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El Casco pencil sharpener

From El Casco, here is the M-430 chrome plated and black pencil sharpener.

I’ve heard good and bad things about these sharpeners for years. I also don’t seem to ever have read a review or heard a personal account from an owner. An online retailer recently had a very good sale, and I decided to purchase one.

The sharpener is handmade in Spain by a former gun manufacturer. One complaint is that the handmade parts can be finicky, and must be sent back to the manufacturer if a repair is needed. I’ll say some context is needed here. Who else even guarantees sharpener parts or offers repair? I suspect El Casco is the last desktop sharpener manufacturer in the entire world outside of China.

Another reason for the purchase – they are made to unusually high standards, compared to almost anything one might find in the entire commercial stationery realm.

The price is also cited as prohibitive. The story here is that Deskstore had a May 30% off sale, and refunds VAT to foreigners (they are a Swedish company), so the $US319.00 M-430 was $US178.64. I know, most of us don’t spend $178 on our pencil sharpeners. Some of us even balk at $175. But if you’ve bought a fancy handheld sharpener which easily could be $50 to $250, you’ll see that this peak of craftsmanship at this price is a true bargain.

In the box:
El Casco pencil sharpener

It turns out that the giant polishing cloth is not excessive:
El Casco pencil sharpener

There is a lot of very nice chrome to be maintained:
El Casco pencil sharpener

The surfaces are like a mirror, so it was hard to make sure I was photographing the sharpener, and not reflections:
El Casco pencil sharpener

The camera lens inspired opening for the pencil:
El Casco pencil sharpener

The viewing portal, which is mesmerizing in use:
El Casco pencil sharpener

What pencil would you sharpen first? Which pencil did you think I would select?
El Casco pencil sharpener

Not sure if I need more practice, as a ring of graphite is noticeable. The point is remarkable:
El Casco pencil sharpener

The blunt surface at the end of the point makes the pencil even more usable and break resistant, in comparison with needle points.

Some further points, especially about aspects of the sharpener that can’t be inferred from photos:

The base has a suction clamp and lever. This is essential, and seems to work better with kitchen counter tops and very smooth surfaces. My pine desk does not get the greatest grip.

The reason this grip is needed is that two hands are required to operate the sharpener. One hand must feed the pencil – the entry hole is not a vise grip as in the Carl sharpeners. It is just a guided entry point. For a right-handed person, the right hand must rotate the handle while the left hand feeds the pencil in.

Larger diameter pencils can be accommodated. I am not sure of the limits, but I just sharpened a LAMY plus and a large diameter Ito-Ya, and wow, wow, wow – the results are amazing – they are the finest looking points I’ve personally seen with large diameter pencils.

The tray has an edge with a file for further shaping a pencil point. One of those little details that confirms the thought put into the product.

I’m really looking forward to using the El Casco. The beauty is not just on the surface!

57 comments to El Casco pencil sharpener

  • Urgh. Now I am suffering from shapener envy. But, indeed, I would balk at a mere $175, let alone at $178.

  • Congratulations, what a great looking sharpener!
    The viewing portal is a fantastic idea!
    Does the clamping mechanism leave any marks on the pencil?
    This must be the most acute angle I have seen from a sharpener, certainly more acute than the 17.5° of my Deli 0635 (see http://bleistift.memm.de/?page_id=2172 ).

  • Matthias, the guide mechanism doesn’t perform much clamping – I haven’t noticed any marks.

  • Although I am still a little reserved not only because of its price the M-430 is a great sharpener, and the company’s history makes it even more attractive. The concave point is amazing! May I ask you how long the point in the last photo is? – Thank you for showing.

    It’s strange that there is such a large gap between the China-made crank sharpeners and the El Casco models without any mid-price units that are both reasonably priced and of high quality – I wonder if the target group is really that small.

  • Congratulations, Stephen!

    Though, the folks at Carl might be shedding a tear tonight. ;)

  • Adair

    What a beauty, Stephen. I have only ever seen them in the $400 range and been unable to justify such an expenditure…yet. Your post is testing the limits of my endurance…

    Gunther and Sean, although I am dying to have an El Casco, I do have to say that I am very satisfied with my various Carls. I take one with me wherever I go and am always assured of a nice, long, sharp point.

  • Gunther, the point is approximately 7 or 8 mm long.

    Your point about this manufacturing gap is quite interesting. I don’t know how difficult it might be to make a quality sharpener. At office supply stores in my region, pencils occupy almost none of the retail space – so it is possible that the target market is perceived as too small.

    Sean, I don’t think Carl has much to worry about!

    Adair, I’ve had the same perception – and some other (gold plated) versions are definitely quite a bit more. Maybe you’ll soon be an owner? The metal does make it less portable than a Carl.

