Featuring the new Field Notes, the Shenandoah edition.
(This is another fanfreakingtastic piece from Stephen Watts, whose efforts for Pencildom do nothing short of blow my mind!)
Hell Freezes Over Twice!
aka Father and Son Pencil Review VI
aka Final Review v4.0
From the June 2015 Father and Son Pencil Review V:
You know I never lie about these things, so believe me when I tell you that this is the end of our pencil reviews, unless and until I happen across a Blaisdell Calculator 600, that most rare of Steinbeck-sanctioned pencils. If that day comes, Hunter and I will sign ourselves out of the nursing home, come back to my den, blow the dust off the old computer and we’ll let you know where the third of Steinbeck’s favorite pencils falls in our list.
Friends, hell hath frozen over, and not just once, but twice.
You’re reading the second version of this review. After I submitted the first, something else happened that I doubted would ever occur: General Pencil Company advised Gary Varner of Notegeist that our pleas have been answered and the General’s Cedar Pointe #333-1 will have a second life. We will probably see it back on shelves before the end of the year! More on this later, but let’s get back to the original description of how hell has frozen over.
I was innocently minding my own business one day when I was assaulted by this eBay auction title:
Vintage Blaisdell Pencil Co. Calculator Special Grade No 660 Lot 11 Original Box
¿Qué? Special Grade 660? What was a “660?” What it was, it turns out, was a mistake. And that mistake may have been what allowed me to win an auction for a nearly full box of Blaisdell Calculator 600s at a fraction of what I might expect to pay for a box of far more plentiful vintage Blackwings. I’d begun to doubt I would ever run across a single one of these mythical creatures.
Analog tools for storytellers. For every pack sold, we’ll send a Story Supply Kit to a kid with a story to tell.
Story Supply Co. is a stationery-arts brand devoted to creating and selling analog tools that help people tell their story. Design and craft are at the heart of our products. We want products that look and feel good. We want products that inspire artists and makers to capture their ideas, design beautiful things, and share their stories. Story Supply Co. products will also focus on sustainable manufacturing right here in the U.S.
Go and back them on Kickstarter! If nothing else, the notebooks are fantastic! Vito sent me a set, and I love them (and can’t find them, which means someone else in HQ might have liked them enough to walk off with them, which is happening more and more lately. Hashtag Notebookthief…). And the pencils — I’ve only seen photos, but they are gorgeous!
Good books. Good cause. Why are you still here?
So, we have four giveaways!
We are giving away three boxes of Pencil Goodness to three lucky USA-based readers. And, not to leave out our international Comrades, we are giving away one special package of pencils available here on our shores which folks outside the USA might find it difficult or impossible to obtain. The exact contents are still being determined, i.e., I’m still sticking stuff into these four boxes.
To enter: Just leave a comment, including your current country of residence. (Entries without nations and duplicate entries will be disqualified.) I’ll leave the entry period open for ten days, ending on Thursday, September 3, 2015 at 11:59pm EST. Charlotte will help me randomly select three winners from the USA pool and one winner from the International Contingent, and we’ll notify winners and head to the post office in a timely manner.
Thanks to all Comrades who have been reading this humble blog and helped to keep it alive!
It’s been a long time since we’ve featured a plain-old-fashioned pencil review. Our first was published just over a decade ago, and tonight’s pencil boasts similar Woodgrain Goodness. We are checking out the Musgrave Bugle.
I bought a few of these on each of my three visits to CW Pencil Enterprise this past spring, and I gave away all but three. I ordered a dozen yesterday to restock, and I regret that I didn’t order double or triple that.
I might have a difficult time explaining why, but I love this pencil. First, there is the handsome woodgrain. I am a sucker for Wood On Display (WOD) in pencils. This pencil is unfinished at both ends and has a clear, glossy finish. The printing is in white and is stamped quite deeply into the wood. While I might have just been using a particularly well-stamped individual pencil lately, the printing stays put, unlike the Disappearing Stamp on the Bugle’s Ugly Cousin. I imagine Thoreau pencils looking similarly to this pencil — clear-finished, round, simple. And the idea of a Bugle brings to mind Reveille (and Boy Scout camp), which makes me think of the Morning and my favorite Chanticleer, Mr. Henry.
I should stop and point out that this pencil is made in the USA and costs only a quarter. That’s right.
