1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

B Resistivity of pencils

  1. Apr 17, 2016 #1
    forgive me if this is too chemistry.

    I am playing around with pencils, writing and art pencils, to teach some kids about resistance and resistivity in a fun way, or so I believe.

    I get about 200 Ohms for a standard full length HB (whatever that means) pencil.

    I have some charcoal art pencils and a range of "HX" or "YH" writing pencils where X & Y are a number or letters.

    my DMM is dead right now but hope to see a measurable difference when "H" is varied.

    anyone know;

    a) how the _H_ labelling system works and what it means. I figured which ones are dark and light and observe a different hardness but what is the logic of the labelling system.

    b) how _H_ value relates to the atomic structure of the pencil in order to explain the different resistivity's. obviously theory describing conduction electrons in metals and semi-conductors is useless here.

    c) are there other systems than _H_

    how is graphite related to charcoal properties wise.

    I did get a data sheet from a pencil manufacturer but it zero info on micro-structure.

    thanks any ideas.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 17, 2016 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    The H vs B system indicates where the pencil sits on a hardness dimension. Softer pencils write more easily, draw darker, wider lines, and need sharpening more often.

    The medium designation is HB.
    Softer (harder) pencils are labelled nB (nH) where n is a positive integer that increases with the softness (hardness). 1B (1H) is just written as B (H).
  4. Apr 17, 2016 #3
    Gotcha, thanks. What in the composition caused the hardness to change, more carbon?
  5. Apr 17, 2016 #4


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    You'd need a chemist to answer that, and my chemistry is thin and very old. All I know is that graphite is a form of carbon in which the atoms are bonded in sheets, so they slide off one another easily. Maybe the sheets have some bonds between them, and the harder forms of graphite have more such bonds. And maybe there is some preparation process that controls the profusion of such bonds.

    But this is all guesswork. We need somebody to turn up that knows what they're talking about. I know a lot about pencils (I love pencils. I'm very anti-pen!) but almost nothing about their chemistry or construction.
  6. Apr 17, 2016 #5


    Staff: Mentor

    Pure graphite is very conductive, so it surprised me when you measured 200 ohms. I think the explanation is that the pencil core is not pure. I found this:

    Explains the H scale.

    In many cases, it is easier to find answers to simple questions on Wikipedia than by posting questions on forums.
  7. Apr 17, 2016 #6


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    Yes, but then one misses out on the delightful opportunity for human contact (with people like US!!) that asking questions on physicsforums provides. :biggrin:
  8. Apr 17, 2016 #7
    the above post may have been posted in jest but it is actually true for me.

    Socially I have some really nice people around me but to be honest I have nothing really to talk to them about. this weekend i went on a wine tasting tour of vineyards and everyone was all about posting pics of their meal to their facebook page and commenting on the wine while I am thinking about how conductivity is determined by the micro-structure in the H/B pencil series and what wins out of emissivity of paint versus thermal conduction over the paint layer on a heat sink.

    so sadly I concede that the PF plays a valid and important social and intellectual role in my life.
  9. Apr 17, 2016 #8


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

  10. Apr 17, 2016 #9
    thanks links, will check them out.
  11. Apr 18, 2016 #10


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Funnily enough I was recently having the conversation with my grandson about lead pencils not being lead, but a mixture of clay and graphite and graphite being called that because it can be used to draw pictures. (We were soldering and when I said it contained lead, he thought it was the same as a pencil.)
    I haven't tested a range of pencils myself, but I would expect the resistance to increase from 7B to 7H with HB somewhere in the middle. The conductive element is graphite and the binder is probably an insulator. The more B you have, the more graphite in the mix. The more H, the less graphite. Since mine smoke when they get hot, I suspect there is something other than pure graphite and clay in the mix - maybe some organic glue.
    Since this is more or less the same recipe as used for carbon composition resistors (apparently not so common now, but I still have loads of them) I'd expect you could find a wide range of resistance with the varying composition pencils.

    I've never tested charcoal nor charcoal pencils and thinking about it, I realise I don't even know what charcoal is! I think I'll have to investigate that myself. (According to some web pages I've found, charcoal is a good conductor.)
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?
Draft saved Draft deleted

Similar Discussions: Resistivity of pencils
  1. Flight of a pencil (Replies: 15)

  2. Resistive power (Replies: 2)

  3. The falling pencil (Replies: 9)