I think it’s time for another installment of Antiquated Architectural Equipment Investigation, don’t you? When hand drafting, architects don’t generally use pencils or pencil sharpeners. When they aren’t using ink on vellum (oy, what a pain that is) they use leads (graphite, of course), lead holders, and lead pointers. I’ll talk about lead holders another time, but here is what a typical, cheap lead pointer looks like (this is the one I have, and you can get your own for as little as $3):

You insert the lead & lead holder into the hole and gently spin while holding the base steady. The lead rubs very precisely against a cylindrical rasp thingy inside (I’ll have to take a picture of that myself later—I can’t seem to find one online), thus generating a bunch of incredibly fine dust and a sharp (though dust-covered) lead, which you poke into the white sponge on top to clean (the sponge on the top of my sharpener is complete black, even though it got replaced several times in my short hand-drafting career.) One trick, though, is that you don’t always want your lead tip super sharp, especially with softer leads. That’s where the two small holes on either side of the sponge come in—the hole with a small triangle will point your leads more sharply—as it has a stop further down so if you insert the tip of the lead there and loosen the lead holder, the lead will extend further, allowing it to engage fully with the rasp when you insert it in the sharpening hole. The sizing hole with the larger triangle has a shorter stop, so the lead will maintain a small blunt end, better for soft leads that are designed to yield thicker lines (and they’re too soft to hold a super-sharp tip, anyway.) Don’t snap your tip when you’re done pointing! Draw a couple of small test lines first. And never drop your lead pointer—it’s a graphite-dust bomb.

The rhythm of drafting is frequently punctuated by the whir of the lead pointer–the only way to keep lines uniform is to re-point each one constantly.

In the olden days lead pointers were fancier.  Or check out these! Some of those at the second link are pencil sharpeners, not lead pointers, but there is some grey zone. There’s also overlap with sandpaper, which is used to sharpen soft art pencils. I have a pad of sandpaper like this for that purpose:

It’s a nice way to have some control over your sharpening, and very visual unlike the hidden workings of a pencil sharpener or lead pointer, but nothing beats lead pointers for being really satisfying to use, or giving a needle-sharp tip. Whirrrrrrrr!



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