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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!
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.
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?
Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.