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$10 DIY Film Changing Box Plans: Battle of the Film Sweats

In a departure from normal pencil-related programming, I want to share a project I've been working on to develop analog photography film at home.  For the uninitiated, it's pretty easy to develop film at home.  You just transfer your exposed film to a light-tight tank, add some chemistry, and you end up with film negatives to scan. This post focuses on the part where you transfer the film into the light-tight tank.

It takes complete darkness when you transfer your film from the cartridge to the developing tank.  There are 3 main methods for this:
  • A darkroom
    • Expensive! You need an entire room that you can light proof...that's a big commitment
  • Film changing bag
    • A light-proof bag that you stick your arms into 
    • ~$25 on amazon
  • Film changing tent
    • ~$85 on amazon
Film changing bags are cheap and that's what I've been using up until now.  These bags are normally made out of cloth that is light-proof and doesn't breath.  You can't see what's going on inside the bag, and you are trying to do tricky things with the film by feel.   The bag's cloth never fails to collapse around your hands, stifling them.  You're hands are already sweating like a pig in church, which makes it harder to work with the film, which make you get stressed out and sweat a never ending cycle of misery.  This phenomena is the dreaded 'film sweats' and has been the bane of my film developing existence!

The normal solution is to shell out $85 and get a film changing tent to give your fingers more breathing room.  But hey, the whole reason I develop my own film is to save money and I wanted to find a cheaper solution.

My film changing box gives you the advantages of the film changing tent but it's a lot cheaper.  It doesn't fold up like a tent, but it is a box that you can use to store all of your film developing supplies in when you're not using it.  If you'd like to make your own, follow the instructions here.


  • Sturdy cardboard box 
    • My box was 12 X 18 by 14 tall.  I wouldn't go too much smaller
  • Extra cardboard or foam-board
  • Black duck tape -- $8
    • Don't cheap out here, get the BIG roll
  • Thrift store dark colored hoodie -- $2


  • Knife and/or scissors
  • Stapler
  • Straight-edge


Light Tight Box

Choose a box that is the right size for what you're developing.  Any light-proof container will work, and I think a black Rubbermaid type container might work nicely.  I used a heavy duty cardboard box that has double corrugation.

The cardboard itself is nice and light-proof, but you'll need to use tape to light seal up the box.

  • An iphone flashlight will shine through 1 layer of the black duck tape I used, so I used 2 layers everywhere
    • Each tape is different.  Use a light to test how many layers you'll need.  
    • Blue masking tape takes at least 8 layers, so it's not a good option
    • I haven't tested normal silver duck tape, but it's probably fine
  • Use multiple layers of tape to seal up any seams or gaps in the box.  Focus on corners especially

  • I folded the flaps inside and used black foam-board to line the bottom of the box for extra protection and a flat bottom.  Cardboard would work just as well.

  • I made a custom lid for my box.  I think it would work just fine to close up the normal box flaps and seal with tape, but I wanted something I could open and close easier.  There's lots of methods to do this, but here are pictures of how I made my lid.

Congratulations, you have have a light proof box!

Arm Holes

You need to be able to stick your arms into your brand new light-proof box.  This is where the old hoodie comes into play, but don't worry, the only sewing machine you need is a stapler.
  • Cut off the arms of the hoodie

  • Next, cut out 2 cardboard rings with an inner diameter big enough to stick your arm through and an outer diameter about 4 inches bigger

  • One layer of hoodie material lets an iphone flashlight shine through, so we need to double up the arms.  Feed the arm through itself so just a few inches of the sleeve end are exposed.

  • Use a staple to connect the doubled arm to the cardboard rings.  Pull the sleeve through the right, and work your way around the ring with staples.  Leave some cardboard exposed along the outside of the ring because we'll be taping there later.

  • Cut holes in the box for the arm pieces to go inside.  Place them towards the bottom of the box, and space them so it will be comfortable for your arms.  These should be about the same size as the inner diameter of the cardboard rings.  Then, place the sleeves inside the holes (sleeve end first)

  • Next, tape on the cardboard rings.  This tape is structural and also a light barrier, so use plenty.  After the outer cardboard is covered and attached to the box, add a second 'ring' of tape closer in to the center to cover up the staples.

Awesome, you have your light-proof arms put together!


