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Published Sep. 20, 2021

In a digital world, using a pencil as a writing, drawing, or crafting implement has become less common—and the wall-mounted pencil sharpener, once found in almost every home and office, is a rare find today. If you want to pick up a box of classic yellow number 2s to jot down grocery lists, colored pencils for an art project, or carpenter’s pencils to mark stone for the perfect cut, you’ll also have to make sure you have the right tool to keep them in working order.  

The manual pencil sharpeners of today are a big improvement over the first design patented by French mathematician Bernard Lassimone in 1828. While you can buy an electric pencil sharpener to plug into your power strip next to your smartphone and laptop, this article is focused on the unique aesthetics of manual sharpeners. When you rotate your pencil or turn a crank to gently plane the wood surrounding the pencil’s graphite core, you are participating in the rich history of humans crafting physical objects to capture our ideas and communicate them to others in the present or future.

How We Picked the Best Manual Pencil Sharpeners

Methodology: To narrow down our selections from the dozens of pencil sharpeners on the market, we took a wider look into the aesthetic reasons why people choose pencils over typing data into a computer file or using a stylus on a screen to color digital art. 

Brands: We focused on brands with a history in producing writing or crafting tools. We also strongly considered companies that make both high quality pencils and their sharpeners.

Value: Pencil sharpeners are available at a wide range of price points from as little as a few dollars to twenty dollars or more. We defined value as a balance of price and quality measurements such as materials and durability, and we prioritized brand names over saving a few dollars.

Materials: We searched for aesthetically attractive models made primarily from steel and brass over non-eco-friendly plastics.

Durability: In addition to seeking materials that last, we included models that offer replacement blades or cutters to limit waste.

The Best Manual Pencil Sharpeners: Reviews and Recommendations

Best Overall: Alvin Brass Bullet Sharpener

Impeccable Workmanship

A lifetime of pointy pencils awaits.

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Why It Made The Cut: The Alvin Brass Bullet Sharpener got our highest marks as an elegantly designed tool that can last for decades. 

Specs:

  • Materials: Solid brass with stainless steel blade
  • Size: 3 x 2 x 2 inches
  • Fits: Standard 8 mm-diameter pencils (5/16 inch)

Pros: 

  • Fits standard 8 mm-diameter pencils (5/16 inch)
  • Grippable textured surface
  • Replacement blades available

Cons: 

  • Lacks container for shavings

When you’re holding the Alvin Brass Bullet, the weight and distinctive hue of solid brass are reminders that often what you do with a sharpened pencil is art, whether it’s the art of the written word or a visionary sketch. Alvin was a family-owned manufacturer of drawing and drafting tools from 1950 until it closed its doors in 2020. The company’s line of drafting equipment was subsequently acquired by Ascendant Brands, which relaunched the brand in 2021. 

If you’re looking to shape standard-size wooden graphite pencils and colored pencils, this German-made single-opening tool creates a sharp point. Its tiny size makes it super-portable, but you’ll probably want to put it in a pencil case so it doesn’t get lost in the depths of your backpack. Try putting a small dish or bowl under your pencil when using the sharpener to catch the shavings and avoid a mess.

Best Value: Bostitch Metal Antimicrobial Manual Pencil Sharpener

Old-School Vibes

A classic and versatile addition to any home office or arts and crafts room.

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Why It Made The Cut: The hand-crank mechanism and multiple hole sizes make this sharpener a convenient choice for people with lots of different kinds of pencils.

Specs:

  • Materials: Alloy steel
  • Size: 5.43 x 2.68 x 4.33 inches
  • Fits: A variety of pencils from standard to jumbo and triangular

Pros: 

  • Accommodates a wide variety of pencils
  • Easy to clean
  • Antimicrobial coating 

Cons: 

  • Bulky
  • Requires installation

The first thing you should know about this Bostitch sharpener is that it was designed with heavy classroom use in mind. Think lots of students and lots of pencils of all shapes and sizes. That makes it a great option for families with kids or adults who love crafts but aren’t looking for everything to be perfectly on point. While some artists may still love this simple machine for its classic shape, it’s not the best choice for fine-tuning pencils to exacting specifications. 

Pocket-size and handheld sharpeners can be challenging to hold and manipulate for some people, making the hand-crank of a wall-mounted model an attractive alternative. Turn the dial before you sharpen to choose from the eight different hole sizes, which can be used with graphite pencils, colored pencils, and even pencils with triangle-shaped shafts.

When the dual blade cutter gets dull, it’s a breeze to purchase and install a replacement, keeping your pencil sharpener in working order for years to come. 

Best Self-Contained Design: ​​Kum Glass Pencil Sharpener

Old-Fashioned Style

Keeps pencil shavings neat and tidy.

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Why It Made The Cut: We love how the clear glass receptacle turns wood pencil shavings into an artful display on your desk or bookshelf.  

Specs:

  • Materials: Glass, magnesium metal, carbon steel, plastic cap
  • Size: 1.57 x 1.57 x 2.95 inches
  • Fits: Standard 8 mm-diameter pencils

Pros: 

  • Aesthetically pleasing
  • Catches shavings as you sharpen
  • Blade unscrews for replacement

Cons: 

  • Glass jar is breakable

If you’ve started collecting coloring books or keeping a journal to get away from screens and into more tactile activities, you’ll love the Kum Glass Pencil Sharpener. The Kum company was founded in Germany in 1919, and this unique design looks as if it would be right at home on an apothecary shelf from that era. Kum makes a whole line of pencil sharpeners that includes models to accommodate odd shapes or wax crayons, but we picked this one because it’s both beautiful and ideal for everyday use.

