How Does a Mechanical Pencil Work?

How Does a Mechanical Pencil Work

I think that for a lot of people in terms of keeping your mechanical pencils in excellent working order, understanding how the mechanisms work can improve in terms of helping you to make sure that your mechanical pencils are in top working order.

How mechanical pencils work? A mechanical pencil works when the button at the end of the pencil is pressed. Then jaws will move forward and then open, pushing the lead forward.

As children, we are first taught to write with stubby pencils that our little uncoordinated fingers can grip. After years of practice, school kids eventually move onto pencils that are slimmer and comfortable to clasp onto even for long periods of time.

School-aged children would also consider it quite noteworthy to own a pencil box that housed numerous well-sharpened lead pencils that produced the cleanest lines when used to jot down notes or doodle on the boarders of the notebook paper.

Nowadays, kids and adults alike can choose from a variety of pencils with options that go beyond the standard wood tools of yore. One such example is a mechanical pencil. But before we expound on this innovation, it is essential to learn about the humble pencil first.

So exactly what is a pencil?

The pencil is a writing or drawing implement made of a narrow solid pigment center surrounded by a casing. The covering which is often made of wood protects the solid core from being damaged by the user’s hand. Its center uses a graphite core while others are made with charcoal.

Since its invention, the pencil has undergone various transformational upgrades that allow users to write, sketch, draw, or color with these implements.

Unlike its ancestor, the mechanical pencil has a casing that is not bonded to its core. Rather, it houses a pigment center that is not only separated but can be extracted and retracted through the casing tip when needed.

This type of pencil eliminates the need to crave out or sharpen the casing and core. Graphite centers can easily be reloaded in the event when the previous load has been used up.

Quick History

The earliest pencil was believed to be pieces of graphite with cloth wrapped around it to prevent transfer when being held. This was then followed by the clutch pencil or the wooden pieces that are seen today.

The design made it cleaner to use and easier to bring along. Earlier mechanical pencil designs were a bit persnickety to use due to their lack of spring mechanisms.

Often, a 1.18 mm push-fit lead was housed with a twist style apparatus that would permit the lead to pop down like screw when used. These pencils were said to have ornate sterling silver designs.

Eventually, the need to produce pencils that were more intricate and refined, lead inventors from Japan created a pencil that houses thinner lead. This gave way to the birth of what is now known as the mechanical pencil.

The “EVER Ready Sharp Pencil” by Tokuji Hayakawa (known now as Sharp corporation) was an immense success. Since thinner lead was brittle when made from a combination of clay and graphite, a mixture of organic materials of high polymer took its place.

Mechanical Pencil

Source: Wikipedia

Why use Mechanical Pencils

Many would argue that traditional wooden clutch pencils are a better option. Those who are considering trying out mechanical models should consider the following advantages.

Refillable— when a wood pencil reaches a certain size due to constant use and sharpening, it makes it difficult to hold onto. Lots of times stubs simply end up getting thrown out. Thanks to mechanical pencil refills, there is no stub wastage. Users simply load more lead when the existing one is used up.

Some would argue that using mechanical pencils is an environmentally sound solution since no trees are cut down to produce these implements.

No sharpening needed— compared to its wooden counterpart, mechanical pencil types do not require sharpening.

Each lead refill is manufactured uniformly in thickness and in point, the mechanism in a mechanical pencil permits users to dispense or extend more lead as needed.

Consistent line thickness— wooden pencil has an encased core that thins depending on usage. Ink pens, on the other hand, have varying discharge that could depend on each user’s writing force.

Stylish— designed to look more visually appealing, the standard look is somewhat on the technical side while there are others that carry the more luxurious appeal of fountain pens.

There are of course playful designs that even mimic the appearance of its wooden sibling. In general, mechanical pencils are more versatile when it comes to their overall aesthetic.

Consistent balance— for artists, the biggest peeve about using wooden pencils is the inconsistency in balance especially when the lead grows dull or short. Since mechanical pencil lead is made uniformly, balance has never been a problem.

No skipping, bleeding or feathering— unlike pens that utilize ink, lead does not bleed, blotch, feather or skip. Output is mess-free which users never have to worry about leaks or stains.

Buying Guide

Procuring pencils is as easy as going into a store, selecting and then purchasing one. However, when it comes to mechanical pencils, there are certain factors to be considered in order to select one that suits a person’s needs. They are as follows:


It should be no surprise that while there are cheap mechanical pencils, there are also some that come with a premium price tag. Price is not only dictated by a brand’s infamy, but certain features, its built (tougher materials instead of thin plastics) as well as its overall feel or ergonomic attributes also play an important role to its cost. Fans of mechanical pencils will attest that it pays to grab one that is of premium quality rather than picking an inexpensive and potentially disposable piece.


To the uninformed mechanical pencils function on a pump and click system. There are in fact several types of mechanical pencils in the market. Some will require a single click to push the lead forward, others function on a twisting mechanism.

That said, selecting the right mechanism allows users to benefit fully from its design. For example, note-takers will find that it can be time-consuming having to constantly click on the lead while trying to keep up with the speaker. A shaker mechanism, in this case, would be the best option.

Lead Thickness

Lead thickness is a factor when buying any type of pencil. Having a clear idea of the lead thickness type needed will help narrow down the options. Usage and personal preference will determine the thickness to be selected.

Detailed sketches will require thinner lead while heavy-handed strokes will benefit from at least a 2mm thickness that is common in many wood pencils.

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