You've just bought a brand new set of colored pencil maybe you've even splurged and bought an artist grade brand. Everything is great, but your lead is starting to get a little dull, so you pull out your trusty pencil sharpener and give it a quick sharpen. Snap! Arg, stupid lead! You start sharpening again slowly carefully. Turn, turn, check... little more... turn... turn... Snap! ARG! Why do my pencil leads keep breaking!
What is going on!
Now we know that cheap pencils tend to break more than more expensive better quality ones, simply because better quality brands design their products to be worth the higher price. They have a reputation to uphold. So if you have cheap pencils you're already fighting an uphill battle, but follow along because the tips I will share will help even you.
First my favorite picks, I like Faber-Castell. Faber-Castell Polychromos for colored pencils and Faber-Castell 9000 pencils for drawing pencils. They have break resistant leads that are bonded to the wood. I prefer the Polychromos because they are oil based and avoid wax blooms that you get with prismacolor pencils.
So what about artist grade pencils? I just bought Faber-Castell, Crystal's favorite pick, and they're breaking all over the place! This is where I ask a very simple question:
How are you sharpening them?
Sharpeners are not reliable, they twist and turn the lead in such a way that the lead is exposed to a great deal of pressure. When the lead snags and catches it will often snap the tip off. This is exacerbated by the fact that most everyone has a dull pencil sharpener. "But it's only a month old!" It's dull. Too dull to use with colored pencils and soft drawing pencils.
Learn to sharpen your pencils with a sharpened pocket knife.
If you want to sharpen your pencil and never break it use a pocket knife. Here's how you do it:
1. Make sure your pocket knife is sharp.
2. Cup the pencil in your hand holding the tip away from you.
3. Hold the knife in your writing hand and point the blade down towards the tip and away from you.
4. Arrange yourself over a garbage.
5. Slowly slice thing bits of wood off down towards the tip with gentle pressure.
6. Once the wood has been cut back sharpen the tip of the lead to make a point with light pressure grating off a little at a time.
7. Smooth the tip with sandpaper.
That's too much work, or I don't trust my teen with a knife.
Personally I think I was seven when I got my first pocket knife, and I kind of like whittling. But it is still possible to sharpen with a sharpener and not have your tips break.
If you're going to sharpen with a sharpener you have two choices: an electric sharpener or a hand held sharpener.
Electric sharpener - An expensive option, but high quality electric sharpeners are popular with artists because some of them have features like self-sharpening and auto stop function. One popular electric pencil sharpener is the X-Acto School Pro.
With electric sharpeners it is important to maintain them. Colored Pencils are not good for electric sharpeners, especially wax ones, they can gum up the blades with melted wax. To maintain the blades all you need to do is sharpen a graphite pencil after every 3 or 4 times sharpening a wax pencil and that will clear the wax from the blades.
Hand-held Sharpener - A more affordable solution, but more work. One word: Replacement Blades. Okay that's two words, but you get my point. The best approach is to get a good quality manual sharpener that can handle colored pencils and find a source for replacement blades.
An interesting handheld sharpener that comes with replacement blades is the Kum Long Point Pencil Sharpener. It is unique in that it has two sharpeners one for the wood and another for the tip. I haven't tried it, but the reviews are good.
One: Turn the sharpener not the pencil. This will reduce the pressure on the tip.
Two: Stop sharpening before you have a tinny tiny tip.
My tips are still breaking!!
If you have good quality pencils and you are sharpening them, then there is only one other reason for them breaking... Someone dropped them!
It may not have been you, they may have been dropped in the store, in transit or even in the factory. When pencils are dropped, especially color pencils, the inner lead can break in multiple places. You know those times when the lead is broken but it can be slid back into the wood far enough to hold it while you color. That lead was broken before you started sharpening.
After a pencil has been dropped there is little you can do for it. If it is a wax based pencil you can try sitting it in the sun for a little while to give the lead a chance to melt back together. The best solution for pencils that have been dropped is prevention. Order your pencils direct, lay them flat when not in use, and be careful to not drop them on hard floors.
Wow! I sure managed to write quite a bit about pencil leads! I hope you found this helpful, please let me know if you have any other questions you'd like answered.