Preparing Walls for Papering

For sheer dramatic impact, few interior wall treatments rival wallpaper. For a clean-looking job, take the time to prepare the walls meticulously. Most coverings will show rather than hide every nick, hole, and ridge. You’re in luck if the wall you want to paper is painted and in good repair. If the paint is glossy, simply dull the gloss with an abrasive so the adhesive will stick properly. Wash down the area with a strong household detergent, let it dry, and then hang the paper.

If the paint is peeling from the surface, remove it with a scraper, wash down the walls, then seal the surface with a sealer or wallpaper sizing. For walls with a sand or textured finish, first scrape and lightly sand the surface, then cover it with lining paper. Lining paper is a plain, lightweight wallpaper with no pattern. You apply it with presized wheat paste, butting the edges and rolling the seams. The edges do not need to be butted tightly. A liner can solve minor but not major wall problems. Nicked, cracked, and crumbling walls or ceilings call for corrective action.

Tools: Sandpaper, straightedge, utility knife, brush, roller with an extension handle, and a screwdriver.

Patch a damaged area. If the old paper is loose in just a few spots and you plan to paper over it, temporarily tape a piece of wallpaper over the damaged area. Use a straightedge and utility knife to double-cut a rectangle; slice through both the patch and the old paper. This will produce a patch that fits precisely.

Adhere loose paper. Lightly sand any seam overlaps. If you don’t, the seams will show through the new wallpaper. Remove grease and dirt by washing the entire surface. Glue down curled edges with wallpaper adhesive. Vinyl-to-vinyl adhesive is the strongest; coat both the paper and the wall surface.

Remove coverplates. Remove all hardware and turn off electrical circuits before you hang paper. If you don’t, your trimming task will be more difficult—and dangerous.

Apply sizing. Use sizing to seal new walls or those covered with wallpaper. The sizing keeps the porous surfaces from absorbing the adhesive. Consult with your wall covering dealer if you are unsure whether you need sizing.

Hanging Wallpaper

One key to a visually successful papering job is finding the point in the room where a pattern mismatch will not be noticed. You can count on a mismatch, because the last strip you put up will have to be trimmed lengthwise to butt up against the first strip. One such point is adjacent to a door or window frame. This gives only a few inches of discord above or below the opening. The ideal location is often above the entry door into a room, because the mismatch is hidden behind you as you enter the room. Other spots are an inconspicuous comer or a location that will be covered by draperies or furniture.

The first strip is very important because it “locks in position” all the strips that follow. Unless the first one is plumb, all the other strips will be out of alignment, and the error will compound itself as you apply each successive strip to the walls. Because wallpapering is a messy job, take special pains to “work clean.” Wash your hands often. Use clean water and a sponge to wipe away paste after hanging each strip of paper. Keep the pasting table free of adhesive, and clean your tools if they have paste on them. If you’re using prepasted paper, disregard Step 3 and simply soak the strip in your water trough.

Tools: Tools are listed in the box, above.

Figuring Wall Covering Needs

■ First determine how much material you need. Measure the height of each wall, then measure the distance around the room, including door and window openings. Multiply these two figures, and you’ll have the area of the wall surface. You may need extra to match patterns. A wallpaper dealer will translate these figures into the number of rolls needed.

■ After selecting the type of wallpaper, ask the salesperson to recommend the right adhesive and the quantity you need. Foils, paper-backed burlap, vinyls, backed flocks, hand prints, murals, and borders require vinyl adhesive. Prepasted wallpaper requires no adhesive, just a shallow trough wide enough to soak each rolled-up strip before you hang it.

■ Standard tools include a paint roller and tray (if you don’t use a paste brush), a utility knife with plenty of sharp blades, a tape measure, an 8-foot straightedge, a plumb bob, a chalk line, long-bladed scissors, a stepladder, drop cloths, a wall scraper, and sponges. You’ll need a pasting table unless you’re using prepasted paper. Rent one or use two card tables or sawhorses covered with a sheet of hardboard.

■ Special tools include a paste brush, a water tray for prepasted paper, a seam roller, and a smoothing brush.

■ Once you have the paper, go around the room and lightly mark lines where the seams will go. This will help you plan the location of the mismatch.

1. Chalk a reference line. Hang a chalk line from a tacked nail near the top of the wall to near the bottom. Snap the line, and double-check with a level to see that it is plumb.

2. Uncurl the paper. Uncurl the paper by unrolling it against the edge of a table. Cut the first strip several inches longer than needed.

3. Apply paste. You’ll need a worktable large enough to accommodate at least one full-length wallpaper strip, plus one booked strip (see Step 4). A simple sheet of plywood on a set of sawhorses or a worktable works well. Keep the table clean; wipe up spilled paste immediately. Consult with your dealer and read the manufacturer’s instructions for the best type of adhesive. Premixed paste is the easiest to use and is worth the extra cost. Wheat-based adhesive is strong enough for most coverings. Clay-based adhesive is stronger but difficult to work with. Apply the paste to half of the strip, leaving an inch at the end to grasp. Fold it over and paste the other half.

4. "Book" the paper. “Book” the pasted paper by folding it over twice. Let the pasted paper rest in this fashion for a few minutes, or according to the manufacturer’s directions. Resting time is critical; it allows the covering to absorb the adhesive.

5. Apply at the top. Unfold the top half of the pasted paper. Align the paper with the plumb chalk line you snapped, and overlap the paper slightly onto the ceiling. Check that the side of the paper aligns precisely with the plumb line; make any adjustments sooner rather than later.

6. Remove bubbles. Smooth the paper onto the surface with the wall brush or a clean sponge. Work from the center to the edges of the paper to remove all air bubbles. Continue to check the plumb line, because brushing may cause the covering to slide.

7. Apply the lower half. Reach behind the strip and unfold the bottom half. Slip it into place against the plumb mark. You can pull and reposition it as needed.

8. Finish applying the first strip. Smooth the lower section of paper. With a level, check for plumb. If the strip is not plumb, start again. Smooth with vertical strokes.

Measuring and cutting strips to match a pattern - Each strip must not only span from ceiling to baseboard with a few inches to spare; it must be long enough to do so while matching the pattern of the strip it butts against. Place the strip to be cut next to the one it will butt against in order to measure. A paper with a vertical pattern does not need to be matched. A pattern with a straight horizontal design is easy to match. If the pattern has diagonal lines, you may need to waste a good deal of material. With a drop pattern, the design element of one strip is repeated lower than the strip it abuts. The larger the pattern, or the “repeat,” the more material is likely to be wasted.

9. Trim the edges. Tap the paper into the corners with the brush. Gently press the paper into the corner at the ceiling and against the top of the base molding. Using a utility knife, cut it carefully to avoid tearing. Be sure to use a very sharp blade, and change blades often to ensure a razor-sharp edge. A metal straightedge can help.

10. Butt the next strip. Cut the next strip following the guidelines presented above. Double-check that it will span from ceiling to floor while matching the pattern of its neighbor. Butt seams by aligning the new strip about V4 inch from the adjoining one. Slide it over so that the edges buckle slightly. Smooth the new strip as in Step 8.

11. Roll the seams. About 15 minutes after you’ve hung each strip, roll the seams with a seam roller to ensure good adhesion. Do not roll flocked papers. If a seam refuses to lie flat, apply vinyl-to-vinyl adhesive and re-roll the seam.

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