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Write Notepads: A Year in Review

For the uninitiated, Write Notepads is a small, local business based in South Baltimore, Maryland that makes pocket (and other sized) notebooks.  For every notebook you purchase, one goes to an inner city student that needs one.  From the packaging to the actual notebook, everything is designed with meticulous attention to detail.  While Write sells standard notebooks that are always available for purchase, they also have a subscription option where you receive a new limited edition every three months.  Along with the limited edition notebooks, you receive limited edition pencils that match.  I will take a look at all four editions in this overview and comment a bit on their aesthetics and choose a favorite.  I’d like the send out a huge thank you to Kathy Rogers, a member of the Erasable group for providing the samples I reviewed.

Lenore

Write’s first edition was a an ode to Edgar Alan Poe.  Inspired by the darkness of Poe, each notebook has the simple word “Lenore” foil-stamped on its cover.  The inside of the notebook is 70 lb. small graph paper.  I am not sure how I feel about the tiny squares– I prefer a larger grid so I can make easier checklists.  What I do like is the matching pencil– there is a raven foil stamped on the barrel.  The ferrule, eraser, and wood of the pencil is also black which stays within the dark theme Lenore has going.  While I like the pencil a lot, the notebook is not my favorite.  I’d rank it 4th due to the small graph paper inside and the minimalist cover.  The pencil get 1st place hands down.

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Kindred Spirit

Write’s second edition Kindred Spirit, was inspired by the idea that us notebook and pencil enthusiasts are all kindred spirits and share the same feelings about our niche hobby.  The notebooks have been packaged as “Charcoal Bookettes” as a play on the idea that each notebook is like the beginning of a fire with the charcoal resembling the potential fire that is formed when we put our ideas to paper.  The outside of the notebook is a light orange-yellow with the slightest of marbling and the word “Write” stamped inside of a black flame.  The 70 lb. paper inside is lined like a ledger notebook which is a feature I like since I use a lot of my pocket notebooks for lists.  The pencil that came along with it was a natural wood-grain pencil with a pinkish-red eraser and “Quickstrike – Safety Pencils” stamped in red on the barrel.  I like this notebook a lot– the bright cover and the ledger-lined paper inside does it for me and puts the book 2nd on my list.  The pencil is a creative design and I have a thing for natural wood pencils, so it gets 2nd place as well.

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The Royal Blue

This Fall edition features the B&O Railroad and was created to honor The Royal Blue, a train that shuttled passengers from Washington D.C. to Jersey City.  The notebooks are a Saxony Blue and gold– the railroad’s traditional colors.  A crest in gold is printed on the cover and “The Royal Blue” is at the bottom in the original font of the train line.  This edition also has 70 lb. paper with the ledger lines I so love.  The pencil that comes with this edition is also blue and has a round barrel.  Stamped in gold is a picture of the Royal Blue train, the words “The Royal Blue” and “Write”; there is a sliver ferrule with a white eraser.  This notebook gets 1st place due to its design and ledger lined inside.  The pencil gets 4th place because I hate round barreled pencils (sorry).

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In the Pines

Write’s final edition of their inaugural subscription year was titled “In the Pines” and was inspired by a “cold walk through a dense pine forest.”  According to Write, the title pays homage to an “eerie hymnal originally attributed to Lead Belly, and popularized by Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged session.”  As a lover of trees, I wanted to love this edition.  The detail of the dark green embossed cover is beautiful with a silver pine tree and the words “In the Pines” on the front.  Inside is 70 lb. dot grid paper which I am not in love with as the dots seem a bit more spread out than I am used to.  The pencil that goes along with this edition is also in dark green with silver stamping on the barrel.  I really like the detail of the number 2 inside a pine tree.  What is disappointing is I feel like the quality control on these pencils is not the same of the others.  I ordered a few and some have chips in the paint and sloppy stamping.  The chipping is not a big deal since it is at the end of the pencil and will be sharpened away anyway, but still disappointing.  I give the notebooks and pencils from this edition 3rd place on my lists.

