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Why are Carpenters Pencils Flat?

why are carpenters pencils flat

Why are carpenter’s pencils flat? If you have seen a carpenter’s toolbelt, you may have also noticed the funny-looking pencil among the tools. Why is it shaped like that? Is there a specific reason for that?

Although not all carpenters use a specialized pencil, most of the experienced ones use it because it does have benefits that can help them with their work. If you are curious about why carpenter’s pencils are shaped that way and how it helps contractors with their work, this article will attempt to answer all your questions.

Top Reasons Why Carpenter’s Pencils are Flat?

Let’s discuss why carpenter’s pencils are so weirdly-shaped. Carpenter’s pencils are flat-shaped, making them quite unwieldy for general writing processes. However, there are many reasons why they are made for carpenters and other general contractors. These include the following:

Prevents rolling

The biggest reason carpenter’s pencils are flat is that they prevent them from rolling off surfaces. Imagine if you are a roofer and you need to place a mark on a rafter or something, and your pencil rolls off the roof. You will be wasting a lot of time and effort trying to retrieve your pencil or finding another way to place your marks.

Carpenter’s pencils are flat, so they will not roll off any surface you place them on, even if it is on an incline. The pencil has a rectangular cross-section. If you place the pencil on the broad side, it will not roll over even if you give it a slight push.

For quick measurements

As mentioned earlier, carpenter’s pencils have rectangular cross-sections but now here is the cool part. You can use it as a quick measuring tool. The broad side of the pencil is ½” wide, while the narrower side is ¼” wide, so when you need to do quick measurements, you can use the pencil.

This is also quite convenient if you need to install things that need half-inch or quarter-inch spacing, like floorboards or tiles. Sandwich the pencil in between the planks and you will always have perfectly even spacing.

Easier to hold

different grades of carpenter pencils

If you are a carpenter or a contractor, you will not be holding your pencil normally. Most of the time, you will be holding it like you would a knife when you are scribing or placing marks.

Although carpenter’s pencils are shaped awkwardly for regular writing purposes, they are shaped perfectly for scribing. The broad shape makes it easier to hold, even when you have sweaty hands. It also prevents the pencil from twisting in your hand so your scribes will always be straight.

Less likely to break

Another reason why carpenter’s pencils are shaped this way is that it prevents them from breaking easily. These pencils are thicker and even their leads are slightly thicker and are also rectangular. This is important if you are a carpenter because you do not want your tools to break easily, especially while you are in the middle of work.

Large surface area

Carpenter pencils also often have a flat shape because it provides a large surface area, promoting ease in gripping them even if you wear a pair of gloves. The fact that you can easily use and grip it because of its large surface area also allows precision marking.

In addition, it makes the pencil highly durable, allowing it to handle even harsh working conditions. This means that there is a low risk of it breaking even if you store it inside a toolbox along with other heavy objects and tools.

Promotes flexibility

It is highly flexible because it provides you with several ways for sharpening depending on the intended use. You can sharpen it to make the following:

  • Scribe pencil – This will be useful in drawing a clear straight line.
  • Blunt edge – It is the ideal means of sharpening if you intend to mark rough surfaces, like stone, concrete, or brick.
  • Finer edge or point – This is intended for finer markings.

The flat shape of carpenter pencils is also the reason why you can easily sharpen them. It is possible for you to sharpen the pencils using sandpaper, a knife, and even an ax. As much as possible, sharpen both its sends.

That way, once one of its ends becomes dull, there is no need to sharpen it right away. You can just flip the pencil around quickly and continue with what you are doing.

Different Grades of Carpenter’s Pencils

Just like regular pencils, carpenter’s pencils also come in different levels of hardness. In addition, each type has its uses.

Medium – This is equivalent to the number 2 pencil in terms of hardness. This pencil is typically used for general carpentry, like making marks on wood for framing and plywood.

Hard – This is the equivalent of the number 3 pencil, and is the hardest type of carpenter’s pencil you can buy. This pencil is usually used for harder materials, like hardwoods, masonry, and for drywall.

Soft – This is the equivalent of the number 1 pencil, which means it is the softest and darkest of the lot. This pencil is used for softer materials that you don’t want to get gouged by the medium pencil. This is typically used for softwoods and recently fallen timber. You can also use this for delicate materials.

How to Sharpen Carpenter’s Pencils?

sharpen carpenters pencils

There are technically two ways to sharpen a carpenter’s pencil:

Special Pencil Sharpener

Since the carpenter’s pencils are unusually shaped, you will need to use a special sharpener. Now, this is where it can get tricky. The reason is that not all carpenter’s pencil sharpeners are the same.

Some are just like regular sharpeners but with a bigger opening for the pencil. The problem with them is that they sharpen the pencil unevenly. You will need to use a special sharpener that will whittle the sides evenly, giving you a wedge-shaped lead.

Utility Knife/Box Cutter

Since it can be hard to find a reliable sharpener for carpenter’s pencils, most contractors would just use their utility knives to whittle the ends of their carpenter’s pencils. Just be a bit careful not to cut your fingers.

Shave off a bit of the wood casing gradually, too, to avoid cutting into the lead too much. However, using a utility knife would also mean you will be wasting quite a bit of pencil lead. Be very careful when sharpening your pencils this way.


The answer to the question “why are carpenter’s pencils flat” is purely utilitarian. Primarily, it is flat because the shape will keep it from rolling off work surfaces. It is also specifically designed so you can use the sides for rough measurements (½” and ¼”).

This makes the carpenter’s pencil more than just a regular writing implement. It is a genuine tool with different uses.

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