Peeved about pencil sharpeners and warranties

When I was a kid, I can remember our family having one pencil sharpener.  It wasn’t anything fancy;  just the small, handheld kind, made of metal, with nothing to catch the shavings.  It disappeared from time to time, as things will in a family with four kids, but it always worked.  I think it had a removable blade, which my dad must have sharpened occasionally.

Maybe the longevity of my childhood sharpener is why I’m annoyed by the temporal nature of our pencil sharpeners.  Granted, as a homeschooling family with three kids regularly using pencils, we probably sharpen more than your average family.  Still, we go through a good 2, 3, 4 or sometimes more sharpeners, every year.  I’ve purchased the cheap ones.  I’ve purchased the more expensive ones.  They break, or they habitually snap the pencil lead instead of sharpening it, or they continually get jammed, or get dull nearly immediately, or worse, they never sharpen well in the first place.  Or, they get lost.  After five years of pencil sharpener frustration, I thought, “That’s it!  I’ve had it with these sharpeners!  I’m going to go to Office Max and get a REAL sharpener.  It’ll be sturdy and enduring!”

A new Office Max had opened fairly close to my house, and they had sent out coupons in the mail, $10 off any purchase.  Great!  So, I went out a couple of days ago, coupon in hand, set on finding a reliable sharpener.

I really wanted a wall-mounted one, the metal kind one finds in classrooms.  But, I (correctly) suspected that my husband wouldn’t want to mar our walls with a sharpener, so I settled upon one that appeared to be built similarly, but had a suction device on the bottom, attachable to any nonporous surface.  The shavings collection container was made out of transparent plastic (I’m always suspicious of plastic), but it seemed to be the best bet for my needs.  It was $9.99.

There at the store, I round up all of my purchases (WHY must printer cartridges be so expensive?!!???!!) and head to the checkout counter.  The checkout guy fiddles with the package, turning it over in his hands.  Haltingly, he tells me, “These pencil sharpeners are prone to breaking.  For only $3, you can buy a no-questions-asked warranty.”  I look at him, disbelievingly, “They’re prone to breaking?  Where are they weak?”  He fiddles with the handle, “Well, the handle can break off, you know, with turning it.  And this part here,” pointing to the plastic shavings receptacle, “if you drop it, it can shatter.  But, even if you were to back over it with a truck and smash it, if you buy the warranty, we’ll replace it for free.”

A myriad of thoughts are going through my mind at this point.  “Why would Office Max knowingly sell flimsy equipment?  In order for warranties to be profitable, in this case… well, less than 30% of people purchasing the warranty would need to make a claim on it.  Does that mean that the sharpener would only break 30% of the time or less?  Or that they break, but people don’t bring the sharpener back in for replacement?  Or, is this guy — SADLY — trained to cast doubt into the mind of customers, leaving them questioning the soundness of a product, when, in fact, it’s structurally solid, JUST to compel them to buy warranties?  Is the warranty necessary, because the product is weak?  Well, that’s just wrong, because then they shouldn’t sell $10 breakable sharpeners.  Or, are they just trying to profit from the sale of unnecessary warranties?  Well, that’s just wrong, too.  Golly.  Lose-lose.”

I decide to hedge my bets, hoping that he was just trying to sell me an unnecessary warranty, and that this sharpener, on which I’d placed many hopes, would, indeed, be sound and sturdy.  I looked at him again, and firmly said, “No.  I’m not going to buy a warranty.”  He started with another, “Are you sure?…”  I cut him off with my well-practiced Mom Look that lets the speaker know that the subject is closed.

However, just in case the sharpener is of low quality, I’ve put it on top of the fridge.  It is now one of my sons’ weekly chores to sharpen all of the pencils in the pencil box, and the sharpener will come down from the fridge for this purpose, just once a week.  This limits the exposure of potentially flimsy sharpeners to frequently careless boys.


My friend Shellie tells me that it’s my melancholy personality that longs for high quality items on a low-quality budget.  She’s probably right.  Maybe I should just have bought one of these.   


About Karen Joy

I'm a partially-homeschooling mother of six -- 3 boys ages 19, 17 and 15 years old, and three girls: 11, 8, and 3. I like birding, reading, writing, organic gardening, singing, playing guitar, hiking, the outdoors, and books. I very casually lead a very large group of homeschooling families in the Phoenix area. I have a dear hubby who designs homes for a local home builder and who is the worship pastor of our church. I live in the desert, which I used to hate, but now appreciate.

Posted on September 17, 2007, in Homeschooling, Housework, Shopping, The Kids. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Your post made me laugh! I can so relate on the pencil sharpner issues! Last year we kept losing the small cheap ones…then I bought a more expensive one battery operated, kids finally broke it by shredding every last pencil we had…then this year I decided each kid would have their own pencils and sharpner in their own box. So far it’s working!!

