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Papier Mache Paste

Papier Mache Paste by David Osborne

What paste to use? Find out here...

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Papier Mache Paste

What Paste to Use?

Everyone will have their own methods of working and their own preferred materials. One person will use a particular material almost exclusively, whereas someone else would never touch it. In this article, I will attempt to introduce you to some of the pastes that are used.

Note: If anyone feels that something needs to be changed, enlarged, or additions made to this article, please let me know.


Traditionally, flour has been regarded as the basis of the standard paste. The starch is released by heat and becomes extremely sticky. Mix a large spoonful of plain flour with water to make a thin, totally smooth cream. Pour on boiling water while stirring vigorously until it thickens. This can be diluted further if necessary. Alternatively, increase the thin cream mix by 3 times the volume and bring gently to the boil, stirring constantly. Adjust until it is a thick cream consistency.

This works well but has the disadvantage that it can become brittle and, being organic, is a delicacy for insects and rodents.

Tapioca flour

This is a particular form of flour and was used by Tammy Wilson in the galleries.

Her recipe was as follows, though never measuring exactly.

- Tapioca flour (about 5 parts)
- Water (about 2 parts)
- Wood glue (about 1 part)
- Salt (1 teaspoon for 2 cups of finished paste)
- Bleach (1 tablespoon for 2 cups of finished paste)

Blend the flour with cold water to a finished consistency like double cream. Tammy said that mashing with this requires very little paste as it adheres much more strongly than standard paste. The paste is slimy (and fun!) though much more time consuming than making standard paste.

Heat the tapioca paste a little so that it congeals somewhat, stirring vigorously the whole time. The paste may get really thick and ball like. You then have to blend it with extra water so that the thick globs break down and the mix loses some of its slimyness.

You may need to blend it for at least 4 minutes on high. Add your wood glue, bleach and salt and blend again. The results should be like bright-white-lightly-whipped-marshmallow cream.

Tammy felt it was quite a lot of work but that the resultant paste was the strongest she had ever experienced and dried clear. I have never tried it.

PVA (Elmers or White Glue)

This is a synthetic glue, used in a wide range of applications, including woodworking. It comes in a variety of strengths and qualities. It can be very sticky and will form a skin on the fingers which can be peeled off without harm.

Most varieties are fairly waterproof. While it is white in its liquid form, it dries fairly clear. Some people use it on its own; many use it as an additive to other paste mixes; some avoid it.

Wallpaper paste

Possibly more workers use this than any other, either as the only ingredient or as the main ingredient for their paste. It is normally easily available in most countries where wallpaper is used in home decorating.

Its main constituent is a form of methyl cellulose (see below), but it usually also has additives including fungicide. While this is good for the items we make, it may not be so good for your skin. Many people will not be affected but it is best to be cautious, perhaps using a brush or wearing thin rubber gloves when working with it. I must admit that I have used it a lot, always with unprotected fingers.

With this, bleach is not needed. I have never used bleach in any paste. Mix to a thick cream consistency and spread thinly on your paper when laminating. It can also be mixed into pulp to make the modelling material.

Added strength can be obtained by including about 25% of PVA (Elmers or White Glue).

Methyl Cellulose

Amongst all the pastes that pm craft people use, I consider this to be the best. It . . .

- is non-toxic and even kind to the hands (it is a basis for many beauty products);
- is extremely smooth and spreads well;
- combines successfully with PVA (white glue);
- dries without flaking or cracking;
- is excellent for both layering and pulping;
- can be easily washed from working surfaces;
- gives a matt surface which can easily be glazed if you want.

When you use this type of medium with paper mache you can bunch, twist and crumple it and it stays in place until it dries. It does not saturate your paper and make it soggy or limp. However, it is not easily obtainable (see below).

What is Methyl Cellulose? (Technical)

CMC stands for carboxymethylcellulose. However, CMC is more correctly the sodium salt of carboxymethylcellulose. It is derived from the naturally occurring substance, cellulose, from plant material, which is made water-soluble by a chemical reaction.

The result is a fine powder.

It is entirely non-toxic. A description of CMC can be found at: http://www.lsbu.ac.uk/water/hycmc.html. There is also information at Wikipedia.

Dissolving CMC.

The principle of dissolving CMC is to wet all particles as quickly as possible before the viscosity starts to develop. CMC is by nature hydrophilic ("water-loving"), which means that the CMC particles will instantly start to swell (hydrate) and dissolve when dispersed in water. Therefore, the mixing device used must be efficient enough to keep the entire liquid in motion to avoid agglomeration or lump formation. The mixer should create a strong downstream flow in the centre of the dissolution tank and CMC should be added to the vortex formed by the stirrer. It is essential to emphasize that the rate of CMC addition must be slow enough (and even) to permit the particles to become individually wetted. In other words, it is not easy. To do this at home you need hot water at about 50-60 degrees centigrade. You need to pour the CMC fine powder smoothly and slowly while at the same time beating the water fiercely, preferably with an electrical whisk that creates a strong downward flow. There may be some lumpiness left but don't worry. Leave it in a container and hand beat it with e.g. a fork after 24 hours. Ultimately it will become smooth.


One main producer in the world is the Noviant group, part of CP Kelco. They have offices in many countries and a website.

The Dow Chemical Subsidiary Amerchol produce CMC for the cosmetics industry.

Specialist library suppliers often sell non fungicidal 'wallpaper' pastes, which are pure CMC.

I am told that Metylan is a wallpaper paste made from methylcellulose. Roman also makes one, in addition to its wheat-based paste.

Elmers Art Paste, which comes in a 2 oz. jar and makes up a gallon of paste, is also methylcellulose.

In the USA, Cary Pugh found that Douglas & Sturgess sells Hydroxymethylcellulose for $3.50 a pound.

In the UK a kilo from Preservation Equipment Ltd, Diss, UK costs about 10 GBP. Unfortunately they charge another 10 GBP for postage and packing.

You might also try the following:

- Lineco Inc
- University Products Inc
- Chance and Hunt and their product list of CMC

A main CMC product distributed by ChanceHunt is Finnfix, which is manufactured by the Noviant Group.

In Germany there is Beeck GmbH & Co KG, Germany. Their AGLAIA WALL PAPER ADHESIVE is a pure methylcellulose adhesive without fungicidal additives. They claim that it lasts at least 24 months when stored dry, cool and free of frost.

If you find other supplies, please let me know so they can be added to this information.