All Hat No Cattle?

[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.

04 Drawer and Handle

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?

05 Front

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.

Need Spare Parts? “No Parts for You!”
Need Spare Parts? “No Parts for You!”

Here are the results produced by the El Casco M-430:

Spectacular Points
Spectacular Points
The Five El Casco-Sharpened Pencils in the Middle Need a Bath.
The Five El Casco-Sharpened Pencils in the Middle Need a Bath.
Nice Points, Grungy Wood and Dented Pencils
Nice Points, Grungy Wood and Dented Pencils
Stephen Doesn’t Like Dents.
Stephen Doesn’t Like Dents.
And Stephen Hates Long Dents in His Blackwing 602s.
And Stephen Hates Long Dents in His Blackwing 602s.

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.

***

Blooper Reel

Stephen’s Rabid Greyhound: 1 part vodka to 3 parts quality pink grapefruit juice, served on ice.

Pro Tip: Save the Rabid Greyhounds for After the Review.
Pro Tip: Save the Rabid Greyhounds for After the Review.

Frankenstein’s Sharpener!

[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:
01 CF, A5P, Dec, CP80 04

Unranked order, left to right: Unmodified Angry Devil, Carl Angel-5 Premium body with Angry Devil burr assembly, Carl Decade body with Angry Devil burr assembly, Unmodified Carl CP-80
Unranked order, left to right: Unmodified Angry Devil, Carl Angel-5 Premium body with Angry Devil burr assembly, Carl Decade body with Angry Devil burr assembly, Unmodified Carl CP-80

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.

Ranked order, steppin’ out: The proud hybrid Carl Decade, followed by the “Modification? We don’t need no stinkin’ modification!” Carl CP-80, the Carl Angel-5 hybrid and, in satisfying last place, the unmodified Angry Devil.
Ranked order, steppin’ out: The proud hybrid Carl Decade, followed by the “Modification? We don’t need no stinkin’ modification!” Carl CP-80, the Carl Angel-5 hybrid and, in satisfying last place, the unmodified Angry Devil.

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.

Our verdict: Confirmed.

Popular Purple: The New Classroom Friendly Sharpener.

plate

Sometimes review samples come to HQ that make waves. The mountain books from Word. were such a package, as most of the books disappeared in a few days. Last week, we received a package from Classroom Friendly Supplies. This sharpener has brought out Comrade Charlotte’s Fight Face (a photo of which I will spare you because it’s frightening). You see, Charlotte has here own matte pink sharpener, and she wanted this one also. I mentioned that she’d have to fight another household member who would want it. She clenched her teeth and fists and said, “Grrrrrrrr!”

withpink

That’s the best way I can sum up the color of this sharpener. The color is closer to pink than to a violet, though it’s definitely very very purple. There’s something delightfully Halloweenish about this color.

withpumpkin
The many virtues of the Classroom Friendly Sharpener I did describe nearly five Pencil Years ago in this glowing review.

People ask we pencil bloggers and podcasters all of the time what a good crank sharpener should be. While the infamous bite marks can be somewhat problematic, any Comrade wielding a pencil mightily might resolutely remain unannoyed at an aesthetic hiccup, with the insanely long and concave points we can get from this sharpener.

If you like long points, and if you like purple, go buy this sharpener.

[This sharpener was sent to HQ for free, from review purposes. Opinions are still those of the Staff and Guard at Pencil Revolution.]

Pencil Sharpener Shootout: Stephen and Son Take Aim.

[Many thanks to Stephen and Hunter for another Amazing Review! Stay tuned next week, as PENCIL REVOLUTION TURNS TEN YEARS OLD. We are picking up a few USPS Flatrate boxes for some sweet giveaway action.]

Pencil Sharpener Shootout

No Amigos
No Amigos

No Amigos

Yes, This Kind of Shootout

AKA Father and Son Pencil Sharpener Review

AKA My Journey to Pencil Sharpener Satisfaction II

Readers of My Journey to Pencil Sharpener Satisfaction may recall my top selections among three different types of sharpeners:

Electric: School Smart Electric Heavy-Duty
Hand Crank: Mitsubishi Uni KH-20
Hand Held: KUM / Palomino / Blackwing Automatic Long Point Sharpener

I compared sharpeners, wrote my review, and I was done.

The Mitsubishi Uni KH-20’s primary challengers for the title of “Best Hand Crank” were the Carl CP-80 and Classroom Friendly / Carl Angel-5. After the review, I took my leftover Carl CP-80 into work and began using it there as my work sharpener while my newly abandoned School Smart Electric looked on, forlorn, with its single cyclops eye. And then a funny thing happened. I began to think I might actually like the Carl CP-80 better than my Mitsubishi Uni KH-20. Sure, the Carl took more effort to hold down while using it, especially for that first sharpening, but I started wondering if it was producing a better and more elongated point than the Mitsubishi I was using at home.

