What do you do with a stubby pencil*?

* Sung to the melody of “Drunken Sailor”

I recently professed my love/obsession/fixation with stubby pencils and my goal to collect an entire jug full (read all about that here). However, since posting that I’ve reflected on the topic some more and come to a conclusion: stubbin’ ain’t easy.

What’s a pencil-lover to do as a pencil approaches the end of its life? It enters the “awkward phase”, similar to a person trying to grow their hair out. You know, when it’s not long enough to be long hair, but it’s so long that it looks like they really need to get a haircut. It’s kind of the inverse with pencils: it’s too long to throw away, but short enough to feel a little cramped and weird. So I’ve been thinking a little bit lately about any particularly useful jobs for a pencil that is reaching the age of semi-retirement.

One thing I’ve started using mine for are carpentry and home-improvement type projects. Stubs fit perfect in the pocket, and if you’re just tracing lines on a square it doesn’t matter how you hold them. In fact, sometimes it’s nice to have a shorty that can fit in tight spaces and still make a relatively precise mark.

Depending on whether you’re obsessive enough about pencil stubs to attempt to fill a huge M&Ms jar with them, the fact that they’re nearing the end of their life may or may not make them an intuitive candidate for “rough duty”. I’ve found that project pencils tend to get left out in the yard, fall into weird cracks, have rocks dropped on them, and so forth. (The Nataraj Bold stub depicted in my Happy Stub Completion Day post was nearly finished when it slipped between the cracks of my new deck and fell to its eternal resting place beneath). On the one hand, it pains me to have sunk enough of my life into a pencil to get thisclose to finishing it, only to have it go missing or get smooshed. On the other, it seems rational that if you’re going to do something that might trash a pencil, you might choose one that’s on the way out anyway rather than one that has its whole life ahead of it.

In the comments of the aforementioned post, reader Nicolas suggested pencil extenders. That just seems a little too much, even for me. I’m not here to judge, I’m just saying that buying a separate device so that I can eke out every last millimeter of a pencil is below my minimum attractive rate of return.

However, the thought of getting a bullet pencil did cross my mind. I came across a lot of posts about bullet pencils over at Woodclinched in the past and thought “what are these crappy things and why would you want one?” but now I get the appeal. Bullet pencils, which were common during mid-20th century in North America (although they actually originated elsewhere, using actual bullet casings spent during Britain’s wars), were a type of combination pencil/case/extender, often given away as promotional items. You’d take your pickup truck on down to the mill & feed and they’d throw one in, their name emblazoned on it, with your seed order so you could make notes about your crops or whatever. A stub-sized wood pencil was encased in a brass sheath, maybe with a pocket clip, that kept it safe while it was tucked away in your overalls pocket. When needed, you’d extend the pencil from the sheath, making it a comfortable size to write with. I can see how having a protective casing to prevent pencil abuse, an extending device to make the stubbins comfortable to use, and a pen clip (plus a little more bulk) to keep them from falling into unreachable places would be appealing!

The problem with bullet pencils is, unless you want to buy one of the new-school fahncy recreations or buy a vintage one from an antique vendor, they’re hard to find. I don’t know if it’s what I really want to spend my $30 on. I could get a lot of new pencils for that much.

Then, there was Heidi who pointed me in the direction of this strange device which allows you to combine multiple stubs into one Frankenpencil. I just…I can’t. Part of the appeal of woodcased pencils to me is feeling like I’ve finished something. I know this is silly. I know it’s not actually an accomplishment worth celebrating. Maybe my life is so devoid of meaning that I have to grasp at straws to find something to show for it. But, wow. The thought of a pencil just going on and on and on forever gives me anxiety. Also, it reminds me too much of Human Centipede.

Anyway, while I try to scour that image from my brain, let me hear what you have to say. Do pencil stubs serve any specific purpose for you?

12 thoughts on “What do you do with a stubby pencil*?

  1. Josh Haney July 5, 2019 / 9:16 pm

    So far the best answer I’ve found is the Midori Bullet Pencil, which cost me about $19 on Amazon. I’ve put stubs with plastic caps in my pockets before, only to have them slip off and break my point and/or stab me in the thigh. Neither of those things happens with my bullet pencil. It does add some weight, but it’s worth it to me to make sure I have a decent bit of pencil at hand on the go.

    The only other issue is the fancy ferrule on a Blackwing, I would have to either pry it off to insert it or saw it off. Though I do find that the ferrule does make a Blackwing usable longer than a pencil with a normal or no ferrule.


    • Jesse July 7, 2019 / 2:22 am

      I’ve noticed that putting an eraser cap on helps extend a stub a little longer!


      • Josh Haney July 8, 2019 / 11:21 pm

        That’s a good thought. I don’t often use them, but I’ll keep that in mind for future use. Thanks!


