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How to carry a pencil, and why January 2, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Hipster PDA, how to, lifehack, Other, writing.

[Warning: The following post contains irony and possibly even sarcasm, although it is not intended to offend.] 

Sometimes I visit sites where people post stuff about Hipster-PDAs and other organizational methods involving index cards or other low-tech hacks.  I notice that people have very strong opinions about what types of pens to carry and had heretofore decided to remain mum.  I’d never found one that really did everything.  And recently I started carrying a pencil.  Pens just seem to find inconvenient times to leak or run out of ink.

I know, you are going to suggest the space pen.  So hang on.  I gave the space pen a good honest try.  I did.  My paternal Grandfather was heavily involved in the space program and worked for NASA, and it is kinda cool looking, etc.  I know, I know, it has special powers.  I has thixotropic ink that is hermetically sealed in its pressurized barrel.  Its shelf-life is like 100 years.  It writes several times longer than most ball-point pens.  It writes at an altitude of 12,000 feet or something.  But I get a wicked headache at that altitude and don’t feel like writing.  It writes at extreme temperatures, but I try to avoid these.  My hands easily get too cold to write.  And I live in Massachusetts, so it doesn’t get past 100 degrees very often.  And, usually, when I am under water I don’t, for whatever reason, have a pocket in which to carry a pen.  When in the rain I am usually on my way to someplace dry.  And the last time I was upside-down I was a little too busy to write, and stuff slips out of my pockets when I am upside down anyway. 

Plus, the space pen just doesn’t write well.  The ink may be thixotropic, but it also gums up and sometimes skips–not a lot, just enough to be annoying.  And the pen itself is kind of heavy and clinks against the keys and spare change I keep in my pocket.

I switched to a pencil because I heard that urban myth about the supposedly costly development of the space pen and how those smart-yet-poor Soviets simply used pencils.  A neat story, but apparently was also completely wrong on most factual details, as well as its general theme and upshot.  (I found all this out here, which is confirmed by Snopes.  More than good enough, in my book.)  Should’ve known, I guess.  It doesn’t really make sense to sharpen pencils in space, you’d have all of those shavings floating around, for one. 

But I still use a pencil, even now that I know the truth.  I really only carry it for those rare times when I’m someplace without another writing implement.  At my desk at work I use pens, usually.  And I use a number of different types depending on whether the writing needs to be permanent, legible to others, or whatever.  I just never really write enough notes in these circumstances for it to lose its point.  Sometime the marks smudge (not too much if you use “F” or harder leads) but these are notes.  They are not meant to be beautiful and permanent.  You can even use them to make marginalia in your own books, which if done lightly will be erasable.

The only difficulty was what to do about the fact that carrying a sharp pencil with you can lead to accidents.  I shudder every time I remember that Sandra Bullock movie “While You Were Sleeping,” in which it is revealed that the character played by Peter Gallagher had lost a testicle playing basketball with another attorney who had a pencil in his back pocket.  And I have my own experience with pencil-related accidents.  When I was in 6th grade I had a pencil in my back pocket and jammed my hand into it while running.  I had to pick the lead out of the heel of my hand, and there is a small, blue, graphite tattoo there today, almost three decades later (see picture below). 

bluedot-copy.jpg (Click to enlarge picture)

All you need is a cap of some sort for the pencil, though, some sort of tube that is just the right size, and you are on your way.   They are a little difficult to find in just the right size, though.  The pencil below is capped with a pencil point cap that I bought (actually I bought a bag of them–they are cheap, but difficult to find) from Dick Blick Art supplies.  They were less than a dollar a piece.  They now carry some plastic ones made by General that are like 10 cents a piece.

dbcap.jpg (Click to enlarge picture)

But you can save yourself the trouble of ordering these and simply adapt a pen cap to fit your pencil with this slick rubber-band trick.

Materials needed:

  1. Pencil
  2. Small rubber band
  3. Pen cap (Most types will work.  I have used the Bic Crystal (shown below), the Papermate, Bic Stick and others)

kit.jpg (Click to enlarge picture)

Take the rubber band and wrap it around the pencil like this:

  1. Loop the rubberband around the pencil. 
  2. Twist it so that it makes an “8.”
  3. Loop the free half of the “8” around the pencil. 
  4. Pull it and twist another “8.” 
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until you almost run out of rubberband.

