[This wonderful post is both written and illustrated by Pencil Hero Vivian Wagner. Many thanks to Vivian for allowing us to publish this fantastic piece!]
I doodle. I admit it. I doodle a lot. In fact, around a third of what fills my notebooks when I’m presumably writing is actually doodling. Drawing circles, squares, wine bottles, flowers, scribbles, bird silhouettes, random buildings, peculiar faces. Sometimes I just use whatever I’m writing with – often, lately, a pencil – to fill in an area with cross-hatching. It’s what I do. I can’t imagine writing longhand without doodling.
What I’m finding is that though doodling might seem secondary to the work of writing, it’s actually central to my process. It gives my brain a chance to pull away from whatever I’m focusing on, become a little daydreamy. And in that liminal, relaxed, seemingly unfocused space, I make connections. I have new thoughts. I imagine different directions. And I return to my writing refreshed, calm, and ready to think about it anew. Doodling is like a little vacation, but without all the hassle.
I’m realizing, too, that my affection for doodling is one of the main reasons I like to write longhand. Sure, there are ways to doodle on a screen. There are apps for that, and I’ve experimented with them, especially on my iPad. But there’s something vital about the visceral laying down of graphite, ink, or pigment. This, too, is part of the process. The physicality of writing and doodling on paper keeps me grounded and helps me remember that I inhabit a body, that I live on a planet. My hand’s movements across the page link me to the electricity firing in my brain, to the sound of rain and wind, to the feel of my chair sliding on the floor.
Usually, even when I’m composing on my MacBook Air – which I’m doing with this essay, in fact – I’ll have an open notebook next to my keyboard, along with a few sharpened graphite and colored pencils and pens. Every few minutes, I’ll stop typing, turn to my notebook – in this case Baron Fig’s Metamorphosis, which, by the way, has wonderful paper for both doodling and writing – and absentmindedly scratch out a few lines and shadings. Sometimes, too, I’ll flip back to earlier doodles in my notebook, looking for pencil drawings that I can fill in with color. In this way, my doodles become my own self-created, anxiety-relieving coloring pages.
I usually don’t show anyone my doodles. They’re not art, really. They’re not meant for any outside audience, any more than my unedited handwritten pages are. But they’re a record of a mind at work, and an integral part of my creative process. Nothing that I write and publish is ever done without the shadow world of my doodles behind it, and I’m grateful for all the analog tools that allow me to experiment, to assay my way through my thoughts and world.
Probably most people doodle, secretly, on the corners of to-do lists or the backs of envelopes. I’d like to just give all of us permission and encouragement to keep doodling. Keep making marks. Doodling is like doing yoga, meditating, vacationing, brainstorming, improvising, daydreaming, and even sleeping. It’s not secondary to our real work. It is our real work.
And, besides, it’s fun.
Vivian Wagner writes and doodles in New Concord, Ohio, where she teaches English at Muskingum University. She’s the author of a memoir, Fiddle: One Woman, Four Strings, and 8,000 Miles of Music (Citadel-Kensington), and a poetry collection, The Village (Kelsay Books). Visit her website at www.vivianwagner.net.
[We are very lucky to have another contribution from the Watts, whose posts are becoming the most popular on Pencil Revolution!]
Myth: Transplanting the guts of a Classroom Friendly / Carl Angel-5 into another Carl sharpener will allow you to receive the same great point without inflicting grievous wounds to your pencils.
My son Hunter and I have run the gauntlet on a quest to discover what, for us, constitutes the single best sharpener. In a series of three reviews (the first is linked within this second review and the third is pasted within at the bottom as a comment), we decided the Classroom Friendly / Carl Angel-5 (these two euphemisms will hereafter be joined and referred to more accurately as the Angry Devil) produced the best point overall, but the Carl CP-80 produced a point nearly as good but without raining down violence upon innocent pencils. Hunter and I already have our own CP-80s; unfortunately, if you don’t and you’re not a resident of Australia or New Zealand, you’ll need to hop on a ship headed that way because CP-80s seem to have gone extinct everywhere else. That leaves the naughtily-named Carl Sinfeel as the best currently available non-mangling long-point producing sharpener of all that we’ve tested.
