Any Tips for Sharpening Charcoal Pencils?

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Any Tips for Sharpening Charcoal Pencils?

Post by Harry » Mon Feb 18, 2019 1:00 am

I am new to this forum and I am a self taught sketcher having just come back to the art after many years away. For many years I have been a musician and this has always provided my artistic outlet. Unfortunately I have developed arthritis and so, the musical instruments get put away, and the sketch book comes out.

For the first time I am trying charcoal. I have a few charcoal pencils in a pencil sketching kit I bought on eBay. My problem lies in sharpening these devils!
I use a pencil sharpener - and it is immediately apparent that these will not sharpen to a spear like point as do my pencils. As a matter of fact I am unable to get anything like a sharp point. A bluntish point would suffice but here I fail also. The charcoal breaks, crumbles. A knife doesn't fair any better than the pencil sharpener.

I could easily be convinced that the only advantage of the charcoal pencil over a willow stick is cleaner hands.

There must be a way of sharpening a charcoal pencil which does not result in most of the pencil being in the rubbish tin. Any tips will be very gratefully received.

I have such a lot of questions regarding this fascinating art. I am housebound - I care for my wife who suffers from Parkinson's Disease - so I don't have access to knowledge outside of the internet. (Some might say that that is more than enough but I beg to differ. More on this thought another time).
What I am saying is please don't get annoyed with me for asking so many questions, as I surely will over the coming times.
I hope to be in a position to offer some advice myself one day.


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Re: Any Tips for Sharpening Charcoal Pencils?

Post by mdmattin » Mon Feb 18, 2019 6:50 am

Hi Harry,
I'm sorry to hear about your arthritis and your wife's illness. Hopefully sketching will be a satisfying artistic outlet for you.
I generally use a single edged razor blade for sharpening pencils of all kinds. The trick is to carefully pare away the wood first, exposing the charcoal or graphite without cutting into it. Once you have about 3/4" inch exposed, very gently shave it down to a point, only removing a small amount with each stroke so as not to apply too much pressure. You can also shape it with sandpaper or a sanding block.
Some kinds of charcoal pencils are better at taking a point than others, so this relates to your previous post on pencil brands and types - experiment with different types to find one that suits your style..
Questions are always welcome! This is what the Sketching Forum is all about.

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Andre Jute
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Re: Any Tips for Sharpening Charcoal Pencils?

Post by Andre Jute » Mon Feb 18, 2019 9:46 am

Pencil sharpeners differ, besides the obvious size of the hole/thickness of the pencil it can take, in the length of the cone/section of core that it exposes. Charcoal pencils should be sharpened on a short cone, short core exposure sharpener. A typical, good one is the Derwent Pastel Sharpener, which is widely available and pretty cheap. I keep one in each pencil box.


But I don't imagine that a small, fiddly sharpener like that would be great with arthritis, so here's another one from Faber-Castell that is easier to grip and much more useful, actually, as it can be used for several pencil shapes and types. You would use the hole of coloured pencils to cut a short cone. It also has a place to collect the wood shavings and charcoal dust.

Image ... pening-box

Same thing, available from Jakar, at ... -sharpener.

Jackson's are my London arts supplies pushers, but Derwent, Faber and Jakar all have international distribution, so wherever you are you should be able to find one or the other of the sharpeners above.

Also, for later, when you are sure pencils are your thing, perhaps you will want a school-type sharpener with a handle. If and when, ask me again to find you the Ruppert & Mobius which has an adjustable cone. I have one that I received as a gift and it a marvellous sharpener but obviously quite a bit more expensive than the ones above.
Andre Jute

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