It’s 1970 and you have just started a historic mission to the moon. You lift off from Kennedy Space Center as the rocket propels you toward your goal. 48 hours later you hear an explosion and the now iconic words, “Houston, we’ve had a problem.” Engineers work around the clock to figure out a solution to the lack of oxygen and buildup of carbon dioxide. The solution they came up with for Apollo 13 included a staple of the DIY toolbox, duct tape.
If you’re like me, you probably think of the same thing when you think about duct tape; that sticky residue it leaves behind. I found I was partially right about this; if the tape leaves anything behind when pulling it off, it means the tape was on too long or put somewhere it wasn’t made to. The solution is simple; know what the tape is used for and where it’s being used. You can then figure out what product works best for the application.
Duck Tape or Duct Tape?
Let’s dispel the myth now and state emphatically that it’s called “duct tape.” There is a reason for the confusion, though, because it wasn’t ALWAYS called duct tape! In the early 1900’s, there was a material called “duck tape." Strips of cotton cloth (called duck cloth) were used to reinforce shoes, decorate clothes or wrap steel cables. Decades later duck tape would influence more than the name.
Vesta Stoudt (a mother of two Navy sailors and munitions factory worker) worried that the seals on the munitions boxes were difficult to open. Her main concern was that it would take too long to open, especially in battle. She wrote a letter to Franklin D. Roosevelt with the idea to use a fabric tape on the boxes. FDR tasked Johnson & Johnson with creating the tape. They developed a tape that was easy to apply and easy to rip with by hand.
Duck Tape…. to Duct Tape
The new product was made of thin cotton duck tape and was practically waterproof; hence the DUCK in the name. It was so easy to use, in fact, that it became the “go-to” tape for any minor rips or repairs. After World War II, duct tape became more of a household product. Workers found that it worked well on air ducts and began using it. Thus the name changed from “duck tape” to “duct tape.”
Just the Stats
Industry statistics show that about a QUARTER of “chain home centers’” TOTAL tape sales (stores like Home Depot and Lowe's) is duct tape, totaling about $75 million annually. Wal-Mart and other mass market sellers sell another $20 million among them. An additional $5 million is sold among other, smaller retailers.
• That famous silvery color comes from powdered aluminum pigment.
• Springfield, Mo., is considered the duct tape capital of the world, selling more than any other city on Earth.
• The amount of duct tape sold each year could stretch to the moon and back.
• A single strip of duct tape, doubled over itself, is strong enough to pull more than one ton.
• Duct tape is made of three layers: plastic, fabric mesh and rubber-based adhesive.
• NASA has stowed duct tape on every flight since the early Gemini days
Who Should Own Duct Tape?
In the words of Doug Mahoney from The Sweet Home blog:
“In a word, everyone. Duct tape is the essential fill-in-the-cracks patching, sealing and hanging item. It has so many uses that when I asked a few duct tape companies to list some common ones, they really didn’t have an answer. With such a wide range of uses it’s difficult to pin down any one of them as standard. It can be used for small things like repairing the back cover of a nearly-destroyed paperback or for something more critical like wrapping a leaky pipe in the middle of the night until the plumber can get there the next morning.”
According to the 3M website, “duct tape is used today in a variety of maintenance, repair and construction settings. [Duct tape can be used] for patching, bundling, reinforcing, tabbing, taping/splicing insulation, capping pipe, securing conduit ends, marking, labeling, temporary repair, hanging polyethylene drapes and protecting against light sandblast overspray.”
Whether you are in a fabrication shop or job shop, on the factory floor or the office floor, duct tape can be found everywhere. The odds are that you aren't very far from a roll of duct tape as you read this!