Sticking together

Woodworkers have a variety of glues at their disposal. No one is the universal panacea – each has situations in which it excels. Since I chiefly build indoor wood furniture, I usually use hide glue.

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Hide glue comes in two flavors: hot, and liquid. The terms are self-explanatory. At the risk of redundancy however, I will elucidate. In the United States, hide glue is most readily available to woodworkers in a powdered form at two strength levels. Denoted in grams, the lower the number the longer the open time. 192 gram strength hide glue is the most common. While suitable for most woodworking tasks, its speciality is in veneering and marquetry. Also available, but much less commonly encountered is 251 gram strength glue for cabinetmaking. This glue creates a stronger bond, but sets up much faster than 192.

  • Hide glue is easy to use. Other than the heating that hot hide glue requires, it is simple to prepare, and use. Liquid hide glue can be used straight from the bottle!
  • Hide glue is strong. It is more than adequate for woodworking tasks. In certain joinery situations, it even provides a slight advantage.
  • Hide glue doesn’t smell. Many people are concerned that hot hide glue will produce a strong smell, according to the stories they’ve heard. However, visitors to my studio are always surprised to learn that the glue pot has been cooking their entire visit, and they’ve been standing adjacent to it! Use a good quality hide glue. If the glue develops a strong smell, it’s an indication that it has gone bad. Wash out the pot, and make a fresh batch!
  • Hide glue has an infinite lifetime if kept dry.

While many are familiar with these points, few are aware of its benefits.

  • Hide glue is reversible! Unlike nearly every other glue, pieces bonded with hide glue can be separated with the application of heat and moisture, that is, hot water! Every other glue that I know of requires the destruction of the joint!
  • Hide glue adheres to itself. It is the only glue of which I’m aware that will bond to itself. This quality makes it ideal in situations where the joinery is stressed, and will eventually fail, for example, chairs.
  • Hide glue is transparent to finish.
  • Hide glue accommodates certain techniques, such as rubbed joints, and hammer veneering, for instance, which cannot be achieved through any other method.

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Not only does hide glue provide these advantages, but this is exactly the type of glue that would have been used on the Oeben original.

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