  • re: mid-priced sharpeners, are school-related sharpeners being accounted for in this gap? They’re not necessarily the prettiest, but they’re hard to beat in terms of quality and longevity.

  • Adair, I am very happy with my Carl sharpeners too – I haven’t found comparable models yet (I specially like the DE-100).

    Stephen, thank you for the measurement. – I don’t think that it is very difficult to make a quality sharpener. The milling cutter in the Carl models is great so they only need to replace the plastic parts with metal ones. However, this would most likely result in a three-digit price which will hold back the majority. – Luckily most office supply and stationery stores around here have a wide range of pencils but it is very difficult to find other sharpeners than the standard plastic ones (let alone crank sharpeners).

    Sean, the school-related sharpeners available in Germany are mostly disappointing (at least to me), except the ones by M+R which are great.

  • I agree with Gunther that it shouldn’t be too difficult to make quality desk sharpeners that are not plastic. Quality sharpeners are available for under $5 (sorry to mention the Deli 0635 again in this context, but it just is so good), so the rest of the money a mid-priced sharpener would cost could be spent on a nice exterior.

  • Unfortunately the large wheel with the toothed inner edge in the sharpeners from Carl and Deli is made from plastic too. I haven’t noticed any wear yet but I would prefer a metal one (and of course a metal fixing).

    Matthias, the Deli is indeed a great sharpener, and I am happy to have one thanks to you. The manual sharpener in its container is a nice add-on, and its smaller size makes it more portable.

    However, after discovering and restoring the manual sharpener Faber-Castell Janus 4048 my crank sharpeners haven’t seen much use for pencils – I just can’t get enought of its concave point ;-)

  • Kevin

    I think when you get into the three digits, then electric sharpeners would take up much of that market segment. As far as I’m concerned you can’t beat the Carl Angel-5 for the perfect long point (including a long graphite portion). Why Carl can’t put rubber padded grippers on this sharpener is beyond me… I can only think that the longevity of the rubber pads may be suspect.

  • Kevin

    …more to say. I recently purchased the low end? Carl CP-80 rotary sharpener. Still a nice long point, but not quite a needle point, which will suit many users. Very small form factor, about 70% the size/area of the Angel-5. Nice, simple, rectangular design (no curvy bits) with plastic gear teeth, whereas the Carl Angel-5 has metal gear teeth. Light enough to carry around in a bag and has the added benefit of rubber padded grippers. If the Angel-5 rates a 10, then on that scale the CP-80 is about 8.5. I’ll certainly be using it for Palomino Blackwings and Staedtler Lumographs, which both get “bitten” badly by the Carl Angel-5.

    Like Matthias, I would also like to know if the El Casco marks the pencil with the these unusual metal grippers…and thanks for the great photos.

  • I was wrong in my last comment: The large toothed wheel in the Carl Angel-5 is not made from plastic but from metal (Kevin has already mentioned it). – By the way: The milling assembly from the Angel-5 fits into the DE-100. However, a small part of the guiding pipe protrudes but this doesn’t seem to affect the function (maybe that part can be cut off).

    Kevin, I think you’re right – an electric sharpener will most likely sell better than a manual one for the same price.

    While looking at Carl’s offerings I have noticed that the CP-100 looks very similar to the DE-100. I wouldn’t be surprised of this model is the successor of the DE-100 which seems to be discontinued.

  • Kevin

    GUNTHER SAID: While looking at Carl’s offerings I have noticed that the CP-100 looks very similar to the DE-100. I wouldn’t be surprised of this model is the successor of the DE-100 which seems to be discontinued.

    I agree. There are some nice colors too – I like the orange and the yellow.

  • Adair

    We’ve forgotten to mention the great bargain that is the “Classroom Friendly Sharpener” sold by Troy. Mostly metal, it makes a point as sharp as a Carl—in fact, I think the CFS might be some form of Carl without the name. It is no Casco beauty, though I rather love its blue and green schoolroom tones. It is a fantastic deal and a real workhorse.

  • Gunther, the end of the toothed wheel, the important bit, in my Deli 0635 is metal, but inside it is made of plastic. Is yours plastic through and through? If it is then Deli might have changed it at one stage…
    The El Casco sharpener is really beautiful. I caught myself staring at the photos here again and again. I think if I had a chance to get it for $178 I would seriously consider it…

  • Adair, I think Carl has a sharpener of that looks suspiciously similar to the class room friendly sharpener (you can see it in the fourth picture at http://bleistift.memm.de/?p=2088 ), I assume it’s made in the same factory.

  • Matthias: I can’t look at it at the moment but I will do so on the next occasion. If I got that detail wrong too I would feel really embarassed :-( – The sharpener in your photo is most likely the Angel-5 which is – at least from the outside – very similar to the “Classroom Friendly Sharpener”.