  2. ochoheido July 8, 2019 / 1:14 pm

    Holla for the shout-out! It’s not as all bad as “Human Centipede”, is it? Haha. Then you could use up every last centipe— centimeter of graphite. ^_^

    I’ve found adding an eraser cap helps, too. Hooks nicely in the groove between my thumb and index finger and helps make writing with a stub much more comfortable.

    I also have a Blackwing point guard that works nicely as an extension when capped on the back of the pencil – as long as it fits on the ferule and you have another eraser on hand.

    And finally, when I just can’t hold it anymore, I’ve thought of composting pencils. My husband, who is a master composter, says the graphite/clay is fine, wood is fine, rubber is fine, even the metal ferule is fine (it’ll rust and crumble). I asked about the lacquer and he shrugged, saying it’ll decompose. I wouldn’t go calling the compost organic or anything, but everything will break down way faster than your standard plastic pen.


    • Jesse July 8, 2019 / 4:42 pm

      We compost too! Maybe once I fill the jar up and need to start a new jug o’ stubs, I’ll empty it out into the compost. However we have done so much landscaping and gardening so far this spring/summer that both sides of our double heap are overflowing. Perhaps kindling for a campfire is a better use…


      • Josh Haney July 8, 2019 / 11:23 pm

        Either composting or kindling is better than sending to landfill for 1,000 years.


  3. Anne M July 10, 2019 / 11:49 pm

    Perhaps your library might be able to use them to replace some of the golf pencils they often buy to have near the catalog terminals.


    • Jesse July 10, 2019 / 11:50 pm

      Those pencils are always awful. Maybe once the jug is full I’ll go seed the pencil boxes with my collected stubs and do the fellow library patrons a favor.


  4. anne huey July 16, 2019 / 11:57 pm

    I need a stubby pencil. I keep a magnet-backed shopping list pad on my fridge. Next to it is a magnetized “pencil ring” into which I have slipped a dandy stubby pencil. Just enough pencil length to write “onions” or “oatmeal” on the shopping list. The stubby pencil never wanders. I have 7 pencil jars scattered about my home with a bundle of quality or meaningful pencils each with a hi-polymer eraser cap (plus 1 scissors, 1 6″ ruler, 1 emery board, 1 letter opener, and 1 black gel click pen in each jar). I have so many pencils that it’s rare I get down to a stub. My current fridge stub is getting too short to sharpen (held firmly by tweezer in electric sharpener). So many jars with so many pencils make for few stubs. Hoping one my the pencil jars will show up with a developing stub soon. Forcing a stub by over-sharpening is not ok in any pencil lovers set of rules … right? book.


    • Jesse July 17, 2019 / 12:22 am

      I could see that being a problem. My “general use” or favorite pencils rarely complete the transition to stub form, because of this blog. I’m always forcing myself to use whatever pencil I’m reviewing until it is a stub in order to perform a thorough analysis. This usually takes at least a week, and by that time I’m eager to move on to the next one so I can keep the review posts coming! However, the silver lining is that I do generate stubs on a fairly regular basis simply by reviewing pencils. And, occasionally I do end up with some proto-stubs through general use and save them up for “Stub Completion Day”.

      I agree that over-sharpening to force a stub is a faux pas. In my haste to complete a pencil and publish my review, I often find myself tempted to over-sharpen. But I always resist, because it feels like cheating!

      What if you sawed a new pencil in half (or thirds?) to generate some engineered stubs to get you by until your organic ones are ready?


  5. Michael Kelly April 8, 2020 / 5:29 am

    Being a professional artist/fine artist for many years… I love seeing lots of stubby/shorties pencils in ones busy art or design studio! It’s a sign of a creatively talented but at times… tortured soul of an artist… who is very hard at work perfecting their craft, while at the same time, managing a forever changing bottom line of hours, costs, approvals, and profits. It’s only in a sound fundamental art school education and training, that you realize… if you make your art supplies last as long as humanly possible, it will directly effect your bottom line/food/beer money for the upcoming weeks!

    Too many brand new or unused “shinny” pencils in expensive wooden or metal cases with endless color selections to choose from, is a classic sign of not understanding that a forced color palette or the old school standard of “The General Pencil Company” will always save the day! No matter how much money you have or are willing to spend on a single pencil or a complete set… while also showing a lack of understanding for the basics of a sound foundation in the “fundamentals”.
    Only by learning…. that your “mistakes define your success” and by just simply putting a piece of charcoal/graphite or “pigment to paper”… you will always determine your own path to your creative success…. if “success” is how you define your creatively!

    So, be bold and use those little stubby pencils till your fingers bleed Crimson Red! Only by doing…. you will never forget how that bloody old “stubby” saved your artistic ass! ☘️


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