How To Sharpen Charcoal Sticks

Pencils are easy to sharpen. With a simple pencil sharpener, you’re done sharpening your pencil in less than a minute.

Well, we can’t say the same for charcoal sticks because they’re way different from the normal pencil.

Charcoal sticks look like actual sticks; long, slender, and cylindrical with no pointy end. It’s paramount you know how to properly sharpen them unless you intend to use them straight out of the box extremely blunt.

Speaking of sharpening, here are three things you can use to sharpen your charcoal sticks:

Option 1: A Sandpaper Block

Hands down the best way to smoothen your sticks.

All you need is your charcoal and a sandpaper block that you can get from a hardware store near you or on Amazon.

A sandpaper block is a wooden block with some sandpaper attached to it. If you can’t get your hands on a sandpaper block, you can get normal sandpaper. It’ll work just the same.

Charcoal can get messy. You don’t want charcoal stains on your work table or your carpet. You should sharpen them over a sheet of paper or a cloth to keep a tidy space.


  1. Hold your sandpaper block in one hand and your charcoal stick in the other.
  2. With your index finger on the stick, place one end of the stick at an angle to the block and gently slide it on the rough surface, pushing it away from you.
  3. After each slide on the sandpaper, rotate the stick slightly and repeat step 2.
  4. For a pointed tip, place the stick at an angle and scrape it from one side of the block to the other while gently rotating the stick for an evenness. Keep doing this repeatedly.
  5. If you want a longer point, sharpen your charcoal while placed at a lower angle. If you want a shorter point, sharpen your charcoal stick while it’s placed at a steeper angle.
  6. Inspect your charcoal from time to time to see if it’s uneven. Keep doing so, till you get your desired shape.
  7. Don’t sharpen only one side of the stick unless you want a chisel-shaped end.
  8. When you’re done, store the powder from your sharpening in a container.
    They can come in handy when toning a large area of your canvas or other forms of shading in your drawings. So store your free charcoal powder because they’re sold in stores for several dollars!
  9. Then with a cloth or tissue, wipe off the charcoal dust on the charcoal stick.
  10.  Try as much as possible not to inhale the charcoal dust. You can wear a face mask to prevent coughing too much.

Option 2: A Blade

A blade can be a paper cutter or craft knife or razor. Anyone who has used a blade to sharpen a pencil would know that you can get a very long dagger-pointing point. The same result can be gotten on a charcoal stick.

Here’s how to do it:


  1. Have your charcoal stick in your supporting hand and your blade of choice in your dominant hand.
  2. Place your blade’s edge at a small angle to your charcoal stick.
    The blade has to be sharp enough to do the job. Using a blunt blade will take more time and there’s a higher chance of breaking your charcoal.
  3. Starting from one side of your charcoal stick, gently scrape off pieces of charcoal with your blade. You have to slide the blade away from you to avoid injuring yourself.
  4. Gradually rotate your charcoal stick with your supporting hand after each scrape. It’s important not to apply much pressure when scraping with your blade.
  5. Keep at it until you achieve your desired shape
  6. For a smoother finish, gently rub all sharpened sides on the sandpaper block.

Option 3: A Sharpener

Did you know that there are sharpeners? Using a sharpener is not the best way due to the fact you can’t get a long point on your charcoal but a sharpener can still come in handy.

It’s also easy and quite straightforward to use. It works similarly to the blade sharpening method because sharpeners have a blade in them.


  1. Get a sharpener and your charcoal stick
  2. Put the stick in the sharpener hole and revolve it so the blade cuts the unwanted bits. It’s the same thing as you’d do with a normal pencil.
  3. Unlike a pencil, you don’t sharpen your charcoal stick as fast. Charcoal is fragile so be careful and calm while sharpening with a sharpener.
  4. Once you’re done, with a cloth or some tissue paper, wipe off the excess charcoal don’t from your charcoal and sharpener.

Tips To Limit Breaking The Charcoal While Sharpening

You will break some charcoal as you learn how to sharpen them. This is an annoying stage that you will go through.

But no pressure, sharpening charcoal is a learning process so accept that you will make mistakes. After a few weeks of sharpening, you become a ninja charcoal sharpener (not a real thing).

Still, it’s worth knowing how to prevent breaking your charcoal every time you sharpen and these tips can help.

#1 Avoid Applying Too Much Pressure

If you put much pressure while sharpening with a blade, you’re simply chopping it like a carrot.  You’re bound to break the charcoal at this rate and you’d have to start all over again.

Even with the sandpaper block, putting a lot of pressure while sharpening will cause huge chunks to be broken off your charcoal stick.

#2 Quit Rushing

Pretty sure the world won’t end if you take your time sharpening your charcoal. To get that smooth dagger pointed tip of a charcoal stick, you have to be patient when you sharpen.

Rushing the process increases the chances of charcoal breaks.

#3 Sharpen Safely

This isn’t a tip but it’s worthy of note. You got to consider your safety. You can cut yourself with a blade if you’re not careful. You can easily bruise your palm while sandpapering.

That’s all about charcoal sharpening!

If you’ve never used charcoal before, you can go through this brief gist about charcoal and its different forms.

Charcoal forms

Charcoal comes in different forms. We have the

  • Powdered charcoal
  • Charcoal pencils (still not like the normal pencil)
  • Vine or willow charcoal and
  • Compressed charcoal.

A charcoal stick can either be compressed charcoal or vine and willow charcoal.

Compressed charcoal is formed by compressing charcoal powder and binding it together with a gum binder, that way the charcoal doesn’t come apart.

Vine or willow charcoal is gotten from burning vine or willow sticks in an airtight kiln. They’re generally softer than compressed charcoal.

Like pencils, charcoal sticks can be soft or hard. Soft charcoal sticks have no or fewer gum binders and can thus give the ultimate black in drawings whereas hard charcoal sticks have more gum binders and give lighter marks.


Charcoal is fragile and not as tough as lead yet it’s a wonderful medium to use both as a beginner artist and a pro.

Once you get a hang of how to sharpen them as properly stated in this article, you are well on your way.

About the author: My name is Marcus, I am a lawyer (LL.M.) and the founder of this website. Besides sometimes doing lawyer stuff, I like to draw and improve my skills as a “digital artist”, and I write about what I learn on this website. If you want to know more about me or reach out, then you can click here.

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