In the search for the best pencil sharpener

Since the day I started drawing again, I have done a bunch of research for the best art supplies. I found a lot of interesting kinds of stuff that are worth sharing, therefore this note.

In the search for the best pencil sharpener
Photo by iMattSmart / Unsplash

As a Product Manager, from my point of view, art supplies are both the utilities for drawing and the products that went through their product development processes and successfully achieved the product-market fit. Since the day I started drawing again, I have done a bunch of research for the best art supplies. I found a lot of interesting kinds of stuff that are worth sharing, therefore this note.

The approach

My approach to pursuing art is to go with art supplies that are lightweight, reusable, and not too fancy.

  • My art supplies have to be lightweight because I have serious backbone pain. Whether for sketching or watercolor painting, they should be portable and traveling-optimized. I like to draw everywhere, art supplies are one of the essential stuff in my go-bag.
  • Stuff with reusability is always top of my criteria. I won't say it's because I care for the environment. I just try my best to not trash any waste that is a one-time use. Like drafting pencils instead of wooden ones (except Backwing's). Like fountain pens instead of ballpoint pens (except the Pentel Super Multi-8). I decided to buy Blackwing pencils or add the Pentel Super Multi-8 to my wishlist, mostly because of their production design which I admire the most. I think it's the blindside of everyone who does product development in the world. Yeah, I can hear you laugh, shame on me haha.
  • It wouldn't be a research if I just fancy buying the top options of each category. Not only doing it will cost me a fortune, but also I love the "aha moment" when I figure out the hidden gems. I bought my Tombow Mono Graph almost ten years ago. I just found out that it is my only drafting pencil that can protect the lead yesterday. We will get back to this story later.

The categories

To create good art, I will need to improve my sketching, inking, and watercolor skills. So, the categories I am looking at are:

  1. Sketchbooks & papers
  2. Pencils
  3. Pencil sharpeners
  4. Fountain pens
  5. Multi-liner pens
  6. Watercolor brushes
  7. Watercolor paints
  8. Other watercolor supplies
  9. Miscellaneous

As the title of the note already revealed, the first picked category is Pencil sharpeners. I am forty-something now but I still remember the first time I was using a sharpener on my pencil. Before buying this sharpener for me, my Dad still sharpened my pencil with his knife. A pencil sharpener was a precious thing back then, to everyone. The magical moment of having my pencil gently sharpened with a straight angle, from the wooden part to the graphite's lead point, would never fade out of my mind. In honor of that good memory, let's get started.

What do I need from a Pencil sharpener?

There are three factors when considering a sharpener:

  • The supported range of pencil sizes: There are 2.0mm - 5.6mm leads, alongside a wide range of up to 10.5mm wooden pencils. I only need the sharpeners for two sizes: the traditional 8mm wooden pencils and the 2mm leads
  • The offered features: The support range of the pencil shapes: hexagon, triangle, and circle. The sharpening angle. The gentleness of the shaving shows the quality of the blades. And the sharpness of the lead point. I only care about the sharpness of the lead point, to me, it too reflects the quality of the blades.
  • The compartment of pencil shavings and dust. I need my sharpeners to go with a compartment for my traveling purposes.

The initial pencil sharpener line-up

MUJI Manual Pencil Sharpener, Spider-man Sharpener, Faber-Castell Sleeve Mini sharpening box, Helix Oxford Two Hole Barrel Sharpener, and Stabilo Exam Grade 2mm Lead Sharpener

I call them the initial line-up because they were randomly bought when I had no idea about the pencil sharpener. The MUJI one is because it's a stuff from the MUJI brand. The Spide-man one should be a gift for my son. The Faber-Castell one was bought based on Mateusz's Art Supplies Box, as you can see, I bought the mini version of the suggested one. The Helix Oxford and the Stabilo ones were suggested by some sellers at random art supply stores. Almost sharpeners in my initial line-up surprisingly still survive until now for one reason: They are somewhat working well. Except for the Stabilo Exam Grade 2mm Lead Sharpener, since the sharpener is made for students to use in examination sessions, it could give me the sharp long-point tip I need for drawing.

MUJI Manual Pencil Sharpener

MUJI Manual Pencil Sharpener

The MUJI Manual Pencil Sharpener made it to be one of my favorite sharpeners. It produces everything I need for my pencils, the sharpening angle, the shaving gentleness, and the long-point tip. Using the sharpener is so easy and convenient: Just drag out the pen port, and plug the pencil into the shaving hole through the penport, then swing the handle. Your sharpening progress is done when the pen port is completely retracted to the sharpener body. All pencil shavings and dust will be retained in a big compartment.

Too bad, the MUJI Manual Pencil Sharpener is too big for a to-go sharpener, otherwise this note wouldn't be written.

Faber-Castell Sleeve Mini sharpening box

I decided to buy the Faber-Castell Sleeve Mini sharpening box after watching this video which you can check below of Mateusz. The suggested sharpener was one of his picks for his art supplies box. I searched on Shopee and found out it only cost me less than a dollar to buy it. I didn't know that the one I found was a different version of the Faber-Castell Faber 9000 sharpener, the sharpener that Mateusz suggested.