  2. I’ve still got the pencil sharpener that looks a lot like the one you bought for $9.99. It came from Sears sometime before I was born. The operating parts (including the handle arm and stem) are all metal. The shavings receptacle and the bead which wraps around the handle stem are plastic. The suction cup is rubber (operated by a metal crank). It still works like a charm.

    Tell you what, if you guys break this new one in the course of normal operation, I’ll send you mine for $3. Rest easy, now.

  3. Heather! The pic with your post lets me know that, somewhere on WordPress, you have a blog. However, you didn’t type in the addy. I’d love to read the blog of a woman who laughs at my troubles. 😀 The tale you tell of your dead electric sharpener is why I didn’t buy one. Also, I’ve seen kids (well, I’ve been one myself!) who will keep pushing the pencil into the sharpener just to hear it grind, grind, grind… the batteries wear out, the pencils get ground down to nubs… Ugh.

    JOHN! If we break our sharpener, you’ll sell me yours for $3??? Your older than di… uh… your tried-and-true pencil sharpener? It sounds just right. Maybe I’ll have to break ours “in the course of normal operation” just to cash in on your warranty. (Ours has the metal crank with the suction cup, too, but, you know, it’s prone to breaking.)

  4. I had a conversation about this very thing recently with our community librarian! She was lamenting that you just couldn’t get a good pencil sharpener these days.

    I’m going to tell her about your blog!

  5. We had a wall mounted sharpener, probably the same age as John’s, which I LOVED. It was every bit as good as the ones at school, only better: it was at home! What do the schools use now? Maybe we could visit a really old school and see if they’re willing to sell us their pencil sharpeners.

  6. Daja ~ Apparently, one can find a good pencil sharpener, online, and if one is willing to pay for it!!!!! Sometimes, pay WAY TOO MUCH for it. Who knew there was such thing as a luxury pencil sharpener??? (You will be shocked at how much this sharpener is.)

    Mrs. N ~ They probably use this kind. About $20, which is reasonable, and comes with a desk clamp, if one doesn’t want to mount it w/ screws.

    For anyone who’s interested, I found a nifty review of (all small) pencil sharpeners here:

  7. I HATE those extra warranties! For the same reasons you stated!

    We have an electric pencil sharpener from Wal-mart that we’ve had for several years and it works great. We had a battery operated one before but the batteries died to quickly and it just never had enough power. The electric one works great though! I hope yours lasts a looooooooong time though. 🙂

  8. Little cheap ones? The kids lose ’em all.

    Battery operated? Not enough power, and the batteries were always dead.

    Electric? The kids would feed pencils to it for fun. No pencils, no schoolwork, and eventually the shavings overflowed one day when I left the room and ruined the motor-thingy.

    School sharpener? Not on our walls, but I may have to check out the desk clamp one…

    Mom’s sharp kitchen knives? Yes, that’s the sharpener of choice around here lately. *sigh*

  9. Love the posts, thank you for the comments! I promise to actually get mine of the ground soon, I have been working myself to death! Okay, so..
    The soup definitely needs pumpkin for the Thai version, I prefer to use fresh, especially during this season, but that seems to be a red flag and huge turnoff for the recipe world! If you have the will, then steamed pumpkin in a spoon-sized dice is really so interesting to try, especially at home! Pumpkins are not really all too pleasant to cook from raw, not to mention I am now in a tiny apartment, and….yuck.
    I will start a recipe link soon…I keep saying that anyway!
    I am at the Phoenician, we have many items to offer that are g.f. We generally have about 5-6 g.f. tables a night, of about 125-200 covers. The most notable is likely the porcini risotto with poached lobster, asparagus, seared diver scallops and langoustines. We also commonly suggest the seared grouper with banana polenta, asparagus and coffee demi glace. There are quite a few items that are ideal for the diet, but we are changing the menu in about 3 weeks, so I will make a post at that time displaying the dishes I think are adequate, and I will get some pictures in the works! I have been (secretly ((sshhhhh)) playing around with features that are g.f. to see how they sell, last week it was lobster chile rellenos with habenero, aged jack cheese and sweet corn sauce!

    Love the restaurant list, if I haven’t mentioned, I have only been dx’d for less than a month… I will try these out and start some plump reviews! My mom called the other day telling me about Picazzo’s.

    I would like to get a celiac cooking book started with recipes and ideas, I was hoping this blog would get things rolling, we will see! Now, I just need to….write?

  10. So true! I’ve tried several different models, and they’re all broken! Now, I just have the little plastic ones with the colored plastic cup to catch the shavings, and I’ve put one in each of Carbon’s school boxes and one in his art lap desk. But I’ve secretly got one in my purse, if all the others ever disappear. Or if I have emergency pencil sharpening needs while I’m out of the house, I suppose. You could always just go to mechanical pencils … I can’t because I push too hard and snap those little leads.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: