Hanging in there with wallpaper

Ask The Builder

May 04, 2008|By Tim Carter | Tim Carter,Tribune Media Services

I think wallpaper will really make a few of my rooms gorgeous. Can you tell me how to hang it? What are some of the most important steps when hanging wallpaper? Are there special tools one uses?

I will get you started, but I urge you to look around for books, videos or DVDs that really explain the wallpapering process.

You will need these basic tools:

Assemble a tape measure, a 4-foot level, a 4-inch flexible putty knife, a paint roller and roller pan, a 2-inch paintbrush, a stepladder, a snap-blade razor knife, a smoothing brush and a large table or flat working surface. A professional wallpaper hanger will have many other tools, but these will get you going.

First, prep the walls. Fill all holes and scrape off any little bumps. When wallpaper dries, it clearly shows any imperfections in the wall surface. You must paint the walls with a special wallpaper primer; this ensures that the adhesive does not penetrate deeply into the wall. These special primers grant you extra work time: They leave a glossy sheen that allows the adhesive to stay in the liquid state for up to 15 minutes, allowing you plenty of time to wiggle each sheet of wallpaper into position.

It is really important to hang the wallpaper plumb. If you fail to do this, most patterns on the wallpaper will scream that you made a mistake when you look at where the wallpaper hits the ceiling. The pattern will either run uphill or downhill. The wallpaper needs to be replumbed each time you come out of an inside corner. Always make a faint pencil line about one-eighth inch away from the actual edge of the wallpaper, and hold the wallpaper consistently away from the line. If you place the edge of the wallpaper on the pencil line and the seam between the two pieces of paper pulls away the slightest amount, you will see the ugly gray line between the two pieces of wallpaper.

Many modern types of wallpaper come prepasted. Using a premixed paste activator is a superb way to activate the adhesive. You apply these clear liquids to the back of the paper using the paint roller. Fold the paper immediately back on itself so the activator and glue are not exposed to the air.

The moisture causes regular wallpapers to expand, but it needs to expand on the worktable, not the wall. If you hang a piece of wallpaper before it expands, you will get all sorts of bubbles on the wall. It usually takes only five minutes or so for the wallpaper to relax and expand once you apply the adhesive activator. There are non-woven wallpapers that do not expand. They can be applied to the wall immediately after activating the paste.

When placing the sheets of wallpaper on the wall, work the side edge first. Do not allow the wallpaper to fully contact the wall and then try to slide it to the plumb line or the adjacent piece of paper. If you do this, you will stretch the paper and create all sorts of problems. Get the edge in the right position, and then allow the rest of the sheet to lay against the wall.

Use the special smoothing brush carefully to flatten the wallpaper against the wall. Brush carefully away from the edge, making sure the seam is still tight and there are no air bubbles in the paper. Trim the excess paper on the top, bottom and edges with the handy snap-blade razor knife. These tools are magical, as they allow you to get into very tight spaces to make difficult cuts.

Expert home builder and remodeling contractor Tim Carter has 20 years of hands-on experience in the home industry. He is a licensed master plumber, master carpenter, master roof cutter and real estate broker. If you have a question, go to askthebuilder.com and click on "Ask Tim."

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