Pencil Sharpener Shootout: Stephen and Son Take Aim.

[Many thanks to Stephen and Hunter for another Amazing Review! Stay tuned next week, as PENCIL REVOLUTION TURNS TEN YEARS OLD. We are picking up a few USPS Flatrate boxes for some sweet giveaway action.]

Pencil Sharpener Shootout

No Amigos
No Amigos

No Amigos

Yes, This Kind of Shootout

AKA Father and Son Pencil Sharpener Review

AKA My Journey to Pencil Sharpener Satisfaction II

Readers of My Journey to Pencil Sharpener Satisfaction may recall my top selections among three different types of sharpeners:

Electric: School Smart Electric Heavy-Duty
Hand Crank: Mitsubishi Uni KH-20
Hand Held: KUM / Palomino / Blackwing Automatic Long Point Sharpener

I compared sharpeners, wrote my review, and I was done.

The Mitsubishi Uni KH-20’s primary challengers for the title of “Best Hand Crank” were the Carl CP-80 and Classroom Friendly / Carl Angel-5. After the review, I took my leftover Carl CP-80 into work and began using it there as my work sharpener while my newly abandoned School Smart Electric looked on, forlorn, with its single cyclops eye. And then a funny thing happened. I began to think I might actually like the Carl CP-80 better than my Mitsubishi Uni KH-20. Sure, the Carl took more effort to hold down while using it, especially for that first sharpening, but I started wondering if it was producing a better and more elongated point than the Mitsubishi I was using at home.

Could I have been wrong? Of course not, because, as my wife will attest, I am never wrong. There was enough doubt, however, that I felt compelled to take a second look. And while at it I probably ought to give a fair comparison to the Classroom Friendly / Carl Angel-5 rather than just dismiss it outright because of the unbridled brutality it unleashes on every unfortunate pencil barrel that stumbles into its path. Maybe, just maybe, it was also time to see if the Classroom Friendly’s reputation for a spectacular point really did outweigh its penchant for wanton destruction.

And this time I’d recall to active duty my trusty co-reviewer and son, Hunter.

A few notes on three sharpeners before we commence with the results of the review:

Classroom Friendly/Carl Angel-5

The Classroom Friendly/Carl Angel-5 is the pencil sharpener equivalent of a hungry crocodile. Imagine if crocodiles were permitted to have pet dogs. A crocodile, like the Tyrannosaurus Rex, has embarrassingly teensy arms which serve no useful purpose other than to flop about and humiliate the rest of the body. A crocodile, in order to pet its pet dog, would have to grip the dog with its crocodilian teeth. This, dear readers, is exactly how the Classroom Friendly/Carl Angel-5 operates. The resellers of these sharpeners had a dilemma: “How do we get people to look past the inherit savagery of these products? I know! We’ll come up with names that signal ‘Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward Men!’”

“Classroom Friendly” evokes images of little schoolchildren. Happy little schoolchildren. Friendly, happy little schoolchildren. You certainly wouldn’t expect something that is “classroom friendly” to EAT the occupants of the classroom, now would you?

“Angel-5” is, of course, angelic. Peaceful, floating on air, benign. Not something that would mangle your arm like a demonically possessed garbage disposal.

In my previous review, I mentioned that people get teary-eyed when they speak of these sharpeners, like they’re the Second Coming of Christ or Hillary Clinton. This sharpener required a test subject at least as hallowed as itself. After months of legal maneuvering, Hunter and I were finally granted access to the super-secret Eberhard Faber vault, located 3 miles beneath the NORAD complex inside Cheyenne Mountain, Wyoming. We were after the most elusive of all Blackwing pencils, one not even seen by Blackwing historian Sean Malone himself. The one, the only, Blackwing Prototype Version 601.9999. Only one of these pencils exists, and until now it had never been sharpened. In 2005, Sotheby’s Auction House estimated its value if sold at auction at over $17 million, and here we were, allowed to sharpen it using a Classroom Friendly!

I won’t go into a lot of bothersome detail here about the solemnity of the elaborate Eberhard Faber ceremony leading up to this historic moment, and will just ask you to look at the results below. Please note these images depict a dramatized recreation of events that did not actually occur.

