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Thread: about Tack Cloths (tack rags)

  1. #1

    Default about Tack Cloths (tack rags)

    I stumbled upon a post in this forum ...
    why not mineral spirits instead of tack cloth?
    http://forum.woodenboat.com/showthread.php?155430-why-not-mineral-spirits-instead-of-tack-cloth


    ...and I see that there are a number of other tack cloth references in this forum. I'm a foremost expert in tack cloth, with more than 35 years in tack cloth design, manufacturing, applications support, marketing, etc. I thought that I'd take a moment here clarify some of the comments in that thread, at least.

    Generally, tack cloths are part of contamination control practices in fine finishing, which may also include sweeping or blow-off (recommended only in a positive pressure environment where dirty air is replaced with filtered, clean air), vaccuuming, solvent wiping and other methods, depending on the process. Tack cloth remains essential in many "Class A" painting/finishing processes such as automotive assembly paint process. But bear in mind that the requirements of the tack cloth design and quality will be stringent in these critical industrial finishing processes -- cheap, commodity types won't be acceptable. Its poor quality tack cloths, marketed by price-driven retailers, that often give the product a poor reputation.

    "lint free cloth" = cloth made without fiber. and with some sort of finished/sealed edges. This general definition comes out of the cleanroom industry, and excludes wipes made of cotton or cotton blends, and most non-wovens. Cotton and other fibrous wipes (particularly when washed) are sometimes claimed as "lint free" in relative terms, but not according to any independently accepted standards. Lint free wipes are made usually with a continuous filament (mono-filament) polyester yarn, and the edges are finish woven or knitted, and/or sealed with heat, ultrasonics or laser.

    "denatured alcohol..."; "mineral spirits ...can leave a residue... contaminating the substrate.." et al -- many comments here are accurate, in that various solvents can leave residues. Solvent wiping is typically applied to remove soils (grease, oils, fingerprints, etc.), and is less appropriate for solid contaminants (dry particles and fibers). Important is that "wetting" both the surface and particle/fiber contaminants with solvent or water will increase the bond between particles and surface. In other words, any wet wiping has limits in the capacity to remove solids (particles/fibers) and can leave much behind. This is one reason why "tack-off" wiping with a commercial quality tack cloth remains a preferred method in the finest finishing.

    "tack cloth is for the final coats , not for the sealer and primer..." -- a commercial quality tack cloth, one that's chosen properly for a given application, can be optimal for use in all finishing stages where particle contamination may be of concern.

    "You can make your own with bee's wax, cheese cloth, and turpentine..."; "Spraying a light coat of spray varnish on a piece of cheese cloth works well...";"Cheesecloth and linseed oil... it can spontaneously combust" -- you can't make a tack cloth with common materials of a quality that's comparable to commercial designs. Homemade tack cloth would rely on presence of solvents to remain "wet", and once the "varnish" (lacquer, etc.) becomes dry (i.e., "set up", cross-link, etc.), the cloth is not useful. The comment about the risk of spontaneous combustion is fair caution. Quite simply, there's no better option in tack cloth than buying a good quality product. But the problem often becomes one of which tack cloth is "quality" and where to buy it (often, the best bet is automotive paint & body supply stores)

    "17" x 36" of tack cloth"; "wonder why twenty-seven different companies make tack rags and sell them in professional paint stores? " -- US standard size is 18x36 inches, +1/4 inch. So what does a 1 inch shortage imply to you (to this expert, it implies a number of things) ? Anyway, the typical major, international brands don't make their tack cloths. Those and most advertised brands are made by just a handful of manufacturers, all of them relatively small businesses. Some of these manufacturers have been around for generations, and some are relatively new and may not fully understand the state of the industry art. The many company/brand names listed in association with tack cloth are mostly private branders, buying from the relatively few actual producers.

    "I dislike using tack cloth, even though I get a heck of a deal on it." -- A common problem is that retailers don't know good from bad tack cloth, and will typically focus on price. I can say from experience that the typical mass merchandiser doesn't make much effort to understand the design and quality issues in tack cloth, let alone actually test them. They're usually focused on cost competition, having the supplier jump through their vendor qualification hoops, etc.

    "microfiber glass cleaning cloths..." -- like all wipes, microfiber cloths also vary in quality, such as linting capacity, tear resistance, etc. They don't perform in the same way as tack cloths, and they haven't largely replaced tack cloths in major industrial "Class A" finishing processes.

