The Papertape Method

Several years ago we were having trouble getting tight fits quickly and easily using the standard techniques passed down through the centuries. We were on a yacht laminating new 1/4" mahogany plywood panels over the existing paneling. The open, square areas installed without a hitch but when we came to the uncarpeted stairways and fitting to the nosed treading and angled risers. . .

Tickstick was the traditional technique we utilized for the first piece in the aft stairwell but in spite of being extra careful, there were still unsightly gaps between the panel and stair parts which our client would surely notice. It really hurts to toss a sheet of mahogany plywood.

To avoid a recurrence, we decided to make accurate templates from some available resin paper. As we tried to trim the first piece to match the irregular outline of the stairs, light bulbs started popping up all over. It seemed to us if we trimmed the paper about 1/2" shy of the stair treads and risers, we could bridge the gap with masking tape, carefully laying it down on the paper so the tape's edge butted up to the surfaces we wanted our mahogany panels to hug.

Once the paper template was made, it was carefully peeled from, in this case, the stairwell wall, and then positioned on top of the panel to be cut. Since we were using pre-finished mahogany panels, the papertape assembly served to protect the panel during jig sawing.

Pretty simple, huh?

During the course of the job we learned a few enhancements designed to make the process easier and faster. When laying down the tape, press it hard against the paper and lightly against your substrate. This lets it peel off easier. Also, it's faster to use many pieces of paper during a complicated fitting, just taping them together, instead of fighting to do it in just one piece. This is also true of the tape, using many pieces to mimic a tightly curved outline. Sometimes you can substitute plastic laminate for paper to get a more durable template.

Since we first discovered papertape in 1990, we've applied this technique to all manner of fitting jobs. It's particularly appropriate for replacing plastic laminate in the field or fitting countertops enclosed by three walls which normally don't get backsplashes. For the latter application, it's usually necessary to sacrifice a piece of particleboard to act as a support for the paper, especially when the top just rests upon wall-mounted cleats. I remember one job where we installed twenty-one tops using the same piece of p-board for the substrate, starting with the largest and trimming our way down to the smallest. At no time did we scratch up a wall, need any caulk or waste any time screwing around.

Jim Mattson

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