Could I have been wrong? Of course not, because, as my wife will attest, I am never wrong. There was enough doubt, however, that I felt compelled to take a second look. And while at it I probably ought to give a fair comparison to the Classroom Friendly / Carl Angel-5 rather than just dismiss it outright because of the unbridled brutality it unleashes on every unfortunate pencil barrel that stumbles into its path. Maybe, just maybe, it was also time to see if the Classroom Friendly’s reputation for a spectacular point really did outweigh its penchant for wanton destruction.

And this time I’d recall to active duty my trusty co-reviewer and son, Hunter.

A few notes on three sharpeners before we commence with the results of the review:

Classroom Friendly/Carl Angel-5

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.

$17 Million Eberhard Faber Blackwing Prototype Sharpened by Classroom Friendly
$17 Million Eberhard Faber Blackwing Prototype Sharpened by Classroom Friendly

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.

Minor Bite Marks Left by Classroom Friendly
Minor Bite Marks Left by Classroom Friendly

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.

Carl CP-80

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

04 Our Gunfighters Face Off in the Middle of a Dusty Street

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
Pros:
1. Leaves a slightly, and I mean slightly, longer point than the Mitsubishi Uni KH-20
Cons:
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
Pros:
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
Cons:
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
Cons:
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

05 Left to Right Carl CP-80, Mitsubishi Uni KH-20, Classroom Friendly aka  Carl Angel-5

Left to Right: Carl CP-80, Mitsubishi Uni KH-20, Classroom Friendly / Carl Angel-5
Left to Right: Carl CP-80, Mitsubishi Uni KH-20, Classroom Friendly / Carl Angel-5
Police Helicopter Photo of Post-Shootout Carnage
Police Helicopter Photo of Post-Shootout Carnage
Triumphant Carl CP-80s
Triumphant Carl CP-80s
Mitsubishis Nearly Wiped Out, Guts Spilled on Street
Mitsubishis Nearly Wiped Out, Guts Spilled on Street
Vanquished Classroom Friendlies
Vanquished Classroom Friendlies

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

Evenness

1. Carl CP-80
2. Classroom Friendly / Carl Angel-5
3. Mitsubishi Uni KH-20

Point

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.

Left to Right: Carl CP-80, Mitsubishi Uni KH-20, School Smart Electric, Classroom Friendly, KUM/Palomino/Blackwing Automatic Long Point

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.

In Order of Preference, Left to Right: Carl CP-80, Mitsubishi Uni KH-20, School Smart Electric, Classroom Friendly, Hand Held: KUM / Palomino / Blackwing Automatic Long Point (Satellite Image Courtesy of NASA)
In Order of Preference, Left to Right: Carl CP-80, Mitsubishi Uni KH-20, School Smart Electric, Classroom Friendly, Hand Held: KUM / Palomino / Blackwing Automatic Long Point
(Satellite Image Courtesy of NASA)

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.)

Three Types of Sharpeners, Reviewed.

From left to right, points made with: Blackwing Long Point; KUM 1-Hole Long Point; KUM Brass Wedge Single Hole 300-1
From left to right, points made with: Palomino Blackwing Automatic Long Point, KUM 1-Hole Long Point, KUM Brass Wedge Single Hole 300-1 — School Smart Electric Heavy-Duty, Panasonic KP-310 — Mitsubishi Uni KH-20, Carl CP-80

[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

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.

Carl CP-80
Carl CP-80

Carl CP-80
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.

Mitsubishi Uni KH-20; School Smart Electric Heavy-Duty; Blackwing  Long Point
Mitsubishi Uni KH-20; School Smart Electric Heavy-Duty; Blackwing Long Point

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
Noris tub
M&R Round double-hole (brass)
Tutior-Juwel (vintage)
Classroom Friendly
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!]

KUM Masterpiece Instructions.

kummp5
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.

A Halloween Sharpener.

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Let’s play “Find the Halloween pencil sharpener!”

IMG_3756
Jetpens sent over a package to HQ today which included this cool little ghost sharpener. To be honest, I’ve eyed this up for years, though I assumed it was smaller in person. It’s actually got a nice reservoir for shavings, and it’s easy to open.

IMG_3758
Inside is a KUM “Narrow Wedge” in black plastic. Both the wedge itself and the blade are replaceable, meaning this this spooky little fellow could grace your Halloween pencil adventures for years to come.

IMG_3759
The point is your standard KUM-Wedged (let’s make that a new verb for the lexicon) business end. The point is a little short, but not overly so.

IMG_3761
This is also the first pencil sharpener I own that glows in the dark. They must have improved this substance since I was a kid in the 80s because it definitely glows more brightly than the toys I had.*

*Or is it the CFL bulbs we didn’t have back then?