Artists who like a clean workspace will appreciate how simple it is to collect pencil shavings in the jar and dispose of them quickly by unscrewing the plastic cap. This is a single-hole sharpener that planes standard-diameter pencils, so artists using a wide variety of pencil types may have to augment their collection of sharpeners to take care of all of their implements. You’ll also probably want to leave it in your studio or office to avoid damaging the glass in transport.

Best for Carpenter’s Pencils: General Pencil Flat Point Sharpener

Skip the Knife

Let this tool do the work and protect your hands from cuts.

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Why It Made The Cut: We like this speciality sharpener for its affordable price, storied brand, and versatility of use by woodworkers and artists alike. 

Pros: 

  • Creates a broad chiseled point
  • Works with carpenter’s pencils
  • Unique design

Cons: 

  • Blades not replaceable

There are two common uses for a wide and flat pencil point: marking perfectly straight lines by dragging the pencil across a wood or stone surface and drawing calligraphy. A regular sharpener creates rounded tapered points, so carpenters often use a knife to plane their pencils flat, despite the risk of nicks and serious cuts. 

The Flat Point Sharpener from General Pencil gets results much more safely and comes with detailed five-step instructions on using the blade. Persnickety pencil fans might still want to do some detailing with their pocket knife, but other craftspeople will find this sharpener does the trick. 

Using the sharpener with General Pencil’s other products is not a requirement, but we love that this tool was designed by a US pencil manufacturer that has been around since 1923 and was featured in a Modern Marvels episode on the History Channel about carbon. While this product doesn’t have a container to hold pencil shavings, what’s a little extra wood on the floor of the shop you’ll be sweeping up at the end of the day anyway? 

Best Modern Style: Kutsuwa Stad Angle Adjustable Pencil Sharpener T’Gall

Affordable and Adjustable

Excellent detailing with a container for shavings.

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Why It Made The Cut: We like the unique design of this compact device, which allows you to customize the length and sharpness of your pencil’s point by adjusting the dial.

Specs:

  • Materials: Plastic with a steel blade
  • Size: 1.93 x 1.06 x 2.56 inches
  • Fits: Standard 8 mm-diameter pencils

Pros: 

  • Choose from five point settings
  • Available in bright colors
  • Includes a container for shavings

Cons: 

  • Made primarily of plastic
  • Blade cannot be replaced

Japanese stationery and office supply brand Kutsuwa has produced a standout compact sharpener in the Stad T’Gaal. This colorful and clever tool is distinguished by a dial on the side that allows you to change the angle of the blade to shape your pencil’s point to your liking.

It’s a fun choice for people who prefer a longer and thinner or shorter and wider point depending on the type of pencil (such as colored drawing pencils versus traditional writing pencils) but don’t want to purchase multiple speciality sharpeners. As you get into your craft, you can try out different point shapes to see which gives you the best results. 

From a sustainable perspective, this design loses points because the blade can’t be replaced and the body of the sharpener is plastic. However, for more casual coloring book aficionados, periodic journalers, and occasional crafters, the design aesthetic may still be a draw. 

Things to Consider Before Buying a Manual Pencil Sharpener

Pencil sharpeners are objects that many of us see as a simple tool to solve a problem, with few differences between models. To avoid breaking your pencil’s point or chewing up the wood unnecessarily, it’s helpful to understand that there are quite a few different kinds of sharpeners on the market and know what to consider as you shop.

Pencil specs: The main pencil specs you’ll want to know before purchasing a sharpener are the diameter, shape, and type. The average pencil diameter is 8 mm (about 5/16 of an inch), and most pencils are round. Oval, triangular, and flat-point pencils will require openings designed for their shapes. Types range from wooden graphite pencils to carpenter’s pencils to watercolor pencils and woodless graphite pencils. Note: The number two on a number 2 pencil refers to the hardness of the graphite core, not the diameter. 

Versatility: When shopping for a sharpener, consider your entire pencil collection (or soon-to-be-acquired collection) to get the best value for your purchase. 

Adjustable sharpeners may accommodate your full range of pencil types but offer less exacting results than a single-hole sharpener designed for a very specific pencil type and point shape (e.g., long point sharpeners). 

Portability: With the exception of wall-mounted sharpeners, most manual pencil sharpeners are quite portable. Solid brass sharpeners will be heftier in weight than plastic and steel models, but the biggest considerations regarding portability are the risk of materials (such as glass) breaking in transit and losing tiny handheld sharpeners.

FAQs 

Q: Do pencil sharpeners get dull? 

Absolutely. Every sharpener contains a metal blade that planes the surface of the pencil to a point and gradually dulls with use. If you’re going to be using your sharpener frequently and want to avoid waste, look for one with a replaceable blade or cutter.

Q: How can I sharpen my pencil without a sharpener?

Carefully! Manual pencil sharpeners have an enclosure around the blade, and DIY sharpening with a knife omits this safety measure. While you can find blog posts and video tutorials that include tips for using anything from a knife to sandpaper and scissors to shape your writing or crafting tool, a manual pencil sharpener is an affordable item that can save you hassle—and possibly your fingers.

Q: What is the best handheld pencil sharpener?

Our pick for the best handheld pencil sharpener (and best overall manual sharpener)  is the Alvin Brass Bullet. We like that this solid brass tool weighs more than plastic or other metal sharpeners, has a textured exterior so it’s less likely to slip from your fingers, and has a replaceable blade. However, a two-opening sharpener with a wedge shape like the Mobius + Ruppert #603 is another good option, depending on your personal preferences.

Final Thoughts

Our favorite pick on your journey to the perfect pencil point is the Alvin Brass Bullet because of its fantastic blend of aesthetics and utility. However, if you fall in love with pencils of all shapes and sizes (and maybe even visit the Derwent Pencil Museum in Keswick, England), collecting a variety of sharpeners as miniature objets d’art may become a fun and relatively inexpensive new hobby.

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