Writing with this pencil is comfortable, due to the round shape, though it can get a little slippery. This could very well be an illusion brought on by the fact that a lot of the pencils that I like which look like wood are unfinished and feel like wood. It could be that my hands are slippery when I read.
I am pretty sure that the wood is not cedar. It lacks a discernible aroma, and I suspect it is made from basswood.
The core is a pleasant change from a lot of the other pencils in my rotation this month. While it is probably not entirely unwaxed, the core in the Bugle has an only slightly waxy feel to it. It brings to mind a darker and less scratchy version of the Field Notes pencil. Smearing and erasability are about average for this level of darkness, but ghosting is very good. Point retention is a stand-out in this pencil, as a few weeks of casual use has only required 4 or 5 minor sharpening jobs on this pencil. Darkness remains in the grey area, rather than a shade of black. It’s about as dark as a Mexican-made Dixon, but certainly not as dark as a Japanese HB or even a General’s Cedar Pointe.
This has been my go-to reading pencil in August, as I attempt to stick with my six monthly pencils, at least this once. I finished a picture book/essay about Hemingway today, and I found the aesthetic of this pencil suits a Papa Frame of Mind also. I have this pencil lined up for my next foray into fiction, when I gather the Necessary Trio of time, energy and cojones.
Until the 14th, CWP has free shipping to this country, and you’ve probably been eyeing a few other pencils there as well. So go ahead and get a dozen. I am crossing my fingers that my own dozen of these will come in a cool box. But Musgrave’s generally terrible packaging makes me believe otherwise. Still, at the price of this pencil, it would be no great loss. Wait, it would be. There are few things that are quite like a well-printed pencil box. Nonetheless, unless you hate round or Naked A$$ed Pencils (NAP), pick some up some of these Chanticleer-esque pencils. They might brighten your morning.
The new Word. Blue Mountain and Black Mountain books had me talking before I ever had them in hand. It’s been a while since they released a new cover on their “regular” books, and these are impressive. Word. says:
The Mountain series of Word. Notebooks puts a modern spin on the great outdoors. Think less rolling hills and more sharp cliffs. Both Black Mountain and Blue Mountain are designed for the adventurous and the bold, those who strive for summits, and they look as clean on your desk as they do at a campsite under the stars.
I love this design, and I’m not alone. Half an hour after taking a few photos, I am down to only one blue version, as members of HQ have absconded with the first two. I have hidden the black ones and made marks in the remaining blue one.
We’ve written about Word. books before, and we’ve even been lucky enough to do a giveaway.* I simply love this paper for graphite. I don’t actually use the note system Word. has developed, but I use the lines, which are nicely-spaced. I’d love a dotgrid or blank version of these books, to be sure.
One thing that may not be entirely new (we missed the last edition and the Adventure edition) is the cover stock. Up until now, every Word. book I have had has been printed on Kraft paper. These covers are printed on white, though the feel is similar enough that I didn’t realize the paper was different until I opened the books. I do prefer this stock for writing on the insider covers.
Unlike our last paper review, where we teased you with goods you couldn’t get, you can order these books right now. Tell ’em we sent you.
[Many thanks to Michelle at Word. Notebooks for sending these out to HQ for free! We also received a bunch of stickers, and the first three people to ask (in the USA) get one free in the mail.]
I almost feel badly for posting this, since the books have sold out while this post has sat in the queue, as I was busy moving over the last couple of weeks. But I think that exhibiting the interesting books the folks at Baron Fig keep coming up with justifies what probably amounts to a Teasing Post.
The Work/Play edition has the same features as the regular Confidant (which I still don’t own for some reason). I love the paper in Baron Fig books for pencil, and I am especially fond of the spacing/darkness of their dotgrid.
And this book has it. On the left, you have dotgrid paper. On the right, you have a blank page. The Maker edition came in a darker grey than the regular Confidant, and the natural move is to black here.* The bookmark is white, and the effect is striking.
Keeping in line with the other hardcover offerings from Baron Fig, the box is really a part of the product. While I enjoyed the Juggler’s box, this one takes the proverbial (coconut) cake. The graphics are so fantastic that I might have thought twice about opening the box if I had to destroy this artwork to get to the book inside.
