Matt Springer has been giving presentations around San Francisco about home earthquake preparedness since 2008 (for more information about the presentation, go to his earthquake preparedness website). This blog is devoted to posts ranging from technical "how-to" articles to more philosophical "should-you" topics. New articles will be posted at most about once a month, so people who subscribe won't be subjected to lots of e-mail.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

20 things you can do with quake putty – and helpful hints for Quakehold Gel

For this article, let’s take a closer look at one of the more versatile tools in your quake-preparedness toolbox, quake putty.  You’ll find a few variations of this stuff under different names including Quakehold Putty, Museum Putty, Amazing Stuff, Quake Secure, and a few related products like Museum Wax and Quakehold Gel, but they all have one thing in common: they let you non-permanently stick down small objects to prevent them from falling or flying in an earthquake.

Part 1:  At the risk of sounding like a commercial (I have no financial interests in any of these products), that’s not ALL you can do with them.  Here's a list of 20 varied uses I’ve found for this stuff over the years, and a few more as I let my imagination run wild.

1.  Non-permanently attaching posters to the wall (it’s actually sold for that purpose also).*
2.  Similarly, holding in place the lower corners of a framed picture that would otherwise be difficult to keep straight on its hook.*
3.  Holding the lower corners of a framed picture far enough away from the wall that the picture doesn’t tilt downwards too much from a 3D hook.*
       (* For use on painted walls, please see the comments at the end of this article for important caveats.)
4.  Holding random loose parts of things so that they don’t move (like a useless D-ring on the bottom of my violin case that would flip out and interfere with it lying flat until I put a small dab of quake putty behind it; see Figure 1).
 5.  Blocking ants from entering the bathroom through a hole in the tiles.
6.  Covering ugly screws visible in otherwise white plastic; see Figures 2 (before), and 3 (after).
7.  Non-permanently supporting part of cabinet touch latches that stick out over shelves (see my earlier article about touch latches).
8.  Form a barrier.  We had a wireless router on a high shelf a while ago that we didn’t want to stick down, because I had to access the back panel every now and then, but didn’t want it slipping off and crashing onto things below.  I used quake putty to build a 3D ridge between the router and the edge; you couldn’t see it, but it would prevent the router from sliding forward without interfering with the ability to pick it up.
9.  Temporarily stick a recipe to the kitchen cabinet door while cooking.
10.  Hold music to a music stand if you are playing a gig outside (not great for page turns, though).
11.  Stabilize loose parts (such as thermostat covers).
12.  Support loose plugs that aren’t tightly held into their outlets (small bead between the plug plastic and the outlet plate).
13.  Stuff it into extra switches on alarm clocks that you don’t want to mistake for the on/off switch (such as ringer volume).
14.  Make a tiny snowman!  (Figure 4)  And the best part is that you don’t have to stick it down with quake putty; it IS quake putty!  (But don’t give quake putty to children as a toy.)
15.  Use as the equivalent of single-sided Velcro (having some exposed on a surface so that you can occasionally put an object there without it rolling or sliding away).
16.  Temporarily fill gaps, a non-permanent alternative to silicone sealant.
17.  Stop glass shelves resting on metal pegs in display cases from rattling when the door is opened or closed.
18.  Stop a paper plate from flying off the table during a picnic.
19.  Put a dab on your finger to help turn pages (if you are the finger-licking type).
20.  ...and...stick things down for earthquake preparedness!

Part 2:  Quakehold Gel is a great solution but watch out for some little glitches.  This is a nice product and I’m identifying it by name because, to the best of my knowledge, it’s the only such product that is clear, so I’m not endorsing one company over another.  Because it is clear, you can use it to stick down clear objects like glass and crystal that might look ridiculous if stuck down with cream-colored white putty (Figure 5).

(I recommend against using the Museum Wax, which is very strong but is awful to clean up and stains a variety of surfaces.)

One thing to watch out for is that you can’t use this stuff on porous surfaces such as unfinished wood, paper, or fabric.  It also isn’t very effective on rough surfaces because it oozes, unlike the putty which fills gaps and holds them.  This is best used on glass, crystal, plastic, finished wood, tile, etc.

The other thing to watch out for is that, as mentioned above, it oozes.  And I really mean it oozes!  This gel is essentially an extremely viscous liquid.  If you pull a clump out of the jar, there will be a big hole where that clump used to be, but come back an hour later and the edges will have smoothed.  Come back a day later and the hole is gone; it’s a flat surface again, probably with little hazy bubbles.  Come back a week later and it is a pristine clear surface.  So if you put a little too much gel under an object, it might look fine for a day, but a few days later, you might notice that some of it is oozing out, as if you put too much glue under something and pressed down onto a surface.  That’s ok, you can just scrape off the excess with a piece of paper or anything else, and if the remaining edge looks rough, it will smooth out by the next day.  You might find yourself doing this over and over again though, so just try to be sparing with it in the beginning.

