What the F is that?

2B, B, 2, HB, F?

I was thinking about pencil grades the other day, as a pencil geek is wont to do on occasion, and it occurred to me that I didn’t know where, in the pencil grading spectrum, the F grade went. What the F?

(image via Jet Pens)
(image via Jet Pens)

So I did a little digging, including Wikipedia where there was a chart placing the F grade between H and HB.  The article also noted that “H” means “hardness”, “B” means blackness and “F” is for “fine.”

So, then what about the whole #2 pencil for Scantronic tests? This was believed to be created by Conté (a name well-known to artists) and adopted by US pencil manufacturer John Thoreau (father of Henry David Thoreau) in the 19th century. This system utilizes just the five core hardnesses and breaks down like this:

Pencil Grade

Comparable #











The F grade is supposed to be that sweet spot between hard and soft pencils, just a little harder than those pesky #2 pencils we all relied upon to get us through primary school.

Also, HB and #2 are the same thing. If you are considering venturing into European or Asian pencil brands but want to purchase an all-around good hardness, HB or F may be a good place to start.

Now you know.

Written by

0 comments / Add your comment below

  1. For the record, the Mongol F (actually, 2 3/8) was John Steinbeck’s favorite pencil before he discovered the original Blackwing. They’re no longer in production, but I picked up a dozen on Amazon a couple years back for $12. They really are great, especially if you do a lot of writing. The line is identical to an HB, but you only have to sharpen them half as often

  2. For Japanese pencils, the F is the sweet spot. Mitsubishi Hi Uni and Uni Stars are perfect in F. I do find Tombows work very well in H and HB. I’ve never tried their F grade. But it’s a good writing pencil if you go a bit harder. Japanese pencils tend to run one grade darker.

    For German pencils, the student grade Staedtler Noris and Norica and Wopex all work very well in HB. FaberCastell 9000 and Staedtler Mars Lumograph tend to be a smidge harder, so I find going up to B or 2B for those gets you a darker line that holds up to writing.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.