Review of Staedtler’s THE PENCIL, 2 of 2.

wholedeal
Yesterday, we took a long look at the cap/extender/sharpener of The Pencil. Today, we will finish our review by looking at the Luxury Wopex pencils that come with it.

styli

Depending on which end you pick up, you might notice that the pencil is black all of the way through to the core, or you might notice that the pencil is topped with a silver-mounted stylus, for use on modern touchscreen devices. I was joking IRL that I can’t figure out how to use a stylus correctly, though I can use these as well as I can use any others I have tried. And other Comrades at HQ had no problems getting them to work. So they are not merely a gimmick to include a feature missing on all of the Faber-Castell Perfect Pencils. They really give this tool another function, one which it performs well.

The silver plastic that holds the stylus is well-attached and fits perfectly into the Cap Assembly when The Pencil’s pencil gets too short to comfortably use. I have found that these pencils roll off of a table much more easily, but while stuck into the cap, this is no issue at all, since the cap square — and clipped to boot.

barrel
If you picked up the point first, you’d notice a black pencil. A Black Pencil. Where the other Wopexen I have had the pleasure to use have a layer of rubbery material extruded on top of the “wooden” part, these are “unfinished” in a way, with lines running down the length of the pencils. The result is a Dry-Grip (not unlike an unfinished pencil) — and if you’re a Wopex fan like myself, a new Wopex experience. These round pencils are fantastic to hold and write with, and I hope very much that Staedtler might produce a round Wopex, perhaps even to replace their discontinued stenography pencil.*

These pencils run a bit shorter than a regular pencil. I thought that illustrating it with a new Neon Wopex would drive the point (!) home better than a number would. This is The Pencil’s pencil with the factory sharpening.

withwopexcapoff

withwopexcapon

Of course, the shorter pencil allows you to use your extender more quickly. Largely, though I think they made the pencils shorter because a full-sized pencil would never fit into a pocket with the Cap Assembly from The Pencil on it.

writingsample

The core of this pencil is everything you like (or don’t) about writing with a Wopex. It’s smooth, smear-resistant, light and somewhat tricky to sharpen at first. I know some Comrades do not enjoy them, but I love Wopexen enough that I actively collect them — something I rarely do with a particular pencil, especially one whose examples are usually not available to me in my home country.

So…is The Pencil better than Faber-Castell’s Perfect Pencil? To be sure, that’s personal. For my daily carry before reviewing this pencils, I toted around the Castell 9000 version of the Perfect Pencil. It is light and inexpensive and sort of glides under the radar in my pocket, looking like a pen. My platinum version sits in The Archive most of the time, because of its cost but, mostly, because of its weight. I do not have the UFO version.**

Staedtler’s The Pencil is sort of a different animal in some respects. For one, it looks more “modern” than the F-CPPs, and the stylus ends scream to be used in a way that platinum caps do not. Not being made of heavy metal, this is as portable as cap/extender/sharpeners come, with a nice eraser hidden in there for good measure. Whether or not it merits daily carry depends on one’s tastes and budget. I have to say that I am glad I took photos before I used and abused and reviewed The Pencil, because one of the black pencils is now fairly short, and I have been carrying this around quite a bit. It’s won a spot in my portable rotation when I have a shirt pocket in which to…display it. It does come with a little Strut.***

Comrades can purchase The Pencil set for $79. Replacement pencils are also available, for $19.

*Especially since the Wopex is so often noted for its point retention and resistance to smearing, a round Wopex would be a terrific stenography pencil.
**Though, Faber-Castell, if you’re reading this, SEND US ONE IN BROWN! We promise a great review. I have been drooling over this for a decade and have never pulled the proverbial trigger.
***Trademark pending.

(This set was provided to us by Staedtler North America, free of charge. Opinions, impressions, analyses and images are my own.)

Review of Staedtler’s THE PENCIL, 1 of 2.

closeup
Now this is a piece of Pencil Beauty, and I hope I do it justice. A week after we received Primo Neon Wopexen at HQ, we received The Pencil. That is that name for Staedtler’s relatively new luxury pencil cap/extender/sharpener/eraser. Think of this as Staedtler’s answer to Faber-Castell’s Perfect Pencil, with an adage worthy of Don Draper’s best work.*

box

The Pencil is a set of three unique pencils made of Wopex material, with stylus tips where you might expect erasers — and a cap which houses a hidden (really) sharpener, an excellent eraser and also functions as an extender. We’ll look at the Cap Assemply first.

IMG_3643

disassembledThe cap is plastic. Stephen pointed this out in his great review last year, and I was among those disappointed that this was not made of metal. However, I think that knowing it was plastic before I held it prepared me enough that I appreciate that it does not weigh as much as the platinum-plated Faber-Castell version, which can be somewhat awkward to carry.

