The Dixon Ticonderoga #2HB – Part 1

A collection of brand new black Dixon Ticonderogas #2HB

The Dixon Ticonderoga is a well known pencil. Who doesn’t remember picking up one of these pencils during their school years and scribbling down an answer to a math problem or circling the correct word to complete a sentence? Their yellow and green contrasting colors made them stand out against other brands. I remember thinking just how cool that contrast was. Only a mechanical pencil could top a Ticonderoga.

A lot has changed since those days and the Ticonderoga is no exception. Now the famous pencil is made outside the US, comes in a new triangular shape for those who prefer it, and in some cases is painted black. Fear not though! According to Dixon’s website, the famously recognizable yellow pencil is still available. Even when painted black, the Ticonderoga still stands out from its competitors. Dixon smartly kept the green color scheme on their plastic packaging. What ever happened to the paper cartons? I remember a picture of an American Minute Man marching on the packaging and I thought that was so cool too! As an immigrant, it helped me identify with being an American kid.

I picked up a pack of 24 black Ticonderogas from Walmart. At $3.44 (excluding local taxes), the unit price comes out to slightly more then $0.14 per pencil. The pencils are also available in more and less counts that decreases and increases the unit price. I couldn’t imagine buying a pack of 48 and 6 didn’t seem like enough for my trials. The pencils are also widely available at Office Depot and Staples although I don’t remember the prices that I saw there. Of course, I’m sure someone sells these online as well.

First impressions. The history and background of the Dixon Ticonderoga is of no secret to anyone and it is well documented on Dixon’s own website and on Wikipedia. I will not go into it here as I would simply be repeating what has already been stated over and over again. Suffice it to say that an Italian company called Fila owns the American brand and company Dixon and manufactures it’s signature Ticonderoga model in Mexico among other places. Who says NAFTA doesn’t work? Just ask Mexico.

Dixon tries to show that their pencil is a premium product. They made a point to state, before all other features, that the pencil is made of cedar (vs. who knows what other kind of wood). Small symbols on the packaging state that the wood is made from sustained forests and that the pencil is non-toxic. People who suffer from latex allergies will be pleased to know that the erase is (according the same packaging) latex-free. So not only are they appealing to those who have used their product in the past through their smart color scheme but they appeal to environmentalists in stating the wood is from sustained growth forests which are responsibly managed and to latex allergy sufferers who would otherwise avoid the product. Dixon wants to make sure that everyone can own a Ticonderoga. No excuses!

I was surprised by the fruity smell coming out of the packaging once I opened it. It seems like it was emanating from the latex free erasers. I always remembered pencils smelling woody and dirty. The scent fades pretty quick in the open air though. Pity. The black lacquer has a smooth matte finish which feels comfortable to the touch. Almost none of the grain is visible which implies that the finish is very thick and the wood case is sanded (or really smoothly cut) before application. There are no major splotches or runs in the coating and it looks uniform. I noticed that some of the lacquer flakes off after handling the pencils. My desk has a black surface so I lined it some sheets of white paper for better contrast. After a while, the paper was covered in little black flakes. My hands also had some black flakes stuck to them. I checked the pencils to see where the flakes came from but it wasn’t very obvious. The finish still seemed smooth and consistent. Perhaps the flakes are coming from the ends of the pencils? Wait… what?

Dixon Ticonderoga #2HB ends

One disappointment comes from quickly glancing at the unsharpened ends. There is plenty of lacquer spilling over. I want to say that it looks sloppy. However, for the great majority of users this probably leaves no negative impression. After all, it will disappear after the first sharpening. I also understand how difficult it can be to create a clean cut (stay tuned for my next post on this). Some manufacturers can do this so I can’t say it’s impossible with modern machinery. Dixon is trying to keep costs down by removing a step in the manufacturing process that would otherwise give a clean appearance at the end of the pencil. Cosmetic ding #1.

Dixon Ticonderoga #2HB end close-up

Taking a closer look at the ends of the pencils, I see that the lead is not always centered in the wood casing. I’m not sure if this is just a warped lead or an uneven cut in the case. Either way, something is not right. Would this have an impact on the structural integrity of the lead? Is the lead more likely to break now? I will set this pencil aside for now. Quality ding #1.

