Introduction: Make Teeny Tiny Letters From Pencil Points

About: I work in optical design.


In this instructable I will show you the product of my procrastination. 
Which lately is carving small letters out of pencil lead.


There is absolutely no purpose or point. I just needed some graphite powder (maybe an instructable for later) and started messing around with a pencil and a knife. And I noticed that the graphite in a pencil point could be shaped easily with quite good precision.

Later just wandering on the internet I read an article about "Dalton Ghetti" 
So yeah, it is quite similar to what he does, but I lack the skill and devotion. You should really visit his site and see what he can do with a pencil. Since you probably clicked the thumbnail to this instructable you will like what he does.

This instructable

In this instructable I will show you what I did. There isn't actually much to explain since it is just carving and a bit (literally) fingerspitzengefühl.
But I will show you the process of ho I made the letters 'V' and 'O' which basicly covers the carving and the drilling of holes and refining.

In the last step or so I will show you some failed experiments. I tried to copperplate some letters (look at the 'T' in the picture) but that failed.
earlier tries with a long pencil pint gave promising results but weren't reproducble with the letters.

In the picture above you can see my (temporary) collection of letters. I have lost many  of the first ones.
And they are all made at completely different times (days or weeks between each letter) and therefore completely individual. That explains the different sizes.
Also, I got a lot better. Seriously, the ugliest ones are the oldest and the more beautifull ones ('v' and 'o') are the newest.

Step 1: Gather the Materials and Tools


The pencil

You can use whatever you want ofcourse but I used a pencilpoint.
In my experience just normal ones you get for free with advertisement are good enough. 
Pick one that is a bit on the soft side (B or HB)  (just one that leaves a nice black line when you write with it).
The harder ones just aren't fun, they are harder to work with and not specially stronger. The soft ones are great for carving but often break without warning. 
So yeah, the normal pencils are somwhere in between and thus therefore enough.

Try to avoid those pensils with those tiny black stones which feel annoying when you write with it.

A knife

The knife should be thin like an X-Acto-knife or Segmented blade. 
A normal blade isn't good since you can't get in very tiny spaces with it. And a large blade blocks the view.

Dalton Ghetti says he uses a razor blade.

A pin

To get in the very tight spots and to carve out holes.
Try to get one with a plastic ball on the other end because drilling a hole requires application of some force on the needle.


Sewing wire

I used this to make the holes a bit larger and the cuts a bit deeper by using it as a wire saw.

metal file

To get rid of large chunks.

Step 2: Preparation of the Pencil

With a knife, expose some of the pencil lead. (It doesn't contain lead but that's just terminology)
Not too much or it will break too easily.  About 5-7 mm will do.

From here on it is just carving till you get your letter.

But I will show you how  I did it.

First of all, with a knife or file remove graphite till you git a flat cuboid shape (not cube).
This is the base from which letters are carved easily.

The thickness of your base is entirely up to you. The thinner, the easier  a letter is shaped but the easier it will break.
The thicker ones require a bit more work but are generally sturdier and don't break that often. Also, there is the danger of assymmetry. (at least in my case) One side could look a bit different from the other side.
And of course it requires some reduction of the thickness at the end.

Personally I perefer the thicker ones. 
And the assymmetry can be resolved by reducing the thickness mainly at the ugliest side (so it is as if you have 2 letters and you pick the best one).

Step 3: The Letter 'V'

Again, there isn't much instructing to say about the carving but I will show you how I did the letter 'V'.

There is just one thing that will apply for everything  you carve out of a pencil:  As long as it is attached to the pencil carving is fairly doable since you have a good handle.
But when it breaks off and the letter is still complete it will be very hard to make more adjustments.

So for the 'v'

In the top of the base carve out a small v shaped notch . This is where the sharpness and the thinness of the blade comes in to play . Since it is very thin you can scrape graphite off all the way down to the point in the middle so you get a nice clean slit.
With a thicker knife (like a pocket knife) you would just get a dirty round notch because you don't fit in the very end.

Then file or carve the outer side of the V parallel to the inside notch of the V.  But don't go all the way down!  Leave the bottom of the V attached to your pencil lead!. 

Now refine as much as possible and when done, complete the underside of the V and while doing that remove it from the pencil.
(and make it thinner)

Finally, pollish the letter by rubbing it over some paper.

Step 4: The Letter 'o'

Now, for the letter o.

Since the 'o' has a somewhat round shape the top of the pencil lead must be roundish to begin with.

The 'o' has a hole in it right in the middle. So locate the center of the roundness you just created and push the needle a bit in it and carve out a little pit.
To drill a hole trough the lead, I find it easy to place the pin between a finger and the graphite and just make a circular movement with the finger. (so that the pin itself covers a conic area). This will slowly carve out the pit deeper and deeper till you get on the other side. It might take couple of minutes.

Then use a piece of string to make the hole a little bit wider.

Then proceed by completing the round shape of the O. Mine broke of prematurely before it was round so i had to cut away the pear shape afterwards which was difficult.

Then as previous refine till you get a nice 'o'.

Step 5: Attempt to Electroplate

So, normally I wanted to give these small letters a nice and shiny copper surface by electroplating them.
Earlier tests with a big pencil point were quite successful. (at 1.8 V in a copper sulphate solution)

But somehow tying the letter to a graphite rod doesn't work.  

I've tried a graphite rod of a refillable pencil but that rod was too conductive, a nice shiny copper layer was deposited on the rod but not on the letter.

Then, I tried a normal piece of pencil lead and tied my letter up to that. this was better, after about 3 hours a darkish brown layer developed but when finished it would wash off immediately. (In the same circumstances copperplating on just metal works fine)

So yeah...  no nice copper layer. Maybe later.

Also, I have tried colour pencils but they often are too fragile and break off easily.

Step 6: Results

So, the results are just some very tiny letters (and a lot of things with black finger prints if you don't wash your hands)

I have no Idea what to do with them. Generally they just stick around till I loose them.
For now I keep them in mrballeng's 'Vintage Locket' .

Any suggestions and criticism are always welcome.

Also, I entered the 'pocket-sized' conest with my other instructable in which I show how to bind a small book. Feel free to view it!