Introduction: Pallet Wood Pencils (1,000 of Them!)

About: I have an unhealthy relationship with pallet wood. I make fast paced and entertaining build videos on my YouTube channel that are made for everyone, but with the ultimate goal to get the younger generations ex…

Pencils, so many pencils... Do people even use pencils anymore? I don't think so, but that's never stopped me! Now the question is, how do I make the stupidly repetitive process of handcrafting 1,000 pencils interesting? I still don't know the answer to that and the video is already live, but I'm up for the task! In total I made 6 different pencil design, all from over a dozen different species of pallet wood. I found some really fun species in this batch too which gave me great colors to play with including butternut, moranti, sweetgun, and some stuff I haven't even identified yet. Strap in and enjoy the ride that is the most pointless project ever (I figure if I at least acknowledge that, it'll make it a little better and maybe make people look beyond the surface of what the project is to realize the deeper meaning of what it's actually about....... or not).

Step 1: Materials & Tools


- Pallet wood

- Pencil lead -

- Wood glue -

- Varnish -


- Bluetooth hearing protection -

- Respirator (use code "Jackman" for 5% off!) -

- Circular saw -

- Nail remover -

- Metal detector -

- Thickness planer -

- Table saw sled -

- Feather boards -

- Drum sander -

- Parallel clamps -

- Glue spreader bottle -

- Pipe clamps -

- Bar clamps -

- Router lift -

- Pencil making sled -

- Low angle block plane -

- Wood burner with flat tip -

Step 2: Disassembling the Pallets

Per usual, a Jackman project starts at the pallet farm where all of the happy little pallets frolic around the loading dock until I take them, kill them, and dismember their bodies.... we're in for an interesting ride here folks. The dismantling of the pallets begins with a circular saw and cutting along the nails on either side of the pallets to remove the out runners from the slats.

This removes all of the structural strength from the pallet, so from there I can just manhandle the pallet to pop all of the slats off of the center runner. It's also a great opportunity to show you how strong and manly I am, don't pretend you're not impressed Rebecca!

The nails are removed with a pneumatic denailer, it works the opposite of a nail gun where it shoots the nails out of the pallet slats... probably didn't need to explain that one for you. I also use a metal detector once all of the visible nails are removed and run that over all of the slats to catch any little pieces of metal I missed.

Step 3: Milling Down the Pallet Slats

With the metal safely removed, I then send all of the slat through my thickness planer to remove the rough surface. I plane both sides until they are completely flat and smooth, no jointer is used, just skip planning by flipping the boards over after each pass and they get flat enough for my use (a jointer would get you a perfectly flat surface, but I'm not here to pretend I'm perfect).

Next I use my table saw sled to cut all of the slats down to a bunch of 8.5" long pieces. This actually allowed me to remove a lot of the defects in the slats including a lot of the nail holes. After this it almost felt like I was working with fresh lumber (eww). The final pencil blanks are 8" long, so this gives me a little bit of wiggle room through the pencil lamination process.

So, there's this thing I do every year where I make a set of 100 things from pallet wood for Carolina Shoe to use as promotion items. It started with the shot glasses (gasp), last year was the diamond coasters, and this year is pencils. But once I visualized what 100 pencils I realized how lame that would be, so I decided to add a digit and make 1,000 pencils instead. I am happy to report that I regretted that decision almost as soon as I made it.

Step 4: Cutting to Width and Resawing

Anyway, I try to ignore the pain while running all of these pieces across the table saw to clean up the 2 edges. Since the pieces are so short this removes the rough edge, but also gives me a straight edge and also a parallel edge when I cut the other side.

After doing that approximately 24 hundred million times, I then run all of the pieces through again to resaw them thinner. And when I say "all" I actually mean about half of them because I only resaw the thicker pieces and I also saved a bunch to make solid color and 2-tone pencil blanks with. (I ended up with about 6 different variations which we'll discuss more later, maybe)

Step 5: Sanding and Organizing the Pieces

The resawing operation consists of cutting almost half way through, flipping the piece, then cutting the other side. The remaining material is cut on the bandsaw and I do this because it's safer and also ends up being faster in the end.

