You’ve most likely never offered much believed to pencils (though you yes, really should!). Likewise, you’ve more than likely never lent lot thought to just how to sharpen her pencils, defaulting to whatever was on hand.

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But much like pencils themselves, pencil sharpeners space a rich and detailed rabbit hole right into which friend can easily fall, must you uncover yourself attracted to minutia and also the perfection of craft.

There are many different ways to sharpen a pencil, and also everyone is convinced that their is the best. Right here I will discuss some of the much more popular approaches of timber shaping and graphite forming, including when, where, and why girlfriend might pick one over the other, how each is done, and also a certain suggestion because that the sharpener to use through each particular approach.

The Knife

Required elements: A sharp and also capable tongue + a secure handTime required: 3-5 minutesComplexity: 3/5

Ever since man discovered knife, man has used knife to make blunt points pointier. Pencils room no exception.

Who provides It?

For the artist, the blade represents a method to hone and also craft a perfect point, from long and also tapered come dull and wide.

For the tradesman, sharpening through a knife is a valuable decision. Why have a committed blade because that pencils, when the utility blade for this reason adequately crafts a point?

For the outdoorsman, the omni-capable blade cuts tinder, opens cans, slices fruit, whittles pole — and also sharpens pencils. 

How the Done


Sharpening by knife is swift, however demands a specific finesse. As well harsh and you deserve to break your recently revealed point; too soft and also you will invest all day to acquire one sharpened pencil.

Typically the action is to take it the knife in your leading hand, the pencil in her other. Gently peel the wood with the blade, such the you expose a thinning cone that wood. When you fight the graphite core, friend can start shaping the cause your desired shape. Rounded bevel? Concave? Needle? The world, and also the pencil, is her oyster, so come speak.

What it Produces

This method creates exciting curls of lumber that are much more reminiscent of hardwood shop than classroom. Graphite won’t really injury your blade, however it will certainly make a fine mess, so perhaps give it a fast wipe down before you usage your knife for anything else.

Any decent and sharp blade is an ideal for knife sharpening a pencil. Even here in the UK with our lot stricter knife laws, ns can bring a diminutive Spyderco pest and sharpen pencils to my heart’s content.

The Handheld Sharpener

Required elements: A good handheld sharpener + the fortitude to prevent those junky cheap choices that came with your TiconderogasTime required: 1-2 minutesComplexity: 2/5

The many obvious and also familiar choice on the list, though still precious considering.

Who provides It?

In college you probably had some plastic sharpener the came cost-free with your pencils. Maybe it was adorned with your favourite cartoon personality or superhero. These are the steadfast workhorses the sharpening. Produced en masse and normally to a very poor quality, a poor handheld sharpener has actually probably been responsible for all the an adverse experiences you might have had with pencils.

How the Done


The structure is familiar: a plastic body, a screw, and also a steel blade, held firm to a little window v which your wood sharpenings emerge. You host the sharpener in one hand and also rotate your pencil in jaunting 180 level rotations, producing flaky coils of sharpen and a good scattering of graphite particulate.

What that Produces

The handheld sharpener mostly produces debris and disappointment. Many of the options you watch on the industry are disastrous for sharpening pencils. The blade is dull, the casing warped, and also any expect of developing a quite pencil allude was gone before you started. There is hope, though; there are an excellent options for handheld sharpening, and they have the right to be had cheaply and easily. (Which really renders you wonder why so countless of the offerings out there are so terrible.)

The Apsara Long point sharpener is created in India and is one of the finest sharpeners i have ever encountered. At just over $4 for a box of 20, ns buy these in bulk and surreptitiously swap the end cheap and bad sharpeners any kind of time I uncover one. The long point designation way this produce a longer pencil point, v a much more tapered collar. The blades are delightfully sharp, and stay for this reason for longer than you would certainly expect. I store two Apsara lengthy Points in my leather journal wrap, as they space dependable, simple, and easy come replace.

