Clive Thompson on the "best pencil sharpener I've ever used in my life"

[Video Link] When I was at TED2011 I interviewed writer Clive Thompson about what he calls "the best sharpener I've ever used in my life," the Palomino-KUM Long Point Pencil Sharpener.

UPDATE: Here's Andy Wefle of with a video that shows you how to use the sharpener.


  1. Oh man. I’ve had two-stage sharpeners before, but I never thought that each hole would be an individual part of a combined process.

    I always just assumed they were for different size pencils or some crap and I always wondered why they seemed to suck so bad.


    1. Yeah, I’ve also always assumed these are for use with varying-diameter pencil sizes.

      Points for enthusiasm, but I think Clive is just misusing the sharpener and the “features” he’s discovered are consequences of blades positioned to sharpen two differntly-sized pencils.

        1. I stand corrected. I wish there was a label explaining what to do with these so I wouldn’t have misunderstood for 20-odd years.

  2. I agree. I carry a my KUM Long Point Pencil Sharperner in my pocket at all times, even when I am not carrying a pencil. It is very gentlemanly to sharpen the pencil of a lady in need.

    1. Then, if you’re really lucky, the lady-in-need ‘sharpens your pencil’ to return the favour.

  3. hello
    6 dollar for a verry small plastic box and 2 little part of iron ?
    at this price yes you can have the roll royce of the sharpener

    1. Gawain, my sentiments, exactly. Any drafts person worth their weight knows a sharp pen knife gives the sharpest point. Also, the act of gently whittling the end of the pencil engages the hand and the mind in a way that is meditative before you get back into the drawing. Fast, 6 bucks, meh!

  4. Prismacolor sells the same sharpener with extra blades included! The sharpener even has a little storage space for them.

  5. @#9: I love Berol Prismacolor!

    Btw- I was just thinking today that I wish I had a kick-ass pencil sharpener!

    1. Yeah, but they’re primarily sketch pencils. If you’re writing, you’ll be using a standard #2.

  6. Some may be confusing the Palomino-KUM two hole sharpener here that sharpens wood and graphite separately with other KUM two-hole sharpeners like these that actually sharpen two different size pencil diameters.
    The Palomino-KUM was designed specifically for the dimensions of the Palomino and Palomino Blackwing pencils, but will work well also with many other pencils.

  7. Clearly I don’t know how to use a pencil. The only thing I’ve ever done with a sharp point is break it.

  8. Relax, everyone! Those sharpeners with 2 holes you thought were for 2 different sized pencils ARE. It’s only this one that is a “2-stage” sharpener. You’re doing it right.

    1. To reiterate what mikerbaker said, this is not a standard 2-hole sharpener. Most 2-hole sharpeners are crap, and have one large hole for “kindergarten pencils” and one small hole for regular pencils. This is a completely different beast — the two holes are about the same size, but the blades inside the holes are completely different.

  9. I too will be processing will be processing this information for sometime.

    However, I have to note a lesson from my design days that standard sharpeners just can’t deal with the properly hard pencils, say >4H, that are useful for stuff. People used either an alarmingly expensive little gadget where where you whirl the pencil fitting around the central axis (I though was some kind of grinder but I can’t find an example) or a knife.

    1. I not only remember that guy, the fine, upstanding gentleman David Rees has personally sharpened a pencil for me. In person. I highly recommend his services.

  10. I’m also a big fan of Drafting Pencil pointers
    an example

    you can find many variates of these, though not as easily as you used to be able to

    you can find them often listed as “lead Pointer” as opposed to sharpener

    they are designed with the same purpose as the secondary hole in the video above, they wont sharpen a pencil, but are made to put exceedingly sharp points on your pencil tip

  11. My mind is totally blown. I went to Hobby Lobby today on an unrelated errand and because I was sick of the crappy sharpener I currently have that makes stubby points, asked the woman in the art department if they had one that would make the longer cones. So she told me this was the one. $6.49 was steep, but it looked pretty nice so I went for it.

    Then I get home, and read this. Serendipity.

  12. I’m a big fan of mechanical pencils, but then I write words and formulae, not draw pretty picture. Do any boingboingers have a favorite mechanical mencil?

    1. Do any boingboingers have a favorite mechanical mencil?

      A Papermate Widemate 0.5mm HB for grey leads, a Uni Mitsubishi 0.7mm for non-photo blue, and a Draft/Matic 0.3mm DM03 for fine lines.

      When I’m filling large areas, I use a Faber-Castell Graphite Pure and a paper blender, which is essentially a pencil-shaped hunk of graphite wrapped in plastic. I leave sharpening for colored pencils.

    2. I’m heavy handed, so I tend to push the lead in mechanical pencils back up into the pencil (likewise, I dull regular #2 pencils very quickly).

      That said, I’m also a student and I can’t pass on the convenience of mechanical pencils (damn you Sharpie Liquid Pencil and all your failure!). I’m currently using a Pentel e-sharp 0.5 and it is by far the best mechanical pencil I’ve ever used. Granted, I only ever shop for office supplies at Staples, Office Max, and the like, so I’m not the most exposed to pencil diversity.

    3. My favorite is the Ticonderoga Sensematic+. It looks just like an ordinary pencil and works like one two, minus the sharpening. It auto advances the lead as you write. I prefer the silver. It also has the best eraser I’ve ever used.

