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How to Sharpen a Charcoal Pencil

how to sharpen a charcoal pencil

Many professional artists prefer charcoal pencils as they provide better texture, richer color, and require less pressure than graphite pencils.

Unfortunately, charcoal pencils are quite difficult to sharpen, which is why lots of artists and illustrators try to find quick and easy solutions to sharpen their charcoal pencils without breaking their cores.

Much worse, some artists find better alternative art mediums and forgo charcoal pencils. However, just because they are hard to sharpen, does this mean that you should stop using them? Definitely, no.

I believe charcoal pencils deliver superior results. If you are an artist, you’ll probably agree that it would be wise to learn some methods on how to sharpen a charcoal pencil effectively. In this article, I will show you some sharpening techniques so that you can continue to enjoy using your charcoal pencils.

1st Technique: Sharpening Your Charcoal Pencil Using a Knife

Sharpening your charcoal pencil with a knife is a good idea. Just keep in mind to carve away from your body whenever you use a knife. Here are some pointers and instructions for using this technique:

Pick an extremely sharp knife. Sharpening charcoal pencils is best done with a very sharp knife. A fixed-blade knife, a utility knife, or a box cutter with a retractable blade are some of the excellent knife options you can try.

Make sure to hold the charcoal pencil correctly. Using your non-dominant hand, hold the pencil properly with the writing tip directed away from you. Hold the pencil tightly with only about 2 inches jutting from your hand to make it easier for you to sharpen the tip.

Grasp the knife properly. Ensure to grasp it with your dominant hand. Hold the knife grip horizontally in your palm, with the blade protruding from your thumb and the sharp point of the blade on the pencil’s tip.

Cut tiny strands of wood from the charcoal pencil. Gently push the blade through the wood with the thumb of your hand holding the pencil. Do not put too much pressure on the blade once it comes into close contact with the pencil’s core. With every blade stroke, rotate the pencil gradually and repeatedly. Maintain the blade’s angle throughout the sharpening process.

Continuously reposition the pencil’s blade. Whenever you finish a cut, start moving the pencil forward rather than the blade backward. Reposition the knife and pencil corresponding to one another as needed between cuts, but do so continuously. Position the blade at the same range from the tip as you did on your preceding cut. Continue this process until you get your desired point.

When using a knife, it is very critical to take safety precautions. You are stripping away the wood of the charcoal pencil with extremely sharp knives. You could harm yourself or someone else if you are not cautious. You must always keep yourself and others out of the direction where the blade moves. This involves your fingers and hands, as well as your body and eyes.

Here are further reminders when using a knife:

Avoid using precision blades. I believe it is dangerous to use for sharpening because it is not intended for carving.

During the process of sharpening, do not pull the blade towards you. You may unintentionally draw the blade into your fingers or skin.

Always remember to push the blade away from you when sharpening. Moreover, do not point the pencil in the path of anyone else.

2nd Technique: Easily Sharpen Your Charcoal Pencil with Sandpaper

sharpening charcoal pencil using knife

Numerous artists use the sandpaper sharpening technique to get a pointy tip on their charcoal pencils. A conventional, hand-held sharpener is simply not suitable for charcoal pencils. However, here are some pointers and instructions for sharpening a charcoal pencil with sandpaper:

Sharpen the charcoal pencil with fine sandpaper. Start by rolling it between your fingers to keep the pencil tip evenly sharp. I recommend starting with 100-grit sandpaper. You can, however, try different grits to identify the one that best suits your needs.

Do not press the pencil too hard on the sandpaper. Otherwise, you can break the core. Apply gentle pressure when moving the charcoal pencil tip back and forth across the sandpaper. To create a sharp point, keep moving the pencil from side to side against the sandpaper while rotating it between your fingers.

Lightly sand. As you sand your charcoal pencil, rotate it on the sandpaper constantly to equally sharpen the tip. Once you remove enough wood and the charcoal has been brought to a sharp point, the charcoal pencil will be now ready to use.

Nevertheless, during the sharpening process using sandpaper, be sure to wear protective goggles to shield your eyes. If you are not going to wear safety glasses while sanding, small particles of wood can fly off and hit you in the eye. That could cause serious eye irritation if ever.

Further Reminders When Sharpening a Charcoal Pencil

Keep in mind that some charcoal pencils are paper-wrapped and you should not sharpen them with a standard pencil sharpener. In such types of charcoal pencils, you can normally see a tiny string encased with the wrapping.

To expose the core, pull the string down gradually and start peeling the paper. The paper will then unravel, revealing the compact charcoal rod within. You can use 150 or 200-grip sandpaper to sharpen the charcoal pencil and give it a nice sharp point. Gently rub the charcoal pencil’s tip over the sandpaper, rotating it evenly.

Wrapping Up

If you are going to ask several artists, they would choose charcoal pencils over graphite over and over again as they can provide higher-quality art projects and sketches. However, the only dilemma that discourages artists to use charcoal pencils is that they are quite challenging to sharpen.

Fortunately, the tips and techniques aforementioned can help you solve your common problem with charcoal pencils. Thus, you can always keep your charcoal pencils sharp, thereby allowing you to execute intricate details on your art. Now that you know how to sharpen a charcoal pencil effectively, you can now always enjoy sketching without worrying about breaking it.

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