Super-Strong Paper Mache that Dries Really Fast

Need a strong, lightweight mask that dries quickly?

Here’s a way to make super-strong paper mache that only needs one layer – and it dries in 12 hours or less.

But yeah, it’s expensive — so only use this method if you need a mask that’s almost indestructible, or if you need to get it done from start to finish in two days or less.

The Titebond III glue is perfect for this project. Unfortunately, my local hardware store only carries tiny bottles of it, and I have many more patterns to design for the Lion King characters. It would cost too much to pay for the little bottles.

So I ordered my glue online from amazon.com — the larger bottles are a much better value than the small ones. If you live near one of the big DIY stores, they’ll have this glue in stock in the bigger containers. My 32 oz bottle cost about $15, and I think it will be enough for four lion headdress masks.

When I have all the patterns done for the lions from the Lion King play I’ll put a link to them here. In the meantime, if you’d like to make one of the animal sculptures that are on the wall behind me in the video, you can find the patterns here.

But do remember …

Strong paper mache that dries fast.

The Titebond III glue is very strong, so use a throw-away container. I ruined one of my bowls by letting the glue dry in it overnight. I couldn’t get it out, no matter how hard I scrubbed. I just made a temporary bowl out of an old yogurt container

Why Titebond III instead of Elmer’s?

Using Titebond III glue for paper mache

Titebond III grabs onto the paper instead of letting it slide around, and in my experience it dries faster than Elmer’s Wood Glue. I tried them both, but the Titebond product worked much better for me. It is expensive, I know. But for a project like this, where you really need the mask to hold up even under a bit of abuse, it’s worth the extra cost.

Mix a small amount of water with the glue..

Mixing water with Titebond 3 glue for paper mache.

You only need enough water to make the glue thin enough to brush. You don’t want it so wet that it will saturate the cardboard. If you’re using it over another kind of armature, you’ll still want to have more glue than water in the mix, to get the strongest bond.

Brush on the glue…

Brushing the glue onto the paper mache lion mask.

OK, I admit that I gave up on the brush after I’d been working for about an hour, but the brush will help you apply only as much glue as you really need.

It really helps if you put one hand on the inside of your mask, to support the cardboard when you press down on the glued paper. To see some tips on applying paper mache strips and paste smoothly, click here.

Let the paper mache dry overnight…

Paper mache lion mask drying overnight.

I put my mask on a piece of waxed paper and let it dry overnight. You can see that I didn’t put paper mache on the inside of my mask’s cap, because I didn’t think it would be needed. For a normal face mask, you might want to put paper mache on both the inside and outside of the mask, to make sure it’s nice and strong.

It’s ready to paint after drying overnight …

Paper mache lion king mask before painting.

As you saw in the video, one area inside an ear was still damp the next morning. The glue was applied too thickly, and it pooled in the ear while it sat upside down. It’s a good idea to look over the wet mask and use a paper towel to remove any excess glue, so the entire mask will dry at the same time.

The mask cap is still flexible, but every seam is reinforced with the strong glue and paper. This mask should hold up well, even when worn by middle-school kids during rehearsals and during the Lion King play.

All it needs now is a coat of spray primer, some acrylic paint, and the mane. I’ll use the raffia table skirt, like I did for the wall mask in the video behind me.

If you’ve used wood glue with paper mache before, please let us know about your experiences with it. Did you like it? And if you have any ideas for other projects that would benefit from this method, please tell us about them.

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Super-strong fast-drying paper mache.

