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JOEL Joel's Blog

Ruthless Efficiency And The Perfect Pencil


Four lead pencils in a craftsman's pocket. The caps are color coded to know which color is which
Four lead pencils in a craftsman's pocket. The caps are color coded to know which color is which

Pretty much everybody I know who works in a shop gets into the habit of keeping stuff in the exact same place all the time. The goal is not to spend 5 minutes looking for stuff. It's just a waste of time and makes woodworking less fun. If you're someone who works on site, your pockets get assigned to various things: the pencil pocket, the phone pocket, the wallet pocket, etc. But even if you're in a shop, knowing that your pencil is in your back pocket on the left saves a lot of time. When I'm going to a meeting, I keep my pen in my breast pocket. I'm an engineer, so people expect that. (If on the other hand, when I wear a shirt that doesn't have a breast pocket I get thoroughly confused. And people wonder what's happened to me and suggest that maybe it's time I retired.) I've also hooked pens in the "V" of my shirt. But that's never felt exactly quite right.
We have sold Blackwing pencils for a long time because they are probably some of the best pencils ever made. The lead quality for drawing is wonderful. They write very smoothly leave a dark black line. They're great pencils with one fatal floor in a shop: If you put them in your pocket, you're going to break the point and also mark up your pocket. And when they're new, they're a little long for a pocket.
Meanwhile, we've noticed that many of our customers are big fans of Pica pencils. If you come into our showroom and we get to chatting, we may ask you about products you wished we carried. Sometimes there are some very practical reasons why we don't carry a given product, but sometimes we just need a nudge to get us motivated. This is what happened with Pica. What sets Pica apart is not just that it's a quality pencil (though it really is a quality mechanical pencil - the lead writes smoothly, it's great). What sets them apart is every pencil comes in some sort of holster. So you want a red pencil, blue pencil, thin line, thick line. Markers or long nose markers. For writing on dry wood, greasy metal or materials that will be exposed to the elements. Whatever. They all have their holsters and the number of people who walk into our store with four of them sitting in a pocket is not small. See the picture above.
Pencils and their sharpeners
Pencils and their sharpeners

When I'm doing drafting or drawing, I typically want to use a .5 or a 0.3 mm lead. I actually prefer regular pencils that get sharpened with a fine tip. That's where Blackwing and their long point sharpener come it. But when laying out something on wood, the 0.3 and 0.5mm are really too fragile for use on anything other than a really smooth surface. Fortunately Pica makes a 0.9mm which is a game changer. But a lot of people don't like even a .9mm and they go for a regular size lead holder. And a lead holder makes it possible to use shorter leads so the holder fit in a pocket properly. Fortunately all Pica lead holders contain built-in sharpeners. Which is brilliant. Pica also makes different colored markers for different things. They even have accessory caps like in the photo above at the top so you can tell which color lead is which.

When you get into the habit if keeping the pencils in the same place or pocket, you don't waste time looking for it. And more importantly perhaps, when you have the right tool at hand like a pencil and a sharpener, your layout will be consistent and accurate. Having the right color at hand also helps you not cut on the wrong thing that you thought was a line.

Ruthless Efficiency And The Perfect Pencil 3
The pencils
The pencils, markers, and gel Signal Markers come in different color cases

The XL markers are long for easy layout
The XL markers are long for easy layout

The gel Signal Markers have their own sharpener built into their cases
The gel Signal Markers have their own sharpener built into their cases

Join the conversation
05/22/2024 Paul Austin
These are great markers and pencils. However, I find the sharpeners difficult to use. My pencil sharper plugs easily preventing a sharp point and requiring disassembly to clean out the stuck lead. I find it more efficient to use sandpaper to get a point. The sharpeners at least on the lead holders are too small to work well. Perhaps they need to hold the metal sleeve to steady the lead in the sharpener.
05/22/2024 Joe Leonetti
Well said.

I pretty much won’t buy a shirt unless it has a breast pocket as it also makes me look like it’s time to retire.

Another fun blog would be finding the perfect pocket knife. I’ve now been carrying one for nearly 50 years and still am on that quest.
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