Pencil facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Pencil tip closeup 2
A pencil tip
Pencil
Here are some pencils.

A pencil is a hexagonal prism or cylinder-shaped writing utensil that is also used to draw, usually on paper.

Structure

A pencil is usually made with a piece of carbon mixed with clay that has a wood case around it. Colored pencils are a type of pencil that instead of greyish silver, the tip is colorful. Colored pencils or crayons are usually meant for drawing rather than writing.

Pens and pencils

An important difference between pens and pencils is that the tip of a pencil is made of graphite (or lead) and pens have tips made of metal with ink coming out of the bottom. Pencil writings do not smudge or wash away if the paper gets wet, unlike pens which have ink. Writing with a pen will usually smudge. Writing from a pencil can be erased, but writing from a pen usually cannot. Finally, while pencils have been around for thousands of years, pens have only been around for about three hundred.

History

PENCILWI
Old Soviet colour pencils with box (circa 1959)

An early writing tool was the reed pen used by ancient Egyptians, who wrote with ink on sheets of papyrus paper.

Another early writing instrument was the stylus, which was a thin metal stick, often made from lead. It was used for scratching onto wood covered with was, a method used by the Romans. The word pencil comes from the Latin word pencillus which means "little tail". It is an invention of the 16th century in England.

Discovery of graphite deposits

Some time before 1565 (it may have been as early as 1500), an enormous deposit of graphite was discovered in Borrowdale, Cumbria. The locals found that it was very useful for marking sheep. This particular deposit of graphite was extremely pure and solid, and it could easily be sawn into sticks. This is still the only large scale deposit of graphite ever found in this solid form. Chemistry was in its infancy and the substance was thought to be a form of lead. Consequently, it was called plumbago (Latin for "lead ore"). The black core of pencils is still referred to as lead, even though it never contained the element lead.

The value of graphite was soon realized, mainly because it could be used to line the moulds for cannonballs. The mines were taken over by the Crown and guarded. When sufficient stocks of graphite had been accumulated, the mines were flooded to prevent theft until more was required. Graphite had to be smuggled out for use in pencils. Because graphite is soft, it requires some form of holder. Graphite sticks were at first wrapped in string or in sheepskin for stability. The news of the usefulness of these early pencils spread far and wide, attracting the attention of artists all over the known world.

England continued to have a monopoly on the production of pencils until a method of reconstituting the graphite powder was found. The distinctively square English pencils continued to be made with sticks cut from natural graphite into the 1860s. The town of Keswick, near the original findings of block graphite, has a pencil museum.

The first attempt to manufacture graphite sticks from powdered graphite was in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1662. It used a mixture of graphite, sulphur, and antimony.

Residual graphite from a pencil stick is not poisonous, and graphite is harmless if consumed.

No. 2 Pencils

The number 2 pencil got its title from the shade of darkness it has (second most dark) from pencil #1-5. This pencil's shape is typically hexagonal and is frequently wood cased. They can write under water, upside down and in space. They can also write up to 45000 words.

Wood holders added

The Italians first thought of wooden holders. In 1560, an Italian couple named Simonio and Lyndiana Bernacotti created the first blueprints for the modern carpentry pencil to mark their carpentry pieces. Their version was instead a flat, oval, more compact type of pencil. They did this at first by hollowing out a stick of juniper wood. Shortly thereafter, a superior technique was discovered: two wooden halves were carved, a graphite stick inserted, and the two halves then glued together–essentially the same method in use to this day.

English and German pencils were not available to the French during the Napoleonic Wars. France was under naval blockade imposed by Great Britain and could not import the pure graphite sticks from the British Grey Knotts mines – the only known source in the world for solid graphite. France was also unable to import the inferior German graphite pencil substitute. It took the efforts of an officer in Napoleon's army to change this. In 1795, Nicholas Jacques Conté discovered a method of mixing powdered graphite with clay and forming the mixture into rods that were then fired in a kiln. By varying the ratio of graphite to clay, the hardness of the graphite rod could also be varied. This method of manufacture, which had been earlier discovered by the Austrian Joseph Hardtmuth of Koh-I-Noor in 1790, remains in use.

In England, pencils continued to be made from whole sawn graphite. Henry Bessemer's first successful invention (1838) was a method of compressing graphite powder into solid graphite thus allowing the waste from sawing to be reused.