31 thoughts on “Super-Strong Paper Mache that Dries Really Fast”

  1. I have been making Pumpkinhead masks for my “Great Pumpkin” halloween costume for 27 years. This years’ is my first using blue shop towels – so far so good, more layers to come, I am on my first drying. I am using Titebond 2 and water as my glue/paste. Because blue shop towels are very absorbent I made my glue to water ratio 1-part Titebond 2 to 2-parts water. The extra water helps to saturate the blue shop towels which gives the long term benefit of saturating the paper fibers with glue to make a strong shell. A higher water to glue ratio does mean longer drying times. With Halloween is 7 weeks away I have plenty time for extended drying times and finishing. I build canoes and kayaks using Titebond 2 and Titebond 3. I find is Titebond 2 is properly finished with a good coat of sealant (poly varnish, spray-on plastic, etc.) it has equal longevity in wet environments. I have worked with paper, dacron, fiberglass, and canvas. The most important aspect is to make sure ALL the fibers are as saturated with adhesive even if that means thinning out the adhesives which in turn always leads to longer drying times. I also make kites using coated tissue paper. It’s all great stuff. Enjoy Halloween by showing your inner characters.

    • Thanks, Jim! This is great – do you mean that if you use the Titebond 2 and really saturate the shop towels, they can stand up to the weather for long periods of time? Like permanently outside? If so, that would be great news.

      • No, no, no, no…… Titebond 2 and 3 are adhesives, not sealants. Adhesives and sealants work differently.

        Adhesives/glues are made to joining things together. Simple paper mache paste uses the stickiness/starch of flour, wallpaper paste is essentially a mix of flour and chemicals, and many other good combinations of adhesives are presented here by our Host Jonni. Generally, glues are not waterproof or make good waterproofing.

        If you visit the Titebond website or search woodworking websites for Titebond information you quickly learn Titebond 3 was formulated to more water resistant than Titebond 2, but it still not waterproof.

        I encounter many people confuse the difference between water resistant and waterproof. Anything water resistant may still be/become susceptible to the effects of moisture. Anything waterproof is sealed to keep moisture out.

        They only adhesive I work with that can saturate blue shop towels and make it waterproof is epoxy. While epoxy is great at joining together wood fibers, paper fibers, and fiberglass, epoxy is expensive, not great for the environment, and can be deadly toxic if not handled properly.

        Choice of adhesive can be a personal choice, economic choice, project-driven choice, desired longevity of your work, or any number of other variables.

        There are soo many sealants you can use to weather-proof your projects. The choice may by taunting because there are so many. The choice is project dependent. Polyurethane sealants [marine varnish] are great, dry fast, dry clear, and have different finishes – matte, gloss, semi-gloss. Exterior grade oil-based paints are fantistic, dry to a hard finish, and provide a wide pallet of color and finish choices.

        Moisture/water dissolves glues, breaks down organic fibers/cellulose, and promotes growth of mold and mildew. All bad things for ,most projects.

        The bottom line here is if you want a project which will last a long time outdoors you need to make/build it with as many water-resistant materials and adhesives as possible, then you need to seal your project with a waterproofing sealant.

        • Jim, thank you so much for your reply. We receive so many requests for a waterproof coating so paper-based product can stay outside, and I haven’t found any that work indefinitely. A good marine varnish will protect wood, but a pinhole or cracks from the sun allow water in to destroy a paper mache sculpture. I guess I’ll stick with epoxy clay for outdoor projects, over foil armatures instead of paper.

          • Jonni, paper-based anything and moisture do not go together well. I have had great success making cosplay helmets for my friends children using paper/fiber-based structures coated (smoothed) with a flexible and moisture resistant bathroom tile grout (a paste you can get at Home Depot) coated with Flex Seal, a spray-on rubber material. Krylon coats the rubber material really well and they have a vibrant pallet of colors. The helmets have lasted years and they have seen a lot of abuse/use from the kids.

            Flex Seal comes in black and clear, as a spray-on or brush on SEALANT. I will be using Flex Seal Clear (see image) on my current Pumpkin Head (only because it was given to me by someone who bought too much). My sequence of build materials usually goes like this: first a structure of a rubber, felt, cloth, or paper material to form the shape of the project; the second layer is the flexible bathroom grout to smooth-out the project (sometimes a silicone product); the third layer is the spray-on rubber material; and, the final layer is Krylon.

