The Mirado Black Warrior : A Step in Some Direction – Part I

It’s time to move on to another pencil. Let me introduce the Newell Rubbermaid Sanford Papermate Mirado Black Warrior. Goodness, that is a long name for a pencil isn’t it? This pencil, like the Dixon Ticonderoga, certainly carries a reputation behind it and not all of it seems positive. A lot of people say that once the brand and product was acquired and integrated into the Newell Rubbermaid conglomerate that the quality went down hard and fast. I’m still new to pencil collecting so I can’t say which way the quality went. I don’t know what the Mirado Black Warrior was like before but I sure am going to find out what it is now.

I got a pack of 10 Black Warriors during my business trip to Phoenix AZ back in February. The pencils have been lying around in their packaging while I have been test driving the Ticonderoga.

A 10-Pack of Mirado Black Warriors

Like the Ticonderogas, they were purchased at the nearby Walmart. At $1.77 (excluding local taxes), they come out to a whopping $0.18 per pencil when rounded up to the nearest cent. That’s almost a nickel more per pencil than the Ticonderoga. So what do I get for a nickel more? At first glance I seem to get American manufacturing and pre-sharpened tips. Couple that with a cool sounding name like Black Warrior, and you would think that you have the equivalent of a ninja samurai for a pencil. You’re ready for any task as long as you have your Black Warrior handy.

Actually, for those who don’t know (and this was news to me), the Black Warrior was actually a Confederate schooner. I’m not exactly a boat enthusiast. Honestly, I prefer to keep my feet planted on something solid. Civil war buffs may get a kick out of owning something that relates to American history but civil rights activists may object to something that could in some manner (however thinly) be related to the oppression of people. Unfortunately, I don’t know more about how the pencil got it’s name but it would be interesting to know.

While the Ticonderoga is claimed to be the world’s best pencil, the Black Warrior say it is the world’s smoothest – and Newell Rubbermaid guarantees it.


If you think this is just a marketing slogan then read this text that is located on the back of packaging.

The Guarentee

It’s a broad and bold claim to make and I wonder how many people actually disagree with them on the statement who then go ahead and file a claim to get their money back. You’d probably pay more in return postage than the cost of the pencils themselves.

Take out the ten pencils and line them up. Each has a very nice and smooth coat of lacquer in a matte finish. The casing is round so the pencils roll very easily. In fact, you wouldn’t believe how hard it was to line them up for the shot below.

All Lined Up Like an Army of Little Warriors

I have to confess that I cheated a bit and put a pencil sharpener (not shown) in the bottom left hand corner to keep the pencils together. Only one pencil ended up being warped and only by a little bit.

A Slightly Warped Warrior

Statistically speaking, this equates to a one in ten chance of having a warped pencil. In other words, 10% of Black Warriors around the world could be warped. Compare this to the one in twenty four chance of getting a warped Ticonderoga which would equate to an approximate 4.2% of all Ticonderogas being warped. That’s quite a jump. Obviously, for this statistic to have more meaning (and a better one) the sample size should be greater – like 100 or even more.

As mentioned earlier, each pencil is pre -sharpened so you should never see overflowing lacquer at the end like the Ticonderoga. You also won’t see if the leads are centered in the wood casing either. It is interesting to wonder what is cheaper: making a clean unsharpened pencil end or a sloppy unsharpened end and then sharpening it. Honestly, I can’t think that having the ends pre-sharpened is a deal maker or breaker for the consumer. I would think that many people who buy wooden pencils actually enjoy sharpening them. It enhances the ownership and builds a little attachment. Take a look at this detailed shot.

Pre-Sharpened Black Warrior Ends

The ends are not sharpened by any sort of rotating blades. It looks like the pencils are fed through a hole with ever decreasing diameter. This process shaves away the wood to a decreasing point, exposing the lead, and shaving the lead to a decreasing point as well. All of the points end in a somewhat dull looking tip but this rather smart of Newell Rubbermaid. It helps keep the point in tact during shipment. Additionally, you can assured that none of the pencil material was wasted. Only the bare minimum amount of material was removed. Just look at those grooves!

