At Andy’s suggestion, here’s another list of potential Blackwing Volumes editions dedicated to women and people of color. I’ll repeat what Andy said: I am not accusing Blackwing of being racist or sexist or anything of the sort. I imagine they didn’t realize that the first five…look like this. And for all we know, we’ll be pleasantly surprised by the fall edition.
EDIT: One might do well to read closely before sending me nasty messages or leaving comments with fake email addresses accusing me of something I didn’t say or even imply. That says more about, well, you, than it does about me. Snark is not even wit, and wit is certainly not wisdom.
EDIT 2: Were I or we interesting in shaming Palomino or accusing them of ill-will, that would have been easy enough to do, using the same keyboard I used to clearly indicate that we are *not* accusing them of anything. The continued charges that this blog and other pencil blogs have been on some social crusade (and I’m not talking really talking about comments here – largely this has come through Facebook and poorly-constructed and cowardly emails from burner accounts) smells like the “reactionary” “bullshit” of which we’ve been accused.
Virginia Woolf: Volume 59, her age at her death by suicide in 1941.
Hermione Granger: Volume 919, her birthday. The pencil would be burgundy, with gold accents and a custom burgundy eraser — a nod to House Gryffindor.
Simone de Beauvoir: Volume 1949/49, publication of The Second Sex.
Emily Dickinson: Volume 1,800, the estimated number of poems written by her. This pencil would be matte white, with a black ferrule and eraser.
Frederick Douglass: Volume 1845, the year of the publication of his Autobiography.
Betsy Ross: Volume 15, the number of states in the union when the British attacked Fort McHenry in their attempt to take our country back (sorry, Brits). This pencil, of course, needs to be red with a blue ferrule and white eraser. The Rockets’ Red Glare edition.
Barack Obama: Volume 2008, obviously. This pencil is left-handed, though, and comes in the blue of the ties he used to wear.
Emma Goldman: Volume 22, the prison term she received for her attempt, with Berkman, to assassinate Frick. This pencil is black with a red ferrule and black eraser. Either the MMX core on a newer, darker core. It doesn’t @#$% around.
Mother Teresa: Volume 2016/16, for the year of her canonisation (Sept 4th, good time for it). Pencil is white, with a blue ferrule and white eraser.
Marie Curie: Volume 0311, the years she won the Nobel Prize in Physics (1903) and the prize in Chemistry (1911).
Anne Frank: Volume 1947/47, the publication of her diary (not the English edition).
Nelson Mandela: Volume 27, the number of years he spent in prison.
Maya Angelou: Volume 1993/93, the year in which she read “On the Pulse of Morning” at Clinton’s inauguration.
W.E.B. Du Bois: Volume 1909/09, the year he helped found the NAACP.
Thurgood Marshall: Volume 1954/54, the Brown v. Board of Education decision that changed American history.
Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume 1946/46, the year in which, while serving as the first chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights, she oversaw the first draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Serena Williams: Volume 4, the number of her Olympic gold medals.
This review is by the The Watts, who present version 5.0 of their amazing pencil review series. (The other subtitle involved the word “final”, but I’m not including that because this can’t be final!)
My son Hunter and I shared our last pencil review in September 2015. We’ve since reviewed a few pencil sharpeners but only some earthshaking event could have lured me into another pencil comparison.
Palomino has released the fourth special-edition Palomino Blackwing, and it is most unlike the others. The first three Volumes used existing Palomino cores, but the Volume 24 edition Blackwings have a brand-new core that is supposed to be hard enough to resist the need for continual sharpening while retaining a dark line. Palomino’s description:
“The Blackwing 24 pays tribute to Pulitzer Prize winning author John Steinbeck. Designed under the guidance of his son Thomas Steinbeck, Blackwing has created what they believe would have been John’s ideal pencil. Thom was adamant that his father would want it to be black, from barrel to eraser. It would also need to sharpen to a firm point without sacrificing much if any darkness. The Blackwing 24 is just that – an all-black pencil with the brand-new graphite formulation perfect for extended writing.”
Although John Steinbeck was quoted as liking the Blaisdell Calculator 600 and Mongol Round 2 3/8 F, the pencil he mentioned most was the Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602. Palomino created its own version of the Blackwing 602 that comes remarkably close in both appearance and performance, but even this extraordinarily well-done recreation of the original suffers from the same Law of Pencils as every other pencil on the market: Line darkness is inversely proportional to point retention.
In other words, a dark line typically means a softer graphite formulation requiring frequent sharpening.
