Why the pencil is perfect | Small Thing Big Idea, a TED series

Translator: Krystian Aparta
Reviewer: Camille Martínez The sound is a really big part, I think,
of the experience of using a pencil, and it has this really
audible scratchiness. (Scratching) [Small thing. Big idea.] [Caroline Weaver on
the Pencil] The pencil is a very simple object. It’s made of wood
with some layers of paint an eraser and a core, which is made out of graphite,
clay and water. Yeah, it took hundreds
of people over centuries to come to this design. And it’s that long history
of collaboration that, to me, makes it
a very perfect object. The story of the pencil
starts with graphite. People started finding
really useful applications for this new substance. They cut it into small sticks and wrapped it in string
or sheepskin or paper and sold it on the streets of London to be used for writing or for drawing or, a lot of times,
by farmers and shepherds, who used it to mark their animals. Over in France, Nicolas-Jacques Conté figured out a method
of grinding the graphite, mixing it with powdered clay
and water to make a paste. From there, this paste was filled
into a mold and fired in a kiln, and the result was
a really strong graphite core that wasn’t breakable,
that was smooth, usable — it was so much better than anything else
that existed at the time, and to this day, that’s the method
that’s still used in making pencils. Meanwhile, over in America,
in Concord, Massachusetts, it was Henry David Thoreau
who came up with the grading scale for different hardnesses of pencil. It was graded one through four, number two being the ideal
hardness for general use. The softer the pencil,
the more graphite it had in it, and the darker and smoother
the line will be. The firmer the pencil,
the more clay it had in it and the lighter and finer it will be. Originally, when pencils were handmade,
they were made round. There was no easy way to make them, and it was the Americans
who really mechanized the craft. A lot of people credit Joseph Dixon for being one of the first people
to start developing actual machines to do things like cut wood slats,
cut grooves into the wood, apply glue to them … And they figured out
it was easier and less wasteful to do a hexagonal pencil, and so that became the standard. Since the early days of pencils, people have loved that they can be erased. Originally, it was bread crumbs that were used
to scratch away pencil marks and later, rubber and pumice. The attached eraser happened in 1858, when American stationer
Hymen Lipman patented the first pencil with an attached eraser, which really changed the pencil game. The world’s first yellow pencil
was the KOH-I-NOOR 1500. KOH-I-NOOR did this crazy thing where they painted this pencil
with 14 coats of yellow paint and dipped the end in 14-carat gold. There is a pencil for everyone, and every pencil has a story. The Blackwing 602 is famous
for being used by a lot of writers, especially John Steinbeck
and Vladimir Nabokov. And then, you have
the Dixon pencil company. They’re responsible
for the Dixon Ticonderoga. It’s an icon, it’s what people think of
when they think of a pencil and what they think of
when they think of school. And the pencil’s really
a thing that, I think, the average user
has never thought twice about, how it’s made or why it’s made
the way it is, because it’s just always been that way. In my opinion, there’s nothing
that can be done to make the pencil better than it is. It’s perfect.

Comments 100

  • Awesome! Just a little correction as Urdu is my native language, "Koh e Noor" literally meaning mountain of light (a term used to refer to a huge white diamond) is pronounced "Ko Hey Nuur"

  • "In my opinion there's noth in ng that can be done t otk make the pencil better"
    And then there were mechanical pencils.

  • This reminds me of “I Pencil” of Leonard Read. A nice small lecture that gives a perfect example of cooperation and globalization.
    Edit: really enjoyed he video

  • Dixon pencils are the best.

  • no.I met the man that invented the metal part of the pencil.

  • Real Title : The history of the Pencil

  • She is all kinds of beautiful. I have no idea what this video is about. Buttons?

  • Hah! I can be your pencil anytime baby.

  • I prefer mechanical pencils for everyday use, and regular pencils for drawing.

  • "I once saw him killed three men in a bar. With a pencil. With a f***ing. Pencil"

  • "Very" shouldn't be used with absolute adjectives, e.g., perfect. Therefore, the pencil is a perfect object, not very perfect. Perfect or imperfect, you choose.