The Black Warrior is only slightly shorter in overall length than the Ticonderoga. Specifically, it is 0.093″ shorter. Here is a shot of the end of both pencils when they are stood up side by side. I couldn’t effectively capture the whole length of pencil in the picture. That would be one long JPG!

Black Warrior and Ticonderoga Side by Side

The lacquer finish is even duller than what is found on the Ticonderoga and it feels a bit rougher. That is not to say it feels course as sand. On some pencils it is possible to see the seam running up the length of the casing. This seems to indicate that the finish is very thin. Other pencils had rough surfaces and the thin lacquer did not cover it at all. Perhaps the roughness came from the wood being cut poorly or perhaps it came from some impact after the lacquer dried. Either way, it was present and easy to see.

Rough Surfaces

Continuing upward, we run into our first stamping and it boldly proclaims where the pencil was made.

Made in the USA

One word: crunch! That looks like a painfully strong stamping. Unlike the Ticonderoga, this pencil is round so it cannot accommodate a head-on stamping unless the stamping is contoured. It should be a rolled stamping. Then again, maybe this a rolled stamping just done very poorly. Either way, it’s not very impressive and it looks ugly. Unfortunately, the other stampings aren’t any better.

We finally end our progression upward at the ferrule where more disappointment awaits us. If Dixon crimped their ferrules on a wet, freshly lacquered pencil then Newell Rubbermaid did the exact opposite. The ferrule must have been pressed onto the pencil after the lacquer had cured. Look at how the ferrule digs into the lacquer and gets underneath it. I wouldn’t think that a ferrule needs to double up as a burrowing squirrel.

A Burrowing Ferrule

It is interesting to note that the ferrule is in some ways very similar and very different to the Ticonderogas. A colored band appears in the center and there appears to be an all-around crimping if you could imagine the circumscribing grooves to come from a machine. However, the biggest different lies in the circular metal punchings above and below the band that also go around the pencil. There are six punches on each side of the red band to make a total of 12. None of the punches are equally spaced apart although they are consistently spaced between the top and bottom sets. If a set of two punches are too close together up above then you see the same down below.

The erasers seem shorter than what is found on the Ticonderogas and they are covered with some sort of white power. Perhaps this is talc. I don’t know. It does rub off easily onto your fingers.

Papermate’s website offers some detailed information on the Black Warrior but a lot of it seems like fluff. I can understand what it means for the casing to be made of incensed cedar, have a round shape, and contain ceramic waxed lead but what does “executive upscale styling” mean? So far I have seen nothing that would make me think this pencil graces the desks of CEOs and high level politicians. “Premium rubber eraser” can mean a lot of things too. I thought it was interesting that the Black Warrior shown on Papermate’s website does not match the appearance of the examples I bought at Walmart.

Black Warrior from Papermate’s Website

The sharpened end is nothing like the pre-sharpened end found on my Black Warriors. None of the stamping matches either. Where are the little hearts at the top of the pencil?

So how does it write? Well, I can’t exactly say that I am impressed. It does feel harder than the Ticonderoga and it also feels rougher. The perceived additional hardness is verified by the crumbling lead. Increased hardness almost always leads to something being more brittle.

Brittle Lead

The roughness likens itself to the experience of running the tip of a screwdriver across a piece of wood. There is a lot of friction here that was not felt when using the Ticonderoga. Perhaps you could say that the lead feels like it has sand in it or larger clumps of clay. The impressions on the paper are ever so slightly darker than the Ticonderoga but not by much. You have to stare at it for a while. Compare the Black Warrior impressions on the left to the Ticonderoga impressions on the right.

Black Warrior vs. Ticonderoga Impressions

The Black Warrior sharpens well with the right sharpener. My Berol gives the pencil a good sharp tip and the wood has good adhesion to the lead. However, the Faber Castell results in a disaster. The tip crumbles and breaks. This is another sign of brittle lead. You can compare the sharpening of the Berol (right) to the Faber Castell (left).

