Try visiting a teachers’ forum that discusses pencil sharpening, and you’ll see how passionate teachers are about the matter. They’ll tell you about setting a time for sharpening, rewards system, labeling, pencil buckets, volunteer parents, and assigning daily sharpening assistants. You’ll soon read about pencil trading, too, such as buying pencils with earned tokens or using shoes as collateral. The teachers’ ideas are limitless, and it looks like we’ll never hear the end of it.
The teacher’s goal in all of these efforts is to ensure that no student attends class without a properly sharpened pencil. And though teachers differ in their methods, they have one thing in common—they rely on at least one trusted heavy-duty pencil sharpener.
If you’re a teacher looking to replace your retiring sharpener, you’re on the right page. This article will help you choose the best pencil sharpener for classroom use.
Two main types of classroom pencil sharpeners
We’re familiar with the handy old-fashioned manual pencil sharpener—the type that we used to keep inside our pockets back when we were grade school kids. It is still being used today and works for one-person use, though it often gets lost.
In this article, we’ll talk about pencil sharpeners that are designed for classroom use. It is usually set up on the teacher’s table or somewhere else where students can access it. There are two main categories of classroom-use pencil sharpeners.
- Mechanical type – much the same as the old-school stationary type, which you have to mount on a table or wall and hand-crank to operate. This type is also called cylindrical sharpener or planetary sharpener, referring to the planetary gearbox and cylindrical cutting mechanism inside the tool. The modern sharpeners are made of plastic and light metal, so they’re much lighter than their all-metal predecessor.
- Electric type – either plugs to the wall outlet or uses batteries to power its motor. Electrical pencil sharpeners have similar gears and helical cutting blades as the mechanical type. They differ mainly in the power source that makes them work.
Important features to look for when buying a pencil sharpener
Whether you prefer the mechanical or electric type, the best pencil sharpener for teachers and students has the following features and qualities.
- It is made for heavy use. Choose a sharpener that can handle up to or more than 5,000 uses. That should last you halfway through the school year granting your students don’t sharpen their pencils more than twice a day.
- It accommodates a variety of pencil shapes and sizes. Some sharpeners have a selector dial with several holes of different sizes where you insert the pencil. Others have a single hole that you can adjust in size. Make sure that it has the shape and size of the pencil your class uses.
- Its price tag is within your budget. Pencil sharpeners can range a lot in price with high-end models being designed for high-volume classroom use to commercial volume.
- It’s easy and safe for kids to operate. Pencil sharpening is generally a task for the kids, though many teachers feel they have to do it themselves. Whatever your classroom policy is, the sharpener must be safe for the user to handle. Inside the casing of a sharpener is a rotating helical blade. The kids must not have easy access to the cutter. Some models automatically shut off when the access lid is open.
It’s often the minor detail which clinches a buyer’s decision.
- Is the cutter replaceable? Teachers get the best value for money from pencil sharpener models with replaceable cutters. Most replacement cutters cost around a quarter of the whole assembly, which is considerably cheaper than buying the entire device again. Consider the availability and price of the replacement cutter, as well as the ease of replacing it.
- Will it know when it’s time to stop sharpening? Most electric models come with an auto-shutoff feature. The motor automatically stops when it detects a sharp tip. Some models come with an LED indicator to tell you that it’s done sharpening your pencil.
- Is it noisy? A noisy tool distracts the class. If you don’t allow sharpening during class hours, then a little noise will be acceptable. How much noise you and your students can tolerate is all up to you to decide.
- How big is the receptacle for shavings and debris? A bigger bin means you won’t need to empty it frequently. It can cause jamming when left to fill up, so a good-sized receptacle is important.
Our Picks for the 3 Best Electric Pencil Sharpeners for Classrooms
1. X-ACTO School Pro Classroom Electric Pencil Sharpener
Very few pencil sharpeners survive half a year of use by grade-level students, so teachers are pleasantly surprised that their X-ACTO School Pro still works after a year. Some teachers reported that theirs even lasted three full years when they were particularly careful to watch out for misuse.
So what’s so good about X-ACTO School Pro? It is hefty and sturdily. That weight coupled with suction cups on the base will keep it from tipping over. The selector dial has six holes for handling a variety of pencil sizes and shapes, like the chunky beginners’ pencils, slim triangular ones, or standard round pencils.
This pencil sharpener is very easy to use. It’s good to go as soon as you plug it into a wall socket. It doesn’t draw electricity when not in use, so there’s no need to constantly plug and unplug it. You can easily tell when it’s time to empty the oversized receptacle because it is transparent.
Inside is a steel helical cutter, which does all the work. With its patented fly-away technology, X-ACTO School Pro knows when a pencil is sharp enough. The motor will continue to run, but the cutter head distances itself or “flies away” from the pencil. You’ll know this by the change in the sound that the motor produces. You can then insert another pencil to sharpen. The resulting sharpness is medium and pointed as opposed to long and extra-sharp.
You will have no trouble sharpening 30 pencils in less than 2 minutes, making it a relatively fast sharpener. However, the heavier you use it, the faster the blade will turn dull. Sharpening decorative pencils with it can also shorten the cutter’s useful life. The unit carries a 10-year warranty, while the cutter has two years—awesome bonuses, if you ask us, considering that this is not an expensive pencil sharpener.
2. PowerMe Battery Operated Electric Pencil Sharpener
PowerMe’s battery-operated pencil sharpener is favored by teachers, students, and artists for its portability and ease of use. Since it is compact and cordless, you can carry it wherever you go and whenever you need it. Its elegant design will look good on your classroom or office table.
