Avoid This Disaster with Hide Glue

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The only time I feel like I’m a Deep South Bible salesman is when I try to convince people of the merits of hide glue. I’ve spent years honing my case for this glue, which is perfectly designed for furniture makers.

Among younger woodworkers, it’s an easy sell. But for people who have been using yellow or white glue for a decade or two, it’s typically hopeless.

And so I present to you these four photos that show one of the glue’s many merits.

Today I’m tidying up the carcase of a tool chest that is bound for a customer in two weeks. And I found an ugly film of glue that has squeezed out under the top skirt. I’d missed it because it had been obscured by the bar of a clamp.

No worries. I get a small bucket filled with the hottest tap water and fetch a toothbrush and a blue surgical rag.

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I apply some of the hot water to the glue and rub it in with the rag. These surgical rags (available via mail order or from friends in the medical profession) don’t leave lint behind and have a very slight abrasive quality. But they don’t scratch the wood.

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After about 30 seconds of rubbing, I switch to the toothbrush to make sure I get all the glue out of the corner. Then I dip the rag in the hot water anew, scrub the affected area and hit it again with the toothbrush. After a couple cycles the glue softens, then dissolves into the rag and the water. I dry off the area and I’m done.

There might still be a little bit of dissolved glue in the grain (which I cannot see), but as hide glue is transparent to most finishes, I’ve never had a problem.

This fix took about two minutes and there was zero chance of my gashing the wood with a scraper, chisel or shoulder plane.

By the way, this fix works on hide glue that is way older than I am.

— Christopher Schwarz

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About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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48 Responses to Avoid This Disaster with Hide Glue

  1. Doug Kull says:

    Does the glue make your toothbrush taste funny?

  2. oldret1sg says:

    Chris,
    Never used it. Is this the typical old style hot hide glue?
    I’ll bite and try it if you’ll help me out w/a few questions.
    Where do you buy it & is the double boiler pot necessary still?
    How long before using do I need to prepare it?
    It there a lot of wasted glue in day in day out use of the pot?
    I understand there is a pretty nasty smell. It can’t be worse than
    the smell of lacquer being sprayed: can it?

    Bill

    • Ben Lowery says:

      Bill, you might find this helpful: http://www.workbenchdiary.com/2013/06/its-easy-to-make-your-own-liquid-hide.html

      It’s not hot hide, but it works quite well and is just as easy to clean up.

    • Bill,

      I recommend most people first try the liquid hide glue. Go to any Ace Hardware or Do It Best or other mom-and-pop-store and they will have it. You use it just like yellow glue. But it has all the same revesibility properties of hot hide. No extra equipment involved.

      As there is no pot, there is nothing wasted. It doesn’t smell much at all.

      After you get comfortable with the liquid stuff, you will get interested in some of the additional great things you can do with the hot stuff.

      • shopsweeper says:

        I my experience liquid hide glue needs to be “fresh-ish”. Each manufacturer has published out-of-date limits but stores (both local and big online outfits) may not be experienced at understanding that this product has a shelf life.

        I don’t want to deride the merits of hide glue here. I do want to avoid someone’s first experience being with an 8-year-old bottle that might not set up all the way. An in everything in life, the quality of your local hardware store is important.

        Self-mixed dry glue seems to last forever (I have about a 1/2 lbs of glue my grandfather purchased from a store and a manufacturer that are both out of business and it works fine when I mix it up today).

        • And you can believe that when the date on the bottle says expires by, it does. I’ve had bottles 2 days past date that wouldn’t stick worth a darn.

          • I’ve had bottles that are two years expired that work fine. It’s a natural product that can vary from batch to batch. And it definitely is sensitive to how it is stored. Put it in the fridge and it will last a looong time.

      • shopsweeper says:

        I’m working on a theory that exposure to heat (or lack thereof) may be the key to the liquid stuff breaking down in the bottle faster or slower. This is based on my experience with a few bottles in my non-air conditioned shop over several Oklahoma summers (100+ F days). This is not based on my knowledge of chemistry.

        I have had other people I trust testify about the glue keeping well past the “use by” date but they have been North of the Mason-Dixon line or had climate controlled work spaces. (I’m jelly, of course)

  3. nateharold says:

    I use Titebond Hide Glue straight from the bottle (you’ve mentioned it before). It rocked during my last glue-up. 9 pieces needed to align at once. It took me 45min and the glue cooperated throughout – components didn’t jam up but slid together, extra open time, things moved many minutes later when I really needed it. Great stuff.

  4. wldrylie says:

    I’m more interested in the plane in the back round…moving fiilister? Don’t see the fence though. Where can I see one close up? Looks good. Maker?

  5. Paul Knapp says:

    Chris, I have years of experience as a journeyman cabinet maker, although I did leave the trade for a couple of decades. Upon returning, I decided to go almost entirely hand tools, and a short time later almost exclusively hide glue. I love the stuff and have become as evangelical as you about it. Thank you for introducing it to me.

