Duct Tape Saves The Day

It’s an old Southern standard-- if it moves and shouldn’t, duct tape; if it doesn’t move and it should—WD-40.

These days, duct tape has more versatility than nearly any product made. You can’t be without a roll of it around the house, in the shop or in the garage. So how can it be used in the world of parks and recreation? In more ways than you would originally consider!

A Product Is Born

Duct tape got its start prior to World War II, but the war put it on the map. Originally invented by Richard Drew of Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Co. (3M) in the 1920s, it was more of a masking tape than the tape we now use. The WWII-version duct tape was first manufactured around 1942 by Johnson & Johnson Permacel Division. Its closest predecessor was medical tape. Originally used to keep moisture out of ammunition cases, it was made using cotton duck fabric (similar to the fabric used in cloth medical tape). Combined with its water resistance, people began to refer to it as duck tape.

Military personnel quickly discovered its versatility and used it to repair guns, aircraft, jeeps and any part that moved that wasn’t supposed to!

Following the war, the tape became a more common household product, particularly for connecting heating and cooling duct work. The color quickly changed from Army Green (olive drab) to silver to match the ducts, and the name “duct tape” was born to reflect its primary use. Coincidently, traditional duct tape was not particularly effective on duct work. As it aged, it pulled apart and allowed air leakage, reducing heating and cooling efficiency.

Duct Tape Basic Training

If you’ve used duct tape, you know that the roll is rather sticky on its side. That is because regular duct tape is made in three layers. The top layer is a resilient plastic (polyethelene), the middle is a fabric mesh, and the bottom is a rubber-based adhesive. It isn’t sealed on the sides, so that residual stickiness is what makes it a mess to use, and makes it stick to any surface when you lay the roll down on its flat side. In the 1970s, shrink wrap was invented and used to package duct tape so that store merchants could stock the tape without its sticking to shelves or to each other (the rolls, not the merchants).

Currently, duct tape is manufactured in the United States and Canada by eight companies. Most of the duct tape sold in the consumer market is distributed by Duck® brand duct tape, which is manufactured by Shurtape Technologies in Hickory, N.C. The largest manufacturer of duct tape in the world is Henkel Consumer Adhesives, in Avon, Ohio, which sold enough Duck Tape® in 2005 to wrap around the Earth nearly 20 times. Other duct tape companies are: Nashua, 3M, Anchor, Tessa, Tuck and Polyken.

Duct tape comes in a wide range of colors--red, yellow, green, blue, brown--and “X-treme” colors (like DayGlo from the 1970s), including blaze orange, lime green, citron yellow and hot pink. Duck brand duct tape has a “Camo Tape,” with a tree camouflage design for outdoor enthusiasts.

That Tape Sure Works!

Duct tape is useful in solving many short-term, fix-it problems, from tool and equipment repairs to household issues to on-the-road-between-places car-hose repairs. Originally, the biggest problem with those short-term fixes was a sticky--nearly impossible--residue left when it was removed. But, no more! There are varieties of duct tape that leave none of that behind.

Mark Hooks from ShurTape in North Carolina filled me in on a variety of uses for duct tape that included the serious and the silly. He also made me aware of new types of duct tape that eliminated many of the problems encountered with the old standard.

Instead of being made in layers (don’t worry—the old stuff is still made and used today), new varieties of duct tape are made in an extruded manner with polymers that cause the sides to be sealed. Regular duct tape that had the sticky sides allowed moisture between the layers, which made it less permanent. As it aged, the outer layer pulled away from the cloth and the adhesive, rendering it useless as a waterproofing agent. The newer variety of tape has many uses.

In the entertainment industry, duct tape holds wires and equipment in place safely and leaves no residue. Years ago, the duct tape used was a real problem for roadies and gaffers because extension cords became coated with residue over time, which made it too sticky to use, set up, and take down equipment. Duct tape also was used to fasten cords to the floor to eliminate a tripping hazard; however, it left both the floor and cord a sticky mess and cleanup time became a hassle.

Today, the problem is non-existent. Therefore, the product can still be used for concerts, plays or presentations in your facilities.

That solution opens a whole other spectrum for uses in the parks and recreation industry. For example, duct tape can be used to temporarily mark trails and then be removed without a trace. Or, since newer varieties can withstand weather much better than old tape, it can be left to serve as permanent markers. The same logic makes it useful for a variety of areas in and around parks and campgrounds. With the variety of colors, areas that need to be marked off for construction or denoting safety hazards can be done easily with a product that is both permanent and removable without ruining an existing finish. Hooks noted that it is also useful in sandblasting park signs—the sand or pellets do not penetrate the duct tape, making for an easier job and shorter cleanup afterwards.

Duct Tales

Aside from its practical uses, Hooks shared several stories in which duct tape played a role in outrageous outdoor situations. One unfortunate man canoeing down the Chattahoochee River saw a snake and accidentally shot a hole in his canoe. He was able to paddle to shore, dry off the spot, and fix it with duct tape. In another application, a person lost in a swamp at night in Florida strapped himself to a tree so that he wouldn’t fall out and be eaten by alligators if he fell asleep.

Hooks noted, “To be a connoisseur of DuckTape, you must have a wide palate.”

In researching duct tape, it became apparent that people have come up with several creative uses for the stuff--a wallet, origami flowers, ties ( those worn with suits!), hats and purses. There are even arts and crafts books specifically for projects made with duct tape.

Henkel Consumer Adhesives sponsors an annual prom event where young couples make their prom wear, tuxedos and prom dresses, out of duct tape for the contest. The prize is a $6,000 scholarship!

The Practical Side Of The Product

Along with Henkel’s wonderful sense of humor regarding its product (which also comes in purple), the company has a commitment to sustainability in the world community. Making products that are more friendly to people, animals and the environment elevates the silly to the profound.

Bethany Schmotzer, Henkel’s product manager for Duck Tape, gave even more uses for the ”marvel tool”: farmers can carry a roll of duct tape on their tractors or other equipment for quick fence fixes, seat repairs or any number of maintenance issues that might need temporary attention away from the barn and tools.

Wrapped like a rope, duct tape has been reported to be used to pull cars from ditches. It’s been used to cushion handles on shovels and other tools. It’s also been used at lumber yards to secure bundles. Hmm … so maybe it can be used for securing stakes, ropes or tent poles.

It is recommended that duct tape be wrapped on a pencil for use during back-packing adventures. It can be used to seal the leg ends of pants to keep out insects in areas of high infestation, to fix a water bottle, to patch a tent or other camping equipment. In emergency medical applications, it can be used to cover a wound (ouch!), and as a splint or a tourniquet.

Duct tape has become the new machine shop. In days past, people knew how to make tools to repair just about anything. It looks like duct tape has made a whole new generation self-sufficient--in its own tacky kind of way!

Sheryl Billman is a freelance writer in Medina, Ohio. She can be reached via e-mail at sheran8@msn.com.