My New Glue

Hide glue is still a good choice for todays woodworker and liquid hide glue can be the best choice for your projects.

For the past several years I have been rethinking my use of glue in woodworking. When we buy things we typically look for the “best”, the “strongest”, the “toughest” and so on. It seems to be a natural human tendency, but is it the “best” course to take? I have come to the conclusion that when it comes to a general purpose woodworking glue it is not.

My wife and I run a small retail shop here in town. We sell antique, vintage and collectible items including furniture. Over the years I have repaired hundreds of pieces of furniture. I have learned a lot doing this. The main thing I have learned is that for any piece of furniture to survive for decades or generations it is going to need repair. That is a given. In order to repair a damaged piece of furniture you will have to remove the damaged or broken part. Repairs needed can range from broken legs to broken drawer runners to drawers coming apart and anything else you can think of. Furniture, manufactured or craftsman built, up into the 1940’s was held together with hide glue. Hide glue is not water proof or heat-resistant and let me tell you from a repair standpoint that is a big plus.

Modern glues are super strong and water-resistant if not waterproof. And we woodworkers have been lead to believe that the projects we build with these modern glues will last for many generations. I must admit that I too fell right into this line of thinking. However, over the years I have been confronted with modern furniture that was in need of repair and let it be known that taking a joint apart that was glued with modern glue can be a nightmare. Disassembling a modern glue joint requires heat, and lots of it. Water does not work and steam does not do much better. It takes a commercial heat gun. I have done more damage, trying to take a modern glue joint apart, and as a furniture restorer/repairer this is downright sinful. I have reached a point in my restoration/repair business that I will no longer purchase modern furniture that is in need of repair. It isn’t worth the work or the aggravation. So where do you think this damaged modern furniture ends up? I’ll tell where I find it when cleaning out estates is in the basement or the garage where it deteriorates from dampness and temperature extremes.And from there it goes to the landfill. Now that is not what I have in mind for the furniture that I build and I know you don’t either.

I love working on vintage furniture that was assembled with hide glue. A little water and/or a little heat and the joints can be taken apart. A little heat and some scraping and the old glue is easily removed, though this is not necessary because hide glue will stick to itself, unlike our modern glues. So if you plan to reassemble with hide glue you don’t have to remove the old glue though I do to make things a little neater.

Given my experiences repairing furniture over the years I have decided to switch to liquid hide glue for my general purpose wood glue. It has all the properties of hot hide glue except the quick tack and maybe a little less strength. It is in most cases stronger than the wood itself, meaning that the wood will break before the glue joint fails. In my opinion any more strength than that is wasted. Liquid hide glue also has a very long open time which means that a complicated glue up is no longer a fire drill. Imagine being able to take your time and actually enjoy a glue up for a change.

When the furniture that I build gets damaged I want it to be easily taken apart for repair. I want it to be used and enjoyed by its owners not deteriorating in a damp basement or garage, or rotting in a landfill. So may I suggest that you get off the “super strong” “phantasmagorical” band wagon and give liquid hide glue a try in your shop.

As always thanks for stopping by and please feel free to leave a comment.

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About R & B ENTERPRISES

Professional furniture maker and restorer. Dealer and collector of vintage and antique woodworking tools.
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4 Responses to My New Glue

  1. Jeff says:

    I have tried it and I do like it. As of now I am picking my spots. I am still trying to use up my overly large stash of modern glues on shop appliances and such. My last real project was a little over my head and I used Hide glue as a means of having a way to back out if A->B went fine but A+B->C did not. It all went went fine but I had a warmer feeling going in.

    • Thanks for your comment. Being a Yankee I too am using up my modern glue, but not on furniture.

      Speaking of shop appliances I have an article in mind on those. It will be in the simple manner like the clamp jig.

  2. Ken Speed says:

    I don’t use liquid hide glue any more because it’s so easy for me to use regular hide glue now that I don’t bother with it. I do think it’s great stuff and used to use it both as a glue and as a gap and dent filler because it doesn’t interfere with oil or water based stains.

    • Nice to hear from you. It was good to meet you at the CVSW open house.

      Hot hide glue is the natural progression from liquid hide glue. I recommend starting with the liquid hide glue and learning its value in assembly. Then it is natural to move to the hot hide glue. I mostly make knobs and totes so I do very little glue up these days. Given this hot hide glue is more trouble for me than it is worth, but if you are doing glue ups on a regular basis by all means try the hot hide glue. However, there is still one thing that liquid hide glue has over the hot hide glue and that is open time. When doing a large or complex glue up liquid hide glue gives you plenty of open time to work without pressure. Hot hide glue has almost instant tack and makes big glue ups difficult as do todays modern glues.

      Thanks for your comment.

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