  • I used some of the leftover hoodie material to make a skirt around the lid.  It may or may not be necessary, but it's easy to do and can't hurt.  I staples the cloth on first, then used tape to cover the staples and help hold the cloth on

Testing it all out

  • The most direct way to test it is to develop a roll of film through it.  If you've done your work well, you should have no problems.  That being said, make sure it's a roll of film you are willing to sacrifice
  • You can also try taking a long exposure with a digital camera inside of the box (make sure your arms are inside or you will have big light leaks through empty sleeves).  I'm not sure how effective or necessary this is though.

Be Creative

You probably have all of the ingredients you need to make a box, but be willing to experiment.  The first prototype I made is ugly as hell but works great.  It's just cardboard and duck tape, so if you make a mistake it's not the end of the world.  

  • My first prototype

  • Future Upgrades
    • I'm adding a light-proof fan and ventilation system to really give the film sweats what-for!

Those Ol' Woodie Sharpeners

"You wouldn't trust an electric machine to deliver your baby; why would you trust one to sharpen your pencil?"  David Rees How To Sharpen Pencils

Pencil sharpener professional expert David Rees hates electric pencil sharpeners, but it's pretty clear there is a conflict of interest going on there.  My dirty little secret is that I love electric sharpeners.  That being said, if you look at amazon reviews, you see that new electric pencil sharpeners are hit-or-miss at best.  The good news is that you can find vintage pencil sharpeners from the heyday of pencil technology for less than $4.99 at many thrift stores, and you can get a good one off ebay for less than $30.

I spend enough time at thrift stores that I have a selection of pencil sharpeners and I decided to compare my wood grained vintage machines.  These remind me of those wonderful/awful wood sided cars made during the 70's- 90's, not coincidentally the same vintage as these pencil sharpeners.  I really wanted to believe that Boston Hunt was owned by Buick or Ford, but the resemblance of these pencil sharpeners to a wood veneered station wagon is not that easily explained.  Wood paneled cars are surprisingly rare these days, and it was months of looking before I found a 1988 Plymouth Voyager in the wild. (Even in Tucson which has more than its share of old beater cars).  It is MUCH easier to find the pencil sharpener equivalent. The sharpener is going to be WAY more reliable, affordable, and utilitarian while still giving you that 80's automotive nostalgia...

Boston Hunt Model 18

This is the electric sharpener was found on top of countless desks and in offices and classrooms all over America.  I still suspect it might actually be a Chrysler product. You can spot them in offices and businesses even now, and it's clear that these units were built to stand the test of time.

Despite its bland office-beige exterior, I have to admit that I am partial to the fake wood veneer--this is a classic sharpener and they don't make them like this any more.  These are probably one of the last  consumer electronics that were made in the USA, and you can feel that your vintage Ticonderogas or USA Golds appreciate interacting with the Boston 18.  

The only downfall of of the Boston sharpeners is that the drive gear inside can wear out.  The good news is that you can replace this gear with a 3D printed version and its like new again.  There were many variations of the Boston sharpeners, and as long as it is made in USA you're going to have a solid workhorse of a sharpener.

By the way, if station station wagons aren't your thing, you can always get this sporty little number in a Pontiac Grand Am variety

Panasonic Model KP110

Panasonic has never made a bad sharpener.  They are out of production in general now, but even the newer models were great.  I think that the older ones that were made in Japan had much better build quality, but any Panasonic is going to put an excellent point on your pencil.  Panasonic also made some fabulous and funky sharpeners in the 60's and 70's, but the KP110 is really the pinnacle of quality and performance.  

Despite having almost half the power of the Boston 18 (1.2 amps vs 2 amps) the Panasonic has just as much grunt if not more.  It is heavier and feels more like a precision instrument.  This is the sharpener to get if you are looking at vintage sharpeners from a function standpoint.

Berol Dexter Apsco Sharpener

Well, this one isn't electric and doesn't have wood grain, but I'm going to lump this in because it's from the same era and has the same office beige.  This does two things the electrics won't: It will sharpen any diameter pencil you have and it will do it during a power outage.  I've never seen a pencil as big as the largest hole on the ring, maybe I can use it to point a cigar...

