Handheld Pencil Sharpeners: The Complete Guide

sharpeners main image

We are all very familiar with the troubles that befall handheld plastic pencil sharpeners: messy emptying, broken and stuck lead, inability to handle colored pencils and more. With my students urging and my own curiosity peaked, I set out to do a side-by-side comparison of available sharpeners on the market. To help me out, Blick Art Materials was kind enough to send me some of the sharpeners they carry. (Love them!) My wonderful friend and elementary art colleague Deb Leventhal and I tested all the sharpeners with regular, Pappermate pencils, while my students tested the sharpeners with Crayola colored pencils. (I got a lot of pencils sharpened in the process!)

Below you will find detailed information about each sharpener along with the criteria my students and I felt is essential to consider before buying sets for your art room. Listed are the top six contenders. They all have their pros and cons and vary in price, but they were included as the top six because of their more frequent reliability, simplicity, and durability.  I’ll also dish on a few sharpeners that just weren’t that sharp. ;) If you’d like to see a full list of the criteria we used and how each sharpener performed in each category, please click here for an informational table.




If you would like to purchase any of these for your classroom, here are the links!

Dahle Canister Pencil Sharpener :: Mobius & Ruppert Prism Sharpener

Faber-Castell Grip Trio Sharpener :: Prismacolor Pencil Sharpener

Maped Canister Pencil Sharpener  :: Dahle Chubby Pencil Sharpener


Below are the sharpeners that were tested, but sadly, failed to pass the trials.

Helix Sharpener 1-hole – $1.59; 5+ $1.43: While this was a student favorite for handling and comes at a cheap price, it landed right in the middle because of its mediocre sharpening abilities, tendency to break lead, and potential to break under heavy classroom use.

General’s All-Art Sharpener – $0.99; 12+ $0.62: While definitely economical, this sharpener worked poorly, broke lead often, and required a waste basket near by to catch the shavings. From a safety standpoint, this would be easy for a student to pocket and take out of the art room.

Kum Long-Point Sharpener – $5.33: Billed as a “long-point” sharpener, this model sharpens the lead long past the point creating a warped cylinder. The odd design easily clogs. Although it comes with extra metal blades, it has a potential to be dangerous if they’re not removed before giving to students.

Helix All-Pro Double-Ended – $4.49: The poor design of this sharpener means you have to squeeze the top off. The sharpening tools and holes are confusing and removing stuck lead is near impossible due to the plastic bar in the way. Probably “made for professionals” (haha).

Lyra Colorstripe Handheld – $1.99: This model took forever to sharpen. It was extremely difficult to open, making shavings go everywhere! The shavings got stuck in the blade and the plastic bit broke off on the first try opening.

coloredpenciltest collage

I would LOVE to try the Blick Pencil Sharpener for $2.45 to see how it compares!

We all concluded that while some handheld sharpeners are far better than others, there is always going to be a margin of caution and error. Many hands are on these sharpeners all day long, enduring the normal wear and tear…and dropping…in the art room. The old school wall-crank sharpeners and the electric sharpeners seem to work much more reliably than handheld sharpeners, but it is wonderfully convenient to provide sharpeners at each table to reduce noise and unnecessary traffic in the already bustling art room. Ultimately, I have decided to order the clear, Dahle Canister sharpeners to place at my tables. But I would be willing to order the Dahle Chubby sharpeners again, as mine were inherited and of an unknown age.

Below is an image of my table baskets – all day, every day my tables have 8 pencils, 8 erasers, and 3 sharpeners.





What is your favorite sharpener? Do you keep them at your tables?

Have you found different results than those reported above?

Alecia Eggers Kaczmarek


Alecia is an elementary art teacher in central Iowa who is passionate about teaching and reaching her students with an innovative and meaningful arts education.


  • Jodi Youngman

    I used to have those silver two-sided ones, and they all broke-the hinges are not very sturdy, within a few months all of them were ripped into two pieces.

    • Alecia Eggers

      Thank you for the insight! The complicated design really does worry me!

  • HipWaldorf

    Thanks for doing the extensive research. I have been using the German Dahle canister pencil sharpeners for over 10 years and was wondering if I should look at others.

    • Alecia Eggers

      Wonderful!! Now I’m definitely convinced we made the best choice! Thanks for letting us know hour experience with them!

  • Yes! I was just having a conversation with another art teacher about this very topic the other day. Thanks for doing the testing and sharing the results!

    • Alecia Eggers

      My students were basically begging for it! Haha

  • Ms Mona

    I just spent days, using epoxy to glue my metal sharpeners to flat metal light switch plate covers to keep them from disappearing. The plates are not too big but too heavy to put in your pocket. They have a hole to hang up if you wish and the metal two holed sharpeners fit right on an edge. One of my students gave me a bag of sharpeners for the holiday and I wanted them to last.

    • Alecia Eggers

      Very creative!! I know “walking-off” is definitely a big worry for the little sharpeners!

    • Kelly

      Do kids try to ‘pick off’ the epoxy? What epoxy did you use? This is a GREAT idea if it works. I love the simple metal sharpeners, but they do disappear at the high school level for me.

  • I love you for doing this! Handheld pencil sharpeners were dead to me until I tried an amazing one from Stubby Pencil Studio. I love that thing and hide it from my kids… your scientific research is pure gold.

    • Alecia Eggers

      Thanks Jeanette! I’ll have to look into the Stubby Pencil Studio ones!

  • Daniel Bell

    I know this problem well! What I finally did was order a set of Dahle Chubby Sharpeners and a set of single hole Kum metal (magnesium or brass) wedge sharpeners. The Kum sharpener is a little sharpener without a canister–just the blade and its holder (not the long-point sharpener). Then I broke the plastic wedge out of the Chubby sharpener with a pair of pliers and cleaned up the resulting hole with a Dremel tool and Exacto knife. Then I used epoxy glue to replace it with the Kum wedge. The result is a sharpener that mostly overcomes the problems you have identified. The blade is very sharp, the metal body of the wedge is more stable than a plastic body and the Chubby canister is easy for kids to use and maintain and is unbreakable. The final part of my solution is to buy replacement blades and replace the blades when they begin to dull and begin to chew pencils instead of cut them.

    The much better solution (any vendors out there listening?) is to have a manufacturer actually take this on and make a really workable sharpener.

  • Mr. Checkers

    I use the exact set up for my drawing tubs, except my tubs have a small bucket that fits in one of the small sections. The students can empty the pencil sharpeners in that bucket and empty that bucket at the end of class.

  • jacob jackson

    Hand-held pencil sharpeners are easy to buy and operate. I recently bought “Acurit Dial-a-Point Pencil Sharpener” from Jerrys Artarama which allows me to create customize multiple pencil tips to have a wide variety of line widths for my art work.

    From here: http://www.jerrysartarama.com/discount-art-supplies/pencil-sharpeners/acurit.htm

    FYI… I bought a Vanish eraser as well. This eraser is awesome! No mess and I use it to create effects.. just saying