Please Don’t Forget, We are Fragile

An interesting stamp on a recently received package:

Please Don’t Forget
We are
[broken pencil image]

Who make stamps like this today? (Well done!)

24 Replies to “Please Don’t Forget, We are Fragile”

  1. It is a fact that wood pencils are fragile. This stamp just proves it. It is so frustrating to have a nice cedar pencil and whoops, the graphite is cracked. They often break in shipment. Those that deny this typical wood pencil event are in denial. That is why I recommend the recycled newspaper O’BON pencils to every school kid (and not a bad idea for adults as well) as the graphite just won’t break when dropped or shipped.

  2. In denial? In hundreds of blog comments going back to 2005, I don’t recall this issue ever being raised.

    Nor, in purchasing and exchanging pencils from many parts of the globe, have I experienced this myself.

    Some pencils do have broken or easily breakable cores – but those are just cheap pencils. A broken core is not a feature of the pencils I use everyday.

  3. To address the issue of dropped and broken pencils STAEDTLER has introduced the ABS technology for their colour pencils. According to the website, a sleeve around the lead increases the strength of the lead by 50 percent. – As far as I know this sleeve is made mainly from ceramics and absorbs the vibrations that occur when a pencil is dropped.

  4. Check it out with school children and parents who sharpen their kids penicls….it IS a problem, I think. The stamp “Fragile” that is highlighted, proves it to me. Why would someone take the time to create such a cute stamp if it wasn’t a problem?
    Why not raise it as a new post, and let the community weigh in?
    Since there are so many cheap tree pencils on the market, just maybe it is a problem. Just maybe, it is even a problem with the more expensive brands. Parents here in Asia, where i live, comment on this all the time. They claim it is a big problem.
    Your status as a unique and straigtforward blog on pencils would produce some interesting comments that I would respect.
    Apologize for the “in denial” comment…that was not necessary.

  5. Well I’d have to agree with penciladmin on this one, I don’t believe there is any problem with lead brakage in woodcase pencils of “reasonable quality”. However you get what you pay for, and I’m sure there are millions or even billions of pencils made every year that poor quality leads not properly bonded to the case etc that break all the time.

    I’m not sure what a poll would achieve – who is going to disgree that poor quality pencil leads break, and good ones don’t? But maybe a poll would reveal that?

  6. I recall an instance where attempting to remove a ferrule by brute force also resulted in lead breakage, mostly because I ended up bending the pencil repeatedly in a couple of places (not that you should expect much once you start to hear the wood actually cracking).

    OTOH, there was an issue with a very worn Paper Mate Mirado Classic I was/am using, where you could hear something, and perhaps feel something if you put your finger against the lead, but it was otherwise virtually completely unnoticeable (i.e. perfectly useable).

    Could there be something with properly bonded lead in quality pencils (even including something like the current Mirado)? (Eagle / Sanford used to tout the Chemi-Sealed bond, General’s had their Carbo-Weld, etc.)

    There’s also mention in The Pencil (Petroski) about Eagle’s coloured leads being flexible (and therefore not being prone to breakage if dropped on the floor), with (anecdotally) the resulting demonstration being not-so-favourable.

  7. Juhapekka, thank you for the link.

    John, I’ve been thinking about the issue for a while. I’m not convinced that pencil breakage is a good blog topic.

  8. Graphite breakage *does* indeed occur in pencils of reasonable quality, at least, if Dixon Ticonderoga Classic is reasonable quality. I bought a 24-pack, and every single one has lots of cracks in the graphite. My points kept breaking at minimal pressure. No, ’twas not my sharpener, as none of my many other brands of pencils do this.. Perhaps I simply got a bad batch. It’s too bad, because aside from the breakage, I rather liked the other properties of the Ticonderoga Classic. I will not buy them again, though.

  9. Charles, perhaps you should refer to some comments about non-US Dixon Ticonderogas, or Boris‘s wonderful blog currently highlighting that very issue — reasonable quality might be contested. (Are these ones you describe presumably made in Mexico?)

    Also, what sharpener are you using? A magnesium KUM sharpener was a world of difference compared to a “regular” dollar sharpener (or even a noname metal wedge sharpener from an art supply store) — much softer and effortless. (Electric sharpeners, OTOH, are in another league entirely.)

    Note also that the Ticonderogas are a bit smaller in diameter than “standard” pencils, so off-center sharpening can very well occur (sometimes resulting in very poor results, especially with some sharpeners catching and bending (twisting, separating) the lead out of the wood casing).

