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For the person who has everything: artisanal pencil sharpening


David Rees, the man behind the popular political comic Get Your War On, wants to sharpen you a pencil. Slowly. Attentively. And with a carefully selected sharpener or blade that suits the pencil best. If there are movements for slow food and slow reading, why not for slow writing implements? 

"With an electric pencil sharpener, a pencil is meat," Rees said. "It's this thoughtless, Brutalist aesthetic. For me, it's almost a point of pride that I would be slower than an electric pencil sharpener."

This is how Rees' artisanal pencil sharpening works: You might send him your favorite pencil, but Rees more often selects and sharpens a classic No. 2 pencil for his clients, he promises, "carefully and lovingly." He slides the finished pencil's very sharp tip into a specially-sized segment of plastic tubing, then puts the whole pencil in a larger, firmer tube that looks like it belongs in a science experiment. Throw it at a wall, he says, and it won't break. The cost? $15.

Rees lives in New York's Hudson Valley, a region full of tiny vineyards and cheese makers and old-school butchers and bookbinders. It's a place where people take the time to create things by hand.

He packs up his blades on Aug. 20 for a show in Massachusetts at the Montague Book Mill, whose motto is: "Books you don't need in a place you can't find." For those who do find it, Rees will be sharpening pencils on stage as part of a show with "Daily Show" correspondent John "I'm a PC" Hodgman, author of "The Areas of My Expertise" and "More Information Than You Require."

Rees will appear wearing his safety goggles and a dust mask, and sharpen pencils live. "I will be making people happy," he said. He also says that at performances like this, he may shave a bit off the pencils' price.

Why would a man whose cartoon was made of clip art turn to the pencil? "I've always loved the iconic No. 2 pencil," he explained. "When I was working for the 2010 census, we were each issued No. 2 pencils and a manual sharpener. We all sharpened our pencils on the first day of training, and I was like, 'I'm feeling this. This rules. I like sharpening pencils.' It had been a while since I had done it. And the more I thought about it, the more I was like, 'If I could figure out how to get paid to sharpen pencils, I would be happy.' So I decided to become an artisanal pencil sharpener."

Rees opened his website storefront about a month ago. Many customers order a limited-edition print -- the newest one depicts Rees in a man-versus-machine pencil-sharpening showdown -- and an artisanally sharpened pencil together for $60. The orders have been coming in regularly, but Rees admitted, "I hope that it will pick up as fall approaches and school starts. I think it will be a nice way to kick off the school year, with a super-duper sharp pencil."

So far, Rees is the leader in the field. "Nobody else is doing what I do," he said. "I guarantee an authentic interaction with your pencil. What mechanical pencil sharpener can say that? The X-ACTO XLR 1818? The Royal 16959T?  Don't make me laugh."

"I'm going to have this nice, authentic, considered reaction with your pencil," Rees said. "I just want to treat it with respect. And get it really freaking sharp." 

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: David Rees at work. Credit: Meredith Heuer

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Comments () | Archives (46)

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Yet more proof, if any is really needed, that some people have waaaaay too much time on their hands. And $15 to sharpen a 10-cent pencil? No wonder our "civilization" is in so much trouble.

Oh, this is so deliciously silly and wonderful and great.

I walk by a pencil factory turned condos every day in Jersey City.

I cannot get my pencils sharp enough. Ever. It's frustrating.

Our best day of the summer ended at the Montague Book Mill.

This man is utterly out of his mind in a way that scares me a little for how well I understand it.

Carolyn, you rock.

Do you know who has a HUGE and POWERFUL sense of humor? The commenter "Joe" does.

@Joe, do you really think that sharpening pencils for $15 explains why out civilization is in so much trouble - if indeed it is. On the contrary, I think Rees' project indicates hope. (Also it's funny)

Sure I could pay for an "artisan pencil sharpener" but what would be the "point?" The relationship would get very "dull" quickly LOLOL

Stupid, Stupid, Stupid

Stop extending unemployment benefits and maybe more people will figure out how to make money on their own.

This man either received a large sum of money early on in life--easily--rendering him oblivious to the need for establishing a career for oneself, or repeated his senior year of high school so many times that he developed an obsession with No.2 pencils because he had to retake so many tests.

Who would pay money to sharpen a pencil? And 15 dollars a shot?
Cute story, but this it's simply ridiculous.
Why not pay someone to pick your nose carefully and attentively?

My kids school starts next week and I have a box of 100 N2 pencils that needs sharpening. 1500$ sounds like a bargin to me!!!1

Why is this the top story on latimes.com? I appreciate his love for sharpening pencils but this does not seem important enough for the main story. Any thoughts on this people?

My husband said he'd sharpen your pencil for only $5!

Ahh, the short attention span of the interweb dwellers. Of course David Rees isn't just some silly trust-fund hipster; he's a freakin' genius with a nationally syndicated comic strip and some hysterical books to his credit.

After reading some of the comments if find it saddening, that many of use are unable to comprehend the message in the medium. This mans "dream job" speaks more about us as a people and a Nation than any of the "voices of Reason" or "doctors of Democracy" can ever say!

In my class, students need either mechanical pencils or wooden ones with a hand sharpener. No electric sharpeners or hand crank ones attached to the wall, as they're too noisy and kids play around too much.

Kids with mechanical pencils can spend 5 minutes trying to put a new lead in. Kids with manual sharpeners get the job done and are back to work. There's something comforting, too, in sharpening a pencil, a simple but productive act.


