Thrust Devices, Ferrules, Chucks…What?? The Anatomy of Pens and Pencils

You may have recently ordered a bunch of personalized pens or custom pencils to promote your brand. But do you know the names of all of the parts of those fabulous promo items? You’ve probably heard the words “barrel,” “spring,” and “cap” before, but what about “lead sleeve,” “chuck,” or “thrust tube”?

If you’re curious about what the different parts of pens and pencils are called, then you’ve come to the right place! If anything, you’ll learn some interesting trivia for that upcoming company party. So let’s take a look under the hood and identify what parts make up your favorite pens and pencils.

Stick Pens

We’ll start with the least complicated of the pens: stick pens (the straight ones with a cap). Since stick pens don’t require any fancy click or twist mechanisms, their parts are pretty straightforward.


See? Nothing too tricky here, so now would be a great time to explain exactly how ballpoint pens work. All of the pens featured here are ballpoints, and in fact most of the pens you encounter on a day-to-day basis are ballpoint pens as well.

As you can see in the diagram above, the tip of a ballpoint pen consists of a ball and a socket. The ink is able to transfer from the ink reservoir (or chamber), through the socket, to the ball, and onto your paper thanks to gravity. According to, “As the pen moves across the paper, the ball turns and gravity forces the ink down the reservoir and onto the ball, where it is transferred onto the paper. It’s this rolling mechanism that allows the ink to flow onto the top of the ball and roll onto the paper you’re writing on, while at the same time sealing the ink from the air so it does not dry in the reservoir.”

Retractable Pens

Retractable pens (or “click pens,” maybe even “clicky pens” if you’re feeling nutty) are by and large the most popular, so the time has finally come to quench your undying need to know what the heck their parts are called. If you took a stab at the fill-in-the-blank quiz we posted last week, then now’s the time to see how many parts you guessed correctly!


Twist Pens

Now we’ve come to the fanciest of the pens: twist pens. Twist pens are often made of metal rather than plastic and they are usually heavier than other pens because of the twist mechanism it houses inside its barrel.


On a twist pen the ink chamber goes through the twist mechanism. The mechanism consists of a groove with stops on it to prevent the pen from twisting all the way around. The twist mechanism is usually in the middle of the grip and the barrel so that when you twist the grip the ballpoint tip comes through the tip. Some twist pens don’t have a grip and instead have an upper barrel and a lower barrel.


Your standard #2 pencil is pretty straightforward. In fact, you might already know what most of its parts are called. But hey, diagrams are cool, and maybe you’ve never heard the word “ferrule” before.


You may have already known all of those parts, and you probably already know how a pencil works. But do you know how pencils are made? It’s pretty cool – seriously! Check it out!

Mechanical Pencils

Ah yes, the writing utensil that we all know in love thanks to years in classrooms and hours spent taking standardized tests. It has an eraser and a tip just like a wooden pencil, but other than that mechanical pencils deviate far away from the parts of a standard pencil.


In mechanical pencils the push button, spring, chuck, and chuck ring work together to transfer the lead from the lead reservoir tube through the lead sleeve. Each time the push button is pressed the chuck extends past the chuck ring and its jaws open to allow the lead to fall through. When the button is released the chuck’s jaws close around the lead and it retracts back into the chuck ring ton hold the lead in place.

Printing Your Logo on Pens and Pencils

No matter which writing instrument you like the best, there’s one thing that promotional pens and pencils have in common: they almost always have their custom logos printed on the body or the barrel. Sure, some pens come with the option of getting an imprint on the clip as well, but that long, open space on the body of a pencil or the barrel of a pen is the best place to see a custom design!

When it comes to promotional products printing, there are a few methods that are used most often to decorate pencils and pens:

  • Screen printing involves transferring a design onto a product using screens that work like stencils and ink in your color of choice. The screen printing process can print not only on metal, plastic, and paper but also on round and cylindrical objects of different sizes. You can learn all about screen printing right here!
  • Laser engraving involves etching a design into the surface of an object with – what else? – a laser. The laser might cause the material change color, which can produce a stunning effect. Laser engraving is usually reserved for pens with metal barrels.
  • Pad printing involves using a specialized pad, which is pretty much like a rubber stamp, to pick up the ink from a plate with your design on it and then “stamp” it onto to pens. Pad printing is a useful imprint method for pens because the pad can conform to the round shape, giving your logo a nice, crisp look. You can learn everything there is to know about pad printing in this post!
  • Digital printing involves printing your logo onto a surface with the held of a computer printer. The process isn’t too different from printing out documents with the printer you’d see in the office! It produces full color designs, and it can also be used to create rounded, three-dimensional stickers that are applied to the pens or pencils in a process called color doming. You can learn more about digital printing in this article!

As you can see, you have some simple physics to thank for all of your writing utensils, and some chemistry and engineering to thank for printing your logo on them. Pretty cool, huh? And with all of these new words in your vocabulary you’ll definitely know more about pens and pencils than any of your friends. Now the next time someone asks if they can borrow a pen or pencil you can blow their mind with some interesting facts!

Did you learn anything new? Which parts did you already know? Have any other fun pen or pencil trivia to add? Sound off in the comments below!

Expand Your Brand!

Jenna Markowski

Jenna has a much easier time writing about the media and pop culture than she does writing about herself. She enjoys the simple things in life, like puns and typography. She is an avid fan of pop-punk, Halo 3, Spider-Man and origami, with a slight Taco Bell obsession. Her spirit animal is either a bulldog or a panda bear. You can also connect with Jenna on Google+.


  1. Bret Bonnet

    Mind… blown! 🙂

  2. jayne

    I feel eerily prepared for Jeopardy now.

  3. Wash

    Well, it looks like the mechanical pencils and twist pens win for complexity!

  4. Tim

    I need to find a way to slip this new knowledge into casual conversation with my co-workers!

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