    This is just meant to offer some comments that are, hopefully, relevant here and helpful. Its not intended to be comprehensive, and further comment here is welcomed. I also invite questions at info@JLyman.com.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: about Tack Cloths (tack rags)

    tack cloth is not relevant to me, about ten thousand grit beyond my pay scale

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    Default Re: about Tack Cloths (tack rags)

    Interesting article, although I'll admit that I tend to the 'varnish on a rag' school when I need something quick...
    "The enemies of reason have a certain blind look."
    Doctor Jacquin to Lieutenant D'Hubert, in Ridley Scott's first major film _The Duellists_.

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    Default Re: about Tack Cloths (tack rags)

    Comprehensive

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    Default Re: about Tack Cloths (tack rags)

    One little known fact is that a good tack cloth can last a very long time if sealed in a zip lock bag after use. Some of mine are several years old and still usable. I remember when they were free at the paint store and when they went up to five cents each, everyone screamed like crazy that they were being exploited by the paint industry. Of course varnish was two dollars a quart then.
    Jay

  6. #6

    Default Re: about Tack Cloths (tack rags)

    ...yes, its true that a good, commercial quality tack cloth can last almost indefinitely -- that is, until they're saturated with dirt. In fact, the best tack cloths don't require any kind of occlusive (air tight) container at all, since they don't rely on volatiles (though its helpful to store tack cloth in something that keeps them clean). Conversely, many tack cloths -- typically those made simply/cheaply in developing global regions -- do rely on volatiles and will dry out, leave VOC residue, etc. So the stability vs. drying of a tack cloth is not only a benchmark of how long it might be useful, but can also indicates some things about its design (formulation) quality. This is one of the properties that both the supplier (mass merchandiser, retailer, etc.) and regular user of tack cloth should consider.

    Ask you retailer/supplier if they've done any kinds of tests on their tack cloths, such as leaving one out of its packaged and exposed to air for a few days to see how it might have changed. Another simple test can be a comparison of different tack cloths on a rudimentary blotter, such as a piece of common computer printer paper. This can be telling about how easily tack treatment materials (e.g., solvents, oils, thin plasticizers) can migrate from the cloth -- one indication of its potential to leave trace residue -- versus the propensity of the treatment to remain "intact" and on the cloth. The latter is a quality that we call "cohesion". Tack cloth producers that don't have the capabilities or technologies to produce cohesive tack cloths get around the potential for tack transfer by simply reducing the amount of their tack treatment (whatever they might be using) on the cloth. This is what you will usually encounter when you buy a "light" tack cloth -- simply less of an oily and/or volatile tack treatment, rather than a more sophisticated "cohesive" tack. A more complex, cohesive tack treatment can allow for more "adhesive" quality (propensity to stick to dirt).

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    Default Re: about Tack Cloths (tack rags)

    I noticed on the directions for one of the water-based varnishes that I use that they recommend not using a tack cloth on it, due to what they implied might be potential contamination/bond/fisheye-type potential problems. Any comments on what's up with that?

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    Default Re: about Tack Cloths (tack rags)

    Great information, Surfacepreptech! You ought to talk to WB about writing a product review article on tack cloths. Seriously.

    I also have always kept my tack cloths in a zip-lock plastic bag. (Well, before zip-locks, I kept them in their original celophane package in a small coffee can... but the kids these days probably don't remember celophane or coffee cans.) They USED to last forever, so long as I used them for final tacking and not primary dust removal. Now that somebody mentioned it, I realize that they don't last forever like they used to. They dry out and lose their "tackiness."

    Anybody who attempts to lay down any kind of finish coat, be it varnish or a gloss coating and doesn't use a tack cloth simply doesn't know what they are doing. I'd guess that 90% of the problems people encounter with finish coats can be attributed to a failure to tack it down first. Somewhere along the line they hit a spot that hasn't been fully cleaned and they pick up a bunch of dust and dirt and then spread it all over the place. Time was the instructions on the can used to always include "sand smooth and tack well before application." Now, few would know what "tack well" meant.

    So, let's cut to the chase... Which readily available brand do you recommend? (You don't have to tell us who you work for.. so it won't be an advertisement. )

  9. #9

    Default Re: about Tack Cloths (tack rags)

    Quote Originally Posted by Todd Bradshaw View Post
    I noticed on the directions for one of the water-based varnishes that I use that they recommend not using a tack cloth on it, due to what they implied might be potential contamination/bond/fisheye-type potential problems. Any comments on what's up with that?
    I would like to have seen the source for this particular reference so that I might comment more fully. Regardless, I can address this question generally. I have, myself, seen this kind of cautionary labeling on a materials container, but I don't recall the specifics.

    Here, I can state these facts : 1) tack cloths are currently used with water-borne finishes, in considerable volume and in wide distribution, throughout the auto OEM industry in "Class A" assembly painting process -- the largest and most demanding market for tack cloths; 2) a quality tack cloth, when the proper type is used correctly, should not leave any residue that would interfere with most finishing materials -- water-borne or otherwise.

    Professionals in industrial finishing can tell you that the coating materials (paints, clear-coats, etc.) have largely changed away from solven-borne to water-based technologies over the last couple of decades. However, I can tell you that in North America, at least, the most common tack cloth treatment materials (tack resin components) used in auto OEM remain largely unchanged from the petroleum derivatives that have been used for decades. What did change in North American auto OEM through the '80's and '90's was that solvent-based tack treatments were replaced by non-solvent tack types.

    My guess is that manufacturers/branders of finishing materials (varnish, lacquer, polyurethane, paints, etc.) are reacting to finishing problems caused by poor tack cloths (discussed above) that have been so common to the sellers of the finishes. Its probably easier for the finishing manufacturers to simply caution against the use of any tack cloth than it is for them to recommend or market a quality tack cloth (one that they've tested, can technically support, and/or may have actually developed in cooperation with a tack cloth expert, etc.). But in adopting this philosophy -- basically throwing the baby out with the bath water -- these finishing materials manufacturers do dis-service to their customers who want to achieve the highest quality of defect-free finish that -- in many applications -- only a quality tack cloth can assure.

    To conclude here, manufacturers/branders of coatings materials -- and even their marketers (e.g., mass merchandisers) would do well to cooperate with qualified tack cloth designer in order to assure that they can recommend a specific tack cloth that is fully "compatible" with their materials, and so that their customers can achieve a dust-free finish. Alas, this has not been my experience throughout my 35 years in the industry.

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    Default Re: about Tack Cloths (tack rags)

    While I have never been so anal as to build a clean room for finish work, I wouldn't even consider not tacking off a surface to be coated with varnish or oil based paint. One thing I noticed reciently while I was walking through a local boat yard was the workers were tacking off a hull using tac rags that had not been unfolded.
    The head of one of the shops I worked in would have a hernia if he saw that. He demanded that fresh rags were to be unfolded, fluffed out and then loosely wadded before using them.
    jay

  11. #11

    Default Re: about Tack Cloths (tack rags)

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Cleek View Post
    Great information, Surfacepreptech! You ought to talk to WB about writing a product review article on tack cloths. Seriously.

    I also have always kept my tack cloths in a zip-lock plastic bag. (Well, before zip-locks, I kept them in their original celophane package in a small coffee can... but the kids these days probably don't remember celophane or coffee cans.) They USED to last forever, so long as I used them for final tacking and not primary dust removal. Now that somebody mentioned it, I realize that they don't last forever like they used to. They dry out and lose their "tackiness."

    Anybody who attempts to lay down any kind of finish coat, be it varnish or a gloss coating and doesn't use a tack cloth simply doesn't know what they are doing. I'd guess that 90% of the problems people encounter with finish coats can be attributed to a failure to tack it down first. Somewhere along the line they hit a spot that hasn't been fully cleaned and they pick up a bunch of dust and dirt and then spread it all over the place. Time was the instructions on the can used to always include "sand smooth and tack well before application." Now, few would know what "tack well" meant.

    So, let's cut to the chase... Which readily available brand do you recommend? (You don't have to tell us who you work for.. so it won't be an advertisement. )


    I appreciate the compliment here. As this community represents a relatively small market for tack cloth, is not the best place for a more comprehensive article. That's better done in trade journals that target larger, more technical markets like auto OEM.

    About tack cloth recommendations, I must disclose that my family's business manufacturers the Bond and Crystal tack cloth brands -- for more than 60 years now. If you research these brands, you'll find that they've been highly regarded for decades by professional finishers. Working there through m
    y first 20+ years in the industry is where I developed much of my expertise in tack cloth. But these brands are not found among mass merchandisers or most retailers, due likely to their relatively higher cost (see above about retailers prioritizing cost over quality). In these circumstances, I can't well comment on other tack cloth brands, or types that are different from these. I'm content here to offer my expertise in the most unbiased way possible, and I hope that my contributions here can be viewed as valuable and balanced.

