Sharpener Showdown: Handheld

six hand held sharpeners

Review by Tina Koyama

A few months ago, I conducted a satisfying sharpener showdown between two hand cranks to beat my old Carl Angel-5. It was satisfying because both contenders came out equally good. Since I spend just as much time using pencils on the sidewalk as I do at my desk, it’s crucial to have a good portable handheld sharpener, too. Awhile back I tested four handheld sharpeners that would accommodate thicker-barreled colored pencils. Today’s showdown puts six handheld sharpeners head-to-head using standard graphite pencils.

The contenders are:

To keep the test fair, I used six identical, unsharpened pencils from Notegeist.

sharpeners and unsharpened pencils

First up is the KUM long-point one-hole, which was included in the Taste of Blackwing Sampler that I reviewed recently.

KUM Sharpener

This simple, inexpensive sharpener produced the longest point of the showdown. However, I kept feeling some resistance as I twisted the pencil, and the point looks a little ragged. I think the blade might need adjusting, or maybe it’s a bit dull. It’s a no-nonsense, budget-priced sharpener that takes up little space in a pocket or bag.

KUM Sharpener

The Blackwing two-step is also made by KUM. For years, I’ve used the older model KUM Automatic Brake long-point two-step, which was formerly available with Blackwing’s branding. Recently Blackwing upgraded the body to this slightly more angular shape. I believe the working parts are identical, however. At $9.95, the Blackwing is the most expensive of the bunch (and also more than the standard KUM two-step with the same innards).

The Blackwing two-step is unique in this showdown for requiring two steps: one to sharpen the wood, the second to sharpen the graphite.

 Blackwing 2 holes

Step 1 takes away the wood, and a stopper at the end of the sharpener (the “Automatic Brake”) keeps you from taking too much off.

Blackwing step 1

Step 2 brings the graphite to a long, gleaming point that is almost as long as the KUM one-step, except that it’s smooth and flawless.

Blackwing step 2

The Blackwing’s cover keeps the shavings nicely contained, which is a nice feature when I’m sketching from a street corner and I’ve forgotten a plastic bag or something else to catch the shavings.

The Maped wedge turned out to be a surprising dark horse. With two holes, it accommodates standard pencils as well as jumbos.

First I tried the standard hole, and it produced a lovely shaving blossom, which always brings me joy. The blade must be very sharp, as it felt smooth going around.

I found a jumbo-size General Kimberly 9XXB pencil in my stash that was just the right girth to test the larger hole. The Maped did a fine job on it, too. Like the one-hole KUM, the Maped has no cover, so the lovely blossoms will end up on the ground unless you remember to bring a bag along.

The least expensive in the showdown, the Sun Star Sect Double has a simple design, yet the flip top keeps tiny shaving crumbs from getting out – very tidy. It offers two sharpeners – one for a long point, one for a shallower cone and shorter point.

Unfortunately, the blade on the long point hole must be misaligned, because it would not make contact with my pencil at all. It just kept spinning around – a complete fail. The short side, however, sharpened a decent point.

The Kutsuwa Stad 2 Maiba is my favorite in appearance. What a funky shape, and yet its roundness and contours are ergonomically comfortable to hold.

Maiba Sharpener

The Maiba also gets extra credit for the sliding door that keeps shavings and graphite particles from escaping. I’m typically not a neat freak, but I do appreciate sharpeners that have been designed with tidiness in mind.


The point that results is short, but smooth and clean.

Finally, I tried the Sonic Ratchetta Capsule, which has an amazing see-through design that surely belongs in an action movie as the remote for an incendiary device. For $5.50, it’s worth it to carry around and set casually on the table as you have coffee with friends just to see who is the first to ask about it. Unfortunately, it loses points for its cover that detaches completely, because you will surely leave it behind at the café table after you’ve shown it off. The Capsule offers two point options, which are selected with a dial.

You may recall that a different Ratchetta model was a contender in my previous handheld showdown, and it did a decent job once I got the hang of the “ratcheting.” I like the idea of Ratchettas because they may spare my hand and wrist excessive repetitive motions (I’ve had issues in the past), but the ratcheting movement doesn’t seem to come naturally to me. I mangled the point on my first attempt, probably from torqueing the pencil as I ratcheted. Eventually, I got a useable point, but not a very clean one. Also, I thought I had chosen the long-point option, but it was actually the pointy short-point option. The second option is for a blunt tip (for colored and other art pencils).


The showdown results are in: My favorite for a long point is still the Blackwing two-step. Although that extra step is required, the result is consistently smooth and clean. I prefer the old elliptical design to the new angular one, but I’m hoping the lid’s hinge has also been redesigned to be stronger (a vulnerability on the previous model; time will tell how well this one holds up).

I know many graphite fans appreciate a long point, but I don’t mind using a short point if it’s smooth and clean. With that in mind, the Kutsuwa Stad 2 Maiba is a clear winner in the short-point category, and it receives extra credit for a cool design and tidy sliding door. Honorable mention goes to the Maped for handling both standard and jumbo pencils well.

All sharpeners with sharpened pencils

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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10 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I’m also a fan of the two-step (I use the older model Kum automatic long point) and I’ve recently begun enjoying the Kutsuwa Stad T’Gaal for many of the reasons you detailed with the 2 Maiba: built-in slider to keep things closed, nice clean short point, and comfortable to hold. The added benefit to the T’Gaal is that you can adjust how the sharpener blade accepts the pencil so that you can sharpen along a continuum from a short point (1) to a long point (5).

    I’ve tried out other Kutsuwa Stad sharpeners and they’re all nicely designed.

      1. This is my favorite coloured pencil sharpener! Cool name and neat for travel. No too bad at regular pencils for a reasonable short point

  2. That Blackwing has some sharp performance!

    I’ve been curious for a while now, is there any electric sharpener that is safe to use with colored pencils?

    1. I use electrics on colored pencils all the time — as long as they fit! My favorite workhorse is the Bostitch QuiteSharp 6, which can accommodate even my hard-to-fit Caran d’Ache colored pencils. I also use a battery-operated Ruiya that works beautifully, but it will only fit standard-size colored pencils.

    2. I don’t use an electric sharpener with my colored pencils. There may be a model that’s safe for colored pencils and doesn’t make them too sharp that they crumble, I just haven’t bought one to experiment.

      I do use the Dahle 133 which is a table mount sharpener. It has a dial on the handle to adjust the point depth which makes it good with graphite and colored pencils. (Reply from Ana. Tina may have different advice.)

  3. Incidental production of “lovely shaving blossom”: this kind of lovely detail is what I love about Tina’s reviews.

  4. I like the Sargent Art 3-hole sharpeners. You can get a set of 12 on Amazon for $17.00. The biggest hole accommodates those enormous Koh-I-Noor Magic pencils.

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