  • this girl really knows how to party

  • OK, but isn't "perfect" too much?

  • The pen is mightier.

  • In my time school pencils were red, so yellow pencils look strange.  Your first love lasts.

  • I hope this trend of having the shallowest depth of field will fade away. Some of the shots are not even in focus and the edit makes it sometimes really hard to follow.

  • i can not imagine the pencil without sharpener

  • They should have covered mechanical pencils as well, it's also an important iteration.

  • no more close ups of Caroline Weaver thanks

  • Like the video. Cool graphics.
    Honest, well intended feedback to the speaker: the way you sometimes croak and moan while you speak, to me, comes across as forced and exaggerated. Put me off a bit.

  • All she says is perfectly true, but i personally prefer the critérium. I am not saying a critérium is better than pencil. But for my use, the critérium is better. The crit have been initially been invented as the Ever Sharp Pencil, by the company Sharp (now known for computing ). The advantages for me are : always same trait (0.7), no need to sharpen, stick does not change length, thinner line than classic pencil. It also has downside : more poluting to manufacture, needs more materials, more sensible to heat. So i always have several spare crits around me, but my efficiency and précision at work is more important than the qualities of thé classic pencil.

    Advantages of both over the rest : no drying time, marking does not fade with heat, time, or light. Marking does not alter the support (inks can damage some supports). Works on most surfaces (except polished métal, pvc and Teflon, then i have to use permanent marker), and does not react with paint (most inks leave traces even after being painted. Carbone is neutral, does not migrate, and any paint covers it completely. Most inks will reappear 3 weeks after painting them ). Goes away after washing (or if this is an issue, i use again à CD permanent marker ).

    As misk use, pencil and crit can be used for thracheotomy, while pens are discouraged because inks can be toxic. Can save a life !!!

  • I'm obsessed with stationary.

  • sastified.

  • An interesting, thoughtful and passionate look at the pencil.
    However, me and my Staedtler 925 25-20 disagree with the last point.


    Not chalkboards.
    Not interactive boards.

  • Any day I pick the pencil over any other tool:)

  • (Mechanical Pencils)

  • Pencil tips for your enjoyment (the 11 pencil commandments):
    Don't drop a pencil (once dropped, it's over for the pencil – the core totally disintegrates),

    rotate the pencil to keep the point sharp longer,

    use a pencil sharpener with an integral box to keep the cuttings so you don't have to run to a bin,
    use a pencil extender to use even the last centimeter of the pencil,

    If you don't like the thinness of the pencils, try a slip-on pencil grip,
    don't use pencil with an integrated eraser, buy high quality erasers so that you don't run out of it – they alsoerase better (that one is also a point of taste)
    try pencils in the H numbers for longivity and point retention (had one of them for 2 years),
    be vary of lead on your hands and of imprints if you turn a written page over,
    if you want to scan/take a photo of pencil drawings/writings, don't use your phone light and only use indirect light sources (otherwise, the writings vanish in the photo),
    carry at least two thicknesses of pencil – normal (HB) and softer one for underlining/headlines or as back-up – it's also useful for drawing,
    buy pencils in bulk – I've found boxes of 50 for under 15€ – that's one of the most economic writing options out there.

  • Love this! Used to be obsessed with stationary. The smells, textures, sounds. Love it all

  • That face at the end reminded me of Pam from the office

  • A larger eraser cap would make pencils much better.

  • I’m pretty sure it’s wasteful and it isn’t infinitely reusable, making it not perfect, however I still like pencils. Pens are less wasteful in my opinion as you can purchase replacement ink to reuse it. Mechanical pencils are my favourite, however I think that they are never made wide enough.

  • Being European my only idea of pencil is either Staedtler or Faber-Castell, never heard of those American names

  • Why is this video so hypnotizing? Quirky information I didn't know I needed to know 💛💛💛

  • It's only 6pm. I'm not trying to sleep yet TED

  • Pencils are great but they are not perfect.