Dixon Ticonderoga #2HB stamping close-up

The silver stamping is, for the most part, clear and centered on a flat side of the hexagonal shape. In some cases, the stamping looks smudged or slightly cropped at the top or bottom of the text. Rub hard enough and it will come off. Again, for most, this is a “don’t care” but for the careful eye it is another cosmetic deficiency. Cosmetic ding #2

Dixon Ticonderoga #2HB ferrule close-up

The ferrules are nicely and evenly crimped. There is no noticeable gap between the ferrule and pencil and between the ferrule and eraser. None of the ferrules or erasers wobble. I appreciate the 360 degree crimping because it seems to give the ferrule it’s strong grip to both the pencil and the eraser. One of the pencils showed some air bubbles and debris that were trapped under the yellow paint on the otherwise green (seemingly) anodized ferrule. Perhaps this is an indication of poor process control. Again, we are drawn to the same question, would the masses even notice or care about this? Cosmetic ding #3.

Blemished ferrule on a Dixon Ticonderoga #2HB

I set four of the pencils aside to take to work. To my surprise, one of them was warped! I would not have noticed this except for when I tried to playfully roll it down my paper pad. This is very unexpected, especially from a Dixon. This is another pencil to set aside for further examination. Fortunately, the other 23 pencils seem straight. Quality ding #2.

A warped Dixon Triconderoga #2HB

I decided to sharpen two of these pencils. One was sharpened in an old Berol Chicago APSCO Sharpener and the other was sharpened with a brand new German made Faber Castell multi dimensional sharpener. I have seen the Faber Castell model re-branded to other names so I’m not sure who the original manufacturer is. It is made in Germany according to text found on the packaging, on the casing, and on the blades. I found that the wood chipped off in both pencils and lost contact to the lead in one spot. It seems to be the same spot on both pencils so I can’t say that it is caused by a specific sharpener. Otherwise, one would have it and one wouldn’t. Upon closer inspection, the lead still appears solid and secure. It’s an issue more of cosmetics than structural integrity but it can be noticed by those who look for it – and you don’t need to look hard. Cosmetic ding #4.

Two sharpened Dixon Ticonderogas #2HB

I bought a nice big hardbound notebook made by Strathmore. They claim it is a sketchbook but I really can’t tell you what that means. Does that mean that the paper fibers are finer? The paper is very white, acid free, and comes in a 60 lbs. weight. I figure it would be nice to have something like this to document all of my writing experiments. An artist I am not so don’t expect anything more than scribbles and stick figures here!

Writing sample from a Dixon Ticonderoga #2HB

Writing with the pencil is fun. It feel slender and well balanced. The lines are decently dark for a #2HB and the feedback is soft and smooth. In my short writing time with this pencil so far I did not ever feel any sort of sand or grit in the lead as I do with the cheap Chinese pencils here at work. The point seems to hold for quite some time before you would think of resharpening it.

I was surprised at how difficult it is to photograph a close up of the markings. My camera, even in macro mode, does not allow very close ranges. I used a very small aperture for a pinhole camera effect. This would decrease my focus distance but only for a small spot. Macro photography requires a lot of light so that is why the pictures are a little dark.

The latex free eraser works nicely.

The black latex free eraser works well and leaves little residue. All of the markings were neatly picked up off the paper leaving only a dim indent on the paper from the pencil. Coloring the eraser black was a good move by Dixon. Not only does it match the general color scheme but it hides any graphite smudges that would otherwise be picked up by a traditionally red eraser. The soft eraser does not feel abrasive during use and a close examination of the paper after use verifies this.

I have only briefly touched upon the three characteristics of materials, manufacturing, and process. There is still so much more. If this were a car, we have only begun our test drive by sitting in the seat and driving around the neighborhood. Now it is time to look under the hood and under the car itself to see what we can see! Stay tuned!

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17 Responses to “The Dixon Ticonderoga #2HB – Part 1”

  1. A black pencil to match a black blog theme?

    An excellent essay! I say that sincerely, as someone who has attempted to write about pencils for a while now. I look forward to more.

    You have me looking at the ends of pencils – but that view is just a slice (the final slice) of the whole – you might have to x-ray the pencil to judge the overall lead centering. Yet, for a $0.14 item – what is a reasonable expectation? And while a slight misalignment may effect sharpening, is it that much of a problem while being used?