Having been a trade-show vendor in the mechanical pencil industry for decades, I can firmly state that we will not ignore this brazen attempt to resuscitate the antiquated wooden pencil market. Our fine 0.5mm products will be supplemented by a new 0.1mm ultra sharp. This needle of graphite will more than satisfy the most discriminating, pointy-obsessed customer.

David Rees might want to collaborate with Tony Robbins and help people rebuild their lives. To literally SHARPEN their lives!!

NASA spent millions of dollars developing a pen that would still write in zero gravity. The russians used a pencil.

Woody Wooppecker already did this comic 'shtick' by taking a tree and reproducing a toothpick.

Did PhilB just call Rees a communist? It is on.

This is why I read the New York Times.

I think most of you have failed to catch the subtle humor behind this story.

America needs innovative small business owners like David Rees. If more people would just take on his entrepreneurial spirit we could claw our way out of this recession in no time.

Also, he'd better not start hiring illegals. ;O)

Well done LA Times, you got punked. Hats off to David Rees.

It's nice to see The Times stealing an article
from The Onion instead of the Associated Press for a change. I suppose you have to do whatever it takes to turn it all around, huh? Bring back the Herald-Examiner already.

With this kind of "news" as the lead story, the Times should change its name to the LA People or the LA Facebook and place it's news racks at the check out stand at the supermarket.

Did I read this right???
$15 to sharpen a pencil???
What has this world come to, are people insane???

Just goes to show you how well rich people are doing now, they spend more on sharpening a pencil than the most of us do feeding a family of four dinner! I mean come on...who actually NEEDS someone to sharpen their pencils??? My elderly arthritic handicapped mother can sharpen her own pencils!!! But here we are with these rich idiots in our society with so much money they have to search out new useless ways to spend it. They could easily sharpen their own pencil and give the $15 to some afterschool program if they are really so eager to throw that money away but that will never happen.

I for one am sickened, anyone else?

When I was a kid in school, we boys used to sharpen our pencils with a (gasp) pocketknife. Of course, that is out of the question now because the little darlings would tend to murder one another using a pocketknife (or any other object stiffer than cooked pasta) If we did not have "artisanal" pencil sharpeners, where would we be?

If I walked into a friend's kitchen and found him wearing shop glasses to sharpen a pencil, I'd sit down with a cup of coffee and enjoy the explanation. But here's another arty version of the balloon dad impulse, "Look at me! Look at me!" Okay, I've looked. Next...

"And the more I thought about it, the more I was like, 'If I could figure out how to get paid to sharpen pencils, I would be happy.' So I decided to become an artisanal pencil sharpener."

Marx is rolling in his grave. It's capitalism gone rampant. Where's this man's social consciousness (let alone his conscience)?

Pencil?? You can write with it? I don't see that option on my keyboard. Is there an app for that? Can I use it while driving?

For those who have been to architecture school or at least taken a drafting class, you'll know that -- with proper technique -- a pencil need only be sharpened once. By twirling the pencil while writing, drawing, the pencil will sharpen itself.

he is kinda hot. He can sharpen my pencil anytime.

I wonder how long a Rees-sharpened pencil would last noting the names of all the historically significant hoboes in Hodgeman's books.

Seriously, for $15 dollars, I would want my sharpened pencil to come with a detailed history. Were the angle and torque of the sharpening process matched to the grain and hardness of the wood; was the graphite polished after sharpening, or did the pencil cry out for the toolmarks to be left on, raw and rough; is the tip suited more for at-desk writing, or is it rounded just enough that I can use it to score my round of golf with the President?

Is it April Fools in August?

I have to say, it sounds like a hoax to me. If anyone is actually paying that sort of money, then the saying that a fool and his money are soon parted makes a lot more sense to me now.

When I was a lad, pencil- sharpeners walked down the alley-ways, crying, "Pencils to hone, pencils to sharpen, pinpoint my pretty, the Devil's a lurkin." No real man's waist-coat sported fewer than 12 well-sharpened pencils. But did we pay the sharpeners?! Not on your Betsy! For they were convicted paederasts, every last plug-ugly, with their pointed shoes and their Michigan rolls, tempting fullsome schoolgirls into lives of penury! This man Darrel Reeps makes my bile boil and I may send my salary-men for his hide.

I would gladly pay $15 to sharpen pencils. I don't understand what all of the fuss is about.

I wonder if he'll take on an apprentice?

The comments on this story are hilarious.

I'm confident I could make more money by offering an "artisanal cleaning" of peoples' laptop screens for $15 a whack.

Actually, I'd franchise the idea so that the shoeshine stands and homeless newspaper sellers would have a secondary source of income. Of course, I'd have to hire a staff to train them how to do it properly and to walk around the city collecting my cut of the daily proceeds....

This article demonstrates the sad state of society. Seriously, people. It's a JOKE! This is satire! It's freakin' hilarious!! Y'all need to stop takin' yourselves so seriously and learn to laugh!

OMG, this guy is a riot! The FUNNIEST thing, is I bet somebody is actually spending the $60 on paypal to get the pencil and poster... (Of course, if I wasnt so poor, I'd probably do it too, funny deserves a reward! I'm sure sometime in the past I've spent money on tickets to see a comedian that wasnt this funny...)

I don't know about the quality of his artisanally sharpened pencil, but I remember having very sharp pencils as a child living in Japan. The electric sharpener I had would make needle sharp points and was a delight to use for fine drawings. When I moved to the states, I was sorely disappointed that I could not find sharp pencil sharpeners like the ones I has in japan.

This must be a joke!

For $15, you get a sharp pencil for what? Three strokes?

Good on him for finding a way to make serious money from the utterly mundane though.

I just can't tell who is trolling who anymore.


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