Pencil manufacture
Pencil manufacturing. The top sequence shows the old method that required pieces of graphite to be cut to size; the lower sequence is the new, current method using rods of graphite and clay

American colonists imported pencils from Europe until after the American Revolution. Benjamin Franklin advertised pencils for sale in his Pennsylvania Gazette in 1729, and George Washington used a three-inch pencil when he surveyed the Ohio Territory in 1762. It is said that William Munroe, a cabinetmaker in Concord, Massachusetts, made the first American wood pencils in 1812. This was not the only pencil-making occurring in Concord. According to Henry Petroski, transcendentalist philosopher Henry David Thoreau discovered how to make a good pencil out of inferior graphite using clay as the binder; this invention was prompted by his father's pencil factory in Concord, which employed graphite found in New Hampshire in 1821 by Charles Dunbar.

Eraser attached

LipmanPencilEraserPatent
Drawing of pencil with an attached eraser from its patent application

On 30 March 1858, Hymen Lipman received the first patent for attaching an eraser to the end of a pencil. In 1862 Lipman sold his patent to Joseph Reckendorfer for $100,000, who went to sue the pencil manufacturer Faber-Castell for infringement. In 1875, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled against Reckendorfer declaring the patent invalid.

The metal band used to mate the eraser with pencil is called a ferrule.

Other attempts

The first attempt to manufacture graphite sticks from powdered graphite was in Nuremberg, Germany in 1662. They used a mixture of graphite, sulfur and antimony. Though usable, they were not as good as the English pencils.

English and German pencils were not available to the French during the Napoleonic wars. It took the efforts of an officer in Napoleon's army to change this. In 1795 Nicholas Jacques Conté discovered a method of mixing powdered graphite with clay and forming the mixture into rods which were then fired in a kiln. By varying the ratio of graphite to clay, the hardness of the graphite rod could also be varied (the more clay, the harder the pencil, and the lighter the color of the mark). This method of making pencils is still used today.

Modern day pencils

Today, pencils are made industrially by mixing finely ground graphite and clay powders, adding water, forming long spaghetti-like strings, and firing them in a kiln. The resulting strings are dipped in oil or molten wax which seeps into the tiny holes of the material, resulting in smoother writing. A juniper or incense-cedar plank with several long parallel grooves is cut to make something called a slate, and the graphite/clay strings are inserted into the grooves. Another grooved plank is glued on top, and the whole thing is then cut into individual pencils, which are then varnished or painted.

A few common brands of colored pencils (among other items) are Crayola, RoseArt and Cra-Z-Art.

Types

By marking material

Colored-Pencils
Coloured pencils
3 promotional pencils (ubt)
Promotional pencils
Graphite pencils
These are the most common types of pencil, and are encased in wood. They are made of a mixture of clay and graphite and their darkness varies from light grey to black. Their composition allows for the smoothest strokes.
Solid graphite pencils
These are solid sticks of graphite and clay composite (as found in a 'graphite pencil'), about the diameter of a common pencil, which have no casing other than a wrapper or label. They are often called "woodless" pencils. They are used primarily for art purposes as the lack of casing allows for covering larger spaces more easily, creating different effects, and providing greater economy as the entirety of the pencil is used. They are available in the same darkness range as wood-encased graphite pencils.
Liquid graphite pencils
These are pencils that write like pens. The technology was first invented in 1955 by Scripto and Parker Pens. Scripto's liquid graphite formula came out about three months before Parker's liquid lead formula. To avoid a lengthy patent fight the two companies agreed to share their formulas.
Charcoal pencils
Are made of charcoal and provide fuller blacks than graphite pencils, but tend to smudge easily and are more abrasive than graphite. Sepia-toned and white pencils are also available for duotone techniques.
Carbon pencils
They generally are made of a mixture of clay and lamp black, but are sometimes blended with charcoal or graphite depending on the darkness and manufacturer. They produce a fuller black than graphite pencils, but are smoother than charcoal.
Colored pencils, or pencil crayons
These have wax-like cores with pigment and other fillers. Multiple colours are often blended together.
Grease pencils
They write on virtually any surface (including glass, plastic, metal and photographs). The most commonly found grease pencils are encased in paper (Berol and Sanford Peel-off), but they can also be encased in wood (Staedtler Omnichrom).
Watercolor pencils
These are designed for use with watercolour techniques. The pencils can be used by themselves for sharp, bold lines. Strokes made by the pencil can also be saturated with water and spread with brushes.