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The Pencils

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Penmanship Pencils: A Review

In Asia, there is a lot of emphasis on penmanship.  So much so, that there are specific pencils for that exact purpose.  I suppose in Asian countries the intricacy of their handwritten language necessitate a need for such tools.  The penmanship pencil offers a smooth, dark graphite that glides across the paper and provides ample feedback for your writing experience.  I would relate the writing experience to writing with a crayon and marker combined into one.  What is equally great about these pencils is that they do not smudge much like other darker lead grades.  This is very useful if you want to use them to take notes or journal (note: I have tried these on a few different paper types, but not all).  Today I am going to take a look at the two main penmanship (pencilship?) pencils; the Tombow MONO and the Mitsubishi Uni:

At first glance, both of these pencils are beautiful.  From the striking finish to the inscriptions on the side of the pencil, they are a writing implement you are just drawn (no pun intended) to.  Like most Japanese pencils I have used, the attention to detail is phenomenal.

The cores of both of these pencils are nice and thick with the Mitsubishi core being a tad bit thicker.  Both were sharpened with the Classroom Friendly sharpener:

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Writing with the Tombow proved to be a dream.  The pencil was nice and smooth and laid down nice, dark lines.  Compared to the Mitsubishi, the Tombow provided more feedback when writing– the actual sound of scribbling resonated much more so than the Mitsubishi.  This may have had to do with the fact that the Tombow was a lighter pencil overall weight-wise.  The graphite laid down was almost identical to the Mitsubishi and did not smear.  I also preferred the color scheme of the Tombow as I like bright colors, but my opinion is entirely subjective.  The Mitsubishi on the other hand was heavier, provided almost no feedback when writing, and the finish, while not as attractive as the Tombow was better.  The thicker lacquer and the larger core most likely added to the overall weight of the Mitsubishi as I feel both of these pencils are made from the same wood.  Another positive is that the Mitsubishi is a bit easier to find than the Tombow.  Both CW Pencils and JetPens carry the Mitsubishi, while only CW Pencils carries the Tombow.

I really cannot say that there is a clear winner here.  Both pencils perform well and I think it comes down to which is more aesthetically pleasing to the user.  Here are links for both pencils at CW Pencils: Tombow and Mitsubishi 

 

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No. 2: Story of the Pencil

This is my first (and probably only) movie review that I will do on this blog.  As soon as I heard that there would be a documentary produced about my favorite writing implement, I was excited.  Up until now, the story and use of wooden pencils has only existed in small, close-knit groups and this documentary would provide more exposure to something I hold near and dear to my heart.  Let’s get to it:

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No.2, overlooked as a common tool, continues to lose dominance in a media saturated world. However, history tells a different story.

The Pencil changed everything. Invention, craftsmanship, art, engineering, manufacturing, government, history, and business are a result of the pencil. Although the Pencil technology provided a way to move thoughts to a tangible form, technology is never static.

As technology is a key focus to every aspect of society today, the pencil begins to lose its significance. With so many aspects of society existing in binary code, the pencil needs to be honored. We are in a battle against time. If we move away from using this analog piece of technology, what is society losing? How significant is the pencil to ingenuity? Should we care if the pencil shifts to the backseat?

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I wanted to love this documentary, but I walked away feeling meh.  Let me address the pros first.  As I have mentioned earlier, just having a documentary about the pencil is awesome in itself.  I also loved seeing Caroline and her shop featured, how the filmmaker traveled to various locations to document the history of graphite, and Petroski’s commentary.  That’s where my love affair ends.  First, the music.  There was constant music playing throughout the documentary which I found distracting.  I was hoping it would cut out, but it didn’t and really took away from the message some interviewees were trying to deliver.  Also, it was a bit pretentious at times.  I think for the layperson this would ring especially true.  What would have been an ideal setup would be the history, a lot more of the manufacturing, the players in the pencil community, and– most glaringly omitted– the Erasable community.  I enjoyed the commentary, but I KNOW about pencils and all the nerdy things about them.  I guess what I am trying to say is to make it a bit more approachable to all.  Also, my opinion may be entirely invalid because I enjoy seeing things being manufactured and learning about the different elements of said manufactured item.

