Mini Review – Hobby Lobby Foam Core Board

Once in a while, every artist or crafter has to schlep down to the dollar store for some foam-core board. And inevitably when it cracks or tears one finds themselves wishing they’d gone for the slightly more expensive option. Could Hobby Lobby have been the savior in this scenario?

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Perhaps; the generic foam core available from Hobby Lobby has a nice smoother (bordering on slick) finish over its cool white paper. The foam filling is rigid but still has a little bit of give. The whole assembly is lightweight and easy-to-cut; and, with a reasonably sharp blade, there is no tearing.

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Depending on the store, this stuff is greater than or equal to the quality you will find in dollar or discount stores. It just feels nicer and holds up better. It may not be the best quality board in the world, but if you’re contemplating an upgrade and are unsure, consider yourself assured.


Review – Moleskine Softcover Pocket Book

Perhaps I lose a little bit of “reviewer credibility” when I say that my main notebooks for years have been Moleskine ones (specifically hardcover pocket and large). I know they’re not the best notebooks in the world, and I am phasing them out of my routine (since I’ve mostly stopped with specific daily uses, and uniformity is less of an issue for a while) but they are widely available, simple, and consistent books of decent quality. That being said, the ones I use have always been hardcover, and at this (192 page) size I prefer the rigidity of a hard-back, but am I being unfair to the softcover books?

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First off, all Moleskines come with a wrap-around paper “package”, and I’ll admit, my book is old enough I don’t know where it went, but I assume now they have updated it to the same useless “reusable” packaging that has vague blanks about travel to fill in if that floats your boat. The cover itself is a nice, flexible (black) pleather wrapped around the book in a single piece. On the back “Moleskine®” is stylishly stamped near the bottom and the elastic band is attached at two points. The cover has a pleasant texture that is relatively even and doesn’t scratch easily, but does show the binding and attachment points underneath and impressions from the elastic closure. It also easily divots and is structurally weak at the corners.

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Inside is the same-old Moleskine stuff: a “belongs to” page at the front, a cheap ribbon bookmark (mine unravel more and more often these days), and a sturdy pocket in the back that I’ve never personally found a use for. The paper is a pleasant off-white with a nice smooth (but not slick) texture that takes ballpoints and pencil very well (if you’re using it one sided {so no 192 pages, as advertised}). With anything more significant you get a lot of show-through, and with fountain pens or markers you’ll get bleed-through. I find it pleasant to write or sketch on, and the fact that it’s acid-free means your work is safe over time, but it is fairly fragile stuff (I wouldn’t erase too much).

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In the end it’s what I expected, the same Moleskine quality with a cover that is more easily bent and damaged (I do care about how my books look). It will probably hold up to most types of use, but it won’t look pretty at the end (the pocket at the back does mean it maintains support for off-the-table use, though). It’s a fine notebook, with decentness all-around, from page feel to binding, but it seems like less and less of a deal as things progress. One can find books at WalMart (potentially of dubious archival-quality) that do the same things cheaper these days, and they might not have the same quality control, but they are so much cheaper. I like the Moleskines for their ubiquity and uniformity, but they’ve always been overpriced, and this cover just doesn’t do it for me.

Review – Field Notes Pitch Black (Focused on Large)

Field Notes are pretty much my go-to notebook brand. I carry an Expedition Edition with me every day (throughout my life that constantly reaffirms I don’t need a notebook that hardcore), and I have many of their regular books set up for individual projects. But I always find pocket books slightly too small for really working with, and “full-sized” books are just a bit large and cumbersome. When Field Notes announced they were making a larger book with their “Arts and Sciences” edition I snatched a set up, but I’m always reluctant to use limited editions, and I was a bit late to the party when they released an updated version of their “Pitch Black” book in the same larger size. Does it fill the position I was hoping for?

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The book is a nicely hand-sized 4¾ x 7½, with a simple black cover containing the minimum of necessary information. Inside that cover they improved on their previous Pitch Black design by adding a craft-paper layer to print on so the user can actually read it. As always, this inside cover has space for one to put their contact information, and a lot of interesting and/or funny information (mostly related to black or nighttime in this case).

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64 pages are saddle stitched inside with a single signature (as is typically the case when one staples something together). Both the paper and the cover are quite durable, and I haven’t had any problem with wear (on the spine or at the {thankfully rounded} corners), but they are just paper and cardstock, so you can’t be too rough with it. It’s all thick enough to feel like a “proper” notebook (and maybe provide some support when in the field) while still being super thin (less than a quarter inch). It’ll fit in almost any bag and still provide ample writing real estate. I always felt like it was hard to do more than write a list in pocket-sized notebook, but with the room to stretch out here I can get almost 300 words on a page, and with the dot-grid (which is the version I chose and what I believe to be the superior page-ruling) I can easily incorporate diagrams or sketches. The paper is a stark white and the dots an un-intrusive grey. Standard pencils, ballpoints, and highlighters all work great on the fairly smooth but mildly toothy paper and the it’s thick enough that I use both sides (which is rare for me {it also has something to do with the book’s thickness}); wetter pens like markers, rollerballs, and fountain pens do start to show/bleed-through though.

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For someone like me this book is basically all I could ask for, and I plan to use them more frequently in the future as I change around my main notebooks. It’s a little bit harder to carry around than a pocket book, yet the added space more than makes up for it in my mind, and it stops just short of being bulky (and it just shy of the page-count where the cardstock cover would start looking ratty before one finished it). Even the paper’s a little bit of an upgrade. It’s just a winner all-round for me, and if you’re feeling a little cramped by your pocket book, or that sketchbook is weighing you down, it might be a winner for you too.

