Why Do Wooden Pencil Leads Break So Easily?

At some point in time, we have all experienced the frustration of the lead in our pencil breaking easily and no matter how many times we sharpen the pencil the lead still breaks. In this article, we will show you the four main reasons why wooden pencil leads break so easily and show you how to avoid this problem.

We will also explain why colored pencils break when you sharpen them and how you can prevent this from happening. There is also a quick guide explaining what the different types of colored pencils are and which the best-colored pencils of each type are.

1. Why Do Pencil Leads Break so Easily?

There are four main reasons that cause the pencil lead to break easily which are it has been dropped, excessive writing pressure, blunt pencil sharpener, or they are cheap pencils.

1.1. The Pencil Has Been Dropped

The first possible cause for a pencil lead breaking easily is that at some point in its life the pencil has been dropped. This has caused the lead inside the pencil to shatter into pieces, it does not need to have been dropped from a great height or with exceptional force.

Once the pencil has been dropped and the lead is broken no matter how many times you sharpen the pencil it is always going to break. It is worth pointing out at this time that pencil lead is not actual lead but made from a combination of clay and graphite. You can read more in Where Does Pencil Lead Come From

1.2. Excess Writing Pressure

Pencils can withstand a reasonable amount of pressure that is exerted to them while writing. But if you happen to be heavy-handed and continually exerting excess pressure then the point of the pencil cannot withstand it and will break.

1.3. Blunt Pencil Sharpener

A cheap pencil sharpener with blunt or misaligned blades can also cause a pencil lead to break. It is more likely to be a problem with the materials used in the pencil’s construction. However, to eliminate this as a possibility then it is always worth investing in a good quality pencil sharpener. Check out The Ultimate Guide to Kum Pencil Sharpeners for more information about the best pencil sharpeners in the world.

1.4. Cheap Pencils

There is no getting away from it but cheap pencils are the number one cause for pencil lead breaking too easily. With a pencil it all about the quality of the wood and the manufacturing process. The best pencils are made from cedar wood that has been grown right here in the U.S. in either California or Oregan, it is a far superior wood with a smooth straight grain that sharpens easily without splinters. If you would like to know more about which are the best pencils then check out our Wooden Pencil Brands Ultimate Guide.

Pencils that are made from cheaper woods tend to be more difficult to sharpen and often don’t sharpen evenly.

The best pencils have quality bonded lead cores brands such as Faber-Castell & Staedtler have bonded lead cores. What exactly is a bonded lead core? I hear you ask basically during production the lead core is glued on both sides from the eraser to the tip to both sides of the wooden pencil slats that will eventually form the pencil. This reinforces the strength of the pencil making it harder for the lead to break.

In the cheaper mass-produced pencils, the lead is not bonded to the wood. It is slightly loose inside the pencil and may also not be truly centered. When you combine this with cheap quality wood it is why your wooden pencils are breaking so easily.

If you are interested in who makes the best pencils Blackwing is widely regarded as the best quality pencils there is. In a recent interview, the Blackwing brand manager Alexander Poirier revealed that Blackwing pencils are manufactured in Japan and the reasons why they do.

2. Why Does a Pencil Tip Break When it is Sharpened too Much?

Broken Pencil Point and Sharpener

If you find that when you keep sharping your pencil the tip breaks because you appear to have over-sharpened it. Then in all like likelihood, you are using a cheap pencil which is notorious for lead breaking. Early on in this article in the section cheap pencils, we go into more detail as to why this is the case.

Buy yourself a good quality pencil and sharpener and you should find that this solves the problem. When it comes to pencils the old adage is true “you get what you pay for”.

Do pencils break because of the sharpener or because of the lead/graphite within the pencil?

Pencils break due to poor quality materials used in their manufacture. A $50.00 pencil sharpener cannot overcome the problems of a pencil being mass-produced from cheap materials. However, bear in mind that the higher the B grade of a pencil the softer that its lead core will be. this can cause the pencils to be difficult to sharpen and break more easily. If you are interested in knowing more about these types of pencils then check out our post The Complete Guide to the Darkest Pencil Lead for more information.

3. How do You Sharpen Colored Pencils Without Breaking Them?

Many people struggle with sharpening colored pencils as the soft waxy lead can easily be broken which can be very frustrating. There is however a simple solution to sharpening a color pencil that does not break the lead.

Prismacolor Pencil Sharpener

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The first thing that you need is a good pencil sharpener preferably one that is specifically designed for sharpening colored pencils. I cannot recommend the Prismacolor Premier Pencil Sharpener highly enough. It is excellent at sharpening colored pencils.

The second thing you need to do is change the way that you are using the sharpener. Usually, when sharpening graphite pencils you insert the pencil into the sharpener and turn the pencil. The problem with this method when sharpening a colored pencil is that the blade of the sharpener can stick in the soft waxy lead and break the lead.