Overall, I don’t think this film was entirely crap.  It hit some good notes with me, but fell short on a lot of others.  I’d give it two out of five pencils.  It’s definitely a rent and not an own.  I am glad that the object of my beloved hobby has been featured in a full length film, but it could have done so much more.

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Musgrave Ceres

There is something to be said for a classic yellow pencil.  After being inspired by episode 60 of Erasable, I decided to dig into my pencil case and try out a pencil I have yet to review/use.  I was immediately drawn to the Ceres due to its sharp lines and unique script that was stamped on the barrel.

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Musgrave produces four grades of this pencil and I am using the #1 grade for this review.  Immediately upon sharpening the Ceres I was greeted with the smell of good old cedar.  The Ceres sharpened very easily and the graphite was perfectly centered which allowed for even sharpening.  Interestingly enough, about a third of the way through the pencil, I found a knot in the wood barrel.

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I had never seen this before and though it was pretty interesting.  The small imperfection made the next few sharpenings difficult as the graphite was exposed unevenly, but once I sharpened my way out of it things were fine.  Writing with the Ceres was great and the pencil laid down decent lines.  The graphite was nice and smooth and I’d say the darkness was comprabale to a 2B (this is totally just eyeballing it).  The eraser on the Ceres was below average at best.

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The rubber was very gritty and when I did try to erase with it, it wore down very quickly.  Don’t plan on using the eraser if you don’t have to.  The black paint on the barrel began to wear off pretty quickly with normal use, but that kind of stuff doesn’t bother me.  I prefer a well-worn writing instrument.  Overall, the Musgrave Ceres is a great little pencil that is completely affordable (40 cents a piece at CW Pencils), but did not entirely win me over.  While I stated the graphite was smooth and not scratchy, it did not have the buttery smoothness I prefer in my graphite.  Also, not only is the eraser pretty crappy, but I had a hard time erasing with my everyday block eraser as well.  The graphite comes off the paper, but not as cleanly as I like.  If I had to give a rating it would be a meh.  average.  Stay tuned, because next week I will be reviewing the newest CW Pencils acquisitions: The Goldfish Autocrat, Blue Bird, and Vista from Shashon Pencil Company.

Marking Pencil Round-Up

For those of you that are unaware, I work part time in a community college writing center.  I find myself reading and editing papers for hours and have been searching for the perfect marking pencil.  While my list is not exhaustive, I tried to explore a variety of brands that are easily available to anyone.  I have used each pencil for about a week and have been able to form what I feel is a solid opinion on what to try and what to avoid.  First, here is a general overview of each pencil and a writing sample for each:

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As you can see all six pencils are quite different when it comes to color and hardness.  I will address the list top to bottom.

Tombow 8900 Vermilion ($0.85)

The Tombow 8900 wrote smoothly and the point retention was one of best of the pencils.  The ability to keep a sharp point on the Tombow allowed the maximum amount of correction with a minimum amount of sharpening.  For me, this is key when working with a student.  Less sharpening means a longer lasting pencil as well.  I could see myself using this pencil on a regular basis for correction.  I found the Tombow 8900 at a Kinokuniya bookstore, but Ebay tends to carry them occasionally.

Caran d’Ache 999 Bicolor ($2.80)

The Caran d’Ache 999 is vibrant and one of the truest to the color red behind the Mitsubishi 772.  The core is super smooth and much to my surprise point retention is above average for such a smooth pencil.  I also like that the 999 is a hex pencil as it is much more comfortable (for me) to hold and rotate while writing.  The only drawback is the price of this pencil.

General’s Red ($0.40)

The General’s Red has the best point retention of all of pencils I have ever used, but it is the worst as far as pigment is concerned.  It is way too light to be effective and feels horribly scratchy.  This pencil is a disappointment and you shouldn’t buy it.  I struggled trying to make my marks noticeable on papers for students and halfway through a session I picked up another pencil it was so bad.  Just don’t.

Musgrave 525 Hermitage ($0.29)

The Hermitage is a great middle of the road pencil.  The core is dark enough to be effective, but is not so soft that you feel like you are writing with a crayon. I found myself using this pencil more and more as the weeks progressed and was not disappointed with the results.  For this reason, I was pleasantly surprised as a lot of my experience with Musgrave products has left me feeling meh.

