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How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical & Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening for Writers, Artists, Contractors, Flange Turners, Anglesmiths, & Civil Servants Hardcover – Apr 10 2012

4 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Melville House (April 10 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1612190405
  • ISBN-13: 978-1612190402
  • Product Dimensions: 13.4 x 2 x 18.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 259 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #298,444 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


Praise for How to Sharpen Pencils

"The book is powerfully funny ... a stylistic high-wire act, and Rees never teeters."
—The New Yorker

"Dear Reader is plunged into delicious confusion ... gloriously irreverent."
The New York Times Book Review

"David Rees's How to Sharpen Pencils is any graphite-aficionado's must read."

"This is the best treatise on pencil sharpening (in a sea of none) and diabolically funny. I’ve already alerted the Pulitzer committee." —Library Journal

"This book is really a must-read for anyone interested in pencils. And there are well-placed lines likely to render you, as I was, doubled over in laughter. But what I enjoyed most about Mr. Rees’ book was reading something written with such sincerity by a person who obviously does what he does with care." —Pencil Revolution

"There is a long chapter on how to sneak into someone’s house and smash their electric pencil sharpener with a mallet." Businessweek

“The hand-sharpened pencils sent to me by artisanal pencil sharpener David Rees are without a doubt the MOST EFFICIENT writing instruments in my collection. I use them both for business and for pleasure, as their SLEEK and ELEGANT design coupled with their AMAZING SHARPNESS help make me an object of envy at work and about town. My favorite use for a David Rees hand-sharpened pencil? Sending threatening letters to strangers whose names I pick out of a phone book.”
—MATT TAIBBI, investigative journalist 

"Of all the great artisanal crafts, hat blocking, cobbling, and trolloping, I think I was most disheartened to see pencil sharpening relegated to the dusty bin of history.  That is why I am so thrilled David Rees is picking up the reins of the forgotten art of manual graphite-encased-in-wood point-crafting. I love my pencil!"
—AMY SEDARIS, crafts expert

"Looking back, I cannot believe that I spent so many years of my life mechanically sharpening my own pencils with pencil sharpeners. Truly, my life before I was presented with correctly sharpened pencils by an artisan was a dull and ill-sharpened void. Learn from my mistakes."
—NEIL GAIMAN, writer

"You may think that sharpening a pencil is easy, but David Rees makes it look hard, and that makes all the difference."
—JOHN HODGMAN, comedian 

"Could I sharpen my own pencils? Sure, I could! I could also perform my own dentistry, cobble my own shoes and smith my own tin—but why not leave such matters to real artisans, instead? I trust my bespoke pencils only to David Rees."

“The number one #2 pencil sharpener!”
—STARLEE KINE, public radio writer

“David Rees carved away the wood that hides the graphite the way I need to carve away the fat the hides my ability to wear a bathing suit. Thank you for showing me the path, Rees."
—PATTON OSWALT, performer

"One is tempted to call it a must-read for anyone who has ever used a pencil."

Praise For David Rees' Get Your War On

“Riotous and principled.”
Washington Post

“Hilariously deadpan fatalism... a surprisingly articulate expression of our anxieties.”

“The Thomas Nast of the internet.”
Comedy Central

“The most original cartoon since... well ever. Raw, enraged, sardonic, hilarious, despairing, and impossible to pigeonhole.”
Rolling Stone

“A glorious excoriation of our post-9/11 loony bin.”
New York Times

“A phenomenal cult hero.”

USA Today

About the Author

David Rees first came to fame as the author of Get Your War On, a Bush-era comic strip composed from clip-art that he emailed to friends. It was eventually serialized by Rolling Stone magazine, collected into three successful books, and turned into an off-Broadway play. He is also the author of the workplace satire My New Filing Technique is Unstoppable. He lives in Beacon, New York.

John Hodgman (introduction) is the author of the bestsellers The Areas of My Expertise, and More Information Than You Require. He’s also known for his appearances in Apple’s “Get a Mac” advertising campaign, and for his correspondent work on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Inside This Book

