[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.
The good folks at Baron Fig sent a set of their new Maker edition books to HQ recently, and this is just perfect, since I am staring down the last two dozen pages of my current journal.
I’ve ranted about this paper being Super Graphite Friendly on the Erasable Podcast on more than one occasion. The soft white paper is wonderful on the eyes and fits well with grey writing. While I enjoy the contrast of a very white page, sometimes the soothing paper fits well with the fainter grey of a pencil (vs. a very black pen). The texture is perfect for less-soft pencils. My German HB pencils get more use with this book, and when your humble blogger here grabs a pen first, the paper loves gel pen as much as it loves the Better Angel of graphite.
I find these books to be extremely relaxing. I have a Pandora station called “pencils and flannel” which revolves around mellow music I enjoy while writing in my journal at night. I curl up on my graphite colored couch with headphones and something caffeinated, with an assortment of pencils, and I just write for a spell. I am finishing up the Three-Legged Juggler Confidant that I received for Christmas. The soft paper and tactile cover fit perfectly with a wind-down session at the end of the day, and I imagine these books would be friendly companions for morning pages as well.
The covers are fabric-covered, with the fabric being super tight. The lack of stiff backing in the spine really does allow these books to open fully. Completing the Lap Effect, the backing that is in the covers is extremely stiff. I often sit and write on one of those large clipboards used by Comrades with actual Artistic Talent, and this is unnecessary with a Confidant. The Maker edition is several shades darker than the “regular” Confidant. I don’t own a regular one; so I can’t take a comparison photo. But this is a similarly mellow grew, just more…Pencilicious.
The new Maker Apprentice is darker also, coming in with a nice, warm grey. These put me in mind of a muggy, rainy day. They make me want some strong iced coffee with condensed milk. These little books are handy for toting around, and they have a lot of pages. This makes Charlotte happy, when she forgot to bring something to color in and mooches Daddy’s supplies. I have beaten one of the Lightbulb edition books up pretty badly, and it stayed Healthy and Strong. I enjoy the contrasting stitching.
A lot. The gold bookmark on the Confidant got me when it came out. These are some of the touches that set Baron Fig apart.
Many thanks to Baron Fig for the review samples! Get one of these while the getting is good. These don’t last forever.
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.