Artisanal Pencil Sharpening

August 18, 2010

I was reading on O Chickadee about David Rees and his Artisanal Pencil Sharpening service. I found the whole idea perfectly charming. Pencils come shipped with their shavings and a certificate-of-sharpening. When you want to make some good-luck gesture for your nephew about to take his SATs, this would be ideal. You can read more about Mr. Rees on the LA Times blog.

What do you think? Clever idea? Or does it make you irritated that he’s selling a pencil for $15?

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{ 53 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kim August 18, 2010 at 2:12 pm

While I like the idea of hand sharpening pencils, there’s no way I’d pay to have it done. When I press a little too hard and break that tip off the first time I use it, I think I’d feel sick!

But this does make me want to pull out my pocket knife and try it out myself.


2 Design Mom August 18, 2010 at 5:24 pm

I have never sharpened a pencil with a pocket knife. I hope you try it Kim! (And be careful, please.)


3 Maren August 18, 2010 at 2:37 pm

If I could afford it, I would love it! It’s definitely a cute idea!


4 Design Mom August 18, 2010 at 5:25 pm

I think it’s a cute idea too! I can’t imagine he’s making a living at this, but even if it’s just extra pocket money, I love that he thought of it!


5 Jen August 18, 2010 at 2:48 pm

No way! Even if I were dripping money, there is no possible WAY I would spend $15 on a sharpened pencil. And I seriously can’t tell if this is a real service or the guy is making a joke.


6 Design Mom August 18, 2010 at 5:27 pm

Too funny! I hadn’t even considered it was a joke. I hope it’s real!! And I agree. No one that used this service would be doing it for the pencil — it’s about the experience, the idea.


7 debra parker August 18, 2010 at 2:50 pm

i love a good sharpened pencil. i do think it is crazy for $15 but that probably means he will be very wealthy doing it. : )


8 Design Mom August 18, 2010 at 5:28 pm

At $15 a pop, he’d have to sell A LOT of pencils to get rich. But if he actually got wealthy doing this, I think that would make the story even better!


9 Sierra August 18, 2010 at 3:12 pm

Cool, but, I have trouble with the idea of $15 for a pencil. Yeesh.


10 Jim August 18, 2010 at 3:16 pm

When I went to the site I thought maybe it was some version of an SNL commercial or a piece by The Onion. Agreed it might be a nice gift for a soon-to-be-tested SAT’er, or that friend who just quit their job to write the Great American Novel. But then again, both might benefit more from a $15 Savings Bond, or a even a nice mechanical pencil.


11 Design Mom August 18, 2010 at 5:29 pm

Hah! It does seem very Onion-y.

For sure, a savings bond or mechanical pencil would be more practical, but far less creative. : ) Maybe this is a gift for one of those people who has everything.


12 Jim A August 26, 2010 at 12:01 pm

Of course the real question is, will he fit in a pencil bag?


13 Lauren August 18, 2010 at 3:20 pm

Mine is in the mail! Shall I report back?


14 Lauren August 18, 2010 at 3:28 pm

Also – I of course think that $15 for a pencil is, as my Grandma says, highway robbery. That said – this guy legitimately loves pencils and what he does, and he’s doing it in good fun (he appears with John Hodgman a lot). But spending $15 on this was the equivalent to skipping 3 days of coffee, and that’s worth it to me, in the spirit of supporting entrepreneurs with cool ideas.


15 Design Mom August 18, 2010 at 5:30 pm

So happy you ordered one, Lauren! Please do report back. I’m curious about the packaging.

Yay for supporting creative ideas!!


16 dani August 18, 2010 at 3:26 pm

I think it’s all sorts of awesome. Of course nobody needs to pay someone $15.00 for a sharpened pencil. It’s not practical in the time or financial sense. That’s not why you would use this service. It’s for the “experience”, I see it as art in a way. I just love that someone even thought of this! And the website is great. I want Lauren to report back!


17 Design Mom August 18, 2010 at 5:31 pm

I fully agree, Dani. A customer would be paying the cost partly because the idea is so creative and entertaining.


18 Martha August 18, 2010 at 3:28 pm

I am one that appreciates the art of quality hand work. I would just like to add that he probaby spends a good while with each pencil. Making the $15 dollars reasonable. I mean if he spends an hour (which a half hour is more likely) thats only $15 an hour.


19 Design Mom August 18, 2010 at 5:33 pm

Good point, Martha. By the time he takes the order, sharpens the pencil, addresses the envelope, buys supplies, etc., he’s not really making a very high hourly wage.

I wonder if he has another job to supplement this one? : )


20 smee August 18, 2010 at 3:45 pm

I’m all for it if his store front is on the corner of “Unbelievable and No Freaking Way”. I remember learning how to sharpen a pencil with a pen knife from my Grampa, even as an unskilled kid it would only take five minutes, as an adult- making it beautiful and pretty, with a gorgeously sharp point- it only takes about a minute and a half; and yes, I still sharpen about 97% of my pencils this way.

