The Architect’s Guide to Glue and Tape

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Architect's guide to glue and tape for architecture model building

Your architecture model is only as good as the glue that holds it together.

A few months ago I wrote a blog post called Building Great Architecture Models, I mostly wrote about a lot of tools, techniques and habits that really took my model building to the next level.

After I wrote that blog post I realized I could go on for a really long time about all the glue and tape that I use to build architecture models.

Believe it or not I actually use tape to hold my architecture models together just as much as I use glue.

 

Using the Right Tool for the Job

Part of what I think really helped me architectural model builder was that I had a very good understanding of when to use one product versus another.

You could be the best architect in the world, but if you are using the wrong glue then it then you are wasting your time building models.

 

“The quality of your work is a reflection of you as a person.”

In my second year of architecture school, another student shared with me that this is how they thought about their work and look at their peers. Crappy design work and sloppy half ass models and drawings say to everyone that you’re sloppy and half ass with the rest of your life.

This is bad advice and I shouldn’t be sharing this kind of thinking with young architects. I also don’t agree with it.  BUT, even though I don’t agree with it, I still bought into this thinking when I was in college.

If I look at it positively, this concept really inspired me to work a lot harder during architecture school.

If I look at it negatively, this concept allowed me beat myself up a lot about what I “thought” the work should be, rather than just trusting in the process.

Nevertheless the only reason I share this silly concept is because I truly believe if you understand how, when and why to use adhesive appropriately it WILL make you a better model builder. Thus helping you succeed in architecture school. (….and in life.)

 

A few quick rules of thumb.

  1. Always buy 3M products when you can. I have had the best luck with 3M and thought they make superior quality adhesives over everyone else.
  1. Continually and constantly test every adhesive with every material. Some glues work better with some materials than other. Trial and error is the only way to learn this. Having this knowledge is powerful when considering what is possible with certain materials.
  1. Discover what works for you. I don’t care for some products that works great for other people.
  1. Always and only spray mount outside. When you spray glue adhesive tiny glue particles instantly get everywhere and it is also extremely toxic.
  1. Don’t lend out your tools. Sure I will always help a friend in a time of need, but generally speaking I was really uptight about lending out my tools in the studio.

Glue and Tape

I went back and forth about writing this blog post as a 2 part series but just decided to make this one big post. The first part is all about glue and then I break down the tape shortly after. If you want to the section about tape  CLICK HERE

I wrote about each product from the weakest to the strongest and I give a link to amazon showing exactly what product I am talking about.

 

Thinners and Removers

I prefer to use isopropyl alcohol and nail polish remover, to help remove the gunk and residue left from glue and tape. I have never been a fan of Goof Off. I think that stuff is way to too toxic for my liking.

 

Disclaimer

Some of these products are toxic and dangerous. Use them at your own risk. I’m not responsible if you glue your hand to the floor, hurt yourself or do something stupid.

 

 Picture of glue stick for Architecture model building

The Glue Stick

During college I always had a few glue sticks lying around.

Pros

  • Easy clean up
  • Cheap

Cons

  • Glue sticks will dry up with time. I usually end up cutting off the dried off portion, to find glue that works.
  • Not very strong
  • Very limited usage

Applications

Works great for paper to paper applications, but that’s about it.

 

elmers

Good ol Elmer’s White Glue

I call this “School Kid Glue”.  Several of my classmates swore by Elmer’s glue, but I was never a big fan. Mainly for the only reason what that SOBO tacky glue is stronger.

Since the consistency of Elmer’s is thin and spreads nicely, I like using this glue for building topographic models that have many layers. Sometimes I would add a drop of water to dilute it just a little bit more and apply it to each layer with a paintbrush.

Pros

  • You can get it everywhere
  • Non-toxic
  • Dry’s clear
  • Cleans up nicely

Cons

  • Not as strong as tacky
  • Takes too long to dry
  • The animal on the logo is creepy.

Applications

  • Excellent for topographic models.
  • OK for chipboard, museum board or basswood models.
  • Doesn’t work so great with heavier materials.

 

 

Picture of sobo glue for Architecture model building

SOBO Tacky Glue

I use Sobo Tacky Glue for 75% of the models I build. I love this glue. This is my all-purpose glue.

I would always buy the biggest bottle I could get my hands on and just use that to refill my glue syringe and tiny 2 oz. bottles. Like I said in my last post you dont need to hold a bottle of glue that has 2 years’ worth of glue in your hand, each time you go to glue something. I am also a big fan of using toothpicks to apply white glue.

