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How to Sharpen a Carpenter Pencil

Collage of illustrations on how to sharpen a carpenters pencil.

Sharpening a carpenter’s pencil can be as simple as carving the wood away from the lead to leave it exposed, but what if you want a specific width of lead or a sharp point? Your desired point and the use of the pencil will determine how to sharpen a carpenter pencil.

There are several methods of sharpening a carpenter pencil. Many people will tell you their tried-and-trusted method, but there are a few tips and guidelines that will help you carve the best shape and width of the lead point for the job.

How to Sharpen a Carpenter Pencil - Step 3: Neaten the Point and Wood

How to Sharpen a Carpenter Pencil

Materials

  • None

Tools

  • Utility Knife
  • Sandpaper (optional)

Instructions

Always practice safety first. When working with blades, you should point them away from yourself and towards the floor. Should the blade slip or a splinter of wood shoot off, these will travel safely away from you.

Step 1: Shave Away the Wide Edge First

How to Sharpen a Carpenter Pencil - Step 1: Shave Away the Wide Edge First

Like whittling, begin by choosing where the first cut will be on the pencil; usually, about 2/3 of an inch to 1/2 an inch from the end of the pencil is a good starting point.

Start by shaving away one of the wide edges. It is best to shave the wide edge first so that as the first shave of wood exposes the lead, there will still be wood on either side of the lead to protect it from being broken off accidentally.

Being wider offers more resistance, giving you more control when making the first big incisions. The thin edges offer less resistance and are prone to slicing too much off on the first shave.

Hold the pencil in your non-dominant hand, so it rests on your fingers with your thumb on top, leaving a few inches of the pencil protruding from the front of your hand. In your dominant hand, hold the utility knife with the blade facing away from you.

Place the blade at a forty-five-degree angle to the surface of the pencil and push the blade into the wood with your thumb and away from your fingers. Use the thumb of your non-dominant hand to control the blade and the cuts and your dominant hand to hold the utility knife steady.

Shave the wood off until about 1/8 inch of lead is exposed. Make a few extra passes over the area with the exposed lead to thin out the lead.

Flip the pencil and do the same to the other side. How much lead you shave off at this point will determine the thickness of the finished lead point. Check the thickness as you make each shave to ensure you don't take off too much.

Step 2: Shave Away the Thin Edges

How to Sharpen a Carpenter Pencil - Step 2: Shave Away the Thin Edges

With both wide edges shaved off, flip the pencil in your hand so that one of the thin edges is facing upwards. Using the same motion as you did for the wide edges, shave a forty-five-degree angle piece of wood off the pencil.

As the width of the wood is much less, the resistance against the blade will also be less. Cut the thin sides of the pencil more gently than you did with the wide sides to avoid cutting too much off or too deeply.

As the lead is softer than the wood and brittle, be careful not to cut a chunk of lead off in the motion.

Top Tip: If you would like the pencil tip to be thin at the point, but as wide as possible, stop cutting as the blade's edge reaches the lead. Then using an upward motion, pop the wood off the lead without shaving any of the lead away.

A carpenter pencil's flat but wide edge gives a carpenter the best of both worlds when drawing a line, a flat and thin edge to draw thin, neat lines on delicate surfaces. A wide edge to draw thick lines on surfaces like concrete and tiles.

Step 3: Neaten the Point and Wood

How to Sharpen a Carpenter Pencil - Step 3: Neaten the Point and Wood

Using small and gentle back-and-forth motions of the blade on the lead, shave the rough edges of the lead point until it is smooth.

Top Tip: Sandpaper can also be used to adjust and sharpen the lead point. Place the pencil tip flat on the sandpaper and drag the lead across it repeatedly until you achieve your desired sharpness or shape.

As there have only been four main incisions on the pencil so far, the shaved area will have rough wood edges. Using the utility knife in the same motion as before, shave away the rough corners to neaten the wood around the shaved area of the pencil.

Retract the utility knife's blade and blow away any excess sawdust from the edge of the pencill.

Did you make this project?

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Resources:

Carpenter Pencil Sharpening – How To (Short)

How to Sharpen a Carpenter’s Pencil

How to Sharpen A Carpenter Pencil

How to Sharpen Carpenter Pencils Step-By-Step

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