In the age of email and text messaging, it might seem that pencils are tools of the past. Thankfully, there’s still a place for these writing instruments all over the world. In fact, the U.S. uses 2 billion pencils each year.
With that many pencils in use per year, the need for pencil sharpeners is equally significant. There are many types of pencil sharpeners available, but they are not all created equal. The choices available were narrowed down based on function, size, manual versus electric, and more to help you find the best pencil sharpener for your needs.
- BEST OVERALL: Bostitch Personal Electric Pencil Sharpener
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: STAEDTLER pencil sharpener with screw-on lid
- BEST ELECTRIC: JARLINK Electric Pencil Sharpener, Heavy-duty
- BEST MANUAL: X-ACTO Ranger 1031 Wall Mount Manual Pencil Sharpener
- BEST DOUBLE: STAEDTLER 512 001 ST Double-hole Tub Sharpener
- BEST UNIVERSAL: POWERME Electric Pencil Sharpener
- BEST FOR THE CLASSROOM: X-ACTO School Pro Classroom Electric Pencil Sharpener
- BEST FOR COLORED PENCILS: Prismacolor Premier Pencil Sharpener
- BEST FOR ARTISTS: OfficeGoods Electric & Battery Pencil Sharpener
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Pencil Sharpener
A pencil sharpener should perform its task quickly and efficiently. Although all pencil sharpeners essentially perform the same job, some features can set a particular model apart from the others. To save you the trouble, here is a list of the most common characteristics to consider when seeking out the best pencil sharpener.
Pencil sharpeners come in various sizes, ranging from pocket-size models up to larger desk or wall-mounted models. The smaller sharpeners are best suited for occasional use or for sharpening pencils on the go. Larger models are designed to handle higher volume pencil-sharpening jobs and are more suited for classrooms or offices.
Consider your pencil usage, and purchase the size that will meet your needs. However, keep in mind that good pocket-size sharpeners are fairly inexpensive, and it doesn’t hurt to have one on hand, just in case.
Pencil sharpeners are classified based on blade types and reservoir types. They have either blade cutters or helical system cutters.
Most people are familiar with blade cutters. In this cutting system, the blade is stationary. The user pushes a pencil into a conical chamber and then provides a twisting action to sharpen the pencil. Handheld sharpeners have blade cutters. Sharpeners with blade cutters are harder to use and can be dangerous for children if they have an exposed blade.
In helical system cutters, the blades move around the pencil. The blades are a spiraling series of sharp ridges that are housed in a cylinder. The blades sharpen the pencil and act as a cog to turn the gear while holding the pencil in place. The blades grind against the pencil, shaving away the wood from the lead. These sharpeners are either cranked by hand or feature an electric motor. In general, helical sharpeners are more comfortable and safer to use.
The reservoir is where the wood shavings are deposited while the pencil is being sharpened. Not all sharpeners have attached reservoirs, especially the small handheld types. Larger reservoirs mean less emptying, but they also make the sharpener bulkier. Small reservoirs mean more trips to the trash, but the sharpener is smaller, lighter, and more portable.
Manual vs. Electric
The blades in a sharpener are powered by electric or manual energy. Electrical powered sharpeners use batteries or an AC power cord. These sharpeners require little effort from the user—insert the pencil and the blades automatically spin around and sharpen the pencil.
Manual sharpeners rely on the user to provide the twisting motion. In blade cutter systems, the user twists the pencil while it’s in the conical blade shaft. In a helical system, the user holds the pencil in place and cranks the handle for the helical blades to rotate around the pencil.
Electric sharpeners are more powerful and easy to operate, but require a power source, and they tend to be more expensive. They can also be a bit noisier than manual sharpeners. Manual sharpeners do take more effort but are not reliant on any other power source except the user, and they are less expensive. If you use pencils only on occasion, go manual; however, you may want to invest in an electric sharpener if you are a prolific pencil user or if you’re purchasing a pencil sharpener that will see a lot of traffic, such as an office or a classroom setting.
Wired vs. Wireless
Electric sharpeners are either corded or run on batteries. Battery-powered models are wireless and can be used anywhere. However, they require their batteries to be changed from time to time, which is an additional cost. Battery-powered sharpeners are not as powerful as wired sharpeners, and power is based on the battery’s quality.
