A Glue That Slides
I get asked a fair old bit, why do you use liquid hide glue?
People often follow up; so that it doesn’t feel like their asking a daft question, by answering it themselves.
Normally the most obvious answer is “so it’ll be easy to restore later on”.
The reason I use hide glue, is a good one. But it’s certainly not as obvious as you might think.
As a hand tool woodworker, it’s easy to romanticise. Easy to imagine building stuff that will last for generations to come. But the chances are… it won’t. I recon most of what I build won’t be around in 100 years, not due to poor build, or the glue I use, but for the simple fact of people.
The 60 something year old man that’s just commissioned a table from me will treasure it for the rest of his life. But his jumped up swine of a kid who likes skateboards won’t. And he’s next in line. (I know there are holes in that story, and the skateboard’s not real, but you get the gist.)
So I’m not necessarily picking reversible, restorable hide glue for Tommy Turd. I’m picking it for me.
(I like the taste.)
The Advantages Of Liquid Hide Glue
Why I really choose it?
Well, have you ever made a perfect fitting dovetail, or bridle or the like?
You know when it dry fits like a piston.
Then you smear your generic wood glue on, and need a super sledge to get it together?
Well liquid hide doesn’t do that.
Instead it acts like lube.
That’s the reason I find it the best glue for much of my joinery. It aids the fit of your well-fitting joints.
PVAs and the like swell your work, and fast.
Then when they dry, they shrink a bit. Which makes through joints somewhat more tricky to get visually perfect.
There are many more advantages and reasons that I love this type of glue, and reversibility is definitely high up there. And of course there are also things I don’t like about it, but it has a good balance.
Liquid hide glue is the variant that comes in a squeezy bottle, ready to use, so there’s no scientific maths to using it. Hot hide glues do offer the same benefit, but as it cools it starts to bite, which is something to be aware of.
Just as an update, for those that are interested, we’re now of Chapter Three of the Side Table Series, and we’ve just glued up our perfect bridles.
There’s a bit of a sample video below.
If you’d like to see a sample of the previous chapter where we make the guides, it’s been added to the ‘What You’ll Learn’ section of this page.
TaDa Man says
Are there jobs where you reach past the hide glue and grab the PVA or some other glue?
I have an outdoor bench project nearing the top of the queue, and I think I will use marine epoxy for locking down the joinery.
I make signs for a living, no need to go with epoxy. Titebond 3 is all I use, have never had a sign fail, Even if the wood is left natural to the elements.
I’ve had titebond III fail under permanent stress in outdoors use. For normal use it shoulder be ok, like a workbench.
can you clarify what you mean by “permanent stress”?
TaDa Man says
Thanks for the feedback Bill & Jose. I will probably use the epoxy because I have some and I don’t have any Titebond III on the shelf.
I have been using up my PVA stock and starting to use Hide Glue as my go to glue.
Steve Tripp says
Excellent post. I’ve been researching hide glue to see if it fits in my shop and I like the taste as well.
Steve D says
This is a good point. Just the other day I beautifully fitting large mortise and tenon joint and when I put PVA on it to glue it up it wouldn’t fit! So here I am panicking, grab the dead-blow and whack it into place, all the while panicking that I’m going to have the glue set on me with a half-completed joint. I finally got it in and drove the draw bores home in time, but man, what stress! I’m just so tired of stress full glue-ups that leave me flaming mad when all is said and done. I’ll be turning to LHG a lot more often now.
I use hide glue for the reasons you stated, but high up on my list is clean up and doesn’t interfere with my finishing. I have a table I built a few years ago that has a slight shadow around the table top glue joints. When the table was first built you couldn’t see anything, but after several years you can see a slight shadow, about 3/8″ on both sides of the glue line, right where the PVA glue was wiped off the surface with a wet cloth.
Also, really enjoying the table build. I plan on making a few of them and to adapt the design for a slightly taller table for my reading room (really it’s an office where I keep lots of books).
I don’t know if you can get Old Brown Glue, but that is what I generally use. Better than the titebond, and you can use it hot or straight from the bottle, even for veneer work. I squirt some in a jam jar, heat it in my glue pot, and when I’m done just put the lid back on. Lasts for a long time, without having to “cook” new glue over and over. Always have an extra bottle in the fridge, you know, for like fries and stuff.
Mike S says
As a woodworker and skateboarder I take issue with only one aspect of this article: failing to correctly identify the source of the hypothetical skateboarder’s bias. Namely that skateboards are only made with PVA and, if made with hide glue, would likely de-laminate after a couple hours skating outside on a hot sunny day. 😉
TaDa Man says
This sounds like the perfect reason to make a test board with hide glue to see if it does fail. My limited and growing experience with Hide Glue makes me think that you might not know the difference, as long as you take the board in out of the rain.
The glue will crack because it cannot cope with that much flexing.
I very much like hide glue and will use it whenever I see fit.
One thing I don’t understand is why people have trouble with the hot hide glue cooling and setting.
For difficult glue ups, this is what I was taught from Day One:
Calmly apply the glue on both surfaces. And then reheat it with a hair dryer or paint stripper, before closing the joint. If you want to be sure, reheat the closed joint to let the glue flow once more.
Another option is to pre-heat the joint before applying glue. This will triple the setting time. But this only works when closing one joint at a time.
These methods have never failed me.
Paul Bouchard says
I got the hide glue pit from Lee Valley and love it. What I enjoy most is that for smaller glueups, you just hold the pieces together for a minute while the glue cools enough to hold it. The process took me right back in my mind to building model cars as a kid. Also, squeeze out doesn’t ruin everything it touches because the glue can be washed out of your clothes.
Paul B says
…glue pot, not “pit”.
