Classroom Friendly Supplies' Quietest Classroom Pencil Sharpener
It has been quite a while since I’ve done a review of a product, and nothing in extreme detail. But amidst my various lessons and independent studies of drawing and penciling, I found that there’s something fundamental you simply can’t do without: a way to sharpen your pencils. There are probably as many different schools of thought on pencil sharpening as there are artists, and possibly as many as there are pencils, but I found two major categories, and a few minor ones.
Use a pocketknife, or use a dedicated sharpener, were the two major categories.
My father was the “pocketknife” category, and I’ve certainly sharpened my share of pencils using a pocketknife, from homework assignments (I grew up in those bad old days when a kid with a knife was probably just whittling something, not whittling his or her friends…though in my neighborhood, that was still an option even in my day) to those big, chunky carpenters’ pencils in the theater scene shop. The latter you nearly always had to sharpen with a pencil, since at the time, finding a dedicated sharpener for one was a head-scratcher. Now, they make one that fits in a drill-chuck. Also sharpens regular pencils, and comes with a bucketful at hardware stores, but I think it comes under the Maxim #37 heading of drawing tools.
In the “dedicated sharpener” heading, you’ve got different types of sharpener and a choice of point: The standard plastic or metal “wedge”, with a conical hole in it and a little blade that shaves down the wood and graphite into the desired cone, wedges encased in a box to retain shavings — less messy, crank-type mechanical sharpeners with a burr blade like the kind many of us will remember from school, mounted on the wall near the door, and electric sharpeners of various — and sometimes dubious — durability, strength, speed, cost, and duty cycle.
That leaves point type. Most sharpeners out there either make a very shallow cone, which is generally well-suited for writing, or a middle-length cone that produces a fairly-sharp point good for writing, durable, and good enough for general sketching. But if you’re going to be doing fine penciling, or want to do shading that makes use of the side of the lead, you’ll want a very long, sharp, and strong point. That means the wood needs to be shaved back very steeply, to make a long cone, and the graphite inside likewise carefully shaved without making a narrow, brittle point that will break when you use it. A pencil-rendering technique I’ve been studying that makes use of a very long, sharp point is Darrel Tank’s “5-Pencil Method”. Unfortunately, none of my pencil sharpeners on hand would make a satisfactory long point. A set of Cretacolor “Monolith” woodless graphites came with a KUM-brand caseless wedge that produces a fair medium-length point, but I didn’t like it. Not only wasn’t the point long enough, the thing was messy to use. So I looked for an alternative.
KUM makes a two-step cased handheld wedge that first shaves the wood, then sharpens the graphite, but I didn’t want another little plastic handheld sharpener, at a cost, plus shipping, of about $15. Darrel Tank recommends an X-Acto brand electric sharpener, but I looked at the reviews on Amazon and wasn’t impressed. Many electric sharpeners seem to be plagued with failures, due to small plastic gears or linkages breaking and no replacement parts being available. The motors and cases are heavy-duty, but expensive sharpeners become landfill because of the failure of a two-cent plastic gear. Pass. That leaves hand-cranked sharpeners, like the kind used in classrooms. Most make either short or medium length points suitable for writing or general use. Many are noisy. Many sacrifice durability and precision in order to handle a wide variety of pencil sizes, with an adjustable gauge. Many are expensive. The “Quietest Classroom Pencil Sharpener“, by Classroom Friendly Supplies, is none of these.
This sharpener is a delight to use. Put simply, this sharpener is gorgeous. Not to look at, it’s basically a metal box with a crank on one side, a hole on the other, and a little drawer on the bottom for shavings. It’s so simple, it’s elegant. The colors are blue or green. The drawer is clear plastic. It’s made of steel. There’s very little to break or go wrong, but if something does, you can fix it, usually without even touching a tool. It is a self-feeding sharpener. This means you pull a little guide out from the side of the sharpener body, squeeze a lever to open the jaws inside the hole, slide your pencil all the way in until it stops, then let the jaws close. The jaws hold firmly, and might leave a little crunch mark on the side of your pencil, but it’s not even as bad as if you chew it, so don’t worry about it. Then you turn the crank. The guide pulls the pencil in for you while you turn. You can clearly feel and hear when your cranking isn’t doing anything more to the pencil, so you stop. It only takes about ten seconds; if it takes a dozen turns, your pencil was really dull. Then you release the jaws, the guide slides back up to the sharpener body, and you remove your pencil with a beautiful, long point on it. No muss, no fuss.
The sharpener lists for $19.95, with free shipping. It came to me in a cute little plastic box (see picture), padded in an Express Mail carton with crumpled newspaper. It included a single sheet of instructions and a small, L-shaped mounting bracket in a bag.