Once again, we were done, but then Javier from the Erasable Facebook community posted the results of his transplanting the burr assembly from an Angry Devil to a Carl Angel-5 Premium sharpener body and receiving the same great point but without maiming his pencils as described in this Bleistift review.
Javier had me wondering if we could prove or disprove that exchanging the burr assemblies would give us the point we wanted from the Angry Devil via the donor body of another, less destructive Carl sharpener. I didn’t expect this experiment to pan out. Surely there is a reason the Angry Devil so stubbornly retains its Jaws of Death. Maybe a pit bull-like grip really does help produce such stellar results.
Hunter and I went to work and transplanted the burrs from two Angry Devils into a Carl Angel-5 Premium and a Carl Decade. A third, unaltered Angry Devil and a reference, unaltered Carl CP-80 joined in the fun. Below are the sharpeners with their resulting points:
If we ignore the wood creep in our results, all versions of the Angry Devil – the original unmodified Angry Devil and the two hybrids with Angry Devil burr assemblies – produced equal results. We were surprised by this and infer that wood-damaging teeth are not needed in a clutch to produce a spectacular point.
This being real life, we can’t ignore wood creep, so here are our actual results:
1. In a stunning turn of events, the Carl Decade body with Angry Devil guts produced the best overall point. I will admit to harboring an unhealthy obsession that compels me to see the Angry Devil brought to its teensy hidden knees but, in spite of my bias, we did not expect anything to outdo the unmodified Angry Devil. We were wrong. Oh happy day.
2. The Carl CP-80 produced the second best overall point. Why do we keep featuring the CP-80 in our reviews when you can no longer buy them in the Northern Hemisphere? I don’t know; at this point, it just seems mean. Perhaps that’s it; I’m just mean. Anyway, if you ever have a chance to drive to Australia and grab one of these, do so.
3. The Carl Angel-5 Premium with Angry Devil innards produced the third best point. We were surprised by this and assumed it would outdo the Decade because its body was similar to the Angry Devil’s. Not so in our case.
4. We were astonished to discover the unmodified Angry Devil produced the most wood creep. I’m sitting alone in my den right now maniacally clapping my hands together because placing this wood-chomping mechanical robot beaver dead last brings me such joy.
Truthfully, although we ranked the results, all four sharpeners did well and we were quite surprised to see the wood creep coming from the unmodified Angry Devil. To rule out the possibility of it being pencil-related, we added the Palomino Blackwing 602s which were not originally part of the test. While it was likely an anomaly occurring with just this one sharpener, we can’t dispute the fact that it did happen and we obtained better results from transplanted Angry Devil guts than with Angry Devil guts in the original Angry Devil body.
The purpose of this MythBusters episode was to evaluate the veracity of the claim that one can transplant the burr assembly of an Angry Devil sharpener into the pencil-friendly donor body of another Carl product yet still obtain the same degree of point perfection.
[Many thanks to Stephen and Hunter for another Amazing Review! Stay tuned next week, as PENCIL REVOLUTION TURNS TEN YEARS OLD. We are picking up a few USPS Flatrate boxes for some sweet giveaway action.]
Electric: School Smart Electric Heavy-Duty
Hand Crank: Mitsubishi Uni KH-20
Hand Held: KUM / Palomino / Blackwing Automatic Long Point Sharpener
I compared sharpeners, wrote my review, and I was done.
The Mitsubishi Uni KH-20’s primary challengers for the title of “Best Hand Crank” were the Carl CP-80 and Classroom Friendly / Carl Angel-5. After the review, I took my leftover Carl CP-80 into work and began using it there as my work sharpener while my newly abandoned School Smart Electric looked on, forlorn, with its single cyclops eye. And then a funny thing happened. I began to think I might actually like the Carl CP-80 better than my Mitsubishi Uni KH-20. Sure, the Carl took more effort to hold down while using it, especially for that first sharpening, but I started wondering if it was producing a better and more elongated point than the Mitsubishi I was using at home.
