No 44
Words: ~ 1700 Conclusio FavouritesWriting Thomas Schürmann en

Favourite Pieces II

A sharpening station for TK pencils

Sharpening station detail view - Detailed view of the interchangeable angle tips of the Dahle sharpener.

Sharpening station detail view

Detailed view of the interchangeable angle tips of the Dahle sharpener.
Photo: Thomas Schürmann, Nikon D800E, Sigma Art 50mm/1:1,4 DG, 23.09.2021

A beautiful sharpening station for TK pencils in vintage look was created in my workshop as a gift for a friend. TK pencils are an environmentally friendly alternative to wooden pencils. Unfortunately, good sharpeners have become rare.

We consume more resources than can grow back. More resources than we are entitled to, especially in the West. I think even small things contribute to the conservation of resources. For me, these are used articles on the one hand, and consumables that reduce overall consumption. In my opinion, clutch pencils such as the TK pencil from Faber-Castell can make a small contribution to this.

For a very good friend, I took this as an opportunity to make a nice desk set with an old Dahle sharpener and some second-hand TK pencils and a scrap of wood from my rummage box. But first a few words about the TK pencil and the history of the pencil, which is actually a graphite clay pencil.

TK clutch pencils - From bottom to top. My oldest piece, still with raised lettering. Then the TK 9500 with a valuable metal sleeve below the push-button, printed in white, and a longer TK 9400. Above, the latest models with coloured push-button, actually intended for coloured refills in the new Faber-Castell green. And yes, occasionally I chewed on one end ;-)

TK clutch pencils

From bottom to top. My oldest piece, still with raised lettering. Then the TK 9500 with a valuable metal sleeve below the push-button, printed in white, and a longer TK 9400. Above, the latest models with coloured push-button, actually intended for coloured refills in the new Faber-Castell green. And yes, occasionally I chewed on one end ;-)
Photo: Thomas Schürmann, Nikon D800E, Sigma Art 50mm/1:1,4 DG, 08.10.2021

Not made of lead at all?

A brief history of the pencil in Europe

he pencil is a fairly old hand tool, even in Europe. Since 1558, the pencil as it is known today has been produced in Keswick, in the Lake District of northern England. A unique deposit of graphite in nearby Borrowdale made it possible to saw the crystallised carbon = graphite into elongated pieces and - later - to coat them with wood. With the wood coating, the leads no longer broke off so quickly and, what's more, the fingers stayed clean. Today, manufacturers such as Faber-Castell make graphite leads from pressed graphite, which is then baked. Before that, people used to draw, paint or write with real lead or charcoal or other pressed powders. The English name pencil goes back to a brush-like brush made of camel hair, Latin pincellus.

The German language is not the only one that still calls the graphite pencil pencil, although it no longer contains any lead at all. In Ireland the pencil is called peann luaidhe, in Arabic qalam ra??? and many other languages refer to the lead in the pencil.

I was lucky enough to be able to visit the pencil museum in Keswick, it is well worth it.

Graphite has been known since the 18th century. "In 1778, the German-Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele proved that the raw material used there for almost 200 years was a carbon-based mineral and not lead." (Source: Wikipedia) Later, the mineralogist Abraham Gottlob Werner gave the new material the name graphite. England was at an advantage with the discovery of the graphite deposits in Borrowdale. Since graphite was also used for other, mostly military, purposes, for example for the construction of fused pellets for cannonballs, there was an export ban on the valuable raw material at the end of the 18th century. This initially made life difficult for manufacturers on the mainland until it was discovered that graphite could also be ground, mixed with clay powder and pressed as powder. "In 1795, the Frenchman Nicolas-Jacques Conté discovered a process with which impure graphite from mines in Germany and Austria could also be used. He pulverised the mined material and then slurried out the graphite." (Source: ibid.) The hardness curve as we know it today was developed by Joseph Hardtmuth. "In 1790, Joseph Hardtmuth of Vienna mixed graphite dust with clay and water for the first time and fired it in a kiln. Depending on the amount of clay, he could thus determine the degree of hardness." (Source: ibid.)

Hardtmuth later founded the Austrian company Koh-i-Noor Hardtmuth (Persian f. "mountain of light", after the famous Koh-i-Noor diamond). The family of companies is also responsible for the development of 17 different grades of hardness, which have survived to the present day.

Conté and Hardtmuth are considered to be the founding fathers of the modern pencil. It was only through the pressing and firing of graphite that the economic mass production of pencils became possible. As a result, the companies Faber-Castell, Lyra, Staedtler and Schwan-Stabilo were founded in Nuremberg.

Today, the four Nuremberg companies alone produce three billion pencils a year. Even though Faber-Castell, for example, cultivates a renewable forest on its own plantation for pencil production, global wood consumption is still enormous. For a long time it was cedar wood, but today it is mainly pine wood that is used.