Pros

  • Dry’s clear and rubbery.
  • Museum board, chip board and bristol board love this glue.
  • SOBO has all the same benefits as Elmer’s.
  • Much stronger than Elmer’s.
  • Dry’s a lot faster than Elmer’s
  • Little bottles are great for model building if you don’t have a syringe.

Cons

  • Depending on what you’re building, sometimes it’s just not strong enough for a basswood model.

Applications

Tacky glue is an awesome all-purpose model building glue for almost everything.

Give me a syringe filled with SOBO white glue, a sharp knife and a pile of Bristol board and I will take over the world. Seriously. Tacky glue is the way to go.

 

 

Picture of hot glue for Architecture model building

Hot Glue (Glue Sticks)

Hot glue is definitely a specialty glue. I used it a lot in architecture school for all types of random stuff. They sell different types of glue sticks and I tried them all but never seemed to think one was stronger than another.

Pros

  • Fast results.
  • Easy to clean up.
  • Since it dry’s very quickly it allows you to get a lot of model building done very quickly.

Cons

  • It is always very messy and you need to be obsessive about getting all the stringy glue off the model.
  • Glue guns do not last long. I have had about 10 different glue guns through the years.
  • When the glue fails, it completely fails. There is no in-between.
  • I have burned myself a lot with glue guns.
  • Never had any luck with the miniature glue guns and sticks. I broke mine the first time I tried using it.

Applications

Hot glue works great for building really fast crude study models. Foam core and hot glue are best friends.

 

 

Picture of ehlmer's wood glue for Architecture model building

Wood Glue

There’s a million types of wood glues. I always used the basic Elmer’s wood glue, it seemed to work great. I’m sure the others are good too, I just didn’t use it enough.

Wood glue belongs in the wood shop really. Not so much in the architecture studio.

Pros

  • Super strong powerful stuff. Awesome for gluing wood to wood. You can get an amazing bond, if you use a clamp.
  • Works great with Basswood

Cons

  • The biggest problem with wood glue is that it stains like crazy and it dry’s as a hideous shade of yellow. You need to be exremely careful about keeping your work clean and immediately wiping up excess glue with a wet paper towel. It’s the only way.

Applications
I used to use lots of wood glue when I was in the wood shop building wood site models or bases for models.

When I was building my thesis site model I needed a very thick block of wood to show the massing of an existing building. I sandwiched a few pieces of wood together with wood glue in the middle and clamp them all together. After it dried, I chopped down that Frankenstein block of wood to the size that I needed it. Worked beautifully!

 

 

Picture of Krazy glue for Architecture model building Picture of zap-a-gap glue for Architecture model building Picture of zap-a-gap glue for Architecture model building

Krazy Glue or Zap-A-Gap

Whenever I think of crazy glue I get a flashback to being 5 years old and remember this commercial.

I wonder what OSHA thinks of this commercial.

Krazy glue or Zap-A-Gap isn’t that great for building architecture models, in fact it’s all crap. It’s better for fixing broken junk around your house, just like in that commercial. What I don’t like about it is that I leaves a stain around where you used the glue. I also don’t think that it’s that strong compared to Cyanoacrylate (see below)

Cons

  • It will stain your materials.
  • It’s not that strong.
  • Comes in a very small bottle.
  • Highly toxic
  • Definitely isn’t as strong as the commercial implies.

Pros

  • You can get it everywhere.

Applications

Crazy Glue works awesome for hanging bonehead construction workers off I-beams from their hard hats, but I wouldn’t use it for anything else.

 

 

Picture of cyanoacrylate glue for Architecture model building

Cyanoacrylate

I discovered Cyanoacrylate by accident one day when I was at a model railroad shop buying dimension basswood for a model. This glue really upped the ante on the way I build models and their craftsmanship.

Pros

  • Works great on a variety of materials. Wood, Museum, Bristol board, basswood, I even used it to build a model out of broken glass once.
  • Strong as hell.
  • It dries clear.
  • Works beautifully on some materials or doesn’t work at all. There is no in-between.

Cons

  • This glue is very toxic and has made me nauseas on a few occasions.
  • The bottle design is kind of a joke. It will clog long before you will use it all. I have actually cut up my bottle, just to get to the last drop of unused glue. Don’t even bother with the cap. I store it with a safety pin in the top to keep it the hole open but plugged.

Applications

Use this glue for as much as you can.

Apply it with a toothpick.

I would recommend having some nail polish remover to help you get it off your fingers.

Use at your own risk, its super toxic.
Picture of super 77 glue for Architecture model building

Spray Adhesive

I use spray adhesive mostly to mount drawings to foam core. When I use spray adhesive I only want to use the best, which is why I only use Super 77. I have tried all types and none other has been as strong as Super 77.