    Now and then I find myself thinking about a new varnish for my Angel-5. It is not that I don’t like the green colour but having a unique one is just too tempting …

  • Claire

    Gunther and Kevin: I noticed Carl CP-100s come in with at least two names, Coloris and Sweeticle. Both look to me just Decade with different colors and printing.

    Adair and Matthias: According to reviews, CFS doesn’t come with teeth pad. What about the similar Deli version, are the teeth padded?

  • Congrats, Stephen! Your photos look great — especially the photo of the window, which has a sort of ethereal quality (in a good way!). That machine is gorgeous!

  • Adair

    Hi, Claire. No, no teeth pads on the CFS. It does leave bites on your pencils. This doesn’t bother me, as I like the worn, battered look of a well-used pencil, but it might not be for everyone.

  • Matthias, you’re right – the outer teeth of the Deli sharpener are indeed made from metal. I stand corrected ;-)

    Claire: Yes, this is my impression too – it looks like they have just replaced a black model by colourful variants. However, I don’t know what they might have changed inside.

    For some reason I have today searched the web for someone who offers a M-430 …

  • Kelly

    I bought the Carl CC-2000 Custom from PencilThings via Amazon. I think I paid less than $50. It is almost all metal and has a 5-position point adjuster. It’s not very stylish looking, but it does a good job.

  • Adair

    I wonder how the El Casco compares to that other very expensive, all-metal sharpener by Caran D’Ache.

  • Here are the LAMY plus and a large diameter Ito-Ya – large diameter pencils that have become (at least to me) much more usable and desirable with this sharpener.

    Note the grooves in the graphite – what I thought was stray graphite looks like something more consistent.

    Also, sharpened pencils seem to leave the sharpener with a lot of graphite dust attached. The product is still new, so I’ll keep observing.

  • Great! I got the same sharpener two weeks ago, though not nearly as good of a price. Mine binds up as you crank, unfortunately, I’m hoping that it is just some manufacturing mistake in a tooth that will round off and get smoother with use. It simply looks gorgeous on a desk, it’s the kind of item that just makes you smile to look at it. A bit disappointed that the “viewingwindow” is plastic and not glass. I’d also like that lens to be easily removable, as I’m sure shavings and graphite will start to accumulate on the inside.

    I took some beauty shots here:

    Casco Sharpener

    Casco Sharpener

    Casco Sharpener

    Casco Sharpener

  • The points look really great! However, the grooves are odd. Do you have any idea what causes them? Re the dust: I have heard that the milling cutter in the El Casco is very fine (which can be noticed at the shavings according to another review I have read quite a while ago). Maybe the fine cutter requires a longer sharpening process, resulting in a wider spreading of the graphite.

  • John, those photos are beautiful!

    Thanks for sharing your impressions.

  • Thanks, I’ll get a closeup of what my pencil ends up looking like after is sharpened. I don’t think I’m getting that same groove.

  • Gunther, the grooves continue after a few days. :-( No idea of the cause.

    One other observation: I just sharpened a basswood pencil, and the experience is much noisier than a cedar pencil!

  • What a pity! Have you asked the manufacturer? – Does the noise come from a bearing?

  • donna

    I have the caran d ache pencil sharpener, which looks identical and has all of the same features including the desk clamp. I have used it for about 8 years. It is exceptional and I just bought a replacement blade although I don’t really need it yet. I LOVE this sharpener! I did not find a review of it on this blog. (It actually sharpens nupastels and conte sticks (and pencils ;) to an adjustable fine point without breaking them..bonus!) No, I am not affiliated.

    http://www.amazon.com/Caran-Dache-456-000-Pencil-sharpening-Machine/dp/B0013F5R0Y/ref=sr_1_1?s=office-products&ie=UTF8&qid=1339593753&sr=1-1

  • I own a Carl A-5 and a Classroom Friendly Supplies sharpener, and they’re nearly identical. I think my CFS makes a slightly longer point than the Carl, but I could be misremembering. Of course, they both pale in comparison to my El Casco. :-)

  • I’m not sure if the El Casco is the Rolls-Royce of sharpeners, or if the Rolls-Royce is the El Casco of cars.

