Sharpener Review: X-Acto Vacuum Mount manual helical sharpener

I’m sure you can imagine what a quick trip to the grocery/big box/etc. store looks like for me. “Yeah babe, I’ll run out and grab some bread, be right back!” I tell my partner as I run out the door. An hour later I return with the bread…and a handful of random crap from the art and/or office supply aisles.

That’s more or less how I ended up with the X-Acto Vacuum Mount manual helical pencil sharpener (sidenote: I’ve also seen this or a similar product marketed as the “bulldog”). A quick pop into Wally World for some Oreos to comfort my beloved after she sprained her ankle necessarily included a trip down the office supply aisle. I’ve pretty much picked that joint clean of anything that looks promising or even interesting, but occasionally new surprises pop up, and I’ve been curious about hand-crank helical sharpeners as a happy medium between noisy electrics and bladed hand sharpeners. And there she was: the X-ACTO vacuum mount manual sharpener for the low, low price of eight bucks. Sold!

This sharpener looks like a miniature, plastic version of the one we had back in the day in elementary school. Definitely giving me nostalgic vibes! A clear plastic shavings catcher latches on to the pencil-sharpening mechanism, where a hand crank turns a single helix blade that forms the pencil tip. To operate it (for all you young’ns that didn’t have these growing up) you simply insert the pencil into the hole and turn the crank clockwise.

This sharpener is riveted onto a plastic base which includes a levered suction-cup type mounting system. With the lever in the forward position, you place the sharpener on a flat surface, then rotate the lever backward. The rubbery bottom gets pulled upward into the hollow base, creating suction necessary to keep the sharpener still while you crank away at it.

The actual vacuum mechanism is hit-or-miss. The directions specify that it must be used on a “non-porous surface”, and one would expect that it can’t suck up to anything that’s not relatively smooth. But it’s pretty picky about what it can mount to, and it’s not sturdy and balanced enough to easily use without mounting it. You really do have to have a hard, very smoothly-finished surface to get this thing to stick. Once this baby gets a good latch, it’ll stay on, so that’s good. I also kind of like the idea that I can stick it to my desk right in front of me, use it, detach it, and set it aside rather than having to find a (semi-)permanent home to clamp or screw it to. My office desk is made of perfectly-flat laminated fake wood, so it’s great for work.

Once you’ve got it all set up, it’s time to sharpen! And holy crap does the
X-Acto manual sharpener make a nice tip. It produces not only as smooth and uniform a collar and point as I could reasonably hope for, but a really long one at that. The X-Acto Mighty Mite electric sharpeners I have produce a longer-than-average tip, and I was expecting more of the same from their manual offering, but wow. This thing makes a long point. It’s about an inch long and comes to a point at an angle of approximately 17 degrees (yes, I got out the protractor and ruler). People pay $20 for a two-step hand sharpener to get that kind of tip This thing is cheaper, easier, and faster. It’s definitely the longest-point pencil sharpener I own. I never thought I’d get hung up on length like this, but now that I have experienced it first-hand, I really like it.

Also, the sharpener (like its electric cousins) ever so slightly squares off the point so that you don’t end up with that annoying (in my opinion) “needle” that breaks off and makes a mess the instant the graphite touches the page.

The X-Acto manual sharpener is not very quiet, even though it doesn’t have an electric motor. Honestly, one of the reasons I got it was that I was afraid that my coworkers were going to destroy the electric sharpener that I use all day like I’m an energy vampire or something. I don’t know if this is the solution to that problem, though, because it makes a very noticeable and not especially quiet grinding sound when in use. It’s probably easier to zone out an electric pencil sharpener since that’s not a terribly uncommon thing to hear in an office setting (even in 2019), but this sharpener kind of sounds like…a garbage disposal full of ice, except quieter. It’s about the same volume as my X-Acto Mighty Mite, but now my coworkers are probably asking themselves not only why I have to be so loud, but also what that weird scraping noise is.

The sharpening action feels about like it sounds, too. In a word, I’d call it “aggressive”. It was a little off-putting at first; cranking doesn’t feel smooth nor effortless. It actually felt like maybe the blade was chewing my pencil into an unrecognizable mess. The good news, though, is that it did the opposite. Not only do pencils come out looking just fine and dandy, the ambitious cutting action requires just about a turn and a half to get the job done when re-sharpening, and a handful of turns to tip up a brand new pencil. So I suppose that even though the sharpening experience doesn’t exactly please the senses, it’s over very quick — quicker than a hand blade or an electric sharpener. The speed is definitely a plus.

With only a single, standard-sized hole, the X-Acto Vacuum Mount won’t accommodate fat pencils and is, in fact, snug around standard sized pencils. The snugness is good, since it doesn’t have the guide plate/clamp that many other personal mechanical sharpeners offer. However, I did have to give one Nataraj Bold pencil a little persuasion to coax it into the sharpening mechanism. Maybe that pencil needs to go on a diet or something, though, because the others all fit fine, but without enough wiggle room to cause wonky sharpening. I don’t really use jumbo-sized pencils, so the lack of a size adjustment is no big to me. But if you do, forewarned is forearmed.

The bottom line: the X-Acto Vacuum Mount is a sharpener that produces a rather long and high-quality pencil tip fast, and it’ll only set you back $8. I’m not sure how it makes such a nice tip since it sounds and feels like an elephant crushing a banana tree, so if you’re looking for silky smoothness (or a sharpener that accommodates jumbo pencils) look elsewhere. The structural components are all plastic, which doesn’t inspire confidence, but it’s eight bucks and you can get it at Walmart so a replacement isn’t hard to come by. Also, the vacuum mount does the trick, but only if you have a very smooth surface to stick it on. So, there’s a lot of “ifs” in there. It may not be the best sharpener for everyone. But if the quirks don’t bother you, it makes a damn fine tip at a rock-bottom price.

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