Corded sharpeners are the most powerful sharpeners available, but they are limited by the length of their cords. These sharpeners are best for use in classrooms or busy offices. They can be wall-mounted or placed in a central location or a desk for easy access.
Frequency of Use
Frequent pencil users should stick with electric or manual-powered sharpeners with helical blades. These types of sharpeners are fast and will deliver consistent results with little effort. Sharpeners with helical blades are often used in classrooms or in other environments where pencils are heavily used.
Manual sharpeners with blade cutting systems are designed for infrequent use and portability. They are great sharpeners to carry around in a backpack or a purse, but they’re not designed for heavy use. They also make good backup sharpeners just in case your electric one is broken or unavailable.
Pencil Size and Shape
Although pencils have relatively standard dimensions, you may occasionally come across novelty pencils or pencils that are wider than average or have a rectangular shape. Most pencil sharpeners will only accommodate conical pencils. You can use a knife to sharpen non-conical-shaped pencils.
Some pencil sharpeners offer a larger hole to accommodate larger pencils. Most sharpeners that provide more than one hole size are designed to handle the larger pencils used in primary schools. However, vintage-style wall-mount manual sharpeners have a rotating cover that allows the user to select the right hole size that will accommodate the width of their pencil.
In general, pencil sharpeners are safe to operate. Sharpeners with helical blades are safer than a standard blade system because the blade’s sharp edge is not exposed.
Blades housed in a reservoir offer the best protection from accidental cuts or nicks. When emptying the reservoir, the user needs to take care not to run their fingers over the blades.
Some electric sharpeners are equipped with an auto stop feature. This feature allows the motor to automatically shut off when the perfect sharpness is reached. This feature prevents the user from oversharpening and reduces waste effectively.
Our Top Picks
Now that you understand the different types of pencil sharpeners available and other shopping considerations, it’s time to pick the right option for you. This list features high-quality recommendations based on specific criteria for each selection.
Due to its compact design, the Bostitch pencil sharpener takes up very little real estate on your desk. This sharpener features Bostitch’s proprietary HHC cutter technology that sharpens 65 percent faster and improves cutter life to last four times longer than similar models.
The sharpener is corded and contains a powerful motor that allows for continuous, stall-free operation. It shreds the pencil shavings extra-thin and deposits them into a reservoir, which means fewer trips to the trash can. For peace of mind, the sharpener features MagnaSafe Technology, a tamper-proof safety mechanism that prevents operation when the shaving tray is removed.
This sharpener is designed for heavy use and delivers the perfect point on your pencil. It’s modestly priced and available in four color options.
For an on-the-go sharpener that only costs a few bucks, this manual model from Staedtler fits snugly in a backpack, purses, and even your pocket. The sharpener is just 2 inches tall and includes a screw-on container to catch all those wood shavings and graphite.
The sharpener is manual, and its screw-on protective case not only catches the shavings, but it also protects your hands from accidentally brushing against the blades when fishing it out of your bag. The sharpener comes in several color options.
The Jarlink electric pencil sharpener creates sharp points with little effort. Corded sharpeners offer the most power when it comes to motors, but battery-operated motors make them portable. The Jarlink sharpener gives you both options. It uses four AA batteries, or you can power it with an AC outlet.
The sharpener has a helical blade and an auto-stop feature that automatically stops sharpening the pencil once it’s the sharpest it can be. It also has a safety feature that prevents it from turning on when the lid is open. It works on all types of pencils: graphite, colored, and charcoal. Jarlink’s electric sharpener is a versatile tool that’s well-suited in a home office or a classroom setting.
This manual pencil sharpener was once a staple in every classroom, and this vintage-style sharpener has stood the test of time for a reason. Featuring a die-cast metal base, this commercial-grade pencil sharpener is designed for high-volume environments.
The sharpener has dual helical cutters that sharpen pencils with precision and is mountable on a wall, a desk, or a table. It features an easy-to-use hand crank and accommodates eight different pencil sizes. And, it’s low-maintenance—no electrical parts means that it’s less likely to break. The X-ACTO Ranger Pencil Sharpener is a solid choice for a no-fuss sharpener that can stand up to heavy use.
Staedtler’s double-hole sharpener is highly efficient and inexpensive. It features two holes to accommodate standard-sized blacklead pencils, jumbo blacklead, and colored pencils. The sharpener is manual and uses a blade cutting system.