Wow, this thing weighs twice as much as a Carl Angel, and the cast metal frame is just beefy.  It takes longer to sharpen a pencil with this than either of the electric contenders, but the rasping feeling and sound is oddly satisfying.  My sample is in great condition and has nice sharp blades, but new old stock blades are always for sale on ebay.  To be honest, I think I prefer the gleaming chrome variations of crank sharpeners, but this unit works just as well and has great versatility.

The Winner

From left to right: Boston 18, Panasonic KP110, and Berol hand crank.  I sharpened a Walmart Casemate pencil in each sharpener and the results are in.  I'm going to have to cop out and say these sharpeners are all winners.  The Panasonic has a longer and smoother point by a small margin, but there's nothing wrong with the Boston.  In fact, the slightly shorter point can be an asset if you are using soft or brittle leads.  Both of these electrics will make short work of any colored pencil I've run through them. And both of them make a long point faster and easier than any hand sharpener.

The Berol is tricky.  I love crank sharpeners because they make me feel like I'm in elementary school (in a good way), but I can never seem to get a perfectly centered point with this one.  That being said, the Carl Angel doesn't perfectly center either.  The point is 'rustic' compared to the electric sharpeners, and it doesn't get quite as fine.  But it is my go to for a rough and ready point on jumbo pencils.

I guess this goes to show that everyone can use more than one sharpener... I have a Panasonic on my desk at home, a Boston on my desk at work, and the Berol screwed to my wall for decor (or art pencils that don't fit in my other sharpeners).  If you see a vintage sharpener at the thrift store or at a yard sale, get it!!

Judy Green Music Writer

I recently stumbled across a new category of pencil: the music writing pencil.  I have been brushing up on jazz music theory and needed some blank music manuscript paper to write out chords and scales.  After a bit of shopping around, I came across the Judy Green Music Paper Company.  Located in Hollywood California since 1980, this company is still offering music paper supplies including the 'Judy Green Music Writer' pencil.  I had read rumors about these pencils used by various arrangers and composers, so I was thrilled to get a chance to order a pad of music paper and a dozen Music Writers.

The Music Writer is one of the only current production American made pencils that I would want to use every day.  It has great lead, a distinctive appearance, cool history, and stands out in a world filled with yellow pencils.  

Judy Green's pencils run $0.83 each, making them more expensive than stationery store bulk pencils but cheaper than many competing 'premium' pencils.  My first impression of the Music Writers was that I liked the brown paint / gold stamped design.  Further inspection revealed mixed pickles in the fit and finish department.  The paint is glossy, thin, and overruns the front end of the pencil.  The leads are centered in the wood (which is definitely not cedar).  All in all, the quality is perfectly functional but in a lesser league compared to premium imported pencils.  The sharp corners of the pencil's profile help it stay in place on the music stand, but it is not as comfortable as more rounded pencils.

The current owners of Judy Green Music Papers confirmed that the Music Writer is made in the USA, and is the same make and model of pencil that was sold back in the day.  Judy Green's customer list includes a great selection of Hollywood music biz notables ranging from The Lawrence Welk Show to Frank Zappa.  While it's impossible to say if these customers bought and used the pencils, it's clear that the Music Writers have a cool history and some pedigree.  

Given the USA origin and the sharp corners, I immediately though of my Musgrave Test Scoring 100 pencil.  Sure enough, the pencils are an exact match for outside dimensions and materials.  It surprised me when the two pencils did not write at all like each other; the Test Scoring 100 is WAY softer than the Music Writer.  This is a major bonus in my book because the Test Scorer's lead wears down ridiculous fast.  Digging deeper into my pencil box, I found a Musgrave Harvest #1 that writes very closely to the Music Writer.  If I had to bet, I would guess that the Music Writer is a re-branded Musgrave Ceres #1.  

I don't have a Ceres to test it against, but I have to say that I really like using Music Writer.  The lead has a smooth and dry feel with just a hint of noise and texture (scratchiness).  Even though the build quality is nowhere near import premium pencils, the Music Writer lead is smooth, dark, and holds a point right up there with the high-dollar Japanese and Euro pencils.  I even like the eraser on the Music Writer; it's an average quality pink eraser, but it works well and seems to last.  I don't think I would be able to tell a Musgrave #1 apart from the Music Writer in a blind test, but the Harvest #1 has a very disappointing eraser and the Ceres #1 is just another boring looking yellow pencil. 

