Posts Tagged ‘clay-based paste’

Today’s Wall Prep – Problem With Sub-Surface

August 21, 2015
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Uncovered a bit of a problem while stripping off old wallpaper today. The original paperhanger smoothed the walls by troweling on joint compound over the lightly-textured, flat-painted walls. This is all fine – just the way I smooth textured walls, too. However, he failed to prime or seal the joint compound. This means that when I wet the walls with water to soften the paste and remove the old wallpaper, the joint compound also got wet and softened. In places where the seams of the wallpaper put tension (we call it torque) on the seams, the joint compound pulled away from the wall.

In the first photo, I have stripped off the top, colored layer of wallpaper. On the left you see the white substrate, which has been soaked with water, and will soon be removed. On the right, the white substrate has already been removed, and what you see is the tan color of his clay-based paste, on top of the joint compound. The lose area in the center of the photo is where the joint compound has pulled away from the wall.

The next photos show the wall with all wallpaper removed, and the area where the joint compound has left a void. It’s about 3/32″ of an inch deep, and would definitely look horrible under the new wallpaper. Furthermore, you have to worry about the surface continuing to loosen, possibly marring the new wallpaper job.

My solution was to let everything get good and dry. Then I scraped away any loose material (like you see in the last two photos). I then sealed the walls with Gardz, a product that is designed to soak into the wall. It also somewhat binds things together, so hopefully it will hold the joint compound together, and also hold it tight to the painted wall beneath it.

Then I took fresh joint compound (it’s something like plaster), and troweled it over the uneven areas. Once it dries overnight, I will sand the areas smooth, wipe off any dust with a damp sponge, and recoat with Gardz. That should yield a good, stable surface for the new wallpaper.

Note:  In the third photo, the horizontal line at the top is a crack in the Sheetrock, which is a whole ‘nother topic.  🙂

I Almost Screwed Up Yesterday

August 16, 2012

I was hanging a photo mural by Photo Walls, a Swedish company.  It was a glossy surfaced photo printed on a “non-woven backing,” which is somewhat thicker and spongier than most murals.  We’re seeing more and more of these non-wovens, due, IMO, to manufacturers trying to go “green.”

The instructions called for a “low moisture” or “20% solids” paste….meaning, clay-based paste.  Clay is a paste I don’t like, but it does have its uses.  So on the way to work, I stopped at Sherwin-Williams and picked up a bucket of paste ($50 for something I will probably never use again), and then hit Home Depot for primer and other supplies.

While I was skim floating the textured wall to smooth it, I was mentally going through what other steps I would have to install this mural.  My mind went to priming.  Then it hit me – I can’t use my old standby primer with this installation – clay paste won’t stick to my oil based primer!  It will delaminate and simply fall right off the wall.

Aren’t I the one who blogged about it for a week when I ran into just this situation, back last November?  Good thing I remembered this before I started the hang.

While the mud was drying, I ran off to find a Sherwin-Williams in the neighborhood.  Their store brand wallpaper primer ($35 – I hope readers are getting a feel for the investment that a workman has in each job…and we ain’t even mentioning gas, advertising, tools, etc.) was water-based, and just what the paste manufacturer suggested.  It was very similar to something I used to buy occasionally from Wallpapers to Go.  It went on smoothly, no odor, no drips, and  dried quickly.

When it came time to hang, the primer worked great with the mural’s stock, allowing me to slide the panels around as needed, and holding the paper tight.  I did have a slight issue with lifting (the primer pulling away from the wall when I needed to repostion a sheet of paper), but it was one small area and didn’t cause any problems.

The finished job was super, and the clients loved it.

Clay Paste & Grasscloth – Uh-Oh!!

February 3, 2012

I did a repair job last weekend in a room that had been papered some years back in a white woven grasscloth. Althouth the left over paper in the box was white, all the paper on the walls was a yellowish tan.

When removing the piece I was replacing, I could see that the original installer had used clay-based paste. (Read my previous comments on clay paste in my posts under Bradbury & Bradbury wallpaper.)

When hanging grasscloth, a product that stains very easily, it’s crucial that the workman uses a very clear paste, formulated specifically for grasscloth, linen, silk, and other such materials. In addition, extra care must be taken to be sure no paste gets onto the surface of the paper. Otherwise, staining is inevitable.

And EVERY installer knows – or SHOULD know, that clay paste stains just about EVERYthing, and should NEVER be used with grasscloth.

It’s my belief that the clay paste, which is grey/brown/red in color, actually seeped through the backing of the wallpaer, causing the color to transfer to the surface of the grasscloth. What is amazing is that the color was so uniform – no blotching or areas of higher color concentration.