The far end has a cap which displays the Staedtler logo, in a tasteful fashion. The sharpener can be used with the Cap Assembly in one piece or with it exploded, as you can see. There is a slot in the side of the cap which allows the ejection of pencil shavings. This allows a better grip than the Perfect Pencil that I carry around daily, which only has the sharpener attached to the very tip of the top. The clip is metal and sturdy, sticking well to everything to which I have stuck it. I don’t own a digital scale, but the weight of the entire cap is what I would call pleasing. It has enough weight to feel sturdy, but it’s certainly no Pocket Anchor. There is some play while the pencil is inserted into the cap, largely because the pencil is held in some sort of Mechanism which allows it to rotate, making possible the In-Cap Sharpening. It never really bothered me, since I did not use it for long as an extender because my The Pencil was not short enough to require it. The Cap Assembly holds onto The Pencil, though there is no Death Grip to leave makes on your Luxury Wopex. I am not certain why the Cap Assembly comes apart, if it’s not just to make it possible to clean out shavings and graphite residue, which is something that plagues the best of us — and something which I am very glad to be able to get rid of, should it arise from what I’ve discovered are notoriously dusty pencils (Wopexen).

The shapener produces a nicely-angled point. Here is the factory sharpening, next to the result produced by the included sharpener.
pointcomp
Putting a point on a Wopex is something that puts strain on a sharpener, and this one performs well, shaving thin layers of extruded wood flour and graphite.
shavings

The eraser works very well, though I would only use it in a pinch. Staedtler tells us that they do not currently offer replacements, and this is an eraser whose existence and presence I’d like to count on when I find myself pushing a stroller with nothing on me but this device and a coffeeshop receipt on which to scroll that Brilliant Idea about Existence that I will keep to myself.

Perhaps best of all, the Cap Assembly fits normal pencils as well. My fancy Faber-Castell version does not, and the refills are expensive. Not only does this cap fit a regular Wopex; the silver looks great with the colors of Wopexen available to us here in North America.
wopexincap

We certainly don’t mean that we are not using the Luxury Wopexen that came with this set. And as this review is getting long, we’ll cut this in half and let WordPress self-publish a post dedicated to the pencils in this set tomorrow. (Stay tuned!)

*I am wondering (and I mean this without snark but with earnest excitement) if Faber-Castell is cooking up an “answer” to the Wopex.)

(This set was provided to us by Staedtler North America, free of charge. Opinions, impressions, analyses and images are my own.)

Review of KUM Special Diameter Sharpener.

spdiam_1

Our friends at Jet Pens sent this in the early summer, and it somehow got left in the “drafts” folder. Summer vacation is officially over as of this morning, and it’s time to finally finish this review of the KUM Special Diameter Sharpener.

I was confused, at first, by the graphics on this sharpener. They show two triangular and two octagonal pencils, each of two sizes. With the triangular being first and the word “special,” my Summer Brain thought it meant that this sharpener was for differently shaped pencils. But the name clearly denotes differently sized pencils, and the innards support this — as does Common Sense and basic reading comprehension. The innards are simply a double-holed KUM wedge. This is not at all disappointing to me, since this is generally one of my go-to sharpeners, especially for Fat Pencils.

This sharpener is a covered wedge, with a mechanism of sorts which can slide over the holes, to prevent shavings and graphite dust from escaping. Here it is, unassembled.

spdiam_3

What you get is a very portable container sharpener that can sharpen nearly everything you’re likely to have on your person or in your bag or on your desk. In theory, I love it. But I thought I’d throw two sizes of a pencil which is…not as easy to sharpen as, say, a Ticonderoga — the obvious choice for differently-sized pencils of the same type. This is the Faber-Castell Grip 2001 and the Jumbo Grip. The former is certainly not cedar, but the latter is. However, being Fat and Triangular, it is not an easy pencil to sharpen in a blade sharpener.

spdiam_4

The sharpener itself did a great job, producing a semi-short point. However, as you can see below, the black plastic body of the case marred the finish on my Jumbo Grip. This is likely at least partly User Error; I basically stuck the pencil in and twisted it violently (as you can see, perhaps). But I am pleased with the point that the KUM wedge puts on Fat Pencils, for a nice, Stubby point. I usually keep my Fat Pencils a little more…blunt, but I wanted to see what this sharpener could produce.

spdiam_6

For the price (a little over $3), this is a great container sharpener. You might be able to see that I have scratched the clear plastic up, carrying it around a lot in my Diaper Bag and pocket. There are a few similar sharpeners from KUM floating around HQ. But they are not mine and not as “grown-up” looking as this little guy. Of course, you might ask how grown-up a man can look, using Fat Pencils. Certainly.