The solution is to insert the pencil into the sharpener but this time hold the pencil steady and slowly rotate the sharpener around the pencil. This way the blade of the sharpener rotates evenly around the soft colored lead without digging in. et voila lovely sharpened colored pencils with no breakages. It may feel a little strange at first but it definitely works.

4. What are the Best Colored Pencil Brands That Won’t Break When Sharpened?

Coloured Pencils and Sharpener

As we have already mentioned the type of sharpener and the way that you use it are the biggest factors as to why colored pencils break. Also, cheaper colored pencils will be made with an inferior wood and manufacturing process which adds to the problem.

Colored pencils fall into three categories wax-based oil-based and water-soluble using an established brand name of coloring pencil means that the pencil will be less prone to breaking while sharpening or coloring and drawing with it. The reasons for this are that it will be made of higher quality materials. It will also be manufactured in a more controlled and technologically advanced factory with better quality assurance.

The following are the best coloring pencils that you can buy.

5. Oil Based Colouring Pencils

Oil-based colored pencils use a combination of oil and wax to bind the colored pigment. This means that their lead is slightly firmer than a wax-based pencil but not as firm as a graphite pencil. It also means that an oil-based pencils lead will keep a sharper point than a waxed based pencil and does not break as easily.

5.1. Faber-Castell Polychromos Pencils

Faber Castell Polychromos Pencils

Faber-Castell Polychromos Pencils are considered by many artists to be among the finest oil-based pencils in the world they are available in a wide range of colors and pack sizes. They are hugely popular as despite being made by a premium brand they are quite competitively priced.

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5.2. Caran d’Ache Pablo Colored Pencils

Caran dache Pablo Colored Pencils

Caran d’Ache Pablo Colored Pencils are reputably the best oil-based colored pencils that you can buy. They can be used on different materials that are water-resistant and with excellent lightfastness. They are also slightly more expensive than the Faber-Castell Polychromos Pencils

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6. Wax Based Colouring Pencils

Wax-based colored pencils have a central core that is a combination of wax and pigment and is by far the most common type of colored pencil there is. Wax-based pencils are available with a wide range of lead from very soft which is favored by artists to a harder lead that is popular with students.

6.1. Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils

Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils

Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils are probably the most used and recognizable colored pencils around. They are favored by artists for their drawings as they have a thick, soft core with deeply saturated colors that lay down easily on the paper.

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6.2. Caran d’Ache Luminance Colored Pencils

Caran dAche Luminance Colored Pencils

The Swiss-made Caran d’Ache Luminance Colored Pencils are super smooth with the highest lightfastness and resistance to UV light. These pencils produce intense colors and live up to their reputation as the best-colored pencils that money can buy.

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7. Water Soluble Based Colouring Pencils

Water Soluble Based Colouring Pencils are also known as watercolor pencils are to all intents and purposes watercolor paint in a solid pencil form. When combined with water or a sponge they can be used to blend colors or create washes just like watercolor paints do.

7.1. Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle Pencil

Caran dAche Museum Aquarelle Pencil

Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle Pencil is considered to be the best of the best when it comes to watercolor pencils. However, the quality of these pencils is also reflected in their price tag.

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7.2. Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürer Watercolor Pencils

Faber Castell Albrecht Durer Watercolor Pencils

Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürer Watercolor Pencils are a professional-quality pencil that is typically 60% cheaper to buy than the Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle Pencils which makes them one of the most if not the most popular high-quality watercolor pencil there is.

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8.Is It Possible to Get Lead Poisoning from a Pencil?

If while trying to sharpen your pencil you have accidentally stabbed yourself and are now wondering if you are going to get lead poisoning. Don’t worry you are perfectly safe and no harm will come to you. If you would like to know more then take a look at Can You Get Lead Poisoning From a Pencil where we go into a lot more detail. 

9.Protect Your Pencil Points With a Pencil Cap

Faber Castell Grip 2001 Eraser Cap

Now that you know why pencil points are easily broken and how to sharpen colored pencils without them breaking you should be able to get a nice sharp point on your pencils. I am always a firm believer that prevention is always better than a cure so to keep your pencil points safe you should protect them with a pencil cap. If your not familiar with pencil caps that are a simple but nifty device that covers the point of your pencil. Check out our guide showing you The 7 Best Pencil Caps if you would like to know more about them.

Once your wooden pencils are too small to use don’t just throw them away buy yourself a pencil extender and you can use every last bit of the pencil. This not only saves you money but is good for the environment If you would like to know more then take a look at The 10 Best Pencil Extenders where we also have some top tips as well as showing you some of the very best pencil extenders.

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Peter Warrior: Pen & Pencil Expert

With nearly a decade of experience in the pen industry, I successfully ran an online pen business for 9 years. My deep-rooted passion for pens and pencils led me to become a part-time blogger, where I've dedicated myself to sharing the wealth of knowledge I've amassed over the years. I'm a firm believer in the power of the written word, as echoed by Malcolm Forbes: "Putting pen to paper lights more fire than matches ever will." My expertise is not just rooted in business, but in the genuine appreciation and understanding of the art of writing instruments.

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