pencil sharpening

How a can of coke is made…

Here’s the chain of events that leads up to the “cshhht” sound you can of Coke makes when you open it. It’s complicated. And sort of beautiful.

coke cans

And it all starts in the bauxite mines of Western Australia

The number of individuals who know how to make a can of Coke is zero. The number of individual nations that could produce a can of Coke is zero. This famously American product is not American at all. Invention and creation is something we are all in together. Modern tool chains are so long and complex that they bind us into one people and one planet. They are not only chains of tools, they are also chains of minds: local and foreign, ancient and modern, living and dead — the result of disparate invention and intelligence distributed over time and space. Coca-Cola did not teach the world to sing, no matter what its commercials suggest, yet every can of Coke contains humanity’s choir.

The humble pencil has a similar story, which is why sharpening them is an art.

Sharpening Pencils for the advanced

This looks like a sensational and world shaking book – How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical and Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening for Writers, Artists, Contractors, Flange Turners, Anglesmiths, & Civil Servant.

Its author, David Rees, is involved in a fascinating interview here (with the obligatory language warning), about the book, and its titular issue – the correct sharpening of pencils. He’s a pencil sharpening consultant – charging $15 per pencil.

David Rees: Well, the whole point of the book was to try to defamiliarize pencil-sharpening as an activity, so that people would just approach it from square one again. One of the things I liked about starting the artisanal pencil sharpening business was that it made me think about pencils in greater depth than I probably ever had in my life. And the more I thought about them the more I appreciated them as really efficient, elegant tools. But sharpening pencils is always a little intimidating, especially with the single-blade pocket sharpener, where you might break the tip or you might not be satisfied with how it turns out. Frankly I think the book is meant to make sharpening pencils simultaneously less and more intimidating.”

TM: I think you did about the right amount of thinking. But the knowledge you’re laying down here is incredibly detailed and thorough. You think you might be in danger of putting yourself out of business?
DR: It’s not a worry. In fact, it’s the goal. I don’t want to do this forever. I wanted to just throw open the doors of my workshop and just share my secrets. Whenever an article gets written about my pencil sharpening business, there’s always someone who’s like “Fifteen dollars? I’ll do it for ten!” And I’m always like: “You know what? It’s a free market economy, knock yourself out. Let’s see what you got.” It’s enough for me to know that I’m first in field, as they say. I invented this industry, and I’m happy to share what I’ve learned, and hopefully empower people to sharpen their own pencils.

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