Review by Tina Koyama
For most uses, I sharpen pencils in the most expeditious way possible: my trusty electric Bostitch Quiet Sharp 6 (or, on the street, a portable Kum). But for some pencils or specific drawing purposes, knife-sharpening is the best or sometimes the only way. I have a knife that does the job at home, but what about when I’m traveling? Even my modest Opinel has a blade longer than the TSA-approved 2.36 inches.
That’s why I was so intrigued when I saw the Caran d’Ache Pencil Peeler. Designed in Switzerland in collaboration with the prestigious Ecole Cantonale d’Art de Lausanne and a 2017 ISPA & Innovation Product of the Year Award winner, the peeler has a simple, elegant design. Although it has an exposed blade, it’s only an inch long!
Available in red or stainless steel, the pencil peeler comes packaged with three spare blades. It can be used for pencils of all types as well as crayons.
The back of the package indicates three ways that the peeler can be used: A. By pulling the pencil and simultaneously pushing the blade with the thumb; B. by pulling the blade; and C. by reversing the blade and pushing it against the pencil.
Since the sharpener came with the blade installed in the direction shown in A and B, I gave that a try first. I decided to practice on a new, inexpensive yellow pencil (it’s so generic that all it says on it is No. 2/HB). (In retrospect, it may have been a bad choice to learn on.)
Using some hybrid of the techniques shown in A and B, I used a pulling motion. The pencil’s non-cedar wood was a bit harder than pencils I typically knife-sharpen, so it required more pressure than I expected. The collar isn’t pretty (David Rees I am not), but I learned how to use the tool sufficiently. Learning on something softer such as a cedar Blackwing might have been better, but I preferred to mangle something cheaper.
With that under my belt, I moved on to a Koh-i-Noor Magic Jumbo triangular colored pencil, which doesn’t fit into any sharpener I own, so it must always be knife-sharpened. It helped to have practiced first on the conventional size pencil.
Feeling confident, I decided to turn the blade around so that I could try the pushing method shown in C. Removing the blade was easy; it’s held in place by tension, so all it takes is slightly pulling the two sides of the peeler’s U shape in opposite directions, and the blade drops out.
Replacing it, however, took a bit more dexterity and practice (sorry, no photo of this move – I needed both hands and, in fact, could have used a third). You must pull the two sides of the U and simultaneously place the blade carefully into the two grooves that secure the blade. And by the way, don’t cut yourself. (And don’t forget which way the blade is facing if you sharpen by method A!)
Now it was time to sharpen the pencil that I am most likely to need the peeler for while traveling: a Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle, one of my favorite colored pencils and a daily-carry. With a barrel that’s slightly larger than standard, the Museum Aquarelle often requires knife-sharpening because it doesn’t fit into many conventional sharpeners. Made of cedar, it was much softer and easier to cut through than the generic or Magic pencils, but the pushing motion of method C felt awkward and unnatural to me (your mileage may vary). I got through the basic sharpening, but I turned the blade back around to the A/B direction to finesse the pencil’s core.
Although not easier to wield than a conventional knife, which has more to hang onto, with a little practice, I got the hang of using the pencil peeler efficiently (someone more adept at using a blade would probably feel comfortable even more quickly). It’s exactly the replacement I needed for a knife when flying, and it’s definitely going into my travel carry-on bag.
I do have one complaint, however: For this price ($25), it should come with a protective case. With the blade facing in the C direction, I could certainly see myself unconsciously digging around in my bag and encountering it in a very unpleasant way. With the blade facing in the A/B direction, it’s less likely but still possible. Even a simple vinyl pouch with a flap would be better than nothing. I’m sure I have something around the house that will serve the purpose, but come on, Caran d’Ache – we know you can afford it.