Pencils – mechanical vs. wooden

Sharpening vs clicking vs refilling vs carrying a spare. Sharpening is a moment of contemplation. A break in the process to briefly reflect and consider next steps. A nice sharpened point to record newly focused thoughts. Or it’s a pain in the ass interruption ;-). It’s handier to carry spares that sharpen, but it takes space. Refilling a mechanical pencil is easy enough, and doesn’t need to be done that often. A simple shake tells me if it’s got extra lead or not. Clicking on the mechanical might seem very convenient, but it’s got to be done often, and often in the middle of a word. If the lead gets too short, all of a sudden a nice smooth writing experience is brought to an end as the sharp end of the tube digs into the paper. A wooden pencil provides a more gentle transition from sharp to dull.

Availability of lead grades. Mechanical lead goes from 4H down to 4B, but I’ve only found 2B in stores. Wooden pencils go from 9H+ down to 9B+, depending on the brand, and I’ve had no trouble finding them in art stores.

Lead quality. I think there is better lead available in wooden pencils, but the standard Pentel Hi-Polymer lead commonly found for mechnicals is pretty darned good.

Eraser quality. You can stick an eraser on the back of any wooden pencil that will work fairly well, but really a stand alone eraser is the way to go. The little 3mm erasers on mechanicals aren’t worth much.

Pocket clip. Mechanicals almost always have them, woodies don’t.

Protected point. You can put an accessory cap on a wood pencil, but it’s built-in on the mechanical. However, if that little tube on the end of a mechanical gets bent it’s game over. Dropping a mechanical, and having it land on the point is usually a game ender. Wooden pencils are lighter, so there’s less energy to cause damage when broken.

Variation/character of line. Woodies have it, mechanicals not so much. Sometimes I want it, sometimes, not.

Cost. A box of premium wooden pencils is higher than a really nice mechanical pencil. But, one pencil lost costs less to replace than the mechanical. Since I rarely lose these things, the mechanical is cheaper for me.

Weight. No contest – a wooden pencil weighs less than half of a good mechanical – but it’s so little it doesn’t really matter.

Procreation. As wooden pencils get shorter, they get discarded around the house as they are replaced with new pencils. These discarded shorties can come in handy. A box of 12 pencils is really 12 writing instruments, even if only one is the ‘main’ one at any given time.

Nostalgia. This one is a draw for me – It really depends on which nostalgia I’m after. Grade school or college & early work years? Either is ok.

Smell. Wooden pencils have a very distinctive smell, and when I first started using them again it had me flashing back to grade school days. Mechanicals don’t really have that.

So what have I missed? Which do you prefer, and why?

6 thoughts on “Pencils – mechanical vs. wooden

  1. I completely agree with you, wooden pencils are my preference. I think it is the feel of them that is the deciding factor, I have never found a mechanical pencil that feels, draws and shades as well as its wooden counterparts.


  2. I’m a mechanical pencil user all the way. I never seem to have a convenient place to sharpen a woodie while at work. Working with woodies means I need to have another tool with me. I get consistent lines from my 0.9mms that serve me for taking notes, throwing out mind maps, and creating cognitive inducing doodles as I go on my rounds through the meeting, production, and contemplative planning sessions of my work day. Mechanicals also stay the same weight and heft.


  3. I love the smell of a new wooden pencil, but i use a mechanical pencil more. But sometimes it really depends on what i’m drawing. 😛 Hehe


  4. As you pointed out in your post there are points for and against mechanical pencils. I think it boils down to the work you are doing and the situation you are in. I love the wooden pencils ability to create different textures and shades, but I also love the feel of a mechanical pencil if I’m at the office (it also looks more professional).

    I’m sure, like me you use both depending on what you are doing at the time. Nice post by the way.


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