$17 Million Eberhard Faber Blackwing Prototype Sharpened by Classroom Friendly
$17 Million Eberhard Faber Blackwing Prototype Sharpened by Classroom Friendly

We were curious as to whether or not the notorious Classroom Friendly “bite marks” would be left on this prototype Blackwing 602. Only upon close inspection did my carefully trained eye spot the well-documented “bite mark” effect.

Minor Bite Marks Left by Classroom Friendly
Minor Bite Marks Left by Classroom Friendly

Again, without going into bothersome detail, we’ll just say that Hunter and I were quickly and roughly ejected from the bowels of Eberhard Faber’s lair and we promptly returned home to resume the review.

Carl CP-80

The Carl CP-80 is a fine sharpener. The only reason I didn’t rank it even with or higher than the Mitsubishi Uni KH-20 was because it wasn’t as comfortable to use.

What About That New One Everyone’s Talking About?

If you were hoping I’d throw in the “I’m so special I come with my own special case” KUM Masterpiece hand held, you’re out of luck. That sharpener does not exist. It is only a myth — an urban legend. And even if it were real, it would still be one of those uncovered graphite-spewing Pig Pens of the pencil world and I have, literally, washed my hands of them.

On to the Review

04 Our Gunfighters Face Off in the Middle of a Dusty Street

As mentioned above, I enlisted Hunter’s assistance for this sharpener review. Hunter loves co-reviewing because he gets free stuff. This “gifting” is very easy for me because I don’t even have to do anything; he just walks off with the subjects of our reviews. I’ll walk into his room, notice something I thought I owned and say, “Hey, that’s just like mine!” and Hunter’s eyes frantically dart around the room as he attempts to nonchalantly whistle. Hunter cannot whistle, but because he saw this reaction in a cartoon, he believes this to be the proper way to project innocence. Regardless of his chronic issues with kleptomania, Hunter is an excellent reviewer who doesn’t fall for mob-mentality dismissiveness and recognizes quality over mythology. So he’s earned every single stolen item in his possession.

Let’s push the reset button on my previous sharpener review and go for two goals with this one:

1. Rank the fanged beast Classroom Friendly/Carl Angel-5 against the Mitsubishi Uni KH-20 and Carl CP-80
2. Slot into the above listing the School Smart Electric Heavy-Duty and hand held KUM/Palomino/Blackwing Automatic Long Point Sharpener

After checking the unsharpened pencils to ensure their cores were centered, we sharpened pencils in all five sharpeners. Hunter and I used two of each of the hand crank sharpeners for our review to guard against skewing of the results due to a defect in one sharpener. Let’s see where the hand cranks lined up:

#1: Carl CP-80
1. Leaves a slightly, and I mean slightly, longer point than the Mitsubishi Uni KH-20
2. Noisier than the Mitsubishi
3. Less stable than the Mitsubishi and requires substantially more effort to hold, especially for first sharpening

#2: Mitsubishi Uni KH-20
1. The quietest sharpener of all three
2. Although made of plastic, felt very sturdy
3. Nice long point
4. Felt very stable even during a pencil’s first sharpening
1. Very close call between this and the Carl CP-80, but the CP-80 has a slightly longer point

#3: Classroom Friendly/Carl Angel-5Pros:
1. By a hair, left the nicest and longest point of the three
2. Sturdy metal construction
3. More stable to use than the Carl CP-80
1. Noisier than the Mitsubishi Uni KH-20
2. Slightly longer point disguises an occasional wood creep like the other two sharpeners
3. Leaves “can’t miss them” indentations and as a pencil is repeatedly resharpened, a trail of these rings of bite marks forms on the pencils

05 Left to Right Carl CP-80, Mitsubishi Uni KH-20, Classroom Friendly aka  Carl Angel-5

Left to Right: Carl CP-80, Mitsubishi Uni KH-20, Classroom Friendly / Carl Angel-5
Left to Right: Carl CP-80, Mitsubishi Uni KH-20, Classroom Friendly / Carl Angel-5
Police Helicopter Photo of Post-Shootout Carnage
Police Helicopter Photo of Post-Shootout Carnage
Triumphant Carl CP-80s
Triumphant Carl CP-80s
Mitsubishis Nearly Wiped Out, Guts Spilled on Street
Mitsubishis Nearly Wiped Out, Guts Spilled on Street
Vanquished Classroom Friendlies
Vanquished Classroom Friendlies

What Does This Really Mean?

