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The Best Glue for Paper Mache (And How To Make Your Own)

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Having artistically inclined daughters has led me to make several “discoveries” in the realm of messy projects. One of those bits of information I was able to learn over the years is the best types of glue for various applications.

PVA (polyvinyl acetate) is the best glue for paper mache. There are two types of PVA glue – white glue, used in school and for hobbies, and wood glue, a stronger adhesive used by carpenters. White glue is the best option for paper mache.

For most projects, this type of PVA glue found on Amazon will work very well. Mod Podge is also a really good option, and many people prefer it.

The rest of this article will show why PVA glue is the best for paper mache, how to create your own adhesive mix, and how to go about making your own paper mache sculpture with it.

Someone adding glue to a paper mache ball

How Do You Make Glue for Paper Mache?

Now we know that PVA glue is best for making paper mache. However, glue isn’t the only component in creating a strong adhesive that helps the paper mache stay together.

To make glue for paper mache, you need to mix two parts PVA glue with one part water. Once you’ve added the water, keep stirring the mix till the glue and water have appropriately blended. This solution is ideal for making paper mache.

You can add one part glue to one part water if you’re looking for a thicker consistency and less glue if you’re aiming for a thinner solution. However, diluting the glue in water is essential before you start working with paper.

The main reason for thinning the PVA is that it’s easier to dip strips of paper into the diluted solution and cover it with liquid as compared to putting the paper into a thick solution.

You can also make paper mache glue using other types of glue, and some home recipes involve adding flour to the glue mix. However, PVA glue is best for a few reasons.

1. Greater Strength

PVA glue is one of the strongest adhesives used across different industries to bind various materials, including wood, cloth, and paper. The strength of PVA glue holds strips of paper together better, creating a more solid layer of paper mache.

2. Safer To Use

PVA glue is typically non-toxic in nature and safer for general use. Most arts and crafts classes at school teach kids to use paper mache, and making it with PVA is safer, considering kids tend to put their fingers in their mouths sometimes.

Additionally, unlike most conventional glues, PVA doesn’t release toxic fumes when you’re using it, so you can safely sit indoors while working with PVA. 

3. Quick Absorption

PVA glue is quickly and evenly absorbed by the surface on which it is applied. This characteristic is one of the main reasons why PVA glue works best on paper mache, as the paper is able to absorb the solution and harden quickly. 

Once you’ve applied a layer or two of PVA diluted in water, the paper mache sculpture will dry fast, making it easy to continue working on the project.

4. Durability 

Unlike most other glue and flour mixes, PVA tends to last much longer once applied, without degrading much over the years. As such, you can work on your paper mache project without worrying about it bending out of shape too soon.

Also, if applied correctly, the glue dries without leaving cracks or crevices on the surface of the sculpture, so you can continue working on the project without too much hassle.

Finally, most brands of PVA glue are water-soluble, so you can quickly create a solution that can be used for paper mache.

White Glue vs. Wood Glue

As mentioned in the first section of this article, there are two main types of PVA glue – white glue and wood glue.

A two picture montage of people gluing leaves and putting glue on a table

White glue is the type you find in arts and crafts classes, schools, offices, and most stationery shops. It’s white (obviously) and can be used to stick thinner materials, like cloth, plastic, and paper.

On the other hand, wood glue is typically used in industrial processes to stick thicker materials, like wood.

While white glue is the better option for paper mache, wood glue is ideal for more detailed paper mache sculptures.

Aside from the greater strength, wood glue also hardens considerably once it dries. And thanks to its thickness, you can sand the surface of your sculpture without worrying about undoing the whole thing.

On the other hand, if you’re using white glue, you will need to ensure the paper is evenly laid over the surface, so there are no bumps or crevices once the glue hardens. You won’t be able to sand your paper mache sculpture if the glue solution uses white glue, so there’s less room for adjustments once the solution has dried.

How To Make Your Paper Mache Sculpture 

Now that you’re aware of how to prepare the glue solution for your paper mache, let’s talk about how to apply paper to your sculptures using this mix. The most effective way to mold paper mache into a particular shape is to add layers of paper onto a solid object and remove the thing once the paper mache has dried up. Here’s how to go about this process.

1. Ready the Solution 

I’ve already covered this point above, and before you get started on this project, you want to ensure your paper mache solution is ready. It’s best to stir the solution till the water and glue have evenly mixed before you begin.

2. Select a Model   

In the 1800s, a French doctor named Auzoux created paper mache models of the human body and several other animals for medical students to ‘dissect’ and study. The accuracy of the organs and different insides was remarkable, and many others began copying him until we found more efficient ways of exploring the anatomy.

If you’re using paper mache now, you likely want to create some artwork, like a piggy bank or a volcano. Whatever the idea, you’ll need a base on which to put layers of paper mache to get your desired shape.