After resawing, these pieces are then sent through the drum sander to smooth out the face that has been cut. This could also be done with the thickness planer, but the drum sander allows me to get the pieces down to under 1/8" thick. I'm going through all of this because a pencil is such a small canvas to work with and I want a bunch of different colors (wood species) to be displayed in each pencil.

This whole project pleased my OCD more than I'm willing to admit, but next step was to sort all of these pieces by width. By doing this and gluing them in sections I'm able to maximize the material, a brave thing to say coming from the guy who is cutting all of these pieces enough times to turn them 65.67% into sawdust.

Step 6: Lamination

But I line all of the slats up in order and then break them up into 3" wide sections and mark them with blue tape. The reason I do this is because the height cutting capacity on my tablesaw is 3" and I want to be able to cut all of these down into slices after the glue-up is complete. Some pretty impressive forethought, I know.

I use my glue spreader bottle to apply glue to one face of each piece and glue put each bundle into the clamps. The glue starts to set up after 15-20 minutes, so I need to really work quickly so I can apply the clamping pressure before things start to dry.

The laminations are left to dry overnight since there was so much glue applied and they need extra time to dry. The next day the clamps are removed and I can then break the long laminated sticks into the 3" sections as dramatically as possible.

Step 7: Cleaning Up the Lamintations

Each of these sections is roughly 3" wide, so I send them all through the thickness planer to change them all to exactly slightly less than 3" wide.

Then I clean up one edge of each of the laminations on the table saw. This would be a perfect job for a jointer too, but I don't have one of those, I'm an elitist, but not that much of an elitist.

Step 8: Cutting Into Pencil Blanks

But when are we going to start making pencils?! Well, about 16 steps ago, but now I actually start cutting the pencil blanks down to size. Each pencil blank is suppose to be 1/2" x 3/8" x 8" long. It will be square after we add the lead but the extra 1/8" leaves room for the width of the kerf of the cut, more on that later. For now, I just slice all of these laminations down to 1/2" thick slices.

Then all of those slices are run across the table saw again and cut at 3/8" to make a bunch of sticks... anyone else feel like we're moving backwards here?

Step 9: 1,000 Pencil Blanks

So this is what 1,000 pencil blanks looks like. You can see the solid colored blanks here in the small box, the random pixelated laminations are in one of the big boxes, and I also have some angled cut ones in the other big box along with some experimental curved ones, it's always good to try a new flavor.

Step 10: Cutting the Grooves and Splitting in Half

To get the lead into the pencil, the process actually entails running the blanks over a router bit that has a rounded end on it which cuts a 1/8" diameter semi-circle into each side of the blank. This is actually the same way that "Big Pencil" makes their pencils too (except in mass, slightly more efficiently). I use feather boards in both directions so it's just a matter of pushing them through the router bit and letting them drop off in a bucket on the floor.

Next, each of these blanks needs to be split in half. You can see here now why we left some room for the kerf of the blade since we'll be removing about 1/8" of material. This will allow me to make 2 pencil halves and then insert the lead and glue the 2 halves together. To ensure that I'm cutting precisely in the middle, I run the blade backwards by hand over one side of the blank to make a mark. Then I flip the piece over and if the mark lines up perfectly with the blade then I know it's centered.

Then, as you'd expect, all 1,000 of the pencil blanks are cut in half to make 2,000 pieces. Again, it feels like we're working backwards here.

Step 11: Gluing the Pencil Halves Together

Now after all that prep work, we can finally make the pencil blanks. I lay out a bunch of the pencil blank halves on the clamps with the groove side up and use my glue spreader bottle again to apply glue to the whole surface. Then I drop a bunch of lead randomly onto the surface and role each piece into place. Rolling them allowed me to get glue on the lead to hold them in place inside the pencils.

