Introduction: 1:3 Scale Carpenter's Pencil

About: I generally have 40 projects going on at once, and every time I look on here I think of another one to start. I am impressed by how the instructables community sometimes makes itself like a gian…

This is a hand tools only and limited tools build!

Make a tiny carpenters pencil for the sake of learning and cuteness!

Includes bonus instructions on how to make a tiny chisel/scraper tool!



  • a t-ruler or speed square
  • calipers (optional but very helpful because pencils have lots of round edges)
  • a utility knife
  • a marking gauge (optional, here's an instructable about how to make one from scrap if you don't have one)
  • pencil (for marking with)
  • Files and rasps (optional)
  • a small vise that has at least a 3 inch capacity
  • a small fine saw and miter box (like for model making)


  • thin scraps of wood
  • a regular wooden (not carpenter's) pencil
  • sand paper, at least a half sheet of various grits from 80 to 320
  • some kind of finish for your pencil
  • wood glue
  • double stick tape
  • a nail just under 2mm in diameter

Step 1: Please Understand, This Is a Cute Project But Also a Serious Project

Why make a tiny carpenters pencil?

  1. cuteness
  2. for a pocket size tool kit
  3. to mark lines in tight spaces
  4. as a way of practicing scale modeling which can be made with only a limited amount of tools and low cost materials
  5. cuteness

There are a few makers of tiny wood working tools. Those who make scale model tools seem to most commonly use 1:3 and 1:4 scales. I chose to make this a 1:3 size tool because this is a size which is small enough to be cute but big enough to still be more usable (at least for me) as an actual tool.

I learned about one scale model tool maker of note, Marco Terenzi, from Mikhandmaker.'s mini anvil instructable. Definitely check these both out! Marco Terenzi sells tools, but also blogs about the process of making mini tools.

Those are all complicated tools. I'm a newbie so I'm starting with this simple carpenter's pencil. In the process I have learned some things, like how when you are making a very small model, the small amount of wood that is removed while sanding can make a big difference. I will share some things that I did to compensate for that.

Step 2: Measure and Plan and If Necessary Break Things

I measured a full-size carpenters pencil so that I could figure out what the dimensions of a scaled model would be. You could probably do this with a ruler, but vernier calipers and/or a micrometer would probably be the best non-powered tools (this webpage gives info about how to use these tools).

I only have digital calipers but I used them without the battery so as to meet the "non-powered" tool requirement of the Hand Tools Only Contest. My calipers have 10ths of inches and millimeter markings on the stem. This is part of why I switch between inches and millimeters during the build.

I thought of the measurements this way because they were either the
closest marked lines on my calipers stem OR easiest to divide by 3, OR both.

Full-size external dimensions:

  • 7 inches long
  • 15 mm wide
  • 3/10ths of an inch thick

Divide by 3 to get my goal external dimensions:

  • 2 1/3rd inches long
  • 5mm wide
  • 1/10th of an inch thick

Did you know that carpenter's pencils have rectangular rather than round leads? They do! According to wikipedia this makes it so that you can do both thick and thin lines with the same pencil.

I broke apart a full-sized carpenter's pencil in order to measure it's lead. Yes, the fact that I am mixing mm and inches in my measurements alone might be reason not to trust my measurements too much, but we're also making a tiny pencil not a house or something so I don't think anything too terrible will happen if you go with these measurements, it's definitely safer than the way I broke down the carpenter's pencil to get the lead out.

Full-size lead measurements: 6mm x 2mm x 7 inches.

Divide by 3 to get goal lead measurements: 2mm x 2/3rds mm x 2 2/3rds inches

Okay, now we know what we are aiming for, let's do stuff!

Step 3: Liberate a Pencil Lead.

For the lead of my scale model, I used a regular round wood pencil lead. It was about 2mm around.

Be careful with these steps! If you don't have a plan for how to do them safely just find a way to buy some 2mm round lead, or even better get some that's already rectangular.

First, I removed the eraser with some pliers.

Then, following a tip from Evan and Katelyn. I soaked the pencil for about 24 hours. This made the wood expand and basically I could just take the two wooden halves of the pencil apart with my fingers!

When I took the halves apart, one side still had the lead embedded in it. I used this to my advantage! I put the half with the lead in it lead-side down onto a piece of sand paper and the wood side made it easier to hold the lead while I rubbed it on the sand paper to flatten one side.

Don't flatten it too much yet. Remember our goal is to have a lead that is 2mm x 2/3mm and it will be easier to measure once the lead is removed from the wood and we have two parallel(ish) flat sides.

Step 4: Refine the Lead

Now carefully remove the lead from the wood half. I very carefully and lightly scored along one side of the lead with a utility knife and then pulled it out of the wood with my nails.

Remember, you only need 2 2/3rd inches of lead, but I smoothed the whole lead in case I want to make more of these pencils!

Then I took some double-stick tape and put it on a scrap of wood. I put the flatter side of the lead on the double-stick tape and then used the taped-wood as a holder for the lead as I flattened the opposite side with the sand paper.

Once both sides are flattened, you can start to refine your measurements. If needed you can flip the lead so that you get as close to a rectangular 2mm x 2/3mm lead as possible.

After I got to a certain thinness I accidentally broke the lead but it's okay because I still ended up having a piece that was more than 3 inches long.

