Pencil Making: From the Forest Floor to the Artist’s Hand

It’s hard to imagine the process of transforming a tree into a pencil. Thanks to its parent company California Cedar Products Company Inc. and six generations of experience producing pencils and pencil slats, Palomino has direct access to the resources needed during the pencil making process. This allows Palomino to supply the Incense-cedar wood used to create Palomino products themselves and oversee the pencil’s entire journey.

Here’s a look at the trip a pencil makes from the forest floor to the artist’s hand:

  1. First, trees are cut and sent to a sawmill, where Incense-cedar logs are cut into lumber called “pencil stock” or “pencil squares”. This lumber product is then dried in a dry kiln to reach a uniform moisture content before being shipped to the Slat factory
  2. At the slat factory, pencil stock is cut into “pencil blocks” a bit longer than the normal length of a pencil. The small amount of extra length is called “trim allowance” that bears importance later on in the process.
  3. Pencil blocks are cut into “pencil slats” using specially designed circular saws. These saws are very thin in order to reduce the amount of “waste” in the form of “sawdust”. Due to the natural grain and defect characteristics of the wood, slats are sorted by width and grade for further processing. Slats without defects are called “full ply”. Some slats are cut to smaller widths (called “narrow ply”) or shorter lengths (called “memos”) in order to eliminate the defects and to produce a variety of usable grades and plies of pencil slats.
  4. Pencil slats are treated with wax and stain to obtain uniform color and improve the machining and sharpening characteristics of the wood for future processing. The slats pass through a final inspection process and then are packaged and shipped to pencil factories all over the world.
  5. At the pencil factory a “groover machine” cuts grooves into the slats to accept the writing core (or “lead”).
  6.  Writing cores Рmade from a mixture of graphite and clay Рare placed into the grooves. Coloring pencils may use wax-based cores while many other formulations are used in cosmetic pencils.
  7. A second grooved slat is glued onto the first – making a “sandwich” – by a machine called a “lead layer”. The sandwiches are then “clamped” and held together tightly while the glue dries.
  8. Once the glue dries, the sandwiches are transferred to a “Shaper” and are first “trimmed” to assure that the sandwich is square and that all the pencils will be the proper length. Then the sandwich is machined into pencil shapes such as hexagonal, round or triangular.
  9. Individual pencils cut from the sandwich are ready for further processing. Any pencils with defects, such as uncentered leads or chipped wood, are discarded at this point.
  10. Next, each pencil is painted in a machine receiving from 4-10 coats of lacquer, depending on the desired quality of the finish and the color depth. A recess is cut to accept the ferrule.
  11. After painting, some pencils are wrapped in decorative film or foils with fancy designs; although, most pencils are imprinted with the brand name by stamping the foil into the surface of the pencil.
  12. On a “tipping” machine, an eraser and a ferrule (the metal ring that holds the eraser to the pencil) are crimped into place on each finished pencil.