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PENCIL: BEHIND THE SCENES

Did you know that modern pencils owe it all to an ancient Roman writing instrument called a
stylus? Scribes used this thin metal rod to leave a light, but readable mark on papyrus (an
early form of paper). Other early styluses were made of lead, which is what we still call
pencil cores, even though they actually are made of non-toxic graphite. But pencil history
doesnt stop there

Graphite came into widespread use following the discovery of a large graphite deposit in
Borrowdale, England in 1564. Appreciated for leaving a darker mark than lead, the mineral
proved so soft and brittle that it required a holder. Originally, graphite sticks were wrapped in
string. Later, the graphite was inserted into hollowed-out wooden sticks and, thus, the wood-
cased pencil was born!

Nuremberg, Germany was the birthplace of the first mass-produced pencils in 1662. Spurred
by Faber-Castell (established in 1761), Lyra, Steadler and other companies, an active pencil
industry developed throughout the 19th century industrial revolution.

Theres an interesting story behind how the familiar red pencil is made. It is tough to believe
the amount of steps that are included to make a rustic pencil. A single pencil is produced in
four different units. The graphite that helps us express on paper undergoes extrusion which
gives it the linear shape. Initially it is full of moisture and is soft. To enhance the strength it is
passed through an oven and then a furnace at 900 degree Celsius. Henceforth, the final
product is obtained which can be tucked inside the wooden cover. The various grades of
pencil that we use are due to the apposite proportions of clay and graphite powder even
before the extrusion process. More the amount of graphite darker is the shade of the pencil
and vice versa. Hence, named after the higher series of B i.e. 6B or the lower series of H i.e.
6H.

Yet, the process is not complete. The graphite is ready to be inserted but the cover is still in
its raw state. The raw materials used are small wooden planks of a finite width and length
same as that of the final pencil. Initially the wood is hard and unsuitable for use. Addition of
a chemical in the restraining process softens the wood. The wood is then dehydrated.
Grooves are made into the wooden plank for the leads to be put in. Another grooved plank is
glued on top, and the whole assembly is then cut into individual pencils, which are then
varnished or painted.

There is a whole unit altogether, which takes care of the myriad colors and designs of the
pencils. Each process is unique in its own way. In the absence of even one of the processes
the pencil would be incomplete. Every single ingredient that goes inside a pencil is a pixel,
which has an identity and behavior. Coming together of all the pixels produces the artistic
piece. Similarly, a composite building gradually came into existence to enhance the quality of
a single material. The single material if used separately does not perform that well. It is very
well put across by Gwendolyn Brooks We are each other's harvest; we are each other's
business; we are each other's magnitude and bond. Though each material here is efficient in
itself it still cant stand up alone to make a pencil. Equivalently, machines run on electricity
but even they answer back if human effort is not provided. So, it would be very unfair not to
mention about the employees who work day and night.

Myself, Anagha and Adesh would have never been able to imagine the time and effort that is
put into the pencil making. The visit to the Hindustan Pencils ltd. factory in Umbergaon was a
very fruitful one, which took us through the interesting journey. The brands under which the
pencils of this company are manufactured and sold are Apsara and Natraj and these have 90
percent market share in India.