The rotary Sharpener

Required elements: A rotary sharpener + a desk/wallTime required: 1-2 minutesComplexity: 2/5

The various other kind of sharpener you’ve likely encountered, old and weathered, adorning classroom walls across the nation.

Who offers It?

The desk-bound sharpener is commonly of the rotary variety. In every our various other examples, the tongue is relocated by the user to sharpen the pencil, i m sorry is relatively static. In this instance, the pencil remains static, and also the sharpener revolves about it, slicing off tiny curls the wood and also graphite and also dropping them right into a collection box below.

Classroom friendly in the united state make a fantastic rotary sharpener that is durable, cost effective, and produces lovely spicy points. It’s come to be a schoolroom institution for these reasons, and also if it can survive a course of overzealous 8-year-olds, it’s good enough because that you.

How that Done


Desk-based sharpeners, electrical or hand-cranked, have actually one or two rotating blades an installed to the inside. Castle look a little like old college lawnmowers, and also will execute equally unpleasant things to your appendages if friend stick them in there. The knives rotate top top their very own axis, as well as around the pencil. This shaves and grinds turn off a well layer of pencil to reveal a fresh point.

By your nature, they have tendency to be larger, an ext unwieldy, and far better suited to static applications. There room some smaller, an ext portable options, but I discover it best to relegate them come home, office, or shop use.

What that Produces

The point out from rotary sharpeners are as differed as the sharpeners themselves. You have the right to have concave, convex, short, long, flat-topped or needle-pointed. Together with any kind of piece the small, niche hardware, it have the right to be daunting to sharpen or change the chisels in rotating sharpeners, for this reason if you’ve discovered a nice old one, but it chews up pencils, you can not have the ability to do much but swap components out, or uncover a brand-new sharpener.

The Rock

Required elements: A tool to big size rock + grim decision in a life or death instance (this note should be yes, really important)Time required: 15-20 minutesComplexity: 1/5Recommended tool: Ye olde absent ($0)

All that the choices so far for pencil sharpening have actually assumed a level that convenience, privilege, and accessibility to material goods. What if you have actually none of that? What if you uncover yourself, in the wilderness, in dire need of notation with nothing however your wits and also an unsharpened pencil at her disposal?

Enter the garden selection rock.

Who uses It?

Though I’m commonly guilty of shedding track the this truth myself, let’s not forget the a pencil is just a cylinder of timber encasing a cylinder that graphite. When many complicated and convoluted techniques exist for its sharpening, the soft nature the graphite method that the action of writing will round and also shape the lead for us; for this reason all we really must do come “sharpen” a pencil is to reveal the graphite.

How it’s Done

Look for a tool to huge size rock. Something through mass; something that you deserve to sit next to or on to hone the perfect survivalist pencil point. Let united state imagine in our top the handheld sharpener native earlier, peeling layers as it rotates. Begin scraping the reminder of the unsharpened pencil top top the rock, rotating together you go. Store the point at around a 45-degree edge from the absent surface. We’re no trying to bore right into the rock or begin a fire — we want controlled abrasion that will eat away at the wood armor of the pencil.

Proceed to whittle down the pencil v delicate and deliberate mineral abrasion.

If you happen to uncover yourself in an unwelcoming jungle the the metropolitan variety, I’m certain this method would occupational equally fine on pavement or tarmac.

What that Produces

The point, if us can call it such, will certainly not be pretty. Rough and also ready is more than likely being kind. It will, however, be functional, which is every we deserve to really questioning of a pencil in a wilderness-based survive situation.

The Gilded Rotary

Required elements: An expensive pencil sharpener + a small loanTime required: 30 seconds for utility, yet why rush? take it a complete 30 minutes to really savor the experience Complexity: 4/5 

In stark comparison to the vault option, this an approach assumes a level of luxury and comfort hitherto unmatched in the stationery world. It may surprise girlfriend to know that there exists a classification of pencil sharpener over that of typical mortals.

Who uses It?

