The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of gear

Best Pencil Sharpeners of 2020

Wednesday July 15, 2020
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Are you in need of a quality pencil sharpener? We bought and tested 10 of the best machines available in 2020. A lot of products look alike but when used side-by-side they display stark differences. That's where we can help you out. We looked at everything from size, shape, and the lead type that the machines can accommodate to noise, durability, and sharpening time. So, rest assured that we have done all the hard work and that with our guidance it'll be much easier to find the right product the first time around.

1

Best Overall Pencil Sharpener


X-ACTO School Pro Electric


Editors' Choice Award
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$25.97
at Amazon
See It

Max Pencil Diameter: 10 mm | Sharpening Time: 3 seconds
Fly away cutters
Replaceable parts
Expensive
Slow on large pencils

The X-ACTO School Pro is a workhorse pencil sharpener made for high volume usage across a variety of pencil types including color, and graphite, as well as charcoal of varying hardnesses. The unit has 6 preset pencil diameters covering a wide range of sizes up to 10 millimeters. The large, clear shavings container is easy to monitor, and the "fly away" spiral blade disengages when a fine point is reached to prevent oversharpening. The unit comes with a 10-year warranty and replacement parts are available from the manufacturer. These benefits speak to the quality and durability of the product.

While we were quite impressed overall with this sharpener, we had trouble with the suction cup feet staying secured to the surface of our desk. Additionally, the unit isn't as quiet as we'd like for classroom or library settings. This issue is worsened when sharpening large diameter pencils as the machine slows under the load. Lastly, the unit is relatively expensive when compared to the other machines in the class. That said, no other sharpener brought such a wide variety of pencils to such a fine point in such short order.

This unassuming workhorse looks sharp on any desktop.
This unassuming workhorse looks sharp on any desktop.

2

Best Personal Size


Kum AS2M Long Point


Editors' Choice Award
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$6
List Price
See It

Max Pencil Diameter: 8 mm | Sharpening Time: 30 seconds
Super fine point
Clear shaving bin
Two-tier sharpening system
Struggles with non-standard pencils

The KUM AS2M uses two separate sharpeners in one unit to first render the wood to an elongated cone and then the lead is shaved to a point so fine as to be delicate. The palm-sized sharpener easily fits into a tote or briefcase and the clear shavings bin lets you know when it's time to empty the filings. The sharpener can handle 8 mm diameter pencils but is designed for 2 and 3.15 mm lead common to art pencils.

The KUM makes use of two razor blades, one for each stage of the sharpening process. The blades are effective but the second stage tends to break-off the fine lead point if you're not careful. Moreover, the unit doesn't do well with color and charcoal pencils. Odd-shaped pencils such as a triangle are difficult as well. Finally, given the manual nature of this model, it is quite slow to sharpen a new pencil. Despite these shortcomings, the sharpener is a boss at its size, producing one of the finest tips of the group.

There's never a dull moment with this compact sharpener.
There's never a dull moment with this compact sharpener.

3

Best Bang for the Buck


Toolsand Electric


Best Buy Award
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$12.99
at Amazon
See It

Max Pencil Diameter: 8 mm | Sharpening Time: 7 seconds (electric mode)
Batteries included
Spare blade included
Requires a tight grip
Hexagonal pencils are a pain

The handheld Toolstand Electric Pencil Sharpener is unique in that it is both a battery and a manually operated device. As such, if the situation calls for it, or you're just out of batteries, you can silently clean-up the tip of your pencil. The model can handle a variety of pencils sizes (up to 8 mm), types (graphite, color, and soft charcoal), and shapes.

While the Toolstand is versatile, it struggles with certain tasks. Namely, the sharpener doesn't do well with hexagon-shaped pencils and charcoal that is on the harder side of the spectrum. Moreover, we would not recommend this unit to kids as it requires a fair amount of grip strength to hold the pencils against the single razor blade paring them down. Despite these limitations, the unit is effective, versatile, compact, and inexpensive.

