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Grades of Pencil Graphite from HB to 4B — The Gentleman Stationer

Over the years you tend to settle into those stationery products that really work for you in your day-to-day life, especially with consumable items like pencils. I go through a fair number of pencils regularly, and as I’ve been cleaning up TGS HQ in preparation for some renovation work, I’ve been taking stock of what I’m using most as measured by what’s on my desk and, with regard to pencils, what’s clearly been sharpened dozens of times. On the pencil front, I definitely have a strong preference for darker graphite.

Understanding the Graphite Scale

Here in the United States, we’re accustomed to seeing pencils designated in grades numbered “1-4”, starting with the No. 1 pencil as the softest option available and the “No. 2” as the standard writing or office pencil. (No. 3 and No. 4 pencils feature much harder cores and lighter lines, and are actually fairly difficult to find in the wild.) Once you break into the world of specialized pencils, however, you realize that the subtle variations are endless.

Outside of the United States (and increasingly inside the U.S.), graphite pencils are graded on a more detailed “HB”oriented scale, which measures the ratio of graphite and clay in the core. For example, an “HB” pencil is balanced between clay and graphite, and typically serves as your No. 2 equivalent. From there, pencils are graded as “B” through “10B” for softer, darker pencils that contain more graphite, and H through 10H for harder, lighter pencils that contain more clay. (Of course, there’s also the outlier “F” pencil, which is the equivalent of the rare “2.5” pencil and sits somewhere between HB and H.) For the uninitiated, this grading system can be quite confusing, especially if all you’re looking for is a writing pencil that’s slightly harder or slightly darker than a standard No. 2/HB.


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