  • Interesting relic of history.

  • vocal fry… hard to listen to. And no – nothing you think is classic or typical the rest of the World thinks is.

  • I don’t think something that can gouge out eyes is “perfect.”

  • You missed some details. What about adding 'why' to the video.

  • There's not a pencil for everybody. There's no pencil for left handed people. Anybody who writes with their left hand can attest to the nasty grey coating you get on your hand when your teacher forces you to use pencil.

  • Love her eyes. Like a street alley cat look

  • There are plenty of ways to improve the pencil

  • I want someone to love me as much as this girl loves pencils! 😀

  • It feels to me that with a pencil anything is possible.

  • Mongol number 2 is the best! Like if you agree and know what I’m saying

  • Never ever heard of the Dixon pencil till now, and why would you paint a pencil yellow? In Australia the standard pencil is a Steadler pencil and its red and black with a thin white stripe also everyone uses the HB grade pencil as standard.

  • /Nobody's Perfect/
    /I gotta work it/
    /Again and again till I get it right/

  • Pencil is perfect cause it can breack someone's fortune or future or it can make His future

  • this is me having a TED talk except with more emphasis on Koh-i-Noor being a Czech company named after a diamond… wait that was that paper I had in school in 7th grade!!

  • Dem sound effects though…

  • thanks 4 coming to my ted talk

  • Thank you

  • Cool but did we leave every thing and putted our attention on a pencil really??!
    Ohhhh I love the pencil I love it's smell and it's shape it's perfect🤣🤣

  • Nice video but mechanical drafting pencil for life

  • Vocal fry 😝

  • Stop croaking it's really annoying!

  • But when the eraser is gone it gets rough to deal with.

  • Interesting video but I definitely have a subjective complaint… I can't use pencils specifically because of the sound they make. It feels the same as nails on a chalk board or a fork squeaking against a porcelain plate.

  • perfect… except that these erasers NEVER work

  • The pencil's a amazing and use one more people on the world 🤣

  • nothing in this world is perfect

  • Why do Americans think they invented everything? Literally, Faber Castell did what y'all pride yourself on!

  • Nothing can be done? Have you ever owned a propelling¹ pencil? Pure magic.

    ¹ aka clutch or mechanical pencil.

  • 1:37 the guy looks like Ellen DeGeneres

  • Honestly, The first time to feel the importance of Pencil, it is really a great innovation as we are used to use it so we don't feel of its importance ..
    Great Video

  • Its not perfect in zero gravity

  • Searches asmr pencil sounds

  • Pencils are not fully perfect. Where as a mechanical pencil lets you use the same pencil multiple times; a traditional one is pretty much relies on reducing the surface area of it just to be able to continue writing.

    Then again, mechanical ones in their own right are not perfect either.

  • My Strange Addiction:


  • 😑😑😑 All hail APPLE PENCIL 😑😑😑

  • She doesn't start anywheres NEAR the beginning of the "pencil meme".

    Graphite is a recent refinement, in Europe during the early renaissance (if not much earlier!) artists were known to sketch before painting or engraving using wooden pencils with cores of REAL metalic Lead or various low melting alloys of Lead, tin, Silver or other metals as "lead" hardness required or economy of materials and fabrication techniques dictated. Much easier to handle than a charcoal stick, they could draw a finer line for longer too.

    Graphite was discovered after the renaissance, 1564 in England. An oak tree blew over and a deposit of graphite was found underneath.

    The English people didn't just spontaneously go "hey, let's invent pencils!" when they saw the new black mineral… They eventually said, "hey, maybe we can make pencils cheaper, with darker lines and sell way more of them because they'll wear out WAY faster!"

  • This video is amazing. Everything about it. Thank you.

  • The only use I find useful is
    Chewing it from back

  • laughs with my mechanical pencils

  • now there are mechanical pencil {'_'}

  • you know the brain named itself

  • I don't think that the eraser is useful…

  • very useful for the especially new generation adult…

  • Nah when I think of a Pencils its the Sanford No. 2 that dark Mustard Yellow still gives me nightmares from Math class.