Having both hand and battery-powered options make this unit unique in the class.
Having both hand and battery-powered options make this unit unique in the class.

4

Best for Multiple Pencil Diameters


X-ACTO Ranger Wall Mount


Top Pick Award
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$9.99
at Amazon
See It

Max Pencil Diameter: 12 mm | Sharpening Time: 7 - 15 seconds (user dependent)
Quiet
Durable
Can't handle charcoal
Has to be mounted

The scholastic classic X-ACTO Ranger 1031 will have you feeling nostalgic for elementary school arts and crafts. This hand crank unit is an old standby, requiring neither electricity nor deskspace. The wall mount makes turning the handle a breeze and the lack of a motor keeps the sound to a minimum. Moreover, this machine handles a broad range of pencil diameters ranging from 4 to 12 millimeters, and all sizes were brought to a fine point. X-ACTO is so proud of this model that it comes with a 10-year warranty.

As with many pros, to some people they are cons. Such is the case with the wall mount requirement on the Ranger. If you don't want to put screws into your wall or don't have a place on your wall to mount this model, then it's not for you. Also, if you don't like hand cranking, then it's also a no go because there is no electric option. Finally, this sucker won't sharpen charcoal. However, if you want a quiet, reliable machine produced by a company that will stand behind their product, look no further.

The mega-classic school house sharpener.
The mega-classic school house sharpener.

5

Best for Adjustable Sharpness


OfficeGoods Electric and Battery Operated


Top Pick Award
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$24.95
at Amazon
See It

Max Pencil Diameter: 8 mm | Sharpening Time: 7 seconds
Three Sharpening levels
Handles color and charcoal pencils
Requires decent grip strength
Ineffective blade stops

The OfficeGoods Electric & Battery Operated pencil sharpener is a nice product in that it handled all of the pencil types that we threw at it — namely graphite, color, and charcoal. The machine sharpens fairly fast (7 seconds for an 8 mm graphite pencil) and, perhaps best of all, one can set the tip angle to blunt, medium or sharp to match one's intended use or preference.

Conversely, the OfficeGoods sharpener requires one to be observant when bringing pencils to a point as the machine does not effectively stop sharpening when the desired angle is reached. As such, it will eat up a pencil if you're not paying attention. At the same time, the single blade digs into the pencil with enough force to make holding the pencil stationary relatively difficult. That said, we thought this machine was all around a good product for those sharpening a diverse pencil selection to a variety of point angles. Moreover, the dual power source (plug-in/ battery) gives the user options.

This unit's three sharpening options will satisfy all users.
This unit's three sharpening options will satisfy all users.

6

Best for Standard Pencils


AFMAT Heavy Duty Electric


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$29.49
at Amazon
See It

Max Pencil Diameter: 8 mm | Sharpening Time: 3 seconds
Good-sized shaving bin
All-metal spindle/ cradle construction
No sharpener cut-off
Feet not very grippy

The AFMAT Electric Pencil Sharpener has a narrow range of pencil types that it performs well on but when using a standard 8 mm pencil, it works great. While the unit only uses a single spiral blade, its construction is entirely made of metal. Thus, it's more durable. Finally, its shavings bin is amply sized for heavy use and infrequent emptying.

Unfortunately, the AFMAT's feet are not very grippy resulting in two-handed operation — one on the pencil and the other to hold the machine in place. Additionally, the machine is capable of eating up a pencil if you don't monitor the sharpening. Nonetheless, the machine will sharpen most charcoal pencils as well as producing beautiful tips on standard round, hex, and triangular graphite pencils.

This sharpener works best on standard 8 mm pencils.
This sharpener works best on standard 8 mm pencils.

7

Best for One-Handed Sharpening


Bostitch Personal Electric


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$14.28
(5% off)
at Amazon
See It

Max Pencil Diameter: 8 mm | Sharpening Time: 6 seconds
Relatively blunt sharpening angle
Sharpens all standard pencils
Loud
Messy when emptying

The unique design of the Bostitch Personal gives it an interesting look. It sharpens standard pencils to a fine, though steeper point. Additionally, the feet of the unit are grippy enough as to not require a two-handed operation.

