If you grew up taking standardized tests, you’re likely very familiar with the number two pencil.
They were the only writing instrument accepted on scoring sheets for many years.
Today, students are more likely to take important tests on a computer than with paper and pencil.
However, the number two is still the most common pencil you’ll find in stores.
What are the specifications for a number two pencil?
We’ll cover how much the pencil weighs, what “number two” means, and more.
How Much Does A Pencil Weigh?
A regular, unsharpened number two pencil weighs about six to seven grams.
This is equal to around 0.2 ounces.
That’s about the same weight as a postcard, a slice of lemon, or six one-dollar bills.
Of course, many factors can impact the weight of a pencil.
A mechanical pencil often weighs more than a wooden pencil.
Often, pencils made for children just learning to write are larger than typical pencils.
There are also tiny pencils, such as those made for golfers.
There are even giant novelty pencils that are over a foot long.
Because of this variation, it’s hard to give an accurate estimate for the weight of all pencils.
Since number two pencils are the most common, they are the type we’ll focus on here.
However, even within that category, there are some discrepancies.
If a pencil has been sharpened or its eraser has been used, it will weigh less.
The thickness of the wood and the graphite will also make a difference.
What Is A “Number Two” Pencil?
Unless you work in a few specific fields, like art or publishing, you likely only have experience with number two pencils.
You aren’t likely to find other types of pencils at Walmart or Staples.
However, other types certainly do exist.
What does “number two” refer to?
It is the measurement of how hard the graphite in the pencil is.
Number one pencils have the softest graphite and therefore make darker markings.
Higher-numbered pencils, like 2.5, 3, and 4, have harder graphite cores.
These pencils make lighter marks.
This is why number two pencils are required on test answer sheets, like Scantrons.
Number two pencils make marks that are dark enough for the scanner to read, while not being too dark to erase.
The number-based rating system for pencils is primarily used in the United States.
Other countries use what is called the HB system.
“H” stands for hardness, while “B” stands for blackness.
This system uses a scale to indicate how hard a pencil’s graphite core is, which impacts how dark the pencil’s marks will be.
The hard side of the scale goes from 9H to 2H.
On this side of the scale, a larger number indicates harder graphite and therefore lighter marks.
The black side of the scale goes from 2B to 9B.
On this side, a larger number indicates softer graphite, and therefore blacker marks.
Between the hard and black sides is “HB,” which is generally equivalent to a number two pencil.
Many pencils today have both systems noted on their sides.
For instance, you may see a pencil that says both “No. 2” and “HB.”
This allows the pencils to be sold internationally.
How Is Pencil Graphite Made?
We often refer to the core of pencils as “lead,” although actual lead hasn’t been used in thousands of years.
Today, pencil cores are created with a mix of graphite and clay.
Graphite on its own is a very soft, dark mineral.
It is made up of the same elements as diamonds but has a different structure.
It is ideal for writing but is too soft to maintain its shape while being held.
Therefore, pencil makers began encasing graphite in wood in the 1500s.
This allowed the graphite to be used for writing and also kept the hands of the writer clean.
However, because the graphite was so soft, pencils were used up quickly and were not very efficient.
It wasn’t until the 1700s when a French chemist came up with a new way to make graphite for writing.
The method involved mixing graphite powder, clay, and water, and then hardening the mix into sticks.
Changing the amount of graphite powder and clay allowed pencil makers to create harder and softer types of pencil graphite.
The more clay that is used, the harder the pencil core will be.
The more graphite powder that is used, the softer it will be.
This also makes pencils more efficient, since pencils with harder ratings use less graphite than softer ones.
Pencil-making came to the United States when Charles Dunbar discovered a graphite deposit in New England in 1821.
The graphite was not as high in quality as that found in Europe, but it did inspire Americans to begin creating the pencil cores in the same area as the graphite deposits.
Why Are Most Pencils Yellow?
Pencils have been painted yellow in the United States and elsewhere since the 1800s.
This is because of a European pencil company.
Chinese graphite was some of the best in the world at the time, and a company called Koh-I-Noor knew it.
This company used Chinese graphite in its pencils and developed a reputation for producing the finest pencils in the world.
It painted its pencils yellow at a time when most pencils were gray or black.
Yellow was also associated with royalty at the time.
In an effort to make its pencils seem nicer and for people to associate them with Koh-I-Noor pencils, American pencil makers began painting their pencils yellow as well.
Now, many years later, yellow isn’t necessarily considered a luxurious color.
However, the tradition has stuck, and most pencils are still painted in a bright yellow hue.
Of course, there are also plenty of other colors and patterns on pencils today.
There are pencils whose exteriors are textured with velvet or made with rubber so they can bend.
There are even scented pencils.
However, when the average person thinks of a pencil, the classic yellow wooden model is still what likely comes to mind.
Who Is The Most Popular Pencil Maker in the United States?
The best-selling pencils in the United States come from the Dixon Ticonderoga company.
They are known for being quality pencils that sharpen well and don’t break easily.
Year after year, teachers specifically request them on classroom supply lists.
You can even buy boxes of them pre-sharpened and ready to go.
How did the Ticonderoga become our go-to writing instrument?
The company’s history begins in 1812.
