Pocket Size Review 43: Caran d’Ache Black Wood

I’m intimidated by wooden pencils. With a pen, even with a mechanical pencil, the exterior remains the same as you go, you’re just refilling it. You can have a pen that’s written miles and miles of text or one that’s only written a few inches, and as long as you’ve taken good care of them they’ll look the same. But a well used pencil will be shorter, meaning that if you have a pencil cup full of long pristine pencils, it reveals the fact that you haven’t been writing as much as you meant to.

There’s a concept among wooden pencil people (and I’m sure among certain fans of literature as well) of the “Steinbeck stage) of a pencil. The story goes that the writer John Steinbeck had multiple pencil rituals for his writing, one of which was that he would use a pencil only so long as it was long enough to rest against the webbing between his thumb and forefinger; once it became any shorter he would discard it and pass it down to his children. If I’ve ever sharpened a pencil to this point it must have been elementary school, and even then I recall more often discarding pencils because their attached erasers had gone bad due to age.

But the romanticism of the wooden pencil still speaks to me, writhing on paper with an exposed stick of graphite sheathed in wood to protect my hands, the writing implement itself being sacrificed in the process of putting words to paper. So I went and found a sharpener that would fit this oversized wooden pencil, the Caran d’Ache Black Wood, and I gave it a shot.

I won’t pretend there was anything revelatory about the experience; I’ve filled out enough scantron sheets in my lifetime to be familiar with HB or #2 graphite. The diameter of the pencil was nice, though, as a trade-off for it not being as heavy as my beloved rOtring mechanical pencils. Ultimately it left me wanting to try it a bit more, but without an easy way to clip the pencil to my shirt I need to be sure to carry a pencil case. And until recently I didn’t have a wastebasket directly by my desk in my home office, which meant having to get up and go to a trash can to sharpen it.

These aren’t big things, but they are reminders that I’ve become accustomed to a certain lifestyle, and that means making choices. I could say the same for cold brew coffee; I’d love to be able to enjoy some cold brew coffee in my home kitchen every morning, but I know I’m not going to take the time to prep it every evening before I go to sleep. It is a great idea for someone, but it’s not the life I’ve chosen to lead. I plan to keep playing with different wooden pencils, because it is fun to try different things, but I don’t see them ever replacing my pens, or even my mechanical pencils.

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