Each of the half pencil blanks is then paired up with another half pencil blank, then I can flip them all 90 degrees and clamp them together. And that boys and girls is how pencil babies are made... This set-up actually let me do 50 pencils at a time, so it went quicker than expected. I used the pipe clamps as cauls and clamped the pencils down every few inches to make sure the whole thing stayed flat.

Step 12: Cutting Blanks to Length

These only need a couple hours to dry, them I remove them from the clamps and scrape off the excess glue. This is what 1,000 pencil blanks looks like folks, I know you always wondered, so drink it in! The pencil blanks get bundled in sets of 25 and each color of rubber band actually represents a different design. The bundles missing a pencil are actually sets of 24 colored pencils.

I've scrolled far enough, when are we going to start actually making pencils, Jackman?! Soon, soon. I need you to be patient my child, I'm having to make all the stupid things, so if I can have the patience to do that, I trust you can have even a slice of patience. What I'm trying to say is that I use my table saw sled to slice both ends off all the pencil blanks to remove any inconsistency and also bring them down to their final 8" length.

Step 13: Pencil Sled/jig

And now, finally, the moment you've all been waiting for, I get to pull out this beauty. This piece of sex made from aluminum and bocote that they probably had to kill a bunch of baby elephants to harvest. I picked this up as part of an Indiegogo campaign from Andy Klein and he does not condone anything that I say in perpetuity (I may or may not be legally required to say that).

Step 14: Planing the Pencils

So the way that this little guy works is in conjunction with a block plane, each of the pencil blanks is brought down from a square to a hexagon. It is held about a center point with a spring loaded mechanism and rotated with the knob which has 6 different detents where it locks in place. The plane runs along the surface of the pencil cutting of thin layers until the plane bottoms out on the rails.

Each side is planed down smooth and once you bottom out you rotate it to the other 5 sides. Last step is to use a little piece of leather as a spacer under the center of the pencil to support it to make sure that it doesn't sag, then a couple of passes is taken off of each side until the whole thing is flat and parallel. The angled blanks (shown here) are particularly tricky because you're always cutting against the grain on at least 2 of the sides, so you need to finagle the plane to cut backward.

I was able to get the whole process down to under 3 minutes per pencil which seemed pretty great until I multiplied that times 1,000. Really though, this is a fun process so I don't mind, it's the perfect thing to do while I'm killing a little time waiting for glue to dry on another project.

Step 15: Alternative...

Surprisingly, I found that a technique that was even more efficient in the form of just smashing each bunch on the table. It works similar to the way that it works when I smash my head on the table repeatedly for taking on this project. Now that I think about it, it's really not surprising that I came up with a more efficient technique given that I'm merely a lazy millennial.

Step 16: Stamping and Applying Finish

Once each of the pencils is done, I use my disk sander to sand the excess wood down to the lead. Conveniently I can tell when I hit the lead because it draws a streak on my sandpaper. It's way more interesting though when I do this for the bundles of colored pencils. I end up using the table saw to run the batch through to bring them all down to a consistent length anyway.

Then I just need to apply the Carolina logo to a couple hundred of the pencils. I played around with a few techniques including a small laser engraver and settled on just using the tried and true toner transfer method. To do this I just print up a page full of "CAROLINA" in mirror image on my laser printer and then use heat from a pattern bit in a branding iron to transfer to toner to each pencil. Funny enough, this ended up being the most consistent and quickest method.

Last step is to apply some finish! I used some amber Halcyon varnish which always brings out an amazing color in these multi-species wood laminations. It's also water-based stuff so it's easy to apply and food safe once it cures.

Step 17: Pencils

Now, what to do with all these pencils? Well I decided to pick up some packing material for just $2.60 and repurpose it...

Step 18: Glamour Shots

And here is where we complete our journey, thanks for taking the ride, almost... I've planed down about half of the pencils at this point, but you'd better believe me when I say I'm not done yet. And when I say I'm not done yet, I mean I'm not done punishing myself with these types of projects to seemingly counteract my guilt that I don't have student loan debt. As always, watch the build video on YouTube for the full Jackman experience!!


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