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What is a Carpenter's Pencil?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated May 17, 2024
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A carpenter's pencil is a writing tool that typically differs from a normal pencil in four main ways: It is larger, it is somewhat flat, it has harder lead, and it does not have an eraser. Some variations of a carpenter's pencil might be a normal size, be round, have softer lead or have an eraser attached to one end, but a typical carpenter's pencil is different from a regular pencil in all four ways. Most of these differences give carpenter's pencils distinct advantages for use in carpentry.

Large Size

Carpenter's pencils usually are larger than regular pencils. This can make them easier to grip and more difficult to break during use or between uses, such as when they are in a toolbox or scattered among pieces of hardware. The larger size also allows them to be used more easily by a carpenter who is wearing work gloves, if necessary.

Flat Shape

The shape of a carpenter's pencil usually is a flat oval, octagon or rectangle. A flat shape prevents the pencil from rolling when the user sets it down, which can means that the user won't have to retrieve a pencil that has rolled away while he or she was working. The lead inside carpenter's pencils also is a flat oval or rectangle. This allows the user to draw either thick or thin lines, as necessary, simply by turning the pencil.

Hard Lead

Carpenter's pencils typically have harder lead than other pencils do. Most normal pencils have No. 2-strength lead. A carpenter's pencil usually has No. 3 lead, which means that the lead does not break as easily.

No Eraser

The final difference between carpenter's pencils and regular pencils is that a carpenter's pencil typically does not have an eraser on one end. The exact reason for this is not known, although it might be simply by tradition. The first carpenter's pencils were made centuries ago, before manufacturing techniques allowed for erasers to be easily attached to the ends of pencils. The flat shape of carpenter's pencils also might make manufacturing them with erasers more difficult than doing so with rounded pencils.

Some users might think that not having a built-in eraser it is a disadvantage, but it actually might be advantageous. One problem with built-in erasers is that they often wear away before the pencil lead is gone, which creates the need for a separate eraser or one that can be attached to one end of the pencil. A carpenter's pencil's size means that its lead should last a long time, virtually ensuring that a built-in eraser would wear away before the lead is gone. If the eraser wore away in the middle of a project, the user might not have a separate eraser. Not having a built-in eraser in the first place ensures that a conscientious user will make sure to have a separate eraser instead of being caught without one.

Sharpening

One disadvantage of a carpenter's pencil is that its flat shape makes it unable to be sharpened in a sharpener that is designed for rounded pencils. There are sharpeners specially designed for carpenter's pencils, however. Some users simply prefer to sharpen these pencils with a knife or other tool that has a sharp edge.

About Mechanics is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a About Mechanics contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By Rotergirl — On May 24, 2014

Carpenter's pencils have always fascinated me, just because they were the opposite of everything I've ever known about pencils. My dad always said they were flat because that meant they were easier to keep in the carpenters' pockets. I guess that makes sense, too, though.

By Pippinwhite — On May 23, 2014

I have never seen a pencil sharpener for a carpenter's pencil. I've seen many people use pocket knives to sharpen a carpenter's pencil, but never an actual sharpener meant for them. I have a hard time imagining what one would even look like.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a About Mechanics contributor, Tricia...
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