite strands, it appears that at least Faber-Castell and Staedtler, in their drawing pencils at least, still use the traditional graphite/clay mix. Is this polymer idea for wooden pencils a major advancement? and if “yes”, why aren’t the big German manufacturers taking it up?? Oh, and nice pencil by the way, but the flaw is not too good.

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    • Gunther says:

      The clay is used to bond the graphite and to grade the pencil. When the clay-bound leads are baked they are strong enough to be used in diameters of two or more millimetres. However, if thin leads (e.g. 0.5mm) were made from clay and graphite they would barely be usable, especially in softer grades so in the 1960’s there were successful experiments to replace the clay by polymers. Polymer-bound leads are still made today, and they are produced in two different processes. In the first the leads aren’t baked; these are used e.g. in extruded pencils like the WOPEX or the Contè Evolution. In the second the polymer-bound leads are baked. This process – which is employed for thin leads – uses either cellulose or PVC for bonding. During this process a pyrolysis and a carbonization take place; this produces carbon which increases the blackening of the lead. PVC-bonded thin leads are a little stronger than cellulose-bonded ones but this difference is hardly noticeable in daily use. – As far as I know the Craft Design Technology item 17 (and the now-discontinued Pentel Black Polymer 999) have PVC-based baked leads with a diameter of 2mm which makes them unique in the pencil’s history.

      I don’t know why 2mm polymer-bound leads are so rare – here is my guess: They are baked much longer than clay-bound ones, making them more expensive because of the required energy alone. Besides that, they write longer, i. e. are more economical to the customer than clay-bound leads. If these leads can’t be sold at a considerably higher price (which, to me, must be the case with the leads in the item 17 and the PBP 999) they offer only little profit, making them less appealing for the manufacturers. – To me these leads are great but I know of quite a few people who dislike “plastic” in their woodcased pencils.

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      • Kevin says:

        Thanks very much Gunther for the detailed explanation. I must admit, my own preference would be for the traditional graphite/clay mix. The other issue which is more proprietary, is the additives such as oils and waxes that were certainly added in vintage writing pencils…I’m not sure about the additives in more modern pencils. It seems to me that the oils and waxes were more likely added in writing pencils, where the graphite/clay mix may not be as finely and consistently ground as fine art drawing pencils and thus the additives are perhaps masking the less expensive grind in writing pencils.

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      • Gunther says:

        You’re welcome, Kevin. As far as I know there was no widespread usage of additives back then, mostly because these would have been destroyed during baking (except soot but adding this was disapproved of). The impregnation with wax or paraffin was and is a standard, except for low-cost leads; this is to fill the cavities and to make the writing smoother. – Graphite and clay has been ground very fine back then too, and in some cases the manufacturers have put much more effort in working the graphite/clay mixture than today. To compact the mixture and to break down agglomerates the mixture was triple-milled, often several times; with this an excellent lead quality was achieved. However, since this was (and is) time-consuming and therefore expensive many manufacturers now skip this step. – Regarding grinding: In the 19th century there was a competition among some manufacturers who can produce the finest graphite. In some cases the graphite was ground so fine that it caught fire.

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  2. Kevin says:

    Thanks again Gunther, you are a fount of knowledge, and I will continue to ask questions and comment on pencil blogs, knowing that there are some very knowledgeable people to correct my incorrect assumptions. You are certainly right on the quality of vintage pencils which again makes me wonder about the so called difference in quality between writing and drawing pencils. My favourite drawing pencil at the moment is a regular vintage Mongol No3 (H) 482…which of course is a standard writing pencil. Of course the key difference is the number of grades available in drawing pencils compared to writing pencils, and I do notice a difference in point strength between a top quality drawing/drafting pencil such as the FC 9000 and the EF Mongol. A FC 9000 will accept a super sharp point that doesn’t snap (up to 4b at least), but otherwise the Mongol No3 is a joy to sketch with in a Rhodia blank page Webnotebook.

    Sean, apologies for going off topic yet again.

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    • Gunther says:

      Kevin, thank you for your kind words. However, I must add that I am no expert and that I have collected my knowledge over the years without being able to discuss every detail with people from the pencil industry. In other words: I only have sound superficial knowledge and won’t put my hands into the fire for it 😉

      I haven’t thought much about the differences between writing and drawing pencils yet except for pencils (and leads) which were made for drawings to be blueprinted. Manufacturers of these pencils (e. g. the old Staedler Mars Lumograph and the LYRA orwlo-techno 6300 have employed several methods to decrease the translucency. But that’s a totally different topic …

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