I would like to welcome you all to my new favourite pencil, the Viking Element 1. I fear I am about to unleash several paragraphs of hyperbole at you but I think it is justified so bear with me! Or, if brief reviews are your thing, I love this pencil, and enjoy the photos.
I bought this pencil (singularly, in a moment of uncharacteristic cautiousness) at the inimitable CW Pencil Enterprise when I was in NYC. I asked Caitlin to recommend me a selection of pencils that I couldn’t easily get in the UK. We’re lucky to have good access to lots of Japanese brands that are renowned for their high performance, such as the Mitsubishis and Tombow Monos of this world. In my mind I was mostly thinking I would stock up on American brands that don’t export to any great extent but upon telling Caitlin a little bit about my pencil usage, she recommended a Danish brand of pencils unknown to me: Viking.
After giving it a go at the trusty test station, I settled on the Viking Element 1. There were two others available, the Viking 400 Skjoldungen office pencil and the 029 Skoleblyanten school pencil. During my short test I felt the Element 1 suited me best.
Viking are a Danish brand and is my second Danish stationery product after the HAY Bookbinder’s Notebook (you can find my review on that here). CW Pencil Enterprise’s website tells me that Viking were founded in 1913 by a matchstick company, who presumably knew a thing or two about wood. The Element is pitched their most high-end writing pencil compared with the two other Viking pencils for sale.
The Element 1 is classy in black. It doesn’t have an eraser and the top is capped nicely which is fine with me because I generally frown upon pencils with erasers for the sake of having an eraser, when the chance of actually being able to erase anything is slim to none. It’s hexagonal so sits nicely on your desk, and seems to be a little slimmer than other pencils I have. My gauge for pencil diameter are my Iconic pencil caps which have fitted on every other pencil I have bought and owned, apart from this one, where it resolutely refuses to fit and slips off dejectedly. It does, however, fit on the end! Which makes me think it is slightly tapered.
For the barcode haters among you, this pencil will let you down. It’s a long barcode aswell, followed by a barcode number! Other than these, the Viking branding is attractive. All of the writing is in silver and the Viking ship logo is featured on two sides of the pencil.
Unusually for a product review I am going to start with the downsides. Depending on your pencil cap size, you may find yourself needing to invest in some more flexible ones. I can’t really buy a smaller set just to accommodate this one pencil, but I do have some aluminium ones which fit the bill. For the same reason you might find it slightly narrow for your sharpener depending on what you use. I use the KUM Masterpiece and although it sharpens very easily I think an extra millimetre of width would make it even better because the KUM Masterpiece just never *quite* sharpens the graphite all the way to the wood barrel. I haven’t noticed any difference to my writing stance when holding the slightly slimmer barrel though, which is good.
The writing on the barrel isn’t embossed very deeply. I’ve been using this pencil a lot recently (although trying to use it a bit less so that I don’t Steinbeck it too soon) and I’ve noticed that small areas of the text are already fading. I have a feeling the text is going to start fading quite quickly now that it’s already started to go.
The only branding downside I can think of is that I’m not a huge fan of the “Graphite writing pencil HB” writing which is printed on the barrel. I suppose this is there to differentiate it from the other pencils in the range but given that it says “Element 1” on it already I feel it’s slightly redundant.
You may have noticed I haven’t noted any downsides to this pencil when it comes to how it writes. This is because… I can’t find any.
Hardness vs blackness
We all know that usually one sacrifices the other. I genuinely think that this pencil has hit the perfect HB spot for me. When I use many other HB pencils I tend to form an opinion very quickly on whether it should really be classified as an H or a B (or even further on either one of these scales). I think this pencil defies the logic that hardness or blackness must dominate because when writing with it I don’t wish for a darker line, and I don’t wish for a harder point. I like the way it writes and the line it puts down exactly as it is.
The majority of the time I use pencils for writing and so for me the key difference between this pencil and other HBs is that I usually find HBs oversacrifice darkness for hardness. For writing I’m happy to sharpen away if I need to, but I need to have a reasonably dark line for legibility.
On sharpening this pencil in the KUM Masterpiece there is no breakage at all when pointing the lead which is quite unusual. With a bit of rotation I have managed to fill six or seven pocket notebook pages of writing before needing to sharpen it at all. I think that is really good. Also, I can’t explain why, but I really like the way the Element 1 makes my writing look. It’s neat and makes for a very satisfying page of writing.
This is one of the smoothest pencils I’ve ever used. I’m going to put this out there and say that it is comparable and, for me, even more satisfying to use than the Blackwing 602. I haven’t come across any snags in the graphite that either catch on my sharpener or on paper. It’s super consistent. It’s also not one of those pencils that you can hear from the other side of the room.
Need I bother?
It’s humble in appearance and if you were going on first impressions on a shelf the Element 1 would probably get left behind in favour of its bolder, better branded shelfmates. But it performs wonderfully, I couldn’t ask for a better pencil, and everyone who buys HB for writing in particular needs one of these.
Footnote: I’m minded to start using this pencil as a benchmark for others’ performance, simply because I think it is such a true HB and such a good gauge for how much other pencils sacrifice hardness and blackness. I’ll see how that idea develops.