  10. *It’s not to say that breakage never occurs in woodcase pencils, even ones like these, and that it is somehow supposedly unheard of — rather, a quantity of up to an entire box in this condition may sometimes suggest other problems as well.

  11. It does seem that wood pencil lead breakage is an issue. I mean when you have to use a fancy (and I assume) expensive sharpener as compared to a “dollar” one or buy the super “branded” pencils, i go back to my premise…there is a problem with breakage.
    Listen folks, not everyone has the money and can afford the expensive ones. Also, not everyone works on flat desks, protect pencils in pencil cases and guard their pencils from falling on the floor. Most pencil users are not adults, but kids at school. Ask them, they will tell you, “their pencils break.”

  12. Think of all the handling that happens from the moment the pencil leaves the factory to the time the consumer opens up the pack and sharpens the pencil. Many warehouse operators don’t think of weight limits. Shipping operators stack boxes and palettes high and wide. I have had numerous damaged shipments from companies like UPS and FedEx. Some teenager working at these places sees a big box and doesn’t think that the contents could be fragile, even if marked so. They decide to put that box on the bottom and stack another 50 pounds on top of that!

    Apply enough force to anything and eventually it will break. Pencils are no exception – O’Bon included. Kids will break pencils. Kids will abuse pencils. They will use them as drum sticks, fight pencils wars with them, and sit on them. Their pencils will be crushed in heavy backpacks and they will be stepped on.

    Pencil break does and will occur but I don’t think it is as wide spread as it could be. One easy way to check for this is to look at pre-sharpened pencils like the Mirado Black Warrior. How many of the tips are busted? You’ll notice that the tips are purposely left somewhat dull and made very short to give them more strength. I think manufacturers are aware of this possibility and they do address it.

  13. @ GUEST – thanks for the link to comments about Ticonderogas. I don’t know where mine were made; I threw away the box and it doesn’t say on the pencils themselves. Also, I used several different sharpeners, of different types. Wall-mounted hand-crank, electric, handhelds of various types. Also was careful to avoid bending and off-center insertion. To no avail: these Ticonderogas are AWFUL as far as lead breakage goes. Unusable. I also ran my other types of pencils through all those sharpeners, with not one single breakage. [Those other types were: Mirado Black Warrior, Mirado Classic, Papermate American Classic Naturals, General’s Cedar Pointe, and some fine sketching pencils].

    I never knew what Ticonderogas were supposed to be like in “the good old days”. I thought that lead breakage aside, they smelled nice, wrote nice (when there was lead), and erased nice. One noticeable feature that’s purely a cosmetic detraction: it seems like the paint on these was globbed on real thick and sloppy-like. Not good. Again, merely cosmetic, but I think it also says something about the level of effort they’re putting into these.

    In my quest for the perfect pencil (non-artist/sketch/specialty category), the current leader BY FAR is General Pencil’s Cedar Pointe. Those things are incredible. They feel the best (paintless and oh-so-smooth), smell the best, write the best (HB is smooth and…*dark*), sharpen the best, and have the best-performing eraser. Plus, to my knowledge, they’re American-made and American-owned. The only negative for these Cedar Pointes that I’ve found so far is that the erasers are black. Ugh. I’m OK with the black ferrule. In fact, I think it’s kind of bad-ass (if that property is attributable to pencils!). But bare-wood pencils need a pink or white eraser. Wait, one more negative, but it’s not to do with the Cedar Pointe itself: I’ve been reading that they’re not easy to get. I found them at Utrecht Art Supply, for $0.39 a pop.

    The current second-place goes to Mirado Classic. (I know, there’ll be some groaning). But these are pretty nice, and clearly superior to the Black Warrior. Some advice to Mirado, about the Classic: don’t make it ORANGE, for pete’s sake! That’s so disgusting; they look like vomit. (One reason I’ll probably never buy orange Palominos).

    I’m still searching, though, to see if anyone can beat Cedar Pointe (without being super expensive). The goal is to fixate on one make and model, and to order bulk quantities to use exclusively. I need a trusty, tried-and-true friend to never leave my side. There are of course some sketching pencils that rival GCP for quality, but sketching pencils lack erasers (usually), which makes them ill-suited for ol’ pal status. (But man, those 9000’s and Lumographs rock).

  14. Whoops, I meant drawing pencils, not sketching pencils, above. And some of these do seem to surpass the Cedar Pointes (FC 9000, Lumographs, but not so much Koh-i-Noor Hardmuth).

