Masking Tape is Your Friend

Lesson Learned:

Masking Tape is Your Friend.

In order for the wood glue to really work it’s mojo, you have to clamp your join well. But in the world of miniature dollhouse things, unless you find itsy bitsy clamps, this can be a challenge. Enter… masking tape. Instead of relying on expensive tiny dollhouse clamps (do those even exist?) to hold the wood firmly together, just ‘clamp’ it with some masking tape. You’ll get the ability to clamp odd angles and tiny pieces, and when you’re finished the result is almost as solid as if it had been clamped over night.

I talked about why clamping joins is important when I made up how glue works. So, we know clamping wood is important. Since we can’t find tiny mouse clamps, we turn to a much simpler solution. Instead of clamps, you can get pretty much the same strength with good-old-fashioned masking tape.

Just lather a thin line of glue on the wood (too much is counter-productive, you don’t want glue getting in the way of that molecular puzzle piece hand holding). Then, tape the pieces together and wait a half-hour or so. Once the glue has dried, remove the tape and you’re good to go.

dollhouse glue up using masking tape as a clamp
I dub thee, ‘Clamping Tape’

The image above is probably a great example of how NOT to use masking tape to clamp things up. I get impatient at times and after working on the facade for two months, I wanted to see the house come together. So, I just assembled the whole thing, and wrapped it all in masking tape. It would have been a much better idea for me to do this one join at a time, because then I wouldn’t be relying on the tensile strength of the masking tape on Join A also providing the rigidity that I needed to get a strong match on Join B. What you can’t see in this picture is the part where I ended up ripping the sides of the dollhouse off because they didn’t adhere as well as I would have liked (and because I wanted to cut side doors into the house). But the failure of the sides to hold well had nothing to do with the masking tape, it had everything to do with what I was anchoring the masking tape to.

When you use masking tape to clamp wood, you want to make sure that the tape is anchored to something stationary. This lets you take as much advantage of the tensile strength of the masking tape as you can. If instead the tape is adhered to a surface that can bend, you are just guaranteeing that the join will be able to bend as well. And let’s be honest, that’s never what we’re looking for in a glue-up.

I should also point out that the image above is actually using way too little tape. When I went to glue the sides on (after cutting the doors) I used about six times that much tape, I tried to leave no more than an inch gap between two pieces of tape getting that join to hold. This really helped a ton, and resulted in the side walls being very sturdy. Of course, I later glued floors and moulding to the walls as well, and all of these things together helped to make sure the house stays rock solid. (And you better bet I used masking tape to clamp those guys down too.)

What others have to say:

Here are a few other places where you can read about the benefits of clamping up with masking tape:

  • Wood Magazine has some nice info and illustrations on glue-ups (and how to use masking tape to keep your joins clean, which I didn’t even think about until just now).
  • PowWowWeb has someone who agrees with me on using masking tape to hold two pieces together during a glue up.
  • DollhouseCity has some more pointers on glue ups and dollhouse construction.
  • C is for Cat has a great quick how-to explaining how to build a dollhouse (including a bit about masking tape).
  • Nanas Minis recommends using masking tape to dry-fit pieces together, something I did but forgot to mention.