For example, if you’re making a piggy bank, you can use a balloon to create a round shape. If you’re creating a volcano, you’ll need a bottle in the center surrounded by scrunched-up foil for the sides of the volcano. You’ll then want to apply layers of paper on top of this structure to recreate the look of a volcano.

You can start small with an empty roll of toilet paper, surrounding it with paper mache to create a hard cylindrical object.

3. Prep Your Model

Depending on the model you choose, you’ll want to prepare the surface before applying paper mache. If you’re using a balloon, you’ll want to oil the surface of the balloon so you can easily remove it once you’ve created the sphere.

Let’s take another example. Suppose you’re using a bowl to create your paper mache sculpture. You want to cover the bottom of the bowl in a layer of plastic foil before applying the paper mache. This way, you can easily separate the bowl from the paper once the glue has dried.

However, if you’re using a cylindrical object, like a glass bottle, you may have to cut the paper out of the bottle. If that’s the case, consider cutting down the side of the bottle and splitting the paper mache sculpture in two. 

Here you can use a thin knife, so the cuts are minimal and not noticeable. Once you’ve separated the two halves, you can stick them back together using more paper mache.

4. Apply the Paper

This step is probably the most crucial in your paper mache sculpture because the way you apply the paper will determine the size, shape, and strength of your sculpture. So before you begin, it’s best to have a fair idea of what you’re trying to make, so you don’t deviate from the plan.

Old newspapers are the perfect resource for a paper mache sculpture, considering that they have no use and are thin enough to allow you to create your desired shape.

  1. Begin by cutting the newspaper into rectangular strips of roughly the same size. 
  2. To make the dipping easier, fill a bowl with the glue solution and have it nearby.
  3. Dip an entire strip into the solution, ensuring all parts of it are covered in glue. You can also place multiple strips in the solution, separating them a little so all the strips are evenly coated.
  4. When you take out the strip, run your thumb and index finger down the length of the paper, squeezing and removing excess glue from the surface. This step is essential to prevent parts of your sculpture from getting too thick or not drying properly. 
  5. Now place the strip onto your model, adjusting and angling them to suit the shape and contours of the surface. It’s best to cover the entire base in a layer of paper before adding the next layer. The strips may be a little slippery, so you’ll have to be careful when applying them.
  6. Once you’ve covered the entire base with one layer, consider adding another layer of strips, this time perpendicular to the previous layer. So if you laid the last set of strips horizontally, spread this one vertically. 
  7. Keep repeating this process till you’re satisfied with the thickness of your paper mache sculpture. You can even make some parts thicker than others; however, you’ll have to be more careful when drying the sculpture.

5. Allow It To Dry

Once you’ve added as many layers of paper as you’d like, set aside this sculpture and allow it to dry overnight. It’s best to leave it aside for at least ten to twelve hours before working on it further. And the longer you allow the project to dry, the easier it will be to work with.

If you’ve used a base like a bowl or a glass bottle, you’ll want to go back to step two and see how to separate the paper mache from your base safely.

Is It Better To Use Flour or Glue for Paper Mache?

Some art enthusiasts who use paper mache claim that a flour-based solution is a better option when working with paper mache. However, with the advantages of PVA glue, a flour-based paste isn’t needed.

It’s not better to use flour for paper mache as flour-based pastes take much longer to dry than glue mixes and can collect mold and rot over time. Therefore, if you’re planning to create something that will last years, using a flour-based paste is a bad idea.

Another advantage of using glue is that the paper mache tends to dry evenly and leaves you a clear finish. This surface is ideal for painting designs or any patterns you have in mind. Flour-based paste creates a crusty, white consistency as it dries, making it harder to work with your paper mache sculpture.

Can You Use Elmer’s Glue for Paper Mache?

Elmer’s glue is a mix of polyvinyl acetate, polyvinyl alcohol, and propylene glycol that comes in a tiny bottle with a dispenser lid.

You can use Elmer’s glue for paper mache as it is pretty similar to regular PVC glue. It’s best to dilute this glue in water as well so you can comfortably dip the paper strips in the solution before application. 

A bottle of glue and someone putting glue on a paper mache ball with a paint brush

Mod Podge is another popular glue you can use when working with paper mache. The great thing about mod podge is that this glue is typically thinner than most regular glue, so you may not need to dilute it before dipping paper in the solution. However, there are different grades of Mod Podge glue, so see what works best in your case.

Final Thoughts 

If you find your paper mache sculpture still soft on the inside with a hard outside, leave it for a few more hours till the inner layers have dried up completely. And once it’s ready, get to work painting and adding the finishing touches. 

While flour-based mixtures and industrial-strength glue will work with paper mache, it’s best to rely on traditional PVA or white glue when creating arts and crafts displays. Aside from the ease of application, this glue doesn’t release harmful fumes, is free from dangerous chemicals, and can be easily washed off.

For more, check out 11 Handy Substitutes for Glue (With 4 DIY Options).

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