It does happen that stains will work their way through a wallpaper. Ink, blood, rust, water stains, grease, etc., will often eventually come through the paper, if not sealed with a primer such as KILZ. Usually this takes a while.

(People sometimes ask why I don’t eat or drink while I’m working. It’s because I don’t want any chance that grease or sugar will get onto the surface of the wall or the wallpaper. Plus it’s distracting.)

What’s even more amazing in this case, the homeowner said that the discoloration showed up immediately. She said when thhe workmen were finished, she was so disappointed, becasuse she had bought this beautiful white grasscloth, but the finished room turned out to be yellow/tan.




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Bradbury & Bradbury Job – Loose Seams

January 20, 2012

For more on this story, read previous posts.

After working through a million types of paste (a slight exaggeration), and finally finding one that worked well with the paper and did not leave staining or “dark seams,” I was happy to have the job finished, and the homeowners reasonably satisfied.

But then a few weeks later came the call: “Julie, the seams are coming loose.”

When a job is well done, wallpaper stays on the wall, usually for years and years. One of the main factors that causes paper to come loose is humidity. (And I’m sure I’ll blog on that biggie some time down the road.) But this B&B was hung in a dining room, not a bathroom, so humidity was not an issue.
I was curious to see what had happened.

When I got to the house, I saw that the paper was, indeed, coming off the wall, with large areas of the seams coming loose, even up to 3″-5″ in spots.

Looking at the back of the paper, I didn’t see paste, which is what you would see if the paste had not held tight. Instead, the paper had a thick feel, and had a thin layer of the white primer adhering to it.

I’ve seen this once before – the primer had delaminated. Meaning, that the primer had come apart in layers, leaving one thin layer on the wall, and one thin layer on the paper, held by the paste.

I have only had this happen one time before, when friends talked me into using a water-based acrylic primer. So I was very surprised to see this happen with my standard oil-based KILZ.

Since the problem was only on the bottom section of the room, which was hung with the clay paste (the upper sections, which were hung with cellulose paste were fine), my surmization is that the failure was caused by an incompatibility between the primer and the clay paste.  Indeed, I have since learned that, due to the “green movement,” polymers in oil-based primers have changed, and pastes no longer stick to them, or at least not as well.  This experience seems to bear that out, as least with respect to clay-based paste.

But to deepen the mystery, the only walls with loose seams were the east and west walls. The north and south walls, and two narrow east and west walls, were perfectly adhered.


Weird or not, mysterious or nor, the homeowners needed to have a proper looking room. So, after carefully measuring and plotting to be sure we had enough left-over paper, all the loose paper on the worst wall was torn off. There was just enough paper left to redo that wall, this time using cellulose-based Ecofix paste purchased from B&B, being careful to place the seams so they did not overlap where the old seams had been (to minimize stress on the wall, and minimize the chances of the seams pulling up – for a whole different reason, which just might be the topic of a future blog!) That took care of the west wall.

The east wall didn’t have as bad of loose seams (pardon the grammar), and we didn’t have any more paper anyway, so I worked the paste into the loose areas to readhere the paper to the wall.

This sounds like a quick fix, but is in itself tricky, because the moisture from the paste, as well as from my rags wiping the surface clean, can cause sections of the paper to swell and lift away from the wall, causing even more problems. The trick is to use enough paste to get the paper to stick, but not enough to allow moisture to wick to other areas of the paper.

This wall also had some shrinkage of the paper, which left very narrow strips of white showing at the seams. Once the paper was repasted, it stretched enough to mostly cover this. To be sure no white showed, though, I painted the wall just beneath each seam, a color that nearly matched the paper.

The replaced west wall looked good, the repaired east wall looked good enough (but I am not confident that the inner sections of the strips, which are still adhered with clay paste, will not eventually start to come away from the wall).

With the furniture placed back in the room, and people looking at the food on the dining room table instead of the walls, everything will be fine.

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Bradbury & Bradbury Job – Paste III

December 21, 2011

Well, my fascination with the various pastes suitable for this specialty paper has faded. In fact, I am a little disappointed with the way the paper and paste worked.

The dining room walls had three sections – a bottom, a middle, and a top, all seperated by dark woodwork molding, like plate rails.

The bottom section took “Bird & Anemone” pattern, in a gold color.  (B&B calls this “Aesthetic Green.” Sure looked gold to me. Go figure.)

B&B paper is not pretrimmed; this means it has the unprinted selvedge edge still attached, like fabric. It needs to be hand-trimmed. The strips for this section were about 5′ long, which meant double cutting (splicing) on the wall. This technique involves overlapping the sides of each strip, then using a very sharp razor blade to cut through both strips, being careful not to score the wall surface beneath. Then the unprinted selvedge ends of each strip are peeled away, the seam edges butted together and smoothed down, and excess paste wiped away.

The only thing is, the clay paste did not wipe away cleanly. It left smeary streaks on the paper. Now, this is the sort of thing that I see, and many other people do not see. Still, I was not happy with the way it was looking. To make matters worse, some of the seams had come loose (not due to lack of paste, but due to the clay paste not holding).

Worse yet, there was a noticeable dark line down the length of every seam. “Dark seams,” as the manufacturer calls them.

The finished walls didn’t look awful, but they didn’t look as good as I thought they should.

For the middle section, which took strips only 34″ long, I hand cut the paper dry, before pasting and taking it to the wall. This pattern was “Claire’s Willow” in the same colorway. Trimming the edges before taking it to the wall eliminated the scenario where the paper is overlapped, so no paste got on the surface.

But still a dark line showed up along the length of each seam. Not “real” noticeable, but still noticeable, especially since this pattern is very plain and doesn’t have much pattern to hide flaws. In addition, more smeary clay paste marred the surface, impossible to wash completely off.

I tore off this first section, and retried, this time double cutting the seams. Same dark seams. I ripped it off again. In despiration, I got my trusty Romans 880 paste, which a zillion paperhangers across the nation use for the majority of the goods they install – and got even worse dark seams.

Again, I stripped off the paper and scrubbed the wall clean. Now I got my Shur Stik C-11, the ultra clear paste used for delicate fibers like silk and grasscloth. I pre-trimmed each strip, and treated them like grasscloth – taking great pains to get no paste on the surface or edges of the paper. This is tricky, because you have to get enough paste on the edges to hold the paper, but not enough to squish out when you butt and seal the seam. (Standard pasting method is to brush or roll your paste way past the edge of each strip, to ensure you get enough paste on the edges.)

This paste is very “wet” and will leave splotches all over the paper, which eventually disappear as the paper dries. Takes a little faith, but it inevitabely dries and looks just fine. Usually. But not this time. Still dark seams! Even worse, there were a few blotches that never disappeared when the paper dried.

I came to work the next day, expecting to hang the final, upper section. But I could not. The paper I had done the previous day just looked horrible.

Time for a call to the manufacturer. I phoned B&B and asked for Tech Support. The lady sounded puzzled. Turns out they don’t have an official tech support department – because anyone there can answer any question about their paper. Gotta love a company like that!

So I talked to Beverly, who is the person most knowledgeable about the paper composition and pastes. She was a wealth of knowledge. Turns out, their paper always results in dark seams when pasted with Romans 880 or the clear grasscloth paste. But there was no explanation for the dark seams when using the clay-based paste they recommended. The Sure Stik brand I used is one they recommend. As for the smears of paste left on the surface of the paper, Beverly recommended scrubbing the paper well, and following that with a dry micro fiber cloth. None of this worked, BTW.

I had to redo the section I had hung the day before, and still had the upper third of the room, plus a border to hang. The border, if you remember from a previous post, required a special dry wheat paste that is mixed with water on-site. I asked if it were possible to use this paste with the Claire’s Willow pattern. (Whenever I have hung B&B paper in the past, this type paste was always recommended, and I have never before had problems with dark seams or paste smears or poor adhesion.) Beverly said yes.

What?! When I had called B&B months before, in preparation for this job, to get their recommendations for pastes and any other special instructions, I was specifically told NOT to use this clear wheat paste. We even debated abit about it on the phone. “But I have always used wheat paste on your paper in the past.” “No, we recommend clay paste, as it is the only paste that works with our paper.” Back and forth several times, and I was specifically told not to use the wheat paste.

Now it turns out that information was incorrect. Apparently, it is possible to use this paste on any of their papers. The main reason they don’t push it is that it’s a very wet paste that leaves scary blotches until it dries, and because it’s the weakest paste used in the industry, and they want to be sure their paper stays on the wall!

OK, so I stripped off all the paper I had done the day before, scrubbed the walls, and then reprimed, to be sure no paste residue remained that could get into the new paper. I dry trimmed the strips, got out my immersion blender and mixed up the box of paste sent from B&B, and carefully pasted and hung the paper.  Much better.

But still not great. There were still dark seams – not horribly dark, but still noticable, plus occasional blotches that did not disappear as the paper dried. This was very disappointing, to say the least. We had used an immense amount of very expensive paper, taken more days than we should have, and the room didn’t look as it should.

My clients could see this, but they happen to be about the sweetest people in Texas, so they didn’t complain. I, on the other hand, couldn’t stomach the look of it, and ended up ripping off the worst wall.

