Plain old pencils

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Forum topic by richgreer posted 01-31-2011 04:53 PM 4064 views 2 times favorited 28 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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4541 posts in 2493 days

01-31-2011 04:53 PM

Some might think this should be a tool review but, IMO, it does not quite merit the status of a review.

Often I want nothing more than a plain old pencil in the shop for marking and labeling purposes. However, I am convinced that there is some kind of mystical force field in my shop that breaks all ordinary pencil leads. I became quite frustrated with the pencil leads constantly breaking. As an FYI – I don’t like mechanical pencils.

I finally bought a package of Lee Valley pencils,42936,43509&ap=1

Yes, that is $9.50 for 10 basic, simple pencils. However, they are well worth it. I finally have pencils in the workshop that I can count on. The leads just don’t break and the markings are perfectly clear. I ordered the 2B pencils. I’m not sure they “write like a Belgium Chocolate tastes” but they are very smooth and easy to use.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

28 replies so far

View Edziu's profile


150 posts in 2469 days

#1 posted 01-31-2011 05:11 PM

Thanks for the review.

It’s not so much the quality of the pencils that bothers, but its the fact that they are never where I left them. A few years ago during a ‘back to school’ season I bought 3 60pc boxes of #2 pencils. Needless to say, I still can’t find them. I know someday I’ll do a major cleaning for the shop and I’ll find them all and have a big laugh, but for now, I’ll just keep pulling out a new one and sharpening it.

View hairy's profile


2377 posts in 2951 days

#2 posted 01-31-2011 05:24 PM

I bought some white lead pencils at a craft store, for dark woods. They break so easy that it’s almost not worth using.

-- stay thirsty my friends...

View Paul2274's profile


330 posts in 2531 days

#3 posted 01-31-2011 06:56 PM

For a lot of basic marking (not super precise) I just use a $.48 cent carpenter pencil. Sharpen it with a utility knife… good to go! They are strong and cheap. Highly recommend. Now I do use a sharper regular pencil for more precise marking but for longer lines for the table saw and mitre saws… carpenter pencil is the way to go.


View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 3579 days

#4 posted 01-31-2011 07:00 PM

sounds like a tool worthy of being a “review” – breaking lead is a real bother, not being able to see the mark – argh … so it is nice to see that the purchase was a good one!

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View TheWoodNerd's profile


288 posts in 2610 days

#5 posted 01-31-2011 07:31 PM

One of the major irritants with cheap pencils is off-center leads. I hate it when one side of my point is wood-covered.

I’m not averse to spending money for quality, but 80 cents per pencil (it’s a box of 12) ... plus shipping … $1.50 per pencil … hmm …

-- The Wood Nerd --

View Mary Anne's profile

Mary Anne

1058 posts in 2627 days

#6 posted 01-31-2011 07:35 PM

Sounds like a good purchase, Rich. Part of my enjoyment in woodworking is having tools I can depend on to work smoothly and properly. That includes the lowly, but extremely important, pencil.

After using the mechanical pencil that came with my Incra LS and really liking it, I purchased a big ol’ package of Bic mechanical pencils. The leads break 3 or 4 times every time I go to use one. The pencils from Lee Valley (or another few Incra mechanicals) look like a bargain to me in comparison to the frustration in fighting with the cheap mechanical ones.

Thanks for bringing this up!

View reggiek's profile


2240 posts in 2689 days

#7 posted 01-31-2011 07:41 PM

Rich, I hear that on breaking leads….I use mechanicals and they still break constantly…even .9 mm. I thought perhaps I was pushing too hard….but even lightening the force doesn’t seem to help….I’ve gone to using a marking knife and if I need a darker line….I’ll run a pencil over it. I’ve tried the white lead color pencils too…still hard to see…and very soft lead that is hard to sharpen..or to keep from breaking….I’ve gotten to using the marking knife…and then snapping some white chalk if I need a darker mark for the darker woods. I haven’t tried the pencils you mention here….though I’ll keep them as an option…thanks for the info.

-- Woodworking.....My small slice of heaven!

View Richard's profile


1871 posts in 2109 days

#8 posted 01-31-2011 07:47 PM

I think the main problem with the normal #2 pencil is that the lead is soft so it breaks easy when useing it on wood. I have found that if you go to a drafting supply store and get replacement leads for the mechanical pencil in a harder lead like the 2B that they will stand up better. The B range is hard and then you go to the F range which is very soft, a lot of the stores will also have them in the standard wood pencil with the harder leads for those that don’t like the mechanical ones.

View Lee Barker's profile

Lee Barker

2170 posts in 2269 days

#9 posted 01-31-2011 08:10 PM

Here’s how I solved the problem of the puny leads breaking:

Now if I can just get Pete Wadey to make an apron with a decent pencil pocket in it…

-- " his brain, which is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage, he hath strange places cramm'd with observation, the which he vents in mangled forms." --Shakespeare, "As You Like It"

View BigTiny's profile


1676 posts in 2307 days

#10 posted 01-31-2011 11:45 PM

Once again Lee Valley shows they carry quality stuff for the wood worker. Thanks for the review.

-- The nicer the nice, the higher the price!

View brtech's profile


882 posts in 2341 days

#11 posted 01-31-2011 11:48 PM

I’ve struggled with pencils for a while. I can use the wooden ones, but they are never sharp enough. I could never use a mechanical pencil – I’d break the lead right away.

Then I found this:

Pricey. But it works. I don’t break the lead.

View Lee Barker's profile

Lee Barker

2170 posts in 2269 days

#12 posted 02-01-2011 12:42 AM

Has anyone tried these?



-- " his brain, which is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage, he hath strange places cramm'd with observation, the which he vents in mangled forms." --Shakespeare, "As You Like It"

View Knothead62's profile


2581 posts in 2380 days

#13 posted 02-01-2011 01:32 AM

I use a regular #2 pencil. I sharpen with a crank-type mounted on an overhead cabinet or one of those sharpeners we had in grade school. I do hold the pencil at an angle to keep only the lead on the wood.
I also have and old penknife I use for marking. Rich, thanks for sharing!

View teejk's profile


1215 posts in 2103 days

#14 posted 02-01-2011 02:23 AM

funny topic but quite relevant. My wife and I have been finishing out a new house and there have been more than a few pencils used here. Go to Wal-mart and check out their office supplies. You will see two packages from the same company (Dixon). Buy the more expensive of the two! Hard to believe that there is that much difference but there is. As long as you’re in town, hit your office supply store and buy one of those old Boston hand-crank sharpeners and mount it on the wall. While you are there, you may as well pick up a few Sharpees as well (skip the cheaper BICs since you’ll have to buy industrial hand cleaner when they start to leak).

Go back to your shop and find a scrap of pine, move to the drill press and start drilling holes big enough to hold a pencil, then add 2 legs and a bottom. I think my little rack holds 16 of those little things. and might be 8” long by 1 1/2” wide with legs 1-2” high. I’d post a picture but it is too cold out there.
When they need sharpening, put it away and grab a new one. When you get a few in need of sharpening, do a few at a time (they take about 10 seconds each so makes sense to batch them like that).

When I do fine work, I really want a sharp pencil and have learned how to cut with a miter saw to cut exactly where I want.

View canadianchips's profile


2307 posts in 2416 days

#15 posted 02-01-2011 02:44 AM

I just purchased some from Princess Auto. They had 3 different qualities. I am trying all 3. When I asked what the difference was, the lady at counter told me QUOTE: “Good, Very Good and the Third one has spell check built right in”

-- "My mission in life - make everyone smile !"

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