4 Tips for Constructing Duct Tape Scale Models

Jacob LaRocca

Jacob LaRocca is an electrical engineer who loves to build duct tape models in his spare time, as well as make props from movies and video games for his company Rocket Props.

64 Articles

By Jacob LaRocca

Jacob LaRocca is an electrical engineer who loves to build duct tape models in his spare time, as well as make props from movies and video games for his company Rocket Props.

64 Articles

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When you see a roll of duct tape, you probably don’t immediately think, “I want to build something out of just that.” But duct tape is an insanely versatile material, and once you grasp its tendencies and habits, you can build nearly anything with it.

The Tape

Duct tape varies by brand and by grade in four main attributes that I refer to as stickiness, strength, flexibility, and rip-ability. Generally, the mid-range priced duct tape is a good bet, but some of the higher quality stuff is even better. What you are looking for is a tape that rips easily both horizontally and vertically, and doesn’t collapse on itself too easily. Check out the handy Duct Tape Stickiness Index below to get a sense of which duct tape will suit your needs.

Stickiness Strength Flexibility Ripability
Duck Brand Max Strength 8 High High Clean and Straight
Duck Brand Professional 6 Med Med Clean and Straight
Duck Brand Everyday 6 Low High Slightly rough edges
Nashua 308 6 Low High Rough Edges, curling
Nashua 357 9 Med Med Clean Straight lines
Nashua 396 8 High Med Clean and Straight
Nashua 349 10 Very High Very Low Straight lines, requires some force
Nashua 2280 4″ width 8 Med High Marginally straight lines
Sticky-Ass Tape 9 HIgh Med Straight lines, requires some force
3M Utility Tape 5 Low High Rough edges, partially straight lines
3M 3939 7 High Med Rough edges, curling
3M Scotch Pro Strength 6 Med High Clean and Straight
m50_SS_DuctGaff_-19

Photograph by Hep Svadja

Pro Tip: Gorilla Tape is not the same thing as conventional duct tape. It will rip the skin off your fingers. Not fun.

Tools

I use very few tools: a pair of diagonal cutters, a set of dental picks, and some hobby knives are all that are needed. Don’t use scissors because the adhesive will destroy them. Calluses on the hands help, but they are not required, as you will develop them over time.

Creating Structure

Every single one of my models has a duct-tape armature. It may look like wire, but it is actually duct tape rolled inside out. Find a smooth surface that has very small variations in it. Plastic folding tabletops are a good example. Enamel, Formica, or even stone will work, however the smoother the surface the more the tape will stick, and it will be harder to roll the tape.

Stick a piece down onto the table top and carefully feather the top edge. Then use the heel of your hand and pull back and down so that the tape rolls inside out in a tight roll. It won’t be pretty the first time, but with practice you’ll be able to bang them out like nothing. Once you get the hang of it, try varying the diameters by overlapping a few pieces of tape or ripping the piece lengthwise.

Creating Strength

Duct tape is extremely strong, however, it is only strong in certain directions. If you need a strong sheet of tape, alternate the directions you are laying it down. If you need a structure to support weight, use geometry and angles to engineer self-supporting armatures. Double, triple, or quadruple roll the armatures and they will be incredibly strong, while still remaining flexible.

You can create rigidness by having a thick core, and then placing thinner armatures all the way around it. Because the adhesive is on the outside of the armature, when multiple pieces are placed together in parallel or perpendicular, they become very strong.

Layer it On

The key to a good, smooth, curved surface is layering. If you layer multiple pieces on top of each other in one length (say, four 1′ pieces on top of each other) then it is less likely to inherit surface abnormalities underneath it. The more layers, the smoother it will look, but the less flexible it will be.