How to Make Paper Mache Smooth

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Sculptures made with traditional paper strips and paste are sometimes bumpy because of the underlying armature. This is especially true when you make armatures with crumpled paper and masking tape, like I often do.

In the video below I give you several ideas that you can use to make your sculptures smooth.

Make sure you also watch my newer video about making paper mache clay smooth. It’s the same idea (but a better video). Basically, just skip all the products mentioned on this page and use drywall joint compound, instead.

And watch this video to see 5 tips that help you apply paper strips and paste so they’re smooth, right from the start.

Some roughness or bumpiness might be exactly what you need for your next paper mache sculpture.

In fact, the signature ‘look’ of paper strips and paste can even add some interesting character to the piece. But some sculptures need a smoother surface to paint.

You can find all the recipes I mentioned in the video in the Recipes page. There’s a link to it at the top of every page.

The bumpiness of traditional paper strips and paste is one reason why I developed the paper mache clay recipe about nine years ago, but even if you don’t use the paper mache clay recipe you can still get your sculpture as smooth as you want it.

Before you begin adding the paper strips:

The paper will lie down smoother if you tear the paper instead of cutting it. The type of paper is also important – some paper is too stiff to form itself to the shapes of your armature. Newspaper and the paper that’s used for phone books both work really well. The heavy brown paper from paper bags can also work if you use enough paste – the water in the paste will soften the paper. Most magazine paper is too stiff.

A light touch might be all you need …

To make traditional paper strips and paste smoother, often all you need to do is use very fine sandpaper to smooth the edges of the paper strips. This will also help if you use raw flour and water paste, which leaves tiny bumps of dried paste on the surface of your sculpture.

Products you can use to fill in dips and smooth the skin on your sculpture.

Some people like wood filler. I personally like it for wood, but it dries out fast if you don’t get the lid on really tight, so I don’t use it with paper mache. Also, the containers available in my local store are really small, although they do have larger containers available on amazon.com. You need to be careful when choosing a wood filler, if you decide to try it.

Some people suggest using Bondo. The Bondo company also makes wood filler, but the product I’m talking about here is the epoxy putty made for auto body repair. It dries really hard, and fast.

If I wanted to use an epoxy product I’d use Apoxy Sculpt or one of the other epoxy clays that were developed for sculptors. They give you much more time to work. But that’s still not my preferred way to make paper mache smoother.

What questions do you have about paper mache?

Be sure to ask them in the comment section below.

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9 thoughts on “How to Make Paper Mache Smooth”

  1. Hi,Iam making a pair of 5’tall cowboy boots for a float,my question is do you think your method using the wood glue will work?Hoping you can give me some pointers.

    • I can’t see why it wouldn’t work. Unless you want to apply paper strips directly over chicken wire. I don’t know of anything that will stick to the wire or not fall through. What are you using to make your armature?

  2. Hi Jonni
    I think one of the things I didn’t like about my recent Tiny Great Dane figure was the texture of the surface of the paper mache . Maybe I’d made the paste too thick..with too much flour because the result was a grainy texture which I should have sanded but didn’t..instead I used acrylic gesso to try to smooth it out!
    I guess the answer is to use a thinner paste and buy some sandpaper!

    • Hi Dru. The photo didn’t come through. Did you try editing it to make the file size smaller? And one possible idea for next time – if you use the cooked flour and water paste instead of the raw recipe, you won’t get the grainy texture. You can find that recipe in the Art Library. It’s also in the free 5 Best Recipes for Paper Mache booklet. (And as a spoiler, I got to see Dru’s Great Dane, and it came out really nice. :) )

  3. Are you asking if I would do a guest post on getting a smooth finish on an already super smooth clay? You already handle that quite nicely in all your videos and tutorials. Let me think on the subject of tutorials in general and see if there is something I do that hasn’t been thoroughly covered. After all, I basically have learned it all from you with the possible exception of what I learned from making mistakes! I will get back to you.

  4. Jonni-you never mentioned your smooth air dry clay! I noticed that you also omitted that recipe in your five fast recipes pdf. Are you off the recipe? I used your two clay recipes at a 50/50 ratio, sometimes using both in one project.
    I wanted to ask you if I could include your pdf as a reference for my paper mache class?
    Lastly, Rex! Congratulations on a fine accomplishment! I can’t wait to order it and read! With your sense of humor and positive outlook on life, it is sure to be a good read like Jonni said. I will let you know after I read it just how much I love it. Again, congratulations!

    • Hi Eileen. No, I’m not “off the air dry clay recipe.” I just wanted to concentrate on making paper strips and paste smoother in this video because that’s what most paper mache artists are still using. In fact, the vast majority of the thousands of people who come to this site every month are looking for a recipe for flour and water paste, so this video was for them. I also wanted to keep the videos in this series short. Maybe we need another “smoothing” post about sculptures made with paper mache clay. (That might be a hard video for me to do, because I really like the texture of the original recipe. Would you like to write another guest post? :) )

      You are certainly welcome to use the new recipe PDF for your classes! I think that would be great.


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