Three-thousand years ago, the Egyptians at Thebes used hide glue made from the skin, bones, and connective tissue of animals to create inlays and veneers on wooden furniture used in the funerals of their mighty pharaohs. Over 1,500 years ago, Chinese masons mixed a sticky rice paste with lime juice to serve as mortar between stones. Weapon builder’s used a resin of boiled pine pitch to waterproof the wood end of knives and swords. For centuries man has been searching for a way to strengthen and set when constructing joints. With furniture building, it is possible to join wood without glue – the challenge of it interesting and Dan’s preferred method on larger pieces – but the additional strain put on the joint requires an adjustment in design and at least double the amount of time. Glue gives craftsmen a chance to compete in today’s market and is indispensable when working small corners on small projects such as boxes and frames.
Used by violin makers as early as the 16th. century, hide glue was the first bottle of glue to show up Dan’s woodshop and remains one of his favorite. Made from organic materials, it is considered a true glue unlike other chemical-based adhesions and is known for its unique ability to wash completely clean from a wood surface. This allows joints set with hide glue to be repaired again and again without losing their integrity. The downside of hide glue is that it gets tacky in the heat and can be difficult to work with in a shop with no AC.
When setting the four corners of a small frame with clamps, good old yellow wood glue is considered the industry standard. Wood glue was designed to set fast with a strong tack, allowing for shorter clamp times. This short drying time makes it ideal for small projects. When gluing up a piece, the “open time” is very important. This is the time you have to move or adjust the piece before the glue “sets” and becomes locked. Moving a piece once the glue sets breaks the bond and weakens the joint.
Polyurethane glue is Dan’s new favorite for setting up large pieces of furniture such as jewelry armoires or desks. This glue has a long “open time” – up to 30 minutes - so you move things around and make adjustments when gluing multiple joints simultaneously. The glue also foams up and doesn’t soak into the wood, making it easy to feel, see, and chisel off.
This is by no means an extensive list of all the glues out there, but if you ever visit Dan’s woodshop, you’ll notice these three bottles sitting around. If you want to give them a try, buy the small bottles – they do dry out over time.