By use

Speciality artists pencils 051907
Two "woodless" graphite pencils, two charcoal pencils, and two grease pencils
Carpenter's pencils
These are pencils that have two main properties: their shape prevents them from rolling, and their graphite is strong. The oldest surviving pencil is a German carpenter's pencil dating from the 17th Century and now in the Faber-Castell collection.
Censored mail Spain Australia 1943
Obliteration by indelible pencil to censor mail in 1943
Copying pencils (or indelible pencils)
These are graphite pencils with an added dye that creates an indelible mark. They were invented in the late 19th century for press copying and as a practical substitute for fountain pens. Their markings are often visually indistinguishable from those of standard graphite pencils, but when moistened their markings dissolve into a coloured ink, which is then pressed into another piece of paper. They were widely used until the mid 20th century when ball pens slowly replaced them. In Italy their use is still mandated by law for voting paper ballots in elections and referenda.
Eyeliner pencils
Eyeliner pencils are used for make-up. Unlike traditional copying pencils, eyeliner pencils usually contain non-toxic dyes.
Erasable colour pencils
Unlike wax-based coloured pencils, these can be easily erased. Their main use is in sketching, where the objective is to create an outline using the same colour that other media (such as wax pencils, or watercolour paints) would fill or when the objective is to scan the colour sketch. Some animators prefer erasable colour pencils as opposed to graphite pencils because they don't smudge as easily, and the different colours allow for better separation of objects in the sketch. Copy-editors find them useful too, as their markings stand out more than graphite but can be erased.
Non-reproducing
or non-photo blue pencils make marks that are not reproduced by photocopiers (Sanford's Copy-not or Staedtler's Mars Non-photo) or by whiteprint copiers (Staedtler's Mars Non-Print).
Stenographer's pencil
Also known as a steno pencil. These pencils are expected to be very reliable, and their lead is break-proof. Nevertheless, steno pencils are sometimes sharpened at both ends to enhance reliability. They are round to avoid pressure pain during long texts.
Golf pencil
Golf pencils are usually short (a common length is 9 cm (3.5 in)) and very cheap. They are also known as library pencils, as many libraries offer them as disposable, unspillable writing instruments.

By shape

  • Triangular (more accurately a Reuleaux triangle)
  • Hexagonal
  • Round
  • Bendable (flexible plastic)

By size

Typical
A standard, hexagonal, "#2 pencil" is cut to a hexagonal height of 14-inch (6 mm), but the outer diameter is slightly larger (about 932-inch (7 mm))

A standard, #2, hexagonal pencil is 19 cm (7.5 in) long.

Biggest
On 3 September 2007, Ashrita Furman unveiled his giant US$20,000 pencil – 76 feet (23 m) long, 18,000 pounds (8,200 kg) (with over 4,500 pounds (2,000 kg) for the graphite centre) – after three weeks of creation in August 2007 as a birthday gift for teacher Sri Chinmoy. It is longer than the 65-foot (20 m) pencil outside the Malaysia HQ of stationers Faber-Castell.

By manufacture

Mechanical pencils
Mechanical pencil lead spilling out 051907
Lead for mechanical pencils
Biegsame Bleistifte fcm
Flexible pencils

There are also pencils which use mechanical methods to push lead through a hole at the end. These can be divided into two groups: propelling pencils use an internal mechanism to push the lead out from an internal compartment, while clutch pencils merely hold the lead in place (the lead is extended by releasing it and allowing some external force, usually gravity, to pull it out of the body). The erasers (sometimes replaced by a sharpener on pencils with larger lead sizes) are also removable (and thus replaceable), and usually cover a place to store replacement leads. Mechanical pencils are popular for their longevity and the fact that they may never need sharpening. Lead types are based on grade and size; with standard sizes being 2.00 mm (0.079 in), 1.40 mm (0.055 in), 1.00 mm (0.039 in), 0.70 mm (0.028 in), 0.50 mm (0.020 in), 0.35 mm (0.014 in), 0.25 mm (0.0098 in), 0.18 mm (0.0071 in), and 0.13 mm (0.0051 in) (ISO 9175-1)—the 0.90 mm (0.035 in) size is available, but is not considered a standard ISO size.

Pop a Point Pencils

Pioneered by Taiwanese stationery manufacturer Bensia Pioneer Industrial Corporation in the early 1970s, the product is also known as Bensia Pencils, stackable pencils or non-sharpening pencils. It is a type of pencil where many short pencil tips are housed in a cartridge-style plastic holder. A blunt tip is removed by pulling it from the writing end of the body and re-inserting it into the open-ended bottom of the body, thereby pushing a new tip to the top.

Plastic pencils

Invented by Harold Grossman for Empire Pencil Company in 1967 and subsequently improved upon by Arthur D. Little for Empire from 1969 through the early 1970s; the plastic pencil was commercialised by Empire as the "EPCON" Pencil. These pencils were co-extruded, extruding a plasticised graphite mix within a wood-composite core.

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Pencil Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.