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Oct 30, 2014

Happiness Is a Sharp Pencil



I use pencils a lot when I sew.

I rarely notch with scissors anymore, preferring to mark notches with a pencil -- something I picked up from my menswear sewing class at FIT.

Sometimes I'll use a washable pencil made specifically for sewers, but a lot of the time I just use one of the many dozens of colored pencils I've accumulated over my lifetime.  I don't seem to be able to throw away colored pencils if they're more than an inch long.  Actually, that goes for most any pencil.  I love pencils.  They can't leak and ruin your shirt pocket or canvas briefcase.  And they last a long, long time.

But for decades, I've owned only cheap plastic portable sharpeners like the one below.  Perhaps you use one like this.





Half the time the tip breaks off before the pencil ever gets sharp, or one side sharpens and the other will still be covered with wood.

But no longer!

I was over at my Mom's yesterday and today (she had to have cataract surgery) and I got to take home the pencil sharpener I grew up with; my mother doesn't use it anymore.



I think my dad brought this sharpener home from work (my parents were teachers).  It wasn't new when we got it and I'm assuming he didn't just unscrew it from his classroom, or anybody else's, so I'm not sure how he came by it.   Since 1967 it was screwed onto a shelf in my brother's closet and, today, more than 45 years later, I unscrewed it. 

I brought it home and immediately installed it atop an old painted bookshelf in the bedroom.  I'm sure you've seen these sharpeners before, probably in school if you're about my age (or maybe any age).  As you can see, I'm not into polishing stuff.

Here's the inside.  Those grinding cylinders are called burrs, which I learned from Holly Gates' excellent blog, Tooling Up.  Those burrs essentially mill the pencil to incredible sharpness when you turn the crank.







The shavings land in the easily removable front section.



BEFORE:



AFTER:



I am so happy to have possession of my childhood pencil sharpener, readers.  Next trip, I'll have to grab my old Tonka trucks and board games (anyone want to play "Masterpiece"?)

Have a great day, everybody!

42 comments:

  1. I love pencils too. My husband is a yard sale addict and a few months ago he brought home a large metal box of my favorite brand of colored pencils, Prisma.. He knew that I would love them. I already had a couple hundred colored pencils but more is always better. Kind of like fabric.

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  2. I use mechanical pencils, no need to sharpen them. Trained to used these since I was and still am a professional engineer. Sometimes I use color pencils for special markings on my own pattern drafts, but normally a sharpie.

    By the way Peter, an exciting challenge for you would be to draft your own shirt, pants, jean patterns. Do you think you could take that next step? Rulers, and pencils!

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    1. I'm not sure I could improve on the commercial patterns; I did make basic slopers a few years ago though.

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    2. I understand that, once you get a good pattern to fit the way you like, you can use it over and over again in many different applications and variations.

      Are you going to be doing more active wear, for example, I work with polar fleece a lot and use it instead of wearing sweaters, hoodies, jackets, lining in jackets for the winter, pull on tights/pants, bathrobes etc, I love it since its so cozy and warm for the cold weather when walking the dogs.

      Dog owners who have to walk in all kinds of weather are a special breed, we all have weather appropriate clothing to handle all kinds of conditions since dogs .. love their walks no matter what the weather.

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    3. Fleece is my fabric of choice for the fall/winter season also. I bought some about 8 years ago at Jo-ann's and marveled at the cashmere like quality it had then.......it's definitely not the same anymore!!!

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    4. Scorpioninblue, truer words were never spoken. Fleece is in a funk, while fine flannel can still be found.

      What is happening to fabric?? How much water can you add and still sell it as milk??

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  3. We have a sharpener just like that! My hubby (52) now had it as a child. Works better than any other sharpener.

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  4. I have a sharpener just like that. I bought when we moved in our home 30 years ago. It is mounted on a wooden stud in the basement.

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  5. Thanks for a great reminder about some great timeless tools. That old sharpener was finely made. The newer ones (probably made in China) that were in my schools before I retired 4 years ago were crap. Nice to see an old tool still serving it's purpose.

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  6. Also, a pleasingly familiar scent, those pencil shavings.

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  7. I love these old Boston all metal pencil sharpeners. I own a couple of them. I was looking for them at the thrift stores for awhile.

