Review by Tina Koyama
Palomino Blackwing pencils have a huge following. We love the high-quality graphite, beautiful finishes, distinctive ferrules and often intriguing themes, and we’re willing to pay $24.95 to $27.95 for a dozen (or much more if you missed a limited edition and you’re willing to shop on eBay after they sell out). Why, then, are these otherwise premium quality pencils attached to such mediocre erasers?
We know Blackwings are made in Japan, and we know that the Japanese make most of the best standalone erasers available. It seems logical that Blackwing pencils would come with high-quality erasers. Some have speculated that only the wood and graphite parts of the pencil are made in Japan, and the other parts are outsourced elsewhere. Others have taken their frustration a step further by cutting up their favorite erasers to fit a Blackwing ferrule. Inspired by these pioneers, I decided to go on an eraser hack-a-thon.
Neither Ana nor I are strangers to epic eraser challenges; they require coffee, stamina and a very rainy afternoon. (In case you missed them, see Ana’s great eraser rub-off and my follow-up.) Memorial Day weekend delivered the necessary rainy afternoon, so I went to work. I chose 10 block erasers, most of which were new to me:
Pentel Hi-Polymer (3/$2.60)
Pentel Mark Sheet ($1.65)
Pentel Hi-Polymer Ain Black ($1.10)
Tombow Mono – Medium ($1.40)
Tombow Mono Smart ($1.89)
Sakura Sumo Grip B60 ($1.25)
Derwent Art and Derwent Soft Art (set of 2/$3.50)
Caran d’Ache Design (about $3.50)
Staedtler Rasoplast Black – size M ($1.75)
My first step was to simply compare their basic erasing performance before cutting. My intention was to eliminate any that didn’t perform better than a Blackwing eraser. I tested them on lines made with a soft (“MMX”) Blackwing, the vermillion side of a Uni Mitsubishi editing pencil, and a Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni 6B, and a shaded mark made with a Blackwing Pearl. None erased the colored pencil line well, as I expected, and all but one erased the graphite lines acceptably. The only eraser I was able to eliminate in this round was the Pentel Hi-Polymer Ain Black because its color left a visible smudge (the scanned image shows the results better). That left nine erasers to hack (more coffee, please).
Using a sharp Opinel knife and a standard Blackwing eraser as a template, it was relatively easy to make clean eraser slices. The difficult part was slicing precisely so that the rectangles would fit in the ferrule. At first, I wasted quite a few eraser slivers trying to get the dimensions just right, but eventually my skills improved. Hint: Err on the side of a slice that is slightly too thick rather than too thin. A too-thin eraser will not be held securely by the ferrule and will either fall out or break when used.
Sadly, most of these otherwise excellent erasers will not work as hacks because they are too soft. An earlier hack attempt with my favorite Tombow Mono worked well for a while but eventually broke, even when I wasn’t erasing vigorously. In fact, there’s the rub: In general, the softer the eraser, the better it performs. An eraser firm enough to hold up well in a ferrule tends to perform worse than soft standalone erasers. As a block, a soft eraser has enough stability to perform well, but cutting it to fit a ferrule takes away its stability. If I felt the eraser wobble and bend as it erased, even when it was well-supported by the ferrule, I knew it would eventually break. I could tell some erasers would be too soft even as I was slicing them.
After eliminating all contenders that were too soft, I was left with three finalists: the Rasoplast, the Sumo, and the Mono Smart. For the final round, I tested these erasers secured to Blackwing ferrules on lines made with the soft Blackwing and the Blackwing 602 and a shaded mark made with the Hi-Uni 6B. I also included a standard pink Blackwing eraser (attached to a Volume 811) for comparison.
Of course, all three finalists erased better than the Blackwing eraser. The Sumo is nearly ideal – sufficiently firm while still erasing completely – and I could cut the B60 to the right size with only two slices, resulting in minimal waste. However, since its width is just a hair shorter than a Blackwing eraser’s length, a larger Sumo would offer longer eraser usage but would require a third cut.