One last caution, because of the properties described above, guess what happens if you stick something down onto a surface that is even slightly moves!  Really slowly!  Like one centimeter per month!  And it leaves behind a trail of gel that looks like a snail’s slime trail!  Here’s an example of what I encountered when trying to stick down a couple of crystal goblets onto a glass shelf in a display case:

(click for higher resolution)
These goblets have cut-out designs on the bottom (Figure 6), and I wasn’t sure whether it would be better to put a little gel around the rim, which would leave the facets open to reflect light but might end up with an uneven rim, or to completely fill the bottom with gel, reducing the pretty reflection in the facets but keeping everything even.  Well, here’s a photo of my initial attempt to fill it; lots of bubbles (Figure 7).  Over time (like many weeks), the bubbles moved and coalesced, so it didn’t look that bad (Figure 8), but I missed the pretty reflections of the light in the facets.

I then rolled some gel as thinly as possible and gingerly put it in a ring under the outer edge of the bottom of the other goblet, and gently pressed it down.  It started out very unevenly (Figure 9), but by about 2 weeks later, it had evened out (Figure 10), and looks much better than the completely filled alternative in my opinion.

However, it certainly oozed!  Over the next several days, I found myself daily scraping away excess gel that was slowly seeping out from the sides.  I found that a razor blade worked well, since the shelf is glass, or I could take a couple of inches of a plastic drinking straw and flatten it into a mini spatula that could scrape around the edges of the glass.  Again, it looked rough around the edges initially, but smoothed out nicely afterward.

I thought I was done, but a few weeks later, I saw the slime trail!  Sure enough, the glass had crept closer to the front of the shelf (Figure 11).  I scraped that all away, and a week or so later, the glass had crept even closer to the front of the shelf and there was another slime trail.  I confirmed with a level that the shelf was slightly tilted so the front was a little lower than the back, just a bit, but enough to make the glass slide forward in super-slooooo-mooooo (Figure 12).  I put small pieces of dark brown paper under the front corners on the dark brown plastic shelf support, to prop up the front until the level said it was straight, and the glass has not moved since then; looks great.

And yes, I thought about using quake putty to prop up the front, but that white stuff would have looked terrible under the glass!  Sometimes, old fashioned low tech is better.


  1. One follow-up: While I have had good results using quake putty on painted walls to stabilize pictures (that are being mainly supported with a hook), there are some reports of quake putty that has been on a wall for a long time leaving either an oil mark or a residue when it is finally removed. There are different products and that may vary by product. I will make some inquiries and update this comment in the next few days, so check back!

    Also, I should emphasize again that use on a vertical surface should not be intended as the main structural support for anything heavier than a poster. If you are using it to hold the lower corners of a framed picture, make sure that the picture is mainly being supported by a hook or equivalent. See my earlier post about maze picture hooks at

  2. With respect to use on painted walls, the different products vary in their recommendations. Quakehold putty/Museum Putty (from Quakehold) is marketed primarily as an earthquake putty, and there are seemingly contradictory instructions in different places regarding use on walls. The product instructions online include the note that it can be used on walls to help stabilize pictures. In other parts of the instructions, there are caveats about use on porous surfaces, and various people have reported oil stains on flat paint walls as mentioned above. I checked with the folks at Quakehold, who said, "Not recommended for flat, semi- flat painted surfaces… Any surface porous or absorbent could also leave oil residue. Goo gone and goof off on non porous surfaces will remove most residue, but not oil penetration. Works perfect on wood that is sealed, glass or other hard surfaces. Do not above all put on wallpaper." On the other hand, the product into for Amazing Stuff and Quake Secure (which are two names for the same product) both make a much stronger marketing pitch for the use on walls; rather than an afterthought; they market their product for quake securing and for wall use. Personally, I have found the Amazing Stuff to be softer and stretchier than the Quakehold putty, meaning that the Quakehold putty is easier to reuse without the "chewing gum on the shoe" effect. So, perhaps the safest approach is to use Quakehold/Museum putty primarily for the purpose of sticking things down, and Amazing Stuff/Quake Secure as a preferred product if you want to use it on non-glossy painted walls. I can't guarantee that Amazing Stuff won't leave an oil mark, just passing this along.

    Either way, none of these should be used as the primary structural support for anything other than paper. And the folks at Quakehold also stress that the Quakehold Gel should never be used on a wall, which makes sense given my notes about objects moving on shelves if given even the slightest tilt.


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