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)
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.