Mitsubishi 772 Vermilion ($1.00)

The 772 is vibrant and works very well for making small grammatical edits to 12-point font.  When editing papers, clarity is key and the Mitsubishi 772 is as clear as day.  The core is a bit softer than others, but as long as you rotate the pencil ever few marks you make, it seems to wear down just as much as an average pencil.  If I had to pick a winner it would be this pencil.

Mitsubishi Red “Smooth Writing Taste” ($1.65)

This pencil is smooth alright.  So smooth that you feel like you are writing with a crayon.  I love the color it lays down, but the Mitsubishi Red is not for making small edits or writing within the margin.  I’d say this pencil is perfect for making “checks” and “x” marks on papers or maybe even for underlining text, but not for the work I do.  It does get bonus points for its slogan though!

Overall my top two are the Mitsubishi 772 and the Caran d’Ache 999.  Both pencils have great, vibrant color without feeling too waxy.  The Hermitage comes in a close third (I’d even say a tie for second) with its point retention and affordability.  Either way, I hope this has helped those of you that are looking for marking pencils.

 

 

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Nataraj Neon vs. Casemate Neon

Back to School season always gets me excited.  As a college student, I feel justified in purchasing extra notebooks, pencils, and erasers.  I peruse the aisles of the local Walmart or Target to see what’s new and have found myself gravitating to the Ticonderogas or USA Golds.  There has been a lot of discussion recently in the Erasable Facebook group about Walmart’s awesome deal on pencils from the Casemate line (97 cents for a dozen pencils and a sharpener).  A lot think that the canister of pencils is manufactured by Hindustan Pencil Company and are pretty much Nataraj pencils without the branding.  Even the sharpener that comes with the pencils says Nataraj. Now that back to school season is in full swing, I have seen the Casemate Neon pencils start to crop up.  There are two versions; the ones that are hexagonal and made in India and the ones that have a round barrel that are made in the Philippines.  DO NOT buy the round ones.  They are horrible and not worth your time.  What follows is a comparison of the Casemate (made in India) Neons and the Nataraj Neons.

Upon opening the Casemate pencils, I immediately noticed that the production quality was not that great.  Chipped pencils and sloppy finish were on quite a few of the pencils.  The graphite cores seemed to be a tiny bit off center, but nothing drastic:

Hand sharpening was quite easy, but I noticed something interesting in the shavings– the neon finish was separating from the wood of the pencil.  I do not have pictures, but the Nataraj pencils do not do this at all, so again I am left wondering if these are factory seconds or a few steps have been skipped in the manufacturing process to cut costs.

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Both pencils are almost identical save for the few production errors I have found in the Casemate brand.  The neon color on the Nataraj pencils is a bit more vibrant, but from a quick glance one would not be able to see much difference.  The ferrules on both pencils are the same black aluminum, but the Nataraj pencil has a cleaner look to it (Nataraj pencil is on the right in all of the pics below):

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Aesthetics aside, when it comes to writing, there is a noticeable difference.  I found that the Casemate pencil wrote a lot smoother than the Nataraj but laid down slightly lighter marks.  This observation does not seem to fit the experience, but I prefer this– some may not.  I wonder if this is due to the fact that there might be some additives to the graphite in the Casemate pencil to cheapen the cost.  Both pencils were a delight to write with, but I found myself preferring the Casemate.

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As you can see from the bottom of the writing sample, both pencils have HORRIBLE erasers.  Do not use them.  You can, but don’t expect good results.  They shading erased beautifully, but trying to erase text is an exercise in futility.  At 97 cents a 12 pack, the Casemate pencils are a steal, but remember HEXAGONAL only.  If you are interested in Nataraj Neons, head over to Caroline where one can pick up a dozen for about three and a half dollars.

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Viking 029 Skoleblyanten

Hello pencil pals!  I am back from about a month long hiatus.  Life– mainly school, work, and moving to a new place got in the way of my ability to post regular updates.  I apologize for not keeping the blog updated, but going forward I should be back on track.  After all, I have quite the backlog of pencils and projects to post about!  OK.  Now onto this week’s pencil, the Viking 029 Skoleblyanten (Skoleblyanten translates to school pencil in Danish).  Viking is a pencil company based out of Denmark and has a 100 year history of making pencils ever since a Danish matchstick company started making pencils.  For a deeper write-up on the history of Viking, head to Bleistift where you will find some great reviews and details about the brand.

