Have a mechanical pencil whose lead won’t come out? There is a good chance that your pencil is jammed! This can be annoying, but it’s usually easy to fix.
This guide will help clear that jam and get your pencil back in working order.
Pencil Jam Fix Video Explainer
The below video might be all you need to fix your jammed pencil. If you need more granular instructions, you can read on below.
How Pencil Jams Happen
Mechanical pencils are relatively simple devices so there isn’t a lot that can go wrong. That said, stuff does happen. In most cases, a small fragment of lead can get stuck in the sleeve or clutch of the pencil and prevent lead from pushing through. You then unknowingly push the button, cramming more lead down there and make the situation worse.
Jamming happens more often with smaller diameter lead pencils, such as 0.3 mm, but it can happen to any drafting or mechanical pencil. Harder leads (for example 2H or 3H) are more prone to breaking and more likely to jam a pencil.
Dust can also cause pencil jams over time, as it can accumulate in and around the clutch and prevent the proper movement of the internal components.
Pencil jams can also be causes by using the wrong lead size. If you put 0.5 mm lead in a 0.3 mm pencil, you’ll certainly experience a jam, but not too many people make this mistake. It’s more likely that you might put 0.35 mm lead (like that from the Rotring Tikky) in a 0.3 mm pencil.
Lastly, you can jam a pencil by putting too much lead inside the chamber. A typical mechanical pencil will work great with 2 or 3 spare pieces of lead inside. If you add 7 or 8 a jam is likely to occur.
Some people say that pencils with plastic clutches jam more frequently than ones with brass clutches, but generally we haven’t found this to be true. The factors above, and the overall quality of your pencil and lead will be much more of a factor than the material of your clutch.
Pencil Cleaning Rod
Assuming simple measures — like giving the pencil a good shake while upside down and pressing the button — don’t work, you’ll need to do a real fix for your jammed pencil. The best way to to this is by using a cleaning rod (sometimes known as a “clean-out rod”). In the past these were included with almost all technical and drafting pencils, but as products have gotten cheaper and less focused on the professional user this is less likely to be the case.
Some pencils that include a cleaning rod are the:
- Lamy 2000 mechanical pencil
- Pentel Graph Gear 1000 (older models only)
- Pilot S20
- Pilot S10
- Rotring 800 / 800+
- Pentel Orenz
If your pencil doesn’t include a cleaning rod you can try to find a thin piece of metal wire or safety pin, but this can be very tough to do, especially for 0.2 mm and 0.3 mm pencils.You can get creative with this and try something like a very skinny pipe cleaner, but just make sure that whatever you use for the job isn’t going to make things worse or leave any fragments inside your pencil.
If you’re pencil doesn’t include a cleaning rod, you can buy an eraser kit that includes one. Just makes sure that the rod is the right size for your pencil — that is, not bigger than the diameter of your lead. Smaller, say 0.3 mm for a 0.5 mm pencil, is OK though!
A few options for this, all of which are under $5 are the:
- Pilot MS-10 eraser refill kit
- Pilot HERFS-10 eraser kit
- Pentel PPE-2 Orenz eraser kit
- Lamy Z10 eraser refills
How to Fix a Jammed Mechanical Pencil
Your first instinct will be to shake the pencil and push the button a lot. If that worked you wouldn’t be reading this article so you should stop that before you make things worse.
To fix the pencil jam you’ll need to do the following:
- Unscrew the front tip of the pencil and make sure no small pieces of lead are jammed inside. This might seem obvious but it’s a logical first step. Give it a shake and make sure you can see through the hole the lead goes through.
- Look at the clutch (the part at the front of the pencil body that holds the lead), is it moving freely? Are fragments jammed inside? Hold the pencil right-side up and push the button. Your lead will fall out, but so will anything that could jam the pencil.
How to Use The Cleaning Rod
The simple way to use the cleaning rod to clean a jam is…
- Removing the eraser and get the rod
- Hold the pencil right-side up or upside down. Push the top button down and hold it
- Push the clearing rod into the hole where the lead comes out of. Push it all the way in but don’t be too forceful. (If you encounter any real resistance you have a badly jammed pencil and should read below.)
- The insertion of the clearing rod should clear any jams. Remove it slowly and push the button until lead comes out.
How to Fix a Badly Jammed Pencil
Didn’t work? Let’s move on to the deep fix.
- Remove the eraser and anything else keeping the lead in
- Remove all the lead and keep the pencil upside down on your desk
- Screw the front of the pencil off
- Open the clutch, either by pushing down the pencil button. Alternatively this might require pushing the pencil down (pushing the top button) while pushing a small collar down
- Poke the cleaning rod into the pipe and dislodge any lead pieces stuck inside
- Throw out the small debris that falls out of the pencil, don’t try to reuse any very small pieces
At this point your pencil should be fixed and ready to go.
Can I use a piece of lead to unjam a pencil?
No, you should not try to use a piece of lead to unjam a mechanical pencil. This might seem like an obvious thing to do — as you almost certainly have the lead handy — but when attempting to clear the lead jam with a piece of lead you stand a good chance of making things worse. This is why many pencils include a steel cleaning tool, as it won’t break when you are cleaning out any stuck lead pieces or collected dust.