Monday, April 30, 2007

A Kiln

A kiln seems to be a crucial element in making the graphite core of my pencil. A small kiln runs about $1,300, according to the DIY network.

How much labor is required to construct a kiln?

Will You Use This Pencil?

"If you happen to be successful at making this pencil. Will you actually use it? Well, I mean more than once to make sure that it works? "

Musgrave Pencil Company declares.
"The average pencil can be sharpened 17 times, write 45,000 words or draw a line 35 miles long."
The above being true, I will offer to sell my signature at $5.00 per signature. Tyler Farrer is two words and so should bring in about $112,500.00.

On the other hand, Musgrave Pencil also holds the following to be true.
"One pencil will draw a line 70 miles long."
I may double my money!

Timberlines Assesment of My Mental Health

The Woodchuck, pencil expert extraordaire, at Timberlines has a good synopsis of my mission, and predicts my eventual fate. He doesn't specify whether he thinks I will be able to afford the prescriptions that I'll have to take.

Please feel free to contribute to my 'Recovery Fund' by clicking on the Paypal link on the sidebar.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Yielding Graphite From Limestone

I'd love to be able to go out in my backyard and to dig up some graphite, but alas, that will likely be fruitless.

It isn't that I need to find a large cache, but just enough to supply one pencil. I've learned that graphite can be found in the veins of metamorphic rocks. Particularly limestone deposits. I'm aware of some limestone here in Utah, in fact a contractor for applications of this type of rock are headquartered in my town of North Salt Lake.

Here's some free advertising for Hughes General Contractors, Inc.

Timberlines: Pencil Pusher

Please pay special attention to Timberlines, listed in my sidebar. I've received some encouragement in my quest from its proprietor, Woodchuck.

As a successful producer of what I would call high-end pencils, Timberlines has my respect and awe.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Overcoming Pencil Bigotry

I volunteer in the Boy Scouts of America, working with 14-15 year old boys. Last night, while waiting for some pizza's to come out of the oven, I found a pencil sitting on the counter and mentioned my new interest in pencils to the youth in attendance.

One of them, after I had gone on a bit about pencil lore, suggested that he might do some real damage to my psyche by breaking this particular pencil in half.

"That's absolutely fine by me", I said. "The beautiful thing about the pencil is that despite the fact that it is a fantastic invention, that has been perfected over hundreds of years, it is cheap to produce!"

"Besides, when you're finished destroying that one pencil, you'll have created two more in its place!"

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A Steep Learning Curve

Just one week ago I made a laughable gaffe in suggesting, in an obscure reference to uranium enrichment, that I should use Aluminum tubes to form my graphite "lead".

Wrong! Graphite is corrosive when it comes in contact with aluminum. Maybe that's the real reason that NASA uses pens in space.

Also, Graphite is a very different thing in a zero-g environment, and I must be careful when milling graphite. Don't inhale!

Graphite: Fruitless Searching

I am always amazed, not only at human ingenuity, but to what ends inspiration is directed.

Take a simple object, one that would ordinarily miss notice, because it is ordinary. Something that you take for granted, and reduce that to its simplest form. Take it in its form from which man first touched it--maybe you! What are its properties? How is one piece of matter different from another? How are they the same? What could be substituted for one thing to make up the difference for what is lacking in another?

I went on a serious search, the other day, for the place to find such a simple thing. I might have staked a claim, had I found it. In my search for graphite--I would think, not a rare mineral, I found that it is an exceedingly rare thing as things go. There are more rare geological finds, and people waste their lives trying to find the most rare of things, but try and find a commonplace thing! Try to--rather than spending pennies on its modified form--to get it raw.

That is a difficult thing indeed.

Now imagine, yet it is true, the many people who make a fair living from this thing that costs the consumer mere cents.

That is what is wonderful about capitalism!

The Pencil:Three Types Of 'Wood'

Maybe as a first step I should upgrade an existing pencil. For example, pencil wood comes in at least three varieties, of differing qualities. On the low end we have the pencils that are much more flexible and when broken, do so cleanly. These are actually made of a plastic composite. Pencil connoisseurs don't go for these at all. A tier up would be the pencil made of tropical rain forest trees, identified by the dark specks in the wood.. I, personally, think these are fine, but they aren't too politically correct--Killing the rain forest, and raining down pollutants on coral reef's, and all that. The top of the line pencil is constructed with incense cedar identified by a clear solid grain, and a clear seam.