  • I now appreciate pencils

  • Interesting content and so but that sh*ty vocal fry is driving me nuts!

  • "How GRAPHITE was discovered, how it was being USED in ancient times, then how it got switched to MANUFACTURING, then the various COMPANIES manufacturing pencils and other historical and esoteric knowledge in the video."
    How this information can justify that "Why the Pencil is perfect?"
    Please TED, don't fool the public!!!
    at least put the right topic of the subject

  • Came here from John Wick

  • amazing speech

  • “Theres nothing that can be done to make pencil better than it is”
    It is not my intention to offend anyone, i am giving a constructive criticism towards the video.
    My complaint here is that you end up with this metaphor when this is actually FALSE and since this video is informative, it is less than it is.

    There are so much more than just a graphite pencil with a low quality eraser on the opposite side. There are so many types of pencils that you haven’t mentioned. I know this is a quick summary video but it shouldn’t be a quick summary video as pencil is more special than you think if you dig deeper but going into shallow ones aren’t good.

    In my opinion, this video would be “good” for me as if you mentioned other pencils types such as mechanical pencil, colored pencils and charcoal pencils and removing that metaphor in the end. Graphite yellow hexagonal number 2 pencil my dear is just a basic level of pencil, Mechanical pencils are even better (If you are having problems with the lead in the mechanical pencil, it is most likely lead jam. Search it up on google to fix it), colored pencils are used by kids and artists so it’s level can vary. I am not saying you shouldn’t use typical wooden graphite pencil as they also have some artist grade wooden pencil such as pencils with darkness and hardness grade. Charcoal pencils are a bit less common but more interesting than you think. It may be messy but it can go way darker than 8b pencil (midnight black in color or almost) and can go as light as an 1H pencil. Before you say “now i can open my diary and use my charcoal pencil”, no. Charcoal pencils are artist level; when you use it on handwriting, it will make fuzzy lines making it not good for handwriting. When you sharpen it, it is more more likely to break so you instead use blade and sandpaper to sharpen it.

    “But I am taking notes and I get mistakes.” I don’t force you to change up to other types of pencil (Mechanical pencils imo are better alternatives), this is a complaint about the video itself. This video only shows a shallow information but the history you have shown in this video is quite cool honestly but the information and history is only about a wooden pencil and assumingly say that pencils are perfect the way it is and I disagree even if it is a metaphor, still. Now i have said more things than it is on the video as they even forgot mechanical pencil.

    In summary, this video is lacking so much information. It only discussed graphite pencil history, graphite pencil lead darkness, the opposite side of the graphite pencil and say “there is nothing that can be done to make pencil better than it is”

    On the positive side, the history is interesting so does the editing. But this video is still bad.

  • Her accent is so annoying

  • awesome!

  • I love pencils, but I wouldn't say it's perfect. However it's certainly close! After all even with the birth of mechanical pencils, there are plenty of people who will almost always prefer the old school pencil.

  • Good👍😇😇😇👍 ttt

  • Every pencil has a story best quote of 2019

  • I prefer pens, discuss.

  • pencil is a small object and so normal that i never realize it's importance. Thank you for telling me the history and other information about pencil.

  • The fact that they don't even show one mechanical pencil in the video 😤😤😤 like, dude, normal pencils are annoying as frick to draw/write with.

  • Please answer, why nobody translate the audio of ted talks, just subtitle? It is crazy

  • Well, I mean, if you attached a sharpener it COULD be better.

  • This is not TED material! The video is a dry recitation of facts, without being in the least compelling, and Ms Weaver is an adequate – but uninspired – speaker. Moreover the video does little or nothing to support its titular claim.

    The pencil has all sorts of problems, and these have been ignored in toto. The most obvious of these is that a pencil's marks are rather transitory, where even having them brush against a sleeve or piece of cloth a few times can render them unreadable.

  • Manjistha Seeburn


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