The Magic Writer is a really fun pencil to write and draw with, but is it worth paying twice as much for one compared to the Musgrave Ceres or Test Scoring 100?  Definitely, compared to the Test Scoring-- the Test Scoring has soft fragile lead that is hard to erase and Music Writer fixes all of these faults.  If you have any music nerd tendencies, the Hollywood music studio history adds a cool factor to the Judy Green.  The Music Writer is one of the only current production American made pencils that I would want to use every day.  It has great lead, a distinctive appearance, cool history, and stands out in a world filled with yellow pencils.  

P.S. The Judy Green music paper is excellent! Smooth and thick, I've been sketching and writing on the back side as much as actually using it for music. 

The Undiscovered: Associated 600, Eagle Writing 325, and Conte Alaska 1000

I love vintage pencils.  Sure, there are the famous old pencils, but there are literally hundreds if not thousands of lesser known pencils models floating around.  You might find them in your gramma's pencil cup, at the thrift store in a grab bag, or for sale on ebay.  If you're lucky you can find some information online; Bob Truby's website is a great resource for pencil information.  Even with the might of the interwebs at your disposal, there are still those mysterious pencils out there.  Sometimes, the only way to tell if a vintage pencil is any good is to give it a try.  I've found some winners and some I'm starting 'The Undiscovered' to share my findings and get some of these lesser known pencils on the radar.

Associated 600 Quality Pencils

I have found exactly no useful information about: the Associated 600.  My folks found a big box of these pencils at a thrift store and gave them to me for my birthday--thanks!  I'm guessing that the Associated 600's must be from the 60's or 70's based on the box labeling and eraser fossilization, but who knows.  What I do know is that they are nice pencils.

The Associated 600 F is the model 625, and proclaims  'Bonded USA.'  They are made with quality cedar wood, the paint is nice, the ferrules show good quality control, and leads are well centered.  The craftsmanship is equal or better to similar vintage Ticonderoga's or Mirado's.  My best guess is that the Associated 600 is an unbranded Berol product, but this is a gut instinct with no hard evidence.

My Associated 600's are F medium hardness.  Normally I'm a soft lead kind of guy, but these F's are growing on me.  The lead is very smooth--I think they're on par with the Richard Best Royal Scott pencils pencils that I like so well.  On paper with some tooth to it (Canson Mixed Media 98lb), they write about as dark as an average #2.  On smooth paper (Field Notes), they are extremely smooth but leave a lighter mark than I prefer.  Of course, the plus side of this is that the point lasts much longer than soft pencils.

I really like the Associated 600 F's.  If I had to do it again, they would be towards the top of my 'Jury Duty Pencil' list. The 600 is an incognito vintage pencil that occasionally show up on ebay at bargain prices.  The 600 is a great pencil to take out into the field with you because they're cool and quality, but not collectible enough to worry about losing or damaging.

Eagle Writing 325

Here is another cool undiscovered pencil: the Eagle Writing 325.  I was really curious about this pencil because it is a cousin to the Eagle Draughting 314, which has a bit of a cult following in the pencil community.  The 314 Draughting was popular enough that General's pencils still makes a reproduction, but I had never heard of the 325 until I saw them for sale on brandnamepencils for $2. The Eagle Writing is a premium vintage pencil with a round body and thin lead.  The 325 is an untipped #2 pencil, but you can tell that it is a damn nice one.  The green paint is glossy and the logo is flawless silver foil--a classy pencil with some character.

Writing with the Eagle 325 is a treat.  The lead is a pretty standard darkness for a #2, but it is a very smooth writer.  Compared to a Palomino HB, the Eagle is noticeably smoother but lighter, and the point retention is excellent.  I'm a big fan of round pencils, so the 325 is very comfortable.  And I don't mind the lack of a built-in eraser; vintage erasers are normally useless anyways.  I threw on a pink cap eraser and the 325 is an ideal writing machine.  The Eagle Writing 325 offers a comfortable grip and long lasting smooth lead, just the trick for a long day of writing.  This is officially a cool pencil.

Conte a Paris Alaska HB

Another treasure from Bob Truby is the Conte Alaska 1000.  This is the nicest French pencil I've ever tried...made in the USA.  The pencil reads '1000 Alaska Graphite Superieur Hb' on one side and 'Made in USA Conte a Paris HB' on the other.  This is one of the nicest made yellow hex pencils I've ever seen.  The paint is extremely smooth and the gold foil is extremely neat.  Truby estimates that this pencil dates from the 40's, also speculates that the wood is red cedar, which was preferred before incense cedar became the norm.