This is when a man named Joseph Dixon made his first pencil.
Fifteen years later, he created his company, the Joseph Dixon Crucible Company, and moved to New Jersey.
When the Civil War began, demand for the pencils quickly grew.
In 1866, Dixon invented a machine that could produce 132 pencils per minute.
Dixon died in 1869, and at that time, his company was the largest producer of pencils in the world.
In the 1870s, the Joseph Dixon Crucible Company purchased the American Graphite Company, which was based in Ticonderoga, New York.
This was the location of a graphite mine the new Dixon Ticonderoga company used for their pencil cores.
Over the next hundred years, the company would continue to produce high-quality writing utensils.
Eventually, Dixon Ticonderoga was purchased by an Italian company.
The pencils are no longer manufactured in the United States.
Today, there are factories producing the iconic Ticonderoga pencils in Asia, Europe, and Latin America.
When Was The Mechanical Pencil Invented?
Another increasingly popular type of pencil is the mechanical pencil.
Mechanical pencils have small sticks called leads that aren’t attached to the rest of the pencil.
Today, these pencils have a mechanism that holds the lead in place, and many also can propel the lead forward to “sharpen” the pencil.
They also usually give their users the ability to replace the lead when it runs out.
The oldest mechanical pencils did not all have these qualities, however.
The first version of a mechanical pencil was created in 1565.
However, the lead required a manual adjustment to sharpen it.
Therefore, it was more of a lead holder pencil since it could not move the lead forward itself.
The first patent for a refillable mechanical pencil with a mechanism for moving the lead forward was issued in 1822 to Sampson Mordan and John Isaac Hawkins.
Over the next fifty years, more than 150 new patents for mechanical pencils were issued.
Spring-loaded pencils were introduced, then ratchet- and screw-based models.
Today, there are three main types of mechanical pencils.
Ratchet-based pencils have small jaws that open and close when the button is pushed.
The jaws move forward to propel the lead.
Screw-based pencils move the lead forward when the screw is twisted.
Clutch-based pencils do not propel the lead forward.
The jaws on these pencils open when the button is pushed, then the user must move the lead forward manually.
There are also several different sizes of lead for different thicknesses of markings.
The first was 0.9 mm.
Today, there are leads as thin as 0.2 mm, and as thick as 1.4 mm.
Why Are Mechanical Pencils Popular?
While the number two still rules many education and office settings, mechanical pencils can be a coveted tool among students and others.
When it comes down to it, both types of pencils perform the same job.
Both use graphite to put markings on paper.
However, there are some major benefits of mechanical pencils over wooden ones.
The fact that mechanical pencils never need to be sharpened is a huge win for both teachers and students.
The question of how best to use the pencil sharpener has been considered by educators for years.
Students need sharp pencils, but the sharpener can be so noisy.
It can cause huge disruptions to class time.
Not to mention that students often pick the most inopportune times to get up and sharpen their pencils.
Hand sharpeners address some of these problems, but then there’s the issue of spilled shavings.
Mechanical pencils solve all of these predicaments.
By never needing a sharpener, the pencils keep students in their seats and focused on the lesson.
Of course, there’s always the potential problem of running out of leads, but many teachers and students keep spare boxes of leads on hand.
Another positive of mechanical pencils is their sustainability.
If taken care of, mechanical pencils will last as long as you can keep track of them.
Wooden pencils get sharpened down to nubs while mechanical pencils retain their usefulness indefinitely.
Finally, for those who are choosy about their penmanship, mechanical pencils have another big draw.
The leads for mechanical pencils are the same width all the way down, meaning your writing will always stay the same width.
When writing with a sharpened wooden pencil, the lines will be very fine, but as the pencil dulls, the lines will thicken.
What Are The Benefits Of Wood Encased Pencils?
Just like mechanical pencils, wooden pencils have their share of advantages.
The first is their cost.
Wooden pencils are generally quite cheap, depending on the brand.
This makes them the easiest type of pencil for schools and offices to keep in stock.
If you lose or break one, it isn’t as big of a deal, since it likely didn’t cost much.
Another benefit of wooden pencils is their durability.
Thanks to the wooden casing surrounding the pencil’s core, the graphite is less likely to break than the lead of a mechanical pencil.
This can be especially true with younger children who haven’t gotten the hang of how much lead to release from mechanical pencils.
Thanks to their six-sided nature, many wood-encased pencils are better for learning penmanship than mechanical pencils.
The flat sides of the pencils give students a reference point for the placement of their fingers.
When teaching students to write, wood-encased pencils are the choice of just about every kindergarten teacher.
Some people prefer the natural feel of a wood-encased pencil.
The texture of the pencil’s exterior can be a tactile experience for some.
Additionally, sharpening a wooden pencil can be soothing for those who thrive on routine.
It can also provide an outlet for students who, due to disabilities or other needs, require short breaks from their seats without drawing too much attention.
Finally, in school settings, wooden pencils are often the more environmentally-conscious choice.
While it’s true that a mechanical pencil could theoretically be used for many years, students cannot generally be trusted to keep them for that long.
In a setting where pencils are likely to be lost after a few uses, a wooden pencil is a more eco-friendly option than a plastic one.