Guide to Lead Holders

If you’ve been using a wooden pencil to do drafting or other drawings, you should seriously consider the lead holder (also commonly called a clutch pencil). Lead holders marry the advantages of the traditional wooden pencil—variable line width and expression flexibility—with the convenience of a mechanical pencil. Mechanical pencil users can also benefit from using a lead holder; since lead holders carry thicker pieces of lead, typically 2 mm and up, lead can be freely extended without fear of it breaking. Read on to see our favorites and if a lead holder is right for you!



One of the lead holder’s biggest advantages over the wooden pencil is its lead advancement mechanism. A wooden pencil needs to be sharpened to expose the lead, and will gradually become a little stump that is impossible to hold. A lead holder on the other hand, uses a clutch mechanism to grip the lead. Its body won’t steadily disappear, and its clutch is able to grasp even that last little bit of lead.

Lead holder mechanism video demonstration.

When pressing the extender on a lead holder, the clutch will open, allowing the lead to drop through. This is called a drop clutch mechanism. When extending the lead, keep it close to your other hand to stop the lead at the preferred length and prevent the lead from falling out completely. Other lead holders feature a similar mechanism seen in mechanical pencils, which extend the lead a bit at a time, called an incremental advance clutch mechanism. There are also lead holders that advance lead via a twist mechanism, where the lead twists as it moves forward.

Barrel Diameter

The barrel diameter of a lead holder is often significantly larger than regular wooden and mechanical pencils because they are made to accommodate tip sizes up to 5 mm or more. Those who are accustomed to the smaller diameter of a traditional pencil may find it uncomfortable to hold at first, but a larger diameter can actually help with fatigue problems like cramped hands from a hard grip. Some people even prefer using the larger diameter pencils with smaller leads, because they find it easier to hold.

Barrel Material

The material that a lead holder is made of varies across different brands. More substantial materials like metal and wood provide a nice weight to the pencil, while plastic is much lighter and usually more affordable. Those who like the feel of wooden pencils may prefer using wooden lead holders, whereas others may opt for the more professional look of metal.

Lead Size and Grade

Standard lead holders accommodate 2 mm size lead, but there are lead holders that hold lead up to 5.8 mm in size. The bigger sizes are better for large area coverage, and offer more line-width variation. Lead grade should also be considered. Harder leads are lighter and less prone to smudging, while softer leads are more saturated and glide more smoothly over paper. Different brands offer varying ranges of lead grades. Read our Picking the Perfect Pencil Lead Hardness Grade article for more on how to select between lead grades.

Lead Holder Recommendations

E+M Pocket Clutch Lead Holder

This convenient, pocket-size lead holder can be carried anywhere for those impromptu bouts of inspiration. Even with its small size, it has a nice weight that’s a pleasure to hold. Its drop clutch mechanism means that you can control exactly how much lead is extended with each drop. Wooden pencil lovers will especially appreciate the real wood body of this lead holder. E+M offers other lead holders in various sizes that you can check out here.

Kaweco Skyline Sport Clutch Pencil

Another pocket pick, this clutch pencil features the iconic octagonal body of the Kaweco Sport line. Its plastic body is extremely lightweight, which makes it travel-friendly. Accommodating lead up to 3.2 mm in size, it’s slightly slimmer than the previous E+M holder, but this medium size still allows for considerable flexibility and line-width variation.

Maruzen Art Lead Holder + Sharpener Cap

The Maruzen Art Lead Holder uses a softer, 6B lead grade that marks paper effortlessly with the slightest touch. Its metal body has a hefty weight, allowing it to balance on your hand without a tight grip, providing a fatigue-free drawing experience. It extends the lead incrementally, and includes a sharpener hidden in the cap to keep the lead nice and sharp.

Pentel Super Multi 8 Lead Holder

This retro-looking lead holder actually holds eight different colored leads in 2 mm. It’s similar to a multi pen, but features a drop clutch mechanism, so be careful when extending the desired refill—they tend to fall out quickly! We love the versatility it gives with its rainbow of choices. It’s perfect for fact-checking and other correction applications.

