Categories: Product Spotlight

What Is Pencil Lead Really Made Of?

Move over, Christine Amanpour, we ask the hard-hitting questions here at National Pen. If you’ve ever wondered what material is used in pencil lead, why graphite is called lead, or if pencils ever contained lead, we’ve got you!

We won’t keep you waiting any longer, let’s get into it…

What Is Pencil Lead Made Of?

We’re not in the habit of crushing dreams, but we have to break it to you: pencils do not contain lead. Instead, the pencil material is actually graphite. Plumbago pencil lead, to be exact.

To get all geologist on you, plumbago is a naturally-occurring crystalline form of carbon arranged in a hexagonal structure. Fun fact: if graphite is under high enough pressures and temperatures, it turns into a diamond.

Natural graphite is used in many ways, from batteries to brake linings to pencils, of course.

Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0

Did Pencils Ever Contain Lead?

Again we’re bursting bubbles here, but—no, the material used in pencil lead was never lead. It has always been a form of graphite pencil lead.

Which leads us to our next question…

Why is Graphite Called Lead?

One of the earliest version of a writing instrument was a stylus, which was used by the ancient Romans. This precursor to the stylus pen we use on smartphones and devices was actually made out of lead. And alas, that’s why the pencil material is called lead.

Another reason we call it lead is that when graphite was discovered in Cumbria, England during the 1500s, people thought that graphite was a form of lead. Chemistry was early in its days back then, so it was eventually determined that there was no correlation between the two.

Pencils then went on to evolve from being created by sawing graphite blocks into sticks to graphite rods being placed inside wood sleeves. Much later in 1790, it was discovered that the hardness of the graphite pencil lead could be altered by mixing graphite with clay and firing it in a kiln. And that, my friends, is how the number 2 lead pencil came to be.

And Can You Recommend Some Custom Pencils?

Sure, our name is National Pen, but we have a soft spot for pencils, too. Here are a few of our favorite custom pencils with graphite lead:

If You’re Moody…

Mood Pencils

If You’re a Golfer…

Hexagon Golf Pencils

If You Leave a Little Sparkle Everywhere You Go…

Sparkle Pencils

If You’re a Carpenter…

Carpenter Pencil

If You Want to Impress…

Paragon Duet Pen & Pencil Gift Set

We hope we answered all your burning questions about graphite pencil lead, and if you have any more, reach out to us on Facebook or Instagram!

Catherine O.

Word nerd. Burrito connoisseur. Pen pal.

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Catherine O.

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