This has got to be a joke or this guy really has serious powers of persuasion over those who have much more money than sense.


21 Design Mom August 18, 2010 at 5:35 pm

Do you really sharpen your pencils with a knife? That is awesome! I love your phrase “on the corner of Unbelievable and No Freaking Way”. Made me laugh!

I hope I don’t have more money than sense, but I can think of several of my friends that would love receiving a funny surprise like a sharpened pencil in the mail. And I would be happy to spend $15 to make them smile.


22 Sarah August 18, 2010 at 3:50 pm

Come now! That can not be for real. I agree that the website completely seemed like an elaborate piece for The Onion. The picture of the guy in his work apron, and the one of him at the chalk board with the pencil diagram…If it is real, it’s like The Emperor’s New Clothes for 2010.


23 barchbo August 18, 2010 at 3:57 pm

I love pencils! They are my writing utensil of choice! And I sharpen my own.

Is this like the Pet Rock of the new millenium?


24 Design Mom August 18, 2010 at 5:36 pm

That would be hilarious! If we were all walking around with professionally sharpened pencils. Can you imagine?


25 Jen August 18, 2010 at 4:35 pm

I had to come back to read the comments and see if others were torn between thinking this was a scam or if he was too pure to be real. I’m so glad to see I’m not alone!

I totally agree with the other commenter who thought this was comparable to The Onion. I feel like I’m being had, but then I feel bad thinking that if the guy is for real.


26 Melanie August 18, 2010 at 4:56 pm

If he can make a living doing it….


27 Lisa Mackin August 18, 2010 at 4:58 pm



28 Mikelle August 18, 2010 at 5:47 pm

Really? I give the guy credit for being smart enough to sucker those who are looking for an unusual gift to pay that much for a sharpened pencil.


29 Amber, theAmberShow August 18, 2010 at 5:47 pm

He’s an adorable, quirky artist with an adorable, quirky idea. Were that I were rich, I would pay him to sharpen my pencils and consider it a donation to the arts. Alas, I am my own starving artist. :)


30 Gayle August 18, 2010 at 5:52 pm

$15.00 yea I think that is irritating but kudos to him for collecting the loot.
giggle $15 for pencils love it
no as much as I love all thing stationery I can’t see me paying $15 for a pencil that I can do myself LOL
hugs to you B


31 Mary Catherine August 18, 2010 at 6:08 pm

My dad used to sharpen our pencils with a pocket knife, but that’s because he didn’t have the $15 to buy a proper pencil sharpener. Ah, it sounds so much fancier this way. I guess we weren’t poor, we were “Artisinal.”


32 Mary August 18, 2010 at 6:17 pm

Although I’m sure you do get a sharpened pencil if you order one, of course it’s a “joke” on some level, and a very funny one. (I love how on the About page it says something like, “Yes, he really sharpens your pencil. IT REALLY HAPPENS!”) But he’s also gently mocking the kind of person who will pay a huge premium for local or artisanal versions of “normal” things. Whatever his real point is, it wouldn’t be nearly as funny if he offered to sharpen your pencils for free. Or if the whole thing was completely bogus. The fact that he thought of it, put up the site/created the print, and actually DOES sharpen pencils makes it a hilarious piece of “performance art,” and I appreciate it on that level. I suppose it’s like supporting public television: I got a big laugh out of it and so did my husband, and now I can feel guilty that we aren’t paying for his service.


33 Lori August 18, 2010 at 6:58 pm

I think you nailed it, Mary. It’s a clever joke, that happens to include a pencil if you think it’s so funny you want to pay for one. (Doesn’t everyone else see the photo on the “testimonials” page of him wearing safety goggles and a mask over his nose and mouth?) I don’t think it says or even implies anywhere on the site that he even uses a knife to sharpen, just that he sharpens them himself….the shavings it shows him bagging look pretty much the same as mine from the fifty-cent sharpener I got at Target.


34 Deece August 18, 2010 at 10:41 pm

Exactly! Except I don’t feel guilty.


35 amber August 18, 2010 at 8:01 pm

I think it would be a tad bit more artisanal if he really did hand-sharpen with a knife. My dad used to do that as well. But even then, it definitely seems like a slight joke (even though you really do get what you pay for) and, as Mary mentioned, performance art. It says as much in the article about him.

The article that was linked implies he hand sharpens with a handheld sharpener. I just did this with 24 pencils for back-to-school, and I will agree with him that it is very satisfying and a much better result than a machine that eats your pencils. If you use good pencils and a good handheld sharpener (the black Prismacolor egg-shaped one that’s usually in the fine art section at craft stores is awesome, in case any one wants to know), then it’s totally satisfying. I think a better gift would be to sharpen your own and send someone “a boquet of newly sharpened pencils,” a la Joe Fox’s/Tom Hanks’ sentiment in You’ve Got Mail. :)


36 Michelle August 19, 2010 at 9:02 am

Oooo! I love the idea of receiving a “bouquet of newly sharpened pencils”… that I would pay $15 for!! Can you imagine it wrapped in some pretty paper and ribbon! Perfection!


