Review – Kum Pencil Sharpener (Magnesium 1-hole Wedge)

For some time, my preferred on-the-go pencil sharpener has been a (older) Kum brass single-holed design. Recently I wanted another (it’s so tiny you might as well put one anywhere within reach), and, as it turns out, the brass ones are hard to find in the States (possibly because of something to do with lead?); so the next best thing was the same design, by the same company, but in a lighter-weight silver-colored magnesium alloy. At the price, this is a pretty good sharpener, but I’m also gonna mentally compare it to the brass version, which I do find is the superior of the two.

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The design is a super-simple “wedge” shape; a box with a slanted top where the blade is screwed in. On either side, there are ribbed divots for you to grip when using, and besides that there aren’t a lot of “features” (no shaving containment for sure). The labeling is clear and there is a little bit of “decoration,” but the whole thing is pretty bare.

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Sharpening is lovely: the contraption is as small as can be but still easy to hold, everything is machined well for precise angles and the blade is sharp, cutting through all the pencils I tried with ease. The points it produces are slightly shorter than I prefer, but that is a minor consideration: they are still well pointed and easy to use. Here I should note that the sharpener is very light, and feels almost flimsily in the hand. This doesn’t affect the function in any way, and the sharpener is indeed rock solid, but at about 4½ grams when compared to the brass’ 19 grams, it just feels feathery and unpleasant in my opinion. (The edges are also much sharper when compared to the brass version, but that might have to do with wear).

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If you’re looking for an inexpensive, no-frills pencil sharpener that gets the job done well, I’d look into picking one of these little guys up. They are hardy, usable, and portable. In some cases they’re cheap enough to be “disposable” (I got mine for $2, which is half what I was seeing them go for online), but they have easily replaceable blades for a guaranteed lifetime of use (though, in some cases it seems like the blades cost more than the sharpeners). And, even though I think the brass version is superior, there certainly isn’t anything wrong with the newer magnesium one.


Review – Maped Globe Pencil Sharpener

I’m a sucker for globes. I see a globe and I buy it. Well… that might not be necessarily true, but it was in this case. I saw a globe on the shelf and bought it. It was only later that I learned it was a pencil sharpener (and more expensive than the dollar I thought it was worth). I was actually unaware that Maped was an office supply company, but does that say anything about the quality of their globe pencil sharpener?

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With such a cheap and small product, one can’t expect a large degree of accuracy, and that is certainly the case here: Great Britain is fused to the rest of Europe, islands in the Pacific are comically uniform (and poorly labeled), Kamchatka is colored as if it is part of North America, and Mexico south is apparently South America. Beyond that, the actual quality of the product isn’t held to a high standard either. Mine came with a few paint chips and scuffs; while that isn’t the worst thing, it is very noticeable at the small scale.

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But, none of that matters unless the sharpener works, which it doesn’t… very well. Obviously, any blade screwed into a cone will sharpen a pencil, and this technically does that, but out of the box it is dull enough to tear at the wood, and the cone misshapen enough to turn the pencil tip into a fragile needle. Technically, it does sharpen a pencil (and I’ve had some “sharpeners” that didn’t) but it makes an ugly and fragile mess. The position of the hole isn’t much better, being in the “stand” part of the globe, and thus, pointing down, it dumps little bits of graphite onto whatever surface you set it on.

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I can’t really recommend this one, even if you’re a globe fan. The illustration is poor, the metal is nothing special, and the sharpener is of shoddy quality while being badly positioned. I’d only really get it as a curiosity if it was on sale for 50¢ or so.

Review – Tech Gear Pencil Case

Finding the right case is a difficult thing, there’re so many options that come in all different sizes, and with features ranging from tons of little pockets and organizational tools to nothing at all. Even where a zipper is positioned can really affect how convenient a product is to use on a day-to-day basis. So today I’ll be looking at an inexpensive pencil case available in a wide range of areas (at least it was when I bought it at a grocery store, but it takes time to properly test a case and I don’t know what’s going on with them now).

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The Tech Gear pencil case is a simple thing, being made of mostly black nylon in a rectangular-ish shape that’s about 8” long and 4½” wide. There are two support pieces, one going around the bottom, and another on the “lid” and they keep everything roughly in the right place. Just underneath this support piece is the zipper, which runs along the top edge. When unzipped, the “lid” (which has a rubber logo patch, 5-stripe “design”, and possibly a different color upper half) hinges back along one of the long edges revealing the inside, which is just a “bucket” about 1” deep where you can dump things. This “hinge” is reinforced by another piece of nylon both inside and out.

