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Super-Strong Paper Mache that Dries Really Fast

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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.

That’s why I recommend using wood glue for all of my Lion King headdress mask patterns. The Titebond III glue is perfect for masks and props.

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.

If you’re just starting with your first paper mache project, you might also want to read my new post “how to make paper mache in 5 steps.”

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 a raffia table skirt  for the mane on the adult male lions, like the mane I put on the lion wall mask behind me in my videos.

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.

Scar headdress mask
Scar, a Lion King Mask made with my pattern, TiteBond III Wood Glue and brown paper.

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

  1. Hey! As an art student with an very time-limiting examination soon (only 5 hours to work…) I was wondering if you could recomend any materials, somewhat similar to paper mache, that I could use. It has to be something that dries very quickly – like 3 hours maximum – and is strong enough to stay in shape. At the moment I would like to I would like to cover a canvas with folded chicken wire and then cover the wire structure with this myserious material (which I will paint on top of) to make my piece 3D (simulating an wrinkeled bedsheet). I am curious if you have any tips! Thanks for this post, it has been helping me a lot!

    Reply
    • The fastest-drying form of paper mache is to use Titebond III wood glue with torn strips of paper. You’ll need to use just one layer, and put it in front of a fan to get it to dry that fast. Or you could skip the paper mache and use masking tape, like I did for the 3-hour wolf mask – but be sure to use a brand of tape that will not curl up on the corners. Good luck! 🙂

      Reply
  2. I saw this post a good while back. Maybe 2 or more years ago. I’ve used the titebond to paper mache/decoupage for the skin over a full size plastic halloween skeleton. When dried it looks just like mummy flesh. I’ve made trees with and it looks amazingly just like tree bark. And it’s rock hard like a simpler cheaper epoxy. Its like a hard plastic. I’ve also used tissue paper and even craft paper! Which I made the sarcophagus. Thanks for the great tip. I’ve taken your idea and ran with it to great success.

    Reply
  3. hi jonni – thanks for the site and all the great tips.

    i have a question – do you think strips using titebond would stick to leather without using plastic wrap as a barrier? i want to use an old pair of leather shoes as a form.

    thanks!

    dave

    Reply
      • hi – no i was going to take the paper mache shell off and paint it. i made one using a cow skull but i did cover that with plastic wrap. i used tissue paper – the kind you wrap presents with – and it worked really well as far as picking up details.

        thanks

        Reply
  4. Hello!
    I’m thinking about making a special gift for an olympic athlete: a bag modelled after an ancient lifting stone (Bybon stone). Do you think I could make something out of paper mache durable enough, maybe using this method? It would be used a lot in his travels.

    Reply
    • I don’t think it would work, but I could be wrong. The bag would be constantly flexed, and I’m sure it would start to crackle and even tear apart. Wouldn’t canvas be a better option?

      Reply
  5. Do you think if using this method it would still release off a mold you use to make a shape? Like a balloon to make a circle? or turning a bowl upside down to make a half circle etc? Id love to do this but worried I’ll glue everything to the mold.

    Reply
    • Most things won’t stick to rubber, so the balloon would probably work – but I haven’t tried it. If you use a bowl, put some plastic wrap over the bowl first. Titebond III wood glue sticks really good to most things, so you could ruin the bowl if you don’t put plastic wrap down first.

      Reply
  6. Hello! I’m making a cloche type hat out of paper mache and was wondering if flour and water would be strong enough or if I should use this really strong recipe. I would prefer to not have to pay for the expensive glue, but I don’t know if flour and water would be strong enough for a piece to wear.

    Reply
    • Hi Olivia. You can use the flour and water paste, but you might want to use a couple of extra layers of paper strips. It won’t hold up for wearing every day, but for a special occasion or a costume, it should work just fine. Have fun! 🙂

      Reply
      • Hi Jonni! Your creations are so incredible! I cannot wait to dive into your paper mache animal book!