  6. Paul Moody says:

    For 30 years I worked in the coating field using formulations on Hide glue and animal glue. It is very versatile stuff and can be made flexible or peal able. Hide glue will hold till burned. But most importantly, it is reversible!

  7. martybacke says:

    Your example is why I use hide glue to glue up boxes. You obviously can’t get to the glue squeeze out that’s inside the box while the glue is drying. After you’ve sawn off the top the glue can be moistened and totally removed. I’ve only used water from the faucet (which still doesn’t take that long to soften the glue) so I’ll have to use hot water in the future.

  8. Farmer Greg says:

    Just don’t steal my wooden leg.

  9. domanicoj says:

    Chris, Your posting reminded me of a few of my own horror glue ups. That’s it, I am gonna try it on my next project. Don’t give up on us old heads, eventually we hear your message!

    • Paul Knapp says:

      Experiment before you commit a project to a major change in glue technology. Hide glue, especially if you mix your own and use a hot glue pot, is a different animal and takes a little getting used to. There is a wealth of information about it on the web. There are different strengths available and they all have different gelling times. I agree with Chris about using some Titebond hide glue first. After that get some of Patrick Edward’s Old Brown Glue and once you’re comfortable with that move on to the glue pot and mixing your own.

      • domanicoj says:

        Excellent advice Paul, thanks! And, yes, Titebond Hide Glue first for me. I remember when Titebond offered the Liquid Hide glue originally(late 1980’s?), it got bad reviews. That is probably why I shied away from it. As a professional cabinetmaker and architectural woodworker, I couldn’t afford glue failures ever. So, yellow glue, epoxy or resorcinol glue is what I used. Now that I can work on my own terms, I tend to experiment more. All of the best qualities of Hide Glue match my needs now, more than ever.

        • FYI, Titebond invented commercial liquid hide glue and it has been around since the 1930s. The company went through a period where some bad or old batches went to market. I’ve been using it for a decade and have never had any problems. And Old Brown Glue is completely awesome, too.

      • domanicoj says:

        Thanks for the clarification Chris! Adding Old Brown Glue to my list too. Hmmmm? Is the name a reference to “Old Brown Shoe” of George Harrison fame?

      • miathet says:

        I love both of these but want to mention if you are heating frugal (cheap) and live up north they both are must easier to use above 65F. I will warm them of keep them in the warm room in the house to get the best out of them.

  10. Brad Parham says:

    As a novice woodworker, I either find myself doing glueups in stages, which tests my patience, or hustling to try and make it all work before my titebond II sets up and doesn’t slide around anymore, which usually leaves me about 30 seconds after I spread all the glue I need. I think this is certainly worth a try!! Perhaps a self-education in glue types is in order.

  11. Brad Parham says:

    Reblogged this on Brad Parham and commented:
    Reading this I thought it really applied to some of the glue ups I have done. I always find myself without enough time, or with glue oozing out from places I don’t really want it.

    Using hide glue, as Christopher Schwarz suggests, seems like something worth experiementing with if I need to do a big glue up, or just in general use.

  12. Rachael Boyd says:

    I have been using hide glue for for a while ( I do a lot of furniture repair), love the whole hot pot thing. I have had liquid hide that didn’t set after and all night wait . but only that one bottle.I do keep both hot and the bottled in the shop.I really like the fact that when working on a piece that was made over a hundred years ago I just heat a joint and add a moisture and it comes right apart. plus you don’t need to clean the joint of all the old glue.

    • Fresh glue is always important – liquid or hot. The “spider-web test” works for both.

      For those of you haven’t heard it: Place a dollop of glue on your index finger and press it with your thumb for a minute or two. Then start tapping your thumb with your index finger and watch the glue. Hot hide should immediately begin to produce web-like strands. Liquid glue will do the same, but I find it takes more than five minutes.

      If you get the sticky web, the glue will set up.

    • ouidavincent says:

      Rachael, would you please post pics of your ATC?

  13. studioffm says:

    OH Joy!
    I am, of the old glue era. though have used a lot of PVA in my time. My workshop manager Daren who is twenty years younger than me, is a solid PVA man. So getting hide glee back into my shop on an every day basis is a wee bit of a tussle. So thanks Chris I will print it out and leave it on Darens bench and put it on the notice board and Jons bench ….

    david savage

  14. I’ve been using liquid hide glue for a year or so but still find myself reaching for PVA when I want something glued up “quick.” What I mean is that I find I can work PVA after it’s cured for a few hours in my shop (i.e. glue up in the morning and work the piece after lunch). I’ve been concerned about this property in liquid hide glue.

    Here’s my question: how long do you let parts sit before you work them? 1 hour? 4 hours? Overnight? 24 hours?

    Thanks,
    Shawn

    • It depends. In the summer liquid hide can be unclamped in an hour. In the winter, I’ll wait four hours.

