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How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical & Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening for Writers, Artists, Contractors, Flange Turners, Anglesmiths, & Civil Servants [Kindle Edition]

David Rees , John Hodgman
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)

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Book Description

A hilarious guide to the lost art of artisanal pencil sharpening

"...I am so thrilled David Rees is picking up the reins of the forgotten art of manual graphite-encased-in-wood point-crafting. I love my pencil!"

"You may think that sharpening a pencil is easy, but David Rees makes it look hard, and that makes all the difference."

"Truly, my life before I was presented with correctly sharpened pencils by an artisan was a dull and ill-sharpened void. Learn from my mistakes."

Have you got the right kind of point on your pencil? Do you know how to achieve the perfect point for the kind of work you need out of that pencil?

Deep in New York’s Hudson River Valley, craftsman David Rees—the world’s number one #2 pencil sharpener—still practices the age-old art of manual pencil sharpening. In 2010, he began offering his artisanal service to the world, to the jubilation of artists, writers, draftsmen, and standardized test takers.

Now, Rees presents a book that is both a manifesto and a fully-illustrated walk-through of the many, many, many ways to sharpen a pencil. Including chapters on equipment, current practice, and modern technologies, it also points at new trends in sharpening, including "Celebrity Impression Pencil Sharpening (CIPS)," a warning about the “Psychological Risks Associated with Pencil Sharpening,” and a survey of "Wines that tastes like pencils."

As Rees implores: "Sharpening pencils should be an activity that enriches the senses."

And if you think it’s a joke, why don’t you poke yourself with your newly sharpened pencil? Or better yet, don’t—because it’ll really hurt.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Rees, previously known as creator of the brash, deadpan, clip-art comic strip, Get Your War On, has set out to do what few of his predecessors in the pencil-sharpening game have, laying forth not just a detailed practical manual of all of the major sharpening techniques and devices but also a thoughtful discourse on the creative, performative, psychological, and even occult aspects of the sharpener’s art. Bowing to popular usage, he includes a section on the proper use of electric sharpeners (it involves a mallet) and a trenchant (if profane) discourse on mechanical pencils. Although this reviewer was brought up a little short by the omission of chapters on sharpening in the dark or at higher altitudes, it must nevertheless be acknowledged that this is without doubt the most thorough single-volume work on the sharpening of North American No. 2 pencils currently in existence. One is tempted to call it a must-read for anyone who has ever used a pencil. Then one comes to one’s senses and recommends it, rather, to those who possess a home workbench, a dry wit, and/or a healthy appreciation of the absurd. --David Wright

From Bookforum

As a sheer feat of writerly endurance, How to Sharpen Pencils is impressive. . . . In short, I don't really see the point of this book about points. —Peter Arkle

Product Details

  • File Size: 4926 KB
  • Print Length: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Melville House (April 10, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005D7VJX2
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #210,768 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
77 of 87 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sharp and to the point April 19, 2012
My pencils were always so embarrassingly dull that I had to start using pens. I failed my first year of University because I couldn't properly colour in the bubble on standardized tests. David Rees' amazing new book has literally turned my life around. Now if someone would tell me how to recondition the dried out erasers...
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This work creates an entirely new paradigm August 31, 2012
Immediately after reading this seminal act of devotion and brilliance I knew my life had changed irrevocably. I realized why I have always found the Internet experience somehow hollow and devoid of meaning: you cannot write on the internet with a pencil.
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Long overdue book May 1, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As an obsessive accumulator of old mechanical pencil sharpeners, it's my opinion that this is the perfect book. I understand that others do not have quite as much technical interest, but I have to say that everyone I've shown this to loves the book including those not in the least bitten by the bug. It's one of those books where you have to keep shoving it at other people saying here read this, and they actually think it's as funny as you do and can't stop reading. By the way, if you by choice have more than a few pencil sharpeners, you have to buy this book.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Insane and Insanely Funny April 13, 2012
By cbartz
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
David Rees is insane and insanely funny. Who else could write a book about pencil sharpening and leave you wanting more? David Rees can write humor behind his head and with his teeth (see chapter on novelty sharpening). The book reads like a roller coaster starting with a slow, uphill, tongue-in-cheek technical instruction. But once the coaster hits the top, it is a crazy thrill-ride to the end that only Rees' brand of unpredictable humor could pull off. I was laughing out loud. Includes an appendix of wines that taste like pencil shavings! I read from my Kindle and noticed one gap / hanging sentence in chapter 17 - not sure how much was missing.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Triumph! July 21, 2012
Gone are the days of haphazardly sharpening pencils with all the finesse of a floundering Philistine. This book has given me the tools I needed to bring my pencil sharpening to the next level. Gasps of awe and astonishment have followed my pencils wherever they go, from the wood carving huts of Pakuhaji to the Schrimpschonger fellowship of Krambugah. I now spend my days travelling the globe ala "Kung Fu" imparting whatever knowledge and wisdom I can to the less fortunate pencil owners of the world.

