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