While nothing beats a high-quality pen for most daily writing tasks, pencils are still universally used in a variety of different settings because they can do things that pens cannot. As children, we learn to write and do our math calculations using pencils because they are erasable. It is simple to remove errors and try again, making them excellent learning tools. Pencil is also an ideal art medium. It creates smooth, dark lines of varying thicknesses. Artists use deliberate smudging to create shadows and depth in their work. Whether creating a first or a final draft, pencil lead is a very flexible medium.
(coyot / pixabay)
Pencil lead, or graphite, as we know it today, is unique. Early writers used lumps of graphite wrapped in a cloth to grip the mineral easily. Consisting of carbon atoms arranged in a crystalline structure, graphite flakes apart easily, leaving thin sheets of carbon on paper or parchment as it is pulled across the page.
Over time, innovators began fashioning wooden holders for sticks of graphite, making writing more effortless and allowing them to document their work more effectively. The first record of such a device came in 1565. Conrad Gessner, a botanist, physician, and zoologist, drew diagrams of his writing implement and provided a description as well. He described a hollow wooden shaft to hold a long, thin piece of lead. This wooden pencil was the precursor to both modern wood pencils and later mechanical pencils.
With so many different mechanical pencils to choose from, it is essential to understand the differences between them to make an informed decision. The pencil that works best for one person may not be the top choice of another.
Mechanical pencils are so named because they contain a mechanism for advancing the lead within the pencil chamber. This advancing action allows you to keep writing with a thin piece of pencil lead without stopping to sharpen it.
The majority of mechanical pencils are only compatible with one lead size. The most common sizes are 0.5mm, 0.7mm, and 0.9mm. Thinner lead is more suitable for small handwriting or detailed drawings, allowing you to use fine lines for intricate details. While some very thick pencil leads can be sharpened, thicker sizes can leave you feeling like you are writing with a dull pencil. If you want the ability to change lead sizes from time to time, you may want to consider a high-end mechanical pencil with an adapter. These adapters eliminate the need to buy multiple different pencils to accommodate various lead sizes.
While the pencil that you choose does not dictate your lead's hardness, it is still an essential factor to consider when buying your supplies. Graphite hardness is measured on a scale from "9H" to "9B," with "HB" representing graphite in the scale's center. Confusing at first, the scale is easy to understand. The number preceding the "H" indicates how hard the graphite is, with "9" being the hardest. Hard graphite is well-suited to technical and detailed work and art where you don't want smudging.
The number before the "B" refers to the blackness of the graphite. Softer graphite writes smoothly and darkly. Thus, blacker graphite is on the opposite side of the scale from hard graphite. Soft graphite is perfect for pencil shading and filling in the bubbles on all those standardized tests, as it writes darkly and smudges to fill in spaces completely.
For most people, pencils are a tool that we have been using our whole lives. Finding the perfect mechanical pencil for you does not have to be complicated. Look for pencils that write in a way that matches your style. Then, pair it with a lead that works for you and not against you, controlling color and smudging by adjusting the hardness. Refillable mechanical pencils are ingenious inventions and can be a lot of fun to use.