The Brittle Tip of the Black Warrior

The eraser is a disaster. Compared to the soft latex free eraser on the Ticonderoga, the rubber eraser on the Black Warrior feels like it was carved out of stone. It is very abrasive, sensitive to lead staining, and leaves a lot of residue behind. Even worse, the erasure is incomplete and sometime it can be smudged. I drew a line with the Black Warrior and Ticonderoga and then used each of the pencil’s erasers to remove the impression. Compare the performance of the Black Warrior eraser (left) to the Ticonderoga (right).

Black Warrior Eraser vs. Ticonderoga Eraser

I darkened three areas and the areas were to receive a single pass, a double pass, and a multiple pass of the eraser respectively. The Black Warrior eraser simply could not work through that quantity of lead on the paper. It got saturated and the eraser turned black after one single pass.

A Blackened Black Warrior Eraser

After that, the eraser slid on all subsequent passes. The lead simply lubricated the eraser and I’m running oil on oil here. No erasing is possible until the eraser is cleaned. Here are the three darkened areas in my notebook.

Black Warrior Eraser Test

Now I had to go back to the Ticonderoga and repeat the experiment. What a delight to see the Ticonderoga tackle the task with ease.

Dixon Ticonderoga Eraser Test

Again, I don’t know how any of these features and performance examples can lead anyone to think that this pencil has “upscale executive styling”. My initial impressions leads me to believe that this is poorly crafted pencil. Someone at the factory either doesn’t know or doesn’t care to make a good pencil. It’s as if someone tried to make something like this!

In my next post, I will try to dissect the Black Warrior and see what’s “inside”. Stay tuned!

20 Responses to “The Mirado Black Warrior : A Step in Some Direction – Part I”

  1. Just curious, since this is clearly not “The Worlds Smoothest Writing Pencil”, will you be returning them under the guarantee 🙂

  2. pencilgrinder Says:

    I honestly thought about it but I don’t think I will be able to do it with this pack of pencils. All I can say for now is stay tuned for part 2!

  3. Hi Boris, good stuff, I am looking forward to part 2!

    I am also imagining these investigative techniques being applied to other pencils.

  4. Howdy Boris
    Now I don’t want you to feel any pressure, but…I’m hanging out for Part II.

  5. This is just my opinion, but the best pencil Papermate makes is the Mirado Woodtone. The finish is decent and acceptable. The lead is still the same of course, kinda smooth but very light!

  6. The USA stamping seems to vary from very heavy (as you’ve noted) to very light, even on the regular hexagonal Mirado Classic (and also the Prismacolor Turquoise drawing pencils). This also seems somewhat true of the Prismacolor line (at least from the ones I’ve seen — only the USA stamp, as opposed to the foil — both the hexagonal and round models).

    The Mexico Ticonderogas also seem to have a few pencils with very heavy stamping in each dozen (where it is “traditionally” light, such as on the old US models). (Not so noticeable on the China models).

    Speaking of which, perhaps the older Mexico Ticonderogas (with foil stamping imitating US Ticonderogas) are closer to the Mirados. (Maybe the newer ones with current stamping are, as well.)

    With regards to lead… from what I can gather, the China Ticonderogas seem to be more of a soft 1/B — completely different from the Mirado and even any of the other Ticonderogas. (Not a good thing for purists, and maybe not so agreeable to some folks.) When comparing them to Mirados (Classic, Woodtones) or, well, lots of other HB office pencils, it’s very, very noticeable.

    But, other times, when using the Mirados by themselves, they somehow seem to feel very nice, and quite agreeable (“smooth” in a different manner). I would actually prefer the Mirados to the [new] Ticonderogas slightly more, even with the discretionarily better China lead.

  7. More content please. You have readers who love your shit, and we’re waiting with bated breath for you next exhaustive review.