Could I have been wrong? Of course not, because, as my wife will attest, I am never wrong. There was enough doubt, however, that I felt compelled to take a second look. And while at it I probably ought to give a fair comparison to the Classroom Friendly / Carl Angel-5 rather than just dismiss it outright because of the unbridled brutality it unleashes on every unfortunate pencil barrel that stumbles into its path. Maybe, just maybe, it was also time to see if the Classroom Friendly’s reputation for a spectacular point really did outweigh its penchant for wanton destruction.
And this time I’d recall to active duty my trusty co-reviewer and son, Hunter.
A few notes on three sharpeners before we commence with the results of the review:
The Classroom Friendly/Carl Angel-5 is the pencil sharpener equivalent of a hungry crocodile. Imagine if crocodiles were permitted to have pet dogs. A crocodile, like the Tyrannosaurus Rex, has embarrassingly teensy arms which serve no useful purpose other than to flop about and humiliate the rest of the body. A crocodile, in order to pet its pet dog, would have to grip the dog with its crocodilian teeth. This, dear readers, is exactly how the Classroom Friendly/Carl Angel-5 operates. The resellers of these sharpeners had a dilemma: “How do we get people to look past the inherit savagery of these products? I know! We’ll come up with names that signal ‘Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward Men!’”
“Classroom Friendly” evokes images of little schoolchildren. Happy little schoolchildren. Friendly, happy little schoolchildren. You certainly wouldn’t expect something that is “classroom friendly” to EAT the occupants of the classroom, now would you?
“Angel-5” is, of course, angelic. Peaceful, floating on air, benign. Not something that would mangle your arm like a demonically possessed garbage disposal.
In my previous review, I mentioned that people get teary-eyed when they speak of these sharpeners, like they’re the Second Coming of Christ or Hillary Clinton. This sharpener required a test subject at least as hallowed as itself. After months of legal maneuvering, Hunter and I were finally granted access to the super-secret Eberhard Faber vault, located 3 miles beneath the NORAD complex inside Cheyenne Mountain, Wyoming. We were after the most elusive of all Blackwing pencils, one not even seen by Blackwing historian Sean Malone himself. The one, the only, Blackwing Prototype Version 601.9999. Only one of these pencils exists, and until now it had never been sharpened. In 2005, Sotheby’s Auction House estimated its value if sold at auction at over $17 million, and here we were, allowed to sharpen it using a Classroom Friendly!
I won’t go into a lot of bothersome detail here about the solemnity of the elaborate Eberhard Faber ceremony leading up to this historic moment, and will just ask you to look at the results below. Please note these images depict a dramatized recreation of events that did not actually occur.
We were curious as to whether or not the notorious Classroom Friendly “bite marks” would be left on this prototype Blackwing 602. Only upon close inspection did my carefully trained eye spot the well-documented “bite mark” effect.
Again, without going into bothersome detail, we’ll just say that Hunter and I were quickly and roughly ejected from the bowels of Eberhard Faber’s lair and we promptly returned home to resume the review.
The Carl CP-80 is a fine sharpener. The only reason I didn’t rank it even with or higher than the Mitsubishi Uni KH-20 was because it wasn’t as comfortable to use.
What About That New One Everyone’s Talking About?
If you were hoping I’d throw in the “I’m so special I come with my own special case” KUM Masterpiece hand held, you’re out of luck. That sharpener does not exist. It is only a myth — an urban legend. And even if it were real, it would still be one of those uncovered graphite-spewing Pig Pens of the pencil world and I have, literally, washed my hands of them.
On to the Review
As mentioned above, I enlisted Hunter’s assistance for this sharpener review. Hunter loves co-reviewing because he gets free stuff. This “gifting” is very easy for me because I don’t even have to do anything; he just walks off with the subjects of our reviews. I’ll walk into his room, notice something I thought I owned and say, “Hey, that’s just like mine!” and Hunter’s eyes frantically dart around the room as he attempts to nonchalantly whistle. Hunter cannot whistle, but because he saw this reaction in a cartoon, he believes this to be the proper way to project innocence. Regardless of his chronic issues with kleptomania, Hunter is an excellent reviewer who doesn’t fall for mob-mentality dismissiveness and recognizes quality over mythology. So he’s earned every single stolen item in his possession.