Pros

  • Insanely strong and will hold its strength forever. Super 77 is powerful stuff!
  • Dry’s super-fast, sometimes too fast. So be ready and practice your gluing technique is, before you actually spray the glue. You only get one chance.

Cons

  • Extremely messy, you really need to use it outside or in a spray booth. Sometimes it can be hard to find a good place to spray. Glue particles immediately get everywhere once you start spraying. Make sure you lay down newspaper to protect adjacent surfaces.
  • The caps always gunk up and are a pain to fix and it’s hard to get new caps.
  • Super 77 is very toxic.

Applications

Gluing paper to anything, mounting drawings on foam core. I have used it to build a topo model but white glue actually works a lot better.

 

 

Picture of epoxy for Architecture model building

Epoxy

Epoxy is the king of all the glues, hence the gorilla. Epoxy can be hardcore stuff and honestly I really haven’t used it very often.

Pros

  • It is the strongest glue.
  • Basically works on everything.
  • Dry’s fast.

Cons

  • It needs to be mixed to be activated.
  • Usually toxic.

Applications

Any application that any of the other glues isn’t strong enough for. Epoxy can be a little extreme, but if your situation calls for an extreme glue, then epoxy is the way to go!

 

Tape

Why is tape in a blog post about model building? I sometimes use tape a lot more than I actually use glue to build models. You can put things together and rip them apart a lot faster with tape then glue. Double sided tape is a much safer and cleaner alternative then using spray mount. Sometimes it seems like I have used tape for everything, besides what it was originally invented for.

 

Picture of painters tape for Architecture model building

Blue Painters tape

Painters tape was made for painters to tape off corners, the floor, windows or things that they don’t want to get paint on. Painters tape usually has the weakest grade adhesive applied to it.

Pros

  • I don’t feel bad using it generously.
  • Thin and perfect for masking things off while painting.
  • Available everywhere
  • Rolls come in different dimensions from ¼” up to 3” thick
  • Adhesive is gentle on finished materials of your model. (like chip, museum or bristol board)
  • Could work as a drafting tape if you’re in a pinch.
  • It paints very nicely

Cons

  • Obnoxious color blue, which could be a good thing depending on what you’re doing.
  • Not very strong
  • It’s bad luck to hang a drawings on the wall with painters tape.

Applications

One of my favorite ways to build real fast study models is taking a whole bunch of scrap or random pieces of Bristol board, grabbing a sharp scissor and using painters tape instead of glue to hold all the pieces together. Modeling with painters tape instead of glue is the fastest way to bring 3 dimensional ideas to life.

I used this painters tape modeling method when I build models with kids in Architects in Schools. At the end of the term we would just paint the models and the tape. 3rd graders don’t have the patience to work with white glue and neither do I when my design ideas still haven’t been conceived.

I also use painters tape to help me hold things in place while waiting for glue to dry.

Never use blue painters tape to hang anything on the wall, especially your drawings. C’mon guys, you’re better than that.

 

Picture of drafting tape for Architecture model building

Drafting tape or Artist tape

Drafting tape is designed to hold your sheet of paper on the surface you are working on.

Pros

  • Sometimes slightly thicker and stronger than painters tape.
  • Available everywhere
  • Adhesive is also gentle on materials.
  • Sharpies work great on it for labeling things.

Cons

  • Not very strong

Applications

Holding your sheet of paper on the surface you are drafting on.

Good model building tape if the blue painters tape is too ugly for you.

 

 

Picture of drafting dots for Architecture model building

Drafting Dots

Whoever invented draft dots was a genius. Draft dots are drafting tape that are precut into a circle that just easily peel off from a piece of paper.

Pros                                                                                                  

  • Fast and easy to use.

Cons

  • A little expensive
  • People will try to steal them from you.

Applications

The  genius in draft dots is compared to drafting tape, when you need a piece of tape you have to put down your pencil and use 2 hands to break off piece of tape, the draft dots are all ready to go! Huge time saver because every 2 seconds counts when you’re doing architectural drawings.

Important rule: If your drafts dots have a logo or text on them, make sure the logos are properly aligned and not upside down.

 

 

Picture of masking tape for Architecture model building

Masking tape

In my nerdy world, masking tape is different from painters tape and artist tape. Masking tape typically has a stronger adhesive material then the other 2 tapes.

Pros

  • strong
  • cheap
  • multiple roll widths
  • Awesome all-purpose tape

Cons

  • Keep it away from finished materials and delicate architecture models. It will be difficult to remove without damaging your from your vellum, card
  • Will pull the paint off the wall if you try to use it as a painters tape.