        I ordered the dragon mask pattern and I intend to share in this with a group of 10 older elementary students. We’re all going to make a mask together 🙂

        I intend to use the titebond III wood glue for the project. It just seems the most sturdy as well as the quickest for the students – considering this will most likely already be a three day project for them without mixing their own paste (although I bet they would love making the recipe as well!). Still, the titebond seems like the best option.

        Now, I was curious about the ratio of glue to water. I know you mentioned to have only a little bit of water. But do you by chance have a specific ratio I could teach the kiddos with? What should the consistency look and feel like? If we were to pour it into a 16 oz container – how much should the glue fill the container versus the water?

        I appreciate your time and help with this! Honestly, the community you have created with your creations is so inspiring! I am absolutely delighted by all that you share in!

        Thank you so much!

        Reply
        • Hi Jannelle. Lately, I have been skipping the water completely, and just use the glue straight out of the container. I can’t see any real difference in the final output, but if I had to guess, I wouldn’t use more than 10% water. I hope you and your students have a lot of fun making your dragons!

          Reply
  7. Hi Jonni,
    Question for you. I’m attaching a giraffe head to a bike helmet. I’ve covered the giraffe in masking tape. I’m planning to use duct tape to secure the giraffe head to the helmet. If I the cover the entire bike helmet in duct tape as well, do you think I could then cover the entire thing (the giraffe and helmet) with the super strong paper mache to make it cohesive?

    Reply
    • That’s an interesting question – and I’m not sure if I can answer it. I’ve never tried the wood glue over duct tape. The tape has a form of plastic on the back, I think, so it’s possible that it won’t hold. But I suspect that it probably will. You could test it by sticking a bit of tape on a scrap piece of cardboard, and then stick a piece of paper to it with the wood glue. Let it dry, and see how easy it is to pull off. If it doesn’t want to stick, you might need to cover the duct tape with masking tape. I don’t think the duct tape will add a lot of strength to the giraffe neck and head, so you might not want to cover anything except the connecting seam between the neck and helmet.

      Reply
  8. Hallo
    Mein Name lautet Manuela. Ich finde ihre Arbeiten ganz wundervoll? sie verwenden eine…
    vorgemischte Trockenbau-Fugenmasse..die ich hier in Deutschland nicht bekomme. Meine Fragen dazu sind: worauf muss ich achten wenn ich die Fugenmasse kaufen möchte?
    Welche Zutaten dürfen NICHT in dieser Fugenmasse enthalten sein?
    Es wäre sehr hilfreich wenn Sie mir das übersetzen könnten.
    Liebe Grüße Manuela
    aus Deutschland ?

    Reply
    • We’ve been told that drywall joint compound is called Fugenspachtel in German. The ingredient you don’t want is boron, but the labels rarely include all the ingredients in products made for the construction industry.

      Per Google translate: Uns wurde gesagt, dass die Trockenbau-Fugenmasse auf Deutsch Fugenspachtel heißt. Der Inhaltsstoff, den Sie nicht haben möchten, ist Bor, aber auf den Etiketten sind selten alle Inhaltsstoffe von Produkten aufgeführt, die für die Bauindustrie hergestellt werden.

      Reply
  9. Hi! Did you use paper strips dipped in the wood glue mixture or paint the paper strips on with the wood glue? Or did you simply paint the wood glue straight in your sculpture without using any paper strips? How heavy is it when it dries? I am making a fairly big project that needs to be hung. I would like to try this method but am curious if it would make my project too heavy. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Hi Leah. I dipped the paper strips in the glue, but you can use a paint brush to spread the glue on the sculpture first, and then stick the paper on. I think dipping is easier, but it’s a personal choice. You do need the paper, though. The final weight will depend on how many layers of paper mache you use. The glue itself adds very little weight. If the armature you’re using is strong enough, you might not need more than one layer if you’re using the wood glue, so it may be your lightest option.

      Reply

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