If you’re a collector of these old commercial bullet pencils rather than an end user, please read no further because this post will most likely distress you. I am taking a 1930s bullet pencil and stripping all of the collector’s value out of it – every last drop. This quirky little writing instrument may have survived the ravages of the past 75-80 years, but ultimately it couldn’t survive me with its original finish and character intact. If it makes you feel any better, this bullet pencil is but one of 13 that I have acquired recently. The rest are safely packed away in their original condition and hopefully they’ll remain that way for posterity.
Taking the most corroded of the bullet pencils in my small collection (see photo above, second from bottom), I will strip it back to bare brass, leaving a brushed finish which not only grips acceptably, but should develop a nice patina with age and use. The rubber eraser on this pencil is hardened and glazed, so it remains to be seen if anything can be done with it.
The raw materials:
First things first – we need to strip the label off the pencil. This was accomplished with a fingernail, and the label came right off. Sadly it would not come off in one piece as the varnish had hardened into a brittle mass.
With the label removed, we can survey the condition of the barrel. It’s in great shape. The varnish did its job well. The latex in the erasers seems to have reacted with the brass down that end and it’s heavily tarnished.
Time to see if we can salvage the eraser or whether we have to invoke Plan B. With old erasers such as these, we can sometimes find that the rubber is still supple under that layer of glazing.
Using a light stripping wheel in a drill press, we can remove the dark glazed layer – as well as the tarnish near the end.
The stripping wheel idea worked and although still a little hard, the eraser works on pencil graphite scribbled onto notepaper.
All that remained to be done was to apply a “brushed” finish to the rest of the pencil barrel then reassemble it.
Here’s the end results: