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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, Angle smiths, & Civil Servants by David Rees, is a gold mine for anyone wishing to sharpen a pencil. David Rees is a celebrated cartoonist, television host, writer, and artist. From listing the essential supplies for pencil sharpening (at a reasonable $1000!) to describing the anatomy of a pencil, to explaining how to preserve a freshly sharpened tip, this manual has it all. This truly is the ultimate guide to pencil sharpening.

Rees’s guide walks the reader through different sharpening styles and how they may apply to different styles of people and professions. One of my favorite sections describes how to sharpen a pencil with a pocketknife. For example, he recommends producing a steep-angled pencil tip for people with heavy hands, as this will make it harder to break the tip off. He also advises exposing a lot of the graphite in pencils for artists, as this will make for a light sketch that can be easily erased.

Rees’s love of manual pencil sharpening is only surpassed by his hatred of electric pencil sharpening and mechanical pencils. Here is one hint: Rees’s feelings about electric pencil sharpeners involve the use of mallets.

Without giving away all of this guide’s secrets, I must mention Rees’s most prized pencil-sharpening possession: An El Casco M430-CN. Created by a company that once made firearms, this double-burr hand-cranked machine, Rees declares, is the best pencil sharpener on Earth.

I enjoyed reading Rees’s tongue-in-check manual not just for its jokes and wisecracks, but also for its factual information, and even its lifestyle recommendations. By reading this book, I have learned the proper hand-stretching exercises to do before long pencil-sharpening sessions, that a correctly sharpened pencil is an object of beauty, and that mechanical pencils make for good firewood. This book is where I will always look to for pencil-sharpening guidance and inspiration, and it is where you should too.

Recommended for middle school and up.

How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical & Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening for Writers, Artists, Contractors, Flange Turners, Angle smiths, & Civil Servants by David Rees. Penguin Random House, 2012. Buy the book here and support Stone Soup in the process!

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