The lead in the Conte is indeed superior, at least as smooth as the Eagle 325.  The lead is about as dark as a USA Ticonderoga #2, but smoother.  Point retention is average.  The wood is excellent and has a sweet cedar aroma that most other pencils can only dream of... it even puts a Palomino to sham--the Alaska is a superlative pencil.  My only complaint about the Alaska is that the hexagon body has very sharp corners.  This gives you a very positive grip on the pencil, but for extended writing use becomes uncomfortable.  All-in-all this is an excellent pencil, and especially suited to drawing and making lists rather than writing a novel.  Fortunately, I have the Eagle Writing for that.

Cap Erasers: Unsung Hero or Faux-Pas

I'll admit it...writing a full page with a pen stresses me out...I know I'm going to have to strike out at least one mistake--inkxiety.  Pencils are much more comforting: you can erase your do-overs without leaving those embarrassing mistakes plainly visible on the sheet.  Pen people will claim that whiteout gives ink this ability too, but who caries whiteout with them?  Erasers are awesome!  But it's hard to find a good pencil with a good eraser.  Mediocre pencils normally have even worse erasers, vintage pencils often have fossilized useless erasers, and most of the 'professional grade' drawing pencils out there don't even bother with 'em. 

If I have serious erasing needs, I'm going to reach for a dedicated eraser.  But most of the time I have a pencil in my hand, I only need to erase a few numbers or am away from my desk.  I don't want to carry around a serious eraser--this is where having a built in eraser is really nice.  The obvious solution is the eraser cap.  ANY pencil can have its own eraser.  You can have the best of both worlds with an eraser on your Tombow, Caran D' Ache, Mitsubishi, Staedtler, or vintage pencil.

Utility aside, pencil cap erasers don't get much respect.  Having an extra large replacement eraser on your pencil makes you look childish, nerdy, or like someone who makes lots of mistakes.  On a strictly aesthetic level, the cap eraser is a blight on the otherwise sleek form of the pencil.  A Tombow Mono 100 with a cap eraser is like a Japanese businessman wearing  a mullet wig.  That being said I will admit that I don't always need an elegant pencil, and hey, mullets are ok on some pencils.  When you're not concerned about your appearance and need a purely functional pencil, go ahead and throw on a cap eraser and commence to erase furiously.

There are surprisingly few name-brand cap erasers on the market.  Unbranded cap erasers are tempting, but they have a high probability of tearing or breaking.  Two commonly available quality erasers are the PaperMate Arrowhead  and the Pentel Hi-Polymer.  Quality still comes cheap when you buy a pack: the PaperMates come in at $0.03 each and Pentels  at $0.20 each.  

This is the cliche pink cap eraser.  The walls are extra thick, the eraser portions are fat, and it fits snugly on the end of the pencil.  The rubber itself is fairly stiff, so it feels very solid when you erase.  This cap eraser has excellent performance, but the large stubby shape and bright pink color make it stand out like a sore thumb.  I think they look their best on a yellow pencil, but use at your own discretion.  

Pentel's eraser formulation is high quality.  This eraser has a much sleeker shape, and the white color is understated in comparison to the PaperMate.  While it looks a lot classier, the eraser feels a little flimsy as a consequence.   I think they actually look ok on black pencils...almost not embarrassing.  The Pentel erases about the same as the PaperMate, but doesn't feel as nice to use.  

So there you have it... Cap erasers are great to use, but they are the pencil equivalent of wearing a rubber nubbed finger tip protector. When you put function ahead of form, use a PaperMate.  If you still want the benefits of a cap eraser but want to look a little more discriminating, choose the Pentel.  If you are too cool to use a cap eraser at all, try a small eraser like the General's All Art.

Richard Best Pencils: Ain't Bad

A bright pink vintage pencil that competes with Eberhard Faber's Blackwing 602 -- is this possible?  I hadn't even heard of the Richard Best Pencil Company until I was researching Blackwing substitutes on the blog and read about the Futura.  The hook was sunk and I had to track down some Richard Best for myself.

