Wallpapering Technique Made Simple

Before you start papering, make sure you have all the equipment you need and that you have plenty of space in which to work.

Wallpapering equipment

Pasting table A fold-away pasting table is a good investment. It saves having to provide a makeshift surface or borrowing the kitchen table for pasting wallpaper. Measuring about 2m long by about 600mm wide, it can also be used as a general worktable for matching patterns and marking and cutting lengths of paper. Inexpensive and easy to store, it will last a lifetime of wallpapering jobs.

Paste bucket Any clean bucket will do. Paste brush A 100 or 125mm wide paint brush is suitable. An old brush is often best since it will not shed loose bristles when pasting.

Hanging brush Use for smoothing wallpaper on to the wall.

Shears A proper pair of wallpaper shears, about 250mm long, are needed to cut accurate, long straight lines when trimming paper to a neat fit. A pair of normal household scissors are not a good substitute though a sharp pair is useful when cutting the paper to fit around light switches, fireplaces and other intricate features. Knife A sharp handyman’s knife is useful, especially for trimming vinyls.

Plumb bob Wallpaper must be hung vertically. This means having to mark a guide line on the wall. This is done by suspending a chalked plumb bob down the wall then snapping a chalk line impression on to the wall. A long, 1m spirit level which gives a vertical reading is a good alternative.

Pencil For marking out cutting lines.

Folding boxwood rule A 600mm or 1m folding rule is ideal for measuring and marking the paper. A steel tape is a useful alternative.

Wooden seam roller Not essential but useful for smoothing the edges of the paper firmly to the wall. Never use it on papers which have a raised texture which would be flattened by the pressure.

Paste Buy the correct paste for the wallpaper being used. Standard paste is used for normal wallpaper; heavy-duty type is used for thick paper; for vinyls a paste containing a fungicide is needed. Universal pastes which can be mixed with differing amounts of water are available. These cover a variety of wallpaper types.

Size Before ordinary wallpaper is hung on bare plaster the wall should be sized. This helps ensure that the paper will stick to the wall properly. Size also makes the wall more slippery so the paper slides into position more easily. Size can be made from many normal wallpaper pastes — check the instructions.

Scraper For removing old paper.

Lining paper Thin, white paper sold in rolls. It is used to cover cracked walls or below heavy and expensive wallcoverings; without it any imperfections in the wall would show through the wallcovering.

As a good general rule always take the utmost care to keep your equipment in the very best condition. After using, wash, clean and rub dry the tools; carefully pack away unused paste and store in a dry, clean cupboard. Sometimes it may be worthwhile to repackage powdered adhesives into a well sealed jar.

Paper stripping

Always strip off any existing paper. This can be simple or tough work. Some modern wallcoverings can be removed simply by loosening the bottom edge from the wall and pulling upwards to leave a thin, white backing paper on the wall. If this is soundly fixed over the complete wall and none of its edges are overlapping then it can be left in place and papered over. If not it should be stripped off. Some clean-strip wallcoverings can be similarly removed.

Occasionally an ordinary paper is found which can be pulled away in large sheets leaving only isolated patches still sticking in place. In cases like these a weak paste or perhaps a damp wall will have made the paper so easily removable.

Normal papers which are firmly adhering are removed by soaking with hot water and then by scraping. A little household detergent added to the water can help.

Washable papers are usually difficult to remove. The surface must first be broken down to allow the water to soak through. Score the surface with a wire brush or even an old piece of hacksaw blade, then soak thoroughly and scrape the paper off. If the going is really tough and a large area is involved then, as a last resort, a steam stripping machine could be obtained from a local hire shop. This machine will enable you to remove several layers of old paper.

Faced with a bare wall, go over the surface with coarse glasspaper wrapped around a wood block to remove any remaining nibs of paper. Then wash the wall with hot water to clear all traces of the old paste.

Preparing to hang paper

Normally wallpaper is hung starting near a window or on the wall which is adjacent to the window wall. Successive lengths are then hung working away from the window light. This is done so that, should the edges of two lengths be overlapped slightly, a shadow will not be cast which would make the error more noticeable.

The first length of paper must be hung vertically — this ensures that the following lengths will also be vertical. Hold the roll of paper in place and make a mark at the top of the wall 12mm in from the edge of the roll. This ensures that 12mm of the paper will be turned on to the window wall.

