I like pens and pencils: nice ballpoints and rollerballs (I’m less a fan of fountain pens, because they’re too messy), and a nice, solid mechanical pencil is reassuring to write with. But I especially like using wooden pencils. I like the way they feel in the hand, I like the smell – when they’re made from cedar – and I like the way they write. I don’t mind sharpening pencils; with mechanical pencils, you never have to sharpen, but the thinner lead makes writing different.
Over the years, I’ve found that, for me, the best pencil for writing is a 3B. It’s a dark, soft lead, and, on a nice pencil, it’s very smooth. Outside the US, pencils are graded on the HB graphic scale, which ranges from 9H to 9B. H is hard, and B is black. So the standard pencil – an HB, equivalent to a #2 in the US – is fairly neutral. It is dark, but not too dark; it is hard, but not too hard; a nice compromise for many people.
One reason I prefer the 3B is because it is smoother. I hate writing with a pencil that scratches the paper; the sound bothers me, and the feel in my hand, as the pencil resists, is disagreeable. A 3B provides both wider, blacker text, and that smoothness that allows the pencil to glide on the page. Darker pencils glide even more – at least most of them; this depends on the brand – but they wear out very quickly, and need to be sharpened every couple of minutes.
I’ve long used – for a couple of decades – the Derwent Graphic 3B, and I very much like the balance between hardness and smoothness, and the black that it produces. But there are lots of other pencils, and perhaps there are some that might be better. With this in mind, I decided to buy a number of different 3B pencils to compare them.