I expected a major differentiator of these three sharpeners would be the amount of wood creeping up the core, but to my surprise the differences were minor. Each of the three hand cranks produced similar results. That’s worth repeating, especially because we used two of each sharpener: Each of the three hand cranks produced similar results in the amount of “wood creep.”

The Mitsubishi was the easiest to use, felt the most stable during use, and was clearly the quietest of the three. The Classroom Friendly did barely earn its stellar reputation for producing the nicest point but this came at the cost of indentations in the pencil barrels, documented extensively in other reviews.

Hunter and I next ranked the sharpeners in four categories: Ease of use, evenness (wood creep), quality of point, and ranking via a point system of these other categories.

Ease of Use

1. Mitsubishi Uni KH-20
2. Classroom Friendly / Carl Angel-5
3. Carl CP-80


1. Carl CP-80
2. Classroom Friendly / Carl Angel-5
3. Mitsubishi Uni KH-20


1. Classroom Friendly / Carl Angel-5
2. Carl CP-80 (very close to a tie with #1)
3. Mitsubishi Uni KH-20

Rank via Point System Derived from Ease of Use, Evenness and Point

1. Classroom Friendly / Carl Angel-5
2. Carl CP-80
3. Mitsubishi Uni KH-20

Why Did We Rank the Classroom Friendly/Carl Angel-5 Dead Last When Your Own “Point System” Placed it at #1?

Hunter and I aren’t willing to accept the bite marks in the Classroom Friendly. For us, the difference in point quality did not outweigh the damage this sharpener incurs to pencil barrels. We do not believe wanton use of bared fangs is necessary to grip a pencil tightly enough to achieve point perfection. Modern technology is available and waiting to help us in this regard.

Let’s Promote Genetic Diversity

What happens if we take the unprecedented step of intermixing the species? We have so far obtained a father and son ranking of three terrific hand crank pencil sharpeners. Into this we’ll insert our School Smart Electric Sharpener and KUM/Palomino/Palomino Blackwing Two Stage Automatic hand held sharpener.

Left to Right: Carl CP-80, Mitsubishi Uni KH-20, School Smart Electric, Classroom Friendly, KUM/Palomino/Blackwing Automatic Long Point

Our order of preference, and this is where some of our readers will begin hissing while using their fingers to make signs of the cross:

1. Carl CP-80
2. Mitsubishi Uni KH-20
3. School Smart Electric
4. Classroom Friendly/Carl Angel-5
5. KUM/Palomino/Blackwing Automatic Long Point hand held

Even though the School Smart left an industrial jaggedness to the sides of the sharpened cores, it still sharpened evenly and nicely without leaving bite marks in our pencils. I know; it’s heresy to rank an electric pencil sharpener ahead of the knighted Classroom Friendly/Carl Angel-5. Worse, perhaps, is that we placed the hand held KUM dead last.

You: Say what, Willis?
Me: Hunter and I are not Luddites.

The KUM Automatic Long Point hand held sharpeners require work to make a point that, when successfully accomplished, is so sharp it will snap off when first pressed to the paper. As you can see in the photo above, the results with the hand held are difficult to obtain with uniform precision. It takes too much work. There, I said it, and I am not ashamed. Hunter and I just like a nicely sharpened pencil without all the fuss and muss.

Why do people even use hand held sharpeners? I accept only one reason directly related to the purpose of creating a usable pencil point: tool portability.

Runners who run three miles a day do so for exercise. Runners who do marathons no longer run for exercise; there are other motivations. It’s the same with people who enjoy using hand held sharpeners. Unless they’re using them for their portability, they’re in it for the artistry of the skill or because, to them, it’s a fun pastime and challenge. Nothing wrong with that. It’s just not for Hunter and me.