Suspend the plumb bob from the top of the wall and smear the string with chalk. Allow the string to stop swinging then press it against the skirting board; with the other hand, snap the string against the wall to leave a chalk mark. Use a pencil and a straight-edge to mark a more definite line through the chalk. If the wall is flat, a long spirit level can be used to mark verticals.

Should a fairly large pattern motif be used then it is important to centralise it on the chimney breast. In this case draw the vertical guide line on the breast and start papering at that point, working backwards to the window.

Fill any cracks or holes with a cellulose filler and a filling knife. If a smooth finish can’t be obtained then leave the filler proud of the surface, let it harden and rub it smooth with glasspaper.

Next brush size all over the wall. Mix up the powder with water following the instructions on the packet closely.

Finally, where the walls are crazed or in a generally poor state, though structurally sound, hang lining paper. This is used in the same way as normal wallpaper except that it must be hung horizontally on the wall. The edges of each piece must be butted up closely (never overlapped) and the ends cut tightly into the corners of the walls. In extreme cases cross-lining is needed to get a smooth surface. This means having to hang two layers of lining paper — the first vertically and the second horizontally.

Hang lining paper with the same paste as that used for the final wallcovering.

When buying wallcoverings you must always ensure that the batch number on each roll is the same but it is still a good idea to unravel a metre or two of paper from several rolls and take them into a good light so that a check can be made to ensure there is no colour variation in the pattern from roll to roll. If there is a slight difference in one roll then keep this for hanging on a separate wall so that the variation will not be apparent.

Cut the first length of paper 100mm longer than needed to allow for a 50mm excess at the top and bottom of the wall. Place the paper on the paste table positioning it so that the top edge and one side overlaps the table by about 3mm. Having pasted the overlapping edges the paper can be repositioned so that the unpasted edge overlaps the table.

First paste a wide band down the middle of the paper and then brush outwards to the edges in herring-bone fashion. When half the length has been pasted, fold over the top edge to the centre line. The other half of the length can then be pasted and its top edge folded to meet the other one in the middle.

Thin papers and vinyls can be hung immediately after pasting. Medium weight papers should be left for a few minutes for the paste to soak in well. Heavy papers must be left to soak for up to ten minutes before you hang them.


Hold the paper to the wall and unpeel the top half. Position its edge against the marked pencil line. Make sure that 50mm of paper is extended on to the ceiling. It’s a good idea to turn under the top edge (paste side to paste side) to prevent paste smearing on to the ceiling. Ensure that this first half is aligned exactly with the pencil line.

Using the wallpaper brush, smooth down the middle of the paper and then brush outwards to the edges. This prevents air being trapped under the paper. When the top half is smoothed in place unpeel the lower half and brush this out as before. If the top half was aligned perfectly with the pencil line the lower half will automatically follow it. The 12mm margin should then be brushed tightly into the corner and smoothed on to the window wall.

Now return to the top edge. Run the back of the scissors into the angle of the ceiling and wall to leave a crease line across the paper. Pull the edge away from the wall, cut along the crease line, then brush the paper back into place. Repeat this at the skirting.

The first length of paper is critical; if it is not vertical then problems will start to accumulate with successive lengths. The pattern will be misaligned and edges of lengths will start to overlap. So if the top half of the paper wanders away from the vertical, peel it off and reposition it.

Check that paste has not got on to the face of the paper. If it has then wipe it off with a clean sponge and water. Also remove any paste which gets on to the ceiling or skirting before it dries.

Before cutting out the next length, offer up the roll and check with the first length where the pattern matches — and make sure to allow a 50mm excess at the top for final trimming. With more experience, pattern matching of lengths can be tackled on the paste table.

With some patterns, the amount of wasted paper can be alarming. It is often more economical to work from two rolls at once to minimise wastage.

The second and subsequent lengths are hung in exactly the same way. Position the top edge closely against the edge of the first length and align the pattern. Make sure, on brushing out, that the edges butt up closely all the way down.

When two lengths are hung and the paste is nearly dry, run the seam roller down the joint to press down the edges. Continue hanging lengths on the wall until the last full-width piece has been brushed in place.