Why Are Woodworking Pencils Flat? 3 Facts


The carpenter’s pencil is a simple but essential tool for any woodworker. Without it, you would probably have a much harder time making the accurate cuts that woodworking very often requires. However, you may have noticed that they do not look like any ordinary pencil. They are flat.

Woodworking pencils are flat because the unique shape prevents them from rolling away on uneven surfaces. Furthermore, it makes it easier to grip, especially when wearing gloves, and easier to draw a straight line.

Pretty much any hardware store sells them, or you can easily find them online on Amazon, such as this pack of IRWIN Carpenter PencilsOpens in a new tab.. The flatness of these pencils is the thing that puzzles a lot of people, but the explanation is quite simple, making these unique from the no. 2 pencils you used in school. If you are interested in this topic, we encourage you to read further.

To Prevent Them From Rolling Away

Both woodworkers and carpenters oftentimes work with uneven surfaces and will quickly mark where they need to cut before placing their pencils back down.

Normal pencils roll away at the slightest hint of an angle, which can be incredibly annoying when you are just trying to focus on your work. Sure, you can place the pencil vertically against the slope, but the pencil can still start rolling if it gets bumped or you did not place it down perfectly vertically.

This is one reason why carpenter’s pencils are flat; once you set them down, they are not going anywhere.

Easier to Hold 

Both woodworkers and carpenters often wear gloves to protect their hands from sharp edges and for improved grip. The downside of gloves, however, is that they make holding smaller, lighter objects more difficult. Round or hexagonal pencils can be quite loose/slippery in the hand if you are wearing gloves, making marking unnecessarily more difficult as a consequence. 

Flat pencils are easier to hold on to due to the larger surface area. While round pencils are better for writing paragraphs at a desk, if you are marking where you need to make cuts, a pencil with a flat body makes more sense for both carpenters and woodworkers. 

Provide a Straighter Mark

Not only is the grip flat, but the lead is too. If you have ever tried to take a ruler and mark a straight line with a round pencil, it makes it significantly easier, but the pencil still wants to jump around as you move the lead across. 

Because the lead on a carpenter’s pencil is flat, it can line up perfectly with the ruler or anything else you are using. 

Woodworking Pencils Also Use Stronger Lead

When marking rough wood vs. paper, you will need a sturdier lead and leave behind a more noticeable mark. 

Unlike normal pencils, the lead in carpenter’s pencils is incredibly sturdy, preventing it from snapping when going over rough wood surfaces. They are also much better at marking wood than a normal pencil because the stronger lead means you can press down harder, making it more noticeable. 

What to Look for in a Woodworker’s Pencil

Buying pencils for woodworking is not a complicated affair. Just about any carpenter’s pencil should do the trick unless they are that bad of quality. 

Ideally, you will want to look for something that ranks between 2H and 4H on the graphite scale. You are essentially looking for something that can leave behind a darker mark than average.

Do not worry about fancy brand names; get a pack that is cheap and functional. These 72 Lot Misprint Woodcase Carpenter Pencils will do the trick.

72Pcs Carpenter Pencils 7 inch Octagonal Red Hard Black Lead Carpenter Pencil Woodworking Marking ToolOpens in a new tab.

But before you can start using them, you will need to get them sharpened.

How to Sharpen a Woodworker’s Pencil 

Most of the carpenter’s pencils are not usable out of the box, and when they are, they will eventually have to be sharpened just like any other pencil. There are two methods of going about this, one of which takes a bit of learning.

  1. Hold the pencil in your hand, allowing 2 inches of space between the end you are trying to sharpen and your fingers.
  2. Take a utility knife or a chisel in your opposite hand and point it downwards towards the pencil – away from yourself at a 45-degree angle.
  3. Slice off the outer wood near the end of the pencil as if you are sharpening a spear. Work your way around the tip of the pencil until the lead starts to show.
  4. Once ¼ of an inch of the lead has been exposed, you can stop slicing.
  5. Drag the lead’s tip along with sandpaper or another abrasive surface until you have reached your desired thickness.

If you would like a video representation of how this is done, we will link a video down below:

This is “the hard way” to do it; we think that using a carpenter’s pencil sharpener is the way to go due to how dirt cheap they are and the fact that they waste less lead overall. This IRWIN Carpenter Pencil SharpenerOpens in a new tab. is very affordable and will make your life just a bit easier. 

But to be clear, as long as the blade you are using is sharp, you should not have much issue with sharpening these pencils once you get the hang of it after the first couple of times. 

Mechanical Woodworking Pencils Also Exist

If you have always preferred mechanical pencils because you do not have to worry about sharpening them, you can also get carpenter’s pencils in this form-factor. 

They are not as strong as conventional pencils, and they often are not flat, but if you see a pack advertising as good for carpentry, they should be sturdy enough to get the job done. These pencils are usually quite versatile as well and are not made just for woodworking/carpentry. In reality, they are much improved versions of the flimsy mechanical pencils you used in school. 

But make no mistake, there are “true” mechanical carpenter pencils on the market that are flat and provide the same benefits as a conventional one without the need to sharpen. This STKR Concepts Mechanic Carpenter Pencil is one of the best examples of that. (Check out the price on Amazon HereOpens in a new tab.)

Now, you might be wondering if this is truly better than the conventional carpenter pencils we have been talking about thus far. We think that technically, yes, it offers many incentives to pick it up, such as the fact you only need one pencil, do not have to sharpen it, and it arguably marks even better than a lot of conventional carpenter pencils.

However, it is not totally necessary to buy, and a big pack of cheap pencils will work just fine, and the advantage with those is that you do not have to worry about losing or breaking them nearly as much. If one goes out of service, you can grab another.  

Conclusion

Woodworking pencils are flat to prevent them from rolling, are easier to hold, and follow a ruler in a straight line than around pencils. You can technically use any strong lead pencil to do the job, but getting dedicated carpenter pencils will just make your life a bit easier when working on your next project. 

You do not need anything fancy. Just so long as it works, then you are good to go. However, You can opt for a mechanical pencil if the advantages incentivize you.

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