Make sure you maintain your stock of a mundane, low-cost item that delivers more bang for the buck than you might expect. Masking and painter’s tapes offer protection, finesse, security, and more.
Photo of blue painters tape on a wood surface

Keep this shop staple close at hand for dozens of tasks.

The masked painter 

So what's the difference between masking tape and painter's tape? Regular crepe-colored masking tape costs less and has a stronger adhesive that can lift delicate wood fibers and leave a residue after removing the tape, especially if left it in place longer than a few hours. 

Painter's tape—blue, purple, green, and yellow—has less adhesive tack. It removes cleanly from fully dried paint and finish, and can stay in place for 14 days (even longer with some varieties) without concern. The different colors distinguish between brands and how well the edges seal to prevent seeping behind the tape. Those subtle distinctions won't make much difference for most of the applications listed here.

Photo of blue masking tape with MASKING printed on it

The obvious use, with some less-than-obvious applications.

Photo of masking tape applied to help remove glue squeeze out

1. Protect surfaces from glue squeeze-out

Masking inside corners of this cabinet before assembly makes removing squeeze-out as easy as peeling off the tape. Use the same idea when assembling a box, or around a bowtie mortise when patching cracks in a slab.

P{hoot of masking tape used half laps

2. Maintain clean glue surfaces

Some projects benefit from applying stain and topcoat before assembly. Covering these half-laps, for example, keeps bare wood ready for glue.

Photo of making tape used as sanding shield

3. Create a sanding shield

If you need to sand bare wood next to veneer, plastic laminate, or finished surfaces, protect the adjacent edges. Trim the tape flush with a razor knife before sanding.

Photo of filler applied over masking tape

4. Confine filler

Before applying filler, cover the area around the repair with tape. Fill the divot, then peel away the tape for a minimized patch. Use a similar strategy before driving and countersinking a finish nail or brad: Drive the nail through a strip of tape, fill the countersink, and remove the tape for a near-invisible patch.

Photo of spray adhesive applied to masking tape on workpiece

5. Remove patterns quickly and cleanly

Cover the workpiece with tape before spraying on adhesive and applying the pattern. After machining, peel it all off together.

Photo of masking tape marking keep and waste areas of a dovetail joint

6. Improve layout-line visibility, and distinguish "keep" from waste

When making a handcut dovetail joint, for example, apply tape over the end of the board, lay out the pins, score the lines with a knife, and remove the tape from the waste areas.

Photo of tape applied to fresh cut edge

7. Protect fragile edges

Wrap masking tape over freshly machined edges to prevent splinters and cuts. Additional layers protect crisp edges from dings and light bumps.

Photo of tape applied to clamp

8. Keep clamps and glue-ups clean.

Apply tape to the top of clamp bars or pipes to catch glue drips, and prevent stains on the wood caused by wet glue reacting with iron in the pipes and tannins in the wood.

Photo of blue masking tape with Hot Tips for Lasers written on it
Photo of scorched and protected area after laser cutting

9. Prevent scorch marks when cutting parts with a laser

Mask the workpiece before the cut to leave faces that don't need sanding or cleaning to remove burns.

Photo of masking tape stencil

10. Create a stencil.

Mask a clear-coated workpiece and score the tape, but not the wood, with the laser. Peel off the tape in areas you want to paint.

Photo fo blue masking tape with Shimming written on it

For adjusting things just a smidge, get the skinny on the shim(my).

Photo of masking tape on fence under jig

11. Provide room to slide

A fence-straddling jig must slide smoothly without play. Get a perfect fit by placing a strip of tape on the fence face before assembling the jig over it. Remove the tape before using the jig.

Phot of masking tape used to dust a miter angle

12. Tweak a miter angle a tiny amount

Place one or more layers of tape on the miter-gauge auxiliary fence behind the workpiece—as shown to trim material from the toe, or at the opposite end to shave the heel.

photo of tape used to adjust dado blade

13. Adjust your dado blade

Use tape as an easy-to-apply-and-remove shim in a stacked dado blade.

Photo of router table fence masked with tape

14. Rout burn-free profiles

Mask your router-table fence before routing burn-prone woods, such as cherry or maple. Remove the tape for a clean last pass.

Photo fo tape applied to fence to move workpiece closer to blade

15. Shave j-u-s-t a whisker off a board's width

Apply one or more layers of tape to the rip fence as needed to nudge the workpiece closer to the blade. Use the same strategy to expand a dado or rabbet by a hair.

Photo of blue masking tape with Labeling and Marking written on it

How to know what's what and where it goes.

Photo of examples of labeling and marking with masking tape on a workpiece

16. Label parts cut to rough size

Write final dimensions, additional milling steps, or other notes on the tape.

17. Identify part orientation

Label workpieces with arrows pointing to critical surfaces, such as the top, outside face, or mating parts of joints.

18. Create a temporary marking surface

Mark cutlines or joinery locations on tape rather than on a finished or prepped surface.

Photo of tools on bench with labels applied

19. Find your tools on a job site

Before taking tools on-site, write your initials on a piece of tape. Put the tape in an out-of-the-way location on the tool so it doesn't rub off during use. At the end of the day, it's easy for anyone to see which items belong to you.

20. Identify unmarked accessories

Label items that lack branding, such as edge guides and collet wrenches, so you can quickly identify them in a drawer with similar tools of other brands. 

21. Give your tape measure a memory

Was that opening 7- 5⁄8" or 5 -7⁄8"? Place a piece of masking tape on your tape measure and write down dimensions as soon as you determine them. When the tape fills up, peel it off and replace it.

Photo f masking tape used to mark start and stop points

22. Establish limits

Mark start and stop positions for plunge or stopped cuts by applying a strip of tape to your router-table fence or tablesaw rip fence or table.

Photo of blue masking tape with Miscellaneous written on it

We had to stick these somewhere.

Photo of masking tape holding parts together

23. Get the gang together

Hold together multiple parts for organization, marking, and machining.

Photo of masking tape applied to workpiece to protect from router bit bearing

24. Protect a surface from a router-bit bearing

A strip of tape shields delicate veneers or burn-prone woods from the friction of a bit with no bearing, or one that may not turn freely.

25. Make tight veneer joints

Blue painter's tape works for closing the joint between veneer sheets (Opening photo). This works best on regular veneer; paper-backed veneer may show impressions of the tape after the panel is pressed.

Photo of masking tape at end of cut in workpiece

26. Prevent tear-out

Support fibers where a bit or cutter exits a workpiece. Use care when removing the tape, pulling it toward the cut to avoid lifting off the fibers you were protecting.

Photo of tape applied around tablesaw blade

27. Make an instant insert

For a few quick cuts, apply tape around a tablesaw or bandsaw blade to add zero-clearance support.

Photo of tape "flag" wrapped around drill bit

28. Drill holes to a precise depth

Wrap a tape "flag" around a drill bit to indicate how deep you should drill.

Photo os masking tape holding together size sided box

29. Clamp small or awkward parts

Wrap tape around a mitered assembly to draw each joint closed. This works for securing inlays and edging during glue-ups, too.

Photo of masking tape holding small parts

30. Capture small parts.

Place small screws or other hardware on the sticky side to prevent them from rolling away or getting lost.

Photo of masking tape applied to drawer as temporary pull

31. Add a temporary pull

Before fitting inset drawers or doors, add a tape tab to grab for pulling the door or drawer open until you install the pull.

Photo of masking tape applied to undersized duct hose

32. Fix a too-loose hose connection.

Wrap an under-sized dust hose to better fit a dust-collection port.