Highland Woodworking Wood News Online, No. 154, June 2018Welcome to Highland Woodworking - Fine Tools & Education Learn more about Highland Woodworking View our current woodworking classes and seminars Woodworking articles and solutions Subscribe to Wood News
The Down to Earth Woodworker
By Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin

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The Blackwing 602

Like to sketch? Like to doodle, draw, or write the old-fashioned way? Or do you just want to make super nice marks on wood when woodworking? Give yourself a treat and get a really great pencil. Okay, Okay, I know pencils are not terribly exciting, but the Palomino Blackwing 602 is. The Blackwing 602 carries the slogan "Half the pressure, twice the speed" and for my money, the slogan is right. But there is more. The smoothness of the graphite against paper is indescribable… it literally floats and slides perfectly. The uniquely shaped eraser keeps the pencil from rolling, and the aromatic cedar body of the pencil gives you a little incense-like heavenly whiff when you sharpen it.

Figure 4 - The Blackwing 602 with uniquely shaped replaceable eraser,
smooth-gliding graphite, and aromatic cedar body... a real treat!

The Blackwing pencil has quite a history. In 1934 Eberhard Faber Pencil Company introduced the 602. It quickly became a favorite of luminaries like John Steinbeck, Leonard Bernstein, Nelson Riddle and many more. In 1988 the Eberhard Faber company was acquired by Faber-Castell, and the famous Blackwing 602 was slightly rebranded. In 1994 another acquisition occurred, and shortly thereafter, the machine that formed the iconic metal eraser ferrule broke down. Because the model 602 pencil sales volume was relatively low, and the repair cost of the machine was relatively high, the new owners, the Sanford division of Newell Rubbermaid, decided to discontinue manufacturing the Blackwing pencil. As the supply dried up, the Blackwing 602 became a hot seller on E-Bay. Individual pencils sold for $40, $50, and more! You have to really love a pencil to pay that kind of money for one.

Figure 5 - I'm a "note-taker" and sketcher, so I treated myself to the matching
Blackwing notebook. The paper is nice, and there is even a loop to hold your
Blackwing 602 pencil at-the-ready. A nice touch!
I took a quick glance at E-Bay and found an original Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602 with a "buy it now" price of $54.95. There are countless stories of users (devotees) that began hoarding pencils shortly after it was announced the original Blackwing pencils would be discontinued. Apparently, Stephen Sondheim has "plenty" on hand… a closet full… and is known to occasionally give one as a special gift to a special person. He has been composing masterworks with Blackwing pencils since the early 1960s.

In 2008, California Cedar Products Company acquired the Blackwing pencil brand and reintroduced the Blackwing 602 pencil under its Palomino division in June 2011. The pencil is made of California Incense Cedar and contains silky smooth graphite made in Japan. Purists claim that nothing can compare to the pre-1994 Blackwing, but since I don't have one of those to compare, the current, new Blackwing 602 is pretty darned nice! And at $22.95 a dozen, it is a luxury, but just a small luxury. Get a box. You will thank me for the recommendation.

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Steven Johnson is retired from an almost 30-year career selling medical equipment and supplies, and now enjoys improving his shop, his skills, and his designs on a full time basis (although he says home improvement projects and furniture building have been hobbies for most of his adult life). Steven can be reached directly via email at sjohnson@downtoearthwoodworking.com

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