Pencil sharpeners seem like they’re a dime a dozen. That is, until you begin searching for that coveted ultra long point. The urge to find the ultimate long-point sharpener is kind of like Hepatitis B: some people get it and it just never goes away. A sharpener that reliably generates an elegant, long taper is even more elusive in hand-blade format.
Esteemed German manufacturer KUM has attempted to solve this issue with their Automatic Long Point sharpener. I purchased this sharpener without necessarily intending to review it, and have been using it off and on for several months now, so I reckon I’m highly-qualified to give you the dirt on it. In this case, I’ll be reviewing the Blackwing-branded model, although I’m pretty sure that there is no difference between this and the “white label” model other than the screen-printed Blackwing logo. So keep reading, long-point enthusiasts; because herein lies an in-depth look at one of the most popular long-point hand sharpeners on the market today.
The Kum Automatic Long-Point sharpener comes in “capsule” form, with a two-hole wedge sharpener enclosed in a shavings case to keep things neat and tidy. The case is in the shape of an extruded oval, and it is the perfect shape and size to fit in between the thumb and index finger, or simply in the palm of the hand.
The two-hole sharpener, in this case, is not meant to create two different sizes or shapes of point as is the case with some two-hole sharpeners. Rather, it is meant to sharpen the pencil in two steps: first, sharpening the wood; second, sharpening the lead. Each stage also has a “stop”, meaning once the wood or graphite reaches the design shape or size, the pencil will (mostly) spin freely, preventing it from shaving any more.
The first-stage KUM blade really slices through wood casings with ease. That’s one thing I’ve always appreciated about KUM sharpeners and this case is no different. Cutting through only the graphite core on the second stage is an interesting feeling that is definitely a little bit different of an experience compared to most sharpeners which simultaneously sharpen the lead and wood. It doesn’t give the same “feedback” that wood does, that’s for sure (graphite is used as a lubricant, after all). The problem is, this makes it a little more difficult to feel out what’s going on inside the sharpener. It requires a little getting used to, and there is definitely more room for error compared to a traditional pencil sharpener.
Overall, the finished point from lacquer to tip measures approximately 2.3 to 2.5cm (depending on the diameter and straightness of the pencil you’re sharpening) which is about the same length as my beloved Deli 610B hand-crank sharpener, and almost as long as the Ooly Mighty Sharpener. The finish is almost always smooth and nice, with a seamless transition from the collar to the core. However, something about the design (maybe the stop) tends to trap graphite in the sharpener, which often results in a point that comes out looking dirty and gross.
The bevel along the collar and core is consistent, meaning it is a straight triangular shape all the way down to the needle-point tip. By contrast, the 610B makes a bit of a curved cut to the point, resulting in more of a concave “swoop”, which I personally prefer. However, this is a minor aesthetic issue and, anyway, nothing more than a matter of personal taste. If you dig the flat bevel, sharpen your little heart out! Plus, it’s not very reasonable to throw my big hand crank sharpener in my man purse and carry it around, so it’s a bit of an apples and oranges comparison anyway.
The shavings container doesn’t have the best size or shape. For one thing, it’s simply not that large or spacious; the sharpener mechanism itself occupies most of the volume of the canister, so the amount of shavings it can hold is limited. However, another issue is the general layout. A large amount of the storage volume is located below or behind the sharpener (however you want to think of it) while the shavings, as I’m sure you can imagine, come out on the top (e.g. the side with the blade). The waste wood doesn’t naturally feed into the canister in a way that it tends to fill the empty space on its own. And, while it seems intuitive that a person could just tip the whole thing back and let the shavings fall by force of gravity into the big void behind the sharpener, that doesn’t seem to work well in practice — especially if you have big, long ribbons of shavings wadded up between the top of the sharpener and the lid. Instead, the shavings jam up into a sort of wooden spring and the lid usually pops open before the container is actually full. Realistically expect to sharpen one and a half or two new pencils, or re-sharpen about ten to twelve, before the thing gets full.
