Just like with anything else, it’s easy to take our art supplies for granted. We’re obsessed with the creamy colors of paint, the marks that our pencils make when we glide them across the paper, and that indescribable feeling that we have when it all comes together at the end. (To be honest, I’m getting a little rush right now just thinking about those moments. If you need a minute, too, just come back when you’re ready.)
To the point at hand, have you ever considered exactly how art supplies come into existence? I thought it would be fun to share with you the following excerpt from Guy Field’s interesting book Start Doodling: Facts, Trivia and Fun Featuring the Humble but Amazing Pencil. This tidbit explains how pencils are made; keep reading to see how graphite is made and, just in case it ever comes up at a party, to learn what your pencil’s little metal band next to the eraser is called.
Yours in art,
How Are Pencils Made?
Answer by Guy Field
1. When incense cedar trees (the most popular type of tree used in pencil production) reach 14 years of age, they are mature enough to be cut and used for pencils. Once the trees have been felled and logged, they are cut into blocks about 19 centimeters long–the average length of a pencil.
2. This block of wood is sliced into thin “slats,” which are then treated to make the wood dry and soft. This will help make the pencils easier to sharpen in the future.
3. After resting for 60 days, the slats are ready to be made into pencils.
4. Nine parallel grooves are carved into each slat to fit the “lead” or graphite rod.
5. A special type of glue is squeezed into the grooves to keep the graphite in place.
6. Before insertion into the slats, the pencil leads are put into an oven and heated to 980 degrees Celsius. The intense heat makes the leads smooth and hard, which results in good writing tips!
7. The graphite rods are squished into the slat on top of the glue.
8. A new slat is placed over the top of the first slat, sandwiching the graphite in the middle. This sandwich is heated and pressed hard, turning the two slats into one piece.
9. The sandwich is cut to produce individual pencils. A standard pencil diameter is 7 millimeters.
10. The pencils are painted (between five and eight times!), varnished, sharpened and stamped.
Watch “Drawing Basics: Blending” with Alain Picard:
More from Start Doodling: Facts, Trivia and Fun Featuring the Humble but Amazing Pencil by Guy Field
Just for fun! Do you know what the metal thing at the end of your pencil is called? Have a guess – the answer is at the bottom of this post*.
How Graphite is Made
- Chunks of graphite (a soft, dark mineral) and clay are placed inside a huge rotating drum. Large rocks inside the drum crush the graphite and clay into a fine powder. Then water is added, and the mixture is blended in the drum for up to three days.
- A machine squeezes all the water out of the mixture, leaving behind a gray sludge.
- Huge wheels grind the dried sludge into a fine powder, and water is blended in to make a soft paste.
- The paste is pushed through a metal tube and comes out in the shape of thin rods. The rods are cut into pencil-length pieces, called leads, and sent along a conveyor belt to dry.
*The metal band at the end of a pencil that keeps the rubber eraser in place is called a “ferrule.”