Analog tools

Pencil Sharpeners

In 1971 my parents bought a house whose previous owners had left a hand-crank pencil sharpener attached to a stud near the head of the stairs to the basement. The sharpener had a red plastic shaving container, and it was old. I think it was a Berol. Unlike the sharpeners at school, it didn’t chew up the pencil or wobble or break points. Although it had a single hole, it could even sharpen thicker pencils and color pencils. It was fabulous. My father took it with him when we moved, but alas, forgot to move it when they sold that house. I am still in mourning that sharpener which reliably sharpened pencils despite heavy use.

In graduate school, I was translating so much and using color pencils to annotate and mark up drafts that I asked for an electric pencil sharpener one Christmas. I got a Boston sharpener, and it was perfectly adequate but it wants to consume pencils rather than sharpen them. While I’m not an artisanal pencil sharpener, and have no intention of writing a book about the sharpening of pencils, I like the smell of cedar, and I find the necessary pause I take to sharpen a pencil a helpful reminder to get up and move and breathe a little before writing some more. Consequently I have opinions about pencil sharpeners.

Apsara red long point sharpener
Apsara Long Point Sharpener

I received my first Apsara Long Point sharpener in a box
of Apsara Platinum pencils, and soon bought a box of 20 Apsara Long Point Sharpeners for $5.00. The Apsara Long Points are astonishingly good when used with a little care. The Apsara quickly became my go-to pencil sharpener.

Less Harper Hacked Pencil Sharpener in a Jar

Less’s Apsara hack makes the Apsara Long Point sharpeners even better for my purposes, because Harper hacked Apsara Long Points create pencil points that are long without being so pointed that the rpoints are brittle. Less has started making small jars with hacked Apsara Long point sharpeners screwed to the lid. This little bottle is perfect for sharpening on the couch or anywhere that it’s not convenient to dump shavings.

Blackwing Kum two-step pencil sharpener
Blackwing Kum two-step pencil sharpener

I have a Blackwing/Kum Two-Step Long Point Sharpener and it’s OK; mostly I prefer the Apsara Long Point Sharpener. The idea behind the Kum/Blackwing Two-Step sharpener is that you remove the wood with the first hole and blade, then you use the second hole to sharpen the graphite core. It’s a decent portable sharpener in that it collects its own shavings, but that’s also why you don’t want to put the two-step sharpener as is in your pocket; graphite mess. That said I do like to use the Blackwing Two Step’s second hole as a lead pointer to touch up a pencil that just needs a little pointing. Two things about this sharpener are particularly useful; it is its own container for shavings, and they are easily dumped, and tucked inside the sharpener is a stash of extra blades.

Mini Altoids tin with brass bullet sharpener, USB dongle, and thumb drive
Mini Altoids tin with brass bullet sharpener, USB dongle, and thumb drive
Small just over an inch Möbius & Ruppert Brass Bullet pencil sharpener
Möbius & Ruppert Brass Bullet Pencil Sharpener

My most recent sharpener acquisition is a Möbius & Ruppert Brass Bullet sharpener. I wanted it because it’s so small that I
can still sharpen quite short pencils, and use them in a bullet pencil or pencil extender, and it fits in its ziplock bag in a mini Altoids box in my pocket, along with a USB adapter in its case, and a tiny 64 gig capped thumb drive. This is going to be particularly nice this summer when I can write on the patio in the early morning.

It may seem excessive to have multiple pencil sharpeners, but I use them in different places, and in different ways. Someday, when I have good place to use it, I plan on following Tina Koyama’s excellent example, and buying a Carl Angel 5 Royal Sharpener.



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