            While planning/thinking about paper-based project longevity we have to keep in mind paper is a wood product. Trees get cut and they go to a sawmill. The sawmill makes lumber and other wood products. The waste/leftover wood is ground up, cooked, etc., and squished really hard to press the tiny leftover wood fibers into paper products we use for our projects.

            We also need to remember chemical and biological processes decay/break-down wood (celulose). Moisture promotes both the chemical and biological processes and with more moisture these process speed up. Hence the need/want to waterproof our projects so they last longer outdoors.

            I have learned through life the perfect answer to any question is “it depends” because often there are so many variables to consider before figuring out the right answer. So to answer the question “what is the best waterproofing”, “it depends”, and the best way to figure out that puzzle is to experiment and share with others what we find works best (knowing that what works best for one project may not work well for another).

            Be creative, think outside the box. build/make, and share! Collectively we can find an answer.

            • Hi Jim. Several of our readers have shared guest posts showing us how they sealed their outdoor sculptures with Flex Seal, and for them it seems to be working well. But when Susan put her wolf outside with three coats of Flex Seal, she said it got mushy and had to be brought back inside. Perhaps it was because she used the spray cans instead of brush-on. Or perhaps she needed to add the Krylon and outdoor latex paint on top of the Flex Seal.

              By the way, do you happen to have a website where you share your work?

    • Jonni,

      Unfortunately, I no longer have a website or blog to show my work. I find posting about my work takes away from my time to actually work on them. I do post my projects on Facebook, but only sporadically.

      Attached is a photo of a big needed-to-be-waterproof project, my most recent kayak. The boat is skin on frame construction – not all that different than some paper mache projects [armature, cover, coating) You will see a wood frame (Home Depot plywood coated with 2-part epoxy and glued together with Titebond 3). The skin is untreated dacron (canvas works well too). Dacron has heat shrink properties that canvas does not which makes for a smoother finished skin. The skin is waterproofed with…… Home Depot exterior grade oil-based paint.

      I coat my paper-machete helmets on the inside and outside thereby leaving no paper surface unsealed. Think of it as the paper mache is sandwiched in rubber. As for the “fox” you referred to, I suspect the interior may not have been coat as moisture can saturate the fiber/paper from both inside and out. I would be curious to know if that were the case.

      My Star Wars Kylo Ren helmet is posted on the internet somewhere. I will post it to your blog when I find it. The helmet is going on its fourth Halloween and as well as throughout the years.

      I like to keep an arsenal/toolbox of assorted media, adhesives, and sealants. As each project is different, the tools and material differ too. I really like experimenting with the new, combining with the old, and learning from my successes (there have been a bunch of mistakes along the way………..likely more failures than success, but that’s how I learn).

  2. Hello! Would it work to apply the titebondvto a finished -mâché project to make it water resistant after it’s already been painted or would that destroy the appearance?

    • I don’t know the answer to that. The glue is not intended to be a waterproofing product, and it does not dry clear. You might want to consider using marine varnish instead, or any clear varnish intended for outdoor use. It won’t permanently waterproof paper mache, but it will get it through a few days outside.

  3. Hello!
    Can you use joint compound directly over this paper mache or should you always do paper mache clay first? I’m making several pieces and need them strong but smooth. Thank you!

    • Hi Brittany. You can use a thin layer of joint compound over paper strips and paste to make it smooth. If the items need to remain slightly flexible, like a mask, be sure to put an acrylic gesso over the drywall joint compound. When used in a very thin layer, it may crack when flexed. Watch this video, if you haven’t already. It works the same with paper mache clay and paper strips and paste.

  4. I am working on some birds that will be hung from the ceiling. I thought it would be a good idea to try the Titebond III with blue shop towels on the wings so they would be light in weight and thin. I also added wire for the vanes on the feathers and I wanted the “vanes” to be visible. So far it seems to be working well. The feathers are not rock hard but probably stiff enough for my purposes. Would another layer of Titebond make then stiffer?