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  8. Wow, you are the first person I have met (ok we haven't met, and I'm anonymous on the internet) who knows about the Masterpiece board game. Loved it as a kid.

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  9. I used to collect fountain pens, but they leaked or dried out and I was sad (and forever cleaning pens). I have moved to mechanical lead holders for most marking/writing work, but I still love to sharpen pencils with a knife like I had to do in figure drawing class. And your pencil sharpener is a beauty!

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  10. When I bought my house 20 years ago, a pencil sharpener like the one you have came with the house. It was (and still is) screwed on a wall of a staircase going down to the basement. We were loving it, until one day my son jammed a pencil too hard and the lead got stuck inside. I've been meaning to take it apart and take the stuck lead out. I hope it's an easy fix, because I miss the pencil sharpener. I'm now surrounded by dull tip pencils and can't stand it!

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  11. Have you ever tried friction eraser pens on fabric? The marks disappear when ironed . But then you wouldn't get to use your wonderful pencil sharpener!

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  12. I'm in my mid-40s. My parents were too cheap to buy even the cheap, 1-inch pencil sharpeners that came in a bundled school supply in a plastic pencil case. Instead, we had to *whittle* our pencils with a paring knife to sharpen them.

    And then sometime in my jr. high/highs school years, my dad came home with a Boston pencil sharpener just like yours. He was a janitor and took home things that engineers discarded. I'm sure the engineers were transitioning to mechanical pencils at that time.

    At any rate, thanks for the tip on marking fabric!

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  13. I was just perusing these on Ebay last week! I want a wall mounted one. Ah, nostalgia…
    I like the scent of sharpening pencils.

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  14. Ah Masterpiece, I have never found anyone else that knows this game? Did you have a favourite painting that you just had to have?

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  15. Oh I LOVED the pencil sharpeners in my primary school classes!

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  16. My best wishes to your mother for a speedy recovery. I would just love a sharpener like yours.
    Judy

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  17. May your mother have a speedy and complete recovery.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks. She's already fine; just has to use eye drops for a while.

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  18. I loved these sharpeners at school... I love the long sharpened point, completely unlike any cheap or ordinary sharpener. They still use them at schools here - well my son's school at any rate.

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  19. I wish I had one of those old pencil sharpeners. I remember them well. You were assured of a sharp point unless the pencil was poorly made (which happens more now than it did then!)

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  20. Well who knew my 1950s mother's couple of sewing notions would get such wide acclaim. I have come to love pencils for sewing tasks also. I have a houseful of sewing/embroidery stuff. She had a sewing basket, a pencil and a tape measure and a pink atlas portable that occasionally appeared on the dining room table. I have an older sharpener and a battery operated one also. I wish I had the one that was bolted to the panty wall in my childhood home. Pencils are highly under rated today. It's nice to see you tell sewing people how useful they are if they don't know.

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  21. Oh my goodness-another Boston pencil sharpener fan. I have the one that, family legend has it, our dad (an engineer) had in college in the '40s. It was a fixture in our basement. When I became the keeper of the family pencil sharpener, it was duly installed in the basement, where it remained for 22 years. When my husband and I sold our house and moved back to our home state this summer, to my horror I realized I'd overlooked the faithful old sharpener and felt as if I'd betrayed an old friend. We had a neighbor intercede for us with the new owners to retrieve it. It is awaiting installation in--the workshop of our new basement. Of course.

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  22. Oops pantry wall no panty wall. Lol !

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  23. Jealous! I used the little metal handheld ones made in Germany that I used to buy all the time as an art student (I was also forever losing them). You can still buy these, but they aren't cheap. My parents have one in the laundry room.

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  24. Pencils - now that's a great tip! Pencil sharpeners - we have been on a quest for one that a) works and b) lasts! I have thought about buying an old one on Ebay. The new ones are junk!

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  25. I grew up with the same type pencil sharpener. It resided inside the hot water heater closet in our kitchen attached to the inside door facing. It is now just outside the kitchen door in the garage. I still use it and have fond memories of using it as a child. I don't remember it not being in that hot water heater closet so have no idea where it came from or how it got to be there in the first place.

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  26. Hahaha, I had to go check the pencil sharpener mounted to our bookshelf. It looks the same except it has only one hole. Seems to be named "Chicago" instead of Boston! I like the multihole one better, which is what my childhood home had, but I guess this is the closest we could find when looking for a replacement. It has moved with us to several different homes.