      With any glue (PVA, epoxy, hide), however, I err on the side of more clamp time than what the bottle says. I leave assemblies in the clamps until I need those clamps for something else. Dense or resinous woods (yellow pine, teak etc.) can require at least five hours in the clamps, no matter what the glue.

      So I plan my day around getting the maximum clamping/curing time. Glue-ups happen at the end of the day if possible.

  15. adrianmakes says:

    Years ago I tried old brown glue and it was a nightmare to use. I had to warm up the glue to even get it to come out of the bottle, and then I had at most 5 minutes of open time. I glued two boards edge to edge and the glue line ended up fat and ugly. I tried to fix this using hide glue’s much vaunted reversibility, and I ended up having to reverse it with a saw. I asked the Edwards about it and he said my shop was too cold (mid 60’s) I should heat it.

    Will I have a different experience with titebond?

    I actually have used fish glue a few times, because it gives me an hour open time in my cool shop. But I remain confused about this glue—nobody seems to talk about it. Is there something wrong with it?

    • Paul Moody says:

      I am not sure about “new fish glues”, but the original ones worked very well, except in high humid areas. they can tend to suck up moisture from the air. From my experience, many of the premixed adhesives are good, but you can get more out of mixing your own, not a lot of to do. they can be messy and if animal based glue hangs around too long, you will know that it is bio-degradable!

  16. adrianmakes says:

    What are the “new fish glues”?

    You mean in high humid areas the joint would fall apart? I got my fish glue from Lee Valley, and I used it to glue things like dovetails and mortise & tenons. For edge gluing panels I was uneasy and stuck with PVA—I didn’t need the long open time for that task.

  17. Andrew John says:

    Hide glue seems like the way to go for most joinery, especially where one piece slides into the other. Would it also be a reasonable alternative to laminating pieces for a table top or would yellow glue or epoxy be preferred in that application?

  18. You really should replace your toothbrush when the bristles start splaying out like that. Makes it easier to get into the dental mouldings.

    (No?)

    It really helps when you’re trying to get glue off of your crown.

    (Still bad? Ummm…)

    A stiff brush means less scraping?

    (No, that’s terrible, isn’t it?)

    Does the toothbrush work better on the tongue? Or can you use it for the grooves, as well?

    (Must be having an off day.)

    Is this the same toothbrush you use to apply your paste wax?

    (Sorry, I’ll just get my hat…)

    • ouidavincent says:

      My first dovetail glue up I used titebond 2. The glue set up before I could close the joint. I used bottled hide glue for the dovetailed carcase I just finished and it worked like a charm. I’m sold.

  19. jbakerrower says:

    I can’t get my head around the dovetail on the skirt. Is it a trick of the camera angle or is that an unusual corner?

  20. abtuser says:

    Yea, I’m working (slowly) on my English knock-down workbench and debated hide glue. Didn’t see any mention of it in the Pop Wood article so I have stuck to yellow glue so far. I probably should have braved it.

  21. Folks that are really into “natural glues” should try making some!

    I have formulated everything from “rice glues” (and rice soup for lime mortars strengthening) to “sinew glues” made of Elk for bow making…These natural glues are awesome all around and “dabbling” in their alchemy from scratch gives a deeper knowledge to them and the crafts we perform with them…

    Great post!!

  22. I’ve been pondering using hide glue (liquid or hot) when I laminate the tops for my upcoming woodworking bench* – especially since it’s all I use now. On a forum they’ve seemed to be steering me away from using it. Should I? What say y’all?

    *from Benchcrafteds split top roubo plan.

    • I am sure you may get a spectrum of replies on this one…

      Bottom line, as a teacher and traditional artisan and craftsperson in several disciplines from stone and clay to wood and textiles…I am always explaining to students, and clients that just because there may be a “quicker” modern way…it doesn’t make it better or more enduring…

      I have built countless “work benches” of all form and manner from inclined Asian styles planning horses to simple foot clamps…and on to the more robust and solid European forms that are praised (rightfully so) here…

      Common elements to them…(when I make them) they are made with wood less than a month or so out of a tree and do not see modern adhesives…often none at all…just joinery…when an adhesive is used on such traditional devices of labor…it be of my making with natural materials…

    • bruceeaton10 says:

      I’ve had more difficulty getting a tight joint in wide laminations with hot hide glue than when gluing up joinery. I think it helps when gluing to have the parts warmed up a bit. Keeping big surfaces warm can be difficult.

  23. Andy in Germany says:

    Hide glue got me into trouble when I was an apprentice making my final project. My What really got me into trouble though, was takong “too long” gluing the dovetails. The glue used at the company takes eight minutes to set, so it was a bit of a shock to the manager that I was still getting the box into position after about five. After ‘helping’ me to put it together he told me -in front of the rest of the staff, no less- that if I still couldn’t work out how fast glue dried, then in his opinion, I hadn’t learned a thing and would never be a carpenter.

    If he’d asked, I could have told him I was using hide glue with a 30 minute open time, but he didn’t ask.

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