Pencil Sharpeners: Choosing the Best Sharpener

Palomino Pencil Sharpeners[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen I was in junior high, my Spanish teacher would lean out of his classroom at lunchtime and angrily scream “SACAPUNTAS!” at kids passing by. If you speak Spanish, you know that “sacapuntas” means pencil sharpener. If you don’t speak Spanish, you might have thought it meant “You kids are in such big trouble!” I know that’s what I thought before I started taking Spanish. So why did he shout “pencil sharpener” in Spanish at students? He claimed it was because he found their frightened reactions funny, as did the Spanish-speaking kids, but I’d like to think there’s more to it than that. Pencil sharpeners are very important accessories.

Sharpening a pencil is a true art form. Just ask David Rees, author of the humorous and heartwarming book How to Sharpen Pencils.  If you’re a more visual person and really need a demonstration of the delicate process of sharpening a pencil to perfection, Rees also has an instructional video on YouTube. Few things in life are quite as satisfactory as sharpening a set of brand new pencils, but there’s no guarantee those pointy ends will survive your pencil pouch. That’s why David Reese suggests keeping a length of plastic tubing handy. Once your pencil is sharpened to perfection, simply fit the tubing over the sharpened end of the pencil and use scissors to cut it just past the tip. This will keep your pencils reliably sharp and ready whenever you need them (standardized tests, anyone?)

Choosing the right pencil sharpener isn’t easy. There are a lot of choices out there: different shapes, different sizes, manual, electric. I’d like point out two of my favorites, that I highly recommend. The first is the KUM Ellipse sharpener. I like this one because it’s small, sleek, and classy. You wouldn’t even know it was a pencil sharpener at first look. The black one is my favorite, but it’s available in other colors as well. When I’m drawing, I really like the Faber-Castell Castell 9000, because it features two different-sized holes. My sketching pencils are regular size, but my colored pencils are fat (shh, don’t tell them I said that!) and I love being able to carry one pencil sharpener that works on all my pencils.

Pencil Sharpeners: Manual or Electric?

Personally, I’m  partial to manual pencil sharpeners for reasons of convenience and control. Electric sharpeners are great when you’re in a hurry – right before or even during an exam, for instance – but you run the risk of over-sharpening (or lopsided sharpening if you’re using low-quality pencils!). When using an electric pencil sharpener, make sure to twist the pencil slightly back and forth to get an even sharp point all around, and if you have the time, check on the tip periodically rather than trusting the sound of the sharpener to tell you when the pencil is done, unless you have an automatic stop on your sharpener. Some manual pencil sharpeners allow you to see the tip of the pencil as you work, but not all of them, so check periodically when using a manual sharpener as well if you can’t monitor your progress. Also, be mindful of shaving buildup with both – empty pencil sharpeners regularly and brush off blades with a toothbrush to keep them clean and sharp!

Do you prefer electric pencil sharpeners or manual sharpeners? Weigh in in the comments!



7 replies
  1. J Rose
    J Rose says:

    I collect pencil sharpeners and note that each pencil or situation requires a separate mode of sharpening. I have 25¢ plastic to $400 manuals.

  2. Bruce Gordon
    Bruce Gordon says:

    Over many years and many pencil sharpeners, most of my pencils sharpen off-center. I use standard #2 pencils, usually from Wal-Mart. I am sick of off-center sharpening. Is the problem that I buy cheap pencils? Do I need to spend more than on a hand-cranked sharpener? Is it technique?

    • Alexander Poirier
      Alexander Poirier says:


      More often than not, it’s the pencil, not the sharpener. The off-centering you speak of is caused by the actual graphite core in the pencil being off-centered, a problem that plagues most cheap imported pencils. We make it a point to only carry pencils that are made with quality materials, that don’t have off-centered or broken leads, and that we have tested, so you shouldn’t have that kind of issue with any of the pencils on our store!

  3. larrywood
    larrywood says:

    I bought this sharpener because my old one made a horrible squealing noise. I’m a librarian but we have study hall in this library, so I had to find a good sharpener.
    This one is not super quiet, but it works SO fast that it doesn’t create a big disturbance.
    I even had one junior-high student (stinker!) try to put in a pencil the wrong way, and it still works!
    I would recommend this sharpener to anyone who uses standard pencils. (It does not adjust for wider, early childhood-type pencils.)


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