By this time, we had run out of paper. (Redoing a wall FOUR times, and redoing the entire middle section twice does eat up a lot of paper!) The clients had to order more paper, in order to have enough to do the top section, and had to pay outrageous postage to have it arrive 2nd day air. Unfortunately, I was booked with other jobs, and couldn’t get back any time soon to finish the room. The poor lady was considering cancelling their Dec 23 Christmas party.
But, I live something of a charmed life.  As luck would have it, I was able to juggle around two other clients, and this made it possible to go back to finish this job the day after the new paper arrived.

For the final section, the top, the Claire’s Willow pattern went at the bottom, and the Prairie frieze went at the top. The section was narrow enough that I was able to “railroad” the paper – meaning, run it horizontally instead of vertically. This meant one long horizontal strip for each wall, instead of many many short vertical strips – I was dead set on eliminating seams, so as to prevent any more of those awful dark seams.

I used the wheat paste for both the fill and the border, and it looked just fine. At least, when I finished cleaning my brushes and packing up my table and walked out the door at 10:30 p.m. that night, all looked well. I have every confidence that it looked as good when it dried and the clients took their first peek the next morning.

Once the furniture is back in, the original 1907 chandeliere is hung, and the room decorated for Christmas, the final effect will be stunning.  I hope to have a photo to post on my website,  In the meantime, you can get a preview by going to and looking up the pattern names.

Bradbury & Bradbury Job – Paste II

December 16, 2011

Interestingly, although Bradbury & Bradbury specifies clay-based paste for most of it’s patterns and colors, the roll of border chosen by these homeowners came with a day glow orange highlighted note – to use special paste for that colorway only.

For this color, which has clay incorporated into the ink, they want you to use wheat or cellulose based paste. !! This is what I used to use for all B&B papers, but now they recommend clay paste for most of their colors. (See my previous post on.)

The reason they want the plant-based paste for this particular color is because there is clay in the ink, and a clay-based paste would react negatively with the ink, causing flaking or bleeding or staining. So another non-reactive paste is recommended.

This is interesting on many fronts. For on thing, clay paste is very low moisture, and the wheat pastes are rather high in moisture, meaning that two very different pastes would work with the same paper. Also, I find it fascinating the amount of science that goes into perfecting and producing a product – the precise formula for ink, for paper, how they interact, etc. Not to mention the gal who answered my call to B&B, who was completely knowledgeable about their products and techniques.

They also sold the necessary paste – which is a good thing, because it can be hard to track down such a specialty product. Also, if you’re using their own paste, if there should be a problem, you can always go back to them for help.

Good product, good service, good company!

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Bradbury & Bradbury Job – Paste

December 14, 2011

When dealing with a high-end wallpaper such as Bradbury & Bradbury, it’s always a good idea to check with the manufacturer to see their recommendations for paste, primer, and other necessities. I’m glad I called B&B to ask about paste.

When I’ve done their papers in the past, it was always recommended to use powdered wheat paste, mixed on-site, or a similar product which is cellulose-based. I haven’t done B&B in a year or two, however, and their specifications have changed.

Now they suggest using clay-based paste – quite different product from the wheat or cellulose based pastes.

And – YUCK! I don’t like clay paste and don’t use it – have not touched it for nearly two decades, and I know other paperhangers who feel the same. It’s slimy, colored, stains, hard to wipe from surfaces, and just a mess to deal with putting up and then later when taking down a wallpaper.

However, it’s a “low moisture” paste and a very strong paste, so it does have its uses. Commercial installers working with very heavy goods usually use clay-based paste. And that’s what B&B recommended.

So, for the first time ever, I ordered a 5-gallon bucket.

And then told the homeowners that I sure hoped the big strong husband was home when I got there – regular pre-mixed vinyl wallpaper paste is pretty darned heavy in a 5-gallon bucket (40lbs or so) but this clay stuff had to be close to 60lbs!!

Anyway, the reason B&B recommends this earthy product for their paper is that they found it works best with their paper stock and inks. They said that the clay in the paste does not react with their inks as other paste formulas might, and won’t cause the ink to flake off and won’t stain the paper.

I did find that the clay paste did dry faster than my usual vinyl type, which meant a shorter “open” time – which is not a good thing when hand-trimming paper. It also was harder to remove from woodwork and from the suface of the paper, nor does it have the “slip” I am used to, so sliding paper into place and positioning as needed was more difficult.

On the positive side, it does hold well, which is important when doing those hand-trimmed seams. And it sticks well enough to the B&B paper that no VOV (vinyl over vinyl) paste is needed when doing overlaps such as in corners or when applying borders.

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