Sharpening the classic carpenter’s pencil
Imagine my surprise, when some years ago, as I was going through the check out at a major hardware mart, I noticed a new pencil sharpener that promised to put a conical shape on the classic carpenter’s pencil. My immediate reaction was, WTF! Why would anyone pay for a carpenter’s pencil and then shape and sharpen it like any other pencil. This was clearly a solution in search of a problem. Hey! Save your money. Steal a regular pencil from your kids or your wife! Then it dawned on me. Maybe there are a lot of people who just don’t understand how to use a carpenter’s pencil to one’s best advantage.
Of course, the pencil is a marking tool. And the carpenter’s pencil (like any woodworking tool) works best when it is sharp. The traditional method of sharpening a carpenter’s pencil is to create four trapezoidal surfaces, thereby presenting a knife edged lead. This allows the user to strike a very fine line. A further benefit of this method is that sharpness can be maintained by simply rubbing the lead on a bit of fine sand paper.
My friends in the timber framing craft, many times opt for a somewhat different and very useful method of preparing their pencils. The method below allows for very tight marking of both large and small joints. But, more importantly, it allows one to use the pencil as a scribing tool. The long, angled surface can be created and maintained with a knife, chisel or plane.
The only caveat here is to be careful not to cut the long, angled surface so close to the lead as to weaken it’s position in the wooden stock of the pencil.
And, for goodness sake, if you bought one of those sharpeners, throw it away or hide it. Pretend you never had one and then proceed to show all of your woodworking friends how you do it. They’ll be very impressed with your practical knowledge.