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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 Hardcover – April 10, 2012


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Melville House; First Edition edition (April 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1612190405
  • ISBN-13: 978-1612190402
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 7.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #740,342 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

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Customer Reviews

The book was hilarious, smart, and informative.
Jacob Kinder
A fantastic treatise on everything related to hand-crafting the perfect pencil tip.
Sean Welch
Finally a definitive guide on how to properly sharpen pencils!
Daniel Vincent

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By D. Hungerford on August 31, 2012
Format: Hardcover
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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84 of 95 people found the following review helpful By J. Ryan Pedersen on April 19, 2012
Format: Hardcover
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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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Butler on 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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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful By cbartz on April 13, 2012
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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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Long on July 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover
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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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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Dwight Dulsky on October 9, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I first saw this book in the lobby of the Revel Casino in Atlantic City NJ. After spending a few minutes with it I was intrigued enough to order this from Amazon and read it cover to cover. What becomes readily apparent is the way to make absurd content incredibly interesting through David Rees writing style. I can't say that this book will ever redeem ones soul, cure the common cold or in anyway insure world peace - but you will sit back and admire David Rees as quite a writer who can make the mundane seem like rocket science. Yes, I liked it.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By emmejay VINE VOICE on October 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover
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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