The smaller hole features a sharpening angle of 23 degrees, perfect for standard pencils that need to make clear and accurate lines. The larger hole has a sharpening angle of 30 degrees that’s perfect for larger pencils and colored pencils used to make broad, soft lines.
It also has a hinged cover that prevents the shavings from spilling out of the reservoir, and the lid features a safety lock to prevent accidental opening. The sharpener is small, measuring 1.6 inches by 2.3 inches by 1.6 inches. It’s perfect for travel, yet works great as a personal sharpener you can tuck into a desk drawer.
If you are looking for an all-in-one wireless electric sharpener, the PowerMe Electric Pencil Sharpener covers all your bases. The sharpener’s heavy-duty helical blades sharpen color and graphic pencils with ease and feature an auto-stop safety system that prevents the sharpener from working if the reservoir is open.
The sharpener has a rotating spiral drill design that ensures the perfect point every time. The auto-jam release system ensures your pencil will never get stuck in the blades for long. If your pencil does happen to get stuck, simply push down on the pencil and it will release.
The PowerMe Electric Pencil Sharpener is lightweight, compact, durable, and easy to use, making it a good choice for home offices and students.
Even though this pencil sharpener was made for the classroom, you don’t have to be a teacher to use it. Due to its durable construction, this sharpener can withstand a fair amount of abuse and use, making it perfect for any high-use environment.
This sharpener features a flyaway helical cutter to efficiently sharpen pencils to rounded tips without oversharpening. It has a powerful yet quiet electric motor that sharpens effectively without all the extra noise. It also has an auto-reset feature that helps prevent overheating.
It’s adjustable for six pencil sizes and powered by an AC cord.
Colored pencils are notoriously difficult to sharpen. They have softer cores than graphite pencils and break easily under too much pressure. Prismacolor, a brand of professional artists’ supplies, is known for its superior artist-grade colored pencils. They developed this manual sharpener to effectively sharpen colored pencils with ease.
The manual sharpener features two steel blade ports: one that sharpens pencils to a fine point for detailed artwork, the other to a medium point for coverage. It measures 3 inches tall, making it perfect for travel and easy to pop in your bag or pocket. The reservoir is clear so you can see when it’s full.
Although the sharpener is designed specifically for Prismacolor colored pencils, it works well with any brand of colored pencils.
Mixed media artists often work with different types of pencils. Instead of getting a dedicated sharpener to handle the variety of cores each of these pencils possess, this versatile pencil sharpener from OfficeGoods can handle them all. It features three pencil tip settings to ensure you are getting the ideal point (or lack of point) needed for your masterpiece.
With a powerful motor and a stainless steel helical blade, the sharpener quickly sharpens without a lot of noise. It can be powered by four AA batteries, an AC adapter, or a USB cord, making it portable when needed. It will not operate unless the shaving cover is fully closed, making it safe for use around young children. Although it’s designed for artists, this sharpener is great for the office, home office, schools, and everyone who wants a dependable pencil sharpener.
FAQs About Pencil Sharpeners
If you have additional questions about pencil sharpeners or are wondering how they work, read on for answers.
Q. How do you sharpen a pencil perfectly?
With a manual blade sharpener, place the pencil in the appropriate hole and use short, twisting actions to rotate the pencil until you reach the desired sharpness. With an electric pencil sharpener, insert the pencil into the hole and press down to engage the blades. Allow the blades to rotate for a few seconds, then remove the pencil to inspect the sharpness. Repeat if needed.
Q. How does an electric pencil sharpener work?
Electric pencil sharpeners often feature helical blades. These blades have sharp ridges that grind against the pencil, shaving away the wood and sharpening the core. A motor powered by a battery or electric cord causes the blades to rotate once the pencil is inserted into the sharpener.
Q. Why does my pencil sharpener not work?
There are many reasons a pencil sharpener stops working. Some culprits are loss of power, pieces of lead stuck in the blade, or an overfilled reservoir. Refer to your sharpener’s operation manual for more information.
Q. Why does my electric pencil sharpener only sharpen one side?
The leading culprits for this issue are either the pencil was initially sharpened off-center or the sharpener itself is off-center.
Q. How do you clean a pencil sharpener?
To keep your pencil sharpener clean, empty the reservoir regularly and use canned air to blow away any lingering dust or debris from the blade.