Sorry to tease, but you never know if you might find another stationery fan to trade with — maybe we can even talk Adam and Joey into printing another run of these. I’m not sure about the size of printing, but these went very quickly. If you find one somewhere, snatch it up! (Caroline might have some IRL.)
(We were sent this book for review for free — thanks to Adam and Joey for keeping us in the loop!)
[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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.)
Father and Son Pencil Review V (aka Final Review v3.0)
So here’s the thing. Hunter and I were done after our fourth review, but three events totally beyond my control caused a change of plans:
1. A maniacal devotee of the Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood 348 HB convinced hundreds of us, or at least three of us in the Erasable community to try these pencils out.
2. I became so enamored by the Mitsubishi 9000’s slogan “Made by Elaborate Process” it felt like a betrayal not to acknowledge its worthiness of inclusion in a review.
3. I succumbed to repeated testimonials and purchased some General’s Test Scoring 580s.
4. I finally came across Pencil #2 of John Steinbeck’s preferred trio: the Eberhard Faber Mongol 2 3/8 F.
I know, that’s four things, not three. Now you see why this is our third final review. I cannot be trusted with numbers.
Before we continue, let me caution you that if you continue reading, you will be quickly and deeply offended. In previous reviews, I’ve alienated:
Haters of the Staedtler Norica HB 2
People who disliked my repurposing of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act promises into pencil review statements
Lovers of Musgrave Pencil Company’s Test Scoring 100 (spoiler alert #1: they are about to become even more perturbed)
Lovers of U.S.A. Gold Natural 2 HB (spoiler alert #2: their annoyance will remain unchanged)
The Staedtler company
The entire population of Germany
Haters of electric pencil sharpeners
Lovers of Classroom Friendly pencil sharpeners
Australians who resent their flying animals being renamed by Americans
People who like pens
Hand held pencil sharpener fans who don’t mind staining themselves and the world around them with graphite
If you are not a member of one of the groups above and thus believe yourself to be safe, you are wrong. You have been warned. Here we go.
People who are interested enough in pencils to research them and write about them and read reviews of them are insane.
Normal people, inarguably and without exception, spend their free time on pursuits falling into one of the following three categories:
Playing games or watching other people play games
Yelling at things or yelling about things
Fighting, wounding, or killing things or watching people fight, wound or kill things
People who like pencils, on the other hand, are seriously abnormal. Following is what constitutes a rare, heated exchange between two pencil people, hereafter referred to as “PP.”
PP #1: Have you tried a Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood?
PP #2: No.
PP #1: It’s awesome!
PP #2: Is not.
PP #1: Is too!
PP #2: Well, let me try it.
PP #2: (Days later, following receipt of a shipment from CW Pencil Enterprise or Pencils.com): Hey! Not bad!
PP don’t join hate groups. There are no PP in prisons; I’m not lying, you can check for yourself. PP do not sit on their front porches swearing at children who wander into their yards looking for lost toys or sickly rodents. Instead, PP understand and appreciate the differences among pencils in terms of darkness or lightness of the line, smoothness of the graphite moving across the paper, point retention, core thickness, type and scent of wood used, eraser quality and aesthetic appeal of the finished product. And they enjoy learning about these things and sharing their knowledge with other PP.
Clearly, then, PP are mentally disordered. I, too, suffer from this mass hysteria. In one of its manifestations, I obtained a six foot long Dixon Ticonderoga that made an overly reactive grown woman housekeeper burst out of my den into the hall loudly asking, of no one in particular, “WHAT THE F_ _ _?”
[The Inimitable Stephen Watts has done it again — this time, with sharpeners. Many thanks to Comrade Stephen for sharing his Pencil Adventures with the rest of us!]
My Journey to Pencil Sharpener Satisfaction
Reviews found on blogs, Amazon.com, the Erasable Facebook community, and whispered suggestions in dark alleys caused me to cycle through a number of pencil sharpeners in my quest for the “perfect” one for me. I found that, just as with pencils, as soon as you’re sure you’ve hit the ideal sharpener for your tastes and budget, some smarty-pants informs the world of a new find and the search resumes. For now, though, I’ve settled on my top three in each of three categories: hand held, hand crank, and (cue Imperial March/Darth Vader’s Theme) electric. We’ll get the controversial one out of the way first.
Electric: Spawn of the Devil?