The qualities many of us seek in our pencils can be contradictory:
1. Point retention
2. Dark line
3. Smoothness, also described as a “buttery” feel . . . per Blackwing’s glorious motto, “Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed”
It’s difficult to improve upon one characteristic without compromising at least one of the others. Although a smoother writing experience isn’t called out in Palomino’s marketing of the Blackwing 24, should it go without saying that any pencil bearing the “Blackwing” name has a responsibility to live up to the “Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed” legend? Did Palomino pull off the impossible? And is this the really the “. . . graphite formulation perfect for extended writing?”
In a series of reviews, Hunter and I shared the results of our search for the “perfect pencil.” Our reviews initially focused on the second and third qualities in the list above: line darkness and a smooth feel across the paper. After gaining experience with our favorites, we created top five lists of currently available pencils that factor in point retention and aesthetics.
Now, with the arrival of the Blackwing 24, have we found the Holy Grail . . . a pencil that lays down a line as dark as the 602 yet retains its point much longer while retaining that buttery smoothness that makes the Eberhard Faber and Palomino Blackwing 602s so enjoyable to use? Or is this Pencildom’s version of the Piltdown Man, a pencil with a hard and scratchy core encased in the form of a Blackwing and presented to us as The One? We had to find out.
We immediately agreed that line darkness was not an issue. The Blackwing 24 did just as well as the other pencils and was close enough in some instances that it was impossible to tell the difference.
Next, we tried to prove or disprove the claim of greater point retention. I devised a test that seemed – in my head – foolproof. We would each draw a continuous string of “e’s” until we reached the point at which we would sharpen the pencil. We’d conduct this test with the Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602 (EF602), Palomino Blackwing 602 (P602), Blaisdell Calculator 600 (BC600) and the Blackwing 24 (BW24). The Blaisdell was thrown into the test because in a previous review we noted it was almost as smooth as the Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602 but seemed to have greater point retention . . . which might make it the greatest pencil in the history of Earth, although it has sadly gone the way of the dinosaurs.
The test seemed foolproof, but in practice was problematic. Writing page after page of “e’s” while maintaining the same pressure on the paper and size of the letters is difficult even with an 18-year-old hand but it quickly becomes painful when the older tester is suffering from lingering nerve damage. I tend to apply more pressure than Hunter; so I wore through my pencils faster, giving me enough time to try a second type of endurance test. I wrote the sentence, “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country,” repeatedly until I reached the time I would have sharpened, and then I counted the number of completed sentences for each. This gave us three point retention test results which are shown below in order of greatest point retention and number of lines or sentences.
Good Men Sentence – Stephen
We learned one thing for sure: Testing point retention manually is subjective as heck. We focused on commonalities, though, and agreed to this ranking, shown from longest to shortest point retention:
Neither of us felt the Blackwing 24 outlasted the Blaisdell Calculator 600, and we agreed it outdid both the Palomino and Eberhard Faber Blackwings. Line darkness: check. Point retention: check. So far, no evidence of a hoax. What about smoothness?
Pairing them off for side-by-side tests and working our way through each pair, Hunter and I settled on this ranking for how smoothly the pencil moved across the paper:
When I compared the Palomino Blackwings 602 and 24, moving to the 24 felt like I was suddenly trying to write in quicksand. The difference was clear and noticeable but it was also an odd sensation as there was no scratchiness to the experience; it was just “slower.” It seemed to take more effort to push the 24 along in comparison to the 602. Hunter didn’t notice this great of an effect which could have been due to his much lighter hand, but he did agree the 24 wasn’t as smooth as the 602.
We decided to add in another category, a version of aesthetics we’ll refer to here as the Coolness Quotient: Casting aside historical significance, rarity and overall quality, which was the spiffiest-looking pencil? Hunter and I quickly arrived at the following ranking:
Back to the question posed in the title: Is the Palomino Blackwing 24 the Holy Grail or the Piltdown Man? Palomino advertised a dark line and firm core for extended writing. In comparison to our other three pencils, this one more than holds up its end of the bargain. It is at the bottom of the list in terms of smoothness, but where in Palomino’s advertising do they claim it’s as smooth as the Blackwing 602?
“The Blackwing 24 features a new extra-firm graphite great for extended writing. You won’t find this graphite in any of our other Blackwing models. It’s slightly firmer than the graphite found in the Blackwing 602, without sacrificing much in the way of darkness. It also features a distraction-free black barrel, black imprint, black ferrule and black eraser.”
Clearly, this is no Piltdown Man. But is it the Holy Grail of pencils?