In Order of Preference, Left to Right: Carl CP-80, Mitsubishi Uni KH-20, School Smart Electric, Classroom Friendly, Hand Held: KUM / Palomino / Blackwing Automatic Long Point (Satellite Image Courtesy of NASA)
In Order of Preference, Left to Right: Carl CP-80, Mitsubishi Uni KH-20, School Smart Electric, Classroom Friendly, Hand Held: KUM / Palomino / Blackwing Automatic Long Point
(Satellite Image Courtesy of NASA)

And there we have it, the father and son ranking of three hand crank sharpeners interspersed with our top electric and top hand held sharpener. If you’d like a much more detailed description of how best to sharpen pencils, I encourage you to consult with the master himself, Mr. David Rees: Artisanal Pencil Sharpening.

(Thanks again to Stephen and Hunter for sharing with all Comrades the fruits of their search for pencil bliss! Images and text, S.W., used with kind permission.)

15 thoughts on “Pencil Sharpener Shootout: Stephen and Son Take Aim.”

  1. This was a lot of fun to read, thanks! I have to admit, I am very impressed and amused by your tiny hat collection!

  2. Another entertaining and edifying sharpener review! No hissing here. Glad you included the School Smart Electric among the top-rated. Contrary to today’s popular belief, quality electric sharpeners (similar to the bygone Panasonics and Bostons) produce an even and consistent point. Pencils shouldn’t be relegated to the the vagaries of handheld or low-quality hand-crank sharpeners. Also, the Blackwing/KUM automatic long point is especially trippy and inconsistent — it doesn’t always jive well with pencils of different woods. Electrics are less finicky.

  3. FYI, although Cheyenne (the city) is in Wyoming, Cheyenne Mountain (the place where NORAD used to be) is in Colorado.

    — Ed (uses a delightfully retro Boston hand-crank he rescued from a schoolroom)

  4. Thanks for the review. Personally I think the 2-part Kum Longpoint sharpener sucks for a lot of pencils, depending on wood type, graphite hardness and thickness and maybe pencil thickness as well. Plus it’s cheaply made. The plain one-hole magnesium KUM Longpoint, on the other hand, can create a nice point with almost any standard-width pencil I’ve used, and is tough and inexpensive ($1.50 – 2).

  5. Hi!
    I am a teacher in a New Orleans charter school. We have a huge problem with pencil sharpeners down here. All the schools order electric–for some reason they prefer electric, but the ones they order ALWAYS break. The kids love to sharpen the pencils, and they are not gentle. By the end of the year last year, I’d have to go from classroom to classroom to find a working one. What is the most resilient sharpener you can recommend? (One electric and one hand crank?)

    1. Hi Christine,

      Unless you’ve already ruled out the Schoolsmart Electric Heavy-Duty sharpener from your own classroom experience, I’d try that one or its vertical cousin, both of which can be had for under $30 at Amazon.

      Obviously, I haven’t given them the torture test but I went with these after trying out some others which sharpened horribly and had abysmal reputations for quality and longevity.

      For a hand crank, I suspect the Classroom Friendly, with more metal components, will outlast my preferred Carl and Mitsubishi. The reason I like the others better is simply because of the bite marks produced by the Classroom Friendly, and I’d guess that will be far less of an issue for you in the classroom than reliability and endurance.

      Whatever you end up going with, I’m interested in your results!

  6. I posted this on the Erasable Podcast community Facebook page as an “exclusive,” but later realized I might update someone coming along here. The Carl CP-80 is no longer available and some people have lately had quality control issues with the Mitsubishi Uni KH-20. I purchased five other Carl sharpeners and compared all of them:

    Hunter and I previously ranked hand-crank sharpeners and placed them in the following order for point perfection: 1) Classroom Friendly / Carl Angel 5, 2) Carl CP-80, 3) Mitsubishi Uni KH-20.

    We put the Classroom Friendly at the end of our “buy” list because neither of us is willing to put up with the wanton destruction enacted upon expensive pencils by this demonically possessed voodoo sharpener from hell.

