4 Ways to Sharpen a Carpenter's Pencil

April 9, 2020

Why square pencils are better than round ones, and a handful of trick-sharpening methods from a master carpenter

Carpenter's pencils are used constantly in the construction trades for marking and cutting. A pencil with a dull point is no way to make clean marks for accurate cuts because dull pencils can deliver 1/16 inch-wide lines. 

Crisp lines and sharp length marks are the signature of a pro.

Beyond the typical 'classic point', there are other ways to sharpen pencils that zero in on specific jobsite tasks.


Whittle with a purpose: how to sharpen carpenter pencil 

A  standard utility knife with a SHARP blade is essential for putting a sharp point on a carpenter's pencil... unless a non-rabid squirrel with sharp teeth is available to gnaw the point sharp for you.

  • Begin by whittling away layers of wood from the wide faces of the pencil in smooth and even strokes, guided by steady thumb pressure.  After the faces are shaved down to the lead, continue shaving the actual lead to achieve the degree of sharpness required for the task at hand.
  • Whittle the edges next to fully expose the lead.
  • Bevel the corners of the new point for a cleaner, more user friendly shape.


4 Pencil tip styles:

  1. The Classic: This is the most useful and common tip configuration—used for everything from length marks and rip lines to writing and sketching on the jobsite
  2. The Blunt Classic: Same as The Classic but a blunt tip to put down more lead for visible marks on rough surfaces, like OSB.
  3. The Offset Scribe: This creative tip configuration allows for quick, accurate scribe lines to be drawn up to 3/8 inch without needing an additional scribe block... just the ticket for many applications
  4. The Projected Point: Useful for unusually difficult scribing tasks and invaluable for demanding carpentry projects

Getting professional results in carpentry is quicker, easier and more satisfying with a full arsenal of well-sharpened pencils. It may be #worthit to carry a couple of spares with specialty points.


—Matt Jackson is a master carpenter, remodeler, SketchUp Wiz, YouTuber, and contributing editor to ProTradeCraft. He lives and works in Rapid City, South Dakota.