Let’s push the reset button on my previous sharpener review and go for two goals with this one:
1. Rank the fanged beast Classroom Friendly/Carl Angel-5 against the Mitsubishi Uni KH-20 and Carl CP-80
2. Slot into the above listing the School Smart Electric Heavy-Duty and hand held KUM/Palomino/Blackwing Automatic Long Point Sharpener
After checking the unsharpened pencils to ensure their cores were centered, we sharpened pencils in all five sharpeners. Hunter and I used two of each of the hand crank sharpeners for our review to guard against skewing of the results due to a defect in one sharpener. Let’s see where the hand cranks lined up:
#1: Carl CP-80
1. Leaves a slightly, and I mean slightly, longer point than the Mitsubishi Uni KH-20
2. Noisier than the Mitsubishi
3. Less stable than the Mitsubishi and requires substantially more effort to hold, especially for first sharpening
#2: Mitsubishi Uni KH-20
1. The quietest sharpener of all three
2. Although made of plastic, felt very sturdy
3. Nice long point
4. Felt very stable even during a pencil’s first sharpening
1. Very close call between this and the Carl CP-80, but the CP-80 has a slightly longer point
#3: Classroom Friendly/Carl Angel-5Pros:
1. By a hair, left the nicest and longest point of the three
2. Sturdy metal construction
3. More stable to use than the Carl CP-80
1. Noisier than the Mitsubishi Uni KH-20
2. Slightly longer point disguises an occasional wood creep like the other two sharpeners
3. Leaves “can’t miss them” indentations and as a pencil is repeatedly resharpened, a trail of these rings of bite marks forms on the pencils
What Does This Really Mean?
I expected a major differentiator of these three sharpeners would be the amount of wood creeping up the core, but to my surprise the differences were minor. Each of the three hand cranks produced similar results. That’s worth repeating, especially because we used two of each sharpener: Each of the three hand cranks produced similar results in the amount of “wood creep.”
The Mitsubishi was the easiest to use, felt the most stable during use, and was clearly the quietest of the three. The Classroom Friendly did barely earn its stellar reputation for producing the nicest point but this came at the cost of indentations in the pencil barrels, documented extensively in other reviews.
Hunter and I next ranked the sharpeners in four categories: Ease of use, evenness (wood creep), quality of point, and ranking via a point system of these other categories.
Ease of Use
1. Mitsubishi Uni KH-20
2. Classroom Friendly / Carl Angel-5
3. Carl CP-80
1. Carl CP-80
2. Classroom Friendly / Carl Angel-5
3. Mitsubishi Uni KH-20
1. Classroom Friendly / Carl Angel-5
2. Carl CP-80 (very close to a tie with #1)
3. Mitsubishi Uni KH-20
Rank via Point System Derived from Ease of Use, Evenness and Point
1. Classroom Friendly / Carl Angel-5
2. Carl CP-80
3. Mitsubishi Uni KH-20
Why Did We Rank the Classroom Friendly/Carl Angel-5 Dead Last When Your Own “Point System” Placed it at #1?
Hunter and I aren’t willing to accept the bite marks in the Classroom Friendly. For us, the difference in point quality did not outweigh the damage this sharpener incurs to pencil barrels. We do not believe wanton use of bared fangs is necessary to grip a pencil tightly enough to achieve point perfection. Modern technology is available and waiting to help us in this regard.
Let’s Promote Genetic Diversity
What happens if we take the unprecedented step of intermixing the species? We have so far obtained a father and son ranking of three terrific hand crank pencil sharpeners. Into this we’ll insert our School Smart Electric Sharpener and KUM/Palomino/Palomino Blackwing Two Stage Automatic hand held sharpener.
Our order of preference, and this is where some of our readers will begin hissing while using their fingers to make signs of the cross:
1. Carl CP-80
2. Mitsubishi Uni KH-20
3. School Smart Electric
4. Classroom Friendly/Carl Angel-5
5. KUM/Palomino/Blackwing Automatic Long Point hand held
Even though the School Smart left an industrial jaggedness to the sides of the sharpened cores, it still sharpened evenly and nicely without leaving bite marks in our pencils. I know; it’s heresy to rank an electric pencil sharpener ahead of the knighted Classroom Friendly/Carl Angel-5. Worse, perhaps, is that we placed the hand held KUM dead last.
