IKEA Pencils: The Latest in Surgical Technology

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Courtesy of BMJ

A sterilized pencil in its surgical sleeve

IKEA-hacking — the practice of modifying and re-purposing merchandise from the Swedish housewares giant — is practically a tradition at this point, with a blogging community that verges on a subculture.  But who knew that surgeons were getting in on the action?  According to two craniofacial surgeons at the University of Oxford, however, the mini-pencils that IKEA stores provide at their entrances for jotting down serial numbers and dimensions are all the rage in the facial reconstruction community — and apparently with good reason. (More on Time.com: Want Good Health? There Are 10 Apps for That)

“The use of a pencil to mark osteotomy cuts in craniofacial and maxillofacial surgery is well established, proving superior to methylene, Bonney’s blue and felt tipped skin markers that struggle to transfer an ink mark to bone, or are washed away by irrigation or tissue fluids,” wrote Karen Eley, from the Nuffield Department of Surgical Sciences at the University of Oxford, and Stephen Watt-Smith, from the Department of Maxillofacial Surgery at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford in the latest issue of BMJ — the journal for the British Medical Association.

The only problem? The pencils aren’t designed for sterilization, so they tend to split after only a couple of uses.  But the best surgical minds easily provided a new hack:

Ours proceeded to extrude its graphite core before it was even removed from the protective wrapper. We have solved this problem by wrapping silicon cuffs around the pencil—maybe we could suggest this to the designers at IKEA?

Craniofacial surgeons: they’re just like us.

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