How to install paper gaskets – Complete Guide


How to install a paper gasket

This is the method I have found to have the most favorable outcomes.  I’ve done the do-it-once, then do-it-again technique. It’s just not for me, I would rather not pull the entirety of my engine accessories off more than once. 

ToolsOpens in a new tab. you may need for water pump gasket: 

  • Impact gun 
  • Impact bit 
  • Scotch Brite drill ball 
  • PB blaster or WD-40 
  • Brake clean 
  • Carbide scraper 
  • Extensions for impact sockets 
  • Deep and shallow sockets (metric or SAE depending on your vehicle’s model and manufacturer) 
  • Breaker bar (at least 16”) 
  • Flathead screwdriver 
  • Philips screwdriver 
  • Breaker bar
  • Rags (lint free) 

If you do not own some of these tools. Seriously consider going out to purchase them.  Not only will they save you time, but also pay dividends on your next project. 

Step 1:  Disassembly

Gain easy access to engine accessories. This will be different for all vehicles.  Mine is easy enough! 

Step 2: Draining Coolant

Drain all coolant from the engine. 


Step 3:  Acessory Removal

Disassemble the engine accessories. 

  • Remove the belt
  • Alternator 
  • Ac compressor 
  • Power steering pump 
  • Other brackets that may be in the way 

Gain access to and remove: 

  • Water pump
  • Water pump housing 
  • Thermostat housing 
  • Timing cover 

(If you can confirm it’s just your water pump, then just replace that if you’d like. While you have access, it may be worth going a bit further, and re-sealing everything around it) 

The engine pictured is a Ford 302. Unfortunately, I ripped the one-piece gasket that seals the pan to the timing cover.  I opted to replace the oil pan gasket, instead of other half measures after I tried Big globs of RTV and make-a-gasket

Step 4: Surface Prep  

Prep all surfaces for paper gasket installation. 

  • Spray surface with break clean 
  • Scrape old gasket material off with carbide scraper 
  • Spray surface with brake cleaner again
  • Use scotch bright drill attachment to remove additional old material 
  • Spray surface with brake cleaner again 
  • Wipe off any contaminets with lint free rag. 

Repeat the process until shiny. See the picture for example 

Do this with all gasket material surfaces, including the water pump plate. Sometimes forgotten about! This is a gasket sealing surface as well. 

Step 5: RTV Application

Once all contaminants have been removed, grab a glob of ULTRA GREY RTV on your finger. 

Around the coolant ports of the engine get it nice and thick. 

Any time I see a coolant port I will add extra RTV to this area to ensure they will not leak.  

On a Ford 302 5.0 motor, under the timing cover is the oil pan. If coolant leaks into the oil pan, the entire pan must be removed for proper cleaning.

For the rest of the timing cover gasket surfaces, just spread a super light coating in RTV.  See pictures for example. 

Step 6:  Paper Gasket Installation

Install the paper gasket safely.  I like to get this in one shot. I do not want to be spreading RTV all over the place. 

Precision is your mindset. 

Step 7:  Timing cover Prep

On the timing cover, again use a glob of RTV for extra security around the coolant ports. Then a thin layer around the rest of the gasket surface. 

Apply RTV straight to the gasket surface, not the paper gasket. 

Step 8: Timing Cover Install

Place a bolt back into the timing cover. Then line up the guidance pin on the block and the bolt. 

Thread the bolt in until the timing cover is nice and snug.  Do not torque this bolt yet.  

Re-install the remaining bolts around the timing cover.  Once finger tight – torque to 15-20 torque pounds or see what your manufacture suggests.  

Torque them in a cross pattern, similar to what you would do with a wheel. 

Step 9:  Install Water Pump Housing

Install the water pump housing.  Again use a thick amount of RTV for the coolant ports.   

At this point, the coolant port sealing is less important. If leaks come from this area, it will not have catastrophic results.  

Then spread a thin layer around the rest of the gasket mounting surface.  

Do this for both the timing cover gasket side and the water pump housing side. 

Install the paper gasket with precision. 

You may not have a pin to help key everything together at this point.  Instead line the gasket up with the bolt holes.  You will have enough time to install the water pump housing before the gasket slips. 

Re-install bolts finger right, and torque in a cross pattern to manufacture spec. 

Step 12:  Finishing the install

Repeat this process for all gaskets. Then re-install your engine accessories. 

Let cure for 24 hours before adding coolant back to the engine. 

Bleed coolant system to manufacture specs. 

What are paper gaskets used for? 

  • Water pump gasket
  • Water pump housing gasket 
  • Thermostat housing gasket 
  • Timing cover gasket 

Other types of gaskets for a motor

  • RTV 
  • Rubber gaskets
  • Cork gaskets 
  • Metal gaskets 

Can I use just RTV instead of a paper gasket? 

Yes, But paper gaskets will still be a great resource when dealing with components to an engine. 

If you have a timing cover that has a few extra scratches, minor or not. A paper gasket can help seal those areas better. 

For myself, I like to use a combination of RTV and paper gasket when sealing engine components involving coolant. 

Would RTV get me by? 

Yes, Grey RTV that is safe for coolant can make a great seal even without the paper gasket.  

Actually damaged the paper gasket for my thermostat housing during this install. So instead of sourcing a new one, or making my own. I just used a decent bead of ultra grey RTV and torqued it to spec.  

I made sure to wait 24 hours (the recommended curing time for this brand of RTV) before adding fluids back to the engine. 

Can I make my own paper gasket? 

Yes, you can make your own paper gasket. It also does not need to be made out of specific paper gasket sheet material. 

When In a pinch, simply find some card stock from around the house.  While a sheet of paper gasket material will work the best.  Sometimes you just have gotta get the job done. 

Types of paper gasket sheet material

  • Asbestos Gasket sheet 
    • Used for heavier duty applications known for its tough fiber material and resistance to different types of chemicals. Not the best option for your mustang though. 
  • High-temperature gasket sheet 
    • This material can resist temperatures up to almost 600°F. If your engine is that hot, lots more to worry about besides gasket materials. 
  • Nitrile gasket sheet 
    • This is a rubber material that would work great for your oil pan, transmission pan, or even your valve cover gasket. 
  • Silicone gasket sheet 
    • Again another flexible rubber gasket sheet that can withstand high temperatures. Just a bit higher price tag.  Unless, you’re building a mud bog racer, or maybe a rock bouncer. This would not be necessary.
  • Graphite gasket sheet
    • Typically reinforced with metals, graphite gaskets are quite brittle on their own.  Unless you’re in a chemical plant dealer with extreme temperature and heat. It’s probably time to move in. 

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