Bernard Naish says
I have used nothing but hide glue for several years. I make my own version of Old Brown Glue by adding some urea to the hot glue mix. I also add a couple of drops of pure cedar wood oil that acts as a biocide and helps keep fungus at bay. By adding more urea the glue stays open longer and vice versa.
People are always telling me you cant make a rubbed joint with liquid hide glue but I have done it. It is faster with my OBG and faster still with neat hot hide glue.
I am also frequently told hide glue is no good in a damp place – not true. Although you can take hide glued parts apart if you have a large contact area then it is very difficult to do. You also need moisture and heat to be present and it seldom is. I would not use it for woodwork thats to be left out in the open but anywhere under cover it is fine.
Hot hide glue is only a headache if you haven’t got a suitable heating system. Commercial glue pots are sold at a stupid price but a thermostatically controlled wax heating system used in beauty salons does the job for under £25.
Lev Elman says
I have stumbbled upon this blog just now, searching for some specific information about the effect that urea has on hide glue. I know that it prolongs the ‘open time’, but to what extent? Is there a way to determine just how much longer working time would become by adding a certain amount of urea? I would be extremely greatful for any information about the relation of the amount of urea to ‘open time’ length!
I’m using hide glue on a bench project. It’s been doing fine so far. Haven’t used it since my Jr. High wood shop class. I have a (large) piece in my dining area from that long ago time, glued with hide glue. It’s doing fine. (It’s also the piece that shamed me into getting back into woodworking.)
Thanks Richard, you’ve taught me something new here once again. I didn’t realise PVA swelled the joints, which explains a lot and the slide aspect of hide sounds good.
Does that Titebond “go off” once opened and if so how long does it last. It looks a lot easier than faffing about with hot pots.
What I’d like to know is where the rumor got started that hide glue is weaker and vastly inferior to the PVA glues. I converted to liquid hide glue several years ago and would never go back. What first attracted me to liquid hide glue is the long open time – it takes all the stress out of glue ups. I talk hide glue up every chance I get (work part time at Rockler) and it’s unbelievable the skepticism that exists out there. Guess PVA glues are like the digital miter gauges – the new products make for better woodworking, not skill and practice.
Salko Safic says
The rumour started after WWII, the marketers had a new product and needed to get hide glue out of the way. The same thing happened when machinery was introduced to the home hobbyist. They advertised all the frustrations and inaccuracies of hand tool woodworking, so people like sheep as they commonly are said baaah and bought machinery. Btw titebond liquid hide isn’t a true hide glue but synthetic, only OBG uses high quality hide glue. Don’t believe me read their specs, but I was told directly from the horses mouth their tech department. Anyway I wrote an entire article on hide glue on my blog.
Jeffery Oliver says
I generally use several types of glue, but I am (generally) switching to OHG for most of my indoor projects. I have used a PVA sold by Lee Valley, which is very similar in use and cleanup as the one I used in Germany. I use Gorilla Glue for outdoor projects (I have built gat frames with it, and the are stll in use after more than 10 years outdoors), Nexabond (mostly for scrool-work), and thick cyanoacrylate for working with metal-to-wood bonds.
Salko Safic says
Do you find nexabond to harden within the bottle after a week or so.
Jeffery Oliver says
One of the reasons I only buy Nexabond in the smallest size – if it still sealed (fromthe factory), it doesn’t seem to set up for a longer period – or, plan your project “buy list” to plan for Nexabond’s requirement.
Pete The Wood Servant says
If you’re worried about the strength and longevity of work glued with Hot Hide Glue then consider the fact that there are pieces made by the ancient Egyptians some 3 or 4 thousand years ago that are still solid. Admittedly deep inside a Pyramid is pretty stable in both temperature and humidity. For veneering it’s absolutely a must, especially if you are trying to lay several matching veneers. The joints you can make are as close to invisible as it’s possible to get. And you can take as much time as you , come back to it tomorrow, or, even next week, if you feel like it.
Daniel Carlton says
I’m 3 years late to this party so I wonder if anyone’s still around.
I learned to love hide glue in my advanced piano technology course where we rebuilt old pianos. If my memory’s correct, in pianos from about the 1930’s or 1940’s and earlier, literally the entire instrument was put together with hide glue at every joint, structural and non, and under every bit of veneer and felt. Since then I’ve always wondered why anyone would ever use anything else, given the reversibility, and thus the repair-ability of hide glue joints. It’s really, really amazing stuff.
And thanks to Salko Safic for pointing out that Titebond’s hide glue is synthetic. Should’ve known they’d hide that fact, since they’ve also tried to suppress the many advantages of genuine, pure hide glues.
We used to use hide glue crystals and would sometimes put urea crystals to stretch working time but I never knew cedar oil would ward off bacteria. Thanks to Bernard Naish for the great tip. That’s good to know.
I originally came here after looking up the use of hide glue in wood flooring installation. I’m trying to replace a plank and a piece of trim in my floor and the planks are coming apart where it was glued at the tongue/groove joint. So I’d also like to know if anyone has ever used hide glue to glue up a floating wood floor. I don’t see any good reason why not, especially after what I’ve gone through tonight. Seems like it’d be the perfect glue for the job if you just dabbed at a few small spots along each joint. That way if you needed to replace anything you could either give it a good whack or lightly steam or use a vinegar treatment to separate the glue joint.
George McQuire says
I remember reading a book by Arthur C Clark which was set in the far distant future and two characters were amazed at a box one of them had that was actually made of wood…..real wood. We’re not quite at that stage now but we’re getting there. I wish I could remember the book’s title.
Excellent article, excellent explanation. Next time I’m at the BORG I will pick up a bottle of Titebond Hide glue, Your write up makes it appear very interesting. Thank you for sharing.
Allow me a correction, “… like their asking…”, should be either they are or they’re.