Building a Carbon Fiber Pencil… Just Because

We’ve seen a lot of interesting things made from carbon fiber. From car bodies to motorcycle helmets and jetliner wings, carbon fiber seems to be an all-purpose material that can be turned into just about anything. So it should be no surprise that a Spanish company located in Barcelona has created the world’s first carbon fiber pencil.

Yes, you read that correctly. The company has created a mechanical pencil with a body made entirely of carbon fiber. The graphite inside the body remains the same. What’s the point, you wonder? There probably is no point except to say that the pencil was designed just because.

Indeed, the manufacturer’s Kickstarter campaign says:

“We have always wanted to design with carbon fiber, but we didn’t just want visual elements without a real use. For this reason, we have been working the technical characteristics of carbon fiber for more than a year, to develop a 2mm lead holder which can only be produced in carbon fiber: CARBONARA pencil.”

About Carbon Fiber Materials

The CARBONARA pencil from BoO Barcelona begins just like any other carbon fiber product: as carbon fiber tow produced by forcing carbon molecules to align end-to-end to create a thread-like material. The resulting tow is then woven into a fabric that can subsequently be used to create all sorts of objects.

What makes the carbon fiber tow so strong? The alignment of the carbon molecules and the threads embedded in the finished product. However, the carbon threads alone would be useless. So they are combined with an epoxy resin and cured under high heat to create what is known as a carbon fiber reinforced thermoplastic (CFRP).

The World’s Toughest Pencil

CFRPs are extremely desirable for things like airplane fuselage panels and wings because of their incredible strength-to-weight ratio. As such, it is quite possible that the CARBONARA is the world’s toughest pencil. But one look at the design will probably have you scratching your head.

Look closely enough and you’ll discover that there is no button or spring-loaded mechanism at the top of the pencil to force the graphite filament down. There also doesn’t appear to be any mechanism inside the body to hold the insert in place. So how does it work? It’s a matter of tension.

Salt Lake City composites specialist Rock West Composites explains that carbon fiber is a fairly rigid material. It’s not very flexible at all. But due to the open body design of the CARBONARA, a user is able to apply just enough pressure to the sides of the pencil’s barrel to create a bit of separation inside the body.

That separation allows the user to slide a new insert in. Releasing the pressure creates tension that holds the insert in place. The user applies the same pressure to release the tension and drop the insert. It’s actually quite simple and elegant at the same time.

A Pricey Innovation

At the end of the day, a carbon fiber mechanical pencil isn’t very practical. It’s also quite expensive. The starting price for the CARBONARA is USD $127. That’s an awful lot of money for a mechanical pencil. But then again, BoO Barcelona’s Kickstarter campaign was funded in under 24 hours.

The CARBONARA was designed simply because its designers wanted to do it. In other words, just because. There are probably plenty of people who will buy it for the same reason. And by the way, that’s fine. That’s the beauty of capitalism. A pricey innovation like the CARBONARA will have its fans more than willing to pay the price.

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