For me, nothing comes closer to the Holy Grail than the extinct Blaisdell Calculator 600. It scores on all three major counts: Point retention, dark line and smoothness. Until something comes along that equals or bests the Blaisdell Calculator, I’ll remain on the hunt for a currently-manufactured Holy Grail. There is another item that knocks the Blackwing 24 down a peg or two for me: the barrel is slippery. I notice a clear difference between how well my fingers adhere to the barrel of the other three pencils vs. the Blackwing 24. I had a similar issue with the natural finish (clear lacquer) Blackwing 211 . . . I had to regularly readjust my fingers. Apparently, my career as a tree frog is over before it began, but from what I’ve seen, this doesn’t seem to be an issue experienced by many others.
Hunter really likes the Blackwing 24. He writes with a lighter touch; so the smoothness isn’t an issue for him. His fingers don’t slip on the barrel like mine. This pencil has better point retention than the others, and it’s just as dark. And its looks are . . . stunning. For Hunter, at least for now, this is his Holy Grail.
My answer to the question “Is this the Holy Grail?” is an unhelpful “Maybe.”
Let’s look at where this falls into our rankings. Hunter and I have been playing around with the newly popular Apsara Absolute and thought we might as well slot it into the list.
Our last full ranking of 27 pencils was in order of quality of the line and smoothness of the writing experience:
Hunter’s choice for the deserted island is now the Palomino Blackwing 24, although he believes this is partly due to the current hype and may change over the next few months.
Hunter: Point retention is much more subjective than we expected.
Hunter: The Palomino Blackwing 24 has really shaken things up.
Stephen: The Blackwing 24 is just slippery enough to be a little less comfortable to use.
Stephen: The Blackwing motto “Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed” is not part of the equation with the 24, which still writes with “Half the Pressure,” but not at “Twice the Speed.” To be clear, the manufacturer has not implied the motto applies to this pencil.
Stephen: The Blackwing 24 came out higher overall than expected. For people who don’t notice the “slippery” effect and don’t mind a “slower speed,” the point retention, line quality and sheer beauty may help this pencil qualify as their Holy Grail.
I’ve seen a number of nicknames for this pencil, all playing off the name Blackwing, but one I haven’t yet read pays homage to its basic black design and the newly released Batman v Superman movie. I dub thee:
[Part two of the Mythbusting Double Header from the Watts follows below, continued from part one…]
Another bonus! Two myths in one right here, baby: 1) The El Casco M-430 pencil sharpener produces the finest point available and 2) It is worth its exorbitant price.
You’ve probably heard of the legendary El Casco M-430 sharpener. Our focus is on the “cheaply finished” version, the chrome and black which currently sells for $373 at Amazon, $450 at Barneys New York and $550 at Pen Boutique. David Rees, author of How to Sharpen Pencils, has described the M-430 as “. . . an extraordinary example of engineering . . . .” David has made a living as a humorously serious (or seriously humorous) expert on pencil sharpening and has stated this is not only the most expensive sharpener on the market, but also the best.
Brandon, a member of the Erasable Facebook community, obtained a gently used one in a fantastic deal of a lifetime and was delighted with his sharpener’s performance. Inspired, I haunted eBay until I was able to purchase a supposedly like new and unused El Casco M-430 for a fraction of the prices quoted above. If Hunter and I have gone this far with our reviews, I reasoned, why stop just short of the Holy Grail?
Hunter and I agree with David Rees that the El Casco, which is a double-burr sharpener (the Carls and most other hand crank sharpeners are single burr) produces an exceptionally long point with a flattened tip (that happily reduces breakage upon first application of pressure) and that sports distinctly concave sides. I haven’t seen anything like what comes out of this sharpener, but don’t just take my word for it, read these Amazon reviews. The M-430 has multiple point settings but Hunter and I focused on the longest because that’s what we’re after.
My El Casco exhibited three issues that have me wondering whether or not to release it back into eBay:
1. The bare wood between the paint and graphite of a sharpened pencil is left darkened from graphite dust. A suggestion from an Erasable Facebook community member was to try cleaning the burrs with contact spray, because it may be that waxy pencils used previously were holding then releasing graphite onto my pencils. Couldn’t hurt to try it. But trying it didn’t help. I’ve seen quite a few photos of freshly sharpened-by El Casco pencils and many seem exhibit this side effect. I’ve also found online comments by people who have decided to live with these results because in their view the quality of the point makes up for the dinginess.
2. The clutch that holds the pencil straight, although it doesn’t have jagged teeth like the Angry Devil, usually leaves dents on my pencils. There is no mechanism that pulls the pencils into the burrs for you; with the El Casco you have to manually push the pencil in through the clutch. That activity, with my sharpener and at least one other M-430 out there, results in dents. Although the parts didn’t seem stiff, I disassembled this portion of the sharpener and lubed everything with silicone spray. It didn’t help. This seems to be an exceptionally sporadic occurrence among owners as I have only run across one other mention of this problem.