You’ll need four AA-size batteries to power it. There’s a single hole on the top for vertical sharpening. If you’re planning to use this for those fat beginners’ pencils, then you’re out of luck. This tool is designed for regular writing pencils (such as the classic no. 2), but will also sharpen triangular and even coloring pencils as long as they’ll fit the hole. The resulting tip is fine, sharp, and does not break easily.
PowerMe sharpens a pencil for about 3 seconds and promises to handle up to 3,000 uses. On one side is a transparent receptacle which catches the shavings. This receptacle also acts as the lid for the spiral drill. To safeguard curious fingers, an auto-shutoff feature will stop the motor every time the lid is open.
One possible drawback is that its cutter is not replaceable. But PowerMe is inexpensive, so may be an ideal option if you’d rather not replace cutters anyway.
3. Bostitch Antimicrobial SuperPro Pencil Sharpener
Bostitch’s SuperPro pencil sharpener has features similar to X-ACTO School Pro, including the 6-hole dial, front-pulling bin, sleek profile, and plug-in electric power. When it detects that the pencil’s tip is sharp enough, it automatically stops, and an indicator lamp lights up. There will be no over-sharpening which means longer life for your pencils.
This heavy-duty tool is compatible with a good variety of pencils including standard, triangular, and coloring pencils. It comes with an internal fan to protect the motor from overheating. Like the first two products, it automatically stops when you remove the shavings bin.
The price of Bostitch SuperPro is more than twice the price of either X-ACTO School Pro or PowerMe, and that’s usually a deal breaker for most buyers. Like X-ACTO School Pro, it has a replaceable cutter. It earns a point here, though, because unlike X-ACTO, its replacement cutter cartridge is relatively cheap and easy to install, too.
The 3 Best Mechanical Pencil Sharpeners for Classrooms
Some teachers still want the control and active role that a mechanical pencil sharpener allows them. There’s never a dull moment with these sharpeners, as they aptly put it. Below are three of the teachers’ choicest mechanical pencil sharpeners.
1. SharpTank Portable Pencil Sharpener
If you’re trying to buy on the cheap by avoiding the high price of electric sharpeners, don’t buy SharpTank’s portable pencil sharpener. It’s not cheap. It’s more expensive than most pencil sharpeners – mechanical or electric. However, if you seriously prefer mechanical over electric pencil sharpeners for their unique qualities, then we highly recommend SharpTank.
It has an all-metal hand crank, a durable metal body, and a sharp rotary cutter designed for up to 5,000 uses. You can see through its large bin, so you’ll know when it’s time to empty and clean it up. Unlike most mechanical sharpeners, SharpTank has a tension spring system to prevent over-sharpening. It’s a smooth and quiet operator, too, so it won’t disturb your neighbors or the class next door.
The hole where you insert your pencil has a teeth-like mechanism, which grips the pencil for you. Convenient, don’t you think? Unfortunately, it’s also where the flaw lies. These teeth will leave telltale bite marks on the pencil. Most users don’t seem to notice this cosmetic issue, though, so we’re not sure if it’s a real problem or it’s just us. What’s more important is that it gets your pencil a neat, sharp tip each time you use it.
2. X-ACTO KS Ranger 1031 Wall Mount Pencil Sharpener
X-ACTO must know teachers very well because X-ACTO’s KS Ranger has their nod. This hand-cranked pencil sharpener displays the classic rugged look of wall-mounted pencil sharpeners of old. It has eight pencil holes to accommodate more pencil types.
X-ACTO KS sharpens pencils to a tip so uniformly balanced that some users swear they’re not going electric again. There’s a proper way to use it, and if you’ve only used electric models before, you may have some unlearning to do. For instance, you won’t get a nice even trim if you hold the pencil tight. Instead, hold the pencil loosely and allow it to rotate while your other hand does the cranking.
It’s all metal, including the receptacle, so you’ll have to frequently check it or follow a schedule for throwing the pencil shavings. It doesn’t come with anything “auto” about it, so do mind the kids and teach them how to tell when it’s time to stop grinding. Though low-tech in that respect, X-ACTO KS is one solid sharpener that works. What’s even more awesome is that it has a 10-year warranty for normal wear and tear just like its electric sibling!
3. Bostitch Pencil Sharpener MPS1-BLK
Here’s another pencil sharpener from Bostitch although a hand-cranked type this time. There are three ways to set it up. Instead of the usual rubber feet, Bostitch MPS1-BLK has a unique base with a clamp for temporary mounting. Aside from that, you can also use screws to mount it on a tabletop or wall. The screw-on mount works best for us.
There’s no second-guessing whether you’ll need to empty the bin today or the next day because you’ll see the contents right away. It sharpens pencils to a nice long tip, as well as watercolor and pastel pencils that have the same diameter as standard writing pencils. Just remember to sharpen a hard graphite pencil after every five coloring pencils. It helps maintain the blade’s condition and prevent jamming.
The good point here is that you’ll get your pencils sharp without worrying about dead batteries or finding an electric outlet. You’ll also get to work out your arm a little every time you sharpen 30 or so pencils. Your progress will be slow, so if you need to sharpen around 50 pencils a day and have no intention of doing a workout, this may not be the right one for you.
The best pencil sharpener for teachers does not only last long—it must also perform as expected during its long useful life. In this regard, the X-ACTO School Pro and SharpTank pencil sharpeners both make the cut.
They’ll help you save in more ways than one, too. X-ACTO School Pro is covered by a 10-year warranty, while SharpTank is good for at least 5,000 uses. Both products will lengthen the lifespan of your pencils by not over-sharpening, allowing you to save and enjoy your favorite pencils longer.
Each of the six products we’ve reviewed highlights some features distinct from others. We hope you’ll find the best pencil sharpener for classroom use among these shortlisted products.