This made a lot of lead (really graphite) dust that I put in a container to use for some other project.

Step 5: Rough the Wood for the 2 Halves of the Pencil

For the wood I used basswood for model making on my first attempt and on my second attempt (the one shown in this instructable) I used some mystery thin wood left over from another project. I think it is African Mahogany or Spanish Cedar.

For my two halves I started out with 2 wood pieces about 2mm x 9mm x 3in.

Our goal is to have a pencil that is 2 1/3rd inches x 5mm wide x 1/10th of an inch thick but my starting dimensions were pretty oversized because on my first attempt I learned that when I started closer to the final dimensions I got everything too thin during the sanding/shaping steps so my final pencil was not the right proportions.

I actually was able to do the "ripped" dimensions just with the blade on my marking gauge because the wood is so thin. Depending on your wood, you may be able to use just a utility knife to cut it, or may want to cut it with a fine hand saw.

I put the lead in the middle of my two wood pieces and rubbed them together so some of the lead would transfer to my wood.

Then I used my marking gauge from either long edge of the wood so that I had two parallel lines about the width of the wider dimension of the lead apart. I just eyeballed this. Then I lightly scored my marking gauge lines a teeny bit deeper with a fine hand saw. Very lightly! We are making the sides of the channel for the lead, this will only be half the smaller dimension of the lead, so 1/3rd mm deep.

Step 6: Make a Mini Tool So That You Can Make Your Mini Tool

I didn't have any kind of chisel or anything small enough for the channel for the lead, so I made something quickly from a nail that had a diameter just under 2mm.

With the nail secured in a vise, I used a rough file to make the point of the nail into a chisel shape. Then I used a finer file. Then I took the nail out of the vise and rubbed the nail on increasingly fine grits of sand paper, from 100 to 320 grit.

Step 7: Make the Channel for the Lead

I used my the chisel nail that I made to scoop out the channel for the lead. I used it more like a scraper than like a chisel.

Step 8: Glue Everything Together

I used double stick tape to attach some popsicle sticks to my vise so that it won't mar my pencil wood.

Then I used a scrap stick of wood to put some wood glue in the channel on both pieces of wood. On one half I also put glue on the rest of the internal face of the piece of wood. Then I put the lead in the channel of one of the halves of wood and put it all together.

I put some tape on the ends that were outside of the mouth of the vise for good measure.

Step 9: Shape and Smooth Your Pencil

Now I have a very rectangular pencil. But I want it to be a carpenters pencil so I want it to look more like a flattened, rounded octagon.

I shaped the pencil by rubbing it on different grits of wood starting with 60 grit and moving on to 220 grit.

At around 100 grit I cut a bit off the ends of the pencil so it was easier to see the lead and that it was centered. The saw smeared the lead onto the wood a bit so I rubbed each end on an eraser to clean it up. Seeing the lead well helped me to keep things symmetrical while I was shaping. I still had the length oversized at this point. You'll find out why, soon.

I sanded with 60, 100, 120, 150, 180, and 220 grits.

CAUTION: be conservative on thinning out the pencil to the goal dimensions. Maybe it's also an issue with my sanding technique, but since these are very small pieces a half a millimeter removed can make a big difference for the final dimensions, and I was removing a quarter or half millimeter each grit I sanded with.

Once to get to the 220 if it's bigger than your goal dimensions of 5mm x 1/10in you can go down a grit or just sand more at the 220. I found that my pencil size really shrank quickly during this process. Take your time with it and err on the side of caution. (I failed on my first attempt because I didn't!)

Once you have things to your goal width and thickness of 5mm x 1/10in and are satisfied with the smoothness you are ready to put a finish on your pencil. It will still be longer than 2 2/3 inches at this step.

Step 10: Add Your Finish

You can use a different finish if you like, but I used pre-mixed clear shellac. Generally the ends of a wood pencil are not finished (since they are often sharpened, or covered with an eraser top). So, when I was finishing my pencil, I had these ends against the jaws of a vise and added my finish to the rest of the pencil all in one go without having to wait for one side or the other to dry. Make sure to only just tighten the vise enough so that the pencil is help up, the pencil is thin and will bend easily if you tighten too much. I put several layers of shellac on my pencil.

When I was satisfied that I had a good number of layers of shellac, I cut the length to my final dimensions (2 2/3rds inches, I eyeballed the 2/3rds part since I don't have a 2 2/3rds mark on my ruler).

Then I used some 0000 steel wool with some thin paste wax and rubbed everything down. I took care to rub away any rough edges made at the ends when I cut it to length. Then I wiped it down with a plain cotton rag (piece of an old t shirt). Then I wiped a second layer of paste wax on with just the cotton rag. I let the paste wax sit for 15 minutes and then wiped it off with a clean piece of cotton rag.

Step 11: Enjoy Your New Tiny Pencil

You can just marvel at your new creation for a while and when you are ready you can sharpen it. I sharpened my tiny pencil with a combination of using a regular (non-carpenter's) pencil sharpener and just using my utility knife.

Once you've gotten practice making tiny tools by making your mini carpenter's pencil, there's lots of other tiny tools you can move on to make. Here's just a few examples of awesome tiny tools other folks have made and documented their process for here on instructables:

Hand Tools Only Challenge

Runner Up in the
Hand Tools Only Challenge