How Much Glue is Enough Glue


May 27, 2008

I’m glad you asked that question as I am asked it all the time. How much glue is enough glue?

Now you know of course that glue is one of nature’s great mysteries. It is fixed, immutable, sets in seconds and is dependable. Our language is filled with references to it: that door is stuck like glue, those two are inseparable like glue, in this crowd stick to me like glue. Yet at one and the same time it is changeable, it can fail, and it can fail repeatedly. All this depends completely upon your needs at the time. It seems sometimes that it is perhaps one of nature’s great anticipators: what you want, you ain’t getting here.

Consider what happens when you glue. You are an experienced woodworker. You know to practice your set-up, get out your clamps, maybe even anticipate a potential problem or two in the glue-up. You have your act together.

Then you add the glue. As you also know by now, glue acts as a wonderful lubricant for about 5 seconds. Then it sets and hardens with your parts in the wrong position. How it knows to set up with these parts askew is also one of nature’s mysteries. You have to see it to believe it. But it happens all the time. Your project will go together like a seamless puzzle and you the puzzle master. Then you add just a tiny wee little smidgen of almost a whisper thin minute microscopic barely a wash coat of adhesive and all of a sudden your parts lock in a wrestler’s armlock embrace of cockeyed asymmetry.

What has just happened you ask yourself? Your self has no answer because there is no answer for one of nature’s mysteries. Glue does everything you want it to in all the wrong ways at the wrong time. How could it know? How could it anticipate your desires and be so perverse? Is it the animals hooves and bones and sinews taking aim back at us? Is it that the hubris of modern chemistry has caught up with us, the end users?

I am a long time user of poly-vinyl acetate glue. PVA glue, yellow glue, white glue, carpenters glue, woodworkers glue. Many names for this adhesive. Sets up fast, dries clear, has good strength, allows for some stretching or creep in the joint so it’s good for joinery, not so good for bent laminations. There are other glues as well: urea-formaldehyde which set up more slowly and are more temperature sensitive. Hide glues which need warming but are sticky like crazy and can be taken apart easily if something goes wrong. Water. Water makes an excellent glue. Yes, temperature sensitive it is. But just keep everything at about 20 degrees Fahrenheit and your parts are locked forever together. It’s not a great gap filler but if your parts fit well and have room for a little bit of water between them, man they’re locked together.

Why do I find glue to be so perverse? What about it doesn’t like me? Let me first say that I do not consider myself special. I do not get special scrutiny from glue. It will mess you up the same as me. I just think that gluing comes at the end of a very long and sometimes tortured process. We have been sawing and shaping and joining and sanding and sanding and planing and sanding and scraping and sanding and then just little bit more sanding to get to this point. Boy this is it. Glue-up. The big day. The big moment.

And you start, unavoidably, to move a little faster. To quicken your pace when you actually need to slow down. When you actually need to breathe deep, take a look around, count your blessings, and go through your check list one more time, you have instead grabbed a helmet, jumped on board the sled and without looking start heading down the hill to disaster. You begin rushing after weeks of patience. You grab the glue pot and that 4″ wide paint brush and start slopping the glue on. A nightmare you shriek, but there’s no help for it, you have to finish, why? Because you started and the glue is on and it’s hard to get off and I started and so I have to finish.

Glue does this to people. It’s not nice. Glue is not nice. It makes you hyperventilate, it causes strange words to come out of your mouth. People you love are screamed at, hammers are raised, clamps thrown, wailing and gnashing of teeth occurs.

Or so I have heard. From other woodworkers. Their stories.

For myself, glue is merely a disturbance. A bump in the road. I can get by, I can get by. Just take my time and put on just enough glue so it slops out only where I want it. Thank you. I’ll move on now. But it will do things to you. It will start to grab where you’ve never seen it grab before. Lock parts together when what you need is another 5 seconds, 5 seconds! of turning the clamp screws. It is a mystery to me at least that it is like this. But there it is. It is one of nature’s mysteries.

Now in answer to your question about glue and how much glue is enough, the answer of course is just enough. Too little and you’ll worry all night if you put on enough. Too much and it’s like the miraculous beads of glue oozing from the joints will never stop dripping on your project, your bench, and your clamps. I can only say this to you, fellow gluer. Stick with me, as soon as I get the glue off my hands, I will be able to help you.

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Published in: on May 27, 2008 at 10:17 am  Leave a Comment  

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