There is one other main drawback to the KUM Automatic Long-Point, and it’s a big one: this thing really likes to snap pencil tips clean off and jam up. You’ll go through stage 1 and have a nice wooden collar. Then, you’ll proceed to stage 2 and all will seem to go fine until…snap!…the almost-sharpened core snags on the blade, which torques it until it breaks and gets wedged into the sharpener. At that point you have no choice but to dump the shavings, dislodge the broken core, and go back to step 1 hoping it doesn’t happen again. But all too often, it does happen again.
I just grabbed a bunch of random pencils out of my pencil cup — seventeen in total — and started sharpening. I snapped the tips of three pencils off on the first sharpen. That’s about 18% of the pencils I sharpened. Snapping the tip off every fifth or sixth pencil is pretty bad. But what’s worse, once the Automatic finds a pencil that it doesn’t like, it seems more likely to break the lead again (….and maybe again, and again, and again…).
The fact that it it seemed to break specific pencils repeatedly indicated that there might be a common thread in play, so I kept sharpening pencils to see if any pattern popped out. My search for meaning came up empty, though, because I couldn’t identify any correlation. Cedar, basswood, or jelutong; soft cores or hard cores; large cores or small cores; nice pencils or cheap: they pretty much all fell victim to the KUM Automatic’s graphite-only sharpener. And not that the blades that came with it were particularly old, but I put a fresh blade on the second stage to see if it helped (nope). It would be slightly less frustrating if I could figure out that there was a certain type of pencil, or a specific technique, to avoid; but it’s got me stumped. Maybe there is something I’m doing wrong, but if a pencil sharpener (of all things) has a steep learning curve, that’s a problem.
Overall, I have to say that I’m not a big fan of the KUM Automatic Long-Point sharpener. It is capable of making a nice tip — you know, when the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars or whatever. But there is a lot to go wrong, and I think my beef with it is the two-stage sharpening approach. The second stage too often results in a tip that snaps off, or comes out looking all mangled; or smears graphite dust all over the wooden point. That’s a lot to deal with when you can just get a single-stage long-point sharpener. Such a thing does exist — heck, KUM makes one themselves — and I probably couldn’t tell one point from another in a blind test. So what problem is the two-stage approach supposed to be solving? I’m all for a more refined, detailed process if the results are better but in this case, the added complication seems to add more drawbacks without any pluses to balance them out.
There are a lot of blogs out there that rave about this sharpener, but I can’t figure out why. Are we doing something different? Do they not mind snapping off cores and wasting half a pencil before the sharpener decides to start working again? Do they just give products a cursory try-out and churn out a fluff-piece without mentioning any drawbacks? I don’t know. This is all just one man’s opinion, and you are entitled to yours. Maybe their experience, or potentially yours, is completely different. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you!
The Automatic Long-Point will set you back between $5 and $10, depending on where you buy it and whether you want to pay extra for an ultra-hip Blackwing logo screen-print. Replacement blades are available as well for a buck or two, and one set of two are included in an internal slot. The price isn’t bad for a canister sharpener, and the high-quality, replaceable blades are definitely a perk.
I hate giving bad reviews. After writing my first draft of this post, I kept this one buried for a while before I finished and published it. Only when I saw a post on social media from a fellow pencil nerd — complete with dozens of comments advising the original poster on all kinds of tips and tricks for making it work — did I become confident that I’m not the only one frustrated by this product. Sure, maybe there are some tricks to it I don’t know about, but that just kind of underscores the problem. It’s a pencil sharpener. You shouldn’t need training to operate it.
The KUM Automatic Long-Point’s two-stage process seems at face value like a sophisticated solution for getting a long point from a portable device. However, it’s kind of a solution in search of a problem since there are several better single-step, long-point sharpeners out there. The bottom line is that a pencil sharpener has one job — sharpening pencils — and this one kind of sucks at it.