Sharpening our knowledge of pencils

(CBS News) It's 30 days to Christmas, and over the coming weeks we'll be looking at intriguing holiday offerings, large and small. Even in our electronic age, the humble pencil is still very, very big. Mo Rocca helps us get right TO THE POINT:


Any self-respecting schoolkid knows what it takes to get the job done - to get your point refreshed.

But David Rees is no kid. He's a professional pencil sharpener.

"I've done 'em as wedding gifts, anniversary gifts, graduation gifts. Some people just keep 'em on their desk as a reminder to always, like, try to do their best work," he told Rocca.

The author of a book on how to sharpen pencils, Rees has been conducting pencil-sharpening workshops across the country.

He showed Rocca a modern reproduction of an antique pencil sharpener, called the little shaver. "This was made in, like, 1905, 1906," Rees said. "You can see it's just essentially a straight blade on this arm here. This is how they would have sharpened pencils in an office 110 years ago."

For $20 he'll sharpen your pencil, bag the shavings, cap the point with rubber, and sheath the pencil in a shatter-proof display tube - for safe delivery from his Beacon, N.Y., studio.

He even includes a certificate.

If it all seems like a joke, consider this: He has done almost six hundred pencils.

"Listen, I love jokes and I love to have a good time. If it was a joke, I wouldn't have taken it this far, 'cause it's a lot of work, you know?"

It's a nice bit of attention for an instrument that doesn't get much ink.

"One of the whole points of this project, for me, was to remind people how special pencils are and how cool they are," Rees explained. "On the one hand, pencils are so ubiquitous they're almost invisible. And on the other hand now, when you think of, like, cutting edge communication technology, it is stuff like iPads or iPhones. Texting and stuff.

"But when you really consider a Number Two pencil as an engineered communication device, it is still really efficient and really elegant."

"And if Steve Jobs had been the one to introduce it, people would be going crazy about what a sophisticated and simple tool it is, you know?" he laughed.

At Grey Culbreth Junior High School in Chapel Hill, N.C., Rees took us to the pre-algebra classroom where he used to get up to use the wall-mounted, double-burred, hand-cranked sharpener to sharpen his pencil so much, he got in trouble for it.

It's not as easy as you may remember. If the wood isn't perfectly straight and the lead perfectly centered , then the point may not be on point.

"You can see there's a lot of wood on this side, and as we rotate the pencil, there's a lot of graphite exposed," Rees said.

That's right: He said "graphite," not lead.

It turns out a pencil's lead has NEVER had lead in it.

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