KUM Masterpiece Instructions.

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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.

It Started Ten Years Ago Today.

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I was reading this book and bought these pencils. And my love of our Graphite Warrior was born.

Check out the old review of these pencils, and if you haven’t read A Moveable Feast, move yourself to get a copy somehow and read it.

Next week, Pencil Revolution turns nine years old.

I Think I Should Carry Mr. Rees’ Torch.

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Mr. David Rees, our favorite Artisanal Pencil Sharpener has hinted that he might hang up his Sharpener Hat:

When Rees started, he hoped every busted tip would lead the writer to pay for a sharpening. Instead, most customers order David’s pencil points and display them as artwork.
“The whole point of the business is to remind people to appreciate yellow, No. 2 pencils because they’re really cool and interesting,” he said. “And to make a ton of money.”
But at this point, work feels like work.
“You do anything long enough for money, it just starts to become a job,” he said.
So as he nears the nice round number of 2,000 sharpenings, Rees suggested that soon he’d like to clean out his sharpeners for good, leaving the world a much duller place.

(More…)

I am not going to kid myself and assume that I could do quite as sharp of a job as Mr. Rees does, but I think I could come close with enough practice. Of course I have one of his specially-sharpened pencils (which I should write a post about one of these days). It is a point to which one might rightly aspire! I think I could do it, while still accomplishing everything I manage to Get Done in a day. One more cup/pint of coffee a day could enable me to Transcend the normal amount of hours in a day and become an Artisanal Pencil Sharpener. As it is, I generally flutter above my chair.

(Check out our review of Mr. Rees’ fantastic book.)

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And, General’s, if you are reading this, you should totally send this apron to HQ! We LOVE (LOVE LOVE LOVE!) General’s Pencil Company at Pencil Revolution. I don’t think I know anyone who hasn’t received some of your fine pencils from me at some point. I am not being ironic or snarky or sarcastic when I say that everyone in my hipster neighborhood will see my smiling face in this apron.

Finally, check out this video of the neighborhood in which Comrades can find Pencil Revolution HQ. Indeed, most of these locations are within a two-minute walk, and my personal favorite restaurant is featured (Golden West Cafe’).

Hemingway Scrapbooks Made Public!

EHC385tApologies that this took so long to get out (and many Comrades probably already know about it, but just in case…). But, as Brian tells us, Hemingway’s family scrapbooks are not just available to the public. They are digitized and available to view for free online via the JFK Library, home to the Hemingway Collection! Check out the scrapbooks, where it looks like many passages are written in pencil. (And look at how that ink has faded!)

[Image credit.]

New Largest US Library.

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This is pretty cool and seems to warrant a trip to the Lone Star State, where I haven’t been in 11 years.

“There are thousands of abandoned big box stores sitting empty all over America, including hundreds of former Walmart stores. With each store taking up enough space for 2.5 football fields, Walmart’s use of more than 698 million square feet of land in the U.S. is one of its biggest environmental impacts. But at least one of those buildings has been transformed into something arguably much more useful: the nation’s largest library.”

Read more!

“Keep a Notebook”: Jack London.

7-7-10_jack3I’m not sure how popular Jack London is these days, but I’ve long been a fan. I read a piece today quoting Mr. London on success, and I thought I’d quote from this quotation.

“Keep a notebook. Travel with it, eat with it, sleep with it. Slap into it every stray thought that flutters up into your brain. Cheap paper is less perishable than gray matter, and lead pencil markings endure longer than memory.”

JackLondon-office-1916This is also the source of the differently-quoted line about inspiration:

“Don’t loaf and invite inspiration; light out after it with a club, and if you don’t get it you will none the less get something that looks remarkably like it.”

Jack London, “Getting into Print,” 1903, via The Art of Manliness.

E. A. Poe at the Pratt and Baltimore.

In another possibly Shameless Plug for my hometown and the location of Pencil Revolution HQ, I have to mention the excellent Poe Collection at the Pratt in Baltimore. The collection includes letters, art, and artifacts. Baltimore itself is a bastion Poe-dom. We have Poe’s body, interred at Westminister Hall and Burying Ground. As such, the Poe Toaster also visited our fair city annually. The Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum is in Baltimore, not far from Poe’s final resting place. Of course, we also have the most literary-ily named NFL team: The Baltimore Ravens.

For more…information (or, a fictional view which presents some new historical facts) about Mr. Poe’s death, Comrades are urged to read Matthew Pearl’s The Poe Shadow, which depicts mid-19th century Baltimore in a unique light, especially for natives of Charm City.

Finally, the recent film, The Raven, which was widely panned by critics, is actually a fun film, even if not filmed in Baltimore. If nothing else, James McTeigue‘s direction (as in V for Vendetta) was excellent.

Thoreau’s Pencils, Notetaking and Harvard.


Interesting news from a location about which I’ve been thinking a great deal lately, especially at this time of year, via Orange Crate Art and Notebook Stories.

Harvard University is hosting an exploration of note-taking called TAKE NOTE. Comrades can view the exhibits online, if you are too far from Cambridge to see them in person. One of the exhibits features the Brazil notebook of one of my very favorite philosophers, William James, and Thoreau’s pencils are also on display. This exhibit and conference are among the myriad reasons I wish I could visit my home (Massachusetts) of two years this autumn.

Book Review: How to Sharpen Pencils, by David Rees, Artisanal Pencil Sharpener.