    • Hi Kelly. I haven’t used the wood glue with shop towels, but I know that when I use the joint compound and glue mixture with the shop towels they stay floppy unless the paper is completely saturated. That may be true with wood glue, too.

  5. Sorry Jonni this is about clay NOT glue…….we made your favorite FLOUR clay but used TALC instead of flour…………..it’s wonderful!
    No more mold………..hooray!

    • HI! I am an art consultant looking to partner with a paper mache artist on a project for a hotel. I would like to chat with you and, per your instructions, connection with you here in comments is better than an email. Please email me at your earliest convenience! Thank you!

      • Thanks for asking, but I don’t have time to do any commission work, so I won’t be able to help you with it. You might want to contact someone in the art department of your local university – they might know of someone who would be able to help you.

        Good luck with your project! And be sure to post the results on my blog – it sounds like the kind of project that would be exciting to see when it’s finished.

  6. P.S. The blob was built up with aluminum foil. Then your paper mache clay was used. For last year’s test, I used a thin cover of either exterior acquadere or Titebond 3. That was covered with bitumen.
    Barry

    • Ah – so the Titebond test has already been done by you, and it didn’t work, even when covered with the bitumin. Dang.

      These people cover their giant pumpkins with flexible tile mortar, like the ‘thin set’ product that Jackie used on her outdoor sculpture, and that Dan used for his fish. We haven’t received updates from either one of them, and we don’t know how long those big pumpkins held up, either. But maybe the thin set over a crumpled foil armature, without any paper at all, would hold up well enough for long-term outdoor use. The pumpkin people start with foam and then cover it with plaster, and then the thin set. Maybe the mortar won’t stick to foam. Or maybe it needs a more solid base to keep it from cracking. For those of us who don’t live in Australia and can’t get the product you used for your latest experiment. If you think it’s worth a try, I have a giant rabbit I’ve been thinking about making to hide under my rose hedge. What do you think?

  7. Jonni
    Last year, I covered a head (blob) with bitumen and dropped it into a pail of water. After a week, it started to soften. Last week, I covered the head with Selley’s Durabond. It was recommended to me at a hardware shop for an outdoor wood sculpture. I applied one coating of Durabond to the head. From the piccy, you can see some places are white where it made a thickish covering. Other places are black where the bitumen shows through. I dropped that into my bucket and 8 days later took it out. The white pieces remained hard as rock. The black areas are softer. So Durabond is a possible answer to waterproofing. 460ml costs $30 in Aus. I don’t know what area it would cover.

    N.B: Wear gloves if used.

    • Hi Barry. This is a great experiment. The Durabond sold here is a powdered drywall joint compound, and that isn’t at all the same as the Selley’s Durabond that you used. When I did a search to see if your product is available here, I found an article that says Titebond III would be a reasonable substitute in the US. Dan Reeder used wood glue with his cloth mache for an outdoor dragon, so maybe that is the answer. I have some Titebond III, so I’ll do an experiment like yours and see if I get the same results. What was your original ‘blob’ made with? Is it traditional paper strips and paste?

  8. Well we have 1 more performance of Lion King to go.We did it!5 Paper mache masks ,5 plastic molds paper mache wall Paste on outside to be smooth.The glue I used was regular Elmers.They were mounted on the head hat to head connection.The Lioness mask were affixed to modified ball caps.Pic of main character masks.

  9. Jonni
    I think I put a post here last year using Titebond III on alumium foil together with your paper mache clay. A ball dropped in a bucket of water lasted a week before staring to soften. I’ve just discovered a glue called Durabond. I’m using it for an outdoor wood sculpture. I’m thinking it’s time for another paper mache clay experiment.

    P.S: If you try Durabond, always wear gloves. I haven’t found a solvent to remove it.

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