While we like the look of the Personal, emptying a full tray is a messy affair due to the tapered sidewalls. Additionally, the unit is limited to standard 8 mm pencils. However, it will bring charcoal pencils to a point with little effort though it can't handle color lead. So, if you're looking for an electric unit that can be operated one-handed and looks interesting to boot, this is the ticket.

Unlike some of the competition  this desktop unit stays put when at work.
Unlike some of the competition, this desktop unit stays put when at work.

8

Best for Manual Sharpening


STAEDTLER Sharpener


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$3.69
(8% off)
at Amazon
See It

Max Pencil Diameter: 11 mm | Sharpening Time: 40 seconds
Quiet
Small
Non-see-through shavings bin
Manual sharpening

The STAEDTLER 511 is a great travel-size sharpener for a backpack or tote. The cylindric design is easy to grip and the tip it produces is finely acute. The unit will handle a number of pencil diameters and lead types. It's inexpensive and simple to operate.

On the flip side, it takes a long time to sharpen a fresh pencil with this manual unit. Additionally, the filings bin is small and has to be checked by unscrewing the lid as it is not transparent. That said, the unit will handle a variety of pencil shapes (including triangular), and lead types (including color, and to a lesser degree charcoal).

Simple  reliable  and effective. What more could you want from a travel-sized sharpener?
Simple, reliable, and effective. What more could you want from a travel-sized sharpener?

Why You Should Trust Us


Senior Research Analyst Austin Palmer has been testing consumer goods for the better part of a decade. He often uses a number two pencil to draw out testing schematics and tools, as well as to facilitate his extensive notes. He knows the value of a sharp pencil and a well-designed sharpening machine. Augmenting Austin's experience is Senior Review Editor Nick Miley. In his previous career as a dendrochronologist, he spent many an hour staring through a microscope at tree cores marking out rings so narrow as to barely accommodate a single dot with a pencil. He appreciates the value of a fine point pencil.

Regardless of your preference  there is a point type for you.
Analyzing point type was critical to our evaluation of these products.
The sound level of these machines was an important aspect of our analysis.

Our team's analysis of pencil sharpeners was straightforward but exhaustive. We sharpened every kind of pencil commonly available and rated the machines on their performance. Namely, these were round, hexagonal, and triangular-shaped pencils with lead types of graphite, color, and charcoal. We rated the machines on the range of diameters they could accommodate as well. Perhaps most importantly, we delved into the convenience features that each machine offered. For example, we timed how long it took to sharpen a standard pencil, how much noise the machine produced, and whether the blade had an auto-stop mechanism to prevent over-sharpening.

Analysis and Test Results


Our analysis of pencil sharpeners relies on four metrics that explore all aspects of a good pencil sharpener. Specifically, these are convenience, lead type, pencil diameter, and shape, as well as sharpness and point type. Under each of these broad categories are tests that provide a full understanding of each machine and who it will best suit. For the details for each metric and the machines that performed best, please continue reading.

Convenience


Admittedly, convenience is not a self-explanatory category title. For our purposes it covers aspects of sharpeners such as the number of hands needed to operate the machine, how noisy it is when sharpening a new pencil, how long it takes to bring a new pencil to a head, and the size of the shavings bin. Additionally, we look at whether the machine has an auto-stop to prevent over-sharpening, what kind of blade it uses, and whether replacement parts are available. Without a doubt, the electric X-ACTO School Pro is the most convenient of all the sharpeners here reviewed. It has a "fly away" blade that never over sharpens, it has a large filings bin that limits trip to the wastebasket, and it isn't overly noisy or slow in its work. Moreover, the manufacturer has replacement parts available for purchase should the need arise.

Measuring sound levels may seem a bit nit-picky  but we think librarians and teachers will appreciate the information.
Measuring sound levels may seem a bit nit-picky, but we think librarians and teachers will appreciate the information.

