Staedtler’s Mars 501 180 – the Wopex sharpener 8

Welcome to a slightly delayed blog post. The video for this blog post was put on YouTube quite a while ago, in February, but the blog post is only out now as a busy period at work meant that I didn’t get round looking for my protractor earlier.1

The Wopex

Unfortunately there’s a lot of Wopex hate going on in some parts of social media where people discuss pencils – and there are very few people defending the Wopex2. Luckily the Wopex can convince in the long term: I was very happy to read Deirdre’s blog post where she turned from a Wopex hater (‘I HATE WOPEX’) to someone not only tolerating the Wopex, but even accepting it and it’s advantages (Some quotes: ‘graphite […] actually isn’t that bad’, ‘point retention is great’, ‘if you are writing on toothy3 paper, the WOPEX really shines’).

Suffice to say4, I love the Wopex.

Just a quick reminder: Unlike normal wood cased pencils the Wopex uses a wood-plastic-composite instead of wood. The wood-plastic-composite consists mainly of wood and is, in my opinion, orders of magnitude better than pencils that use plastic instead of wood. Not only does the Wopex sharpen better, the lead – extruded together with the pencil – is also of much better quality, too.

The pellets before they’re extruded into a pencil

In the vial above you can see how the material looks like before it is extruded into a pencil. I got this vial at the Insights X trade fair. The pellets remind me of a company I worked for during my holidays in the 1990s. They were manufacturing extruded pipes and had similar looking pellets. The recycled pellets smelled very much like washing powder. As far as I remember extruding from recycled material was not easy, the material kept expanding in the wrong place resulting in uneven products. Unrelated – but there must be so much knowledge going into the production of a product like the Wopex…

The new Noris eco pencils in 2B, HB and 2H

The Staedtler 501 180

I first mentioned the 501 180 in a blog post from 2014, but a few months ago I finally got my hands on one – they are not very common and not easy to come by in the UK. The article number has gives some clues to this sharpener’s purpose: Wopex pencils have article numbers starting with 180 (e.g. 180 40). Staedtler has now switched to using the word Wopex to describe the wood-plastic-composite material, and is not using Wopex anymore to describe pencils made from this material, but independent of how the name Wopex is used, the pencils made from Wopex material still use article numbers starting with 180 (e.g. 180 30 for the new Noris eco).

Article numbers for Staedtler’s rotary (i.e. hand crank) sharpener start with 501 (e.g. the Mars 501 20 rotary sharpener) so 501 180 is the perfect5 article number for this sharpener, 501 for a rotary sharpener and 180 for Wopex. The 501 180 was designed by Helmut Hufnagl and is made in Taiwan.

Left to right: Deli 0635, Staedtler 501 180, Deli 0620

The Video

Here’s a video where I compare the 501 180 to two other rotary sharpeners.

Clipping the pencils’ points off at about 7:30 really hurt and felt rather wasteful, but wasting so much good pencil when the auto stop of the other two sharpeners didn’t work was of course even more wasteful (…even though it didn’t hurt so much, maybe because the machine did the crippling of the pencils).

Left to right: Deli 0635, Staedtler 501 180, Deli 0620

Tip: Open the video in YouTube, you can then play it at higher speeds, e.g. 1.5x.

Here’s a little table comparing the different points created by the three different sharpeners.

Sharpener:Deli 0635Staedtler 501 180Deli 0620

..and here are the different points made by the different sharpeners.

Left to right: point sharpened by Deli 0635, Staedtler 501 180, Deli 0620

The Auto Stop

There is just so much less material wasted when the auto stop works. If you don’t have the 501 180 and your sharpener’s auto stop doesn’t work, have a look at the end of the video where I show a way of dealing with this problem. I am mentioning this simple trick here because my simplest videos seem most appreciated (e.g. how to refill a mechanical pencil), while my complex videos (e.g. the DelGuard pen force test) remain rather unloved.

Left to right: point sharpened by Deli 0635, Staedtler 501 180, Deli 0620


I have added the Wopex Mars 501 180 to the list of sharpeners, sorted by angle.

Many thanks to Benedikt Schindler for his help in getting the 501 180 to me in the UK.

  1. …because I switched to using a protractor when measuring angles I want to stick with this method so that all pencil points are measured the same way. []
  2. …with Johnny being the most determined defender in the Erasable group on Facebook. Thank you for that. []
  3. As expressed previously, for various reasons I am not keen on the expression ‘toothy paper’, but since this is a direct quote it will be one of the few occasions you can find this word in this blog []
  4. Yes, I learned that expression when I watched the English version of Star Trek Voyager. []
  5. I try to avoid using the word perfect, but in this case it is justified, I think. []

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8 thoughts on “Staedtler’s Mars 501 180 – the Wopex sharpener

  • Stephen

    Thanks for this comprehensive review, complete with video. And what cool graphics in the video!

    I am having the urge to try the WOPEX again. It was announced in 2009 – there must have been some refinements to the production process over the years. I also wish I could locally buy the eraserless version!

  • Matthias Post author

    Thank you for your comment.
    If you are referring to the moving labels, I like this effect, too 8^) It’s also used in the Orenznero video.

    The Wopex has changed. They are slimmer now, but not much. The HB lead is pretty similar, but a bit different I think. 2B and 2H are very(!) different now.

  • Johnny

    Thanks for sharing this! You know how I feel about the Wopex. 🙂 Luckily, the neons make it easier to convert the youngsters I know to the cause. Have they done away with the salmon/blue/green (2B/HB/2H) versions completely?

  • Matthias Post author

    Thank you for your comment.
    I am happy that you keep defending the Wopex, a Sisyphus task, when I think of the number of people on the other side. I thought I mentioned you by name, but must have overlooked that in the end, I have added your name now.

    The old 2B and 2H are gone. You can still get single coloured pencils from Wopex material in similar colours though.

    I noticed that the new Noris eco pencils don’t have the thin black strip on the sides, like the old Noris eco or the Tradition. Instead the sides of the hexagonal body are black and green, alternating. Not as nice as the old version…

  • Elizabeth Porter

    We need more wopex love – especially if you use them on watercolour paper. I have a hoard of them just for using on watercolour paper.

    I wish I could get the lead from wopex for leadholders. It is different than the other staedtler leads. (I have both. Seriously, the wopex stays put better when wet down.)

  • Matthias Post author

    Elizabeth, thank you for this insight. I should try a Wopex wet, just to see how it is.
    I guess we’ll have to move to an alternative universe of Wopex fans to get the Wopex lead released for leadholders (I assume the lead could maybe be extruded on it’s own).

  • Cole

    Do you happen to know if the S-M 501 and the Dahle 133 are essentially the same machine? The bodies look very close, as do the sharpening profiles I’ve seen on YouTube.