    Since our review, though, the Carl CP-80 has become past tense and some of you have encountered quality control issues with the Mitsubishi Uni KH-20. I was curious what might replace these two; in other words, what would have a rubber clutch that didn’t bite into pencils but still produced the nice points of the CP-80 and a correctly-functioning Uni KH-20. I’ve tried many of the other brands mentioned in this community and didn’t find any to my liking, but I felt that Carl would be the most likely to produce something we did like. I ordered five other Carl sharpeners that are currently available and use rubber clutches. I purchased all five of these on Amazon. In my absence this weekend, Hunter tested them and the primary donor pencils were Office Depot brand donated by a friend.

    Hunter and I can now offer firsthand testimony regarding the horrific quality of the Office Depot pencils. First he had to find some with centered cores. That took time and in the end didn’t seem to matter, because even those with centered cores don’t sharpen well. He then tossed in black Ticonderogas. When I arrived home after a weekend away, I added Palomino Blackwing 602s to the review. Following are the sharpeners in order of point perfection. The Classroom Friendly and extinct Carl CP-80 still lead the pack though but neither of us is willing to make peace with the Classroom Friendly’s chompers.

    #1 Classroom Friendly / Carl Angel 5
    • Best point
    • Violently woodiferous (eats pencil barrels)

    #2 Carl CP-80
    • 2nd best point after the Classroom Friendly / Carl Angel 5
    • However . . . no longer made and next-to-impossible to find

    #3 Carl Sinfeel CMS-100 (misnamed “Shin feel” on Amazon)
    • #1 replacement for the above two, and #1 in odd name
    • Most even sharpening
    • Nice long point
    • 2nd easiest to use (steady, smooth to use) of the new five after the Carl Angel 5 Premium

    #4 Carl DE-100 Decade
    • Long point
    • Some unevenness
    • A little unsteady to use, similar to the CP-80

    #5 Carl CP-100A
    • Almost identical point to the Carl DE-100 Decade

    #6 Carl Angel 5 Premium
    • This one isn’t shown on Carl’s website; may no longer be manufactured
    • Stumbled upon it by accident on Amazon’s website because it’s misnamed the CC-2000, but is in fact the Carl Angel 5 Premium pictured here:
    • Easiest, smoothest to use
    • Nice point
    • Disappointing wood creep
    • Wanted to like this one the best because it’s so smooth to use, had high hopes that it would sharpen just as well as the Carl Angel 5 / Classroom Friendly . . . but it didn’t

    #7 Carl CC-2000 Custom
    • A massive beast of a sharpener, much larger than the others and made with a metal rather than plastic body
    • You’d expect this one to be the best due to its size and construction
    • But it’s not . . . .
    • It has a five point adjusting mechanism
    • Leaves a blunt point even on the sharpest setting (this may be a positive for some users)
    • Easy to use because of its mass

    Our recommendations for REPLACEMENTS, then, in order:
    Carl Sinfeel CMS-100
    Carl DE-100 Decade
    Carl CP-100A
    Carl Angel 5 Premium
    Carl CC-2000

  7. Holy crap!!! A comment? Just a comment. This is not just another blog, this is pencil lovers Bible.

    We NEED a new post for that please.

    Greetings from Greece

  8. The unevenness of the Mitsubishi is a dealbreaker for me. The bite marks left by the CA5 are very easily dealt with – I have a thin piece of vinyl rubber sheet cut to just wrap the diameter of a pencil barrel without overlap. Wrap the pencil, insert into teeth of CA5, sharpen. Takes all of an extra 5 seconds. No indents, no pencil rotation while sharpening. Keep the vinyl in the shavings collection tray in between sharpening so it’s always handy and never misplaced. Considering the CA5 has the best point, is all metal construction and can be had for $16 shipped on eBay, it’s hard to best.
    If wrapping a pencil is too much work, there is a permament fix for the CA5 teeth for a few bucks and is quick n easy. Buy a can of Plasti Dip from your local hardware store and paint some onto the teeth with a fine tipped paintbrush. It’s easy, discreet and works.

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