NYT: Inside One of America’s Last Pencil Factories

I am gawking at these photos of a pencil factory in NYT from this week (via my friend, David, who shared this on FB). This looks like the most stunning version of How It’s Made. Also, who knew that ferrules are the name of the metal bands around the tops of pencils?

All photos below are by Christopher Payne for the New York Times.

red color pencil lead

pencil sharpening

Other parts of the factory are eruptions of color. Red pencils wait, in orderly grids, to be dipped into bright blue paint. A worker named Maria matches the color of her shirt and nail polish to the shade of the pastel cores being manufactured each week.

Before I was born, my grandfather used to bring ice-creams home for my sister based on the color of clothing my mom was planning on dressing her in each day. These photos are magical and remind me of this family story, which is also magical.

pencil lead detail

Blue pastel lead detail

Over the past few years, the photographer Christopher Payne visited the factory dozens of times, documenting every phase of the manufacturing process. His photographs capture the many different worlds hidden inside the complex’s plain brick exterior. The basement, where workers process charcoal, is a universe of absolute gray: gray shirts, gray hands, gray machines swallowing gray ingredients. A surprising amount of the work is done manually; it can take employees multiple days off to get their hands fully clean. Pencil cores emerge from the machines like fresh pasta, smooth and wet, ready to be cut into different lengths and dried before going into their wooden shells.

soft pastel leads being put into cedar slats