The next time you find yourself at a formal dinner party for pencil lovers, get the conversational ball rolling by enumerating the merits of electric pencil sharpeners. You’ll soon feel like Arlo Guthrie in his song “Alice’s Restaurant”: “And they all moved away from me on the bench . . . .”
Quickly remind them that their fabled hero, John Steinbeck, lover of Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602s, Eberhard Faber Mongol Round 2 3/8s and Blaisdell Calculator 600s, used an electric pencil sharpener. “And they all came back, shook my hand, and we had a great time on the bench . . . .”
Panasonic KP-310 (discontinued)
When I rediscovered not just the wonders of pencils but the wonders of quality pencils, my first move was to resurrect my trusty old Panasonic KP-310. Back in the day, this, my friends, was the bee’s knees. The Panasonic has been handed around my family over the years. When I began to use it again, I noticed it had developed the disturbing habit of darkening the wood, and it left the wood just a bit rough. That aside, even after many years of faithful service, it produces a consistently decent quality point. But I now wanted more.
School Smart Electric Vertical
First up was the School Smart Electric Vertical Pencil Sharpener. Vertical? Sounded fun. At first I liked it, but then I noticed a problem reported by other users and very common to electric pencil sharpeners in general: Uneven sharpening. No one likes wood creeping up one side of the core. The most common remedy offered was to spin the pencil at the end of the process to even things out. I quickly decided that would result in sacrificing too much of my pencils, and I released this robotic demon back into the wild.
Royal P70 Electronic
My son Hunter highly recommended the Royal P70 Electronic Pencil Sharpener. One of his teachers had it in the classroom, and Hunter insisted it did a phenomenal job. Amazon’s reviewers didn’t universally agree with him, but here I had a live person telling me it was great, and one that had to live with me even if he was wrong. So I purchased this model only to discover Amazon’s reviewers were in fact correct. This sharpener makes a lot of noise while straining to get the initial work over with, and the results aren’t worth the expenditure of all that effort. The pencils came out even more uneven than the School Smart Electric Vertical. Hunter bought it from me (I didn’t just give it to him; I’m a Libertarian), and I returned to the hunt.
School Smart Electric Heavy-Duty
Unable to find anything that received near five-star feedback other than another School Smart model, I tried the School Smart Electric Heavy-Duty Pencil Sharpener. It produces a satisfyingly long point and usually leaves an evenly sharpened pencil. I kept this model, although I have taken to giving the pencils a quick twist at the end of the process to produce a more uniform result.
Hand Crank: Where Pencil People Stop Smirking and Get Serious
Classroom Friendly and Carl Angel-5
Although I was largely satisfied with my electric sharpener, I still wanted something I considered the “best” from my perspective, and the next search was for a nice hand crank sharpener. No matter which direction I went on the Internet, all tubes led to the Original Classroom Friendly. It’s a high-quality sharpener which produces an undisputedly spectacular point. It seems to be the same one marketed by Carl as the Angel-5. One thing has kept me away from this sharpener: It produces bite marks in the pencil’s barrel, and you end up with a series of them as you wear the pencil down. I wasn’t interested in purchasing nice pencils only to sacrifice them to a mechanical hyena. This isn’t an issue for everyone, however, and people who like the Classroom Friendlies tend to get all weepy when they talk about them. But hey, I’m a practical person. I’m not proud. I even admit I like an electrical sharpener. So I moved on from these capable yet indiscriminately violent beasts.
Deli Desk 0635
This teensy tiny sharpener weighs less than a starving parakeet (I know they’re really budgerigars, but parakeet is a funnier name, and this is the USA where we rename your animals and then insist you’re wrong). The Deli sharpened okay, but due to its size and lightness, it required too much effort to hold it still while turning the crank. I gave it all of one try before it went back into the packaging and back into the mailbox for a free ride home to mama.
eLink Pro Manual 323A-BLU
I was now desperate and stumbled onto a few good reviews for this one. Those reviews, apparently, were written by drunken, mean-spirited pen aficionados who were out for a laugh at our expense. This horrid sharpener arrived broken. And dirty. It, too, was promptly banished.
