Help! Short Pencils

By Alex Whisman

Colored pencils are great tools! They are my preferred coloring media.  I can use them for shading and blending, for deep colors or lighter tones.  However, no matter how carefully I sharpen them, pencils shrink, and soon I have a small stub that is harder to control, leading to more mistakes in my coloring.

What are your options when this happens to you? The most obvious one is to buy more pencils, of course!  While we do need to replace aging and well-loved tools eventually, you can get a little more life out of the short pencils you have.  This stretches your budget and is more environmentally friendly because you are only buying what you need after you have gotten the most use out of the previous one.

There are different options when it comes to extending your pencil’s life.  You can save money and do this with supplies you have around the house, or you can buy purpose-made pencil extenders.  Different brands of pencils have different diameters, so these options will depend on your specific pencil brand as well as your personal budget.  You want something that will keep your pencil stub stable enough to let you color, something you can control well for detailed work and something that will let you still sharpen your pencil.

One low-cost option is to glue your stubby pencil onto another pencil.  You can glue them onto another colored pencil or onto a regular pencil.  To do this, you need a longer pencil with a flat (unsharpened) end, your stubby colored pencil, some super glue and some masking tape or duct tape.  More often these days when you buy colored pencils they are pre-sharpened so you may choose to use regular writing pencils as extenders instead.  If you are handy with a small saw you can also gently saw the point off a new color pencil, back to the unsharpened section to provide a wide base for gluing.  Use superglue to attach the end of your stubby colored pencil to the unsharpened flat end of your long pencil.  I would suggest using a small length of duct tape or masking tape to stabilise the two pieces and make them stronger.

You can also take a plastic barrel from a pen that is out of ink or almost out of ink and put your short pencil end into it.  You may need to take a craft knife and gently trim some of the back end of your short pencil so it fits the end of the pen barrel.  You can then secure it with some super glue and duct tape.  Remember, you have two places you can place your pencil into the plastic pen barrel.  What had been the back end of the pen may have a bigger hole that will fit your pencil end better with less trimming required.

Another option to get the most out of your short pencils is to buy pencil extenders.  You can find these in art shops or online retailers.  These are plastic or metal reusable barrels that you slip your pencil stub into.  There are different varieties on the market.

Remember that the diameter of your pencil may or may not fit in the extenders you get.  Ask around in your coloring community to see if others have used an extender on a brand of pencil that you have.

I have been using two different extenders and find them great to have in my coloring toolbox.  One has differently-sized metal connection pieces on each end that you slip the end of your pencil into and pull a ring down to snug the connection.  The other one I use is a hollow barrel extender with a ring that you unscrew to loosen gripping tines inside.  You slide your pencil into the hole until you have the length you want and then tighten the screw ring to secure it.

The extender with the two different metal connections on each end has a larger and a smaller end.  I use this one with my Faber Castell and  Albrecht Durer water color pencils.  Both fit into the smaller of the two metal connections.  The Albrecht Durers are fairly tight in this side, but the pencils are too small for the larger connection.  I can use it with my Faber Castell Aquarelle water color pencils as well, if I choose. Both of my Faber Castell pencils fit into the small end, allowing me to use my stubby pencils longer without having to replace them.  You can’t really choose how much of your pencil is inside the extender with this one.  There is only a relatively short section to put your pencil into.  Despite that, this is a great extender to use.  It is my primary extender since most of my short pencils are my Durers.

The hollow-barrel extender with the screw ring and inner gripping tines is also a great extender to use. I have one on my Prismacolor blending pencil and it can also fit my Faber Castell Aquarelle water color pencils.  I like that I can control how much of the pencil sits outside the extender, so I can keep my short pencils in the extender barrel and in my cloth pencil holder.

You don’t need to buy an extender for every short pencil; you can either leave your short pencils in them, or leave the extenders empty and switch your short pencils into them as you need them.  You can reuse these extenders without having to worry about messy glue or tape residue on your pencils.

When you sharpen your pencil stub, remember to keep your pencil stable.  You may need to take it out of the extender to be able to sharpen it without breaking the point.  When your pencil is too small to fit in the sharpener easily, you can use some sandpaper to get a good point on a short pencil.

Pencil extenders are a good way to keep your favorite pencils going and to stretch your coloring budget.  If you do a lot of coloring, or if you have certain colors you reach for more than others and you go through them faster than others, extenders will help you get the most out of your supplies.


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