Besides limited praise of the Futura, I had no other point of reference on Richard Best pencils.  After a bit of research, I found an article printed in 1945 that gave a bit of background on RBPC. Founded in 1890,  it was a small family company run by Alfred, Frederick, and Richard Best.  In 1945, they had 50 employees working in Irvington New Jersey.  Some time after 1961, the company was absorbed into the J R Moon Pencil Company. J R Moon is still cranking out pencils in Tennessee; in fact, you can still get pencils derived directly from the Richard Best designs such as Try-Rex pencils.  For those of you who haven't hear of Moon pencils, JR Moon makes the 'Write Dudes' USA Gold pencils that are sold at Walmart.

After scouring ebay for a while, I finally found a good deal on a box containing Richard Best's Futura and Royal Scot pencils.  I'm very pleased with the Futura, but the Royal Scot is also a great pencil!

Richard Best Futura:

The Futura's I bought are probably at least 60 years old.  That being said, they are in great shape--even the erasers still work!  The paint is great...I love the color and the quality is at least as good as my BW 602.  The scrolling Futura actually covers two hexagon sides, which is an unusual detail that we pencil nerds can appreciate.  The wood is quality cedar, and the sample that I have all contain well-centered leads.  

The 'LEKTROFUSED LEAD' is the real joy of this pencil.  In a completely qualitative/subjective test, I think the Futura's #2 lead is just as smooth as the 602...but a bit harder and not quite as dark.  The motto 'Write smoother Last longer' is very descriptive in this case.  For a more relate-able comparison: the Futura writes lighter/harder than a Palomino HB,  In fact, it seems to be about the same hardness and darkness of an American Ticonderoga.  The magic comes in the fact that the Futura glides across the page MUCH smoother than either the Palomino or the Ticonderoga.  It has to be one of the smoothest #2's I've ever tried.  There seems to be a dry spell on ebay for Futura's right now, but I bet the #1 soft version is amazing.  

The Futura is far from a direct competitor with the Blackwing 602, but I think it is just as nice of a pencil in its own right.  On the plus side, it's a lot cheaper than an original 602, on the negative side it's at least as rare as the 602.

Richard Best Royal Scot

My Futura's came in a box of Richard Best Royal Scot pencils.  These were mystery pencils to me at first, but they ended up being a great find.  I'm generally not a big fan of triangular pencils, but I really like the shape of the RB 'Try-Rex' profile--it has a really comfortable ratio of flat to round.  The Royal Scot black paint is really smooth but not overly glossy.  Overall, the Scot is a classy looking pencil.

My Royal Scots came in F grade.  I was leery of a harder lead at first, but the Scot is so smooth that I was won over as soon as I tried writing with one.  This is the kind of pencil that will let you enjoy writing several pages without sharpening.  I still prefer softer pencils in general, but if I am writing  away from a good sharpener or sharp replacements, the F grade is my new favorite.

I have found two different vintages of Royal Scot.  The newer set came in a cellophane sleeve instead of the fancy cardboard box.  The shape of the two vintages is similar, but the branding is different and the newer pencils have a pink band on the ferrule.  

Unfortunately, the newer vintage writes completely different than the old.  The pink-band is noisy and rough in comparison.  Whereas the old version just glides across the page, the pink-band feels like someone sneaked a piece of 800 grit sandpaper under my paper.  Both are a bit lighter/harder that a Ticonderoga #2, but the original is smoother than the Dixon and the pink-band is rougher.  The points last well in both pencils with the edge going to the pink-band in this category.  I like both of them, but the older version deserves classic premium pencil status.

Richard Best Omega:

I found a Richard Best Omega colored pencil in a grab bag a while ago.  This pencil is a contemporary of the Eagle Verithin and the Venus Unique colored pencils, which were geared for writing and drawing rather than being used as art pencils.  My Omega is in violet, has the Try-Rex shape, and writes smoothly.  A quality pencil that looks cool--it's now my go-to violet colored pencil.

Pencils For Jury Duty: Pencil Case Closed

The pencil-of-justice is a no-name yellow number 2 that looks like it had been sharpened by an inebriated beaver.