    You gotta do some Musgraves, btw.


  8. I’ve always found the Mirado #1’s were smoother than their hb brethering. Also the original name of the mirado series was Mikado (as in the emperor of Japan) After Pearl Harbor they changed the name so they could still sell their product. black warrior makes a little more sense in that context.

  9. In the UK we’re used to having all of our pencils pre sharpened. The pencil is held against a high speed abrasive belt running in the direction of the pencil’s length while the pencil itself is rotated. (You so didn’t need to know that!)
    I nearly always sharpen them again when I get a new pencil because the method they use gives such a short point. My KUM sharpener makes a point like the Black Warrior in the publicity photo.
    Interesting to see the price – I don’t know what these pencils would cost in the UK but a good drawing pencil comes out at just short of one pound or about $2 – each that is.

  10. Is this handsome weblog dormant since April?

    I’m actually looking for clip art of pencils to modify for a visual in an ad pitch. The software at my usual clipart account at istockphoto is behaving oddly, and I have to do this in the next couple of days. Is there any chance you’d give me permission to copy one of your fine pencil .jpgs to modify and work on in Photoshop? I would gladly send you a copy of the final image.

    As a side note, do you use a special lens on your camera to get those crisp close-up shots?

    Best wishes, Mark

  11. I am a writer and have been for 10 years. out of all the pencils I’ve used the Berol Black Beauty was one of the smoothest writing pencils I have come across yet. It also was one the sturdiest. I have now picked up a Mirado Black Beauty. and have no complaints. If you take a microscope to any product you will get the same results that you did in this examination of the Black Warrior. so you cannot say that it is the manufacturer making a bad pencil and not caring. The biggest reason that statement is false is because these pencils are machine made by machine. So in closing, if you like the ticonderoga better then use it.

  12. The old Mirado Black Warrior pencils were great. I would draw with nothing else but them. The new ones, they suck!

  13. Bill Andersoot Says:

    “Civil war buffs may get a kick out of owning something that relates to American history but civil rights activists may object to something that could in some manner (however thinly) be related to the oppression of people.”

    This is a joke, right? If not, you think WAY too much.

  14. Lurline Says:

    I am a middle school teacher. For my kids’ science fair, I decided to do an experiment on pencils, specifically the length after being sharpened a couple times. As I was looking for research/facts on wood pencils, I found a dearth of information, but I did find your blog and thoroughly enjoyed reading about your studies of the Ticonderoga and Mirado pencils. Any chance you’ll take the blog back up again? I would share my experiment data with you…

  15. Nice review, especially considering this is ‘just’ a 18 cent pencil. I liked the part about the ‘cool factor’, haha 🙂

  16. Andy Sugg Says:

    Enjoyable read, thanks. The Berol Black Warrior has always been my favorite drawing pencil — the Mirado not so much (is it all in my head?!?!).
    I found your post while searching for Berols. Have a great day.
    What up pencils.

  17. I order Mirado Black Warrior pencils online. I won’t buy another pencil. In my experience, they sharpen well, and the eraser is pretty good. I have not had as good an experience with Ticonderoga, or any other, pencils in the last 10-15 years.

  18. love the commentary. i have been using the mirado blk warrior for years because i really liked the practically smudge free quality as well as the fairly clean eras-ability. but i have to say, i’m done. i’m looking for another pencil. i want soft lead and clean erasing. i wish it to be dark but not too dark. i wish for smudge free so my hand does not drag the work i have completed. years ago they ceased sharpening properly. the lead just keeps breaking until you may get half the pencil you began with. then some, as you have mentioned, are warped and you never can use them… bloody hell. found your blog when searching for a replacement. something has gone very wrong in the land of this pencil creation.

  19. Richard Peterson Says:

    Just came across this site – if it still exists – I was the technical Director of a lacquer supplier to Dixon – years ago!

  20. Have you noticed a difference now that they are made in Mexico? Many people say they now do not like the quality.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: