Chris Schwarz's Blog

Erasers: The Unsung Heroes of Accuracy

I make lots of pencil marks on the wood as I work. Removing them is either easy or excruciating.

Whenever
I can, I use a handplane to dress my stock, so the pencil marks usually
come off without any visible residue of the charcoal or polymer lead or
indentation from the penciling process. But sometimes I leave marks in
places that a plane cannot go. So I turn to other solutions.

Denatured
alcohol seems to work in many cases, though you’ll still be able to see
the indentations from the pencil if you are working in soft wood. Most
erasers on pencils aren’t worth using. They leave a colored smear behind
on the wood, or they simply fail to remove the mark entirely.

One
day, Senior Art Director Linda Watts saw me struggling with removing a
pencil mark, shook her head and returned with a artist’s eraser. It was
like a magic show, a snake handling and ice cream sundae all wrapped up
into one.

Since then, I’ve been trying to educate myself about
erasers, and there is a lot to learn. Heck, there is a blog devoted to
erasers: The Joy of Erasers. And other web sites have reviewed erasers like we review tools. Check out this entry from Pencil Talk. And this one. Want to know the history of erasers? Check this site out.

During
my trip to Germany my eraser disappeared in transit. I suspect the
customs people impounded it, but that’s another story. So today I went
to an art supply store, marked up a piece of paper with some pencil and
tried out all the different kinds they sold.

My favorite? The
Sanford Magic Rub 1954, which looks like a gray marshmallow in rectangle
form. My second choice? The Design Kneaded Rubber 1225 eraser, which is
freaky. It’s like modeling clay that erases stuff. I’m going to shape
mine into the form of a duck with a cigarette.

Oddly, my choices
didn’t match up with the erasers from Pencil Talk. I suspect the people
of Pencil Talk were bought off by the Pilot Foam Eraser people (just
kidding about that).

In any case, if you have special eraser know-how, dazzle us in the comments below.

— Christopher Schwarz

16 thoughts on “Erasers: The Unsung Heroes of Accuracy

  1. Jason Chestnut

    The plastic erasers are great, and there is a place for kneaded erasers (they are excellent for lightening passages of graphite or charcoal when value drawing, or when the surface is very delicate and won’t withstand rubbing), but I agree with the comment about using softer lead. Don’t press too hard, and you won’t leave an indentation to see later. Additionally, maybe give a pencil with a different composition a try. The aforementioned charcoal could work in a harder variety (General makes the ubiquitous orange ones in the US), or a mixed graphite/charcoal pencil, like a Wolff carbon could work too. I’m just not sure about the erasure properties of either on wood — hard or soft.

    Jason

  2. Jesse

    Another vote for the Staedtler Mars Plastic. Interesting enough though these erasers wouldn’t work when we would use them to clean the contacts on electronic terminal pins. We had to go back to our trusty pink pals. The ones that looked like little pink race cars that you could slide around on your desk and make little vroom vroom noises with. Ahhhh memories…

  3. openid.aol.com/fr8dogg

    Remember ink-on-mylar drafting? How about sepia prints? Or, just good old vellum and pencil? Brings back some of my drafting memories. Did you ever extend the eraser out of the collet on an electric eraser so that it looked like a long noodle sticking out, and then turn it on and attack anal-retentive coworkers? Come to think of it, I guess we all were anal-retentive since everyone was attacked at least once. Those electric erasers were very useful for making "changes" because a professional draftsman doesn’t make mistakes. My drafting skills come in handy when I free-hand sketch a project. I think schools should require manual drafting before tackling computer stuff.

  4. DW

    Those are THE best. In art class in elementary school, there were always fights between the people who had the magic rub and those who got the pink pal.

    This goes well with Derek Cohen’s post about having a pencil jones.

  5. Patrick

    Chris,

    Now we’ll also have to talk about how to best sharpen pencils. Unless you’d rather use – quelle horreur – a mechanical pencil!

    I stumbled over this site … unsurprisingly, sharpening a pencil is a science and an art.

    http://www.pencilrevolution.com/category/reviews/sharpeners/

    What did they use in the 18th century to sharpen pencils? Did they even have pencils back then? Allegedly, (see http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pencil graphite was discovered around 1500 in a mine in Cumbria, England, and used to mark sheep.

    Patrick

  6. JJ Gray

    As you’ll note from the kneaded eraser’s label, not everybody calls them "erasers." An immigrant friend of mine, when taking a college exam in the U.S., realized he’d made a mistake. So he leaned over to the girl next to him and asked, "Do you have a rubber?"

    She gave him an understandably puzzled look, and then asked the fellow next to her. This guy pulls out his wallet and passes over a condom. My friend, perhaps a bit wet behind the ears, curiously opened the package and proceeded clumsily to try to erase his error.

    Turns out the artist’s erasers work much better.

  7. david brown

    Staedler Mars plastic erasers have always been my favorites — ever since I discovered them in my high school drafting class. I keep trying to get my kids to use them but they prefer the pink sand-infused hunks of rubber that do a better job of eating a hole in the paper than removing the graphite. The pink rubber erasers do a good job of removing light rust from planes — like a fine rust eraser.

    The kneaded erasers I only used in art class — where you didn’t want to rub and erase but simply dab and remove some graphite. The kneadable erasers did smell great and were fun to work in your fingers while you mulled over a problem in Calculus.

    Do they still offer drafting in high school? I’d much prefer to use the archaic paper, pencil and triangles than AutoCad any day. I still have my eraser shields from drafting class. Those are great when you want to erase a line without affecting everything around it.

  8. Steve

    Chris,

    You don’t get out much, do you? I’ve been using Staedtler white plastic erasers and their clones since I was in high school, which was back around the time you made that first tool tote.

    Patrick,

    Henry Petroski wrote an extensive biography of the pencil a few years ago: _The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance_, ISBN 0679734155.

  9. Ken

    Here’s another vote for the Staedler Mars plastic eraser. It erases completely and doesn’t pick up graphite and smear it around when used on light colored wood. While a hard, thin lead is best for marking cut lines, for general marking such as designating the face and edge of a board, get a box of B or HB (#1 or #2) wooden pencils. These leave a line that is easily readable, but erase completely.

    Ken

  10. The Village Carpenter

    The Design Kneaded eraser is from the days when graphic designers used layout tables, triangles, and t-squares to do paste-up. The malleable quality of the eraser made it possible for us to remove marks from between 5-point type characters. My eyes are crossing and twitching involuntarily at the memory.

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