Designing the Grovemade X Blackwing Pencil Kit
In 2021 we teamed up with Blackwing to co-design a pencil storage product. Like any good synergy, the result was something bigger: a sweet pencil caddy, new friends, and a whole lot of basketball metaphors.
In the Beginning
It all started when Alex Poirier, Blackwing’s vice president, reached out to collaborate. We started with a giveaway. When that was a total hit with their customers and ours, we rode the momentum right into designing a product together.

We like to start with a crawl. Usually we go to walking next, but this went full-speed to a product collab.

Lead Product Designer
We knew we wanted a storage solution of some kind, along with a custom collab pencil. A tray was on the table, but we really wanted to highlight the graceful design of the Blackwing pencil, and potentially incorporate their sharpener into it. We also had a puzzle to solve: how to store the pencil vertically, without degrading the tip.

A few Zoom calls in with Alex, and we realized the best way to do that was a caddy.

KEN TOMITA (Grovemade Co-Founder): We bonded over product design, but also…basketball.

ALEX POIRIER (Blackwing Vice President): Sabonis. It’s all about Sabonis.

Shape Up
We began by using our pen pot as a guide, but stretched it out to be rectangular instead of cuboid. It’s a silhouette we’ve had on the horizon for a while, but also the extra length achieved a few things. The pencils come in packs of twelve, so having a caddy that held six pencils made sense to us. Not too big, and a clean division of the original pack.

We also really wanted the Blackwing sharpener in the caddy. Alex and team had spent three years getting that sharpener just right—crunching numbers, refiguring the math, using a 1920s Janus pencil sharpener to inform the design.
The elongated shape also made for a better holding experience. We imagined users taking the caddy into their hands as they sharpened their blunt tips. The image was much more elegant with the extra length.
Material Moments
We were all on board with a wood base and decided on walnut for phase one. But what should the top material be? At first aluminum seemed like a good match with the aluminum pencil sharpener, until we realized it would be hard to get an exact match for the finish, and the result would look off. Leather would look too "old-school executive." We were aiming more for clean-modern.

ALEX POIRIER (Blackwing Vice President): Our customer is the everyman who cares about design and quality.

KEN TOMITA (Grovemade Co-Founder): What he said. That’s it.

We turned to one of our all-star materials: natural linoleum. We use the material on our Matte Desk Pad, and when we sent one of these to Alex he was sold.
It feels good to the touch, it’s durable, and it’s soft and forgiving when the pencil tip accidentally hits it on the way in.
Sharp Integration
"Precisely." It describes how we had to design the space to hold the sharpener. It had to hold tight—no swiveling allowed. We made a hexagonal receptacle to hold the hexagonal sharpener perfectly snug.

The sharpener also pops above the surface just enough for fingers to grip it and pull it out as needed. (Though Alex likes to note that the best way to ensure that you’re sharpening at the right angle is to keep it in the caddy!)
New Vocab: Ferrule
In addition to making a new friend, we learned a new word. Well, we learned a lot of new things, but we’re into ferrule. It’s the metal tip on top of pencils that connects the eraser to the pencil.
Blackwing’s distinct ferrule allows for eraser adjustment while creating an elegant length. But at one time this signature was also its demise. In the ‘90s, the machine that made these unique ferrule components broke down. It was too much effort to keep producing them for the pencils, and with the end of that era the pencil itself lost its allure.

We loved geeking out on the details of the ferrule.

When Blackwing came back to life, they knew they had to have the ferrule. This meant that for years they attached it by hand. Until they semi-automated the process. Until finally they found a way to fully automate it.

We felt deeply about highlighting this ferrule, which is just what the caddy does. In turn the ferrule balances out the dimensions of the caddy. Put a standard pencil in there and it looks a little strange!
Don’t Forget the Pencil!
Here’s where Alex really had to show us the ropes. We don’t design pencils at Grovemade, and counted on Alex’s deep expertise. How do you decide the pencil finish? How do you figure out the position of the text and graphic on the side? And so on.
In the end we loved the look of a monochromatic black with the solid walnut base. The pencil gets a black lacquered coating, then a matte finish with a black gloss over top. The lettering and graphic receive a gloss treatment too, resulting in a smooth feel with just enough shine.
Tip Safety
Lastly was the tip puzzle: how do we store a pencil vertically while protecting the tip from damage?

The solution? Basketball. More specifically point guards. The court-inspired naming of Blackwing’s point guard product is no accident—it turns out a lot of us are fans. But we needed our own small solution to save the tips. So we included concealed ridges inside the caddy. They close the gap enough to keep the shaft of the pencil from sliding down, while also allowing the tip to pass through, unscathed and floating just above the bottom surface.

ALEX POIRIER (Blackwing Vice President): I don’t typically use pencil cups, because I don’t want the tips to get messed up. The Blackwing Kit solves this problem.

Pencils vertical. Check.
Ferrule featured. Check.
Sharpener included. Check.
Tips protected... Check!
Plenty More Where That Came From
We might be tempted by a slam dunk analogy here. But really this is a story about passing. We tossed ideas to Alex, he passed back. Together we took them and ran.

Blackwing is about slowing down and savoring the process. We could mass produce a caddy, but we choose to work with Grovemade to create something that's unique, beautiful, and made right.

Blackwing Vice President
Going into this collaboration, we knew it could be good. On paper, Blackwing’s spirit of slow-down-and-savor synchronizes with Grovemade’s commitment to making workspaces beautiful with pieces that last across generations. But we never guessed just how fluid the co-design would be!

So good, in fact, that you should stay tuned. There are more storage options to design, and this team is just getting started.
The Grovemade X Blackwing Pencil Kit
This special edition pencil kit is the result of a collaboration between two companies focused on creating the best tools for your space & your work. Custom designed minimalist pencils and a stand that does more than just display, with integrated sharpening, tip-protection, and an aesthetic that keeps you inspired.

Further Reading