Yesterday I got three dozen pencils from General Pencil Company, one of the few remaining pencil manufacturers that still make their pencils in the United States. My favorite pencils had been Dixon Ticonderoga’s, but they’ve moved all their production to foreign countries, including China. Most people probably don’t think much about pencils, but there’s a big difference between a good pencil and a bad one. The crap they sell at office superstores have uneven graphite, poorly centered lead, small erasers, thin paint, are commonly made in China, and probably don’t use sustainably produced wood for the case. Mechanical pencils stay sharp and are refillable, but they just don’t feel as good as a wooden-cased pencil, and I think the environmental impact of a sustainably produced wooden pencil is lower than all the plastic and packaging of mechanical pencils and their supplies.
I got three dozen “Semi-Hex,” #2/HB pencils (number 492-2/HB). I’d never seen a General’s pencil in the store, and never (as far as I know) used one, so this was an experiment to see if I’ve found an American-made replacement for the Ticonderoga. Since it’s baseball playoff time, I tested them out by scoring yesterday’s playoff game between the Boston Red Sox and the California Angels (or whatever they’re calling themselves this year). In this year’s playoffs I’m rooting for the Cubs and Phillies in the National League and the Rays in the American League. But I’m primarily an A’s fan, so a loss by the Angels is always a win for this A’s fan.
The game was a good one (especially since the Angels lost), with a reasonable amount of scoring, and a very exciting ending. And the pencil was fantastic. The lead is very even, with none of the little hard bits you’ll find in a poorly made pencil, it makes a nice dark line, and isn’t so soft that it smudges easily. With the Ticonderoga, I’m torn between the #2 and #2/HB because the HB is just a touch too soft, and the #2 is too hard and doesn’t write well outside because the paper gets softer when it’s humid. The General #2/HB seems slightly harder than the Ticonderoga HB, so I was able to make it through the whole game on one sharpening. I think I’ve found a winner.
Hopefully when I’ve used all three dozen, General will still be making pencils in the U.S.
At ABR, we use a notebook (our “black book”) to keep track of what we were doing for the hours we charge to our clients. I’d been using the notebook I made a couple years ago, but ran out of pages on Friday, so today I made another one. The coptic style is really great for this sort of thing because it will lie completely flat on the desk, and there’s no glued binding to break. Yesterday we went to If Only here in town and I almost bought a Moleskine sketchbook, but I put it back on the shelf because I wasn’t sure it’d lay flat. Their normal notebooks will, but the pages are much too thin for fountain pens unless you only write on one side of the page. So often it seems there’s no substitute for doing something yourself so you can make sure it’s done right.
The covers are plain, acid-free book boards that are normally covered with book cloth or leather, but I’ll just slip it into the leather book cover I used with my previous notebook so the boards won’t show until I’m done with the notebook. The paper is Mohawk Superfine, cut into short-grain pages by my supplier, folded into five 32-page sections (8 pieces of paper folded in half = 32 pages), and sewn together with linen thread using a sewing technique that’s several thousand years old. Last time I had trouble doing all the stitching with a straight needle so I bent a needle by heating it red hot over the stove, bending it into a curve, heating it to red hot a second time before quenching it in cold water. The tip could probably use some sharpening after the heat treatment, but it worked well as is.
The whole project took less than two hours and required very few supplies.
We got our first real snowfall last night, about two inches at our place. It probably won’t last (the second week in October is normally when we get the snow that stays until April), but it means the roads will be dangerous for the next couple days or weeks. Last week we saw our first great horned owl of the fall, and the snowshoe hares are rapidly turning white so winter is just about here. We’re hoping for a bunch of early season snowfall this year to get the trails set up for skiing and mushing.
What’s cool about the first snowfall of the year, especially when it’s a lot of snow like last night, is how totally different the world looks. You go to bed and it’s painted in yellows and browns, but when you wake up, it’s all cleaned up in black and white and blue. I know it’ll melt, probably later today and turn brown again, but as the sun comes up on the new wintry world, it feels fresh.
I finished wiring the shed yesterday afternoon. I was surprised at how long it took, but since everything is connected in series, each connection has to be perfect or nothing down the line will work. I’ve lived in enough cabins with funky wiring to know that it’s better to do it right the first time. The shed now has an outlet on each wall, an outdoor GFCI outlet on the outside of the building, a pair of lights in the ceiling, and an outdoor motion-detecting floodlight (that’s what’s lighting the photo on the right). The lights are wired to a switch next to the door. All that’s left is to clean up the inside and build what we need to store stuff in there. We’d planned on painting the floor, but I think it’s too late in the year for that now.
For the last month or so I’ve spent the majority of my time outside of work working on our new shed. It’s a sixteen foot by sixteen foot building with full eight foot walls, a nice high ceiling, a pair of small windows, and a large barn door. All of the materials came from Northland Wood here in Fairbanks, and except for the plywood and some sundries, the wood is locally harvested and milled white spruce.
I got the barn door hung last night, and today I built the ramp and added some window trim. All that’s left is a layer of tar paper on the back wall, installing a locking mechanism for the door, and doing the electrical work. It’s certainly the biggest project I’ve ever completed, and I can’t help but smile whenever I walk past it.
I took a lot of pictures during the construction process; some of the better ones are at this web page.
With hunting season about to start in the Interior, we got a great view of a cow, calf and bull moose from the comfort of our large windows. Last night I chased a solitary cow away from the dog yard, and this morning a different pair showed up. The cow and calf grazed on birch leaves and fireweed next to our west window, then wandered down the dog yard fence toward the road. When they got to the trees near the far side of the dog yard, a small bull showed up and briefly chased the calf. The bull wasn't legal (and it wouldn't be legal in our yard anyway), but it's the first male moose we've seen at the house.