Pilot Croquis Rotating Lead Holder

The Croquis is our only lead holder with an unconventional twist mechanism. Available in a variety of lead grades, its 4 mm tip is a nice in-between size, giving a nice line-width variation without the bulk of a 5+ mm. Its uniquely-shaped body is slimmer in the middle, which allows an intuitive and comfortable hold. This lightweight plastic lead holder is an affordable choice for those on a budget.

Rotring 800 Lead Holder Clutch Knock System

Surprisingly weighty for such a slim pencil, this lead holder has the look and feel of a professional drafting pencil. The knurled grip supports a steady grip and the substantial weight will help you use less force when drawing or sketching. Lead is extended incrementally, so there’s no fear of the lead falling out accidentally.

Staedtler Silver Series 2 mm Lead Holder

If you like the professional look but prefer something more lightweight, the Staedtler Silver Series has all the details without the heft. Its beautiful silver body is streamlined and sleek, and its knurled grip allows you to have a secure hold without having to grasp it too tightly. Although lighter than the Rotring 800, this metal lead holder still provides a nice balance that makes it pleasant to hold and use.

Uni Mitsubishi Lead Holder

The Uni Mitsubishi Lead Holder series is a great set of tools for any artist. The pencils are color-coded based on lead grade, making it easy to pick out different pencils for specific applications. Because they’re so light, it’s easy to carry the whole set around. These pencils have a drop clutch mechanism, so be careful when extending the lead.

Lead Pointer Recommendations

Traditionally, lead holders are sharpened using sandpaper or a special sharpener called a lead pointer. Some lead holders come with a lead pointer, but here are some standalone pointers to consider as well.

E+M Cube 5.5 mm Lead Sharpener

This sharpener is designed for sharpening 5.5 mm leads. A precise point is harder to achieve using this sharpener, but most people aren’t looking for that with a 5.5 mm lead. The sharpener is made of real maple mood, which adds a luxurious touch to an otherwise basic tool.

Kum Automatic Brake Long Point Pencil Sharpener – 2.0 mm or 3.2 mm

We featured the Kum sharpener in our Guide to Pencil Sharpeners article, and it’s no surprise that it’s made it here too. In addition to sharpening traditional wooden pencils, it will also effortlessly sharpen 2.0 mm or 3.2 mm lead to a crisp point.

Uni 2 mm Pencil Lead Sharpener

Like the Kum sharpener, this Uni sharpener quickly delivers a beautiful pointed tip, but in a much smaller size. This travel-friendly sharpener comes with a flip top that keeps all the shavings in until they’re tossed them out, making it convenient and mess-free.


The lead holder is a versatile tool beloved by professionals and hobbyists alike. Whether you’re drafting the next great piece of architecture or simply sketching a quick picture on the train, a trusty lead holder will help get the job done. What do you use lead holders for? Let us know in the comments below!

Products Diameter x Length Weight Barrel Material Mechanism Lead Size Lead Grade(s) Price
E+M Pocket Clutch 15.2 mm x 10.0 cm 1.0 oz Wood Drop clutch 5.5 mm HB $$
Kaweco Skyline Sport 13.8 mm x 10.3 cm   Plastic Drop clutch 3.2 mm 5B $$
Maruzen Art 14.0 mm x 11.9 cm 1.8 oz Metal Advance clutch 5.8 mm 6B $$$
Pentel Super Multi 8 12.9 mm x 14.1 cm 1.0 oz Plastic Drop clutch 2.0 mm Multiple $$$
Pilot Croquis 14.1 mm x 12.2 cm 0.4 oz Plastic Twist 4.0 mm H, B, 2B, 3B, 4B, 6B $
Rotring 800 9.6 mm x 14.0 cm 1.3 oz Metal Advance clutch 2.0 mm B $$$$
Staedtler Silver Series 8.8 mm x 14.3 cm 0.9 oz Metal Advance clutch 2.0 mm HB $$
Uni Mitsubishi 9.0 mm x 14.1 cm 0.4 oz Plastic Drop clutch 2.0 mm 4H, 3H, 2H, H, F, HB, B, 2B, 3B, 4B, Red $