  • Markie

    It seems to me that almost all pencil sharpeners are are terribly designed, I was interested to find there are a few people out there who are prepared to pay for quality. I am a woodcarver and the first question I have when buying a cutting tool is of the quality of the cutting edge. I assume in all pencil sharpeners it’s stainless steel? Here is the first flaw: a stainless steel razor blade can only be sharpened down to about 2microns, any sharpener blade I’ve seen doesent look like it made much further than the initial grind, machines can not achieve sharpness! Second flaw: The blades are not well enough supported to resist “chatter”. Third: The “peeling cut” – this is the main reason why pencils usually look so ragged up, im sure this must have an effect on the strength of the point. When I served as an apprentice I was taught to sharpen my pencils with a woodcarving Knife – a “craft knife” would never do for reasons already mentioned. The high carbon steel in carving tools can be brough down to about 1/2 a micron – four times sharper than a razor blade! though this takes many years of experience to consistanly achieve a satisfactory edge. I have already been experimenting with lapping and honing sharpener blades, greatly improving their function. My next step is to fit the very finest quality 19century high carbon steel blade, I have some great ideas on a revolutionary design for pencil sharpeners but unfortunately the mechanisms would be quite complicated – maybe el casco allready employs such a design as the results do appear quite good. . It just seems that there is so much lacking in the world of sharpeners; for the stock you chaps put in your tools; to go stick them into a dull “meat grinder” is pure abuse. And on the flip side to stick a pencil with paint on it into that beautifully designed el casco is probably trashing the cutting edge, paints can contain serious abrasives such a the chromium oxide used in allot of greens – green oil paint can doubble as honing compound!- If the author of this site would be interested to test one of my custom sharpeners drop me a email! – I can gaurrentee the finest cutting edge to ever be placed in a pencil sharpener. The steel will be from none other than the illustrious Sheffield maker “SJ. Addis”

  • MarcoC.

    Hello
    I nave recently bought an el casco pencil sharpener! It is fantastic! It’s like your description, but mine is vintage and doesn’t do the circle around the lead… Maybe if the penciladmin want I can do some pics to add to the post… The vintage model is slightly different from this one… The texture of the black part is more like leather…. Besides of that I have dismounted the mechanism for cleaning the gears and the blades…. You have to remove the two Screws located in the back and then remove with a bit of force the “movement”
    Bye
    Marco
    P.S. do you have the intention to do a review of the Dix three way pencil sharpener?

  • Sharon

    Can you tell me what kind of pencil that’s shown in this post? Thank you.

  • MarcoC.

    Graf Von Faber castell should be
    This is a refill for perfect pencil…

  • Nan

    OK, well… last weekend I stumbled across an ‘EL CASCO’ pencil sharpener at a yard sale, I thought it was a cool looking pencil sharpener and I needed one so I purchased it (either $2 or $3, I purchased a box of odd stuff) The seller put a new pencil in it to assure me that it worked, so now I have a cool looking pencil sharpener.
    I went on line to check out any information on this only to find that it was not ‘just’ a pencil sharpener, but an amazing tool. I had no idea on it’s value when making this purchase.
    The one I have has a metal handle where the one in the photo above in this string has a wooden handle (knob)
    Is there any place to read the history about these fine pencil sharpening tools?

  • MarcoC.

    Hello nan
    Maybe you can check the Spanish sites or the el casco site….
    Can you post some pics????
    Thank you
    Iam very interested in your sharpener! If you make some pics I can help you finding the model!
    Marco

  • Nan

    Marco, how does one post photos on this page?
    Thanks, Nan

  • MarcoC.

    I don’t know…. Maybe you have to use you Imageshack…. sorry for the delay in my answer but I’m from Italy….

  • Mark

    I apologize if I’m veering off topic here, but what pencil did you use when first using the El Casco? Thanks.

  • Adrian

    Mark, the question is answered a few comments before yours, it’s the Graf von Faber-Castell Perfect Pencil. Here is the official (english) website for the pencil.

    http://www.graf-von-faber-castell.com/13985/The-Collection/The-Perfect-Pencil/GvFC_index.aspx

  • Update on mine. Sharpens nice and smoothly now. Whatever was causing the gears to bind up seems to have worked itself out. A bit of powdered graphite may have helped!

    Sharpens nicely without any grooves in the lead or the wood.

  • A Sharpener is TRUE friend of a Pencil…
    Whatever brand of GOOD Pencil you use, if your sharpener is not perfect or up to the mark, you are wasting your pencil and energy!!
    Always insist to buy good Sharpener…
    Happy Sharpening & Pencil writing!!!

  • Mike

    Hi all!

    I’m thinking of buying an El Casco pencil sharpener, the M-430 Chrome. As many have said, it is a lot to spend on a sharpener, however I would like to know a little more about it. I’ve tried contacting El Casco but they did not get back to me. Does anyone happen to know how reliable they are? Can they be repaired? Given light to moderate use, what so of life span would they have? If anyone can help or point me in the right direction I would be delighted. Thanks for your time.

  • If a company doesn’t reply to an inquiry from a customer who considers buying one of their products with such a price tag I would refrain from going into business with them.

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