If the last time you used a pencil was in school, you might be inclined to blame the writing implements themselves for being unsuited to adult life. But maybe pencils are viewed unfairly only by association. After all, you might have used a pencil for the very last time after taking a standardized test. Maybe you wanted to leave all vestiges of the Scantron test behind. Perhaps you even snapped your wooden pencil in half as a marker of finality. But the truth is, the humble #2 has plenty of applications in adult life. When it comes to sketching, crosswords and sudoku, the erasability of pencils makes them by far the better tool. Even for writing, pencils have advantages over pens.
If you’re writing with a pencil, you might enjoy the fact that their lighter mark makes them less likely to ghost on a notebook (that’s when the ink can be seen on the other side of the page). Plus, you can erase any mistakes. And of course, if you work in carpentry or in architecture, a quality wood or mechanical pencil will be essential. Ultimately, despite their association with grade school, pencils are actually the more versatile writing implement compared with their inky brethren. But with the amount of variety in pencils, it can be surprisingly difficult to choose the best one.
Graphite Grading Scale
One of the most important factors in choosing a wooden pencil is looking at the graphite grading scale, which is typically printed on the pencil itself. In much the same way the United States stubbornly refuses to go metric, America also uses a different grading system for its pencils than other countries do — the US uses a numbered system, while other countries use a combination of numbers and letters.
A pencil’s core is comprised of graphite and clay, and the proportion affects the writing experience. More graphite will leave a darker mark, but the pencil will be softer. More clay will make the pencil harder but lighter. The HB scale is used worldwide — H is for hardness, B is for blackness, and HB represents the mid-point and is considered an average pencil for everyday use. HB can be roughly translated to a #2 pencil. It’s important to note that these scales aren’t actually standardized. A #2 from one brand might be lighter than from another.
Mechanical vs. Wood
By now, you’re probably pretty settled when it comes to a mechanical pencil vs a traditional wood pencil. But if not, let’s run down some of the pros and cons of each. Mechanical pencils use replaceable lead, making for a finer point. And since the lead is replaceable, you don’t have to deal with your pencil shrinking down to a tiny nub. For writing, the uniformity of a mechanical pencil’s lead will result in neater work. Wooden pencils offer the benefit of a more durable tip that’s less likely to snap, and you don’t have to remember to keep refills of lead. Of course, wooden pencils have to be sharpened pretty frequently, which can be time-consuming. For drawing, a mechanical pencil offers the benefit of creating very fine lines, which is great for detail. However, a wooden pencil is much easier to shade with, and you can sharpen the pencil to variable points for more control.
Ultimately, the best way to find your favorite pencil is to test them out — fortunately, pencils are a dime a dozen (sometimes literally), so you can easily stock up on a few boxes and find the one that works best for you. To make it easier, we’ve rounded up some of the best options that you can buy online, including wooden and mechanical pencils, as well as specialized tools. While the Dixon Ticonderoga will always be a classic, you’ve probably already used it and have decided whether or not you like it, so we’ll round up some of the best pencils you might not have used before.
1. Blackwing Matte Pencils
Widely revered and with a long history to back them up, the Blackwing pencils are not only beautiful to look at, but they’re made with several features to enhance the longevity and durability of each pencil. The extra length makes them more comfortable to hold, and they have a flared eraser for more precise erasing. Plus, the eraser is detachable and replaceable. The pencil itself is made from genuine cedar wood, and it’s a softer pencil. Each box includes 12 pencils.
2. rOtring 600 Series Mechanical Pencil
BEST FOR ARCHITECTS
Even though mechanical pencils are meant to be reused, they can often be treated as disposable. But this option from rOtring is one you’ll want to hold onto. It’s a sturdy metal option with a knurled grip at the end that makes it more secure to hold. It also has a convenient clip that’s great for ensuring you won’t lose the pencil. It’s available in black or silver, and you can choose between 0.35, 0.5 and 0.7mm options.
3. Staedtler Yellow Pencils
BEST SCHOOL PENCIL
If you’re looking for classic yellow pencils that are durable, reliable and affordable, Staedler’s pencils are a great bet. They’re #2 pencils, so they’re good for writing or general-purpose use, and they’re available in packs of 12 or 144, so you can easily stock up and have enough pencils for a year’s worth of daily sudoku and crossword.
4. Faber-Castell Jumbo Grip Graphite Pencils
EASY TO GRIP
Holding a hardwood pencil while writing for a long time can cramp your fingers, and if your hands get sweaty, the pencil might slip. This option from Faber-Castell has a unique design with textured grips that make the pencil more comfortable to hold, solving those common problems. They’re available in a standard or jumbo size that’s great for kids who might have trouble holding traditional pencils. Plus, these pencils are made from wood from reforested sources.
5. Mitsubishi Pencil
BEST FOR WRITING
Despite the identical name and emblem, the Mitsubishi Pencil company has no relation to the automaker other than their shared country of origin. They’re HB on the graphite grade scale, so they’re a good all-purpose option for writing and other uses. The red lacquer gives them an appealing look. These come with an eraser on the ends as well.
6. General’s Cedar Pencils
BEST UNFINISHED PENCIL
These pencils from General’s have a cedar casing with no lacquer, giving them an appealing, natural look and feel. The pencils are made from sustainably forested California incense cedar. They come in a set of four, and the package also includes a sharpener. They’re #2 pencils, so they’re good for general purpose uses, but you can also choose #1 pencils from this listing. The ends have black erasers.
General's Cedar Pencils
7. Tombow 51532 8900 Pencils
BEST DRAWING PENCILS
These pencils from Tombow are 2B and are good options for drawing, and this particular pencil design has been in production since 1945. The yellow box and green-coated pencil has been virtually unchanged since its introduction, and each pack comes with 12 pencils. This option is 2B, but you can also choose B and HB from this listing.
8. C.H. Hanson Carpenter Pencil Beige Wood 1 pc.
BEST FOR THE JOB SITE
Carpenter pencils are made to be durable enough to withstand the intense conditions of job sites, but their defining feature is their shape. Carpenter pencils are flat, so no matter how you drop them or where you put them, they won’t roll away. The hard lead makes it easy to put pressure on the pencil without worrying about them breaking.