Five ways to Sharpen a Pencil (and a bonus tutorial on how to change a pencil sharpener blade).

5 ways to sharpen a pencil and how to change a pencil sharpener blade BLOG POST.jpg

It's posts like these that make me laugh. To someone outside of the creative fold it must sound ridiculous. Most people know how to sharpen a pencil right? But five different ways? Are you crazy Lianne? Why do you even care?

Well here are some good reasons:

  1. Artist grade colour pencils are expensive. Working out at about £3-£5 each individually they're worth looking after and dodgy sharpening can chew up your casing and waste your lead. 
  2. It can hurt you! Ever had a blister from hand sharpening? Trust me. It hurts. And it puts you out of action for a few days. Not good if you have a commission deadline to meet. Repetitive strain injury and wrist problems are not to be sneered at either.
  3. Achieving a perfect point can vary from sharpener to sharpener. It's useful to know what's available because each type of sharpener has something different to offer.
  4. Location. Depending on where you're working you may require a different type of sharpener.

So with that said, let's explore the different ways we can sharpen our pencils. 

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Method 1: Sharpening a pencil with a blade

    Sharpen a pencil with a blade

    A classic technique. Simply scrape off the tip of your pencil with a sharp blade to form a point. 

    Pros: You have full control over the point style you create. Chisel? Super-fine? This method allows for that. You can also sharpen any size pencil including the 'chubby' kinds and even sticks of graphite or charcoal which may be too fragile for sharpening.

    Cons: You might take your fingers off in the process. The blades need to be sharp! And precision points can be tricky to achieve without taking more and more of your pencil off. There is always a LOT of wastage. It's also not suitable for a portable sharpener (sure you can fit it in your pocket but try taking your 'sharpener' on a plane.....)

    Method 2: The humble hand pencil sharpener


    I typically always carry one in my handbag for my children. You never know when you'll need it! The classic pencil sharpener is a tool no artist can live without.

    Pros: Very easy to come across and often very cheap. The blades are normally replaceable (see tutorial at the end of this post) and it's just perfect for occasional to moderate use. It get's even better though, some hand sharpeners have different sized holes for normal and chubby pencils and some also have shaving wells to collect the mess. They're also portable and usually allowed on planes (correct at the time of being published).

    Cons: Fiddly and not great for the wrists or skin- especially if you frequently resharpen 300 pencils plus in one go like I do. Ouch. If they don't have a well they can also be messy.  

    Method 3: Sharpening a pencil with sand paper. 

    Sharpening a pencil with sandpaper

    A little known technique that's really worth exploring. Simply rub the tip of your pencil across some fine sandpaper and voila!

    Pros: You can create fine points without eating into the casing further meaning you get the most out of your pencil. Like with using a knife, you have a certain amount of control over the shape of the tip.

    Cons: It's very messy! (but you can collect that dust too and use it for other effects) Using sandpaper doesn't remove the casing very well so you will need to sharpen in other ways.

    Method 4: A manual table sharpener

    HELIX desktop pencil sharpener

    I remember my school teachers having these and I can understand why! So very simple to use and they can sharpen a large number of pencils easily. All you do is pop the pencil into the silver casing and rotate the leaver. Done! Most models come with some kind of desk attachment so they can be clamped down for stability.

    Pros: Produces a reliable consistent point and is easy on the hands and wrists. Some come with different point finishes and the shavings well keeps everything clean and tidy. 

    Cons: More expensive then the traditional hand sharpener. The blades may not be replaceable and even though it is portable, it's heavy and large

    Method 5: An electric/battery sharpener

    ELECTRIC pencil sharpener

    For the gadget lovers out there, you can also get electric or battery operated pencil sharpeners which do a swift job of sharpening, often with various point finishes and usually with a shavings well.

    Pros: Almost instant sharp pencils with little to no effort these sharpeners take out all the hard work. 

    Cons: Far more expensive then a traditional hand sharpener and of course incur the extra cost of running in either electricity or batteries. Some sharpeners can also eat your pencils for lunch- they have a VERY high consumption rate and will shave down pencils very quickly as they work so fast. Mechanical parts may also fail and replacement parts can be hard to find, if at all. They're also noisy!

    You may also be interested in my post Everything That I Use to Create My Art which has further details on the tools and materials I use.

    How to change a Pencil Sharpener Blade. 

    how to change a pencil sharpener blade

    You may or may not know that most sharpeners have a small flat blade which, when blunt, can be easily removed and replaced.

    You can tell if your hand held sharpener needs a new blade when it starts to chew up pencils rather then shave off smooth passes of casing. I've damaged SO many pencils trying to persevere with a blunt pencil sharpener and trust me... it's not worth it. The blades themselves are inexpensive and are worth getting a couple of to have in stock instead of replacing whole pencil sharpeners.

    To replace your pencil sharpener blades you will need:

    • Pencil sharpener blades (Either straight or round edged. Check your sharpener, most are round edged but some take straight edged).
    • A mini screwdriver (the kind you get to repair glasses)
    1. Using your mini screwdriver carefully unscrew the screw holding the blade in place. The blade itself should be quite blunt now but PLEASE BE CAREFUL. It could be razor sharp.
    2. Remove the old blade and the screw.
    3. Now BE CAREFUL. This one WILL be sharp. Put the new blade in place so you can see the bevelled edge and line up the blades screw hole with the pencil sharpeners hole.
    4. Then replace the screw and tighten it up.
    5. Test it to make sure it works and enjoy your refreshed sharpener.

    Bonus Tip: Some electric sharpeners can also have the blades or grinders replaced. Check with your supplier in case you think you need to replace the whole model- you might not need to.