    And yes, it works great! The only thing I don't like about sharpening pencils is when the "lead" is already broken inside and your point keeps breaking off! Actually I usually use mechanical pencils for my work, but the coloured leads are quite crappy, so regular coloured pencils are much better than than coloured mechanicals.

    Thank you for inspiring a new found appreciation for this lovely old tool!

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  27. As a kid, I wrote a journal under the pen(cil) name Eberhard Faber. I wonder whatever happened to him.

    I love those old sharpeners and remember the satisfying cranking, grinding, and oh-so-sharp point they achieved. In my primary school, it was a high honor to be selected by the teacher to empty them: you were allowed to leave your seat and bang the canister against the then-newfangled plastic garbage bins to remove all those conifer odoriferous shavings sprinkled with genuine lead. And the sharpeners could withstand 3rd-graders.

    But I always hated sharpening my colored pencils unless absolutely necessary. I'd look into the garbage and see the beautifully colored shavings and think about what I had just wasted, what beauty I had just thrown away, what with their conical shapes and topped with every color of my Mongol 48-color set.

    Yes! to pencils and Yes! to the old Boston sharpeners and a big Yes! this morning to burr grinders, especially if they're grinding coffee beans into espresso!

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  28. You can get "pencil extenders" to use those pencils that are too short! Use the google .. they are everywhere in various prices.

    Love and have those pencil sharpeners also.

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  29. Hey Peter, glad you are enjoying your old pencil sharpener. I know I've been loving our Boston Ranger since I picked it up on ebay and gave it a tuneup. A perfect example of a human powered machine that is simple, rugged, and does a very good job at its task.

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  30. I should get one of these as well. Apparently, the new ones aren't as well made as the vintage ones, so I'll keep my eyes open on eBay and the local thrift shop. I remember "pencil sharpening time" in elementary school, when we'd all line up in front of the pencil sharpener mounted to the window sill and sharpen our pencils. Remember to empty out the shaving container frequently, as removing the shavings can get messy if you let it get completely full.

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  31. What a great post. My childhood friends and I still sometimes reminisce about the bliss that was a brand new box of Derwent coloured pencils. The set of 72 in a wooden presentation box was the stuff of dreams. The first order of business would be to shave a small section from the top of each pencil with a knife, thereby exposing raw wood for inscribing one's name in ink - an effective way to avoid ownership disputes in the classroom :)

    When I started sewing again a few years ago, one of the first things I purchased was a box of 12 Derwent pencils and a notebook for sketching project ideas. But I never thought to mark notches with a pencil - that's a great tip so thanks for passing it on.

    I love that you have been reunited with the sharpener you grew up with. The crank handle style is the best - I remember being chuffed to find one installed in the utility room at my last workplace. It was ancient and I was impressed that it had survived several moves - clearly someone must have loved it.

    As I kid I would occasionally play with a horseshoe-shaped magnet that belonged to my my dad. When he died we gave away his tools to a handyman neighbour but I kept the magnet and now use it every time I sew instead of a pin cushion. I love that this simple, effective tool has been in continuous use for 50 years or more.

    Great post.

    Spud.

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  32. How lucky for you to have such a nice sharpener that sharpens so beautifully! I remember seeing those sharpeners in my classrooms growing up…they are the best.

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  33. My mom still has a pencil sharpener like that and it works better than any other that I've used. My sister learned that it doesn't work so well for sharpening fingernails when you're playing manicurist, though. It took a couple of weeks for her finger to heal. heh heh

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  34. Those sharpeners are the bomb :)
    I use 'Formative' pencils, the thicker type for young children.
    The lead (graphite) is softer and thicker, so I can get a stronger, easier mark. It also washes out easier.

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  35. To me, lilac is a "balanced" light purple, lavender is more blue, and orchid is more pink.

    I'm with you on sharp pencils. I usually use a mechanical pencil for that reason.

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  36. We always had a pencil sharpener like this in our house too! Ours was screwed on the wooden support beam at the bottom of the basement stairs. AND we played Masterpiece! It was one of my favourites though I never seemed to get the million dollar painting! However, it did give me an elementary education in art and was able to recognize some famous paintings!

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    Replies
    1. Me too -- it was like an art history class (without the history)!

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