  15. I thought we were discussing the breakage or fragile issue of pencils. Where is this thread going?
    When a pencil snaps in two, this is a real force and this, I agree, rarely happens unless intentionally or with extreme unnatural pressure. My comments and belief is about the lead (graphite). This small, thin central element of a pencil is incredible fragile. Encased in wood, the lead can break, crack, shatter easily when the pencil drops on the floor, bangs around in a metal pencil case or when sharpened. Why? Pressure from the sharpener or the vibration caused when the pencil is dropped causes the fragile graphite to snap, crackle or pop. With technology and extra expense, some better tree pencil companies have reduced this (by 50% according to an above comment), which reinforces my point.
    Another “proof” I submit is the issue with colored pencils….wow, try to drop one of these and see the results. Ask any 6 year old, they will tell you how fragile they are.
    The solution, the pencil that doesn’t break…O’BON. (By break, I am referring to the lead). Ask me why the graphite doesn’t break!

  16. I just received a package from and noticed this ” We are Fragile” stamp. Apart from pencil, it could also be the plastic pencil cases and other office supplies that are shipped which can be fragile from this particular vendor.

    So they may have a standard shipping instructions that items enclosed are fragile.

  17. As a volunteer, I have been sharpening pencils for classrooms for years. I’ve seen all kinds – the good name brands and the cheap. The cheap ones do break more often, but sometimes you’ll get a batch of expensive ones where the lead is broken. I’ve thrown out more brand new pencils than I can count because I just can’t sharpen them.

    Levenger makes a pencil that is awesome. Of course, they ship them in packages with foam around each pencil to protect them.

  18. As I read past some of these older blog posts, I get a little surprised and disappointed at the underhanded marketing strategies used by some companies to promote their products in blog comments–particularly those companies that try to use multiple “autonomous” identities to create the impression of consensus. That’s not so much an issue in this post’s comments, but I don’t really want to resurrect the other one(s). :D

    I want to go back to the original topic of this post though and say I really like the stamp. Of all the things one could have on a generic “fragile” stamp…a pencil isn’t the first image to come to mind. Has anyone found who produced or sold that stamp? It’s been almost a year since the post…it’d be neat to know if anyone can find a source for one.

  19. Robert, was I not supposed to mention names? I really am a Mom (I have an 8 year old daughter) who has volunteered in the classroom for 4 years now-my daughter is in 3rd grade. I am not affiliated with any pencil manufacturer. I have worked full time for a major bank in the data center services field for 17 years.

    Although I do find your comments interesting. I read the blog and noted some names of pencils to check out their quality. Now I’m guessing that was a mistake.

  20. Let me step in here.

    Crwilson6, I am fairly sure that Robert’s comment was not directed at you.

    We’ve occasionally been graced by members of the pencil industry. They are generally quite proud of their affiliation, and happy to identify themselves by their company association. We always welcome their knowledge and insights.

    But, Robert’s comment is almost certainly referring to owners or employees of “O’Bon” who don’t choose to identify themselves as such. In this (and especially another O’Bon thread) there were a number of these comments made. Charitably, I’ll call it a misguided marketing attempt.

    Your comments are welcome, and of course you are welcome to identify and discuss individual brands and pencils – that’s what we do here! Take a look around – there are hundreds of posts and thousands of comments about pencils. It would be pretty tough to carry on the discussion if we couldn’t identify individual brands!

  21. Occasionally I get a carpenters’ pencil with what seems to be a broken lead core. I curse and swear and whittle away past the break but then realize that it wasn’t a flaw, it’s that the poor pencil has gone through hell for two weeks, being dropped, stepped on and slammed against hammers and circular saws. It’s amazing there aren’t more lead “failures”.

  22. I wouldn’t say pencils are fragile. The core is basically graphite mixed into fired clay. Like any ceramic it is susceptible to shocks. Dropping a pencil onto a concrete floor (even a tiled one) is likely to shatter the ceramic core. Small pocket pencil sharpeners and some battery ones exert a twisting force on the wood. This force is transmitted to the core and could break the lead. Modern bonded leads are more resistant to this than older pencils where the lead was spot glued in the casing as some cheap pencils still are. It used to be possible to pull the entire lead out of a pencil.
    Pencils need a certain amount of care but they are pretty resilient.
    If I got a box of broken ones I’d send them straight back.

  23. I just revisited this post from Dave’s site.
    I hope they stamp the envelope before they put the pencils inside and not after …….

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