Derwent Pencils has a long and distinguished heritage, stretching back to the discovery of graphite in the Borrowdale area in the early 1500s. Their pencils have been made in Cumbria since 1832 and generations of local craftsmen have used their unique skills to perfect the art of pencil making.
Legend has it that in the early 1500s, a violent storm in the Borrowdale area of Cumberland led to trees being uprooted and the discovery of a strange black material underneath. This material turned out to be graphite, and shepherds began using it to mark their sheep. A cottage industry of pencil making soon developed, culminating in the formation of the UK’s first pencil factory in 1832.
The factory has had various owners in its 175 year history, but became the Cumberland Pencil Company in 1916. The Lakeland children’s range was launched in 1930, followed by the Derwent brand of fine art pencils in 1938. Since then, a huge variety of artists’ materials has been developed, from traditional to highly innovative. The product range may have expanded beyond recognition but our commitment to excellence remains the same.
Quality is Derwent's main concern and they have a clearly defined quality management system that complies with the internationally recognised standard, ISO 9001. In effect, this means that Derwent put quality first in everything they do, from purchasing the raw materials to despatching the finished products. Consistency is a key factor in their success and continuous monitoring of their quality systems ensures the consistent and enduring quality of Derwent's products.
Derwent combines traditional pencil making skills, perfected by generations of local craftsmen, with state of the art manufacturing techniques. They pioneered many of the processes now in common use and their reputation for quality and consistency is unsurpassed in the art materials world. Let’s take a closer look at how Derwent pencils are made today.
Mixing the Core
The strip or core of a colour pencil is made by mixing various pigments with clays, waxes and resins. Only the finest pigments are used to ensure maximum lightfastness, smoothness and purity. Graphite pencil strips are made by mixing graphite particles with clay and other binding materials in varying proportions to create different degrees of hardness (H) or blackness (B). The mixture is then extruded to form a strip, cut to the required length and, in the case of graphite pencils, fired in a kiln to remove excess moisture.
Creating the woodcase
All Derwent wood-cased pencils are made from the finest incense cedar wood, supplied in specially treated slats. The slats are grooved to accept the graphite or colour strips and, after bonding the strip into the groove, a further slat is placed on top. The resulting pencil ‘sandwich’ is cut into separate units which are made round or hexagonal, depending on the pencil being produced.
Finishing the Pencils
All Derwent pencils feature a distinctive livery designed to reflect their quality and style. The pencil barrel itself may be natural or coloured, with a contrasting dipped end to aid identification. The pencils are finished using a unique UV process developed by Derwent as a more environmentally friendly alternative to lacquering. After shaping the pencils and rounding the edges, the pencils are imprinted with manufacturing information then automatically sharpened to a fine point.
Dipping for Distinction
Dipping not only gives Derwent pencils a distinctive look but helps to identify the pencil range and exact colour. They are dipped twice at an angle, but dipped at a different length to create a stripe between the barrel and pencil end. The stripe identifies the pencil range while the end dip identifies the colour. This final dip is done using paints mixed on site to ensure an identical colour match.
Below is the full series of videos by Derwent showing the full manufacturing process as it is carried out today.