Mirado Black Warrior Pencil

The Mirado Black Warrior pencil is made in the USA from high quality materials, available practically everywhere, and, very importantly, cheap (hey, it’s a pencil, after all).

The Black Warrior’s No. 2/HB graphite is darker and softer than standard No. 2’s and has a wax additive to make it smoother. The writing experience is noticeably superior to most other pencils. It’s easier and more satisfying to write with, with less effort involved. The barrel is round, with a good hand feel, but that also means it rolls off inclined surfaces. One other con: the Pink Pearl eraser has pumice in it, which can abrade paper, unlike nylon erasers.

Other than that, it is flawless (and the cedar is pleasingly aromatic when freshly sharpened). Cheaper pencils aren’t a bargain if they’re hard to sharpen, scratchy to write with, and the lead tends to break. More expensive graphite pencils that are more suited to artists, along with the frequently mentioned Blackwings, don’t seem as practical at $20 for 12, in my opinion. They’re like the Ferraris of pencils, and harder to source than the Mirado.

I’ve used these pencils for over a year, and haven’t found one that has more bang for the buck. Paired with the Kum sharpener, these are a no-brainer part of my EDC (every day carry).

-- Tom Anvari  

[On my friend Michael Pusateri's advice, I ordered 3 dozen of these pencils. They are about 90% as good as my favorite pencil, the Blackwing 602, which costs five times as much as the Mirado Black Warrior. -- Mark Frauenfelder]

Mirado Black Warrior Pencil
$3.50 a dozen

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Papermate

Kum Long Point Pencil Sharpener

I use soft pencils and I bear down hard when I write. As a result, I have to resharpen the pencils frequently. A few years ago I came across this pocket-size two-hole pencil sharpener and now swear by it. It produces very sharp points and does so efficiently. Joe Stirt reviewed it here in 2011, but I thought it would be worthwhile to take some photos to show how it works:


Hole 1 shaves just the pencil’s wood casing , exposing (but barely touching) the graphite. You are left with a cylinder of graphite sticking out of the pencil tip, as shown below.


Hole 2 sharpens the graphite to a point, but does not shave the wood.


You can easily control the sharpness.


When it’s time to resharpen, I try hole 2 first. I can usually get a few sharpenings this way before I go back to hole 1. Because of the way it sharpens, pencils last much longer.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

Kum Two Hole Automatic Long Point Pencil Sharpener

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Kum

Thinking With a Pencil

Henning Nelms’ classic Thinking With a Pencil should be a textbook in elementary school. Kids could then use the quick visualization skills Nelms teaches for the rest of their lives to help communicate, sell, and envision new products, services, and worlds. I know I wish I had gotten my hands on this book well before my engineering school days. I’ve used these skills to wireframe websites, diagram manufacturing lines, and sell process improvement projects to prospective clients. There is something in here for everyone as Nelms emphasizes the use of drawing in all disciplines.

The book was first published in 1957, but was republished in 1986 by Ten Speed Press, and is available used today. I think I learned about the book from the Whole Earth Catalog, too.

-- James Hom  

Thinking With A Pencil
Henning Nelms
First Edition
1986, 347 pages

Available used from Abe Books

Available from Amazon