Activities,  Rewilding our children

Homemade Charcoal Pencils

How cool are these! I’ve always had a weird obsession with stationary, as a kid I would love filling up a pencil case for a new year at school. I think these have reignited this passion!

These charcoal pencils are so easy to make as a forest school/outdoor activity to do with kids, or to make some unique gifts for your artist friends.

I love making my own gifts, and these have gone to the top of the list. I hate the sometimes pointless consumption that comes with gifts. We as a nation buy millions of unwanted gifts a year, spending billions of pounds and producing huge amounts of avoidable waste. Spending a little bit more time making something myself, gives me and the receiver so much more joy, and as a bonus it’s cheaper, or sometimes free!

This is such an easy activity to do with children allowing them to get creative and take some controlled risks. Using tools and understanding the safety procedures around this helps to improve self-esteem and confidence.

These pencils are a treat for both kids and adults, so what are you waiting for, let’s get making!

Making the charcoal

Making charcoal is an ancient process that is normally used in forges and cooking, as charcoal can get to higher heats with less smoke. However, it also makes an excellent drawing medium and I am sure you remember playing around with charcoal pencils in art lessons at school. They cost around five pounds for a box at a decent art store however you can make them yourself for free!

What you need:

Freshly cut willow rods (approximately 0.5-1cm in diameter)

A small steal tin (not aluminium)

A fire


Step 1: Cut willow rods with secateurs to lengths of around 5cm

Step 2: Fill tin with cut willow. You can pack these reasonably tight but it is also fine to have air spaces if you don’t have enough willow to fill your tin.

Step 3: Replace lid but don’t screw on too tightly. Make small hole in the lid of your tin

Step 4: Leave tin in fire of hot embers for about 2-3 hours. Be aware that there is a small chance the tin could explode so ensure there is no one too close to the fire. You can also use a wood burner to achieve the same effect.

Step 4: Take out of fire and leave to cool before opening lid. If you open the lid too early oxygen will re-ignite the willow rods and they will burn away.

Making the Pencils

The wood used for making the pencils is Elder. Elder is such an interesting tree and wood type, as it has so many uses! Check out my post on the Elder tree for more uses and how to identify here.

Elder is so perfect for making these pencils due to the soft pithy core of the branches.

What you need:

Elder branches (approximately 2-3cm thick – check pith thickness to match your charcoal).

Whittling knife

Loppers/ saw

Tent peg (or equivalent)


Step 1: Cut the branches up into pencil lengths using loppers

Step 2: Using a tent peg or a hand drill push down the pith to the length of charcoal you want to insert.

Step 3: Whittle the end of the stick into a pencil shape

Step 4: Insert your charcoal into the hole you made

These pencils are so easy to use and you can replace the charcoal when you run it down. So let’s get creative!

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