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    Default Re: about Tack Cloths (tack rags)

    surfacepreptech,
    Thanks for the "inside" scoop!
    A few points come to mind:
    It seems to me that the best, even most expensive, method of surface particle-removal is of little use if re-contamination is likely, a potentially extensive task, but IMHO, a much more important one than tack-ragging at all.
    The process of doing the tacking is more then rubbing the surface, in my experience. A proper wiping with a compatible solvent and rag is better than a "scrubbing" or "smearing around" with the best of tack rags.
    If indeed there are 'treatment materials" applied to tack rags, then that material CAN be transferred to the surface, it seems to me.
    The method I was taught was to first unwrap said rag (they seem always to be pressed quite tightly together), fold very lightly into a size a little larger then your hand so that you don't touch the surface with your bare (or even gloved) hand, and so that you can access different surfaces of the rag by unfolding, and lightly, very lightly, wipe in one direction and expose unused sections frequently. Don't, I was frequently told (I was always in a hurry!) rub the surface, the point was to remove dust particles, not polish to a shine!

  13. #13

    Default Re: about Tack Cloths (tack rags)

    Quote Originally Posted by Jay Greer View Post
    While I have never been so anal as to build a clean room for finish work, I wouldn't even consider not tacking off a surface to be coated with varnish or oil based paint. One thing I noticed reciently while I was walking through a local boat yard was the workers were tacking off a hull using tac rags that had not been unfolded.
    The head of one of the shops I worked in would have a hernia if he saw that. He demanded that fresh rags were to be unfolded, fluffed out and then loosely wadded before using them.
    jay
    Just a quick reply here, since I'm on at the moment... The recommended method for the intermittent or more casual users (DIY, retail customers, etc.) using individually bagged tack cloth is to fully open the cloth and fluff it out, as you mention. However, the common method in most large industrial finishing environments -- at least where the wiped surfaces are relatively flat and smooth -- is to combine a few tack cloths, usually supplied as bulk pieces in flat stacks, into a flat "pad". In large finishing applications, time does not permit individual tack cloth to be unfolded (and the newer "lint free" types are only single ply, anyway, so there's nothing to unfold). The pad form offers some advantages in spreading the wiping pressure more evenly. And be assured that all of the tack cloth outer surfaces are rotated through this pad form.

  14. #14

    Default Re: about Tack Cloths (tack rags)

    Quote Originally Posted by jackster View Post
    surfacepreptech,
    Thanks for the "inside" scoop!
    A few points come to mind:
    It seems to me that the best, even most expensive, method of surface particle-removal is of little use if re-contamination is likely, a potentially extensive task, but IMHO, a much more important one than tack-ragging at all.
    The process of doing the tacking is more then rubbing the surface, in my experience. A proper wiping with a compatible solvent and rag is better than a "scrubbing" or "smearing around" with the best of tack rags.
    If indeed there are 'treatment materials" applied to tack rags, then that material CAN be transferred to the surface, it seems to me.
    The method I was taught was to first unwrap said rag (they seem always to be pressed quite tightly together), fold very lightly into a size a little larger then your hand so that you don't touch the surface with your bare (or even gloved) hand, and so that you can access different surfaces of the rag by unfolding, and lightly, very lightly, wipe in one direction and expose unused sections frequently. Don't, I was frequently told (I was always in a hurry!) rub the surface, the point was to remove dust particles, not polish to a shine!
    Your point about the importance of avoiding re-contamination is quite valid. Tack cloths are part of the modern "clean" method to remove dirt from the finishing environment (since the cloth absorbs the dirt), and not just the wiped surface. As previously addressed, other cleaning methods have not always proved equal to those that include tack-off wiping -- Thus, tack cloth persists as an important part of critical finishing processes. That's the best evidence of the value that good tack cloths provide (be assured that professionals like auto OEM paint engineers spend a lot of time and effort to refine their finishing processes and materials).

    The biggest concerns with solvent & rag wiping alone remain 1) incomplete removal of dirt (discussed above), and 2) linting or other contaminants from a poorly chosen "rag".

    About "rubbing", we usually see this as an adaptation to poor tack cloth quality where a lack of "adhesive" quality compels the user to apply more mechanical energy in an attempt to pick up dirt. A big problem can occur when a superior quality tack cloth is introduced to such a system, but the wiping technique is not modified accordingly (to a light sweeping motion). As you mention, residue can indeed be transferred from even the best tack cloth if it is not used properly. This is one reason that its important to always use a quality tack cloth, and also to choose the best tack cloth for a particular application.

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    Default Re: about Tack Cloths (tack rags)

    I have been doing bodywork for 39 yrs. and wouldn't consider spraying paint without tacking it off. Years ago the tack rags we used did semm stickier and could leave a smudge if rubbed to hard when new. The tack rags I use now are made by Gerson and leave no residue. A tack rag lasts me several months and I just keep it in the cabinet with my paint mask and head sock. That cabinet doesn't get opened till it's time to paint so not much dust or contaimanents get to it.