The Mono Smart, while tying with the Sumo in erasing performance, is very slender by design (to enable small, precise erasures) and narrower than the Blackwing ferrule, so it had to be cut in the long direction. It would not yield as many hacked erasers from the block, and there would be more waste. Although it looks similar to a standard Tombow Mono, the material is firmer (perhaps to accommodate its slimmer profile). In fact, it’s the firmest of all erasers tested.
The Rasoplast didn’t erase my shaded marks as cleanly as the other two did, but otherwise it offers an acceptable combination of firmness and erasing performance.
If I had to pick only one, the Mono Smart would be my first choice. It’s the firmest of the three and is the most likely to hold up well for the longest use. If it ever became available in a standard block size, it would be a Blackwing eraser hacker’s dream. But all three are excellent choices for improving on the Blackwing’s only weakness.
Tina Koyama is an urban sketcher in Seattle. Her blog is Fueled by Clouds & Coffee, and you can follow her on Instagram as Miatagrrl.
12 comments / Add your comment below
I completely agree the default Blackwing erasers are abysmal. They’re heavy, make the pencils too top-heavy, don’t erase well at all, plus the fact that the ferrule is also flattened makes Blackwings rather incompatible with pencil extenders. I usually need to take a pair of pliers to my pencils and remove the ferrule entirely when this need is present, but it looks horrid and is a problem that could have a better solution; I would really prefer to buy the pencils without any eraser or ferrule at all, since I’m likely to carry around my fav soft and detail erasers anyway.
as I lately found out, removing the eraser holder is very easy – no pair of pliers needed.
Just: Grab & turn!
It’s so cool…It comes off completely unharmed since it’s only held by glue. If it wasn’t such a logistic effort, you could send me your collected holders… They are the part I use (combined with another pencil)…
I have the impression that pencils in the US tend to have ferrules with erasers whereas in Europe they lack the eraser. Am I wrong?
Art or drawing pencils also tend not to have erasers on the end. But yes, American pencils tend to include erasers on the end. The quality of those erasers are iffy.
Hey Laura, thank so much for your article! Saved me lots of time and money to find the best erasers to try out. Already running the test with the MONO smart – very good performance so far. If only there was a more elegant way to cut this one in length. Have you worked out a satisfying way already? I thought about sanding…Soon I’ll show my way of combining my favorite pencil with this, my favorite eraser holder…holding my favorite eraser. I’ll sure link this page!
You have Tina to thank for this article, Thorsten but I’m glad you enjoyed it. — Ana, ed-in-chief.
Thanks so much, Tina! Such a great travel pencil now! 🙂
My method (used so far only with a Pentel Hi Polymer block), was to slowly yet forcefully press an “empty” ferrule down into the block.
Do not know if this might work with other block erasers.
Very pleased with mine so far.
I took the eraser out–bought a box of Paper Mate 73015 erasers from Amazon (144 for $4.57)–put the cheap pink eraser over the piece of metal and inserted it into the back of Blackwing pencil–and pushed down. It’s a little snug, but the eraser works better than the dreaded Blackwing eraser!
I wonder if you have any tips for the problem I’m having — which is erasers that fit too loosely in the holder. When I pull them out, extend the eraser, and replace, even modest pressure causes them to slip back down into the ferrule. I suppose I could cut a small block of something to create a little booster inside, but this seems like a nuisance — besides, I’d have to keep cutting different lengths to keep my eraser suitably extended.
I’m having the same problem, would love to know how other people solve for the eraser sliding back down into the holder??
Hi Shelly and Andro!
I know the problem – specially with well fitting erasers that have grown short over time.
I‘m lately quite happy with my approach:
I used a fine tip of a nail – combined with makeshift supporting structures – to punch small … dents (?) in my ferrule.
They make for little „teeth“ pointing inward.
They hold the eraser very firm and secure it around their rims, close to the folds.
It’sa bit tricky to keep the ferrule alive while denting it. Unfolding is NOT recommended…:-) It breaks quite easily…
Please let me know if it sounds too risky to try yourselves.