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.