[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!]
[Continued from Parts One and Two, Stephen sent us another set of pencils rankings that he and his son have come up with. Thanks again to Stephen and Hunter for seriously rigorous work in the name of pencils.]
Father and Son Pencil Review III: The Final Chapter
Following Pencil Revolution’s posting of our second pencil review, Hunter and I received a few more suggestions for consideration. We decided to do one last round by adding three made in the U.S.A. pencils to the mix.
My initial impressions of the aesthetics and manufacturing (not writing) quality of each of the new entrants:
Musgrave Pencil Company’s Test Scoring 100
This one wasn’t a suggestion for our consideration, actually, but an omission in previous reviews. Based on numerous postings I’d come across, I’d been wanting to try it out for myself. This Musgrave pencil is unlike any other with its silver finish and stark black lettering. It seems to be just a bit larger in diameter than the other pencils, too. Is this real or a false perception brought on by the feel of the disconcerting, sharply defined corners? Only scientifically-minded readers, or someone less lazy than me, will ever know.
U.S.A. Gold Natural 2 HB
The Gold 2 HBs were recommended to Hunter following our second review. I was still on the hunt for an American-made pencil I actually liked and, although I’d passed on this one before, I decided to give U.S.A. Gold’s naked pencil a go. My immediate impression was that it is poorly made. The erasers do not inspire confidence in their ability to stay embedded during a vigorous bout of second-guessing. And the ferrules seemed jammed onto the barrels without much thought of making sure the metal goes over, rather than into, the ends of the pencils.
Two distinguishing features of the barrels’ finish are noteworthy: The barrels have a very thin coating of clear lacquer or varnish, unlike the General’s which are bare wood. And, what the heck, the slats are not continuous lengths of wood. They use approximately 2.5” long finger-jointed slats. This is both cool and perplexing. Why do they do this? Based on the amount of research (none) I have done into this mystery, I state with absolute uncertainty this U.S.A. Gold Natural 2 HB finger-jointed slats issue will rank right up there alongside the Georgia Guidestones and Eilean Mor Lighthouse in the great listing of forever unknowables.
General’s Cedar Pointe #333 – 1
Johnny Gamber of this very blog took pity on my disappointment with the Cedar Pointe #333 – 2HB. I loved the look and feel of it and I really did want to like a pencil still manufactured in my own country, because it seems all we make here now are Toyotas and Big Government. Johnny clued me in: Gary Varner of Notegeist would be getting in a shipment of General’s Cedar Pointe #333 – 1s, and those babies might be just what I was looking for. So I watched, and watched, and watched, and WHAM! There they were, for sale, and I pounced.
Well, General’s must have had a bunch of leftover #2 boxes, because the #1s came in a box that had stickers placed over the #2 designations on the now repurposed boxes. Through the open window on the front of the box, the contents inside looked exactly like the old #2s. With trembling fingers, I pulled out the first pencil, twirled it gently in my hand, and read the imprint: U.S.A. General’s Cedar Pointe #333 – 2HB.
“2HB?” Must be my mistake, so I blinked hard, twice, and looked again: “U.S.A. General’s Cedar Pointe #333 – 2HB.” I put my hand over my mouth, looked wildly about my empty den, then began pulling out, and finally pouring out, the remaining contents of the box. Spinning the defenseless bald Cedar Pointes around on my desk, I rapidly scanned each barrel looking for the now damned “2HB” designation: 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1. What? I looked again at the first one I’d withdrawn: “2HB.”
Was I the victim of some cruel trick played upon hapless pencil aficionados?
Now that The Boy is into pencils, I feel like our house is going through another phase of fat pencils, to match the second phase of diapers and bottles. He only recently started using colored pencils and graphite. I started him on the My First Ticonderoga, the pencil that seemed to give his sister The Pencil Bug in 2012.