Note how I started about two inches away from the point and wrapped it until I had a little loop to put around the end where the wood is exposed. 

shownrb.jpg (Click to enlarge picture)

Then put the cap on.  If you put it on in such a way that the little clip thing is directly opposite the side of the pencil on which the rubberband loop ends, then it won’t look crooked when you push the cap on. 

fininshed2.jpg (Click to enlarge picture)

For those people, those of you who seem to constitute the bulk of my readership, the ones who are surfing the Hipster-PDA tags, or index cards and that sort of thing, I just want you to know that I have been known to link to the sites of the people who actually take the time to comment on my stuff.  Just in case you didn’t realize that.



1. firedance99 - January 2, 2007

about having a scar from a pencil lead in the 6th grade – my mum got a piece of rust from an old bike stuck in her foot when she was 5, and 45 years later its still there. I guess this kind of thing is pretty common, i suppose you just have to be grateful it didn’t get infected and you ended up losing your hand *shudder*

2. PDA Handheld News - January 2, 2007

How to carry a pencil, and why

[Source: Pretty Good on Paper] quoted: I know, you are going to suggest the space pen.  So hang on.  I gave the space pen a good honest try.  I did.  My paternal Grandfather was heavily involved in the space program …

3. caveblogem - January 3, 2007


Thanks for your concern. This was 1976, though, so we didn’t have all these terrible diseases we have nowadays. Oh, I took precautions, I sprayed the wound with DDT to keep the flies off and poured some gasoline on it to sterilize it, and I was fine (this was before gasoline had all those weired additives, just good honest lead back then). But it was truly a golden age.

4. SilverTiger - January 3, 2007

I am obsessive about pens. Whenever I encounter a stationery store I go in and look at the pens. I had a favourite ballpoint but they don’t make red refills anymore and that annoyed me.

We went to Muji the other day and Tigger bought me one of their pens. It writes in blue, red, black and pencil. It has a dinky eraser at the top. The eraser’s all used up now so now I have a Muji eraser “pen”. I can erase with surgical precision.

In case you don’t know, Muji is Japanese so all their stuff is small and it works. Whenever I encounter a Muji I go in and look at the pens.

I carry all my possessions in a sort of handbag on a strap so there’s no stabbing of vital organs with over-sharp writing implements. When I’m out and about, I do my writing on my cellphone (Nokia 9300). That’s in the bag too. The pen is mostly for sudoku or for lending to people who have forgotten theirs.

Email SilverTiger

5. caveblogem - January 3, 2007


I, too, am obsessive about pens, but also so disappointed in the ones I purchase. It seems they can never be all that I want them to be. When I am editing or drafting without a computer handy I usually use a fountain pen of some sort. But these aren’t any good for writing checks (the kind where you press to make a duplicate for your own records) and most fountain pen ink isn’t permanent or waterproof. So I find myself using sharpies for some things, ballpoints for other things, fountain pens for some things, technical pens for others, blah, blah.

I’ve thought about the bag thing, but have not yet been able to carry this off. And I am always finding myself wanting to take a few notes and still not wanting others to know that I am taking notes. It’s not that I am putting people into my next novel or anything, really. It’s just that I’m still pretty shy about my writing, I guess.

I just checked out Muji online and wish they had a physical presence in the Boston area.

6. SilverTiger - January 3, 2007

I got the bag idea from Tigger. Her handbag is not very large but I think it was designed by Dr Who, being bigger on the inside than on the outside because a remarkable array of objects emerge from it as required: cellphone, wallet, electric fan, pen, notebook, keys, hand cleanser, paper serviettes, torch, nail file, nail clippers, oh, the list goes on and on. Admittedly, many of these things are small Mujiesque versions but even so…

The crunch came when we were on holiday in Cornwall and I discovered a hole in my trouser pocket. There were three possible solutions: mend pocket, buy new trousers, buy handbag. There was a sale on in a seafront shop closing down for the winter and I got a good bag at a good price.