Recently, I got the dreaded jury duty summons in the mail.  As luck would have it, I was selected as a juror and got to see the nuts and bolts of a DUI court case.    Walking into the jury box, I spied that each of us had been provided a notepad and pencil.  And the pencil-of-justice is a no-name yellow number 2 that looks like it had been sharpened by an inebriated beaver.

Ok, before I go any further, I feel I need a moral disclaimer.  I can tell by now that some of you might be concerned that I was paying too much attention to the pencil instead of the court proceedings.  First of all, the lawyers never asked me if I would get distracted by pencils when they were asking juror questions--so it's kind of on them.  Second, I took impeccable notes...even if a part of my motivation was enjoying writing with a pencil.  People kept looking at my notepad like they wanted to copy off it.  And I defend using my own personal pencils vehemently: if I was using the beaver pencil I wouldn't have been able to keep my mind from wandering off, contemplating what a underwhelming pencil it was.  So no apologies.

I really did give the justice pencil a try, but it looked like it was going to break any second.  Being the PNG, of course my computer bag had a selection of nice pencils in it.  While the lawyers were whispering with the judge, I reached into my bag and pulled out pencil #1, a vintage Dixon Ticonderoga.  YES! A pencil that would make me happy and yet not look too ostentatious.

By all rights, the Dixon Ticonderoga USA #2 should be THE pencil of choice for jury duty.  First of all, it is actually made in the USA and will give you extra good patriotic vibes as you fulfill your civic duty.  It is just your average looking pencil, and the #2 lead will give you nice legible notes while not smearing too much or requiring frequent sharpening.  So, here I am with my fine vintage Ticonderoga, feeling slightly superior to the other 6 juror's who are still using their crap-sticks.  Much to my dismay, within the first line of notes, I felt the wood tip crack.  Y'know when the wood splits and the whole point fractures inside the wood casing...  HOW EMBARRASSING! Dammit, my Ticonderoga betrayed me, and there's nothing you can do about a broken pencil in court.

Sharpening is a deal breaker and the crux of courtroom pencil selection.  There isn't a pencil sharpener in the court room--this is probably why they use the beaver system.  Everyone entering the court building goes through a metal detector and your items get X-rayed.  I didn't try, but I doubt they would let you bring in sharpener because of the deadly blade they contain.  Even if you managed to bring one in, it would be really awkward to break out your KUM Long Point sharpener in the middle of the opening statement.  

After the crushing defeat of the Ticonderoga, the next pencil that came out of my bag was a Caran D' Ache Edelweiss 3B.  
This pencil is only available from CW Pencils as far as I know, but it is one of the best value pencils I've ever tried.  For $1 each, you get a pencil that I think writes every bit as nice as a Palomino Blackwing.  With the addition of a cap eraser, you have an awesome pencil that writes as smooth and dark as pencils costing 2 or 3 times as much.  And has a better eraser than most.  This pencil was an excellent jury duty pencil for about a page and a half, but by then that buttery smooth lead was dull enough to make me reach for a replacement.

The next pencil to come out was the Blackwing Vol 24.  This is the Steinbeck edition of Palomino's Blackwing series of pencils--get a box while you still can, they're out of stock almost everywhere except for This is a prime candidate; it allegedly has the most durable point of any Blackwing lead.  It's not quite as smooth as the Palomino Pearl, but this was the perfect scenario for a quality pencil with a longer lasting point.  
I thought the Vol 24 would be ideal, and it was as a pure writing instrument.  It is a pleasure to write with, and the lead lasts much better the Edelweiss 3b.  That being said, the sleek glossy back finish has a distinctly ominous feel to it--a mean looking pencil.  I think the prosecutor smiled when he saw me writing with it.  I'm no psychologist, but this pencil made me feel extra judgmental. The shiny black paint and fancy eraser stand out like a sore thumb...and I felt too self-conscious to keep using it during deliberation in case it would affect me or the other jurors.

Jury duty is show time for pencils and I just wasn't prepared.  My preference for soft-smooth pencils bit me on the ass.  If I had to do it over again (and I hope that's not for a long long time), I would definitely consider an F grade pencil, at least as a backup.  As the Ticonderoga taught me, even if you have a good pencil, you're going to need several of them for safety.  Reliability is key.  I'm even tempted to say that this is the time for a good mechanical pencil like the 1.1mm filled with electrographic lead.  Remember, if you don't bring the right pencil you're gonna have to deal with the beaver!  

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