You’ll find a small 1/4″ hole at the bottom edge of the sharpener body, front and back, to accommodate the bracket end — loosen the plastic nut and slide the bracket over a convenient shelf or table edge, tighten, and it will be held fairly rigidly. The company suggests, and I believe, that this bracket is not a very secure way to hold the sharpener in place. I have used these brackets before on other items and this is almost always the case for this type of bracket. The instructions suggest simply holding the sharpener with one hand while cranking with the other, or hot-gluing the base to a shelf. I held mine down. It took little effort. I strongly suggest this method, since it allows you to easily reposition it, and you won’t suddenly find your sharpener flying, the shaving drawer falling out and spilling because the bracket came loose during use.
I typically use five kinds of pencils: Faber-Castell drawing pencils, Cretacolor Monolith woodless graphites, The General’s #555 Layout pencils, Dixon Tri-Conderogas, and whatever disposable .05 mechanicals happen to be cheap — those are of course irrelevant in this instance. Right off the bat, the Dixon Tri-Conderogas, probably the most comfortable writing pencil I’ve ever used, will not fit in this sharpener because the pencil’s diameter is too large. That’s no big deal, I prefer a short length point on the Tri-Conderogas anyway.
Before I get a lot of comments about “a pencil is a pencil”, let me go all Barney Fife on that and nip it in the bud. First, I’m just learning to draw by hand. I see a lot of conflicting stuff in the lessons about what to get, what’s good, what you need, so I have stuff I probably don’t need, and will eventually outgrow. Second, I’m developing my own style over time and am getting to like certain tools, some better than others. Third, one set of lessons, the 5-Pencil Method, relies on layering different pencil grades to get its effect. I may only use parts of this technique in the long run. Lastly, it’s irrelevant what I use for the purposes of this review — what’s important is what others use, will this device sharpen them, and how well?
In this picture, you can see the points of a Faber-Castell 4H, a Cretacolor Monolith HB, and a General’s Layout #555, which is about a 2B hardness. As you can see, the wood is shaved back in the case of the Faber-Castell and the General’s in a long and tapering cone, and all three have a very long and sharp graphite point that is not concave near the end. It is not needle-sharp, so it won’t damage the drawing surface at first touch, but is still very clean and well-pointed. I tested each of these points with moderate force at a 45-degree angle against a cardboard surface, and they did not snap off. The only concern I had was that, after sharpening the woodless graphite, the burr blades were very dirty and required cleaning with a paper towel. Sharpening a wooden pencil after sharpening a graphite left the sharpened wood of the subsequent pencil covered with loose, powdery graphite which could conceivably fall onto a drawing and smudge it if unnoticed.
Easy To Clean
Thankfully, cleaning the sharpener is simple. The crank and blade unit comes out of the sharpener body by twisting the black plastic collar counter-clockwise until it loosens. Then it is carefully withdrawn, cleaned, reinserted and tightened again. The crank itself can be removed, but I had no real reason to do so, but this would make blade replacement simple. The website has replacement blades, should they be necessary.
This sharpener is called the “Quietest”, and though I don’t have another sharpener handy to compare it to, it is very quiet. Even when sharpening a solid graphite stick with no wood, it barely made a muted grinding sound, and that was when I had the unit resting on a hollow plastic box (my drawing supplies box) as a support. This box served as a superlative resonating chamber, and it was still quiet. I doubt it will be obtrusive in any environment, unless you hook it to an amplifier or rest it on a kettle drum.
Will this sharpener help disabled persons in particular sharpen pencils? I believe so. I doesn’t require a large amount of dexterity or physical strength to use. If mounted firmly, using the bracket or an alternate method, it only requires two hands briefly, to insert a pencil while holding the jaws on the feed mechanism open. I didn’t try, but you might be able to do that with one hand, with practice. All other operations can be performed with a single hand if the unit is fastened down. It produces exceptional points for drawing that make work easier. If work is easier, and tools are better suited to the task, stress is reduced. Most disabilities, IMHO, benefit from a reduction in stress. I know mine does.
Most importantly, this sharpener makes me happy. It works. It isn’t fancy, it doesn’t have lights, you don’t plug it in, it isn’t space-age, it doesn’t try to do everything for everyone, it just sharpens pencils very well with a good, long point and does it very quietly. It does what I want it to do, doesn’t do anything I don’t want it to do, and doesn’t have a USB port or a sticker warning me that “pencils may be sharp” and to be careful not to hurt myself with them.
It’s just what I wanted.