Alternatively, if you need a sharpener to go, a desktop machine won't be convenient at all. If this is your situation then have a look at both the KUM AS2M and the Toolstand Electric Pencil Sharpener. Both of these units are travel-sized and offer the user a fair amount of versatility in pencil type. The Toolstand is unique in that it is both manual and battery-powered. For added convenience it comes with an extra blade and batteries.

The Toolstand will bring a variety of pencil diameters and shapes to a fine point.
The Toolstand will bring a variety of pencil diameters and shapes to a fine point.

Lead Type


As the name implies, the lead type metric looks at the types of filling in the pencil that the shaper can reliably bring to a head. Specifically, we used graphite, and color, as well as soft, medium, and hard charcoal pencils for this analysis. Surprisingly, many of the models in our review have blade systems that do not do well with anything but a standard graphite pencil. If you need a sharpener that can do it all, check out the desktop X-ACTO School Pro and the handheld OfficeGoods. Both of these sharpeners are guaranteed to impress as they perfectly sharpened all lead types including the challenging charcoal pencils.

Here we see perfectly sharpened soft  medium  and hard charcoal pencils. While it seems pedestrian  many sharpeners could not handle this task.
Here we see perfectly sharpened soft, medium, and hard charcoal pencils. While it seems pedestrian, many sharpeners could not handle this task.

If you are only concerned with being able to bring standard graphite pencils to a head, then have a look at the X-ACTO Ranger. This classic wall-mounted, hand-cranked machine is a workhorse for bringing graphite to a fine point. If color pencils are your main concern, the Toolstand is a pro. As for charcoal, the electric AFMAT does very well but be aware that it's hard to tell when the pencil is sharp, making over-sharpening pretty easy.

While this model can't handle color or charcoal pencils  it is a boss with standard graphite.
While this model can't handle color or charcoal pencils, it is a boss with standard graphite.

Pencil Diameter and Shape


There are a lot of different pencil shapes and diameters out there. As such, we looked at the range of sizes and shapes that these machines will accept. Specifically, we looked at round, hexagonal, and triangular shaft pencils. As one might imagine, the triangle-shaped pencils posed problems for a number of sharpeners. Additionally, many sharpeners are designed for the standard 8 mm pencil type such as the number two graphite variety made infamous by standardized testing. If versatility is what you desire, look no further than, you guessed it, the X-ACTO School Pro. With the exception of carpenter pencils, there isn't much this machine can't sharpen.

There isn't too much that this sharpener can't sharpen.
There isn't too much that this sharpener can't sharpen.

Other products of note are the X-ACTO Ranger which covers diameters up to 11 mm, and pretty much any shape. Additionally, the STAEDTLER which, while limited to 8 mm diameters, can tackle any shape pencil.

The ol' standby Ranger will accept any shaped pencil up to 11 mm in diameter.
The ol' standby Ranger will accept any shaped pencil up to 11 mm in diameter.

Sharpness and Point Type


Regardless of point type, a sharp pencil is desired by all. However, the angle of that point is a matter of preference and task. For example, if you're doing fine line work, a long narrow point such as that produced by the KUM AS2M or the X-ACTO Ranger will be desirable. However, if you are working on a rough medium such as wood, you'll likely want a blunt tip. Fortunately for those who want options, the OfficeGoods sharpener has three settings (blunt, medium, and sharp) so you can make task-specific decisions.

If you want tip options  look no further than the OfficeGoods.
If you want tip options, look no further than the OfficeGoods.

Conclusion


In this review we analyzed and described every aspect of a good pencil sharpener. While the desired head on a pencil is certainly an individual preference, we provided all the details so that one can choose the right sharpener for their needs. Specifically, these features are types, shapes, and leads that the sharpener can handle, the time it takes to sharpen them, the quality of the tip, and the noise they produce to name just a few. So, whether you're a finish carpenter looking for a wider angle tip or a sketch artist looking for a long, fine point, there is a sharpener here for you.

Nick Miley and Austin Palmer