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How to Sharpen Charcoal Pencils

By Edited May 8, 2016 1 0

How to sharpen charcoal pencils.

In this article about how to sharpen charcoal pencils we will explore different ways to sharpen charcoal pencils as well as charcoal sticks and your eraser. You can apply these sharpening techniques to a wide variety of mediums such as graphite and colored pencils.

You will find that the shape of the tip may have a strong impact on your drawing depending on how you use it. There are many different ways to sharpen your pencils as well as many different ways to use them. Keep in mind that as you use your pencils and the medium is removed from the pencil and applied to the paper your tip shape can change.

The Standard Point

The standard point
 

The standard point is how most of the pencils you buy from the store will come prepackaged. This tip shape is less than ideal because of the limited use you get from the tip. The standard tip will give you thin lines to a slightly thicker line. The problem you will encounter is when you use the side of the pencil the wood will hit your paper and cause skips or worse, damage to your paper.

The Needle Point

The needle point is the tip shape this article is going to focus the most on because of the variety of line you can achieve with it. You can get very crisp lines or very broad strokes from drawing with the side of the charcoal which is very common in charcoal drawings. This is the most common way I sharpen my pencils because of the line variety as well as the ease in keeping it sharpened.

To create this point you wont be using a standard sharpener that many of us have grown accustomed to. The standard pencil sharpeners will end up giving you a standard point. Instead, we will be using a hobby knife like an X-acto or a box cutter which is what I use, they can be purchased at any hardware store and there are versions that are very inexpensive.

Once you have your cutting blade such as a box cutter you need to make sure you have a nice sharp blade or you rise fracturing the wood instead of cutting it, this can lead to fracturing the soft charcoal we wish to reveal.

Start by holding your pencil in your hand and your blade in the other. Gently slide the blade into the pencil near the tip without applying much pressure. Using the same hand that you have your pencil in, place your thumb on the back of the blade casing. Do not press on the blade itself because if there is an unexpected defect in the wood the blade may flip causing you injury.

Cutting Charcoal Pencil
 

Gently begin to apply a bit of pressure, it doesn't take much. We want to slowly whittle away the wood, do not try to remove a lot of wood at once. You will save more time by going slow than by trying to go fast and damaging the charcoal. If the blade causes damage to the charcoal it will weaken the integrity and often cause it to break while drawing. Not only does it waste time but often causes unexpected errors in your drawing as well.

Charcoal Pencil Whittle
 

By the time you have whittled away all of the wood from the pencil you will begin to move back slightly exposing more charcoal. Keep in mind that the more wood you remove the more variation in line you can achieve but the weaker the charcoal becomes.

Exposed charcoal
 

Now that you have the charcoal exposed you need to begin sharpening the charcoal. You can buy fine sandpaper in sheets from any hardware store or you can also get these handy sandpaper palettes as well that are also fairly inexpensive. Begin rubbing your charcoal side to side on the sandpaper while simultaneously rotating the pencil by rolling it in your fingers. This will cause the charcoal to evenly sharpen to a point. Rolling the pencil is important so you do not develop flat spots in the charcoal.

Sandpaper
 

Properly sharpened charcoal pencil

In addition to charcoal pencils you can also sharpen charcoal sticks to a point as well. These charcoal sticks can be very handy as well. You can sharpen these in the same manner, here you can see my charcoal sticks sharpened into a bullet point.

Charcoal Stick

sharpened charcoal stick

There you have it, an easy way to sharpen your charcoal pencils. Play with different tip shapes and see which type you are more comfortable with. You will sometimes find you prefer different tip shapes for different mediums and techniques as well. Experiment with them on newsprint while getting used to them, newsprint is a very inexpensive paper you can find at most art stores.

Color Coding

It is best practice to spread your mediums into separate groups such as 2B charcoal pencils in one group, 4B in another, and so on. However, sometimes your workspace doesn't allow for this or you may mistakenly drop a pencil into the wrong group. To avoid picking up the wrong type of pencil I take colored tape and wrap the end of the pencil. For example, my 2B charcoal pencils are wrapped with green tape and my 4B with white tape and so on. Try to maintain colors as you buy new pencils so you don't pick the wrong pencil due to habit.

Colored Tape
 

Be Prepared

If the pencils where dropped at the store or you accidentally drop one while drawing and it hits the floor the charcoal may fracture inside the wooden part of the pencil, you will not know about this until you sharpen down to that section of the pencil. It is best to sharpen many pencils at one so if the unfortunate happens you do not have to stop and sharpen your pencil again.

Pencil Stack

Eraser

There are many types of erasers available on the market and the two I use the most are a kneaded eraser and a Tuff Stuff eraser. The kneaded eraser is convenient because you can shape it any way you like but sometimes you will find that the stick version of an eraser is handy. Remember, you can even sharpen your eraser into a nice point as well.

Tuff Stuff Eraser

So experiment with different ways to sharpen your charcoal pencils and experience the different line qualities they are capable of. I hope this article on how to sharpen charcoal pencils has been helpful. Have fun and enjoy drawing!

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