It may be somewhat of a faux pas for a pro-analog pencil snob to use an electric sharpener, but I’m not trying to hear all of that negativity. For one thing, I push pencils for a living. Sometimes I’m working with a pencil and I just need the damn thing to get sharp. It doesn’t have to be an “experience”. Yeah, yeah, stopping to smell the flowers and all. Try telling that to the people I’m billing by the hour. Better yet, tell that to my brain that will wander off into the weeds if I break my focus for more than a nanosecond.
It also occurred to me that a reviewer of pencils should strive for consistency in methods. I put a lot of thought on ways that I can remove variables from my reviews and make my testing more objective. Although I do a hand-sharpening test for every pencil I review, I conduct the rest of the process using an electric sharpener. Electric sharpeners simply make a more consistent point than I can by hand, and that way I’m making apples-to-apples comparisons.
OK, now that I’ve hopefully talked my way out of being ostracized by the pencil community, let’s get down to meat and potatoes. My go-to electric sharpener is the X-ACTO Mighty Mite, which I own in two versions: one that plugs in to AC power (model 19520), and one that is battery-operated (model 19510). I’ve been using these on the daily for a few months, and think I have a pretty good handle on the pros and cons of each. And, because it’s the thing that I do, I’m going to share my thoughts on the Mighty Mite with you, dear reader.
I chose the Mighty Mite for a few reasons. First, it was available. Have I mentioned that I work directly across the street from an Office Depot? It’s dangerous. My coffee breaks often consist of me wandering the aisles looking for something new, or a hidden gem I’ve overlooked. Most of the employees there stopped bothering to ask me if I need help finding anything long ago. That’s kind of a tangent, but needless to say that when the impulse to buy some office supplies strikes, I’m just a hop skip and a jump away from someone willing to take advantage of an addict and drain my bank account.
Office Depot pushes the X-ACTO brand electric sharpeners hard, and the price was reasonable, so I took a chance on the mid-range Mighty Mite. I picked up the AC version a few months ago. I liked it well enough, so I kept it for my work desk. Then, I realized that I should use an electric sharpener at home for pencil reviews; ideally one that produced the same tip as the work one. So I bought the battery Mighty Mite to use after hours.
Both AC and battery-powered iterations have a helical cutter. Many small desktop or battery operated sharpeners, especially on the more budget-friendly end of the spectrum, use what is essentially a hand sharpener connected to a motor, which seems kind of pointless to me. The helical blades perform well and create a nice, smoothly finished tip. It seems to handle all wood types, and even triangular pencils, equally well.
I really like the tips that the Mighty Mite produces. Pencils sharpened in these sharpeners come out with a relatively long tip, compared to most wedge/bullet/etc. hand sharpeners. However, they’re not excessively long. There is no adjustment that I can discern, so if you’re into really long tips (or really blunt ones?) you are probably out of luck here. My opinion, though, is that the Mighty Might hits the sweet spot.
It also produces a fine, but not needle-sharp, tip. In my opinion, this is a good thing. 99% of pencils will simply break the second a needle-sharp tip touches the page. Regardless, the first few words written with them will come out all wimpy and scratchy, and look weird compared to the rest of the sentence. The Mighty Mite leaves just a paper’s-width blunt tip, so that the core is writing at “full strength” from the get-go.
One thing I don’t like about the Mighty Mite is that it’s pretty loud and obnoxious. The noise level of both sharpeners, combined with my predilection for soft pencils, is part of a perfect storm that I’m convinced will eventually cause one of my co-workers to snap and commit an act of workplace violence. If my blog posts unexpectedly cease, check the Anchorage Daily News for a story about someone going postal. Anyway, I don’t know if there is such thing as a quiet electric pencil sharpener, but if there is, the Mighty Mite is not it.
I have noticed two key distinctions between the AC-powered version, and the more affordable battery-powered model. First, the plug-in model has a “stop” to it; you cannot keep grinding pencils down forever. Eventually the motor will just keep spinning but little will happen to the pencil. This is a feature that I really appreciate, but the battery-powered version is different. Supposedly it has the same “Pencil SaverⓇ technology” but if so, it doesn’t work nearly as well. If you apply pressure on the pencil, the battery version will keep grinding and grinding. If you use a light touch you can tell when it’s done because the wood-grinding noise will diminish (although the motor will keep whining). But you have to be careful if you don’t want to waste.
The other thing is that the battery-powered version seems “looser”, meaning it’s not uncommon to sharpen a pencil with a well-centered core in an off-centered manner. Or, if the core is off-center, to either compensate for that, or to make it allll jacked up. So far it hasn’t rendered a usable pencil un-usable, but it’s a little annoying because it introduces a different inconsistency into my system. For the purposes of my reviews, I have to be mindful to hold pencils straight, and to parse out whether any core-wonkiness is the result of the pencil or the sharpener before I pass judgment. I haven’t noticed this on the plug-in version.
Both models are nearly identical in design and form-factor. A single standard-sized hole, single helical blade, and a slide-out tray for shavings. Emptying the shavings tray doesn’t make too much of a mess, but there are typically a few cuttings that are left behind in the blade or other mechanisms that might scatter. The tray is semi-transparent, so you can tell when it’s going to need to be emptied.
The AC version set me back $25, and the battery version about $15. Those seem like very reasonable prices, and for the performance I think they’re worth the money. For whatever reason, they don’t get super good reviews on Amazon, but I think they’re solid (most of the critical reviews pertain to people receiving sharpeners that are defective). The Mighty Mite is my go-to sharpener and I don’t regret that purchase.