Mental Floss

How to Sharpen Pencils

Chris Higgins

Author, satirist, and professional pencil-sharpener David Rees has written a fully-illustrated guest column for Etsy on the topic of How to Sharpen Pencils. It's a brilliantly dry taste of his upcoming book (which, full disclosure, I blurbed*), How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical & Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening for Writers, Artists, Contractors, Flange Turners, Anglesmiths, & Civil Servants. Before you ask, yes, it's real. It's as real as a pencil-point to the throat. This is so real I can hardly bear to imagine a world in which it is not real.

Anyway, here's a little snippet from mid-way through the process:

Step Four: Monitoring the Shavings’ Egress Many of my clients request the use of a single-blade hand sharpener because of the iconic, scalloped ribbon of shavings it produces. (Sometimes called “the apple-peel effect” or “M’lady’s ruffled skirt abandoned on the floor in the throes of our love-making.”) Although you may be tempted to focus exclusively on the pencil point, attention must be paid to the merry byproduct of your labor. As pencil shavings begin to curl out of the sharpener, turn the sharpener away from you so the shavings fall to the side and don’t obscure the blade. Do not allow the shavings to collect in your palm. Shavings should unfurl completely, lest they jam the sharpener. If shavings are reluctant to leave the sharpener’s planar orifice, a gentle tug will release them from its grasp. Place them on a flat surface and return to the task at hand.

Read the rest for Rees's full nine-step process for sharpening, illustrated with moody photographs of the artisan at work.

* Full disclosure: So I blurbed David's book, but I wasn't compensated for that nor this blog post. I didn't even get a free pencil or a free book. The man is a cheapskate of the first order, though he did sharpen the hell out of my pencils.