Applications

Holding stuff together.

Building study models

Making yourself good bandages when you cut yourself.

 

 

Picture of magic tape for Architecture model building

Scotch/Office Tape

This is also known as office tape.

Pros

  • Strong adhesive

Cons

  • Dispenser gives you a rough edge, you’ll need to cut off that edge if you want a truly clean piece of tape.

Applications

Perfect for tape loops.

Picture of shipping tape for Architecture model building

3M clear shipping tape

I love clear shipping tape. I like to cut it up and use it as clear plastic stickers.

Pros

  • cuts nicely with a scissor
  • Comes in 2 inch rolls.

Cons

  • Rough edges from dispenser need to chopped off.

Applications

I like to sandwich small pieces of paper between 2 pieces of packing tape as a poor man’s lamination system.

I have used packing tape instead of glue on several very small delicate bristol board models. The tape works nicely as a hinge.

 

 

 

Picture of Double sided tape for Architecture model building

Double sided Tape

Double-sided tape is an alternative to spray mount or glue. It applies like normal tape and then after it is applied to the first surface, you can unpeel it to expose the second side of the adhesive.

Many years ago I met an architect who uses mostly double-sided tape to build his beautiful models. He swore by the stuff and he had 10 different types of double-sided tape he used to build models. He got me hooked and I actually use this double-sided tape more then white glue.

Pros

  • Really strong.
  • Clean
  • You can cut it to the size you need.

Cons

  • Can be slower than just using glue.

Applications

Sometimes I build models out of chipboard and then cover them with a nice construction paper material. I use double-sided tape to adhere the paper to the model. It’s significantly cleaner then spray mount and allows me to apply it much more precise.

 

 

3m double sided tape

Marshmallow Double Sided Tape

This double-sided tape is really strong stuff. I don’t use it very often but when I do it’s always a life saver.

Pros

  • Really really strong

Cons

  • A pain in the ass to remove, after it’s been on a surface for a long time.

Applications

I use this tape to prevent things from moving around when I don’t want them to.

 

 

 

Picture of duct tape for Architecture model building

3M Duct tape

If you ever buy duct tape make sure you get 3M duct tape. Everything else is garbage duct tape. 3M tape is much more water-resistant and just a better quality all around.

Pros

  • Strong
  • Lasts a long time.

Cons

  • Ugly
  • Adhesive turns into a sloppy mess with time

 Applications

Taping ducts, I guess… I have never taped a duct, so I don’t know.

Duct tape is the rednecks answer to solve any problem.

I actually have more useful experiences using duct tape while I’m backpacking and bike touring. I’ve used it fix broken tent poles, hold my tent down to concrete and even put duct tape on my feet to stop my hiking boots from giving me blisters.

 

What am I forgetting?

I am ending this blog post on duct tape. I was told I should include gorilla tape and aluminum foil tape but I have never used those tapes and don’t really have anything I could share about them.

What tape or glue do you normally use for architecture and model building that I am not including in this list? Please let me know in the comments below.

It’s not that hard to build a great architecture model.  Using the right adhesive plays a really important role.

I hope I was able to shed some light onto what glue you should be using. There’s a lot of stuff out there but you should try them all out and figure out what works for you.

 

 

 

 

About the author

Michael Riscica

Michael Riscica is a Licensed Architect who lives in beautiful Portland, Oregon, with his Labrador Retriever. He is passionate about helping Young Architects change the world. In his free time, Michael likes to take very long bicycle rides across America. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Linked In.

    Michael Riscica - October 23, 2014

    YES!! Thanks for the information. Good to know! I have only used the stuff i posted about. Wish i knew about the Super Gold+ when I was in school. I used Cyanoacrylate once to build a model of broken glass once and it worked great but definately made the glass foggy.

K Ellert - February 9, 2015

Do you have any frustrations with the new Sobo formula(s)? I’ve been using it for years, and I’ve found over the past 5 years the formula has been changing… first it got brittle and had a blue tint to it when wet, then I got a bottle that was super runny. The last two bottles I have purchase have been so thick I could barely squeeze it out of the bottle. I’m currently cutting it with a little Glue-All to make it flow better. Do you have a suggestion for a better/comparable glue? I make mostly set models, so I’m mostly working in paper and bass.

    Michael Riscica - February 9, 2015

    Wow, no I havent. Thats the first time I have heard this… Have you tried buying it from a different source?

      K Ellert - February 9, 2015

      Yes, I’ve bought it from several different Dick Blicks and a Hobby Lobby, From NY to MN to IL, months apart. I did contact the manufacturer after the first time I noticed a change… they said they’d send me a new bottle, but wouldn’t admit to a formula change. I never received the bottle… I’ve kind of given up on it getting better, so I’ve been looking for a replacement.

