Spitzen oder nichtspitzen: das its hier die Frage.
I have never been able to adopt a clear principle of action regarding exactly when to sharpen my pencils. Do I sharpen when the sharpness of the point is gone? That seems a little extreme, since it would require that I constantly sharpen (or use sandpaper pads), given that most of what I use pencils for amounts to long stints of writing. Do I wear the lead down to the wood? This seems extreme at the other end, since I would wind up writing in large, Kindergarten letters half-way through what is thereby considered a point. While large letters are not undesirable per se, they don’t fit in my notebooks.
So it would seem that the proper time to sharpen my pencils would be somewhere in between. But where? I do turn the pencil so that I use the points that several flattened plains have made at their intersections (see figure). This enables me to keep the letters fine without resorting to the blade just yet. But at a certain point (!), I give up and cut the wood and graphite with a sharpener.
The thing is, I’m almost never consistent on where this is, on when I finally sharpen the pencil and decide how much graphite is going to get shredded without having fulfilled its purpose of making a mark.
It varies by how hard and how dark the pencil I am using is. Darker leads can be used while dull, since I can still read what I write with them. A lighter German pencil is something I really prefer to keep sharp. It varies by how expensive the pencil is and how precious it is to me (i.e., how many of them I have in my stash). Palominos and Castell 9000s get very close to the wood before I dare to sharpen them, but I don’t mind cutting up a Mirado that is only marginally dull.
What I’m writing on matters, too. I have found that thinner Moleskine paper likes a sharp point, while Rhodia pads and Moleskine sketch books don’t seem to mind a smoother and duller point. Working out logic problems on my bathroom mirror (how Goodwill Hunting is that?!) is futile with too sharp of a point on my china markers. Cheap notebook paper causes any non-sharp pencil to smear everywhere, if the lead is anything softer than an HB.
This is not to mention situational factors. Do I have a meeting to attend where I don’t feel like pulling out a sharpener, or can’t? If so, I will sharpen my pencil before I leave, no matter how much lead is left. Am I putting the pencil into my pocket? I will leave a little dullness. Is it going into the cup, and is it cedar? If so, I will leave it dull so that I can sharpen it and enjoy the aroma the next time I use it.
Etc. Etc. Etc.
How about you? When do you know that it’s time to sharpen your pencils?