What’s the Best 3B Pencil?

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.

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Gear Notes: Leuchtturm1917 Notebooks

Leuchtturm1917Lots of people write about how great Moleskine notebooks are, and they are pretty good to carry around, to make notes, and to organize yourself. But I recently found another brand whose notebooks are even better: Leuchtturm1917. This “traditional Hanseatic family-run company” has been making notebooks for 99 years, and their product line will suit anyone who writes by hand.

I recently bought an anthracite A5 ruled notebook, as you can see in the picture to the left. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) It’s got two ribbons to mark pages, an elastic band to keep it closed, a hard cover, very nice 80g paper, and it’s A5 size, which is a bit wider than the equivalent Moleskine. It has 249 pages, and is available ruled, squared, dotted, and plain, and there’s also a sketchbook with heavier paper. The pages are numbered, and it has a table of contents at the front, and a pocket glued to the inside back cover. And it comes in more than a dozen colors.

The company makes pocket notebooks, A4 sized notebooks, planners, and much more. They also have a full line of softcover notebooks, if you prefer that for writing. They also make leather bound notebooks, if you want something fancier, and even a notebook with staves, which is great if you’re a composer and want to jot down musical ideas.

So if you like this type of notebook, you might want to check out Leuchtturm1917. They’re a tad more expensive than Moleskines, but I think the differences make them worthwhile.