3. Because you must push the pencil in with one hand while turning the crank with the other, unless you’re an octopus you’ll need assistance holding the sharpener in place. The El Casco has a suction cup bottom that works well on a glass or glass-like surface but not as dependably on others. Comments among owners reveal the occasional need to replace the suction cup . . . and that actually getting a replacement may involve buying another El Casco. Several owners have stated the Spanish company, without fail, fails to respond to requests for assistance and the United States distributor has sadly chosen to follow in the customer service lead of El Casco. One Erasable member learned a new USA distributor will be taking over so maybe there’s hope that in the future, the Rolls Royce of pencil sharpeners will have something in place to help its customers.
Here are the results produced by the El Casco M-430:
Our verdict on whether or not the El Casco M-430 produces the finest point available: Confirmed.
But is it worth its exorbitant price? Busted.
We haven’t seen anything else that creates such a spectacular point. The dinginess of the wood seems to be a common occurrence and the indentations, which are different than the bite marks of the Angry Devil, seem to be a byproduct of a small minority of El Cascos. If you don’t care about grunge, you don’t mind the risk of dented pencils and you have a bunch of spare change lying around, this is the sharpener for you, friend. Otherwise, purchasing an El Casco and getting the results that leave you feeling like you received your money’s worth may require a lucky roll of the dice.
Stephen’s Rabid Greyhound: 1 part vodka to 3 parts quality pink grapefruit juice, served on ice.
[We are very lucky to have another contribution from the Watts, whose posts are becoming the most popular on Pencil Revolution!]
Myth: Transplanting the guts of a Classroom Friendly / Carl Angel-5 into another Carl sharpener will allow you to receive the same great point without inflicting grievous wounds to your pencils.
My son Hunter and I have run the gauntlet on a quest to discover what, for us, constitutes the single best sharpener. In a series of three reviews (the first is linked within this second review and the third is pasted within at the bottom as a comment), we decided the Classroom Friendly / Carl Angel-5 (these two euphemisms will hereafter be joined and referred to more accurately as the Angry Devil) produced the best point overall, but the Carl CP-80 produced a point nearly as good but without raining down violence upon innocent pencils. Hunter and I already have our own CP-80s; unfortunately, if you don’t and you’re not a resident of Australia or New Zealand, you’ll need to hop on a ship headed that way because CP-80s seem to have gone extinct everywhere else. That leaves the naughtily-named Carl Sinfeel as the best currently available non-mangling long-point producing sharpener of all that we’ve tested.
Once again, we were done, but then Javier from the Erasable Facebook community posted the results of his transplanting the burr assembly from an Angry Devil to a Carl Angel-5 Premium sharpener body and receiving the same great point but without maiming his pencils as described in this Bleistift review.
Javier had me wondering if we could prove or disprove that exchanging the burr assemblies would give us the point we wanted from the Angry Devil via the donor body of another, less destructive Carl sharpener. I didn’t expect this experiment to pan out. Surely there is a reason the Angry Devil so stubbornly retains its Jaws of Death. Maybe a pit bull-like grip really does help produce such stellar results.
Hunter and I went to work and transplanted the burrs from two Angry Devils into a Carl Angel-5 Premium and a Carl Decade. A third, unaltered Angry Devil and a reference, unaltered Carl CP-80 joined in the fun. Below are the sharpeners with their resulting points:
If we ignore the wood creep in our results, all versions of the Angry Devil – the original unmodified Angry Devil and the two hybrids with Angry Devil burr assemblies – produced equal results. We were surprised by this and infer that wood-damaging teeth are not needed in a clutch to produce a spectacular point.
This being real life, we can’t ignore wood creep, so here are our actual results:
1. In a stunning turn of events, the Carl Decade body with Angry Devil guts produced the best overall point. I will admit to harboring an unhealthy obsession that compels me to see the Angry Devil brought to its teensy hidden knees but, in spite of my bias, we did not expect anything to outdo the unmodified Angry Devil. We were wrong. Oh happy day.
2. The Carl CP-80 produced the second best overall point. Why do we keep featuring the CP-80 in our reviews when you can no longer buy them in the Northern Hemisphere? I don’t know; at this point, it just seems mean. Perhaps that’s it; I’m just mean. Anyway, if you ever have a chance to drive to Australia and grab one of these, do so.
3. The Carl Angel-5 Premium with Angry Devil innards produced the third best point. We were surprised by this and assumed it would outdo the Decade because its body was similar to the Angry Devil’s. Not so in our case.