I think it would cause no offense if I harvested the graphite from one of my plastic pencils and remade the implement into something better. Any wood should be an improvement. It doesn't even have to be cedar.

It would be something.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

A Pencil Poem

"An eraser's called a 'rubber,' "
wrote the lovely, lissome lass.

Her "British English" essay
just ran rings
around the class.

But hear me, all good Christians,
that poor girl learned all too late

As a pregnancy
preventer, her eraser wasn't great.
Brendan Beary

Saturday, April 14, 2007

They've All Got Pencil Envy!

As etymological origins intimate, the word pencil is diminutive of the word penis, and therefore has become a phallic symbol over the last 700 years. I'm not at all surprised to come across some competition among pencil makers to come up with the worlds largest pencil.

Since the word 'pen', meaning quill, has completely unique roots, we should see fewer attempts at making one that is large. I see only two results in google, compared to 74 results for the pencil.

Pencil makers have refined their techniques, added rubber erasers, and given us what we have today, to make it useful, but all along its remained a symbol of something else. Perhaps all of this can explain the obsessive attention that has been paid to this simple looking device. You'd think they were working with diamonds. (For an idea of how advanced the pencil has become, see this one from the 1600.)

Needless to say, I had no idea this undercurrent existed when I embarked on my quest.

And if you're here looking for you-know-what, you can forget it! Avast!

Pencil, Pen Definitions

pencil See Pen
[ME pensel, pencel, fr. MF pincel, fr. (assumed) VL pinicellus, fr. L penicillus brush, pencil, lit., little tail, dim. of penis tail, penis]

That pen 'enclosure' and pen 'writing implement' are etymologically unrelated may not be surprising, since the meanings are so distinct. The 'enclosure' pen traces its ancestry obscurely back to Old English penn and has no known relatives in other languages. Its homophone, by contrast, goes back to Latin penna 'wing, feather', for the original reference was to a quill pen.

Pen and pencil look close in both form and meaning, but again the resemblance is accidental. When pencil entered English in the early fourteenth centruy (as pinsel, among other spellings), it denoted an artists paintbrush. This was the meaning of its ultimate source in Latin, penicillus. English later also borrowed this Latin word unchanged, referring to a tuft-like structure; the root is more familiar in our word penicillin, produced by the Penicillium mold, which is named for its brush-like shape. Latin penicillus has an anatomical etymology: it is a diminutive of Latin penis, which meant both 'penis' and 'tail'.

ME.......Middle English (A.D. 1100-1500)
fr. ........French
MF.......Middle French (A.D. 600-1600)
VL........Vulgar Latin
L...........Latin(A.D. 200)
lit. .......literally
dim. ....diminutive

(Source The Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories

Friday, April 13, 2007

Eraser? Try Breadcrumbs

According to General Pencil, until 1770 bread crumbs were used as erasers.

That would be easier for me. Of course, I'd need to perfect how I bake bread.

That being said, erasers weren't even attached to pencils until 1858.

If it had been done much earlier, too many people might have gotten slivers in their teeth from trying to ingest the eraser.

First Week: Week In Review

What have I learned this week?
  • The metal band holding the eraser to the pencil is called the ferrule
  • The eraser is called the plug
  • graphite is hard to come by--maybe I can get into a mine in Sri Lanka.
  • The best wood for a pencil is "incense cedar".
What do I need to learn?
  • What is the ratio of graphite to clay that should be used?
  • What kind of "clay"?
  • How do I make the eraser?
  • Do I need a rubber-tree plant?
  • Where do I get "incense cedar"?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Pencilmanship: A Lathe For Your Pencil

Someone is interested in making a pencil lathe. Not to make a pencil, but to make a pencil into...well, take your pick. Small pencil leg. He does coin a word however.

Pencilmanship: nThe art of making pencils into other things.

One Pencils Introduction To Scale

One of the problems I face in attempting to build one pencil from tip to plug is in economics of scale. If I were setting myself up to build one million pencils it would be a far simpler, and cheaper, task. That is because materials become cheaper when they are acquired in bulk, and the returns are greater relative to the labor involved.

Take, for example, this Pencil Repair 101 site in which one pencil takes 2 hours just to restore! This guy had everything he needed at his immediate disposal already. He could repair the existing ferrule (metal band that holds on the eraser), and use spray paint to touch it up.

I'm trying to do something else entirely. I began this blog saying that I might just prove the effectiveness of capitalism over self-sufficiency, or other economic modes.

