Gaffer Tape (I)

Camera Bag Essentials: Gaffer’s Tape

The most essen­tial item in any photographer’s bag is a rel­a­tively inex­pen­sive item, often over­looked — the hum­ble roll of tape. The best tape for mak­ing tem­po­rary repairs, secur­ing cables, or fas­ten­ing a wire­less trig­ger to a light stand is not electrician’s tape, nor is it duct tape — it’s gaffer tape (also known as “gaffer’s” tape or “gaff” tape). In this post, I’ll dis­cuss a hack to make it eas­ier for you to always have this mir­a­cle tape handy.

Gaffer Tape (II)
Gaffer Tape (II) — Penny shown for scale

Gaffer tape is a heavy, cloth-backed, pres­sure sen­si­tive tape com­monly used in the motion pic­ture, tele­vi­sion, and the­atri­cal indus­tries. It is strong and reusable, resists heat, and doesn’t ordi­nar­ily leave behind adhe­sive residue when removed (unlike electrician’s and duct tapes). It’s made in var­i­ous col­ors, for either high- or low-vis­i­bil­ity appli­ca­tions, and is man­u­fac­tured in many widths and lengths.

I recently started shoot­ing with a Fujifilm X-T1, and on its 1st major out­ing — a three-day music fes­ti­val — I snagged the SD card slot’s weather seal on some­thing and tore it clean off. I couldn’t shoot the rest of the fes­ti­val with the slot door hang­ing open, which would have put me at risk of los­ing that, too, but I’d left my roll of 2″ wide tape at home, as it was too big to carry in my bag. So I tracked down a friendly, but par­si­mo­nious, sound­man and begged for a piece of tape. He pro­ceeded to fish out a tiny key and cer­e­mo­ni­ously unlocked a tiny pad­lock secur­ing a box con­tain­ing his roll [Sidenote: Although it is rel­a­tively cheap, gaffer tape costs much more than other kinds of tape. This soundman’s assis­tants were, he told me, entirely too prof­li­gate with the stuff.] and gave me a 1″ square of his tape. I still keep a piece of gaffer tape over the seal even after hav­ing had it replaced by Fujifilm ser­vice, to avoid a repeat (it turns out the seal is not user-replace­able, neces­si­tat­ing a trip to the New Jersey repair facil­ity at great cost and incon­ve­nience). Update: I’ve since learned the part is user replace­able, despite what Fuji cus­tomer ser­vice told me at the time of the repair.

The Problem with Most Gaffer Tape

Gaffer Tape (III)
Gaffer Tape (III) — Penny shown for scale

Unfortunately, gaffer tape is sold on very large rolls — typ­i­cally 55 yards, but I’ve seen it in 30-yard rolls as well. The core (the card­board ring around which the tape is wound) is usu­ally large enough to put a man’s arm through, fur­ther adding to the tape’s bulk. Having just acquired a 30-yard roll of 1″ wide tape, I needed to reduce its size and weight.

Looking around my garage, I saw a length of PVC pipe, saved from a pre­vi­ous home-improve­ment project. I clamped it to a sawhorse and used a scribe to mark it to the width of the tape. Then I cut off a piece with a hack­saw. The cut wasn’t quite straight, so I smoothed it down on a sheet of coarse sand­pa­per. Finally, I removed the burrs with a reamer.

After that, it was a sim­ple mat­ter of wind­ing some tape onto the new core, and et voilà, I had the per­fect roll for my bag. 

About Chris J. Zähller

International Man of Mystery. Cocktail Nerd. Occasionally designs websites. Sometimes snaps a picture or two.

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