4. We were astonished to discover the unmodified Angry Devil produced the most wood creep. I’m sitting alone in my den right now maniacally clapping my hands together because placing this wood-chomping mechanical robot beaver dead last brings me such joy.
Truthfully, although we ranked the results, all four sharpeners did well and we were quite surprised to see the wood creep coming from the unmodified Angry Devil. To rule out the possibility of it being pencil-related, we added the Palomino Blackwing 602s which were not originally part of the test. While it was likely an anomaly occurring with just this one sharpener, we can’t dispute the fact that it did happen and we obtained better results from transplanted Angry Devil guts than with Angry Devil guts in the original Angry Devil body.
The purpose of this MythBusters episode was to evaluate the veracity of the claim that one can transplant the burr assembly of an Angry Devil sharpener into the pencil-friendly donor body of another Carl product yet still obtain the same degree of point perfection.
[This post comes from Official Contributor Stephen Watts, with the help of his sons!]
You may have read rumors the Eberhard Faber Microtomic 3B or 4B has the same core as the Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602. I’ve often wondered about this and finally managed to procure Microtomics in the 4B, 3B and, for good measure, 2B grades in order to prove or disprove the rumor.
My son Hunter and I have partnered in a few pencil and pencil sharpener reviews. For this comparison, we brought in a second son and third brain, Hunter’s fraternal twin brother Garrett.
We took turns comparing the Blackwing with the 4B, then the 3B, then the 2B. After the three of us sampled each pair, we shared our thoughts on whether or not the core was the same: Yes, Maybe, Probably Not, No.
All three of us immediately agreed the 2B did not share the same core as the Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602; it was obviously harder and scratchier in comparison. Hunter and Garrett felt the 4B was closer to the Blackwing than the 3B; I thought the 3B was closer but I was a “maybe.”
We tried a different approach: We took turns comparing three pencils, the 3B, 4B and 602 with the task being to decide which of these Microtomics was closer, rather than possibly identical to the 602. We had similar results: Hunter and Garrett felt the 4B was closer; I felt the 3B was closer but I wasn’t sure. If a “yes” is one point and a “maybe” is a half point, we were left with an 83% probability the 4B was closer than the 3B to the 602.
We then re-ran the 4B and 602 comparison to determine specifically whether or not they were the same core. Hunter said “yes.” But, in one of those moments when time stands still, we even freaked out the dog when I said “yes” and Garrett said “maybe.” This gave us an 83% probability the Microtomic 4B core is the same as an Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602. Garrett stated the difference was so slight he wasn’t sure it was real or imagined. Hunter and I have previously experienced that effect with the same model and grade pencils. When the difference is that negligible it could be due to imagination, variations in production runs, the state of the points or even odd spots in the graphite. It certainly seemed to us that the Eberhard Faber Microtomic 4Bs and Blackwing 602s use the same graphite mixture.
Don’t get too giddy. In the last year I’ve seen thousands of Blackwing 602s for sale but only a handful of Microtomic 4Bs. The 4Bs, although less expensive if you can find them, are rarely spotted in the wild.
An interesting side note on the Microtomic 4B used in this comparison: It came in a box I’ve never seen before, one I would guess dates to the 1950s. Take a close look at the ferrule: It has a knurled ring. I hadn’t run across one of these before. I thought the Blackwings, Van Dykes and Microtomics shared the same ferrules, but I have not seen this knurled effect on any other Blackwings, Van Dykes or Microtomics.
A rare ferrule housed in a rare box, possibly serving as a stealth delivery system for the most coveted graphite in the world.
Initially, we concluded this myth to be “CONFIRMED” but fortunately, truth intervened.
Sean Malone of Blackwing Pages fame contacted me after running across our thoughts on the Erasable Facebook community. He had the same question regarding the Microtomic and Blackwing cores and he has the real answer, straight from the closest thing to the source: the source’s son. Sean visited Eberhard Faber IV last year. Mr. Faber told Sean the Blackwing core’s formula was invented by his father and is not the same as any of the Microtomic cores.
If I were you, and I were trying to decide whether to believe our test results or the statement of the creator’s son . . . I’d go with the fellow named “Eberhard Faber.”
Sean also asked Eberhard Faber IV if the Blackwing formula might have changed over time: “I asked him if there was any chance that the BW formula had changed over the years, given that the older ones seem a bit softer and darker than the later ones. He said it wasn’t unusual for a formula to be tweaked or updated over the years.”
If you are fortunate enough to obtain both a Microtomic 4B and Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602, try your own comparison and you’ll see why the rumors persist. Thanks to Sean Malone, we now know that, while strikingly similar, they are unique formulations.
(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.
[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.]
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.)