Duct Tape Or Gaffer Tape?

Edit 07 May 2010: Folks – Duct tape is not the same thing as Gaffer tape. Gaffer tape comes from specialist camera equipment suppliers and is very, very expensive. I can use Google pretty effectively and if I could have turned up actual Gaffer tape with a quick search or two, believe me, I would have done. What’s the difference? Read on! :)

I’ve been looking for Gaffer tape for ages and at last my search has come to an end, twice in the same week.

What? Surely you can walk in to any DIY shop or visit ebay to pick up a roll of Gaffer? Same as Duct tape – right?


Duct (or should that be Duck tape?) tape is great stuff. It should be part of everyone’s repair and first aid kits.

But if you’ve ever used it (and really, who hasn’t?) then you’ll know it’s sticky.

Really, very sticky.

Which is rather the point. It sticks like… well, you know what.

But it’s also a drawback, you stick it on something, and when you want to peel it off, some of it stays. Or, worse, some of what you’ve stuck it to, doesn’t stay.

When the film and theatre industries started using it for sticking cables and other things that they didn’t want covered in glue, that became a problem.

So, they invented Gaffer tape. Named for the head of the lighting department on a film crew.

Its surprisingly hard to find. I eventually stumbled across it in the obvious place; professional camera supplies.

In the USA Adorama supply a 50 yard roll (they still use measurements that are impossible to convert between ;) and in Europe Calumet do it in a 50M roll (they also have a large selection in their US shop, and also in those odd measurements!).

It’s a specialist item, so, as the Wikipedia article has it; “[it] is therefore not a consumer good“.

Meaning it’s not cheap.

But if, you want to make things using tape or if you find yourself having to repair something that you don’t want to get covered in residual glue, it might be just what you need.

13 Replies to “Duct Tape Or Gaffer Tape?”

  1. …or Tenacious Tape from McNett. Probably not as sticky as Duct Tape but also leaves no residual glue(and is transparent) and should be available in your local Outdoor shop. Gaffer Tape can also be found easily on eBay.
    To tape or not to tape… :-)

  2. Hi Roman!

    I’m glad you mentioned that because, no I’m afraid that Gaffer tape isn’t easy to find on ebay!

    There are plenty of people claiming to sell it, but it’s simply naming confusion. It’s just Duct tape (you can tell by the price – and the quality of the tape if you actually buy it).

    And Tenacious Tape is excellent. I carry it myself. But it is extremely expensive per metre. It makes real Gaffer tape look as cheap as ordinary Sellotape.

    So Tenacious Tape is great for a patch here and there but for making things or for larger temporary repairs you’re better off (especially financially!) with using real Gaffer tape. :)

  3. Hey Red Yeti, there’s nothing wrong with imperial!

    What’s the point in having a unit where the only advantage it gives is adding a zero or moving a decimal place?

    The imperial system uses different bases to make life easier. It isn’t just constrained to base 10. Its mathematically way ahead of metric!

    I suppose we should count ourselves lucky the French failed in giving us their 400 degree circle. Now, that would have been a disaster..

    I bought a door from B & Q the other day. It was 1946mm x 598mm. I mean, what the heck is that?

    Here in the UK, you go to buy say, a Thermarest and its described as a rather odd 183cm long? Isn’t that simply 6ft?

    So, its good to see the Americans selling the stuff in nice simple 150ft rolls (see, it can be done;).

    Now to gaffer tape….

  4. Hi Matt,

    I’m not mathematically way ahead of metric and I’m glad I don’t need to be. :)

    The advantage metric gives you is the interchangeability between different ways of measuring things. A 10cm cube is 1 litre. If that’s pure water, that’s also 1 kilo. And from there you can scale up and down and compare things in multiple ways. That makes metric worthwhile to me.

    As for door measurements, I’m sure the size of the door is driven more from the need to fit in to existing frames (imperial in our case!). If it was made to fit into some standard metric measurement it wouldn’t be such a crazy number. It still makes no sense in imperial (6 foot 3 and 35/57th inches?).

    In the UK, we have managed to take on millimetres and millilitres with bizarre enthusiasm though. Other countries tend to use decimetres and decilitres. They’re a far more “human scale” measurement.

    And Theremarests are simply 6′ – because they’re American and we therefore convert the length.

    But luckily for me, the world is slowly going metric!

    I did expect some comment on my little jokes (actually, from Americans!) but… wow… ;)

  5. while I am here just thought I’d compound RedYeti’s argument about 1l water being 1kg e.t.c. and say that metric allows for heterogenous units to be possible. you know distance is speed over time, distance is measured in metres and time in seconds this means speed is then ms-1. The -1 should be superscript but you get the idea. Anyway you can then say that the newton, a measure of force can be given by mass x acceleration and as acceleration is metres per second per second this can be written as ms-2 so a newton is now expressed as kgms-2. With this measurement system you can easily move between different unit systems by using their mathematical formula so for example you can work out exactly how much power is needed to move a weight a certain distance, something that is useful when you need to know just how much energy (food) you need to take with you on a hike in order to have the minimum required to drag your sorry arse the whole way.

  6. Hi Rich,

    Ah – I know that kind of tape well, it’s just a very low-tack masking tape. Great for painting but not very good for repair!

    I think the clue is probably in the price :)

    That last part had me laughing out loud – all that science followed by “in order to have the minimum required to drag your sorry arse the whole way” excellent!

  7. Hi Martin,

    ‘fraid not! The clues are that they call it “Gaffer/Duct” and the fact that it’s not eye wateringly expensive!

    And yes – confusion abounds on the Internet and in the world at large.

    Most people have no idea that there even is a difference. Hence this posting (which even then, I don’t feel I have got my point across somehow… ;)

    For anyone that wants to avoid the sticky residue, only genuine Gaffer tape will do.

    How do you know it’s genuine? I’d say because you’re buying it from a specialist camera equipment manufacturer, and when you come to hand over your card details you start to wonder if you really want to spend that much money on some tape! :)

  8. I wondered why this post just popped up in my RSS again – now I see why.

    Gaffer tape is deservedly more expensive – having used Duct tape once for a little bit of minor hillside surgery I can attest that it is BLOODY sticky (although extremely good at removing leg hair, if that’s your intention.) I’ve never gaffertaped myself, but from experience with cables I wouldn’t hesitate to dress in it, if the need arose.

  9. Duct tape as a depilator… sounds painful.

    Also sounds like an interesting story too Sid.

    And it’s a good point, I’d much prefer to use Gaffer for first aid now that you come to mention it.

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