Mechanical pencils

But there is also a possibility to write with graphite leads without using any wood at all, and this possibility is provided by mechanical pencils, lead pens or clutch pencils. As early as 1822, the British silversmith Sampson Mordan and his partner John Isaac Hawkins received the first patent for a refillable pencil in Great Britain. A wealth of innovation grew up around the refillable pencil, and over 160 patents were granted for improvements to mechanical pencils.

In 1915, the Japanese Tokuji Hayakawa launched a fine-lead pencil in Japan under the name Ever-Ready Sharp Pencil, which was based on a screw mechanism. This novel pencil later gave the manufacturing company its name: Sharp. The principle of the clamping pliers, which is still known and most commonly used today, was developed by the American Charles Rood Keeran. Keeran's pens were developed under the name Eversharp.

Today, leads with a thickness of 0.2 mm to 1.18 mm are commonly used, which are held in a pair of clamping pliers. At the end of the pencil there is a push button, by pressing on it, the clamping pliers are released and the lead is pushed forward a little.

These thin leads cannot be sharpened, so the line width is usually dictated by the lead thickness.

Clutch pencils - the TK pencil

In 1948, Faber-Castell developed a new type of pencil with a thicker lead: the TK-Sift. The function and design have not changed significantly to this day. The lead is, as a rule unchanged to this day, 2 mm thick - and is also held by a clamp, but when the button at the end is pressed, the lead is completely released and falls out of the front of the pencil.

Clutch pencils became popular in most drawing offices in the 1970s and 1980s. The leads have to be sharpened, this can be done with sandpaper or with special clutch pencil sharpeners, for example from Dahle or Möbius + Ruppert. Unfortunately, there are no longer any pencil sharpeners manufactured that have inserts for different sharpening angles. These were still very popular in the heyday of the pencil, when people were not yet drawing with CAD systems.

The shape and colour of Faber-Castell pencils has changed considerably in recent decades. The raised injection-moulded lettering has given way to printed lettering, and the green has changed from a light deciduous green RAL 6002 to a more bottle-green or black-green shade, RAL 6007 or 6012. However, these colour assessments are only conjectural; internally, the colour is only called Faber-Castell Green.

Faber-Castell also produced a flat lead TC pencil, the TK 9600, which is hardly known today. This had a wide and flat lead and a twist mechanism to twist the lead out of the wide guide at the front. I was able to buy a few leads and 2 of these pencils in the early 90s at Bürobedarf Müller, Friedrich-Engels-Allee 117 at the Wuppertal Haspel.

If you want to delve further into the history of the pencil and its many varieties and developments, these three websites are recommended:

Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)

- Dave's Mechanical Pencils 
- Die alte Leadholder-Website / Unfortunately only in the archive
- Cultpens.Com Guide to mechanical pencils

 

Sharpening station - Sharpening box by Dahle with interchangeable angle inserts and 2 Faber-Castell TK clutch pencils

Sharpening station

Sharpening box by Dahle with interchangeable angle inserts and 2 Faber-Castell TK clutch pencils

Detail I - I like the simple design of the sharpening box.

Detail I

I like the simple design of the sharpening box.

Detail II - The white paper cylinder is used to scrape off any remaining sanding dust.

Detail II

The white paper cylinder is used to scrape off any remaining sanding dust.

Detail III - View from above. The 2 holes below the green insert are used to set the depth before sharpening.

Detail III

View from above. The 2 holes below the green insert are used to set the depth before sharpening.

Dahle pencil sharpener and Faber-Castell TK pencils

Vintage desk set

The piece of zebrawood was still in my leftover box. I bought it on ebay in 2005, I wouldn't do that today. Every piece of tropical wood I buy endangers the rainforest, and there are good domestic alternatives: Beech, cherry, oak, robinia, walnut, apple, pear. These woods can also all be stained and processed into strips, for example, so that a similar impression is created. But I admit that I didn't want to throw it away either.

I bought the Dahle sharpener with adjustable tips on eBay, but unfortunately it's no longer available new. Unfortunately, I haven't had time to ask Dahle about the production time of the product in the last few weeks. Today, there is no longer a need for different sharpening angles for clutch pencils with 2 mm thick lead. However, Dahle is one of the few suppliers to still offer a rotating sharpener for clutch pencils, the lead sharpener box 301. 

For the storage of the Dahle set, I milled a cut-out, drilled holes and sanded everything and then sealed it with spray varnish. I like to use matt varnish in a pump bottle for wood, it protects very well, doesn't wear and leaves the fine wood structure in its original state. 

Do you like the set? Then let me know in the comments.

Conclusion

A few thoughts on pencils and the wood consumption involved in their production. Building a beautiful sharpening station for a good friend out of Zebrano wood and a Dahle sharpener with interchangeable angle inserts. Thank you A. for letting me share the pictures here.

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