Wallpapering for Beginners

Wallpapering is a fun, relatively simple way to finish your wall. Get a few key techniques down and you’ll be able to start throwing up your own wallpaper like a pro! There are many different kinds of wallpaper from which you can choose, but before you do, you’ll need to take into consideration a few things. First, are you sure you want to use wallpaper on that particular wall? There are certain places like a changing room adjacent to the shower stall or a kitchen that wallpaper may not suit. The reasons are obvious. Steam, grease, or excessive moisture of any kind is not good for wallpaper, and will in fact destroy it quickly, rendering all your hard work pointless. These rooms are better finished with tile or treated wood.

Choosing the right color and pattern

Choosing the appropriate color and pattern for your wallpaper is of course very important. What kind of feel or vibe do you want to impart with your new wall? Colors give varying messages. We’ve all heard that white makes the room look bigger – which is true. And conversely, black does the opposite. I’m not even sure that they manufacture black wallpaper as the seams would be too visible. And believe it or not, dirt and stains show up clearer on black than on other colors. I won’t go into all the various colors and their individual characteristics, but suffice it to say that it would be wise to take some time on this step, bearing in mind the long-term benefits and consequences.

What you will need

Mankind is constantly developing new and faster ways to do things, and wallpapering is no exception. There are machines available that will cut and paste glue on to your wallpaper for you, and all you have to do is set it to do so. Of course, these machines are expensive and not worth getting if you don’t do this for a living. On the other hand, if you can rent it, it may be worth considering. But let’s assume that this wallpaper machine is not worth your time and money, and talk about what you’ll need to do this job by hand. You will need the following:

1. Wallpaper. Measure your wall/walls in m2 and throw in some extra for good measure. It may be good to have several m2 extra in case you mess up somewhere.

2. Glue. This often comes in bulk concentrated form, and must be thinned out prior to using. Read the instructions provided and dilute accordingly. Mount a mixer bit to your drill and mix until there is an even, soupy consistency.

3. Utility knife. This is what you will be cutting the wallpaper with. Make sure it’s the “snap-off” type and that you have plenty of spare blades. Let me put it this way: Don’t even attempt to wallpaper if you don’t have sharp blades! – You’re just wasting your time and money. Spend a little more and get yourself some sharp blades.

4. Straight-edges. You should have several lengths as different parts of your wall may be easier done with a shorter straight-edge, and vice versa. Make sure there are no nicks on your straight-edge, as even one small nick can ruin your whole cut.

5. Level. Use this to ensure your cuts are more or less vertical, as seams are never perfectly invisible. Plus, keeping your cuts plumb allows you to overlap only what’s necessary for the joint and no more.

6. Smoothing brush. This doesn’t necessarily have to be any specific tool, but just has to be something that can smooth your wallpaper out once it’s up there. Even a clean, wet towel will do, just squeeze it out so it’s not dripping.

7. 100 or 200mm stainless steel scraper. This is used as a knife guide around window and door frame edges or anywhere that requires accuracy.

8. Large sponge. You would use this to wipe away excess glue. What you don’t want to do is leave remnants of glue here and there which will dry and leave a glossy stain.

9. Bucket. Something big enough to where you can rinse out your sponge or towel.

10. Brush, roller and tray. You’ll need these to apply the glue. Use the roller for the big areas and the brush for places you can’t get to with the roller.

11. Step ladder. Unless you’re 10 feet tall, you’ll be needing this!

Good! We now have the tools needed to do the job. Remember to always have a clean, wide area for wallpapering. Little pieces of dirt and crud can get on the glue-side of your wallpaper and cause lumps on your new wall – nasty! So keep a clean floor or table area. I recommend floors over tables as there won’t be trouble with lack of space. So now that we have our tools, let’s go over the steps needed to get the job done.

1. Measure your wall height, adding 20cm, and cut out your wallpaper.

2. Flipping your wallpaper backside-up, roll the glue on. The key here is not applying too much or too little. Too much results in globs of glue which are almost impossible to spread out once the wallpaper is up, and too little interferes with workability as well as causes the joints to peel up etc. Paste glue on both paper and wall if the weather is dry and the glue’s drying too fast, as though you’ll use more glue, it will ensure smooth workability and proper adherence. But again, watch out for over-application.

3. Using an appropriate step ladder, “hang” your wallpaper from the top and smooth out from top to bottom down the center, fanning out to the sides from there. If you by chance detect any lumps, this is when you should take care of it. Peel back the wallpaper and remove the lump immediately. Air pockets can often be forced out, but if persistent, this may indicate that there’s insufficient glue. In some cases, an air pocket often turns out to be a “glue pocket”, where there’s a buildup of excess glue. In either case, for beginners, it’s best to simply peel back the paper and either add or scrape away glue.

4. Repeat the process overlapping the joints at least 10cm, and with your straight-edge and (sharp) knife, cut from top to bottom in as smooth of a stroke as possible. Using a spirit level that’s a straight-edge at the same time is best, as you won’t have to bother taking a level with a 3rd tool. Note that if you have to pause momentarily, NEVER remove the blade from where you pause. On tall walls you will have to pause at least once or twice during which you have to be especially careful not to disturb the knife.

Toward the bottom you will be forced to remove the knife, but even here, make sure you’re close enough to the base so that any flaw will be covered by the base board. You can now peel away the 2 thin strips you have just cut loose and press the joints together. If you have done the cut properly, you should have a close to perfect joint that is hardly noticeable. You will no doubt experience times when your joints aren’t so “perfect”, but don’t worry too much. It’s all a learning experience. Bad joints are in most cases not enough glue, too much glue, or a bad cut – the latter being the most common.

5. Wipe away any excess glue from the seam and continue on until you complete your room.

Open wall areas are relatively simple, but most rooms will have a window or 2 and of course a door. These are the tricky parts and you will need to utilize your scraper to get a clean cut. Say there is a window frame that protrudes in a perpendicular fashion to the wall, and you need to cut around it. Butt the scraper up against the frame with the handle as close to the wall as possible, taking care not to tear the wallpaper. Now run the knife blade down (or up) the scraper. Note that the angles your scraper and knife blade should have in relation to the main wall should both be as acute as possible.

Ideally there will be about a millimeter of “extra” wallpaper folded over onto the frame. This is caused by the thickness of the scraper and is the closest thing to perfect you’ll get. Again, DO NOT remove the blade when making a cut! Hold the blade steady and reposition the scraper. And last, make sure you firmly press the wallpaper into corners. Loose, “curvy” corners are not cool. Keep your corners looking smart and sharp by “pushing” the wallpaper in towards it. Just don’t push too hard as you may tear it. That’s why I like to butter both wall and paper sometimes, as it allows you to do these kinds of things more easily.


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