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THE HANDYMAN : When It Comes to Hanging Wallpaper, Always Remember Step 1

June 03, 1989|JOHN O'DELL | Times Staff Writer and

When John T. Hall goes to work each morning, he eagerly confronts something most of us would just as soon pass by--walls in need of wallpaper, and sometimes wallpaper that needs to be stripped.

Hall is a professional paperhanger, an artist whose canvas is a bare wall on which he carefully creates the special looks his customers crave.

From Hall's perspective, of course, most people would be better off turning to a professional if papering is part of their decorating plan.

The Laguna Niguel resident has been hanging paper since 1973 and has learned a few tricks in the ensuing 16 years. He agreed to share some of his knowledge to make the task easier for those who would like to tackle it on their own.

And hanging wallpaper is something that the average handyman can do. All it takes is the right tools, a positive attitude, patience, a little time and a willingness to get a bit messy.

If you've been a homeowner for more than a month or two, chances are you have a neighbor or friend who has botched a wallpapering job; you may even have blown one yourself.

That's because after spending lots of money and time finding just the right wallpaper, Hall says, many do-it-yourselfers doom themselves to failure at the first step (often by skipping the first step entirely).

So here is the one thing to remember, if you remember nothing else about wallpapering after reading this column:

Always, always, always prepare the wall you are going to paper, and prepare it properly. No matter how expensive your paper, how carefully you match patterns and fit the paper around corners and into window sills, no matter how carefully you measure--if the wall isn't prepared properly, the paper ultimately will pop off, leaving you with ugly bubbles and peeling edges.

If you are starting with a smooth, painted plaster or gypsum-board wall, the basic preparation is fairly simple. Wash the walls to be papered and fill any holes, dents or gouges with spackling compound or other interior filler. Then remove the light switch and wall plug plates and any other hardware or ornamentation.

Finally, prime the walls, using a primer made specifically to be applied under wallpaper. An oil-base primer is the absolute best--and most expensive--way to go, but Hall said there are several good latex primers now on the market. The primer takes the place of wallpaper sizing, gives you a surface with plenty of "slip" for sliding the paper around once you've got it on the wall, seals the wall and gives the paste a proper surface to adhere to.

If you are dealing with a textured wall, you have three options: Sand it smooth; fill it out with spackling, wallboard compound or plaster until the texture disappears; or, if it is only a very light texture, hang a lining paper before putting up the wallpaper (for all but the most dedicated homeowner, papering textured walls often calls for professional help).

The other common mistakes made by novice paperhangers, and Hall's tips for avoiding them, are:

Trying to hang Mylar, foil or hand-printed papers themselves. These all require special skills and tools, and are best left to a professional.

Not using the right type of paste for the paper being hung. A heavy-bodied paste with a light paper is just as bad as a light paste with a heavy paper. Hill and most other professionals also recommend pasting all wallpapers, even those that come prepasted. Soaking prepasted papers is messy and the paper usually comes out either too wet, so that some of the glue is dissolved, or not wet enough, so that it won't adhere to the wall.

When pasting paper, using too light a paste can cause the paper to peel away from the wall after a while, but using too heavy a paste can cause more immediate grief. The tackier, heavy-bodied pastes set up fast and won't give you much time to slide the paper around on the wall as you try to line each strip up with its neighbor. Heavy pastes on light papers also can grab too hard, both on the wall and when "booking" the paper prior to hanging it. In either case, the backing can pull away from the printed surface, leaving you with an unhangable paper.

Not buying enough paper. This comes either from a misplaced sense of thrift or from mismeasuring.

Unless you are using a paper with no pattern or with a completely random design, you will have a lot of waste on each roll. And you will find that doors and windows don't save that much paper. Inevitably you won't be able to simply cut strips 30 inches long for the wall under the window and 18 inches long for the wall at the top.

You will have to cut full 8-foot strips, at least for the ends of the windows, and trim big-but-not-quite-full-width pieces out of the center. If you don't buy enough paper the first time, you will wind up either piecing things together from scraps or face being left with a strip that doesn't quite match because you had to pick up a roll from a different printing run.

To measure, Hill offers the following rules of thumb to determine how many rolls you will need:

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