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Appearance wise, the Viking 029 is more than just an ordinary yellow school pencil.  From the classic yellow lacquer of a school pencil, to the black stamping of a Viking ship on the hexagonal barrel, and the ferruleless dipped end, the Viking 029 is quite nice to look at.  The Viking 029 not only excels in form, but in function too.  While the pencil is classified as an HB grade, I felt as though it wrote a bit softer and darker than HB grade pencils I am used to.  The graphite is nice a smooth on paper and erases cleanly and easily.  The weight of the Viking 029 is nice.  I usually don’t like the lightweight feel to ferruleless pencils, but the Viking 029 has just enough heft to it to feel comfortable.

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I have spent the past few weeks writing with this pencil and I can honestly say that while it writes a little bit darker than a standard HB, its point retention is great.  Breakage was non-existent and no grittiness was felt while writing at any point.  The graphite had almost a soft waxy feel to it, but it didn’t crumble like most waxy feeling graphite pencils do.  I can easily say that this pencil will make it into my school year rotation in the Fall.  The Viking 029 can be found at CW Pencil Enterprise for $1.25 a pencil and it is well worth throwing a few in your cart next time you shop.  For more information on Viking’s other products check out their beautiful page.

 

 

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Product Review: Tom Bihn Cafe Bag

It’s been about two weeks since I have last posted a pencil review (or any review for that matter), but I am back.  This time it’s with a bag review.  A  lot of us pencil nerds are either students, professors, teachers, tech professionals or office workers that are always on the search of a perfect EDC bag.  You know– something not too big, but not too small, has ample storage and looks good to boot.  After taking an informal poll via the Erasable Facebook Page (find it and like it!), I decided that Tom Bihn Bags would suit my needs.  The bags had a nice clean design and came in great colors.  This week I will be reviewing the Medium Cafe Bag, but this style of bag comes in three sizes: small, medium, and large.  Now, on to the review!

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The minute I got this bag, I was truly skeptical of its ability to fit everything I needed to carry with me on a daily basis.  This opinion soon changed when I began to load the bag and realized that even after I put everything inside, I still had room left.  I was able to fit a 13-inch Chromebook, a 10-inch tablet, 24-count colored pencil case, a Swell water bottle, a 10×10-inch coloring book, and 2 pencil rolls.  I still had room after all of that stuff!

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Storage space aside, this bag is well made.  Constructed of 1000 denier Cordura® exterior/420d HT nylon Classic Parapack lining, this bag will last a long time.  I have used this bag for a solid month and it looks brand new with no scuffs or frays anywhere in the fabric.  The shoulder strap is plenty long and is made of thick nylon webbing.  There is also a nylon handle stitched to the back of the bag in case you want to carry it briefcase style.  There is a back pocket on the bag and a front zippered pocket that resides under the flap of the bag.  Both pockets are nice and roomy and can fit up to a 10 inch tablet or e-reader.  Inside the bag the main compartment is nice and roomy and there is a small organizer stitched into the inside that can accommodate some pencils, sharpeners, erasers, and a Field Notes-sized notebook.

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I have carried this bag around and while the shoulder strap is nice and long, it can become a bit uncomfortable.  I’d suggest purchasing the Ultrasuede shoulder strap; it seems that that strap would offer a bit more comfort.  The clasp is made of a hard, sturdy plastic and makes a satisfying “snap” sound when closing.  The Cafe Bag also has three “O-rings” inside that allow you to clip on keys or a variety of cases they sell in their store.  Everything about this bag screams quality.  With the minor upgrade of a new strap, this bag is perfect.

(FULL DISCLOSURE: I was provided the bag for free in exchange for a review of the product.  The fact that the bag was free did not impact my opinions in any way whatsoever.)