You: Say what, Willis?
Me: Hunter and I are not Luddites.
The KUM Automatic Long Point hand held sharpeners require work to make a point that, when successfully accomplished, is so sharp it will snap off when first pressed to the paper. As you can see in the photo above, the results with the hand held are difficult to obtain with uniform precision. It takes too much work. There, I said it, and I am not ashamed. Hunter and I just like a nicely sharpened pencil without all the fuss and muss.
Why do people even use hand held sharpeners? I accept only one reason directly related to the purpose of creating a usable pencil point: tool portability.
Runners who run three miles a day do so for exercise. Runners who do marathons no longer run for exercise; there are other motivations. It’s the same with people who enjoy using hand held sharpeners. Unless they’re using them for their portability, they’re in it for the artistry of the skill or because, to them, it’s a fun pastime and challenge. Nothing wrong with that. It’s just not for Hunter and me.
And there we have it, the father and son ranking of three hand crank sharpeners interspersed with our top electric and top hand held sharpener. If you’d like a much more detailed description of how best to sharpen pencils, I encourage you to consult with the master himself, Mr. David Rees: Artisanal Pencil Sharpening.
(Thanks again to Stephen and Hunter for sharing with all Comrades the fruits of their search for pencil bliss! Images and text, S.W., used with kind permission.)
Around when we were lucky enough to have Caroline Weaver on Erasable, I begged asked Caroline if she’d be game for a paper interview: one wherein I’d write questions down and mail them to New York, and then she’d answer them in pencil and send these answers back to Baltimore. I am happy to present what I believe is the first Graphite Interview in the Stationery Blogosphere.*
*Please do correct me if I am mistaken.
Many thanks to Caroline! Stay tuned for two more CWPE-related posts, including The Field Guide to Visiting C.W. Pencil Enterprise and a post about my…ahem….three visits there from Baltimore this spring.
Inspired by this Mason jar pencil sharpener I forwarded to a few Comrades recently, Brian has created a jar-based pencil sharpener in less than a day. I was hoping one of the Creative Minds to whom I sent that email would attempt this, seeing as how I am…not very good at things like that or, at least, not confident in my competence. Beyond, a jar-based pencil sharpener by Brian in Baltimore:*
Well, here are some pics of my attempt to make a jar sharpener. Not too bad for a 15 minute first attempt, and shelling out a total of $.40. The trickiest thing was drilling the appropriate sized & spaced holes, and finding small enough screws. (I repurposed screws used to hold together a old audio cassette — a trick I highly recommend.) It works fine, but I would prefer a metal sharpener. Also, the one screw is a hair too close to the pencil hole — I’ll have to correct that the next time around. I am also not too sure how durable the set-up is — only time and use will tell if the screws will hold the plastic. If I were serious about making these I would contact the Dux Co. and try to buy some in bulk from them, with the pre-drilled screws. Also, I didn’t use a Mason jar this time around for fear of messing it up. What do ya think?
Personally, a large-ish clear container to hold a month’s shavings is attractive to me. I collect mine in a stoneware vessel my wife brought back from a trip this fall. (Then I store them for tinder.) My method is not pretty. It’s actually a little sooty. Brian told me this is a Faber-Castell sharpener he picked up at our local Plaza Art in Mt. Vernon. I can’t find a link, but I have two. They are very good little sharpeners, though the opening is a little narrow to accommodate Japanese pencils (Palomino, Hi-Uni, et. al.).
On July 8, 1918, Ernest Hemingway was wounded by a trench mortar in Italy, while working as an ambulance driver during WWI. It’s no secret that Papa is a Pencil Hero here at Pencil Revolution. But I thought this would be a good opportunity to draw attention to an excellent website.
Biographile is about discovering the world through biography and memoir.
I am one of those people who enjoys reading about the writers whose works I admire. As such, I enjoy that site immensely. Check out this piece on the writer with whom Baltimore likes to associate itself the most (such as The Ravens!). I have a large Poe biography that’s been gathering dust for a year and a half that I might have to heave down from the shelf and delve into soon.