Why You Need a Kneaded Eraser

By Tab Olsen

What could be more magical than the eraser—the little wad of rubber or vinyl that undoes your mistakes, mark by tiny little pencil mark? Unlike the common Pink Pearl, art gum, or white vinyl erasers, kneaded erasers (also known as a putty rubber) are soft and pliable so they can be stretched, molded and compressed. The secret? A kneaded eraser is made of rubber that has been left in its uncured, unvulcanized state.

While their primary use is erasing, these super fun erasers do a lot more than just erase mistakes. They can be used for stress relief, hand exercises, and entertainment purposes such as making sculptures and bouncy balls. It’s the only eraser that you can play with like silly putty! Here are ten reasons why you need a kneaded eraser!

Top Ten Uses for Kneaded Erasers

  1. Erasing – Kneaded erasers erase cleanly without making pink marks on your paper or leaving eraser crumbs to brush off. They might not work for erasing super heavy dark lines due to their softness, but they can be used to remove a variety of materials such as graphite, charcoal, pastel and chalk. They’re great for both large areas and detail work, since you can mold them into the desired shape for what you’re erasing, such as a wide flat edge or a fine point for fixing tiny flaws.
  2. Art – Kneaded erasers are a staple of any artist’s toolbox. They are ideal for blending, smoothing, and lightening up charcoal, graphite, and color pencil markings, creating faded lines and soft effects, and correcting excess smudges or lines. Not to mention, the kneaded eraser helps get your hand muscles all warmed up and ready for drawing!
  3. Strength Training – A kneaded eraser can be used as a resistance exercise tool for strengthening and exercising the hand muscles and training the smaller finger muscles for improved coordination, dexterity, and grip. Trust me, it really works!
  4. Stress Relief – A kneaded eraser is a great stress relief toy for nervous or fidgety adults and kids. It’s better than a fidget spinner for this purpose because you can do so much more with it. Stretching, squeezing, pulling it apart, and molding it into different shapes helps you de-stress AND clean your eraser at the same time!
  5. Hand Cleaner – Dirty fingers from coloring or drawing? You can clean charcoal or graphite off your fingers with a kneaded eraser which allows you to keep working without smudging the paper. Just don’t use a kneaded eraser if you have wet or greasy fingers, or if you have hand cream on. The added oils and moisture will ruin your eraser so it won’t be usable anymore.
  6. Habit Breaking – Have a bad habit like biting your nails, cracking your knuckles, or pulling your hair? Getting into the habit of kneading a putty eraser will distract you from your other bad habit. Don’t laugh, it’s true, it cured me in no time!
  7. Sculptures – A kneaded eraser is the only eraser that can be pinched, twisted and formed for built-in sculpting fun! The most awesome kneaded eraser sculptors have been able to achieve great monuments to miniatureism. You can use an impromptu kneaded eraser as a tiny sculpture to sketch from, or just for fun. You can be even more creative and have a kneaded eraser tea party!
  8. Bouncy Balls – You can roll a kneaded eraser into a little rubber ball and bounce it around. It’s not very good at bouncing in any predictable direction, but the randomness is what makes it fun and entertaining. Or have a contest to see who can make the most perfect eraser ball that will bounce into a cup.
  9. Relieve Joint Pain – If your joints are achy or stiff, playing with a kneaded eraser offers a fun way to provide daily joint manipulation to keep the joints limber and improve overall use of your hand. Young people who have rheumatoid arthritis can help prevent joint damage by doing hand and finger exercises. In this way, kneaded erasers are like the putty used in occupational therapy.
  10. Injury Recovery – If you’ve injured your hand, playing with a kneaded eraser can provide tactile input while helping to improve your strength, coordination, and fine motor control. Kneaded erasers are very similar to the therapy putty used in physical rehabilitation.

How to Care for Your Kneaded Eraser

Start by breaking in your new kneaded eraser. Stretch and knead it like a ball of dough. Grab the eraser at opposite ends and pull it apart until it breaks. Then squish the pieces back together. Repeat this process several times until the eraser is fully kneaded into a soft and malleable ball.

Make sure you’re working on a clean surface because the eraser will pick up hair, dirt, or anything else it comes in contact with. If you live in a hot, humid climate, the kneaded eraser may smear or stick if it gets too warm. If that happens, put it in the refrigerator to cool down for a while. Store your kneaded eraser in a plastic case, Ziploc bag, or Altoid tin to help maintain its softness and cleanliness. It should last for years.

You can actually “clean” a kneaded eraser by stretching and kneading it, so that it “absorbs” the graphite or charcoal. A kneaded eraser starts out soft, and becomes harder as it picks up graphite and charcoal residue. Once it becomes too dark and hard, that means it’s too saturated with graphite to work and may actually leave marks instead of erasing them. A used-up eraser will be stiff and difficult to stretch, almost like a wad of dried-up gum. Then it’s time to retire your eraser and use a new one.

Knead an Eraser?

You can purchase kneaded erasers at your local art supply store or online. They are typically gray, but you can also get them in different colors. Multiple colored erasers can be blended together to create a larger eraser in a unique new color. Prismacolor and Faber-Castell are two major brands that generally provide the best texture and consistency. Faber-Castell seems to be significantly softer (and comes with its own plastic storage case). Many of the cheaper off-brands tend to be much less malleable.

What have you done with kneaded erasers? Let us know in the comment section!

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