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Won’t Someone Think of The Pencil?

Yes, I’m a bit of a geek, but I couldn’t help but wonder whether I was really wasting a lot my pencil by keeping the point sharp or not. Yes, I can keep writing with the thing until it’s as blunt as it can be, but like most people I prefer to write with something a bit sharper.

So as the point gets a little dull, and the line starts to spread a little, I feel the temptation to touch up the point even though I know I’m wasting some of the pencil. Does it really waste that much?

Yes, it does.

If you let a pencil get complete dull, and never sharpened the graphite, you’d be using 100% of the lead for writing, but if you keep the point, say, fairly sharp – 1mm in diameter – you end up wasting over 90% of the lead in a pencil with a typical 2mm diameter lead. If you like to keep the point sharper, say half a millimeter in diameter, it’s more like 98% that is wasted.

So if you’re trying to make that stash of Blackwings last as long as possible, learn to like a dull pencil.

3 comments… add one
  • Orion February 6, 2014, 1:58 am

    I have this problem too. I don’t like to be wasteful. Every time I sharpen/point my 2mm clutch pencil for writing/taking notes, I can’t help but feel mechanical pencils are better in the sense they keep their point.

    I also tried writing with a cylindrical point (basically dull all the way), but my letters became “fuzzy” to the point where there is not much line distinction with the paper.

    To carry out your idea, is there some trick to keep them “sharp” as I write without using a sharpener?

    Also, how would there be 90% graphite waste from using 1mm diameter of a 2mm diameter graphite? It’s half the size, so shouldn’t there be 50% waste?

    • Steve February 7, 2014, 5:35 am

      Hi Orion,

      I find that writing with an unsharpened pencil can be done, although the line is never as fine or dark as with a sharpened pencil. By rotating the pencil slightly after every word, a new edge or facet on the point provides a sharp spot to write with. It takes a little getting used to. A soft pencil, like 2B or softer, helps a lot.

      Half the diameter is much less than half the area – the area is proportional to the square of the radius, which is why there is such a large reduction in area. Woodcase pencils are nice to write with, but they aren’t efficient when it comes to using the graphite!

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