This is the Bentley of pencil sharpeners. Distinguished, refined, and also elegantly crafted so as to measurably improve the life that those who room lucky enough to use it. The El Casco is a $300 majestic chrome and black pencil sharpener with every one of the bells and also whistles. The hand refined sharpener is presented in a gift box and also features a sharpness regulator which offers the user a an option of four different pencil points, along with a chart for plotting out this decision.

How the Done

The El Casco is, in ~ heart, a rotary sharpener, however it feels somewhat disingenuous putting this beauty and also the battered and also bruised classroom workhorse in the exact same category. It would certainly be like parking mine 13-year-old Ford Fiesta alongside a Tesla version X and also saying, “Yeah, lock both sedans . . . ”

The worth of a $300 pencil sharpener is sure to carry up some spirited debate, yet regardless of her thoughts top top the efficacy, utility, or desirability of such an item, that looks damn fine if doing that is job.

What the Produces

The El Casco has actually a sharpness regulator i beg your pardon controls the sort of pencil suggest produced and can even produce a pencil with a dull tip and also concave sides. There is a viewing home window in the top for watching the mesmerizing dance of rotating burrs and a small record on the sharpening waste box for further refining your point.

Many folks hold the El Casco up together the reigning champion of all pencil sharpeners, and also it has actually a committed and enthusiastic contingent of pendant on and also offline.

Others uncover it a tiny too fancy; it’s definitely too affluent for my blood.

Oh, if by some opportunity you to be worried the the steel and also black lacquered El Casco no fancy enough for you, they also produce a 23k gold-plated version.

The Plane

Required elements: A pencil planer + concentrationTime required: 2-5 minutesComplexity: 4/5

Unexpected and mysterious. This esoteric option sharpens pencils in a method that is unique but oddly familiar. A novel twist on normality.

Who offers It?

Novel sharpening tools like the Hovel are typically reserved because that those who gain the craft of sharpening pencils. Who find a tiny zen in the hypnotic and rhythmic dance of blade and also pencil, wood and graphite. It’s slow than many of the other options, and an ext expensive to boot. What it uses is the allure that the unusual, and the focus of the deliberate.

How it’s Done


The Hovel is essentially a small woodworking aircraft for your pencil. It’s a tiny nugget of brass through a blade hosted firm through a set screw. You deserve to raise and also lower that blade to readjust the bite that the sharpener, and also consequently how much product you take off each time.

There are two techniques for sharpening: move the pencil, or relocate the Hovel. Anything else will placed your finger in danger and likely result in a sudden and catastrophic inability to counting to 10. The Hovel has an optional wood base that provides stationary sharpening much easier and makes your office feel like a miniature wood shop.

What the Produces

The sort of point that the Hovel produce is dependency on the user. You can create sharp facets, with simply a few flat encounters on every side the the pencil, or a graduated circumference of well passes the mimic a rounded pencil. In most cases the point is long and sharp. It’s an extremely satisfying sharpening experience, and also one that is no replicated in many other stationery offerings.

If you room of the woodworking persuasion, you might have access to a suite that woodworking tools, and could perhaps pick one the the more diminutive planes from her collection and apply it liberally come the art of pencil sharpening. You can do that, but you no hear it from me. 


No matter just how you sharpen your pencils — and the methods provided above have actually only began to, ahem, scratch the thin wooden surface ar of what’s possible — it’s vital to discover a method that functions for you. Pencil sharpening is a necessary act, the penance we pay to use analog tools. It deserve to be a rapid, purely functional act, or it can be a soothing, meditative enjoyment in a people of press notifications and out-of-hours email.

Now, walk forth, and keep your pencils as sharp as your mind.

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TJ Cosgrove is a pencil pushing filmmaker. He runs Wood & Graphite the #2 pencil-based video channel ~ above the internet. He additionally talks about the past and also the current in one anachronistic podcast called 1857. He likes tough science fiction novels, pencils and also American beer, though not necessarily in that order.