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Bought this after watching the YouTube video and paired it with a single burl sharpener, cedar pencils, and sandpaper as a gift! We talk about how pencils are sharpened all the time now! Hilarious!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Hilarious. 'Portlandia' hilarious. 'John Hodgman' hilarious.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Love it. Humorous and informative!
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I never ever revived this book. I tried to contact you but got no wear. Can you find this book for me?
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x9ca4cf78) out of 5 stars 88 reviews
61 of 62 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9d05b9c0) out of 5 stars This work creates an entirely new paradigm Aug. 31 2012
By D. Hungerford - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Immediately after reading this seminal act of devotion and brilliance I knew my life had changed irrevocably. I realized why I have always found the Internet experience somehow hollow and devoid of meaning: you cannot write on the internet with a pencil.
103 of 115 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9cdaece4) out of 5 stars Sharp and to the point April 19 2012
By J. Ryan Pedersen - Published on
Format: Hardcover
My pencils were always so embarrassingly dull that I had to start using pens. I failed my first year of University because I couldn't properly colour in the bubble on standardized tests. David Rees' amazing new book has literally turned my life around. Now if someone would tell me how to recondition the dried out erasers...
44 of 48 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9cc82018) out of 5 stars Long overdue book May 1 2012
By Ralph Butler - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As an obsessive accumulator of old mechanical pencil sharpeners, it's my opinion that this is the perfect book. I understand that others do not have quite as much technical interest, but I have to say that everyone I've shown this to loves the book including those not in the least bitten by the bug. It's one of those books where you have to keep shoving it at other people saying here read this, and they actually think it's as funny as you do and can't stop reading. By the way, if you by choice have more than a few pencil sharpeners, you have to buy this book.
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9cc7bd74) out of 5 stars "Keep Your Blades Sharp. Keep Your Burr Cylinders Clean. Keep Your Eyes On The Task At Hand." Feb. 2 2014
By Robert I. Hedges - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Since reading David Rees' seminal treatise on the craft of artisanal pencil sharpening I have found my collar bottoms are more evenly scalloped (I use exclusively hexagonal #2 pencils) and my incidences of irregular pin tips on pencil leads are dramatically lower (about 74% less.) I attribute this progress to two things espoused by Rees: first, doing proper warm-up exercises ("Do not neglect your fingers!";) and second, keeping a detailed logbook of every pencil I sharpen. I feel that I can only do justice in this review by citing some of Rees' most important points, and I refer you first to the helpful thought on p. 49, "Relative difficulty of knife-based activities from easiest to most difficult, with sharpening a pencil representing the median." This is obviously in the section dealing with rustic pencil sharpening with a pocketknife, and the chart gives hope to neophyte pencil sharpeners everywhere. Although in my practice I generally use a double-burr hand-crank sharpener (I can only hope one day to have a sharpener as exquisite as Rees' prized El Casco M430-CN, which produces pencils suitably pointed even for artists specializing in sketching insect wings) I found the section on single-burr sharpeners and techniques fascinating, particularly reveling in the comparison and contrast of the CARL Angel-5 and Dahle 166 cylinder-blade angles (p. 77.) I likewise appreciated the clarification provided by the footnote on p.79 amicably resolving the long-simmering nomenclature dispute about spring-loaded, extendable intake stabilizing mechanisms on single-burr sharpeners. I found the text box on p. 80 most helpful, as it provides sage advice to those of us who so often get caught up in all the marketing hyperbole surrounding hand-crank pencil sharpeners. I think we can all agree with Rees that promotional copy with legally wordsmithed phrases such as "Does not work on pencils," "Elevate the bleeding appendage," and "Risk of blindness" should make us wary consumers indeed. Likewise the questions on p. 111 designed to elicit further interest among curious onlookers in burr-cylinder sharpening technique are thought provoking indeed, e.g. "Can you identify which rotating elements are the burr cylinders, and which is the bifurcated shaping sleeve?"

Rees doesn't just cover the basics here, though, oh no. He also discusses mechanical pencils in chapter 11, providing a purist's viewpoint in a brash yet subtle manner, and promptly moves on to perhaps the most important chapter in the book, chapter 12, "Psychological Risks Associated With Pencil Sharpening: Assessment and Coping Strategies." For those in the craft who take pencil sharpening seriously, the trauma of an unexpected pin tip or "Headless Horseman," or the sublime dread of approaching a faultless unsharpened pencil can be difficult, but Rees gives expert advice on dealing with these stresses and more. In chapter 13 he deals with the conundrum of electric pencil sharpeners and provides a brief history of them, while teaching one how to properly address the sharpener (note: you will need a mallet and safety goggles if those are not already in your sharpening kit.) Further advanced strategies are discussed in chapter 14, "Sharpening Pencils For Children" which features three handy charts on p. 147 giving a range of children's names both common (Tommy, Timmy, Jimmy) and uncommon (Jandek, Xander, Zoogz Rift.) The importance of understanding the difference between common and uncommon names is elucidated beautifully, yet without pretense. He also explains the difference in children’s pencil deployment in imaginative play by gender (boys favor games such as "Pirate War," "Geopolitical War," and "Orchestra War," while girls favor games such as "Sparkling Ballet Princess Ecosystem," Supermodel Ethnomusicologist," and "Jethro Tull Roleplay.") While this may be at the fringes of political correctness, Rees inspires insightful sociological introspection in this commentary. Finally, Rees elucidates his performance-enhancing "celebrity-impression pencil sharpening (CIPS)" system in which he details his tricks of the trade. He teaches intermediate level professional (and advanced amateur) pencil sharpeners how to impersonate celebrities sharpening pencils, which will obviously boost attendance at performances of your chosen craft that you may have scheduled. He demonstrates his haunting impressions of celebrities like Cher, Sir Edmund Hillary, Michael Phelps, Satchel Paige, and Johnny Cash among others. Simply amazing, though nothing is as amazing as chapter 15, "Sharpening Pencils With Your Mind." This is such a deeply personal and metaphysical subject that I cannot discuss it openly, so I must leave it to you to glean the wisdom it contains in your own way.

I cannot rave enough about "How to Sharpen Pencils." David Rees is the pencil sharpening authority of the twenty first century, and no finer book has ever been written on the principles and practice of artisanal pencil sharpening. This is a page-turning must read!
37 of 42 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9cc76b88) out of 5 stars Insane and Insanely Funny April 13 2012
By cbartz - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
David Rees is insane and insanely funny. Who else could write a book about pencil sharpening and leave you wanting more? David Rees can write humor behind his head and with his teeth (see chapter on novelty sharpening). The book reads like a roller coaster starting with a slow, uphill, tongue-in-cheek technical instruction. But once the coaster hits the top, it is a crazy thrill-ride to the end that only Rees' brand of unpredictable humor could pull off. I was laughing out loud. Includes an appendix of wines that taste like pencil shavings! I read from my Kindle and noticed one gap / hanging sentence in chapter 17 - not sure how much was missing.

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