Mitsubishi Uni KH-20
This has the features of the Classroom Friendly in a sturdy plastic housing rather than metal, and with one large improvement: rubber -covered teeth — so, no bite marks. There’s an adjustment on the back to give either a sharp or blunted point. This is my sharpener of choice — $25 US or less from Amazon. If you buy from Amazon, be ready for a wait, as they’re shipped from Japan. I purchased five of th,em. One of the five didn’t work quite right, and I thought I had an expensive paperweight on my hands as it was a future gift I’d held onto for two months before presenting. I decided it wouldn’t hurt to ask the seller if he could do anything for me. To my amazement, he apologized profusely and quickly sent a replacement, no questions asked. Wow. I’d like to fly that guy over here and introduce him to Comcast’s customer service management team.
Although I’d already reached my personal hand crank pencil sharpener nirvana, I kept reading nice comments about the Carl CP-80. It’s smaller than the Uni KH-20. It does just as good a job as the Uni, with a smaller size, lighter weight and squared, rather than rounded, top. I prefer the Uni, but if you already have a Carl CP-80, you can hold your head high and look me in the eyes. No shame here. It’s a perfectly fine sharpener.
Hand Held: Pencil Envy
Beware; lovers of hand held sharpeners may be quite tenacious in their beliefs. Tread softly. They’re like the various Lutheran synods. From the outside, they all look like Lutherans to you and me. But to Lutherans, members of other synods are unfortunately misinformed and headed straight to hell. So before proclaiming your hand held sharpener preference, be ready for your opponents to hurriedly unscrew the tiny little razors in their tools of choice and swipe away at your ankles, all the while cursing you in pig Latin.
I tried only three hand-held models. Each one is a winner, for different reasons. But I only like one of the winners.
KUM Brass Wedge Single Hole Sharpener 300-1
As Johnny Gamber discovered, this model was terminated for cause. You can still find these on eBay and Etsy, though you’ll pay a few dollars more than you would have before they discontinued them after it became known there was lead mixed in with the brass. So if you buy one of these, don’t lick it. Due to the high lead content, this would be Superman’s choice as it could also be deployed as a defensive tool against kryptonite. This sharpener does a great job if you like a standard point, and it’s as small as you’ll find in a quality pencil sharpener. The issue I have with this and the next one in my list is the messiness. I’m sure there’s a way to use these without getting graphite stains on your hands. I just don’t like donning surgical gloves and laying a sheet of plastic across the floor every time I need to sharpen my pencil.
KUM 1-Hole Long Point Sharpener
This sharpener is made out of magnesium. Isn’t that modern? It’s easy to hold, and if you’re after a terrific long point from a small-form sharpener, this might be the one for you. But you’ll still have a mess on your hands. Literally.
KUM / Palomino / Palomino Blackwing Automatic Long Point Sharp-ner
Sold under the KUM, Palomino, and Palomino Blackwing names, this two stage automatic sharpener is the cat’s meow. You can find the Plain Jane KUM-branded model for a couple bucks less than the Palomino Blackwing, but where’s the fun in that? Using this sharpener is a two-stage process: Hole #1 is used to shave the wood; it’s “automatic” because it stops cutting and spins freely when its job is done. Same with the second hole, which is used to shape the graphite. You’ll be left with a point that is seriously dangerous. I accidentally poked myself with a freshly sharpened pencil, and although it didn’t puncture the skin, my finger hurt for an hour. Two replacement blades are included, and the sharpener comes encased in a plastic, hinged lid “box” that contains the shavings and keeps your fingers squeaky clean. The only downside to this sharpener is that I am rarely able to avoid breaking that needle-sharp point on first use and I think I bent it before I took the accompanying photo.
There we have it; my top three choices in each of the three mentioned categories:
Electric: School Smart Electric Heavy-Duty
Hand Crank: Mitsubishi Uni KH-20
Hand Held: KUM / Palomino / Blackwing Automatic Long Point Sharpener
Like pencils, there is a seemingly endless array of sharpeners from which to choose, and most people who’ve tried a few have their favorites. I recently asked members of the Erasable Facebook community to share, with no restrictions on type, their single favorite sharpener. Interestingly, 14 responses elicited 14 different sharpeners:
DUX wedge with receptacle
DUX adjustable handheld (brass)
Opinel No. 5 pocketknife
DUX pencil and crayon sharpener in leather case
Aspara long point (plastic)
KUM Masterpiece (not yet available in the USA
General’s 3 in 1
Koh-I-Nor Nr. 983
M&R Round double-hole (brass)
KUM Long Point with pointer
Mitsubishi Uni KH-20
That last one was my entry. Stop judging. Of course I voted in my own election!