  13. What does this say about our society that we are not only geeking out over, but spent the time to make a video about, a pencil sharpener.

  14. I’m a convert to the Palomino (thanks Frank!)and got the sharpener with their special boxed set for Christmas (thanks Santa!).

    I started writing again just so I could put these pencils to paper and smell the wood when they needed sharpening. It’s a revelation – I feel like I’ve reconnected a little with some part of the physical world I didn’t know I’d lost.

  15. The last time mark posted a pencils thread I ended up buying a Pentel Graphgear 1000 0.9mm that I love.
    I have a permanently damaged tendon in my arm from sweeping, among other things, pencil shavings from under 25,000 student desks. Proper pencil sharpeners have a cover to catch the shavings.

  16. I find slightly dull pencils to be infinitely more expressive than really sharp ones. What’s the appeal? They only stay ridiculously sharp for a very very brief time anyway.

  17. When I was at school, when doing those all-important colouring lessons, everyone would sharpen their pencil angled so that the blade would only catch the core, without shaving any wood off, resulting in a powder of coloured pencil core, which you could then rub with your finger onto the paper, producing a dull, flat shaded area of colour. It was an interesting effect, but the core caught on the blade, which I’m assuming is the “bite” he’s talking about in the second video. I always hated the feeling.

  18. Oh, and my favorite pencil sharpener is a little purple dinosaur with yellow spots that I got out of the free box at a yard sale. So jaunty and charming.

  19. Pencil? What the hell’s a pencil? Kidding … just kidding. But, seriously, if you need to watch a video to find ut how to use a manual pencil sharpener, you probably are someone who should not be trusted with pointy objects. Just saying.

  20. Well, if you’re serious about sharpening your pencils, you need to look back at the golden age of sharpeners. My sweetie is a professional writer, so for Christmas, I got her a Guhl & Harbeck Jupiter 1. No sir, they just don’t make ’em like that anymore. It produces the finest point I’ve ever seen. Atomically fine, near as I can make out.

    1. Greg,

      Holy crap. That is the awesomest pencil sharpener I’ve seen in my life. I’m going to look for a video on that. Steampunky goodness for my personal pencil blog. May I ask, how much did that set you back?

      1. Andy,

        The one I got was about $250. You can find them in varying conditions. The lowest I’ve seen is around $130, for a specimen that lacked a shavings tray and had been heavily used. I’ve not come across one, but I suspect a museum-quality specimen would probably cost more like $500-$750. Perhaps because Guhl & Harbeck were based in Europe, the specimens available through European dealers tend to be more affordable.

        I agree, it is the awesomest pencil sharpener I’ve ever seen. Though I am also somewhat partial to the whirling-blades-of-death design in the US Automatic Pencil Sharpener.

  21. This is a mitzvan. Not for the sharpener, which I appreciate, but to find Blackwing pencils again! Must try this knockoff from Thanks, Clive!

  22. I bought one of these 2 years ago. Then I bought another and another. One for work. One for the wife. The sharpener rocks.

    I also only use California Republic Pencils–specifically the Blackwing and the Palomino. The Blackwing is fun. The Palomino is the Gold Standard.

  23. To all the haters. Every pencil I have sharpened with a hand held sharpener since elementary school, has had the led break WHILE being sharpened. Repeatedly! Its maddening! Is it the pencil? The sharpener? Me?

    I will buy this sharpener.

    Also, I need a suggestions for pencil cap erasers that don’t fall off mid-erase.

  24. Received mine in the Mail today. Thanks to Clive and Mark, My pencil is sharp. Now I may have to buy another pencil….

  25. My favorite pencil sharpener is the Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener. It reminds me of the “old school” sharpeners that I used when I was younger. Love the retro look. Just wish I would have found it years ago.

  26. The long-point KUM is my favorite sharpener. I own five or six of them so that there’s always a sharpener close at hand. I have one for my office, one in my computer tote, one in the kitchen pencil box, one in a cup of pencils in the bathroom, one in my camera bag in which I also carry a leather pencil wrap containing a variety of pencils and drawing pens and a spare fountain pen, and when I’m traveling light, I’ll carry one in a pocket along with one or two Blackwings, and I nearly always have a Rhodia sketchbook along, the one that’s nearly identical in appearance to the little Moleskine but has paper that doesn’t cause fountain pen ink to feather or allow it to bleed through.

    For those concerned with expense, the same KUM pencil sharpener is available without the Palomino logo, and it’s red rather than orange. The Palomino version strikes me as much cooler, but you can pick up the red one for $4.20 on line.

    I absolutely agree with the poster who made the comment about writing with a dulled lead. Pencils are to mechanical pencils what fountain pens are to ballpoints: they offer character and beauty of line where the others offer convenience. When I’m drawing, I keep the point really sharp. However, sometimes I write with a pencil until the point almost disappears, turning it this way and that, seeking out that invisible sharp edge of a minuscule facet, enjoying the personality of the clay and graphite as they leave their commingled trail behind.

    There’s something fundamental and honest about a wood pencil: if you can see it, you know you can depend on it to deliver. Not so with a mechanical pencil which, if out of lead, will respond to none of your cleverness or entreaties; whereas a pencil that’s completely dull can be revived with the earnest ministrations of one’s thumbnail. Of course, when I tire of my efforts to eke out the last few sharp-edged facets of a dulling point, I reach for my two-stage Palimino/KUM and the adventure begins anew.

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