    My quick observation is that even some ‘classic’ pencils don’t have completely centered leads (at the end). The modern Japanese pencils – Tombow, Mitsubishi, Pentel, Kita-Boshi – as I would guess, all appear perfect (to my eye – no scientific measuring tools used.)

    • astounded man Says:

      I am amazed that there is an essay, and people commenting on such essay, about pencils! You guys are crazy in depth. If this is how you are about pencils… I cannot imagine you intensity when it comes to normal things with greater societal weight, such as personal relationships.

  2. pencilgrinder Says:

    Thanks for the note, Stephen! I actually have quite a bit more examination of the Dixon left so expect another post in a couple of days. There is a way to examine the lead alignment and I hope to show that soon. I’ll leave it a mystery for now just to build up some anticipation. :-)

    I consider the Japanese to be masters of detail oriented work so it wouldn’t surprise me to hear you say that their pencils leads appear centered. One example of the Japanese attention to detail is to again look at their cars. Look at the back of an American SUV, toward the underside. How much do you see protruding down? Now do the same with a Japanese car. Which one looks cleaner? Look at the tailgates of American SUVs. Until recently, almost every American SUV had protruding hinges whereas Japanese cars had a very clean tailgate. All the hinges were hidden. Now, there are other quirks with Japanese SUVs entering the US market like the direction which the tail gate opens but that’s a different ball of wax.

  3. Phew, heavy stuff., but good to see.
    Await parts 2, 3, 4… with interest.
    Ticonderogas are not imported into my country, but I have twice bought in a dozen pack from the US. All were defintely the USA made version, and much to my surprise each dozen had at least one badly warped pencil.

  4. pencilgrinder Says:

    I’m in the middle of drafting up part 2 and I hope you will find it interesting as well!

    Where did you buy your Ticonderogas from? How much did they cost? I suppose Dixon has done a lot of market research to determine how the country of origin for a pencil affects its sales appeal. Dixon may have found that there is more demand for US made pencils outside the US than in the US. Being imported alone may help position it as a premium product. Also, economics may play a role here too. Dixon may not be able to produce an affordable pencil here in the US for the local market. But for export, perhaps it could work if they try to position themselves alongside a higher end Faber Castell or Staedtler?

  5. My Ticonderogas were obtained and sent to me by a helpful American so I don’t know the details of where and the price, but they were more than 14cents each. Thats a very cheap price by my standards. The black eraser is a good eraser and suits the pencil, etc. Aren’t the black Ticonderogas called the Millenium edition or something?

    Regarding Dixon and importing etc, I don’t really know any facts, (thats never stopped me before), but I’ve never thought of them as being particularly export orientated, they seem pretty much USA & Nth America from what I understand? But your point is a good one – a ‘Made in USA’ pencil could possibly command a higher price than a ‘Made in Mexico’ pencil in many markets.

  6. I have bought several boxes of Mexican-made Ticonderoga “Microban” pencils, which have a lovely, somewhat “retro” light blue or gray color. Unfortunately, the quality is very poor—few of the leads are centered, which results in uneven sharpening. Several leads came loose from the shaft! Some pencils had weird debris caught under the lacquer of the barrel—I shudder to think what these “bumps” might be. Trapped insects? The ferrules are shoddily painted. The last American-made Ticonderogas were not always great either, but it is clear that the quality control has dropped significantly. Dixon should pay attention and not allow their product to decline this way.

  7. pencilgrinder Says:

    Adair,

    Interesting observations! It looks like a lot of people are dinging Dixon on their quality. Perhaps Dixon considers itself to be a “lower” name brand than it really is and therefore spends less effort on making quality products. I wonder how much Dixon’s quality would improve if they decided to put in more effort make a premium pencil.

    How big of a piece of lead came out of your Dixon? I remember many times in school, after sharpening a pencil, the sharpened tip would come out of the wood. The lead cracked and there wasn’t much wood or glue holding anything together anymore.

