Homemade Pencils

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Hand-crafted pencils feel a little more substantial than the store-bought variety. They have a good heft to them, and the soft, sanded wood is wonderful to hold. A parent will need to assist with the cutting and sharpening, but kids can handle the rest of the pencil construction. Once you and your child get the hang of it, you may want to turn out a whole drawerful of these one-of-a-kind beauties.

MATERIALS

Pencil leads (HB is the hardness similar to a No. 2 pencil; available at office supply stores)
Metal ruler
Utility knife
Paint-stirring paddle (one will provide enough wood for about six pencils)
Wood glue
Wood clamps
Wood file
Sandpaper (medium and fine grit)
Tempera paints and paintbrush (optional)

Help your child measure the length of your pencil leads (5 inches is standard). Using the utility knife and ruler (your job), cut the paint stirrer to the same length as the leads. (It is not hard to cut the paddle with a utility knife; just score partway through the wood, then snap it on the line.) Next, cut two narrow strips (about 1/2 inch wide and 5 inches long) - these will form the top and bottom of the pencil--and two thin pieces (about 1/4 inch wide and 5 inches long).

Help your child lay one of the 1/2-inch strips on a table and cover the top surface of the strip with glue. Consulting the drawings, she can place the lead on top, with the two 1/4-inch strips on each side of it. After adding more glue, she should top it all off with the second 1/2-inch piece of wood. Help her clamp the whole "sandwich" together using two clamps placed about 1 1/2 inches from each end of the pencil. Keep it tightly clamped overnight.

When the glue has dried, your child can unclamp the pencil, then sand and file it until it is smooth and rounded. She may want to leave the wood its natural color or she can paint on stripes, polka dots, or her name. After the paint has dried, help her sharpen the pencil, either by whittling it with a knife (lots of supervision needed!) or, if she has sanded it narrow enough, by using a pencil sharpener.

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