The Palomino Blackwing 602 has been my pencil of choice for years. I use pencils that are firmer, darker, lighter, or better looking on a regular basis, but I always go back to the 602. There is something about the feel and style of the pencil that draws me in. Blackwing’s Firm core has been perfect for me.
Based on my pencil core likes - firm, dark, good point retention - you think I would have latched on more permanently to Blackwing’s Extra Firm core when they first introduced it a few years ago in the Blackwing Volume 24 edition. I loved it, of course, yet for some reason, I kept reaching for the 602.
I think the reason was psychological. What if I use up all of these pencils and there are no more? So I wouldn’t use them. This errant line of thinking has been something I’ve been trying to erase from my stationery mindset over the years. Use the things I like whenever, wherever, and however I want, no exceptions.
In the case of the new Palomino Blackwing Natural, it took a stock offering of their fantastic Extra Firm core to save me from me. This core may be better for me than the Firm core in the 602, and I’ve been too stubborn to find out.
The Blackwing Natural was announced at the National Stationery Show back in February, and since their initial retail release in March, have been exceedingly hard to come by. They’ve appeared and vanished at all of my favorite retailers faster than I could buy them. It took a post-Atlanta Pen Show trip to Archer Paper for me to accidentally stumble on a box to purchase. Yes, a box of a dozen. Single pencils begone!
I took the Natural out for a spin last week to use with my CW&T Studio Sketchbook at my son’s baseball practice. This notebook is an excellent choice for pencils with its textured paper, and I have been using it for brainstorming product ideas and general doodles.
As I began writing, I just kept saying to myself “Huh.” As in, “Huh, this is better than expected, “ and “Huh, I’ve been missing out.” Don’t let the Extra Firm designation trick you into thinking the Natural is something along the lines of a 4H grade pencil. As someone who enjoys those H-grade nails, this is nothing like that at all. Palomino’s Blackwing designation of Extra Firm is in relation to the other cores in the lineup, which range from Soft to Balanced to Firm, to now Extra Firm.
Comparing one pencil core to another can be difficult when they are somewhat close. Slight differences in hand pressure can change everything, so view my tests and commentary with that in mind. That said, the Natural is as dark, or darker, than the 602. That is what’s confusing me. Can this really be firmer and darker than the 602 at the same time? And keep the same, or better, smoothness? Maybe so.
(Note: I ordered and tagged the Pearl and MMX incorrectly on the page. The Pearl is the Balanced core and the MMX is the Soft core, and they perform exactly that way.)
This brings me back around to the 24 edition. Did I miss this the first time around - over three years ago - because of some weird limited edition angst? And, miss future opportunities with the release of the 530, 54, and others, for the same reason? I only have my mindset to blame.
Visually, the Natural is everything that Blackwing fans have been clamoring for from the beginning. It was inevitable that Palomino would release a raw barrel in the lineup. It was also inevitable that once they released the Extra Firm core in the Volumes lineup that it would come to the stock lineup eventually. The combination of those two things is why they have been running behind in production and are hard to find right after release.
I still think the 602 is better looking, but I do love natural barrel pencils. I upgraded this one with an orange eraser, as I also do for my 602 pencils. All that’s left to wonder is if the Natural will take the top usage spot over from its stablemate in the long term. It may already have.
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