[Many thanks to Stephen for sharing this veritable Journey Into the Sharpening Excellence!]
I assumed it was a dozen pencils (four shipments of three pencils) and thought it was pretty…out there. Realizing my mistake, I decided it was a good deal (being only slightly more expensive than if you just bought four dozen Blackwings — plus, I am nearly out of all three Blackwings). I asked for this for Fathers’ Day, and the first shipment arrived today: the Blackwing 725.
The box and pencil-in-the-tube are amazing, and there is even a handwritten note (addressed to the person who bought this for me) and a sticker inside. They spent more than the $3/shipment shipping that they charge, I’d bet. This is packed very, both aesthetically and practically.
The pencils are gorgeous and speak for themselves. Being a Fender player (’94 Torino Red P-Bass), I like the homage to the legendary guitar maker. The white imprint is crisp, and the pencil sharpenered perfectly in my KUM Masterpiece.
What I didn’t realize is two ways in which this is different from all of the other Blackwings at HQ. First, the ferrule is actually gold in color. It’s not silvery gold (like the first printing Blackwing Pearl next to me, from May 2013) or even ambiguous (like the Blackwing MMX that I have in front of me, from the day of release in 2010). Also, this is the first truly glossy Blackwing I have ever seen. The MMX is matte; the 602 is metallic; the Pearl is, well, opalescent. The 725 reminds me of the finish on an instrument, which is, of course, what they were going for.
The 725 writes like the Pearl, with Blackwing’s “Balanced” core. I think that’s a good choice for the first edition, though I hope they do the softer MMX core next time or thereafter, since Charlotte and I have both come to love making cartoons with that graphite. Autumnal colors would be fantastic for the next batch, though I think this edition took care of that. I will remember to save one or two for October.
This is a great effort by Blackwing, and I am impressed by the experience. The careful packaging and presentation are worthy of such a lovely pencil. Plus, once you sharpen it, it’s as useful as any other premium pencil, which is the reason I wanted them — to use them. There’s one in the tube for The Archive, though I’m sure my kids will steal some of their own before then. I plan on sharpening at least half of one this weekend myself.
While the KUM Masterpiece is a fine piece of engineering and one of the pieces of Pencil Ephemera about which I have been the most excited lately, there is something missing that I hope we can add to the Pencil World. The instructions on KUM’s website are not great. The video is produced to a quality standard that does no justice to all of the research and work that went into this sharpener. I have practiced a bit, and I think I have figured out the best way( to use this sharpener.
First, start with a quality pencil. This machine begs for at least a good Semi-Cheap, if not something premium. From there, follow these steps:
1) Use the hole marked 1 to sharpen away the wood. Do this until the graphite hits the auto-stop (the blue piece). You might notice that there is a piece of wood stuck to the long piece of exposed graphite on one side. What you want to do is push the pencil into the hole and gently against the blade again, and keep doing this until you encounter no resistance at all, i.e., there is no more wood being cut.
1A) Another option is to push the blue plastic out of the way before step 1. Then you can expose graphite to your Pencil Heart’s content. You can then proceed on to the shaping the graphite.
2) Use the hole marked 2 to sharpen the graphite. At the beginning, the exposed wood of the pencil will not fit against the cavity of the hole. You’ll have to do your best to center the burgeoning point. Turn the pencil, and watch fine pieces of graphite pile up on top of the sharpener. Here, you have a couple of options:
2A) Bring the graphite to a nice point, and then stop. You will have an odd-looking point that is not as sharp as the Masterpiece is capable of producing. But maybe you don’t want one that’s that sharp. Or maybe you are pressed for time. The advantage of this method is that you can sharpen the graphite again to a point without having the sharpen the wood again. You can skip Step 1 and just point the graphite at least one more time.
2B) Push the point into the second hole until you notice the blade cutting wood as well as graphite. It is this method which will get you the acute point that you see on the pencils at the top of this post, and this is the Insane Point for which this sharpener is made, I believe.
I hope this is helpful and not overly cheeky to KUM. If Comrades find better/alternate ways of using this sharpener, I’m sure we’d all be glad to read about them in the comments section. Also, check out Gunther‘s and Matthias‘s posts about the Masterpiece, with way better photos and more information about this fascinating sharpener.