Mateusz's Art Supplies BOX introduction video

To me, the only difference between the two versions is the one I bought doesn't have the titanium-plated knives. This shouldn't be a big problem since it performed well with my HB pencils. I wish it could do the same with pencils with darker grades, which have more softer leads. It breaks the leads unpredictably. I wanted to know why, so I started my research to find the sharpener that fits me the most.

Cafe Slow's pencils are surprisingly good for sketching

The research outcome

From my perspective, I don't believe anyone can overthrow the domination of the Germans.

  • No one could beat them when it comes to blades
  • No one could beat them in pencil sharpeners' product design
  • No one could beat them since they were the veterans in the field

I stumbled upon it when I learned about KUM, the company that had a century-long production of pencil sharpeners, thanks to this video of Teoh Yi Chie. 7 years ago, Teoh made his statement that the KUM Automatic Long Point Pencil Sharpener was his best choice of portable pencil sharpener, and I couldn't agree more.

The two popular art suppliers Staedtler and Stabilo happen to be German, too. Staedtler was found in 1835, and Stabilo was found in 1855. Yeah, we are talking about companies with around two hundred years of experience in the industry. So, in "German steel blade" we trust!

KUM The Masterpiece - Photo's copyright: Amazon

Product design talk, did you see KUM The Masterpiece aka KUM Meisterwerk? The sharpener has two holes, hole number one is for removing the wood surrounding the lead, and hole number two is for sharpening the lead. The blue stopper gives you the indication to not oversharpen your pencil lead. The "aha moment" is when you figure out that you can remove the blue stopper to get the long lead, as long as you take all the responsibility afterward.

KUM the Masterpiece: No stopper usage - Photo copyright:

The best to-go sharpeners

As mentioned before, the to-go sharpeners that fit my needs should provide gentle sharpening, sharp long-point tip, and be able to retain the pencil shavings. Below are my picks after the research:

Blackwing One-Step Long Point Sharpener

Blackwing One-Step Long Point Sharpener

If Blue Bottle Coffee is the Apple of the coffee industry, then Blackwing is the Apple of the art supplies world. The company is well known for its top-notch pencils. I got some of those, but we will save the Blackwing pencils topic for other notes. Seeing the Blackwing One-Step Long Point Sharpener is like seeing the next iPhone to me. Its product design is neat. At the time, I can easily see that the sharpener fits my needs in every criterion. When I tried it the first time, I finally understood the term "German steel blade" completely.

From the name of my favorite Blackwing sharpener, you can easily guess that if there is a "one-step" sharpener, then it should be at least a "two-step" sharpener, right? They have it. The Blackwing Two-Step Long Point Sharpener offers the same feature just like the KUM The Masterpiece that I mentioned before, plus a compartment.

Even though the Two-Step one also has a lit product design, I decided to go with the One-Step. One step is quicker than two steps, right? That's right, I am good at Math.

KUM Automatic Long Point Pencil Sharpener

KUM Automatic Long Point Pencil Sharpener

Using Blackwing pencils is my special exceptional allowance for me based on my favorite for stuff with damn good product design. I mostly use drafting pencils because they are environmentally friendly. I am using 2.0mm leads for sketching, and 0.3, 0.5, 0.7mm leads for detailing. Sketching with the 2.0mm led me to this one issue: I need to sharpen my 2.0mm leads.

I could easily find the 2.0 sharpeners. The most popular are Faber-Castell's, Ohto's, and the fancy Staedtler Mars Technico Lead Sharpener. The problem is the first two don't come with a "German steel blade", and the fancy Staedtler one is way too expensive, and it looks like it would suit the best with Staedtler 2.0mm lead holders. I have a cheap M&G Save the Tree 2.0mm lead holder and a clumsy MUJI 2.0 lead holder, I want my 2.0 sharpeners to work with them also.

Teoh Yi Chie enlightened me about the KUM brand and its amazing Automatic Long Point Pencil Sharpener. It's safe to say that the sharpener is the Blackwing Two-Step Long Point Sharpener plus the ability to sharpen 2.0mm and 3.2mm leads. My sharpener search reached an end after I bought the sharpener. However, I am now facing the very question of choosing which one every time I go out: The neat one or the full-feature one?

The takeaways

  • The German offers straightforward features to keep a sharpener a sharpener. The Japanese make pencil sharpening funnier. Kutsuwa brand offers two blades in one hole for faster sharpening, the brand also allows you to dial the sharpener to adjust the sharpening angle.
  • I got my jaw dropped when I found a lot of KUM's sharpeners in the Fahasa store on Shopee. They are all affordable for you if you wanna try. I can share with you the three options that caught my attention from my research: The Softie, the Cube, and the 4-in-1. Let's consider the first one is for an office tabletop, and the others are for a to-go.
  • Everything has its museum. Here is a sharpeners museum in case you ask.

That's it for the pencil sharpeners. Almost 2000 words have been written. I hope you are reaching this line. Thanks for reading it. If you have any questions or wanna share your interest in pencil sharpeners or art supplies, write me an email at nguyenducban(at)me(dot)com.