There have been times when I was without a sharpener, and a pencil I was using became dull. I tried using my knife, but that seems to break the point. Am I doing it wrong, or is there a better way to get out of the problem? I was using pencils specifically because they're erasable.

5 Answers 5


You're doing it wrong. Most artists I know use a pen knife to sharpen pencils. The trick is to only bear down on the wooden part and cut along a shallow angle. To finish the graphite point, use extremely light pressure.

How to sharpen a pencil with a knife

  • 1
    If you need to sharpen the graphite itself, you're using the wrong pencil: find a finer one.
    – Jon Story
    Feb 11, 2015 at 23:52
  • FYI, Most artists I know use a pencil sharpener and for mechanical pencils (used by draughtsmen in days of yore) a rotary lead "pointer" was handy when not using a sandpaper scrap or a specially made sanding block. The pen knife was/is still used to cut the ends of flight feathers (quills) into quill pens.
    – Stan
    Jul 15, 2016 at 20:51

I don't carry a knife. I have often been drawing/sketching while in a park or on a city bench near a curbside and I have found the rough pavement and/or concrete on the ground works well in a pinch (on those occasions when I don't have my sharpener with me). You're not going to get a perfect sharp tip, but it will remove the wood enough to get more of the graphite out and available for continued use.

Similar, if you are near a brick building, you can use the mortar in the joints between the bricks as it provides a nice channel for the pencil to shimmy through.


I like to use an emory board to sharpen or shape a drawing pencil. I don't expect it would work well for starting from scratch ; ) with a new pencil, but works well otherwise.


It is actually easier to sharpen a pencil with a box-cutter than a pocket knife (it is sharper, so you need to apply less pressure, which allows you to have more control over what and how you are cutting). Because using a knife for sharpening takes some practice, it may be a good idea to use a box-cutter until you get used to it.

Another option is to use a mechanical pencil instead - no need for sharpening.


A rough grit sandpaper works in a pinch, as do nail files and other wood or steel files.

  • 3
    Nail files don't work.
    – J. Musser
    Dec 10, 2014 at 20:34
  • 1
    it does take time, and a polishing file would be worthless. If I am using sandpaper to sharpen a pencil I prefer the sandpaper be on a belt sander.
    – Jon
    Dec 10, 2014 at 20:38

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