Those Ol' Woodie Sharpeners

"You wouldn't trust an electric machine to deliver your baby; why would you trust one to sharpen your pencil?"  David Rees How To Sharpen Pencils

Pencil sharpener professional expert David Rees hates electric pencil sharpeners, but it's pretty clear there is a conflict of interest going on there.  My dirty little secret is that I love electric sharpeners.  That being said, if you look at amazon reviews, you see that new electric pencil sharpeners are hit-or-miss at best.  The good news is that you can find vintage pencil sharpeners from the heyday of pencil technology for less than $4.99 at many thrift stores, and you can get a good one off ebay for less than $30.

I spend enough time at thrift stores that I have a selection of pencil sharpeners and I decided to compare my wood grained vintage machines.  These remind me of those wonderful/awful wood sided cars made during the 70's- 90's, not coincidentally the same vintage as these pencil sharpeners.  I really wanted to believe that Boston Hunt was owned by Buick or Ford, but the resemblance of these pencil sharpeners to a wood veneered station wagon is not that easily explained.  Wood paneled cars are surprisingly rare these days, and it was months of looking before I found a 1988 Plymouth Voyager in the wild. (Even in Tucson which has more than its share of old beater cars).  It is MUCH easier to find the pencil sharpener equivalent. The sharpener is going to be WAY more reliable, affordable, and utilitarian while still giving you that 80's automotive nostalgia...

Boston Hunt Model 18

This is the electric sharpener was found on top of countless desks and in offices and classrooms all over America.  I still suspect it might actually be a Chrysler product. You can spot them in offices and businesses even now, and it's clear that these units were built to stand the test of time.

Despite its bland office-beige exterior, I have to admit that I am partial to the fake wood veneer--this is a classic sharpener and they don't make them like this any more.  These are probably one of the last  consumer electronics that were made in the USA, and you can feel that your vintage Ticonderogas or USA Golds appreciate interacting with the Boston 18.  

The only downfall of of the Boston sharpeners is that the drive gear inside can wear out.  The good news is that you can replace this gear with a 3D printed version and its like new again.  There were many variations of the Boston sharpeners, and as long as it is made in USA you're going to have a solid workhorse of a sharpener.

By the way, if station station wagons aren't your thing, you can always get this sporty little number in a Pontiac Grand Am variety

Panasonic Model KP110

Panasonic has never made a bad sharpener.  They are out of production in general now, but even the newer models were great.  I think that the older ones that were made in Japan had much better build quality, but any Panasonic is going to put an excellent point on your pencil.  Panasonic also made some fabulous and funky sharpeners in the 60's and 70's, but the KP110 is really the pinnacle of quality and performance.  

Despite having almost half the power of the Boston 18 (1.2 amps vs 2 amps) the Panasonic has just as much grunt if not more.  It is heavier and feels more like a precision instrument.  This is the sharpener to get if you are looking at vintage sharpeners from a function standpoint.

Berol Dexter Apsco Sharpener

Well, this one isn't electric and doesn't have wood grain, but I'm going to lump this in because it's from the same era and has the same office beige.  This does two things the electrics won't: It will sharpen any diameter pencil you have and it will do it during a power outage.  I've never seen a pencil as big as the largest hole on the ring, maybe I can use it to point a cigar...

Wow, this thing weighs twice as much as a Carl Angel, and the cast metal frame is just beefy.  It takes longer to sharpen a pencil with this than either of the electric contenders, but the rasping feeling and sound is oddly satisfying.  My sample is in great condition and has nice sharp blades, but new old stock blades are always for sale on ebay.  To be honest, I think I prefer the gleaming chrome variations of crank sharpeners, but this unit works just as well and has great versatility.

The Winner

From left to right: Boston 18, Panasonic KP110, and Berol hand crank.  I sharpened a Walmart Casemate pencil in each sharpener and the results are in.  I'm going to have to cop out and say these sharpeners are all winners.  The Panasonic has a longer and smoother point by a small margin, but there's nothing wrong with the Boston.  In fact, the slightly shorter point can be an asset if you are using soft or brittle leads.  Both of these electrics will make short work of any colored pencil I've run through them. And both of them make a long point faster and easier than any hand sharpener.

The Berol is tricky.  I love crank sharpeners because they make me feel like I'm in elementary school (in a good way), but I can never seem to get a perfectly centered point with this one.  That being said, the Carl Angel doesn't perfectly center either.  The point is 'rustic' compared to the electric sharpeners, and it doesn't get quite as fine.  But it is my go to for a rough and ready point on jumbo pencils.

I guess this goes to show that everyone can use more than one sharpener... I have a Panasonic on my desk at home, a Boston on my desk at work, and the Berol screwed to my wall for decor (or art pencils that don't fit in my other sharpeners).  If you see a vintage sharpener at the thrift store or at a yard sale, get it!!

No comments

Back to Top