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Studio Craft: Staples or Tacks? Sides or Back?

Ask the Expert: "When I stretch canvas,I've always used staples on the back, noton the sides. Why would someone usetacks and put them on the sides? Isthere an advantage I don't know about?"

A: We've seen artists get great results withstaples and tacks, side-stapled or on theback. There are advantages to eachmethod, however, which might lead you toselect one way over another.

Staples are quick to insert and, if you've gota good staple gun, can be inserted without alot of manual strength. One disadvantage tousing staples, however, is that they tend tocountersink, making removal difficult andrisky for the canvas. Inserted improperly (ina single horizontal row), staples can alsocause a long crease to form which candistort the canvas weave. These issues canbe easily managed: If the staple gun has adepth setting, adjust until staples can beinserted flush, but not below the depth of the canvas. Also, instead of insertingstaples parallel with the direction of thestretcher, insert them diagonally so tensionat the tack point is spread out. This reducesthe chance of tearing and minimizespuckering around the edges.

While it's true that staples are quick andeasy to use, tacks can be inserted prettyquickly once you aquire the skill. Tacksused for stretching canvas are very sharp,so they can be set quickly by pressing withthe thumb, then sunk with a hammer whena hand is free. It's easy to leave tack headsslightly above the canvas so they can beremoved later without gouging the fabric.Tacks can also be pulled out and reused.

When stretching with tacks over heavy-dutybars with a deep profile, insert two parallelrows offset diagonally to spread tension onthe bias.

Regarding whether to insert staples/tackson the sides or back, we think that tackingon the sides technically yields a better,tighter stretch, but a skilled artist should beable to a good job either way. Obviously,gallery-wrapped presentation requires backstapling/tacking. It might also be necessaryto use staples/tacks on the back when usinga tight-fitting frame or architectural niche.

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