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Palomino Golden Bear #2

From an aesthetics standpoint, I absolutely love the Golden Bear.  With two color options-blue barrel; orange eraser or orange barrel; blue eraser- the Golden Bear is perfect for NY Mets or Knicks fans.  All kidding aside, for a pencil that is twenty five cents, you cannot beat the quality that Palomino offers.  This pencil may not perform like a Blackwing, but you definitely get your money’s worth.  The lacquer on the barrel is superbly shiny and the barrel itself has just the right amount of edge (somewhere between a Ticonderoga and a Musgrave Testing).  The ferrule is gold to match the gold foil stamp and has an orange (or blue) band around the center of it.  The cedar smell is fairly strong and the graphite is about standard for a number 2 pencil.20160131_144344-1

Performance wise, the Golden Bear has some high points,but just as many low points.  Starting with the positive, the point retention is great for a budget number 2 pencil.  It was nice to not have to sharpen as frequently as I am used to.  Also, the craftsmanship of the Golden Bear is amazing considering it is so cheap.  Palomino really knows how to manufacture quality pencils and it shows.  I cannot get over how shiny the lacquer is or how centered the graphite cores are.  Well done.  Now for the negative.  The eraser is horrible as it barely erases its own graphite and leaves a ton of dust.  Not really a deal breaker for me since I prefer to use a block eraser anyway, but still.  Not good.  Another negative was the amount of smear and transfer to opposite pages I got with this pencil.  I cannot see myself using this pencil regularly due to the way I like to keep my notes, but for classroom use this pencil would be perfect.

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Overall: 6/10

One can find a pack of these pencils at http://www.pencils.com

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Product Review: Classroom Friendly Sharpener

Now that school is out for the month, I find that I am using pencils a bit less and have more time to focus on some other aspects of the hardcore pencil-using community.  I often talk about how pencils I use are sharpened (mostly via handheld sharpeners) and how the nature of my sharpening has me going through many new blades since I use a fresh pencil every week.  This is where the Classroom Friendly Sharpener comes in.  I have found that pre-sharpening my pencils before heading off to class really helps me to cut down on the initial wear and tear a handheld blade experiences when dealing with a new pencil.  At first glance, the Classroom Friendly looks like an ordinary pencil sharpener you would find mounted in the classroom.  That is where the similarities to the old school sharpeners end.

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The sharpeners come in six different colors and are priced at $24.99, but bulk discounts are offered.  The Classroom Friendly offers an automatic stop, so you will not eat your pencils needlessly.  The shavings drop down into the removable receptacle below and it is easy to clean and maintain.  The sharpener comes with a mount for a table or desk, but you can also use the sharpener without the mount as you do not need to hold onto the pencil as it is being sharpened.  There are three sets of “teeth” that grip the pencil when inserted into the sharpener and while this does a good job of holding the pencil tight, it leaves some pretty significant gouges in the pencil being sharpened.  This is not an issue at all for classroom use, but for pencil collectors and enthusiasts, it is something you should know.  Some rubber grips might be a better idea if Classroom Friendly decides on a re-design.

As far as sharpening is concerned, the Classroom Friendly is amazing.  Not only does it sharpen well, but it is super quiet which is a bonus for teachers.  I jokingly mounted the sharpener to my nightstand for a bit and sharpened a pencil while my wife was sleeping next to me and she did not move at all.  This thing is REALLY quiet.  I also enjoy the nice, long point it provides and it is comparable to everyone’s favorite Long Point sharpener by KUM.  The Classroom Friendly sharpens evenly and accurately every time and I have not had an instance yet where I have received sub-par results (I have sharpened about 30 or so pencils with this thing so far).

With its sturdy metal construction, quiet operation, and intuitive nature, the Classroom Friendly Sharpener is a no-brainer for teachers everywhere.  I also can recommend it to pencil enthusiasts as the Classroom Friendly does its job well and there is a way around the gouges it produces in your pencils.  Just wrap a post-it around the barrel of your pencil before you sharpen and you will not have any problems.  If you do not already own a Classroom Friendly, you should pick one up.  It is well worth the cost. Head here if you are interested!

*I was provided a Classroom Friendly Sharpener free of charge for a review, but my review was not influenced by Classroom Friendly or any other entity than myself.*