Let’s get something straight – the Ticonderoga pencils you can buy at any office supply store or home goods store (such as Target) are decent enough for most workshop uses. There are even less expensive pencils, but of much cheaper quality, and so Ticonderoga is where I draw the line.
But, while Ticonderoga’s is an acceptable pencil for workshop and even writing or drawing applications, I like Staedtler’s Norica pencils quite a bit better.
At this time I should caution that putting these pencils to wood will often dull them quickly. I’ll use a carpenter’s pencil some of the time, a marking knife some of the time, and a #2 pencil the rest of the time, usually when it’s already at-hand on top of a notepad or similar.
Still, these pencils are better suited for writing and sketching tasks than layout work on wood, although I’ll use them for all kinds of things. I like these pencils for laying down measurements or cut lines with squares and rulers. Mechanical pencils work better at times, but it’s easier (and cheaper) for me to have four wood pencils at different locations than for me to buy a couple more mechanical pencils that live on the other side of the house.
You’re probably expecting me to tell you how the Staedtler Norica pencil is better than a standard Ticonderoga. Well, that’s a good question. In my experience, the Norica pencils write a little darker than Ticonderoga, and that’s with both in HB (number 2) hardness.
I like Staedtler’s eraser a bit better too, although they’re both “just okay” overall.
The writing experience is generally the same as both pencils – and all pencils really – are scratchy on wood surfaces and comparable on smoother papers.
Yellow pencils always have a “back in elementary school” type of vibe, especially now that my kids are learning how to write with these pencils. While the black-wrapped wood looks snazzy, you can buy black Ticonderoga pencils for less money.
I enjoy writing and marking with the Staedtler Norica pencils. They sharpen cleanly, and the graphite lead is darker.
Ticonderoga are fine, and with better quality sharpeners they too can be cleanly sharpened.
At the time of this post, you can buy a pack of 24 Ticonderoga pencils for $4, and a pack of 36 Staedtler Norica pencils for $13-16. Ticonderoga pencils can be found for even less if you get bulk packs. Pre-sharpened Ticonderoga pencils cost more per pencil, and the Staedtler are only sold pre-sharpened.
Considering a 24-count pack of Ticonderoga pencils priced at $4 at Amazon, that’s around 17 cents per pencil. At $16 for 36 Staedtler pencils, that’s a little more than 44 cents per pencil. A chain office supply store has them on sale for $12.70, which comes out to 35 cents per pencil.
In other words, Staedtler’s Norica pencils cost more than twice as much as Ticonderoga’s, although price comparisons get messy if you start looking at pre-sharpened vs. pre-sharpened options.
Little things add up to a better experience – darker lines, smoother writing (although this could be my finding what I’m looking for), harder wood (or at least it feels harder when sharpening), and a slightly more refined finger-feel.
Do all these things make the Norica pencil more than 2X better? Nope. But that doesn’t stop me from preferring it. I bought a 36-pack of pencils several years ago to try out, and it’s still going strong. When it comes time to buy more, I’ll spring for another pack.
This is one of those things where I can’t quite say that YOU will absolutely have a better experience with the pricier option. Ticonderoga’s are fine, but I like Staedtler’s better, and you might too.
If you want a measurably better drawing pencil, you’ll have to step up to Staedtler Mars Lumograph, and once you’re in that space there are many competitors. The Norica is about the most I’d spend on a general-use wood pencil that might at times be abused and even damaged in the workshop. I do have some drawing-style pencils, but they’re dedicated to drafting use.
If wood pencils aren’t your thing, here are some past posts about my favorite mechanical pencils: