How Pencils are Made: A Detailed Production Process Guide

Whether a young student is producing their first short story in a classroom or an architect is sketching their final draft of an industrial blueprint, the tasks couldn't be accomplished without the help of a simple yet reliable writing tool: the pencil.

The simple function of the tool has probably never made you realize the meticulous work that goes into the production process. So let's discover how a pencil goes from a natural resource to a classic writing instrument.

What is the pencil made out of?

Pencils come in a range of sizes, colors, and lead types. Compared to other writing tools, pencils are the best selection regarding the environment and when it comes to mindful consumption due to their main components: graphite and wood. These two natural resources can be easily recycled when separated from their non-biodegradable additions.

1. Wood

The wooden casing of a pencil is usually made from cedar or other softwoods. The wood is cut into thin panels and shaped into a cylindrical form.

2. Graphite and Clay

The lead of a pencil is composed of graphite and clay, both natural-occurring and malleable minerals. The graphite is mixed with clay to make it stronger and more durable.

3. Paint

Pencils are often painted with a thin layer of lacquer to protect the wood and provide a smooth and comfortable surface when writing.

4. Metal

Pencils often have a metal ferrule, a cap that holds the rubber eraser in place. The ferrule is composed of a lightweight, silvery metal called aluminum.

5. Rubber

The eraser at the top tip of a pencil is rubber, designed to remove graphite marks without damaging paper.

Although the materials used to make a pencil may seem simplistic, much attention to detail is put behind the process to create a well-functioning product.

wooden pencil anatomy
wooden pencil manufacturing process

Where are pencils produced?

  • Large-scale pencil manufacturing occurs in specialized factories with various industrial machines such as saws, kilns, and sprayers. Trained workers facilitate the process and ensure a smooth production process without disruptions.
  • With the help of powerful machinery and active workers, high-quality production is kept continuously and steadily. The dynamic allows for approximately 14 billion pencils annually produced worldwide. That is enough pencils to circle the Earth over 60 times!

How are Pencils made Step-by-step?

wood panels

Step1. From Forest Tree to Ready-to-use Wood

Receiving the pre-cut wood panels instead of the raw wood material speeds up the manufacturing process and allows the flow of production to run more efficiently.

A facility specializing in wood cutting prepares the chopped logs of basswood, poplar wood, or cedarwood into small flat rectangles called wood panels.

The factory will bake, chemical-softened, wax, and stain the slats to ensure the materials' quality before manufacturing. Then all slats will have a consistent color and a smooth surface.
Step 2. Carving the Wood Panels

Step 2. Carving the Wood Panels

The panels are then individually carved by an electric saw to create a thin channel where the graphite lead will go.

All the panels are placed onto an assembly line and pass under a giant industrial saw, adding grooves to the wood needed for future steps.

These grooves are measured the same distance apart from each other. This step finally shows that the wood panels are transforming into a pencil-like form.
graphite lead

Step 3. Making the Graphite Lead

To create the pencil's graphite lead, a soft mixture of graphite and clay is made and then baked at 1500°F to harden.

The heart and core of the pencil are its lead. In 1795, Nicholas-Jacques, the famous French scientist, discovered a new way to produce the pencil lead we are familiar with today, graphite lead.

Graphite lead is composed of graphite powder and kaolin clay. This kaolin clay is distinguishable by its white color and its fine-grained texture. The graphite powder is mixed with the kaolin clay to make it more resistant.

It's important to note that lead durability is a top-tier criterion in high-quality pencil production. When these two ingredients are combined, a paste-like mixture forms.

At this step, the machinery shapes the mixture into a thin, stick-like structure that will fit between the grooves already cut into the wood panels.
Make Sandwich Slats

Step 4. Make Sandwich Slats

At this point in the production process, half of the panels are processed to another part of the factory machine, dividing the wood panels into two groups. One group will become the top half of the pencil, and the second group will become the bottom half.

Although the two groups of wood panels will pass through different machinery from this point forward, they are eventually brought back together to finalize the pencil assembly process.

The first group of panels will be responsible for holding the graphite lead in its grooves. The second group will cover the initial group of lead-filled panels, creating a wood casing, also known as the base of the pencil.
adding the glue

Step 5. Adding The Glue

The grooves are lined with elastic glue that will be used to fix the graphite lead into place.

The glue has a unique formula that gives it an elastic ability. The main ingredient within the special glue is polyvinyl acetate.

This specific ingredient allows a bond formation that will create and guarantee a long-lasting hold.

The glue does so well to paste the two sides of the pencil together that It will seem as if the pencil was never composed of multiple parts in the first place!
Step 6. Stacking the Wood and Lead

Step 6. Stacking the Wood and Lead

The graphite is finally installed into the first group of wooden panels; the second group is placed directly on top. This results in two large wood panels stacked on each other with graphite lead wedged between them.

The pencil's base is fully assembled by composing three separate pieces together. The first wood panel runs through the assembly line's flat surface, graphite lead is strategically aligned into the carved groove, and finally, the second wood panel is laid on top.

At this point in production, the stacked panels have thin lead graphite sticks between the grooves.
Putting It All Together

Step 7. Putting It All Together

The wood panels are squeezed together by a machine with a ton of pressure (1,000 kg) to ensure that the elastic glue molds the two halves together.

Reinforcing that the glue covers every inch of the wooden grooves is a crucial part of the process. However, the drying phase allows the glue to do its job correctly.

The panels are pressurized and placed with a mechanical plunger for one hour to ensure that the elastic glue fully dries for everything to stay in place.
Step 8. Slicing the Wood into Individual Pencils

Step 8. Slicing the Wood into Individual Pencils

An industrial table saw is used to cut the wood and graphite boards into the form of individual pencils.

A saw slices each wooden panel to create individual wooden pencils. They are shaved down with sandpaper to give the exposed wood a smooth feel.
quality check

Step 9. Quality Control

A worker inspects a pencil from each batch to ensure quality by performing lead and sharpening tests.

Quality control is the most hands-on part of confirming every step in the process thus far has gone smoothly and continues to run according to plan.

On the factory floor, a designated number of specialist workers always continuously inspect and test the batches of pencils that the machinery has recently produced.
the finishing touches

Step 10. The Finishing Touches

Final details are given by adding a layer of lacquer, a metal cap, and a rubber eraser. Any images or text will then be printed on the base of the pencil if necessary. The most common way to add a customized logo to the pencil is by screen printing or engraving.

Some pencils are requested by clients to have printed custom features such as logos, images, and even messages onto the pencil base.

The finishing touches to complete the pencil is the metal cap, called a ferrule. The ferrule gives the ready-to-use product a spot at its tip to add an attached eraser.
pencils ready to ship

Step 11. Pencils are packaged and Ready to ship 

After the thorough production process, the batches of pencils are done! Once all the pencils are neatly packaged with the help of the machinery and skilled workers, they are ready to be officially shipped to the buyer.

The high-quality result allows these products to be used when they leave the factory. Whether their new home is in a classroom environment or an office workspace, these tools will continue to be appreciated as a staple essential for centuries.

Final Tips

  • One ton of wood can make 30,000 pencils.
  • 3400 kgs of wood can make 1 million pencils, which equals a big pencil factory's daily output in China
  • Digital printing, pad printing, screen printing, and hot stamping are the best printing methods for pencils.
  • According to data from the National Bureau of Statistics of China, the number of pencils exported from China to the US in 2021 was 1613.46 tons.
Su - Interwell Founder
Hi, I'm Su, the author of this post. I founded Interwell Stationery and have served over 1000+ clients since 2003. Feel free to contact us for custom stationery supplies, manufacturing support, and the latest trends in the industry.

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