How to Sharpen a Carpenter Pencil

My dad is very handy, and when I was growing up he had a workshop in the garage where he would fix things that had broken and make things from scratch. As you can probably imagine, there were not very many things on my dad’s workbench that I was allowed to touch, but while he worked he would always let me draw with his carpenter pencils. I was mystified by their flat shape and defiance of every pencil sharpener in my trapper keeper. There’s no getting around it: you can’t fit a rectangular pencil into a round hole.



How to Sharpen a Carpenter Pencil with a Knife

So, how does one go about sharpening a carpenter pencil? My dad always used to do it by hand with whatever knife he was carrying around in his pocket that day. He would grip the pencil firmly in one hand with the tip pointing away from him and use slow, precise strokes outward to sharpen it. His method is most similar to the gentleman in this video, who is using a utility knife.

Ron Hazelton of Home Improvement Online likes using a carpenter pencil because it won’t roll away on an inclined surface. He suggests using a belt sander or even a simple piece of sandpaper to refine the tip and shape the graphite just the way you want it for the job you’re doing.

How NOT to Sharpen a Carpenter Pencil

If you ask Yahoo Answers (which I don’t typically recommend outside of comedic value), user “normobrian” states that he dislikes the point that results from cutting away from yourself. His method involves “holding the knife with my four fingers and putting my thumb under the pencil. Use your thumb to put pressure towards the blade as you peel the razor towards you. If the pencil wasn’t there, you’d be paring off your thumbprint. This way, you can take as much or as little wood and lead off as you want to shape the point, rather than just sharpen it.”

While I appreciate the idea of different strokes for different folks, I cannot in good conscience recommend any of our readers attempt this. In fact, I’m including it specifically because I wouldn’t want anyone to think a blade moving in their direction is ever a good idea. Even if you have the steadiest hands in the world, all it takes is something to startle you, bump your arm, or otherwise affect your movement and the next thing you know you’re skewering your hand or worse. There is risk involved in hand-sharpening any type of pencil with any type of blade, and the goal should always be to minimize that risk.

Using a Carpenter Pencil Sharpener

General's Carpenter Pencil Sharpener

If you’re really not interested in risking life or limb to sharpen your beloved carpenter pencil, you should invest in a carpenter pencil sharpener. This sharpener allows you to “automate” the sharpening techniques outlined in the video above by inserting the pencil into the guide and sliding the pencil back and forth across the blade. This awesome General’s Flat Point Carpenter Pencil Sharpener even comes with an unsharpened carpenter pencil, so you can get plenty of practice! I wish I’d had one of these bad boys when I was hanging out in my dad’s workshop.

What’s your tried-and-true method of sharpening a carpenter pencil? Let us know in the comments!



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