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01-13-2018, 04:09 AM - 7 Likes   #1
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Inside one of America's last pencil factories




01-13-2018, 05:44 AM   #2
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The ingenuity of human mass production processes and machinery never ceases to amaze me.
Those are really nice pictures
01-13-2018, 06:02 AM   #3
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Thanks for the link. Very interesting and nice pictures.
01-13-2018, 06:04 AM   #4
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Thanks for sharing - the article shows how seemingly ordinary topic (pencil factory!) may serve as source of inspiration.

01-13-2018, 06:51 AM   #5
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Great photo essay, Thanks for sharing! and ditto to all the other posts.
01-13-2018, 07:30 AM - 5 Likes   #6
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The photographs evoke a lost society in which people were part of the fabric of production. We’ve thrown away the value - real money value - of their experience and skill in favor of silicon and algorithms, and we are poorer for it. My father and grandfather owned a printing and office supplies company - closed in the 1980 recession - so an article about pencils has a strange, poignant interest. Pencils (and tape and staples and paper clips and gummed pads of paper and typewriter ribbons - Typewriters!!) fascinate me.

I grew up in the printing plant and warehouse loft building and was taught by my father’s employees about work, accuracy, schedules, operations and given many little habits that are with me even today. My character and behavior were judged by the front office ladies - often harshly - with my father’s tacit encouragement. Now those lessons and judgements are given by Twitter and Facebook.

I keep and use mechanical film cameras and manual lenses specifically because they were assembled by people. I dislike the idea of throwing away the skill and labor and time embedded in these objects when a simple adjustment will keep their work useful as long as we have film.

Last edited by monochrome; 01-15-2018 at 05:01 PM.
01-13-2018, 09:54 AM   #7
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If you like these pictures, for much, much more about the pencil, read

The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance, by Henry Petroski

Petroski is a wonderful author about the practice and esthetics of engineering!

I much prefer my (mechanical) pencils over ball- and roller-point pens for design and doodling.
01-13-2018, 10:27 AM   #8
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Nice pictures. Pencils are fundamental.

01-14-2018, 09:41 AM   #9
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NASA spent lots of money developing the space pen which would write at any angle, sold as the pen which would even write upside down: I had one once. When the US and Soviet vehicles docked in orbit for the first time the astronauts proudly showed off their pens: the cosmonauts just shrugged and kept taking notes with – pencils!
01-14-2018, 10:46 AM - 1 Like   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by StiffLegged Quote
NASA spent lots of money developing the space pen
I've heard the story before, and this was more complex - before we move on, I have to admit that I do not know whether original story was result of lax approach (to say the least) of Russians to safety protocols in their space program. The pencil aboard a spaceship is pretty risky idea - when writing, minute amount of graphite dust is released, and sharpening releases graphite dust (again) and splinters of wood. Early spacecraft had oxygen atmosphere which unfortunately makes many things very flammable. So we have oxygen atmosphere, splinters of wood (very flammable under such conditions), and graphite dust (flammable and conductive - may cause shortcuts) - this is dangerous combination, and NASA probably did not want to take the risk.
01-14-2018, 11:28 AM - 1 Like   #11
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"Pencils eschew digital jujitsu."
01-14-2018, 12:14 PM   #12
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The making of pencils is fascinating and many of us of a certain age and older are able to share our biases against pencils of inferior quality. As humble as they are, quality in pencils is something to be appreciated, particularly if one needs to make a quick note and the pencil has inferior lead that refuses to mark or breaks off during the effort.

On the floor somewhere near the computer in my upstairs "office" there is an electric pencil sharpener. It is used maybe once a year, but was once a highly valued tool given that it ALWAYS delivers a consistent point and NEVER grinds the pencil to a stub in the process. Of course, that was back before we did most of our note writing using a keyboard. I don't use pencils very often anymore, though they are a good thing to have. Here is a short list of tasks for which a pencil outshines the ballpoint:
  • Sketching...yes, it is possible to doodle with a ballpoint, but the pencil is more expressive and smears better
  • Writing to certain surfaces (e.g. tile)
  • Any mark that must be temporary
  • Where light pressure is essential
  • Where an ink smear is undesirable
  • Construction projects...I guess it is more a tradition, but snapping a line to a pen mark seems just plain wrong
My most recent uses of a pencil:
  • To make reference marks for aligning a toilet (water closet) on a tile floor
  • Making lines for Christmas wrapping...I lack the gene for cutting straight
  • A telephone note
The last time the electric pencil sharpener was used:
  • Sometime in 2016
On that last note, I believe it is time to buy a box of pencils. A quick inventory showed only two working examples in the whole house, both of which are becoming rather short. Question...should I spring for the genuine Dixon Ticonderoga or settle for the generic (Staples brand) equivalent at less than half the price?


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01-14-2018, 02:23 PM   #13
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Thanks for the link to the article. I read it this morning (prior to seeing this post) and especially enjoyed the photography. What I always find fascinating in the manufacturing process is the amount of engineering that goes in to creating the machinery that makes production possible.

The article also brought to mind an old line from Oliver and Hardy (iirc): You can lead a horse to water but a pencil must be lead.
01-15-2018, 03:31 AM - 1 Like   #14
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Thank you very much for posting that, a very entertaining and enlightening article. I admit to prefer using pencils for rough draft work and note taking, and have a selection of mechanical pencils on desks at home and work.

Looking at the machinery in the article, I compare it to some of the massive CNC machines we have at work. These massive modern machines have been designed and are run by computing power, with each individual movement of the machine heads accurate to microns to ensure that each item produced is identical to the last.

By contrast the machines in this article were probably designed by men who smoked pipes and used slide rules, and built by men who came to work in overalls and flat caps (but still wearing a shirt and tie). Each moving part has been designed with a bit of play in it, which has been taken into account when it is used with every other moving part to produce the finished article.

I think I prefer the old fashioned machinery, it had a soul....
01-15-2018, 03:25 PM   #15
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So I just had to search and behold! the Fisher Space Pen is still made... but I wonder which will still be made in fifty years; pen or pencil?
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