Review – Zebra DelGuard (0.5)

At first glance, the Zebra DelGuard looks like the popular Uni Kuru Toga and offers a similar lead-break-reducing feature (though without the point protection). The clear plastic section is molded with a similar grip and the body is black-ish and slightly thicker than the average mechanical pencil. Inside, though, is what appears to be a much simpler spring-mechanism that promises to keep your lead from snapping. Does it really do enough?

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The body is a simple, matte-black tube with a small logo just before the center-band. On the back is an attached clip with some printed information, and a chrome click-button cover that easily slips off to reveal a thin, white eraser that easily pulls out to reveal the lead tube. The (grip) section is a black, translucent, and slightly slippery-feeling plastic with some ridges for grip and a slight slope down to a small metal lead pipe.

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Performance of the main features of (mechanical) pencils is good but not outstanding. The clip holds well and doesn’t rip fabric; the eraser removes marks handily with minimal shavings (and a little bit of smear); and the lead is average verging on soft (it is fairly smooth and I like the .5 size). The actual DelGuard system is a bit more dubious to me, though. It’s basically a few springs that allow for a huge range of vertical motion for both the lead and the lead pipe. This means that if the user bears down vertically on up to a few clicks-worth of lead it will simply retreat into the pencil and not break, even with a considerable amount of force. Unfortunately, I write/draw at an angle, and that is apparently extreme enough to mean the lead will snap with an amount of pressure I usually associate with a lead snapping, since the system only relieves pressure vertically. This isn’t really an issue for me; I write/draw softly enough that lead breaking isn’t something I worry about. But it has the same problem for me that the Kuru Toga has; that is, with my writing style, the system doesn’t work, making it completely pointless. This pencil could not have its cushioning springs and be exactly the same experience for me.

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So, as a pencil, it’s a good writer that might be moderately overpriced (it’s more expensive than the Kuru Toga). I’ve gotten other pencils with a similar writing experience for a similar price, but this is nothing special and I personally wouldn’t get it over less-expensive Zebra models, especially since the grip doesn’t feel too good in my hands; I haven’t had it actually slip, but it just feels slippery. If you really have a serious problem with your leads breaking, this might be worth looking into, otherwise it’s just a tossup with similar models.


Review – Kum Pencil Sharpener (Magnesium 1-hole Wedge)

For some time, my preferred on-the-go pencil sharpener has been a (older) Kum brass single-holed design. Recently I wanted another (it’s so tiny you might as well put one anywhere within reach), and, as it turns out, the brass ones are hard to find in the States (possibly because of something to do with lead?); so the next best thing was the same design, by the same company, but in a lighter-weight silver-colored magnesium alloy. At the price, this is a pretty good sharpener, but I’m also gonna mentally compare it to the brass version, which I do find is the superior of the two.

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The design is a super-simple “wedge” shape; a box with a slanted top where the blade is screwed in. On either side, there are ribbed divots for you to grip when using, and besides that there aren’t a lot of “features” (no shaving containment for sure). The labeling is clear and there is a little bit of “decoration,” but the whole thing is pretty bare.

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Sharpening is lovely: the contraption is as small as can be but still easy to hold, everything is machined well for precise angles and the blade is sharp, cutting through all the pencils I tried with ease. The points it produces are slightly shorter than I prefer, but that is a minor consideration: they are still well pointed and easy to use. Here I should note that the sharpener is very light, and feels almost flimsily in the hand. This doesn’t affect the function in any way, and the sharpener is indeed rock solid, but at about 4½ grams when compared to the brass’ 19 grams, it just feels feathery and unpleasant in my opinion. (The edges are also much sharper when compared to the brass version, but that might have to do with wear).

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If you’re looking for an inexpensive, no-frills pencil sharpener that gets the job done well, I’d look into picking one of these little guys up. They are hardy, usable, and portable. In some cases they’re cheap enough to be “disposable” (I got mine for $2, which is half what I was seeing them go for online), but they have easily replaceable blades for a guaranteed lifetime of use (though, in some cases it seems like the blades cost more than the sharpeners). And, even though I think the brass version is superior, there certainly isn’t anything wrong with the newer magnesium one.

Review – Maped Globe Pencil Sharpener

I’m a sucker for globes. I see a globe and I buy it. Well… that might not be necessarily true, but it was in this case. I saw a globe on the shelf and bought it. It was only later that I learned it was a pencil sharpener (and more expensive than the dollar I thought it was worth). I was actually unaware that Maped was an office supply company, but does that say anything about the quality of their globe pencil sharpener?

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With such a cheap and small product, one can’t expect a large degree of accuracy, and that is certainly the case here: Great Britain is fused to the rest of Europe, islands in the Pacific are comically uniform (and poorly labeled), Kamchatka is colored as if it is part of North America, and Mexico south is apparently South America. Beyond that, the actual quality of the product isn’t held to a high standard either. Mine came with a few paint chips and scuffs; while that isn’t the worst thing, it is very noticeable at the small scale.

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But, none of that matters unless the sharpener works, which it doesn’t… very well. Obviously, any blade screwed into a cone will sharpen a pencil, and this technically does that, but out of the box it is dull enough to tear at the wood, and the cone misshapen enough to turn the pencil tip into a fragile needle. Technically, it does sharpen a pencil (and I’ve had some “sharpeners” that didn’t) but it makes an ugly and fragile mess. The position of the hole isn’t much better, being in the “stand” part of the globe, and thus, pointing down, it dumps little bits of graphite onto whatever surface you set it on.

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I can’t really recommend this one, even if you’re a globe fan. The illustration is poor, the metal is nothing special, and the sharpener is of shoddy quality while being badly positioned. I’d only really get it as a curiosity if it was on sale for 50¢ or so.