You’re Sharpening Your Carpenter’s Pencil Wrong

There’s a saying in the tool world: Sharp tools make for better work.

Or something like that.

I’m sure some chisel-sharpening god from the age of hand tools coined it. The point is that this not only applies to irons like chisels, bits, and blades, but to the thing we all probably take for granted: the lowly pencil.

Yet, like so many seemingly simple things we take for granted (like breathing or taking out the trash each week), taking a pencil from dull to useful is a journey I’ve seen many undertake. And let’s just say they’re taking the long way home. If they even get there. Sure, many shops have pencil sharpeners on the wall, but if you’re building a compost bin in your back yard (which you should, just sayin’…perhaps a story for another day) or a firewood rack in your driveway or you’re adding shelves in your basement, you need a sharp pencil when and where you need it. In other words, wherever you’re standing when it gets dull.

OK, now that I’ve over-talked that poor point, here’s the idea: There’s a way to sharpen a pencil. It’s easy but does require a bit more finesse than just throwing a blade at the wood and hoping for the best.


  • Grab the pencil near the point, like 1 ½-inches back from the end. Like a guide hand in basketball, this stabilizes the pencil.
  • Next, position a sharp* utility knife about ¾-inch up and begin to remove wood. Expose graphite by pushing the blade through the wood with the thumb of the hand holding the pencil. The hand holding the knife mostly just holds the knife at the optimum angle. Work your way around the pencil.
  • Once the graphite is showing somewhere about 3/8-inch, I like to hone it. I do this by keeping the steel of the blade on the graphite and keeping a really low angle so I’m not removing too much material, almost like polishing. No need to go crazy for rough work like pallet stuff, but if you’re doing anything where precision matters a bit, a sharp point pays off.


* A good indicator that the blade in your utility knife is dull is that it doesn’t cut through pencil wood easily.

13 thoughts on “You’re Sharpening Your Carpenter’s Pencil Wrong

    1. when your standing on a second floor truss with a skillsaw on your belt there is no oh let me go find sandpaper to sharpen my pencil, its utility knife 4 quick cuts i can see the lead, i can mark, I can cut, now i can finish this shit and go home.

    1. this is what I came here to say…

      This is like “using a knife 101”

      step 1: make sure knife is sharp
      step 2: make sure you always have a firm grip on cutting instruments and the object, and always cut away from yourself.
      step 3: ???
      step 4: profit!

  1. I use a pencil sharpener, it’s wrong shape and doesn’t work at all on that type of pencil, so I use a number two pencil.

      1. those things are kinda gnarly one the carpenters pencils though, especially depending on the lead hardness you’ve got.
        I tend towards number 2’s for shop work, carpenters pencils for construction type work.

  2. Let’s just say if I were to speak my mind about the quality of this article this comment would promptly be deleted.

  3. this dude is an idiot, no carpenter in their right or left mind would spend that much time sharpening a carpenter’s pencil.

  4. And all the comments illustrate what’s wrong with the stupid headline: many people sharpen the pencil as illustrate and others use different types. So no, we’re not all sharpening our pencils the wrong way.

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Mark Clement

Mark, tool nut and carpenter, is co-host of the MyFixitUpLife podcast. He has built for Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, HGTV, DIY Network, Food Network and more. He even works on his own house sometimes.

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