Sharpener Showdown: Hand Cranks

Review by Tina Koyama

The venerable Carl Angel-5 hand-crank sharpener (also known as a “classroom-friendly” sharpener) is a popular, reliable favorite for many pencil users. With a metal body and “original quality,” it has a classic, sturdy build.

Carl Angel

Carl Angel

Carl Angel

I’ve had mine for several years, but sadly, I don’t love it. For one thing, its pencil gripper has “teeth” that leave tiny bite marks in the pencil’s enamel. That might seem like a picky detail, since the teeth are close to the pencil’s business end that will soon be sharpened away again, but it still annoys me. (I think it reminds me of the actual teeth marks that were left on my third-grade-assigned pencil when I was absent one day, and some kid went through my desk and used it. When Miss Lyons saw my pencil and asked, “Did you chew your pencil like this? You shouldn’t,” she didn’t believe me when I denied it.)

Carl Angel's teeth

Carl Angel bite marks

But the more important reason why it’s not my favorite is that it will accommodate only pencils of standard size. Since at least two of my most-often-used colored pencils (Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle and Derwent Drawing) have barrels that are slightly larger than standard, I can’t use the Angel-5 to sharpen those. In the image below, the Angel gave the Blackwing a perfectly good point, but the green Museum Aquarelle remains unsharpened.

Carl Angel - sharpening completed

My mission with this sharpener showdown was to find a hand-crank that beats the Angel-5 in both ways. Of course, giving a standard graphite pencil a good point goes without saying, but it must also sharpen my heftier colored pencils and do so without leaving telltale bite marks. Here are the contenders: the red Mitsubishi Uni KH-20 ($29.50) and the yellow Carl Ein ($39.50).

 three sharpeners

The pencils I used to test them were Museum Aquarelles and various Blackwings.

tested pencils

The bright yellow Carl Ein (also available in light gray) has an all-plastic body. With a slightly larger footprint than the Angel-5, it also has a larger-capacity shaving bin.

Carl Ein front

Carl Ein crank

 Carl Ein side

An important feature is that the Carl Ein’s barrel gripper is round, not toothy. It leaves no offending bite marks.

Carl Ein closup of pencil gripper

A second important feature that the Angel-5 lacks is a point selector that enables a choice of a sharp writing point or a slightly blunt tip that some prefer for colored pencils.

 Carl Ein closup of point selector

With the sharp setting, according to JetPens’ product description, the pencil is sharpened “into a slight bow shape,” which I assume is similar to the much-revered concave point that the famed but finicky Pollux sharpener produces (I don’t have one, but I’ve heard many go on about it). Honestly, I couldn’t see much difference between the Ein’s point and the other contenders’ points, but it was darn sharp and beautiful on both the Blackwing and the Museum Aquarelle.

Carl Ein - sharp

With the blunt setting, the point is slightly shorter and less sharp.

Carl Ein - blunt

All four pencils have stunning points!

Carl Ein - sharpening completed

The final contender is the bright red Uni KH-20 (also available in black and blue). The KH-20’s all-plastic body has a similar profile and footprint as the Carl Ein.

Mitsubishi front

Mitsubishi crank

 Mitsubishi side

Also similar to the Carl Ein, the Uni has nicely rounded barrel grippers that leave no bite marks.

 Mitsubishi pencil gripper

And again like the Carl Ein, the KH-20 can give both a sharp point and a slightly blunt point. The point selector, however, is slightly less intuitive than the Carl Ein’s dial. To produce a blunt point, push the orange button in.

Mitsubishi point selector

On the sharp setting, the points look nearly identical to the Carl Ein’s sharp points.

Mitsubishi - sharp

And the blunt, slightly shorter points are also comparable to the Carl Ein’s. (The slight angle apparent on both pencils are residual from their angled use for drawing, not a result of the sharpening.)

Mitsubishi - blunt

The KH-20 did an excellent job on all four.

Mitsubishi sharpening completed

Final Impressions

Which sharpener – the yellow Carl Ein or the red Uni KH-20 – won the showdown? For performance, I have to make it a tie: Both beat my old Angel-5 on the factors important to me, and both have the added feature of offering two point styles. I like the Ein’s point selection dial better, but the Uni’s styling with rounded edges everywhere and its mailbox shape gets more points for appearance. Take your pick – they are both excellent sharpeners. I’m keeping one in my studio and the other downstairs in the “TV room” (where I often doodle and journal), because every home needs more than one reliable crank sharpener.

What about portability, though? Stay tuned for the handheld sharpener showdown.

DISCLAIMER: Some items included in this review were provided free of charge by JetPens for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

tina-koyamaTina Koyama is an urban sketcher in Seattle. Her blog is Fueled by Clouds & Coffee, and you can follow her on Instagram as Miatagrrl.

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13 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I’m a huge fan of all the Desk reviews, especially love Tina’s meticulous accounts of her stationery and art supply adventures because of the great details like the chewed-pencil trauma standoff with Miss Lyons. Thank you for another amusing and useful review!

  2. I’m still loyal to my ancient 1970s Boston Ranger! You can find them on eBay. I have one screwed to the top of a little bookcase.

  3. I quite like the Dahle 133. Rubbler grippers, concave point, jumbo size capable, and very affordable.

    1. AGREE! I like both the Dahle and the Mitsubishi. The Dahle is the all round winner for me, though. Certainly recommend all pencil lovers give it a try.

  4. Thanks, Tina, for this comprehensive overview. I assume these are held to the desk via a clamp a la my Castell lead pointer. I see a hole at the bottom of each that looks that’s what it’s there for.

    Thanks again.

    1. No, they can’t be clamped to a desk. I like being able to move sharpeners from place to place or room to room, so I’m fine with that. But if it’s a feature that’s important to you, these won’t work.

  5. Finally! A hunt and review for a sharpener that meets both criteria of slightly larger pencils and non marring grippers. I’m soooo tired of the Angel 5 fan club that ignores anything not in that clique.

    My Carl has the rubber grippers but cannot handle larger pencils. I might replace them both with that yellow Carl.

    Well Done!!!

  6. I agree that both the Carl Ein and the Uni KH-20 sharpeners are better the angel-5. If I were to choose, I think the Carl ein sharpener is the better of the 2 because of the dial.

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