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    Default Re: about Tack Cloths (tack rags)

    Thank you for sharing this valuble information.
    I have found that it is difficult to just go and buy a tack cloth here locally. They all seem to contaminate the surface, and I have all but given up, resorting instead to a dampened environment and a cloth with clean water and following with lots of air. Still not perfect, but far and away better than the cheap tack rags sold at the paint store.

    Would you regard "Varnish" as a clear coat finish ?
    Can you shed some light on which would work the best for our application in terms of cloth weave and "tackiness" ?

  17. #17

    Default Re: about Tack Cloths (tack rags)

    Quote Originally Posted by Canoeyawl View Post
    ... Would you regard "Varnish" as a clear coat finish ?
    Can you shed some light on which would work the best for our application in terms of cloth weave and "tackiness" ?
    Certainly, "varnish" is a kind of clear coat, but that alone is not particularly relevant to tack cloth. "Varnish" is a term for a class of finishing materials that can vary greatly. I'm not sure that I understood what your question might be asking.

    Generally speaking, tighter cheesecloth (cotton gauze) weave or "mesh" will stand up better to wear, will resist snags, will be less likely to shed loose threads, and will collect more fine dust. And more yarns per inch means heavier basis weight, which makes for better a wiping cloth. The tightest mesh on the market is 28/24 (or 52 yarns/inch), which is a professional grade. But you'd be lucky to find more than about 20/16 mesh at most retailers ("commodity" grade would be as little as 29 threads/inch), so try a good auto body repair supplier. Unfortunately, most tack cloth brands don't list the mesh on the package, and you'd be lucky to find a retail clerk who knows anything about the tack cloth that they're selling. But bear in mind that the cloth grade/weight is a major cost factor, and you'll pay more for a higher quality of cloth.

    About "tack", this is a more difficult question because different manufacturers use different materials or mixtures of materials (formulas). You can easily compare different tack cloths by "tack" and there aren't independent standards for this. Above, I mentioned "cohesion" and "adhesion" -- just two of several properties of tack that can vary independently. But generally speaking, the most common ("medium" or "standard") tack from a good, reputable tack cloth manufacturer should work well in most situations.

    I can only encourage you to demand quality tack cloth and competent representation from your suppliers, where you're not able to find it otherwise.

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    Default Re: about Tack Cloths (tack rags)

    Thank you again. Your comments about the thread count are noted.
    I do use the local automotive paint supplier but they only stock your cheapest utility version cloths. (which I have used)
    My question was related to using a different cloth, poly for example, with different finishes, and the wide assortment of cloths available.
    A look here has answered many of my questions...

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    Default Re: about Tack Cloths (tack rags)

    Excellent information here Mr. Surfacepreptech, thank you for taking the time to inform us.
    Best wishes,
    Ian Marchuk

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    Default Re: about Tack Cloths (tack rags)

    Thanks for the valuable information. I stopped using tack cloths when I found that the surface was seldom cleaner and often dirtier after tacking. Amazon has Bond Crystal tack cloths in packages of 12 for $12 (using Prime). I'm going to give it a try.
    Dave

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    Default Re: about Tack Cloths (tack rags)

    Great info.

    Please ditch the blue type.

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    Default Re: about Tack Cloths (tack rags)

    Why?

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    Default Re: about Tack Cloths (tack rags)

    I, for one, find it to be visually irritating! I often do the same thing verbally!
    Jay

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    Default Re: about Tack Cloths (tack rags)

    Given that the information is so informative type is nothing to be blue about.
    When the air turns blue in my shop because the "pure turpentine" is anything but, and the professional grade tack cloth is economy ( in very fine print ) that's when things become serious.
    BTW can any BC readers suggest a source for real turps?

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    Default Re: about Tack Cloths (tack rags)

    Quote Originally Posted by CundysHarbor View Post
    Thanks for the valuable information. I stopped using tack cloths when I found that the surface was seldom cleaner and often dirtier after tacking. Amazon has Bond Crystal tack cloths in packages of 12 for $12 (using Prime). I'm going to give it a try.
    Dave
    I just received mine from Amazon (prime) a good deal.
    (It says on the package suitable for traditional or water based finishes)
    I have a mess of varnishing coming up, and a car to paint so looking forward to eliminating one potential bug-a-boo.

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    Default Re: about Tack Cloths (tack rags)

    Quote Originally Posted by oznabrag View Post
    Great info.

    Please ditch the blue type.
    Quote Originally Posted by Boater14 View Post
    Why?
    It hurts my eyes.

    I DID say PLEASE, ya know!

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