As a graphic designer, I’m constantly sketching away. It’s a fundamental part of producing quality graphic design, and in all honestly a great excuse to get away from the screen. With sketching in mind, I wanted to share something I think other designers, artists and illustrators might find useful, and so this post is all about how to use the Staedtler Mars 502 pencil sharpener for 2mm lead pencils. I know, it doesn’t get much more niche! However, there is a good reason why I’m posting this – I found it so frustrating that what is actually a great little product came with little to no instruction on how to use it! To find out exactly how to use it either watch the video above, or skip to the relevant section below. For the rest of you, here’s a little background…
Growing up I always had a special kind of fascination for my dad’s tools, stationery and whatever else he kept in his desk. He was always very precise and ordered in everything he did (and he still is!), and his workspace was covered with peculiar objects like ‘flexible curves’ (a bit like this one), wooden handled bradawls and wooden blotters. These things seemed strange and alien back then but now I’m a graphic designer I really appreciate the satisfaction and utility of a well made tool for a specific job.
One such object of his that was certainly less peculiar to me was his Staedtler clutcholder pencil. Even then I recognised that this was a ‘serious’ pencil, not your run-of-the-mill HB, but a real tool for doing real work with. Now, as a graphic designer, when I am sketching, brainstorming or doing any kind of work that involves writing or drawing, it’s what I use.
I love the Staedtler leadholder clutch pencil….but
The Staedtler 780C Mars Technico Leadholder 2mm Clutch pencil (to give it its full name!) is just a joy to use. It is so nicely weighted and balanced that drawing with it feels amazing! The grip is serrated metal, and the 2mm lead (which is interchangeable for any kind of softness/hardness) is reassuring and sturdy.
However as with all pencils there is the issue of sharpening. With other kinds of propellant pencils (you know, the cheap plastic ones whose leads are so brittle they snap into 1000 pieces if you drop them) you don’t have to worry, but when you have a 2mm lead it is going to blunt, which will take away from the sharpness of what you are drawing. Depending on how hard you tend to press on the page, the time it takes to go from sharp to blunt can vary, but eventually it will happen.
How to sharpen the 780C
The 780C has neat trick up its sleeve. The metal cylinder at the non-writing end that you use to extend the lead has a small hole in it that acts as a sharpener! To use it, you just have to extend the lead to about 1cm, take the cylinder out and insert the blunt lead and twist. Hey presto, a sharpened lead!
This is fine, but you’re probably thinking where do the shavings go? The answer is EVERYWHERE. Technically you can tap the cylinder on the edge of a bin and the (very fine) graphite shavings will come out of. However, there always seem to be some that remain, and the last thing you want when you’re trying to keep your sketches, notebooks and workspace clean are loads of smudges from graphite shavings. This was really annoying me, and in all honesty the sharpener never seemed to get the lead that sharp, so I looked into whether there was any kind of special sharpener for my favourite pencil.
Step forward the Staedtler Mars 502 Pencil Sharpener
After a surprisingly brief google search I found just what I was looking for. The 502 sharpener is a 2mm lead sharpener that should work for most 2mm leadholder pencils, but obviously was perfect for my Staedtler.
My girlfriend actually bought it for me as a little surprise gift (I don’t know what I had done right that week…) and I was really excited to use it. I opened it up and…was a bit confused. Here’s what it looks like.
As you can see there are three holes on the top. One looks about the size for a pencil to fit into, the others seem like they would fit a lead. Looking at it now, it seems so simple, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how to use it properly. At best you could say the supplied instructions were an exercise in teutonic minimalism. That’s why I’ve created this guide into how to use it. It really is quite simple!
Basically the two smaller holes are for setting the sharpness of your lead, and the other, larger hole is for actually doing the sharpening. Taking the lid off, you can see that inside there is a cutting wheel (kinda looks like something James Bond would slide towards in some of the older Bond films!) and the rest of the space is for the shavings from the lead. There’s also a mysterious foam circle… That’s all there is to it, but the devil is in the detail.
How to use the Staedtler Mars 502 pencil sharpener – step-by-step guide
Okay, this is what you’re here for!
- First, choose how sharp you want your pencil. The options are sharp (good for writing) and super-sharp (for fine detail work). Seriously, I’m talking super-super-sharp, almost too sharp.
- Extend your lead about 3cm.
- Choose the hole that matches how sharp you want you pencil, and insert your lead into the hole. Press the cylinder of your pencil and push the whole pencil casing down until it is flush with the sharpener.
- Remove the pencil from the small hole and place inside the larger hole.
- You now hold the blue base of the sharpener and use your pencil kind of like a handle to turn the black plastic lid.
- You’ll hear and feel the pencil being sharpened.
- When it is sharpened it will go quiet and the lid will rotate without any friction.
- Remove your pencil and ‘stab’ into the soft foam pad to clean excess graphite.
That’s all there is to it! For the more visual learners among you I’ve created a video which you can see above, or view here on YouTube.
Summing up (there can still be graphite issues…)
The sharpener is really great, and it turns what was a brilliant pencil into something even better. However, there’s still a slight issue in that if you want to carry it round with you (from coffee shop to coffee shop for instance) it can leak graphite shavings through the sharpening hole if you’re not careful. After getting the old graphite stained fingers problem again, I created a plug for the holes using Sugru.
Thanks for reading and I hope you found this useful. Be sure to read my other articles on all aspects of my life as a graphic designer.