I hope that it takes much longer to prove than one week!

Public Service Message: Help Build One Pencil

Apparently, the Pencil Revolution has come and gone, reaching its apex in mid 2005. However, I find no evidence of the solitary experiment of which I am now a part. No pencil pioneer exists wishing to throw his hat into the ring of in situ resource management.

Am I alone? I must be, although the Pencil Revolution once got the notice of the illustrious David Pescovitz at BoingBoing, this old concept may never enter the collective consciousness at large.

If you're saddened by this, you can help. Make a contribution to my cause, and see this plan to its completion by clicking on the paypal link in the sidebar.

Every little bit counts.

Every cent can make a difference.

One pencil is made in factories for just cents a day. You too can be a part of the lifespan of one pencil.

Humble Writing Stick

The first comment to this blog illustrates how difficult it is to change perception.

"I think this task is confusing form with function. The function of a pencil is a tool for drawing black lines. You probably could make a charcoal style writing stick without too much hassle.

If you are trying to match form, then, yes, you have a very difficult job. Your success in the endeavor would greatly henge on accessibility to the right materials."

April 11, 2007 7:34 PM

Since I'm a newbie at pencil lore, I will also excuse the commenter, y-intercept, his misjudgment--just this once. I've had a night to mull this over, and I can conclude that even if I only try to match function, as y-intercept suggests, I have a difficult task ahead of me. Also, a "charcoal style writing stick" is not a pencil. Anyone even remotely interested in pencils will tell you that.

My next book is going to have to be "The Pencil" which is reviewed here. Just the little exposure that I've had to this wonderful invention has given me a sense of wonder over even the most crude iteration of it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Pencil Revolution

Pencilite: n.One who can appreciate the beauty of pencils.

In Want For Wonder

"We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders."

I Only Want...

...A plain old number two pencil. Not this.

A Conservative Estimate Of Costs

Is anyone willing to offer an estimate of what it might cost for one person to build one pencil? My thinking is that the graphite production alone will be in the realm of thousands of dollars.

Total spent on this project to date: $0.00
Total donations: $0.00

Radio Built Into A Pencil

Remember folks, I'm not attempting anything so grand as a miniature radio in a pencil. I just want a plain old number two.

Considering The Eraser

I think I need to get my hands on a rubber tree plant. Unfortunately, the only group I know of with the drive to move a rubber tree plant belongs to the ant species. There is a little thing I will refer to as the "rubber ceiling" preventing these ants from moving said rubber tree plant.

Help me out here. What am I to do?

How A Pencil Is Made

General Pencil Company provides the step-by-step instructions for the execution of my plan. The initial problems I see on the horizon include constructing an oven that can reach temperatures in excess of 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. I will also need a drum for mixing clay and graphite, a wheel for grinding the mixture into a fine powder, and tubes (dare I say aluminum?) for shaping the rods.

It, however, says nothing about the eraser.

How Do They Get Lead In There?

Question 465 at is "How do they get lead in a wooden pencil?" I'll be studying that intently over the next 21 Months.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A Germ Of An Idea

I believe in giving credit where it is due, which is why my own education here will be a collaborative effort, with credit to all who help, even thought the building phase will, of necessity, be a one-man job.

What led to this blog is this post on Reach Upward in which a 100-mile radius suit was discussed. So, a big hat-tip to Scott Hinrichs at Reach Upward.

Thanks for the idea!

Beginnings:Embarking On A Journey

In December 1958, the Economist, Leonard E. Read issued a challenge that, as far as I can tell, has never been achieved.

I summarize it thusly: One person must build one pencil from tip to eraser.

It is my intention to be that person.

It should be clear to you that I am probably the least qualified for the job. I have no skills, or financing, that would be required to complete any one of the multitude of tasks. Ideologically, I am convinced that Capitalism is superior to all other economic theories--especially the venture that I am now embarking upon. That of being self-sufficient.

Remember the guy that traded one red paperclip for a house? That was nothing. All he did was to convert something that was worth almost nothing into something of great value. That was an exercise in increase that is common with capitalism. I, however, intend to convert some things that are worth much into one thing that is worth almost nothing, and that will be very difficult indeed.

In the information age in which we live, I must be able to gather all of the information that I need to construct a pencil from scratch, from materials constructed from scratch. The, perhaps, thousands of people with the requisite skills must be out there. If you know them, please direct them to this blog?

This blog will be the university from which one person could learn to
build a pencil from scratch.

Wish me luck!