The Magic of Masking Tape

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Buy it by chance. Duct tape, a multi-tasking workhorse in the shop, has earned a place of prominence hanging on my toolbox. Pull it out of the drawer – it’s not just for painters anymore.

Find the magic in the mundane using this humble problem solver.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned as a carpenter is never underestimate the seemingly mundane. I have found great use in common household materials: old Tupperware, measuring cups, shelf liner, twine, Dixie glasses, and old T-shirts, just to name a few. But here’s a fair warning: Don’t take these items out of the house without permission. Some family members may not like their favorite grinder used to pulverize shellac flakes!

One item, however, is worth buying specifically for your store and stands out as the ultimate multitasking masking tape. Just when I think I’ve exhausted its list of uses, another way to incorporate the sticky stuff into my workflow comes to mind. As a result, I buy this stuff by accident!

Origins of adhesive tape

To understand the true magic of duct tape, we should first know its origin. The adhesive tape was invented by the 3M company, in 1925, at a time when the main business of the company was abrasives.

A smart employee, Dick Drew, saw the need for less aggressive tape in the automotive paint industry and realized that his company already had two of the key ingredients – paper and adhesive. Shortly thereafter, rolls of this moderately sticky paper were mass-produced and soon found their way into homes and shops around the world.

So here’s a quick introduction to some of my favorite woodworking shop uses for duct tape. While you can use regular duct tape for most of these activities, my preference is for the blue painter variety. Holds well and leaves little or no residue. Green tape works well too, but I reserve it for special applications where I need higher holding power and higher chemical resistance.

Hiding from the finish

Eliminate the problems. A strip of blue tape protects the inside of the groove from finishing materials and maintains the snug fit.

The only function of duct tape that should be obvious is, of course, to mask. When creating a two-tone finish, proper masking is essential. I use blue or green tape very often, along with brown paper, to protect specific areas from the accent color.

For most carpenters, however, the most useful type of masking comes into play when applying finish on projects prior to assembly and during assembly. In some projects, it makes more sense to refine the components before gluing. The risk we run, however, is to finish our carpentry. The finish seals the wood and the result is a much weaker glue bond.

To avoid this, use masking tape to protect the joinery from any finish. Nut and stops can be protected with a long piece of adhesive tape; the tenons can be protected by a full wrap.

Now, regardless of whether you add finish before assembling your work or not, glue squeeze is always an issue. By masking all the seams with duct tape during a dry assembly, you can easily protect the surface from that inevitable rebellious glue at the time of final gluing.

The quick clamp

Thrifty clamps. Stretch the tape on the edge with as much pressure as possible. The greater the elasticity, the greater the holding force.

Anyone who has tried to attach a solid wood edging to the frame knows how difficult it can be to secure the edging as the glue dries. Edge clamps aren’t cheap and you don’t always want to use Brad nails.

By stretching a 4 “to 5” piece of tape across the edge, reasonable clamping pressure can be achieved. Place a strip every few inches along the length of the board and you’re well on your way to getting nice, solid wood edging without requiring a second mortgage for 30 edging clamps.

Perfectly filled holes

Shot through the tape. The duct tape ensures that any wood putty is directed only into the hole and not into the surrounding wood pores.

Many carpenters are big fans of Brad nailers. Why not? They do a quick job of fixing finishes of all shapes and sizes. One of the main drawbacks is the hole that remains after the nail has been driven into the wood.

In most cases, the filler not only fills the holes but also penetrates the surrounding pores in the wood. Unfortunately, this point usually reveals itself once the finish is applied. How can we prevent this? The next time you take out the Brad nailer, try applying small pieces of duct tape wherever you plan to shoot a nail. Then just shoot through the tape.

Hold the tape as you fill the hole with putty. Once the grout is dry, remove the tape and you will see a nice well filled hole.

Veneer clamp

Veneered tape with a butt. Spread the tape over a veneer joint, then as the tape shrinks, the butt veneers join tightly and firmly.

When veneering, it is often necessary to join several pieces along their thin edges to get the required width, just like with solid wood. But unlike solid wood, it is difficult to secure the two pieces of veneer with clamps. So I like to stretch pieces of duct tape over the joint every 3 “to 4”, sewing them together as I go.

The tape has the ability to stretch and come back, so you can use it to your advantage. Firmly attach the piece of duct tape to one end, then hold it down with your finger as you stretch the other end over the joint and secure it on the other side. When you let go, the tape shrinks just enough to close the gap and hold the two pieces firmly together.

Tear reduction

Smooth out a cut. Masking tape significantly reduces the amount of tearing caused by aggressive cutting with the jigsaw.

As many carpenters have discovered the hard way, both plywood and solid wood have a tendency to tear during cross cuts. Sharp blades and zero-clearance inserts can help, but sometimes these options aren’t available to us or just aren’t effective enough. In most cases, with a little extra support when cutting, the fibers will remain intact.

Once again, the duct tape to the rescue! By spreading a strip of adhesive tape on the cutting line, the fibers are fully supported during cutting and the quality of the cut is significantly increased. This trick is especially useful when cutting expensive plywood with a jigsaw.

These are just a few examples of the many ingenious “magic tricks” you can do with duct tape. Is it a cure for everything that ails you? No. Will it remove all the nibs of dust from your finish? Not likely. But you will be surprised at how many things it can do.

So next time you are faced with a dilemma and can’t find a solution, look around: it’s not hard to find magic in the mundane. The answer could be found in a simple roll of duct tape. Just don’t tell the tape company because they will raise the prices.


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