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The inside is a smoother texture than the outside, with several of the seams covered up by a plastic-ish, almost electrical-tape feeling material. There’s a tag that tells you it was made in China, but otherwise it’s just an empty cavern into which you can dump whatever you want that’ll fit. And that is pretty much anything that is the same length or shorter than a standard, unsharpened pencil (about 7½”, you might be able to squeeze longer things in if you’re creative) and about 1¼” thick (even that might be stretching it). And that’s a fair amount of stuff. I’ve been using it to carry around my “to-review” items and never had a problem with space. I’ve only got around 15 items in it now, but it can hold 30 writing implements and a few other bits and bobs comfortably.

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But it is a cheap case, so how well does it hold up? Reasonably, I’ll say. It’s been a long time since I went to school (and I just used a Ziploc for my pencil case then) and I know I would’ve been much harder on a case then than I am now, but after carrying it around for a while now there is very minimal wear (a loose thread here and there and the rubber patch on the front is a little scuffed, but nothing significant). Still, I can see a lot of the cheapness in its build quality; most seams are unfinished and liable to tear or unfurl, and the material itself isn’t that strong a stuff in the first place. The zipper works but the material is cheap and soft (and paint already flecking), etc. For someone like me who won’t put it through much hard work it’s fine and’ll probably last for quite a while, but in school I’d say it’s about a 1-year bag.

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And that’s pretty much it. The bag has some organizational problems but it’s also fairly small so nothing should get too buried. And it’s got some craftsmanship problems but for the price you couldn’t really expect better. It’s good for what it is and if that’s what you need it’s easy enough to get. So if you just need something to dump your pencils in and won’t worry about having to replace it later because it’s cheap, this one’s a good thing to look at.


Review – Simple Pencil Extender

Pencil extenders are something I haven’t looked into very much. I am able to “comfortably” use a pencil well into a stub, and would just as soon have that stub as a backup and get a new pencil when it gets smaller (and now I’ve mostly swapped to mechanical pencils). But that does mean I have quite a few stubs lying around, and maybe with some inexpensive “Chinese” (don’t know for sure, but it seems likely) pencil extenders I can breathe new life into them.

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This one is a bit of an anomaly to me as I didn’t get it myself (it was a gift), it has no identifying markings, and I can’t seem to find it specifically online anywhere. I have found an eBay listing that highly resembles it, but I don’t quite know about it. Still, it is strikingly close to other, more hexagonally shaped versions that can be found all over the place and likely use the same collet.

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The device is immensely simple: a rounded wooden dowel is crimped to a tube of metal with a slit near one end and a separate metal band wrapped around it. When a pencil is inserted into the metal tube the band can be slid down to tighten and secure the pencil stub in place. It’s basically a collet that slides instead of screws, and while it works there are some problems. For example, the pencil stubs that can be used must be of a very specific size. Standard hexagonal pencils fit (think Paper:Mate Americans) but the larger art pencils and every round pencil I’ve found (including all colored pencils) have been too big. In general it seems a coat of paint is all the difference it takes between fitting and not.

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And even when a pencil does fit it isn’t held very securely. Sliding the metal collar does clamp the collet tube down a bit but a good tug and the pencil comes free, though it is held in well enough that typical shakes don’t knock it loose. And the metal tube itself isn’t very well fitted to the wooden body and the two can easily be persuaded to part ways.

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Still, with the cost seemingly being almost nothing, it does a tolerable job. The pencil is held securely enough to write with, and can be used comfortably as long as there is still pencil to grip (the collet is not a nice bit to hold on to). It is fairly lightweight, which is good for portability but bad if you really want your pencil to feel the same as it did when it was longer. And even though the construction is shoddy they cost about as little as a pencil or two so if they help you finish a couple they’ll’ve been worth it.


Review – Swingline Tot (Mini) Stapler

I’ve been using an old Swingline CUB stapler at my desk for years now. The combination of small size and standard staples makes it perfect for me, a person who doesn’t have to staple often. I also have the super small Tot-50 stapler in my pencil case, and while the size is good it does use a different type of staple to most other staplers. But now Swingline has a middle ground even between those two with the Tot, a stapler that is just about as small as you can get while still using regular sized staples. But how useful could that be?


The Tot is about 2½” in total length, 1¾” tall, and 1¼” wide. These measurements are a bit larger than they could have been due to the rounding of the stapler body; there are no sharp edges on it. At the back there is a curved piece of metal sticking out to serve as a staple remover. It works fairly well, though unlike the standard “jaw” type it does have the tendency to fling used staples across the room. On the top and bottom of the main body there are relatively comfortable divots in which to place your fingers when stapling. And the entire thing is a sort of teardrop shape, narrow in the back and widening near the front before suddenly dropping off.