        Jodi D - April 4, 2016

        Just stumbled across this–I had the same maddening frustration with the new Sobo formula; swore by it in undergrad and sometime between then and coming back to school they changed to a Chinese manufacturer. I thought it was a fluke, bought another bottle, and it was terrible as well. While nothing I’ve found has matched my first love, the Elmer’s CraftBond tacky glue works pretty well. RIP Original Sobo :(

Janine - August 14, 2015

Hi…thanks so much for taking the time to put this together & sharing! I’m not an architect, but I set up & repair guitars. I always welcome finding new info on glues & tapes. Leaving no residue when taping a fret board is critical – I always use drafting tape on fret boards. I might add that there are a variety of painters tapes that offer different adhesion strengths & different lengths of time that they may may be left on for & still removed cleanly. Thanks again! Janine

Clare - September 22, 2015

As an architect who’s hopped the fence into theater set design I’d like to suggest gaf (or gaffer’s) tape. Wonderful stuff! It hold better and longer than duct tape and, because it has a cotton cloth face, is more easily removed in one piece. It’s best quality though is that it takes paint. It’s routinely used on stage to cover stuff like electrical cords and then painted – lasting for weeks of abuse. Perfect in model-making for use as hinges or in painted models.

Great webpage, thanks!

Steven Sylvester - February 2, 2016

“Krazy glue or Zap-A-Gap isn’t that great for building architecture models, in fact it’s all crap”

Just wondered how your opinion on the above is so at odds with the vast majority of users who swear by ZAP products?

    Michael Riscica - February 2, 2016

    It will bleed on paper materials and leave ugly stains everywhere you use it. Try using Cyanoacrylate and you will see how it is far superior of a product.

Fred Doane - May 27, 2016

It is nice to see that 25 years after receiving my degree in Architecture that, with rare exception, the same tools still get the job done. I have enjoyed reading your blog. Even the older people in the profession can benefit from reading it. Great energy and enthusiasm. Keep up the great work.

Bryan Acomb - June 28, 2016

FYI:
Zap-A-Gap and Maxi-Cure (as well as Krazy Glue, etc.) are all Cyanoacrylate – specifically Ethyl-2-Cyanoacrylate + Polymethyl Methacrylate according to their Safety Data Sheets. The exact same ingredients in perhaps a different formulation. When you list “Cyanoacrylate” above you are specifically speaking of Maxi-cure.

    Shalan - July 29, 2016

    True. Zap and Krazy Glues are both CA (cyanoacrylate). There are lots of brands that make CA glue in lots of varieties, almost always labeled “Super Glue” (though “Super Glue” is a specific brand name as well). The picture in the article is of BSI’s Insta-Cure+, which is a little thicker than standard super glue. (Maxi-cure is even thicker, from what I’ve read.)

    It’s good to know BSI’s glues don’t stain! Earlier someone mention that BSI Super Gold+ is odorless! That’s also incredible. Looks like these BSI glues are even cheaper than lots of competitors, I’ll definitely have to check them out. Thanks!

Bee - July 7, 2016

What do you use to glue Acetate or perspex? I have just started model making and found contact adhesive is strong enough but annoyingly its very yellow colours no matter how sparingly its used.

Grobinski - August 22, 2016

Acrylic and some other plastics can be welded to itself with methylene chloride or a commercial product like weld-on 3. Epoxy is an exothermic reaction and actually not that toxic, it stinks but it won’t kill you, it also won’t glue “everything” together (any metal, glass, many plastics can be a bear to glue). I would add ATG tape which is adhesive film or double-sided tape that goes in a dispenser gun and also transfer films that are double sided adhesives that come in wide rolls. WeldBond glue is a favorite of competitive balsa bridge builders, Aleene’s Tacky Glue may be a good substitute for Sobo if it has really changed.

Mark - November 28, 2016

Zap-A-Gap does wonders with plastic though.

Linda Raffel - December 7, 2016

Thanks for the glue reviews!
I have found Aleene.s tacky glues to be great for wood to wood, wood to matboard-
dries fairly clear and lasts a long time.

Not an architect. Make art out of driftwood.

scarlet koon - January 1, 2017

Hi, thanks for sharing about the different types of glues and tapes. I’ve just finished my second semester and i could really benefit from the info you mentioned here. I was wondering if you have heard of UHU glue? This is the glue that everyone in my school uses because it’s all purpose and it’s clear. I was wondering what is your take on UHU glue? Thanks.

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