December 18, 2020

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Recently I went shopping for some portable pencil sharpeners for writing pencils. (USA location)
This page is about what I had, what I got and some thoughts about them.

Note: all this stuff I purchased at normal prices; I don't do sponsored/freebie reviews.
Freebie reviews are usually fake reviews, which is part of the garbage net I dislike.

Image #1 above: for a long time I carried a plastic pouch with some pencils and a generic pencil sharpener in it, as above. This was kept in a laptop bag. The sharpener was just a generic type that originally had a hinged clear plastic container for the shavings. The sharpener worked okay but eventually got cracked and broke apart, just leaving the bottom portion. I also carried some sandpaper in case I needed to maintain a sharp point for some reason. I could still sharpen pencils of course, but the shavings were a bother and everything got covered with graphite dust.

The new sharpener was going to live a life much like the old one, in a notepad zipper binder--so what I wanted here was a portable, normal-point-length sharpener that would be resistant to damage, and that could contain the sharpener shavings.

Image #2 above: about a year ago I decided to buy some new sketching supplies. I only needed regular-length points on the (graphite) art pencils and I had bought a flat storage box for the pencils and other supplies, so I wanted a very compact sharpener that I knew would fit into the box. At that time I bought the brass bullet-style sharpener (1) above. I also found the easel sharpener shown as item (2) and it was an impulse purchase.

Item #2-1 - The bullet sharpener sharpens well and is compact but using it almost guarantees that whichever hand is holding it will get dirty. There is two companies selling these but I forget which one I bought; they appear identical anyway. Both are brass which is heavy and rather expensive, and I don't know if using brass makes it work better than any cheaper metal. It can also be a bit difficult to use... I don't have any physical ailments that affect my hand grip (yet!) but after your fingers get covered with graphite from sharpening a few pencils, that knurled brass surface gets pretty slippery to hold.

Item #2-2 - The easel sharpener I like for sketching use, though I rarely use it. I ran across it while searching for 'art pencil sharpener' on Aliexpress. There is two or three types of these things I found and I thought that this one looked a bit nicer than the others. It has a clamp on the back side and a cup to catch the pencil dust, so that it can be mounted along the top or either side of an upright pad. The way that the clamp is made also allows it to sit on a desk surface. ...The rough metal surface is not quite perfect: I think some fine sandpaper on there might do better, but the metal surface does stay relatively clean (pencil dust falls right off it). ---If you sketch a lot and use a fine point, it might be handy. I think it only cost like $2.50 plus shipping.

Image #3 above: this is some of the sharpeners that I actually bought on purpose.

Item #3-1 - I didn't buy this intentionally but I ended up with several of these, as General packages them along with other items that I happened to buy. It is a normal-angle point sharpener that has a German blade and can take pencils a bit on the fat side, so it can work for a lot of pencils. It is a cheaper sharpener but not the worst out there.

Item #3-2: this is a Kum I bought for the sketching supplies, so it didn't need to contain shavings. This one is two holes/angles and made of magnesium, though (as with the earlier brass) I don't know if magnesium makes it work better than anything else.

Item #3-3: the Kum Ellipse -- this has a single normal-length sharpener, and contains the shavings very well in a reasonably physically durable package.

Item #3-4: Faber-Castell 9000 -- this is a two hole/two angle sharpener that contains the shavings and has a durable shape overall. The short-point hole is larger than the normal-point hole, so it can handle fatter pencils. It seems to be available in at least three or four translucent colors, though not all retailers have them all and all of the colors are rather dark.

Image #4 above: these are the last three sharpeners I bought on purpose.

Item #4-1: the Prismacolor sharpener has two holes and two angles, but the short-point hole is no larger than a normal pencil size. That works for the Prismacolor colored pencils but won't work for a lot of other brands. It looks nice overall but is really on the large size for a portable sharpener. The lid also has a living hinge, which I am wary of.

Item #4-2 - The Staedtler #512 sharpener is a dual-hole/dual-point sharpener that is just about perfect except for the decal on the front, which is why I removed it (I heated it a bit with a hot-air gun first). That is explained further below.

Item #4-3 is the Blick re-brand of the Kum long-point sharpener. I bought this for writing pencils, but haven't really used it much yet. My thinking here is that if you are writing them you want to use the lead for writing and not sharpen it away... If it doesn't work out, I can just use it for art pencils. This sharpener also has a big living hinge (which I dislike) but at least it is in a location that might be salvageable.

One of the things I learned from testing these different sharpeners is that you ideally want to be able to see the blade sharpening the lead, so you know when you've produced a decent point tip. Some of them let you do that and some don't:

Another issue with some of these sharpeners is that they have living hinges.

A living hinge is a hinge on a plastic item that is molded out of a thin section of the body plastic. The manufacturing advantage of living hinges is that they are the cheapest type of hinge to make.

In the past I've seen single-use shipping boxes that had living hinges, that people re-used for many years and that lasted an amazingly long time before failing.

Nowadays I see a lot of small storage boxes on store shelves that have living hinges that got crushed during shipping, and that are already starting to crack through before they have even left the store shelf. As a result of this, I am very reluctant to buy anything that has living hinges on it.

With some examples you can use cloth tape to replace a broken living hinge, to keep on using the product. The worst scenario with living hinges failing is when the product is no longer useful after the hinge has cracked through, because there is no practical way to repair it.

Two of these sharpeners have living hinges:

In just a very short time the Prismacolor sharpener showed one unique problem.

The plastic lid has tabs that partly cover up the sharpener blades, and that butt up against the screws holding the blades in place. The tabs were a bit too long and stuck up over the screw heads, creating a gap underneath the tab. On the 'normal-point' hole, this allowed shavings to get stuck under the plastic tab. This didn't interfere with sharpening, but it did prevent viewing the blade while sharpening. Image #5 below shows the issue with a small bit of shaving still stuck under the tab (this photo was taken after I pulled most of the stuck shavings out).

It appears that it may be possible to simply bend and break the offending tab off, and the sharpener will still function as usual. That is somewhat of a risk to the buyer though, and not something they should be troubled with.

The larger hole (on the left in the image) also had the same problem (of the tab sticking up) to a lesser degree. I didn't have any pencils fat enough to demonstrate the problem there. If you used a lot of triangular/penmanship-style pencils, you might see it happen there also.

So in this comparison, there were two sharpeners that had basically no offending issues:

Both are 2-hole/2-point-length sharpeners, both are durable shapes, both contain the shavings pretty well and both use no living hinges.

In terms of compactness, the Faber-Castell wins.

In terms of containing the shavings, the Staedler is probably a bit better than the Faber-Castell is.
The Staedtler has two circular ridges on the lid that engage the two pencil holes when closed, blocking them entirely.
I would assume that you could put it into a bag and it could tumble around and no shavings would fall out.
With the Faber-Castell, you might see some minor dust get out of it.

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