Pencil pushers - Pencil collectors
October 23, 2007 1:08 PM   Subscribe

The Art of Sharpening the Pencil (You've GOT to check out the bizarre pencil sharpener at the bottom of the page. "You'll poke your eye out!").

While pencil collectors and attractive web design normally go together like oil and water, is worth a look. Don't miss the audio on Henry David Thoreau's contributions to American pencil-making (part of the excellent "Engines of our Ingenuity" radio series – with every episode's audio available online).
posted by spock (30 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I learned the joy of the wedge shaped pencil lead when I was a kid. It seems we never had regular pencils, just those "carpenter's pencils" that are flat so they won't roll. Of course, we didn't have a pencil sharpener either, so I had to use a knife and then rub it on paper to get it sharp. Now that I think about it...why the hell didn't we have regular pencils?! geez!
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:38 PM on October 23, 2007

2B or not 2B--that is the question.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 1:46 PM on October 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

When I was young--and that was years ago--we carried pencils sometimes, in our shirt pockets. To keep the point from breaking or stabbing us, we would use a bullet-shaped metal tip that fit over the point of the pencil, protecting it. Those metal tips are not to be found. People simply do not carry pencils around--they use mechanical pencils if moving about;or keep the pencils on desks.
Some sports, tuck pencils behind an ear, which, if wearing a cap, is fine but perhaps odd. And the very short pencils used for keeping score when playing golf? or taking those exams where you filled in a small box with a number two pencil? Ah, we had standards back then, not like the crap today, where you use a Mont Blanc Diplomat pen that costs 550 bucks.
posted by Postroad at 1:56 PM on October 23, 2007

that doll's head pencil sharpener is sweeeet.
posted by raevyne at 2:22 PM on October 23, 2007

Also, using an emery board or a diamond nail file (really great for for putting on a chisel tip).

The Dahles are perhaps the best I've used (and I'm pretty damn picky).
posted by quintessencesluglord at 2:46 PM on October 23, 2007

2H or FIGHT!
posted by blue_beetle at 2:52 PM on October 23, 2007

The KUM Auto-Stop 2-step sharpener is works great to get the most out of the lead before sharpening away more wood.
posted by asterisk at 2:53 PM on October 23, 2007

My favorite pencil is called "Black Warrior."
posted by mattbucher at 3:05 PM on October 23, 2007

I used to fear losing an eye and would avoid the regions of desks with pencil and pen cups. I also hated little figures of the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Building. I would even turn them on their sides. Then my giant cat nearly tore my eye out during slippery cat-bathing incident, and I've been fine. However, I still think pencil cups are mess and little models of the Eiffel Tower and Empire State Building are tacky.
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat at 3:23 PM on October 23, 2007

My dad is an artist, we always had lots of nifty art materials and equipment around. He usually sharpened his pencil with a wall mounted rotary sharpener then adjusted the tip between a piece of paper or with sand paper. I've never found a rotary sharpener that works like the one we had in the basement however. Most of them seem to mangle pencils.
posted by substrate at 3:34 PM on October 23, 2007

posted by Rock Steady at 3:37 PM on October 23, 2007

I carry a little pencil around with me at all times. In my finger. From when I stabbed myself when I was 7.
posted by chrismear at 3:37 PM on October 23, 2007

Oldest known pencil in the world.
posted by spock at 3:47 PM on October 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Wikipedia has an interesting article on pencils, from graphite's early use in marking sheep, to the old wives' tale that "lead" bits could seep into the bloodstream, leading to mental retardation.

World's largest pencil from Guinness World Record World Record holder Ashrita Furman, who holds more than 70. World Records, not pencils.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 4:17 PM on October 23, 2007

I always used something like a hawkbill knife to keep my pencils sharp, before I just switched over to mechanicals.

They are much easier to use, though I do kinda miss the artistic potentials of a creatively sharpened wooden pencil.
posted by quin at 4:22 PM on October 23, 2007

Ashrita credits Sri Chinmoy with teaching him this philosophy of always transcending ones outer limits, and the record-breaking pencil is a token of appreciation for the tireless service Sri Chinmoy has performed in the cause of making people aware of what they are truly capable of.

