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The Daily Tar Heel

NY pencil artisan sharpens his skills

	David Rees is a manual pencil sharpener and former political cartoonist.  Rees started Artisanal Pencil Sharpening two years ago.  Photo courtesy of Meredith Huerer.

David Rees is a manual pencil sharpener and former political cartoonist. Rees started Artisanal Pencil Sharpening two years ago. Photo courtesy of Meredith Huerer.

In a business full of number twos, David Rees comes out as number one.

Rees, owner of Artisanal Pencil Sharpening in Beacon, N.Y., is a professional pencil sharpener.

Born and raised in Chapel Hill, Rees started his business in 2010 after working for the U.S. Census Bureau.

He said on the first day of training at the bureau, everyone was told to sharpen all their pencils, and he found himself having fun. Rees started his business later that year.

But his past with pencils extends even further back.

While a student at Chapel Hill’s Culbreth Middle School, Rees’ parents were called in for a conference with his pre-algebra teacher. His teacher said Rees had been repeatedly using the hand-cranked sharpener at the front of room to distract the class.

“He said I was an attention-whore,” Rees said.

Today, Rees will sharpen a customer’s pencil to a professional point and safely ship it in a shatter-proof tube — shavings included — for $35.

“Each shaving seems like a magical combination of artisanal intent and randomness all at once,” said Mike Wakeford, one of Rees’ old friends and one of his first customers.

Customers can send in their own pencil for Rees to sharpen, or he will sharpen a number two pencil from General Pencil Company, Inc., a family-owned business in New Jersey.

“I’m a good sharpener, and I customize the bottom of the point,” Rees said.

Rees, who said he normally completes 400 orders a year, received 500 order requests in two days after being featured on CBS Sunday Morning this week.

Due to his new workload, Rees said he has raised his price from $20 to $35 and hired a few assistants to help package orders.

But Rees still does all the sharpening himself at a rate of about four pencils per hour.

Rees said he uses more than 20 different sharpening tools, including box openers and old-fashioned hand-cranked sharpeners. His most expensive tool is a $350 handmade El Casco sharpener.

But not everyone understands Rees’ uncommon services.

“If he can make money doing that, good for him, but it seems like a waste of money,” said UNC freshman Michael Garvin.

Rees, who formerly contributed political cartoons to magazines like GQ and Rolling Stone, said he doesn’t consider his business a joke.

In April he published his book How to Sharpen Pencils, an 18-chapter guide to the history and sharpening of pencils.

“He’s actually become a world-class pencil sharpener, and, I dare say, a ‘pencil intellectual,’” Wakeford said.

Contact the desk editor at city@dailytarheel.com.

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