Mine doesn’t contain as much as Tigger’s but I’m getting there. I’m hoping for a torch and a pair of folding scissors as late Christmas presents.

The strap goes over my right shoulder and diagonally across my chest. I wear it under my top garment to deter bag snatchers. I thought people might stare at my bag but they don’t. They are too busy staring at my black nail varnish ;)

Email SilverTiger

7. Dave Conrey - January 3, 2007

That was pretty funny, and yet, still very resourceful post. I actually carry a spacepen not because it can write in space, but rather because it takes up less space than most other writing instruments, but I do agree with you, it doesn’t write that well to warrant its remarkable notoriety.

by the way, thanks for posting on my site. That was cool of you and terriers are cool. I almost bought a Westie myself, but the J.R.T. was hard to pass up.

8. stjarna67 - January 3, 2007

I love pencils. Pens are o.k., depending on what they look like and more importantly, how they feel in my hand. While I like being able to type what I work on, I like writing…especially when I am editing.

Good portions of the book I am currently writing was not only written with either a Spiderman or Star Wars pencil, it was EDITED with either of those pencils. The spiritual and emotional energy and inspiration those pencils gives me make me almost include them in the credits when I do finish the book.

All Hail the power of Spiderman pencils!


9. caveblogem - January 5, 2007

Dave Conroy,

Thanks. I forget how I found your blog. Sometimes my surfing gets pretty out of control.

I lobbied for a J.R.T., but the wife was pretty convinced that they were a little to energetic for us. Certainly the Westie tests our limits. Any more energy and I don’t know what we’d do.

10. caveblogem - January 5, 2007


I Marvel at your pencil choice.

Nobody has asked me what kind of pencil lodged its lead in my hand those long years ago, so I will tell you, stjarna67, because you care deeply and broadly about American popular culture.

Do you remember those years when they were making pencils with the names of presidents on them, or are you too young? There were, at the time, about thirty different ones, different colors, with the term dates and the names of the presidents on them. The kids used to collect them. I used to collect them–Until Tricky Dick Nixon (gold-colored paint) gouged my hand, that is.

11. stjarna67 - January 6, 2007

you MARVEL at my pencil choice. I get it….very subtle.

To answer your question about age, with similar subtly; I was born while Lyndon B. Johnson was serving as ELECTED president…assuming I have my history straight.

12. Elizabeth - January 8, 2007

Brilliant pencil hack!

I’m a pen fan myself. Curses on the Souvenir pen company in Cedar Rapids, IA, for discontinuing my favorite pen of all time, the sleek and shiny ceramic rollerball.

13. caveblogem - January 8, 2007

Thanks, Elizabeth. Whenever I post these things, hacks, I wonder whether people are looking at them and thinking “what’s the matter with this guy?” If this type of thing wasn’t the main force driving people to this blog, and if it weren’t for kind comments like yours, I’d probably stop doing it.

I never owned a nice ceramic rollerball. Sorry that the accursed Souvenir Pen Company discontinued your favorite. The cartridges are pretty expensive, aren’t they?

14. Elizabeth - January 11, 2007

They were not expensive. They were shockingly cheap. Two bucks apiece postage paid, I believe. Thank goodness we can still get rubberbands and faithful lead pencils.

15. danielle - March 6, 2007

Elizabeth, I second the curse! I own one of those nice ceramic rollerballs and was surfing trying to find them when I found your comment. What am I to do? That was about the best pen I’ve ever owned (and yes, I have a space pen). Are there any other brands?

16. danielle - March 6, 2007

Looks like I’m replying to my own message. I’m just going to buy a new pen that may be even better! Kyocera, known for their ceramic parts, makes about 6 different styles of pens and their respective refills. If anyone else is interested in them, search the Kyocera page on http://www.apenloversparadise.com

17. t-rav - October 17, 2009

my hand was also tattooed by a pencil stab. i found out that the technical term for it is a traumatic tattoo, and i guess it is permanant

18. caveblogem - October 18, 2009

Traumatic tattoo, huh? I like that.

19. Anonymous - December 5, 2009

I carry an Alvin Draft-Tec mechanical pencil with me. The point completely retracts into the barrel…it’s like a combination of a click-pen and pencil.

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