by John T. Kramer
Antiques Doctor &
Traditional cabinetmaker's glue is made from boiled and
purified hooves, and sinews of horses and oxen. In general use
there are two types; dark "Scotch" and light
"French" sold both in cakes and ground. Glue made from
the sinews of old animals is stronger than that made from the
young. By soaking a piece of glue in clear water for a day or two
the bad quality will dissolve so it can be poured off leaving the
good glue swollen ready for preparation.
For general work a good plan is to use dark and light glue
in equal measure. For particular work in light color wood use
only the light "French glue."
To prepare glue for use it should be broken up and placed
in a double boiler type glue pot or one of the newer temperature
controlled electric glue pots with enough water to cover. Boil
steadily until the glue has melted. Remove any impurity from the
surface and test for consistency. The glue should run from the
brush in a steady stream and make a slight rattling noise in the
pot. If the pot is kept boiling, thinning with water is necessary
every time the glue is used. Glue must not be allowed to get
hotter than boiling water.
A thin coat of glue in a tight joint is better than a
thick coat in a loose joint. Let any glue that oozes out chill
and then scrape off while still a jelly, wash area with a damp
To keep glue fresh in the pot keep a twig of willow or
dogwood soaking in the gluepot at all times.
LIQUID HIDE GLUE
Soak broken or ground glue in strong vinegar to cover.
When swollen, stand vessel in hot water and add more acid to
desired consistency. Keep container tightly stoppered when not in
Also known as fish glue is prepared in a similar manner
usually mixed to a thinner consistency. It is made from the air
bladders of sturgeon and is used for very fine work, marquetry,
veneering and gilding.
The more proper glue designated fish glue is made of the
skins of eels or large perch. It is mixed and used like hide glue
but, is finer and clearer. It can be melted without the addition
of water when controlled heat is applied. It has been used
extensively for gluing laminates for bows and by rod
manufacturers for assembling fine split tonkin and calcutta cane
fly fishing rods. When a strong glue is needed for tight joints
that are subject to flexing this is the traditional choice.
To waterproof glue prepared in the ordinary way, while it
is hot add 1 part bichromate of potash for every 2 parts of cake
glue used. Once prepared the glue must be kept in the dark (in a
lidded stone jar) until required; once exposed to light it
1 part rubber
20 parts shellac
12 parts coal-tar naptha
Evaporate to dryness after dissolving and combining. To
use warm and apply thinly.
Used for fine repair and gold leafing.
8 egg whites
1 gill water
Mix thoroughly, ready for immediate use.
If you are assembling any wood parts which are
required to move against other wood parts; i.e., bearings, drawer
slides, whimsies, &c. ALWAYS use dissimilar types of wood
working against each other, the woods will wear better and stick
less. The best example of this I can think of is many years ago,
in the Boy Scouts, I was taught that to make a fire by friction
(bow or hand drill against a fire board - rubbing two sticks
together can't work) to use a hard against a soft wood. I gave up
after considerable effort in abject failure.
Many years later I learned from a group of
experimental historians that only matching woods work; the softer
the better; western red cedar or cottonwood, dry and well
seasoned, are good choices.
The point is that similar woods bind and
increase friction when worked together a hard against a soft
resists friction. In this regard hard versus soft refers to the
properties of the wood not necessarily deciduous vs. conifers.
More about all of this later.
Three old lubricants will solve your stickiest
shop problems. Sweet Oyl (olive oil) is used to coat metal tool
parts for lubrication and rust prevention; it won't stick and gum
like linseed oil and you don't risk staining the wood like with
petroleum based oils. If cutting edges (saws, drills, augers,
plane irons, chisels, &c.) are first pulled through a chunk
of beeswax to coat the edge the work will be eased; screws drive
easier if threads are first coated.
A cake of lye soap is handy to lubricate sticky
drawer glides and other wood against wood bearing surfaces where
the maker used similar woods bearing against each other.
Rosin is useful for increasing friction.
tallow is also useful if you like it.
All that's needed in a traditional wood shop