I just finished my first semester teaching (I lead two recitation sections for pre-calculus twice a week). It went well, but I've noticed a sizable callus has formed on my right middle finger on the left side between the nail and first knuckle. This is from how I hold the chalk, I believe. The callus is rubbing against my finger when I write now and causing a bit of pain.

How do I prevent this callus? I don't have much experience with writing on the chalkboard so I imagine this is from holding the chalk incorrectly. Maybe someone knows secrets to the chalkboard that I am not aware of?

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    Powerpoint cures calluses. (But can suck the life out of students and teachers alike.) – Dave Clarke Dec 10 '14 at 16:40
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    Eventually the callus's inflamation should subside and it will actually protect your finger from the pain of writing so much. That's actually it's purpose.. – RBarryYoung Dec 10 '14 at 22:28
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    I didn't know they could write on chalkboards. – jay_t55 Dec 11 '14 at 0:18
  • What's a chalkboard? – Dave Dec 11 '14 at 15:13
  • Whiteboards are better; with markers. You could suggest this to your administration. I'm surprised they aren't using them already. Among other things, chalk dust is bad for lungs. – Faheem Mitha Mar 17 '15 at 10:06

Well, this condition depends on many factors:

  1. Time. If you don't mind having a rougher skin on your hands, then give it some time. However, if it doesn't get better over time, then something has to be done.

  2. Dry hands. IMHO a big issue for many people: chalk dries your hand skin. Seriously. You should have some good cream in your office and apply it before and after each lecture. This can significantly help with the skin condition, and together with the previous point, it may be enough.

  3. Chalk holding. There are several ways how to hold a chalk. Some people prefer this or that. I suggest trying couple of them:

    • Hold it like a pen -- however, this presses the chalk against the nail base on your middle finger, not quite good.

    • Hold it like a dining knife in high society -- you get a long chalk and touch it by thumb tip from one side and by all fingertips from the other side. This requires a chalk that writes without much pressure

    • Take small piece and hold it between the tips of your thumb, point finger and middle finger. (My personal favourite)

    • With longer chalks, you can press it against the palm, and then do as above.

  4. Type of chalk. I know three basic types of chalk: soft square-profile chalks that leave trace on everything they touch, hard rounded chalks that leave thinner traces and last forever; and something in between -- square profile but quite hard. There are surely others. You may try different types of chalk if you can, to see which one do you like.

As for the special chalk holders and stuff: I have never used them, which doesn't mean they are bad. Just a remark: With the softy things, remember to wash them well since chalk tends to accumulate in these.

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  • "Hold it like a pen -- however, this presses the chalk against the nail base on your middle finger, not quite good." I think this is what I was doing--gripping too hard and writing with too much pressure. Seems to be easier to write with either a long piece of chalk pushed into my palm or a small one gripped lightly with the thump and forefinger. – mojambo Dec 10 '14 at 22:36
  • @doppz One more reason for using small pieces of chalk: There's always plenty of them :) But as I say, try as well to actively care about the skin, it may be enough itself. – yo' Dec 10 '14 at 22:44

A couple ways. You may consider products called "chalk clip" or "chalk holder" like this one:

enter image description here

They make the girth larger and less likely to produce a small pressure point on your finger, which causes callus.

Another option is to get some "foam tubing" from general hardware stores. They are cheap and in different sizes, thicknesses, and even colors. Cut a 2 to 2.5 inches long segment and put it over your middle finger. To improve comfort when bending your finger you can make a small vertical incision on the tube (palm side) so that you can bend the finger more freely.

Volleyball players also have elastic finger guards like these:

enter image description here

You can get a set of them from sports stores. Just pull it down a bit to protect your last joint rather than the middle joint. My experience (as a volleyball player not chalk writer) is that the ones with nylon outside and a thin foam layer inside work are the most comfortable.

If technology permits, you can also consider projecting your hand writing using a projector, computer tablet, or even interactive screen. Those methods allow you to write with a lighter grip.

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    I like the idea but those sure do look goofy. – mojambo Dec 10 '14 at 22:37
  • @doppz I don't think they look goofy. If they help, then why not use them :) Better that than have calluses. – jay_t55 Dec 11 '14 at 0:19

Simple prevention would be to wrap a small bandage or piece of adhesive tape around your finger before each recitation session. (Or, as @Cape_Code suggested, use rock-climbing tape.)This will also help to mitigate the pain you are experiencing now, and may even hasten the disappearance of the callus.

As for your question on holding the chalk correctly/incorrectly, I can't help you there. This is the same spot in which I always develop a callus from writing, no matter which writing instrument I am using. AFAIK, I also am holding my chalk/pen/pencil correctly! I believe this is simply your skin's natural defense against friction, and the only remedy may be to find an alternative teaching method which does not rely so heavily on chalkboard use.

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  • I don't use a chalkboard, but in another activity involving chalk I rely on this stuff to protect my fingers: google.com/… – Cape Code Dec 10 '14 at 16:59

If you have board space, use larger diameter chalk and grip it with your whole hand as you would a flashlight. You don't generally need to make the tiny motions for which the pen-writing variant of the precision grip is good for. If you still want a precision grip, get larger diameter chalk and hold it between your first four fingertips (or three if you must use narrow pieces and you have wide fingers).

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My method is to hold the chalk like a magic wand (or, less excitingly, like a drawing pencil). This keeping the chalk resting in my palm, where the skin is thicker, and allows me to grip with many different parts of my fingers. It's also helps me to think of board work as drawing, rather than writing, as a reminder to keep the letters large, neat, and readable.

Another thing you may want to try is using Hagomoro chalk, which has a wax coating on the grip part. It costs a little to have a box imported, but I thought it was worth it.

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