The pencil is less
than 200 years old. It is said that once graphite
was discovered in a mine in Cumberland, England, some form of crude
pencil was created about 500 years back. Then in 1760, the famous
Faber family (you must be familiar with the Faber
pencils) in Nuremberg, Germany attempted to make a pencil out of
pulverized graphite, but were not very successful. It was only in
the 1795, when a man by the name of N.J.
Conte came up with the ideal method of making pencils, and
this formed the basis for all future pencil making.
Graphic Showing the Pencil Making Process
All the pencils we see around us today - color pencils, lead pencils
etc. are made in the following way:
To make a pencil, dried ground
graphite is first mixed with some clay and water. The proportions
of clay and graphite depend on the type of pencil you want - more
clay means harder the pencil, while more graphite means a softer
Once the dough reaches a good
consistency after mixing for a while, it is passed through a
forming press and comes out as a thin, sleek rope.
This is straightened out, cut
into accurate lengths and kept to dry.
The pieces are then placed in a
large oven to bake.
Simultaneously, the pencil case
is also prepared. The slab of wood (red cedar or pine) is cut and
shaped into grooves to fit the lead piece.
Once the lead pieces are ready,
they are placed in the wood grooves and the two halves of the wood
are glued together.
A saw is then used to make
individual pencils and then they are sent through a shaping
machine for a smoother finish. (See the diagram for a better
understanding of the steps involved in pencil making.)
Although we may call
them 'lead pencils', in reality, they do not
contain lead. (Lead, by the way, is quite harmful). It actually
contains graphite, which is like lead since it leaves a mark when
used on paper. This is why it is called 'black lead'.
It is amazing to hear that there are about 350 types of
pencils in the world, each used for various things - fine
arts, building construction, for schools and colleges,
for making different types of sketches, drawings and portraits, cartoon making etc. It is possible to get black lead pencils with
19 degrees of hardness or in 72 colors! Pencils
can be used in a wide range of media - paper, photographs,
cellophane, movie film, cloth, glass etc. They are a
remarkable piece of equipment and a delight to use!