37 Monica August 18, 2010 at 8:42 pm

Wait, do people actually still use pencils?

(notice that “pencil” is one of those words that starts to sound likens non-word once you say it too much. Pencil. Pencil. Pencil… )


38 Deece August 18, 2010 at 10:38 pm

I don’t even charge that much for my mostly organic excellent super yummy tropical jams, which by the way, take lots of time and love and effort to create. I really like clicking pens, I wonder if anyone would pay me to click their pen and sign a certificate that I clicked it – complete with click sound rating? ;o)

If I truly felt that the only thoughtful gift I could give someone would be a hand touched pencil – like, say the person I am gifting hand crafts erasers, then perhaps maybe I would slightly consider purchasing a hand crafted pencil. But I would never pay someone to sharpen a pencil.



39 Deece August 18, 2010 at 10:40 pm (I’m so sorry, I posted incorrectly….blame it on the parentheses)


40 Jenny @ Practically Perfect... August 19, 2010 at 2:54 am

It’s kind of neat that someone still does this, but I wouldn’t pay $15.00 for it. Sorry!


41 DeeAnna August 19, 2010 at 5:49 am

I’m just jealous that I didn’t think of this myself. I do have fond memories of wasting time at the pencil sharpener in elementary school!


42 Janelle August 19, 2010 at 6:43 am

I am charmed by the idea. Thanks for stopping by and linking to it, Gabrielle!


43 Jessica August 19, 2010 at 7:22 am

Hi, DesignMom and Community,

I have been having this weird life experience. You see, I love David Rees. I think this guy is basically a comic genius. I keep his comic books near my bed and they have helped me get through many tough spots on the road to single motherhood.

And, well, I’m a mom. And in becoming a mom, I’ve never met a single mom who also loves David Rees. Or even likes David Rees. Or will even admit that they have ever read a comic strip by David Rees. I’ve been trying to put it all together.

Thanks for your help! Now I realize that David Rees, and the people who worship his hilarity, have zero overlap with the Design Mom Community. I hope I don’t self-destruct as I type here, for all the reading world to see, that you all seem to have a good sense of humor and might want to check out his insanely absurd My New Filing Technique is Unstoppable. Only if you like absurdity, have ever worked in an office, and didn’t fall hook, line, and sinker for artisnal pencils.

If you did, don’t worry. I don’t get most people’s jokes on the first try anymore either.

Ah, motherhood!


44 Amy August 19, 2010 at 8:51 am

I am funny about pencils. I will only use a Dixon Ticonderoga #2 pencil because it’s made from real wood and not that plastic composite stuff. It also has to be perfectly sharpened.

I love the idea of Artisanal Pencil Sharpening, but don’t know that I would fork out the $15 to have it done. My first thought was that I could totally do it myself. I may go grab my boy’s pocket knife and give it a try.


45 Eric August 19, 2010 at 9:58 am

I also noticed the safety glasses. Necessary? I don’t think so. Can’t you just imagine OSHA making a rule that all kids in elementary school now need to wear safety glasses to sharpen their pencils.


46 elz August 19, 2010 at 10:14 am

If people will buy it, why not try to sell it? Think of all the vintage items that are sold now that were simply rusting in our garages 20 years ago. (Also, I should have grabbed those old globes and clothes when I had the chance!)


47 ClumberKim August 19, 2010 at 10:33 am

That has to be a joke. I use pencils all the time but I have a great little two step sharpener from See Jane Work. Takes about 15 seconds, not $15.


48 Jaimie August 19, 2010 at 1:04 pm

This makes me realize that truly anyone can make money doing ANYTHING. Follow your dreams folks. follow. your. dreams.


49 Heidi August 19, 2010 at 3:15 pm

Love it!


50 Tara November 29, 2010 at 7:38 am

Very entrepreneurial idea. but why would I bother sending and paying $15 pencil to this guy when I can just open my drawer and bring out my sharpener to good use for few minutes without losing my momentum on whatever I was doing using my pencil?


51 Pencil Sharpener December 13, 2010 at 11:10 am

I think at the very least it’s a really novel idea. If I had the $15 lying around to spend on it, I’d be all over it. It’s nice to do things old-school sometimes…


52 Nicole August 21, 2012 at 8:11 pm

Actually, it looks like a pencil is $20. Does anyone else find this hysterical??? I mean if you click on “An exhaustive review of our service” under his Testimonials you see a picture of him with his goggles sharpening a pencil with a 50 cent sharpener! And the Certificate of Sharpening? HILARIOUS. I cannot believe anyone thinks this for real! It is like a joke out of Arrested Development. “We’re not trained to sharpen our own pencils…” hahahaha!


53 Jen August 22, 2012 at 9:46 am

This is so Portlandia!
Dig in a little and you’ll see it’s absolutely is an elaborate joke. But yet, they sell a (200+ page!) book and actual $20 pencils.
I do like the idea of making something ordinary into something really special, but this is purely satire. Thanks for sharing–it gave me a chuckle.


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