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Pencils & Scribers


9H pencils and scribers
9H pencils, a mechanical pencil with 9H lead, and scribers used for layout.

For precise layouts on metal, I use a carbide scriber with rounded point. Carbide scribers are readily available from a number of sources, and easily modified to become the perfect scriber.

I prefer a slow taper to my scriber point, and regrind commercially made scribers so I can easily see the tip as I'm drawing under the microscope. After you've tapered to your liking, sharpen the scriber to a fine, needle point on the Powerhone with a 260 grit diamond lap. 260 is sufficient for sharpening, but I usually take mine all the way to 1200 for a super smooth finish, followed by polishing on a piece of leather treated with diamond spray (I can then use the sides of the scriber as a burnisher).

Next, very carefully round the needle point on the ceramic lap. The rounded point can then be polished on a piece of leather treated with diamond spray. Be careful with the rounding of the point as it's very easy to remove too much material. The object is to have a very sharp scriber with a small radius tip, not a wide, rounded tip. Smaller points are easier to see around under the scope, and allow extremely precise layouts.

BENEFITS: The rounded tip scriber will allow you to draw in any direction on metal, much as you would with a ballpoint pen. The scribed line is not scratched into the metal, but lightly burnished. In my travels I can't tell you how many times a student or visitor has watched me scribe a layout, and then pick up my scriber and closely examine it with a bewildering look, and then ask where they can buy one. Give it a try, and I'm sure you'll be pleased with the results.

My friend Jason Marchiafava makes his scribers from sewing machine needles as above, and puts them into a mechanical pencil! When not in use, the scriber slides back into the pencil for protection. He also uses the side of the scriber as a burnisher. Thanks, Jason!


Speaking of precise layouts, sharpening a 9H pencil to a needle point will result in extremely fine lines, and the super-hard 9H will stay sharp longer than softer lead pencils.

Spin the pencil in your fingers as you sweep it across a piece of 320 or 400-grit sandpaper.

PROS: Razor sharp layout lines. Stays sharp.
CONS: Best suited for drawing through layout material such as beeswax & tallow, talcum, etc. Definitely too hard to draw on a compound such as Chinese white. Nearly impossible to find as most companies seem to have stopped making them, but the mechanical variety is available through drafting supply stores

MasterGraphics has lead holders and 9H leads. Tutorial end