Last week, he climbed into chair at the dining room table and picked up his sister’s hand-sharpened Tri-Conderoga and drew on her art (which produced giggles and then screams from the artist, who was drawing some nice houses). Between that severe triangular shape and the fact that fat pencils are round and roll everywhere, I picked up some Musgrave Finger Fitter pencils. Hen, from Rad and Hungry, sent a wonderful assortment of some really nice, fat pencils from her travels to Charlotte about two years ago, and there was this huge, triangular pencil I’d never seen before in the package.* Amazon started carrying them recently. These current ones are made of some kind of different wood, and of course Musgrave packages them in a glorified sandwich bag these days.
Henry got started early this Saturday morning, though Charlotte has cranked out three drawings already, before I am finished my first large stein of coffee. Wait, seven. (What’s in that chocolate milk?)
*(I swear I didn’t steal any, even though I’m a lot bigger than a toddler.)
First, I gave him My First Crayola colored pencils. He liked them, but the points kept breaking when he dropped them from the highchair. I let him scribble with the first Blackwing MMX I ever had, a pre-production model (also the first pencil his sister ever held). He really liked that, with the minimal pressure required to make a mark. But when he started trying to chew the fancy ferrule, we gave him his own box of Crayola Write Start pencils, which are pretty danged hard to break. He was in Pencil Heaven, until he needed to go and take care of Nature’s call and to dumb bubbly water all over the dining room.
So now we have broken the Pencil Seal with Mr. Henry, whose pencil box is far from as impressive as his sister’s — though I think it might make a few grown-ups jealous.
We watched the 2014 WWII film Fury last night at HQ. There were two scenes involving the critical use of pencils. I won’t spoil anything if you haven’t seen it yet. Both scenes involved planning. WarDaddy’s pocket notebook (above, left) looks like the 3.5 X 5.5 inch books we are used to. It’s hard to tell if it’s a modern brand, a reproduction or even genuine (as the tanks are).
Wardaddy’s pencil looks like a charcoal or soft-core pencil with the factory sharpening, from the very round collar where the cone meets the barrel. I suggest charcoal because it looks like there is a matte carbon dust all over the wood.
(I assume these screenshots fall under “fair use” rules.)
My son handed me something that he got out of the diaper bag: a mechanical pencil. I said to him, “What’s that there, bud?” My innocent four-year-old daughter butted in and said it was, “A Bullshit Pencil.” We have talked about Mr. Rees’ book too much in our house. And I hope she does not say that at school.
(I do not actually think they are all bullpoop.)
I know that we write about the USA series from Write Dudes a lot. We reviewed the Golds and even reviewed the USA Silver. I love these pencils, and they keep getting better all of the time. I found a bizarre…error today, though, which worked out in my favor.
I was in a different part of town and wound up at a strange Walmart. I went to the pencil aisle immediately, and it smelled like cedar. I saw some 4-dozen packs of USA Silver pencils. I noticed that it said “premium wood,” and I sniffed the open part of the box.
I pulled open a box, and what I found inside delighted me: USA Gold pencils, with the plain silver USA Silver ferrule — and they were $5.99. That’s a buck and half per dozen. And they look amazing.
It’s not often that you find a genuine surprise, let alone an American made one. Anyone else notice an up-tick in Write Dudes’ pencil quality in the last season or two?
This was a few weeks ago. I took advantage of the house being empty for an hour or two and watched Hemingway & Gellhorn. It wasn’t great.
Prompted by both a thread on the Field Nuts group and a great post on The Finer Point, here are my pocket notebooks from late 2010 to the present, not counting the ones I am still using. Pictured above, 114 Full Field Notes. Below, other branded books, including the number/alphabet books that might be too large/thick to qualify for this category.
I have been meaning to do something like this for a while. But:
1) It feels like bragging.
2) It feels like confessing to a problem.
3) I am lazy.
I have a small stash of empty Field Notes and assorted other pocket notebooks around, but they will soon move to the full pile. I keep them in a Sam Adams box that is literally splitting because I am a creature of habit and have stuffed way more into that space than really fit.