  8. From what I can tell, the Mexican made Dixon Ticonderogas were allright for a while, but their quality has dropped off significantly in recent months, especially after the new barrell imprint..(“dixon ticonderoga 2 hb” in place of “dixon ticonderoga 1388-2/hb soft”). if you want a good Dixon Ticonderoga, you only have one option right now – the Chinese made Ticonderoga Noir (No Dixon branding, it’s such a shame, it’s almost like Dixon is ashamed of their product) is pretty good. Writes smooth and dark. Not perfect, mind you – but decent nonetheless.

  9. Wow, you really finely inspected those pencils. Since school just got out (I was in 7th grade) and starts back in about 2 months, I was wondering if I should stick with Ticonderoga or try a Black Warrior. This article encouraged me to stick with Ticonderoga and steer clear from Black Warrior. I have to admit, Black Warrior sucks pretty bad. It writes like a 99c. 24 pack of Papermates. The wood near the tip is very ruff, unlike Ticonderoga, and it writes Un-Smoothly.

  10. I have bought several boxes of Mexican-made Ticonderoga “Microban” pencils, which have a lovely, somewhat “retro” light blue or gray color. Unfortunately, the quality is very poor—few of the leads are centered, which results in uneven sharpening. Several leads came loose from the shaft! Some pencils had weird debris caught under the lacquer of the barrel—I shudder to think what these “bumps” might be. Trapped insects? The ferrules are shoddily painted. The last American-made Ticonderogas were not always great either, but it is clear that the quality control has dropped significantly. Dixon should pay attention and not allow their product to decline this way.

    I’m in the middle of drafting up part 2 and I hope you will find it interesting as well!

    Where did you buy your Ticonderogas from? How much did they cost? I suppose Dixon has done a lot of market research to determine how the country of origin for a pencil affects its sales appeal. Dixon may have found that there is more demand for US made pencils outside the US than in the US. Being imported alone may help position it as a premium product. Also, economics may play a role here too. Dixon may not be able to produce an affordable pencil here in the US for the local market. But for export, perhaps it could work if they try to position themselves alongside a higher end Faber Castell or Staedtler?

    From what I can tell, the Mexican made Dixon Ticonderogas were allright for a while, but their quality has dropped off significantly in recent months, especially after the new barrell imprint..(”dixon ticonderoga 2 hb” in place of “dixon ticonderoga 1388-2/hb soft”). if you want a good Dixon Ticonderoga, you only have one option right now – the Chinese made Ticonderoga Noir (No Dixon branding, it’s such a shame, it’s almost like Dixon is ashamed of their product) is pretty good. Writes smooth and dark. Not perfect, mind you – but decent nonetheless.

    You guys are so smart LOL

  11. Well there’s a 48 pack for these pencils. Now they are very expensive and can you believe 24 of these yellow pencils almost cause 5 dollars! oh yeah why are they so expensive? Do you know where i can get a 48 pack for less than 3 dollars in chicago?.

  12. MARJORIE PRESTON Says:

    Excellent review! Very helpful. Many thanks!

    I was wondering how much of the erasers’ misperformance might be due to sitting around for a couple of years. I suppose if they weren’t petrified, then your sample was an accurate representation, though.

    I can’t believe there are so many pencil geeks like me out there; I will be anxiously awaiting part II of the review.

    Would you consider reviewing General pencils sometime?

    Also, does anyone know where I can get some Sanford EarthWrites (i.e., the ones made before they started putting the “Papermate” logo on them…)? The lacquer was thinner and rougher, and I liked it much better for some reason.

    Thanks again!

  13. In all of my Google searches, it is not until now that your blog showed up. I love this! I enjoy your exhaustive reviews….I have done the same thing but never recorded it in such detail. Have you had the opportunity to compare, say, a 50-year-old Ticonderoga with a new one, or likewise a Black Warrior? Anyway, I’ll be adding a link to your blog from my website at some point (if you don’t mind)…when I get caught up on my updates.

    I hope your blog is moderated…I really don’t expect my comment to be published…but I couldn’t find a contact address for you. So, who are you?

  14. I came across a small cyndrical box of Ticonderoga flake from my grandfather’s collection of stuff… not sur eof it’s value.

  15. please im in need of 2HB PENCIL PLEASE give me ur price and sample if possible caz im goner need 900.000 quantity. im in south africa

  16. JERRY BENDETT Says:

    WHY ARE YOUR ERASER’S SO HARD AND UNUSABLE?

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