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What alloys can be used to make a metal pencil like this one?

enter image description here

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

"Silverpoint" nibs have a long history in art and significantly predate modern drawing tools such as the lead pencil (made of graphite and clay but possibly called lead as lead metal was one possible material in metal pens). Silverpoint writing and drawing doesn't smudge or fade and many examples have survived almost unchanged over hundreds of years.

There is a useful site with a good history of the original artistic uses of silverpoint pens here. According to this site a wide variety of metals will work. Historically which was used depended on status:

Wealthy and royal persons who needed to keep records (business inventories and so forth) employed these scribes, and the stylus material served as notice to all of the status of the employer - gold and silver for the upper classes, lead for somewhat lesser beings.

It seems tht many metals will work. The dictionary of Art is quoted as saying:

Metalpoint. Drawing instrument (the forerunner of the pencil) made from a small, pointed metal tip, usually of lead, silver, copper or gold, encased in a wooden holder.

The current preferred metal for artistic use seems to be fairly pure silver.

Best results are obtained from a thicker point that is "pure" silver, or ".999 fine." This is much softer than sterling, so it will deposit more metal on the drawing surface

The web site sells ready made points of both silver and gold.

It isn't obvious what metal or alloy is used in the pens mentioned in the Wired story, but it isn't silver. It apparently contains at least some lead as the pencils come with warnings not to let children chew them!

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Thanks for giving the names of this technique. I still wonder what they use in the commercial pens, according to the picture it seems to work very well. I tried silver, and it leaves a rather faint trace and needs a lot of force. I worked with bismuth crystals and remember that it was leaving traces everywhere. Could be a suitable material, but I think it oxidizes too quickly. – Dan Nov 10 '12 at 17:39

I actually make metalpoint pencils and use pure lead for the writing material. It's obviously a bit toxic (because lead), though I'm experimenting with making custom lead alloys (possibly with a percentage of bismuth, as I have some laying around) to reduce the overall lead content. In terms of utility, however, pure lead leaves a reasonably dark and easy-to-make mark.

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