What we are truly capable of...

They couldn't do something as simple as donating towards world hunger, cancer research, or even neutering their cat. Somehow a giant pencil seemed like just the thing.
posted by ranchocalamari at 5:07 PM on October 23, 2007

posted by Kinbote at 6:53 PM on October 23, 2007

Right now, on my desk at home is a koh-i-noor "Adapto" circa 1950, a Pentel P205 0.5 mm, a Staedtler Mars White Plastic Eraser, and a Mirado Black Warrior.

Pencils are neat.
posted by exlotuseater at 7:36 PM on October 23, 2007

The Mirado Black Warrior used to have a beautiful, minimal imprint, with the name in all caps, yielding the great satisfaction, as you sharpened them, of seeing their name change from ADO, BLACK WARRIOR to O BLACK WARRIOR to BLACK WARRIOR to ACK! WARRIOR!

Now the name is scrunched together, so that one would have to leave off sharpening at unnatural times in order to yield the same phrases, which would in any case be compromised by the new caps and lowercase layout. "ack Warrior" just doesn't please in the same way. Also they have these blasted hearts, which are on the end up by the eraser and cannot be cleanly sharpened away early in the game.

Classier than a Ticonderoga, sure, but they ain't what they used to be. I know this with all the force of particulars because I still have three of the old style ones in my desk drawer and cannot bear to use them.

I hear these Palomino pencils are nice. It may be time to move on.
posted by felix grundy at 9:07 PM on October 23, 2007

Milton Friedman discusses the pencil.

Make an emergency light from a pencil.

The Short Pencil Saga
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:24 PM on October 23, 2007

His "bullet point" is something that anyone who learned mechanical drafting with a pencil and paper will recognize. We had to bring a small knife to class (in public school! you'd be tasted and beheaded for trying that today!) to remove the wood and a tiny, purpose-made book of sandpaper stapled to a stick to make the point. Good stuff.
posted by 1adam12 at 10:31 PM on October 23, 2007

AskMe thread from Nov. 2006 on the mechanical pencil tip. (haha that's a pun for ya)
posted by exlotuseater at 10:39 PM on October 23, 2007

Geek city!
posted by wsg at 11:54 PM on October 23, 2007

The Blackwing 602. I became infatuated with this pencil after seeing it on boingboing.
posted by churl at 12:05 AM on October 24, 2007

Never mind sharpening it, I want a site that puts lead in my pencil.
posted by rhymer at 1:21 AM on October 24, 2007

If you happen to be in the UK, you could go to the Cumberland Pencil Museum. A great day out for all the family.
posted by bokeh at 1:33 AM on October 24, 2007

Oh, I didn't know Blackwing 602s were valuable! I got a couple of them, with a drawing clipboard, for a quarter at a yard sale this summer. I'll have to see what they're going for on EBay these days.
posted by DarkForest at 6:28 AM on October 24, 2007

When I was in art school, our drawing professor taught us how to carve all of those pencil tips with an exacto blade AND when you need each kind of tip. He was a really old school drawing master for whom I retain a great fondness to this day. When I tell people about this they think it's ridiculous, but man he could work magic with a pencil.

Thanks for this great post!
posted by nax at 6:49 AM on October 24, 2007

My Staedtler Mars .780 is my favorite pencil these days. Note: It has a "pointer" on the lead advance button. A small, knurled steel hole that you spin on the tip of the lead that brings it to a perfect point like sandpaper. Really great idea. Then you tap the lead dust out on the subway seat.

My favorite mechanical pencil lead is a hard to find brand made by Mitsubishi called Uni-Color. The "Mint Blue" is the best. This lead is so soft and easy to erase. It requires a light touch though. Brittle stuff.
posted by JBennett at 8:41 AM on October 24, 2007

> Oh, I didn't know Blackwing 602s were valuable! ... I'll have to see what they're going for on EBay these days.

About fifty bucks each, when I checked.
posted by churl at 4:03 PM on October 24, 2007

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