Underneath is a small rubber “plate” (for lack of a better word) covering with a handy mark representing staples stamped into it (in the previously mentioned divot), though if I didn’t know they were supposed to be staples I wouldn’t have figured it out. Peeling this back from the nice little nail nick (it’s held in place with tabs in slots) reveals a small storage compartment with enough space for a regular block of standard sized staples, and enough space for (someone with smaller) fingers to get in and grab it. Below these staples is the general information about the product, save for the brand name which is proudly displayed on top. This rubber piece is fully removable, though it is a bit finicky to get it past the staple remover on the back both when getting it on and off. I can also say, from a spill on my desk, that the rubber seals well enough to be water resistant (but I wouldn’t count on it).



As with most Swingline products stapling is as easy as can be. There’s a surprisingly good amount of leverage in this design and it connects pages cleanly and neatly together. Its use of regular sized staples and a mouth about as wide as your standard desk stapler means that it will basically perform the same function, with its only limiting factor being capacity (and durability since it is made of mostly plastic and most staplers are metal). My only general complaint is the top; it’s quite easy to open and hinges back far enough to make loading a breeze, but the tab that holds it in place when it’s supposed to be locked down is very weak and I’ve found it to pop open with slight provocation, or even without provocation at times. And that’s slightly worrying: I don’t want staples everywhere. But the spring holding it down is fairly strong, and if kept on the desk or in a case this shouldn’t be a problem.


So, if you’re not one that staples often, have limited desk space, or want to carry a stapler with you but not special staples (but maybe with a bag or case) this little guy will work great. It’s small, easy to use, and gets the job done. It isn’t as durable as the larger versions (or its metal predecessor the Tot-50), but with care it will work for a long time (but maybe not as long as my CUB) and for how inexpensive they can be I’d say they’re definitely worth it (and they come with a box of staples, which is cool).


Review – Master Mechanic Carton Cutter

With so many options, one carton cutter review just wasn’t enough, and I am now back to review one that has a higher price. But does that make it better quality?


The short answer is yes: it is better quality, but I’ll just go over a few things. The cutter has a bent and nicely shaped/joined sleeve made out of an unknown metal (probably steel), with an insert that is a folded piece of metal that will hold a razor blade. It also has a cutout “spring” that creates the tension instead of the body doing that, making it more pleasant to use. The sleeve also has a nice, easy-to-hold white paint applied, which makes it easier to see. The Master Mechanic logo that is printed on top of this looks nice but wears off easily and looks unsightly when it does.


Use is easy and smooth, tapping (a hard surface) both to deploy and retract the blade-holding mechanism (placing the back on a hard surface and pushing firmly will deploy the blade, and doing the reverse with the blunt part of the front will retract it), but it does have a way it “likes” to go in and works better that way. The razor blades that are included are also slightly better than the cheaper knife, but in general one won’t get much use out of single-edge razor blades, which are sharp but cheap and prone to snapping or deforming.


Is it worth it to buy a better version of such simple product? Probably not for most people. While this is a better carton cutter than cheaper ones, it isn’t really less dangerous or easier to use per-se. The fit and finish are as good as one could reasonably expect on a product this cheap; the amount of friction on deployment is constant; and the device will likely last for a long time. Still, a carton cutter isn’t a tool most people will be worrying about, and the less expensive ones would be easier to replace if they were misplaced or damaged.


Review – Master’s Touch Palette Knife

I’ve been painting recently, and have a new appreciation for palette knives (foolishly I never used them before), both for controlling paint on a palette, and for painting. Unfortunately I’ve found no real resource that says if there are consistent sizes and shapes for palette knives, and I don’t believe there really is. So instead of this being a review of a specific size or shape of knife, this will be a general look at the quality of the Master’s Touch brand of inexpensive and easily accessible palette knives.


The particular knife style here is slightly unconventional, and appears in the least amount of photos I see online, though it is the shape used by Bob Ross, so it’s got that going for it. The handle is a light, okay finished wood with a lanyard hole and the Master’s Touch logo imprinted on it. It’s sturdy enough and it works. Following that is what appears to be a “brass” “section” ring that is dented and losing its finish. It holds the blade in place, fairly sturdily, but also not centered. The blade is stainless steel, quite flexible and tapers down to a very usable edge. It is finished well enough, and doesn’t get thin enough to cut easily, but I suppose if one really tried they could make it dangerous. In some places the brushed finish isn’t nearly as well done, but these places don’t really matter in the scheme of things.

Overall it’s a nice introductory tool. It obviously has some quality control issues, but they aren’t major and don’t prevent the tool from functioning or make it dangerous. It’s inexpensive, and I would recommend it to anyone who isn’t sure if they really want to paint and are just trying to get into it, upgrading in the future is always possible and still isn’t a lot of money. And even if one doesn’t this tool will likely be able to last a painting lifetime.