Thank you Mr. Rees. Thank you for making me the man I needed to be.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Since reading David Rees' seminal treatise on the craft of artisanal pencil sharpening I have found my collar bottoms are more evenly scalloped (I use exclusively hexagonal #2 pencils) and my incidences of irregular pin tips on pencil leads are dramatically lower (about 74% less.) I attribute this progress to two things espoused by Rees: first, doing proper warm-up exercises ("Do not neglect your fingers!";) and second, keeping a detailed logbook of every pencil I sharpen. I feel that I can only do justice in this review by citing some of Rees' most important points, and I refer you first to the helpful thought on p. 49, "Relative difficulty of knife-based activities from easiest to most difficult, with sharpening a pencil representing the median." This is obviously in the section dealing with rustic pencil sharpening with a pocketknife, and the chart gives hope to neophyte pencil sharpeners everywhere. Although in my practice I generally use a double-burr hand-crank sharpener (I can only hope one day to have a sharpener as exquisite as Rees' prized El Casco M430-CN, which produces pencils suitably pointed even for artists specializing in sketching insect wings) I found the section on single-burr sharpeners and techniques fascinating, particularly reveling in the comparison and contrast of the CARL Angel-5 and Dahle 166 cylinder-blade angles (p. 77.) I likewise appreciated the clarification provided by the footnote on p.79 amicably resolving the long-simmering nomenclature dispute about spring-loaded, extendable intake stabilizing mechanisms on single-burr sharpeners. I found the text box on p. 80 most helpful, as it provides sage advice to those of us who so often get caught up in all the marketing hyperbole surrounding hand-crank pencil sharpeners. Read more ›
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Satire! and Serious! October 11, 2012
From David Rees:
"If this book serves any purpose, let it be as the definitive counter-argument to my teacher's conspiracy theories [that my constantly going to the pencil sharpener was an attention-getting tactic]: Mr. Stewart, it was *always* about the pencil point."

I love everything to do with paper and writing so was thrilled to learn of this book by Rees, an artisan dubbed "the number one #2 pencil sharpener." I wasn't sure if it was satire or serious but I got a copy just to see, and before I knew it I'd read it through. It's both -- informative and hilarious; Rees even operates a pencil-sharpening business, and he treats the subject with the precision of an engineer and with humor, including footnotes that rival Mary Roach.

Rees begins with the anatomy of a pencil, including problem pencil points and how different points are suited to different jobs. He follows with physical warm-up exercises, then to the how-to of sharpening. His methods include pocketknife; single- and multiple-blade pocket sharpeners; and single- and double-burr crank sharpeners; and his accessories include an apron; tweezers; sandpaper and emery boards; protective tubes and pencil-point caps; baggies (to return the shavings to the customer); and bandages (!). The chapter on mechanical pencils is short (full text: "Mechanical pencils are bull****.") and the one on electric sharpeners is long (including how to identify which houses have them, how to gain access, and how to destroy them using safety goggles and a mallet).

I'm neutral about the chapters on sharpening pencils with your mind, skipped most of the chapter on celebrity-impersonator sharpening, and found many of the b/w photos too dark with too little contrast to see well.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars David Rees is the Barnum and Bailey of Pencil Sharpening ...
David Rees is the Barnum and Bailey of Pencil Sharpening. What a GENIUS HE IS to write a painfully-detailed––yet very funny–– book about the tools, attire, and physical stamina... Read more
Published 28 days ago by Tabber
5.0 out of 5 stars Seriously?
This book was right up my alley. The author takes an absurd idea and elaborates on it to the point of insanity and beyond. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Larry Benjamin
5.0 out of 5 stars The Solution to America's Problems?
It was about 5 years ago that I had a Eureka moment.

I was at in the reading room at the Huntington Library, studying medieval illuminated manuscripts, when I realised... Read more
Published 2 months ago by JP
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional
This book puts everything into perspective. I particularly like the comprehensive insight on mechanical pencils in Chapter 11. Bravo Mr. Rees.
Published 2 months ago by J. Grant
5.0 out of 5 stars Recommended for Any Writer
I gave this to my girlfriend as she was trying to finish writing the last chapters of a 60,000-word nonfiction book on deadline. Read more
Published 4 months ago by John G. Pendleton
3.0 out of 5 stars interesting rumination gone awry
A fascinating treatise on pencils that veers I to the weirdly crass in the last third. Would have been five stars without the section on CIP.
Published 4 months ago by Adam C. Brault
4.0 out of 5 stars The ultimate guide to sharpening lead!
Terrific little book and tells all you will ever need to know about sharpening pencils, pencil sharpeners and even a bit of drama!
Published 5 months ago by Peggy Friesen
4.0 out of 5 stars Funny and informative
If you have ever wanted to know how to sharpen a pencil but are not willing to pay thousands of dollars for a week long course then this is the book for you. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Teambarr
5.0 out of 5 stars Dry Humor
I enjoyed the humor and the concept that Rees could write a whole book on a task that takes 3 to 5 seconds to complete.
Published 7 months ago by Corybant
5.0 out of 5 stars I am about to tweet this gem to all my so-called twitter contacts ...
... because David Rees is a comic genius, and the book's design is beautiful, and I know WAY too many people who would die laughing once they open the wrapping paper and see what... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Paul V. Allatson
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