How To Sharpen A Charcoal Pencil Without Using A Pencil Sharpener

figuring out how to sharpen charcoal pencil

Learning the proper way to ensure your sketching supplies are in tip-top shape is key to becoming a great artist. That’s why it's essential to master the basics of how to sharpen a charcoal pencil.

Sharpening charcoal pencils is all about effectiveness and precision. Aside from using a traditional pencil sharpener, you can use a knife or a blade to remove the wood around the charcoal. Others prefer using sandpaper to get a smooth yet sharp finish before sketching.

We’ll show you the step-by-step guide on how to sharpen a charcoal pencil correctly, even without using a pencil sharpener. This tutorial will help you avoid downtime so you can continue creating stunning masterpieces.

What You’ll Need 

Alternative Knife Options

Box cutters for sharpening charcoal pencils

Apart from the utility knife, other alternatives could be a box cutter knife with a retractable blade or a precision knife. 

The box cutter knife is easy to hold and is long-lasting, making it a good investment for professional artists who need to sharpen charcoal pencils daily. However, its blade is retractable, so it could easily snap off when you're scraping too hard.

Using a precision knife is also an excellent option since it boasts superb sharpness and usually comes in different blade sizes. The stem of a precision knife is quite long, making it challenging to hold and maneuver when sharpening a charcoal pencil. You would have to learn to properly control the scraping method to avoid wasting any charcoal in the pencil's core.

5 Steps on How to Sharpen a Charcoal Pencil

Step 1: Find a clear space and hard surface

Sharpening pencils create a lot of debris, so it's ideal to do it in a spacious area where cleaning will not be such a hassle. Performing this task isn't just a simple last-minute thing before sketching.

Ensure that all your materials are ready and placed on top of a hard surface or a table. Get your broom and dustpan prepared to sweep the mess right after.

Step 2: Keep your eyes safe

Putting on safety goggles before sharpening charcoal pencils

How to sharpen a charcoal pencil should be done with safety in mind. You'll be using sharp objects, and the best way to avoid getting wood in your eye is by wearing safety goggles

Sharpening charcoal pencils would require you to look very closely at the pencil, which could be a messy process if it's your first time doing it. Best to protect your eyes in the process by wearing your goggles properly.

Step 3: Carve off the surrounding wood

 Carving off a charcoal pencil with a box cutter

Carefully begin cutting the wood encasing surrounding the tip of your charcoal pencil. Do this by using your knife of choice and pushing the blade away from the carving motion. Use your dominant hand's thumb to carve off the wood, and use your index finger to hold the pencil underneath to support the base.

Avoid careless sharpening techniques like putting your index finger on the tip or behind the tip because it can easily block the blade and make a cut on your finger. Always keep your hands and fingers behind the blade's sharp edge to create consistent, rotating motions to remove layers of wood evenly. 

Ensure that you're not sharpening too hard by checking if a millimeter of charcoal is already showing. If you carve out too much charcoal, then you risk breaking the charcoal once you begin sanding

Step 4: Sand the charcoal pencil  

This step is the most crucial for properly sanding the sharpened charcoal pencil. Correctly rubbing the charcoal will help give you that fine tip you desire.

Do this by carefully positioning the pencil against the sanding block or sandpaper. Ensure you're angling the charcoal pencil between the sanding paper or block properly. Avoid gaps and don't apply too much pressure since it might risk dulling or chopping off the charcoal altogether.

Check out this visual tutorial below:

© Creativebug Studios

Step 5: Clean Up!

Sharpening a charcoal pencil is a messy process, so it is best to prepare a broom and a dustpan to clean up all the debris. Consider using wet wipes or a damp cloth to remove charcoal dust that might have smudged in any surrounding surfaces. 


Learning the proper way to sharpen your charcoal pencils will yield better outlines and strokes that you can seamlessly execute on a canvas. Whether you want to save a few bucks or just want to achieve better sharpening results, knowing how to sharpen a charcoal pencil correctly without using a pencil sharpener is a nifty trick that many amateur artists often overlook.

Did you find this guide helpful? Let us know in the comments. Also, check out our review and buying guide for the best woodless charcoal pencils.

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