Warning the Innocents

The importance, the perils, the sheer panic inducing anxieties of a simple glue up cannot be understood by innocent bystanders. An innocent will walk into your shop at the moment of your gluing and think, how wonderful, how serene. Oh, to be a woodworker and calmly enjoying the fruits of one’s labors. They wave a jaunty hello as they step in. Then they look at your face. They receive the terse hello if not a more shortened grunt of recognition, they see the tight lines drawn around your mouth, the beady eyes of concentration, the quick movements. What have they walked into they wonder?

Well it is a test they’ve stepped into. A trial by fire and polyvinyl acetate. An activity that can reduce a calm and normal person to a bug eyed monster screaming at inanimate objects and loved ones alike. They’ve wandered into the shop of some kind of madman off his medication and stung by a hundred wasps all at once.

You know this, those of you who have felt the tightening grip of a glue-up. You who have been tested by an adhesive drying before your very eyes. It’s no trivial matter. If you’re the one driving the ship that day, you alone will live with the consequence of not turning the wheel soon enough, not cutting the motor before plowing into the dock. Watching your weeks of work turn into a shattered puzzle that needs extracting from a pool of quickening adhesive.

Gluing up is a time in the shop that is a culmination, it is a celebration really of all that you’ve done, all the hours of effort, the days of patience, the weeks of preparation to get your parts to this spot. These pieces are ready, gleaming, sanded to within an inch of their lives, carved and polished, shaped and faired, poked and mortised with an Egyptian sense of perfection. Not a gap to be seen in any joint. Perfect. You are ready to glue. It has finally come to this.

But this is where sometimes you lose sight of your goal. Your goal is completion, ease, a sense of sliding right into that dock perfectly with just a slight bump as you settle into place. But you sense it too keenly, you smell it too well and perhaps this is the problem. It’s right there, you can almost see it from here, your goal seems so blue and serene or it’s lying in a green meadow with the sounds of tiny clouds whisking by or there’s a brook babbling somewhere in the background or maybe the whole scene is just floating in beer. Whatever your goal looks like, it’s so close. It’s right in front of you. You can almost taste it and it’s at this time that some people just grab the glue bottle and begin, happy, calm.

Well, it’s a sad day sometimes is glue-up day. It’s a sad day when you rush to that glue bottle, when you say I can do this, I’m ready, and no, no you’re not. You’re not ready. You’re not ready to begin, you haven’t filled the bottle with all the glue you’ll need. And when the time comes and you need more, the glue sits at the bottom of the bottle and will take an impossibly slow time to reach the spout. It’s as if Gravity has taken on more of an attitude today. “Yeah, I’ll have the glue flow when I’m good and ready,” Gravity cheekily says to you. “No worries, chaka man, no worries, what’s the hurry,” Gravity yawns. Meanwhile your hair is turning grey as your fingers are turning white.

You need a clamp and you can’t remember if your neighbor returned those clamps he borrowed, ach I’m getting glue all over my table saw or criminy why don’t these rails go in like before, where’s my hammer? Or didn’t they line up before and now I can’t move them and your hammer blows leave only dents and torn fibers. It’s no longer a glad day with the end in sight, the end is slowly being torn up and shattered like you’re plowing into that dock. You’re still on that boat and you just want to get off.

Gluing up is one of those false promise things really, like push-up bras and socks in the pants. It’s a promise of delight and ease that just won’t deliver. You’d think the glue would make things slide easier. But it only acts as a wonderful lubricant for about 5 seconds, then it starts to work. Fear not. We have all been there. You’re not alone and you’ll live through it again. Just try, next time, to plan a bit before beginning your work. Find all your clamps first and clamp pads and extra clamps. Practice the sequence, figure out your steps before beginning, before squeezing out that glue. The job can be done with a little less quickening of the pulse. You just need to plan a little better, learn to think ahead a bit more. Just always warn the innocents before they enter on glue up day.

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Published in: on March 19, 2008 at 9:03 am  Comments (5)  
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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I became the “bug eyed monster ” yesterday when my son asked for a snack…right now…while I’m gluing up a base for a harp I’m making…Timing is everything.

  2. Glue up – screw up… that’s all I have to say ’bout that!

    LOL! Great post! Thanks for lightening the day!

  3. Why, oh why, do I rush to glue up, to see the almost finished piece standing on it’s own only to realize that some little detail that I made a mental note to take care of easily when things are in pieces is left undone?

  4. I have always enjoyed glue-up time. Especially if it’s been a while since the last one. I like to start a small tape recorder just before the process begins, and then play it back later.

    It is a never-ending source of wonderment to review the many variations on cursiing such times can inspire.

  5. I’ve really been enjoying the eloquence of your writing style. It’s been far too long since my last glue-up but you managed to get my blood pressure right back to where it was on that day; just short of a heart attack!!


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