Become a Pencil Connoisseur

Graphite pencils are great for sketching or drawing because they produce grey or dark marks that are easily erased, but otherwise resistant to moisture, most chemicals, ultraviolet radiation and natural aging.

Made with natural or synthetic graphite, a pencil's core is primarily made up of graphite powder mixed with a clay binder or wax to create a rod that is surrounded by cedar wood.

A Brief History of the Pencil

Pencil lead is not lead at all. The substance was named graphite, after the Greek word meaning "to write," since that's how people used the substance originally. We call it lead because the person who first discovered graphite believed they had found lead. More than 200 years later, an English scientist discovered that the substance was not actually lead, but a type of carbon instead. 1

During the 17th century, graphite and clay were grounded down by hand, put into a cylindrical mold, and fired in a kiln to create the rods. Wood workers milled cedar to sandwich the graphite in between creating a crude version of what we now call a carpenter pencil.

Today, pencils are mass-produced by machines and pencil's core is now manufactured in a variety of sizes. Most wooden pencils are mass produced from large blocks of cedar cut into slats. A machine cuts eight grooves, half as deep as the graphite-clay rod is thick, into the slats, and then places rods in each groove.

Different qualities of clay and graphite result in a wide range of textures and values (lightness or darkness). The amount of clay determines the hardness, the more clay, the harder the point and lighter the marks created by the pencil.

How to Navigate the Pencil Grading Scale

There are two pencil grading scales both are used to measure the Hardness (H), Blackness (B), Fine point (F) and size of the pencil's core. Pencils are usually stamped or marked with the grade. However, note that there are no industry standard for pencil graphite grades, results will vary from brand to brand.

Pencil Grades

Pencil Swatches © 3

The International system uses numbers and letters that range from 10H, 9H, 8H, …, 2H, H, F, HB, B, 2B, …, 8B, 9B going from hard graphite to soft.In this system, letters maybe combined, for example, a pencil marked “HB” is both hard and black.The U.S. system that uses numbers only, no letters. U.S. manufactured pencils usually have a shaft that is hexagonal shaped.2

Generally, an HB grade about the middle of the scale is considered to be a medium pencil, great for sketching and it's dark enough to see clearly with minimal smudging. The correlation between the two systems are listed in the table below.

U.S. International Description
#1 B 1x Black
#2 HB Hard & Black
#2½ F Fine Point
#3 H 1x Hard
#4 2H 2x Hard

The higher the number combined with "H" the harder the writing core and the lighter the mark on the paper will be. Hardness affects the pencil's strength, smoothness, smudge resistance, and pigmentation. Hard pencils are extremely smudge resistant and well suited for precision in technical drawings. “F” indicate that the pencil sharpens to a fine point.

“B” stands for black, referring to the blackness or darkness of the pencil’s mark, this also indicates a softer pencil as less clay has been added to the graphite core. Soft pencils are great for for sketching because the glide across the paper. However note that some manufacturers include carbon into these pencils making them darker, carbon stains the paper and is harder to erase. Higher rated "B" pencils are best used for dark accents or finishing marks. Below is a grade, smudge and eraser test provided by

Image ©JetPens.com4

A Unique Pencil Designed in the early 20th Century

The BLACKWING 602 has a unique tactile feel for anyone who sketches. It possess the unique softness and smoothness of a 3B/4B type pencil but with the rate-of-wear that an HB pencil usually encounters.

The pencil flows nicely over the paper without a lot of pressure. However, when you apply more pressure, you will get a darker and precise mark. It is also has a unique flat square ferrule with a eraser that never falls out and is designed to be easily replaced.

Palomino BLACKWING 602 Pencil

A Brief History of the BLACKWING 602

The BLACKWING 602 pencil was introduced  during the early 20th century in the 1930s with the slogan "Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed," a claim that was meant to market & appeal to any stenographer during that time as the pencil was designed for stenography or shorthand.

Stenography from the Greek stenos (narrow) and graphite (to write) was a process of writing in shorthand, before recording devices or dictation machines were invented. It used a symbolic writing method to increase the speed and the brevity of writing as compared writing out each exact letter or full word and was used mostly by journalists, who needed take notes at a press conference or write to quickly during an interview.

Fourth Generation Blackwing 602

BLACKWING 602 pencils were manufactured by the Eberhard Faber Pencil Company from 1934–1988 and sold for 50 cents each. During this time, it was used by Chuck Jones, the "Father of Contemporary Animation" best known for his work with Warner Bros. on the Looney Tunes cartoons, staring Bug Bunny, Daffy Duck or the Road Runner.

BLACKWING 602 evolved from an office tool into an artist tool over the years and quickly become synonymous with quality. Pencils were then manufactured by Faber-Castell from 1988–1994 and by Sanford from 1994–1998.

However, when manufacturing ceased, bidding wars began on Ebay for any existing pencils, where some paid up to $40 for one single BLACKWING 602. Giving it the unprecedented title of "the $40 pencil."

Palomino BLACKWING 602

A Revival of the BLACKWING 602

With family roots in the pencil industry dating back to the mid 19th century, Charles Berolzheimer, become the founder of Palamino. Artists soon noticed that Palomino’s range of premium pencils compared favorably to the BLACKWING 602. They began asking Palomino to consider reviving the Blackwing brand, complete with its defining rectangular eraser.

Charles Berolzheimer then used the company’s unique supply relationships to re-introduce the BLACKWING 602 in 2010. This time, featuring California genuine incense-cedar and premium Japanese graphite, launched exclusively on Since then it has been distributed to retailers around the world and received rave reviews from users.

Blackwing 602 Anatomy

Today, a portion of all BLACKWING 602 sales benefits the BLACKWING Foundation. It's mission is to support music and arts programs in public schools at the K-12 level. BLACKWING now has following of people, who like to unplug and engage with the physical world around them, and one that values authenticity, simplicity, and, perhaps most of all, connection.

If you really want to geek out on sharpening pencils, then you should take a look at David Rees’ book How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical & Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening for Writers, Artists, Contractors, Flange Turners, Anglesmiths, & Civil Servants


  1. Contributors, H. S. W. (2019, May 1). How do they get lead in a wooden pencil? Retrieved November 30, 2019, from  
  2. Rees, D. (2012). How to sharpen pencils: a Practical & Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening for Writers, Artists, Contractors, Flange Turners, Anglesmiths, & Civil. Brooklyn, NY: Melville House Pub. 
  3.  What is a No. 2 Pencil? (n.d.). Retrieved November 30, 2019, from 
  4.  The Best Lead Grade For Every Application. (n.d.). Retrieved November 30, 2019, from


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