10 Uses for the Pencil
Put that #2 pencil to the test
John Steinbeck used 300 pencils to write East of Eden, and no doubt Thoreau penciled Walden Pond (his father was, after all, a pencil manufacturer). Life today is overrun by all things digital, but a #2 is still number one for many tasks, from holding up a carpenter's ear to solving Sudoku. Three of a pencil's four parts find uses unrelated to writing; only the ferrule fails to multitask.
Use it to:
1. Start a plant. Made from the wood of bug-repelling incense cedar trees, a pencil jabbed into the soil is a durable support for small plants. Use twist ties to hold the seedlings in place.
2. Plug a hole. TOH general contractor Tom Silva uses a pencil to fill a countersunk screw hole when a dowel isn't handy. He cuts the pencil into ⅛-inch pieces, glues one in place, and tops it with filler for an invisible fix.
3. Grab stuff. Use two pencils like chopsticks to retrieve a screw that rolled just out of reach. Point the eraser sides down for extra gripability.
4. Lube a lock. Rub graphite shavings onto a key's jagged edge so it will slip easily into a fussy lock. Graphite, a main ingredient in pencil lead, is an excellent dry lubricant.
5. Fix a door. To see where a wood door is sticking, scribble along the latch edge, then close and open the door. Plane areas smudged with lead.
6. Duplicate a pattern. Place paper on an embossed wall panel, tile, or incised woodwork and lightly scribble over the surface to transfer the details.
7. Rub out grime. Most pencil erasers have pumice in them. Use the mild abrasive to shine a brass doorknob, remove scuff marks from a tile floor, or scour off sticker residue on a window.
8. Position hardware. After installing one side of a latch on a cabinet door, TOH master carpenter Norm Abram rubs it with pencil lead and swings the door shut; graphite transferred to the frame shows where to place the matching catch.
9. Get the goop. Place a nearly spent tube of caulk on a scrap of flashing and squeeze out the last drabs by rolling a pencil from tail to tip.
10. Fit baseboards. For a slightly uneven floor, TOH building technology editor Tom Baker places trim against the wall and slides a pencil along the floor. The line on the trim will be ⅛ inch (half the width of the pencil) above the floor's surface. Cut at line, and the baseboard will fit tightly against the floor.