Science Focus - the home of BBC Science Focus Magazine
Have pencils ever contained lead? © Getty Images

Have pencils ever contained lead?

Subscribe to BBC Science Focus Magazine and get 6 issues for just £9.99

Pencil 'lead' has been the centre of myth since the playground, here we debunk whether the modern wooden pencils have ever contained lead.

Asked by: Mark Musgrove, USA

Advertisement

The Romans and Egyptians used a lead stylus to write on papyrus but the wooden pencil has always contained graphite.

The original source was a single huge deposit of graphite that was discovered in the 17th Century in Cumbria. This was pure enough to simply saw into sticks and place in wooden cases.

Later, powdered graphite was mixed with varying amounts of clay to adjust the hardness of the pencil.

There's a classification system so we know how hard a pencil is. HB is the standard hardness, 9H the hardest and 9B the softest.

Read more:


Advertisement

Subscribe to BBC Focus magazine for fascinating new Q&As every month and follow @sciencefocusQA on Twitter for your daily dose of fun science facts.

Authors

luis villazon
Luis VillazonQ&A expert

Luis trained as a zoologist, but now works as a science and technology educator. In his spare time he builds 3D-printed robots, in the hope that he will be spared when the revolution inevitably comes.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Sponsored content