How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical & Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening for Writers, Artists, Contractors, Flange Turners, Anglesmiths, & Civil Servants
by David Rees
Melville House
2012
224 pages

Mr. David Rees was kind enough to send us a review copy of his new book through his publisher, and we were eager to devour and review it. Mr. Rees has been making waves in the pencil world since opening his Artisanal Pencil Sharpening business in 2010. Just as that venture is surely no joke, John Hodgman assures, us in his foreword to the book, that the volume in question is surely no joke either:

So yes: YOU WILL LEARN THE PROPER WAY TO SHARPEN A PENCIL in this book. No joke (Rees 10).

Certainly, it is possible to seriously deliver information to other people while at the same time being ironic and downright hilarious. Some of the best teachers I have had certainly knew this to be true. To suggest that the book cannot be “serious” and really “about” how to sharpen pencils just because it is presented…the way that it is really amounts to precluding “real” information from anything that is funny. Such would be a sad world indeed. Boring, at least. In this case, the humor in Mr. Rees’ book functions as the proverbial “spoonful of sugar” – because, let’s face it: no matter how much we like pencils, an entire book based on the proper way[s] to sharpen them would likely wind up being moderately mind-numbing to a lot of people, even Comrades.

The question that most Comrades probably want answered about this book is: Will I learn something about sharpening pencils that I did not already know? Well, if not, then you probably have a lot to teach us, and I invite you to Charm City to do so. While some suggestions (like cleaning a burr sharpener with a toothbrush) might seem silly at first, I suspect this initial hint of the ridiculous comes from the strangeness of being overly fond of (ahem, obsessed with) pencils in the first place, so that we find ourselves seeking the best way to put points onto them. Personally, I am Okay with this outlook (and a toothbrush works great the clean The Machine on my bookshelf). Again, for myself, I learned a better way to approach sharpening a pencil with a knife, to be sure, and I will never again wonder how to use a wall-mounted sharpener that is higher than my merely average height can reach.

Of course, there are chapters one could view as humorous, such as the directions on the proper way to “use” an electric pencil sharpener, humor I cannot render justly in this review. Suffice it to say that it involves breaking and entering and a succession of hammers. Mr. Rees’ sense of irony and humor still suffuse the entire book.

Still, being trained in [academic] philosophy*, I find myself wondering what could be beneath the surface of this book, even if it is really “about” sharpening pencils. Mr. Thoreau’s Walden, for example, certainly admits to many different readings, beneath instruction and accounting. One such reading I have come to prefer of Mr. Rees’ book is that of being subtly critical of our era of mechanization and…globally sourced products.

In a footnote on page 29, Mr. Rees comments that “Made in USA” is a mark of a quality pencil. When one considers how rare American-made pencils are these days, this comment seems to imply that quality pencils are becoming rare in the United States in general. No matter how much darker and smoother the new Chines Dixons are (I find the Mexican versions scratchy, light and all but worthless), they are not really Dixons to me. The pencil’s “Americanness” was such a part of its identity – which might also mean its quality – that I can’t look at the current Dixons I have around the same way as I could six years ago, not without forcing myself to ignore their “story.”

Mr. Rees also comes out and criticizes our era outright. He writes:

This is not to say that we should take imperfection as our goal. One of the dysfunctions of our age is the conflation of shoddiness with authenticity, and we must resist this confusion in our practice – especially in those circumstances where sloppy craftsmanship could diminish a pencil’s utility (Rees 52).

But perhaps we can best see Mr. Rees’ criticism of modern culture in Chapter 13: How to Use an Electric Pencil Sharpener. He lists ways in which a troubadour-esque Artisanal Pencil Sharpener might identify a home in which an electric sharpener resides. Two of the criteria are: “Closely mowed lawn indicates a preoccupation with orderliness, and yet…Disorderly porch indicates limited free time” (Rees 132). A home containing an electric pencil sharpener is inhabited by individuals who want order but who do not have time for it. Whether the lack of time is from over-employment (from a recession in which more than one job is necessary or from a habit of spending too much time earning money to buy materials and services which one does not need) or badly invested energies and attention, this seems to be a symptom of our age. We want order/peace/etc. but do not go after this with what would amount to any serious vigor.

I might venture so far as to claim that a lot of the attention which Mr. Rees has received as a result of his business and his book proves him largely correct about our culture. We are not a people who enjoy craftsmanship in itself – at least not enough to actually pay for it. Comrades can witness the retreat of American pencil manufacturing in the name of profit and/or “lower prices!” to see the value which our society places on quality work – even when rejecting it means that the company for which our own Norman Rockwell painted ads moves production out of the USA. And, with the trend in “artisanal” stuff and services and foods, we see that we are seldom even willing to pay for craftsmanship – when we do – for its own sake. Rather, we pay a premium for artisanal coffees and foot scrubs because of a fad. Do we do this to assuage our consumer guilt because our hand-crafted breadbox is full of corn-fructosed breadstuffs from a discount store? Are we really connecting with craftspeople or our past/roots? Are we merely displaying our goodness for all to see when we buy hand-roasted spices? To be sure, there are those whose sincerity might match that of Mr. Rees. But I think a lot of people are paying attention because this is a person who truly takes craftsmanship seriously.

In any case, I can think of several reasons that I enjoyed this book and why I would heartily recommend it to Comrades everywhere. Stepping down from my accidental trip to the soapbox: This book is really a must-read for anyone interested in pencils. And there are well-placed lines likely to render you, as I was, doubled over in laughter. But what I enjoyed most about Mr. Rees’ book was reading something written with such sincerity by a person who obviously does what he does with care. His carefulness spreads onto the pages and leaves me regretful that I am not really careful enough about anything to write a whole book about it.

* Edit: I realize now how pretentious this probably sounds. My academic background is usually just the excuse I give for not having [m]any “skills.”