Making life easier, one pencil at a time

A paintbrush is just a paintbrush, right? Cult Pens management moved house last week and have been kept busy painting over a lot of unpleasant wall colour choices. We picked up some paint and brushes from our local builders merchant. The brushes seemed too cheap, but we were assured that this is what the local tradesmen used. But they wouldn’t hold paint and the bristles refused to form a neat edge for accurate work. With a lot of edges to do, we were soon roundly cursing these useless tools. This reminded us of Gerard Hill’s recent article for us on proof-reading, where the right tool for the job is essential. To our mind, almost any writing situation is improved by using the right tools.

Until we moved house our regular watering hole was a well-known Exmoor hostelry. Their preference was to use eraser-tipped pencils for all writing tasks. Whether taking food orders or entering reservations in the restaurant diary, they found it clearer and easier to erase and re-write rather than cross out when there are changes to be made. You won’t run out of ink unexpectedly and there’s no danger of leaks in pockets. A simple solution using the most traditional of writing tools, but there were problems. The pencils that they used wrote scratchily; the erasers just smudged rather than erased and the leads frequently broke when sharpening. This eventually became so profoundly annoying that one day the resident pencil experts were interrupted from their quiet contemplation of a fine pint of St. Austell Tribute and consulted upon the matter. We quickly diagnosed cheap pencil syndrome - wholesaler-branded pencils sold by the local newsagent and built down to a price. Low-quality lead, inferior eraser material, low-grade wood — a recipe for disappointment.

The next day at beer o’clock sharp, we arrived armed with samples. We handed over some mechanical pencils with large erasers (no sharpening required!) and a selection of superior wood-cased eraser-tipped pencils with a top-quality sharpener.

A few days later field trials were finished and the verdict was in. The mechanical pencils were rejected as relatively unfamiliar tools, especially for more casual staff, and refilling them and maintaining the refill stock would be just another task to manage. In theory disposable mechanical pencils would help, but while there are some good disposables, to us the whole concept seems just, well.. wrong.

So they continued with their favoured traditional wood-cased pencil solution, but were ecstatic with the winning model — the Faber-Castell Grip 2001 Eraser-Tip Pencil in B grade. It’s easy to see why. The 2001 addressed the problems of the cheap pencil by having:

  • Silky-smooth lead that’s a pleasure to write with.
  • A soft eraser tip that actually erases cleanly without smudging or abrading the paper.
  • Quality lead properly bonded to high-quality cedar that ensures effortless sharpening with minimal breakage.

The 2001 adds to all this by having an easy-grip triangular barrel studded with non-slip dots — a real benefit in a catering environment. The fact that the 2001 is also a seriously cool-looking pencil in elegant grey with black dots and a black eraser and ferrule was simply the icing on the cake.

Faber-Castell Grip 2001 Eraser-Tip Pencil

They are of course much more expensive than the no-brand pencils but the owners and staff of the pub couldn’t believe the difference. Worth it? Well, as with any task, if an inferior tool is simply making the job more difficult then you need better tools. The old axioms that ‘you get what you pay for’, or ‘buy cheap, buy twice’ are as valid for pens and pencils as for anything else.

We should also mention that a factor in taking the pain out of pencils is a quality sharpener. No matter how high quality the pencil, if the sharpener is poor or just worn out then it will keep breaking lead. For the pub we installed a Faber-Castell Desk Sharpener - solid, reliable and stays where it’s put!

We celebrated a successful conclusion with another beer (it would have been rude not to) and then wandered down to the local Thai restaurant for a takeaway. This is an establishment that had already found the right tool for the job without our assistance. Their favoured writing implement is the Zebra F-301 Deluxe Stainless-Steel ballpoint. Tough, reliable, smooth-writing, retractable, pocketable and looks infinitely smarter than any cheap throwaway, yet they’re great value. The refills are economical and with a fine point they’re perfect for writing Asian characters and long lists on small pads. Once again the right tool was making life just that little bit easier.

Back at our painting, we binned the cheap brushes and purchased some fine Harris No-Loss brushes from the local DIY shed. The paint glided on with half the effort and a marked decrease in swearing. Job finished, it was off to our new local, The Rat & Rollerball, for a reviving pint. Now, what pens are they using?

10 October 2011

Comments

  • Koen Ivens 23 January 2012
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    hi there. I love FC pencils, I use there classic 9000 and have a lot of their pencils, erasers, the perfect pencil etc.All bought on Cultpens. But I have to disagree on the sharpener. Not "solid, reliable and stays where it’s put" actually very light plastic (made in China) and doesn't stay on the table at all, I tried it on three diffrent tables and you have to keep the thing still with your hand while you turn the handle with your other hand. Otherwise it's not going to work. When you do this the point it makes is very good indeed.

  • Matthias 14 October 2011
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    Nice of you to show them some proper pencils - and they'll last so long that the higher price is already justified by the time they save because they don't have to struggle with those no name pencils and their erasers. Desk Sharpeners are great, but the FC sharpener you mentioned leaves marks on pencils. On the other hand they might not mind and the marks might give the Grip 2001 even more grip. Hope you'll like the new Cult Pens HQ.

  • Kevin 11 October 2011
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    Not my favourite pencil but as you say for this situation it is perfectly serviceable. The HB is too light. Point retention is important in this context and the Grip 2001 like most Faber Castells excels in this aspect. The onboard black eraser is a little abrasive but certainly does the job and does look nice with the black ferrule.

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