Chris Schwarz's Blog

The Case for Rendered Animal Collagen

The most stressful glue-up of my life was assembling my tool chest in 1998. The main carcase had 120 mating surfaces that had to be glued. Foolishly, I chose yellow glue as the adhesive.

As a result, another editor and I spent an hour furiously beating and clamping the chest together. In the end, there were a few gaps we couldn’t close because the yellow glue had set , luckily it was nothing milk paint couldn’t fix.

These days I’m smarter about glue. When I started building chairs years ago, I was introduced to liquid hide glue, and boy has that changed the way I work. I think I have an extra inch of stomach lining thanks to liquid hide glue (and no, that’s not because I drank some).

The liquid hide glue is almost as simple to use as yellow glue (warming it up a little in a water bath helps it flow). It’s reversible. Let me say that again: It’s reversible! Once I stuck a chair leg in the wrong socket. All it took was a little heat and moisture and the leg came right out. Easy-peasy.

Liquid hide glue also cleans up nicely with water, doesn’t smell bad and gives you a long open time for complex assemblies. If my shop is warm (65Ã?° F or so) I can manipulate my parts for 45 minutes or more before things start to get hairy.

I normally use Old Brown Glue. It’s non-toxic (the manufacturer lets his dogs eat it!). But I’ve also used the Titebond product with good results.

I still use yellow glue , just not for everything. When I’m gluing up lots of panels, for example, I like the way yellow glue sets up quickly and doesn’t need a lot of clamping time. This frees up clamps and lets me work faster. Ditto that when building jigs and fixtures or planting mouldings on a carcase , I want a glue that sets up fast.

I’ll also choose a yellow glue that is water-resistant for projects that might have to endure a soaking.

What about other adhesives? Hot hide glue? Polyurethane? Epoxy? Plastic resin? I’ve used them all and sometimes I do break them out for certain applications. But for most of my work, which is building new pieces of furniture, liquid hide glue and yellow glue get used the most.

Maybe some day I’ll get even smarter and get one of these.

– Christopher Schwarz

30 thoughts on “The Case for Rendered Animal Collagen

  1. Mark F

    I second (or third)not going the expensive glue pot route. I use hide glue in making windsor chairs after building a chair with Pete Galbert. His excellent blog http://www.chairnotes.blogspot.com/ has a post on hide glue and a cheapo set up for warming up glue: rival hot pot, rubber band, plastic cup. I replicated it and cost me a total of $1.99 (for the hot pot at Goodwill).

    I havent tried the sizing method yet.

    Mark

  2. John Walkowiak

    Dave,

    I wouldn’t pay $200 for a glue pot either. My cheap-skate Minnesota upbringing wouldn’t allow it. A quick check on the web found them (Hold Heat brand)for under $110. Everybody has sales, and it would be even cheaper. I paid about $90 for mine many years ago, and consider it money well spent. For me, the cost is worth the convenience. But, at least there are choices for everyone. Is this a great country or what?

    Adrian,
    Titebond and Old Brown Glue both start out as hot hide glue. Titebond just has different additives that give it more open time and a longer shelf life. There are all kinds of additives (and grades of flakes) that woodworkers used to use to tweak it to their specific work or trade. It’s quite amazing stuff.

  3. Adrian

    I’m still a bit hazy on the distinction being drawn here. If Old Brown isn’t liquid hide glue but is instead hot hide glue then what exactly is liquid hide glue? I thought liquid hide glue was hot hide glue that had additives in it to make it stay liquid. And Old Brown was supposed to be better because it was less adulterated than other liquid hide glues.

    If Titebond behaves very differently from Old Brown, maybe I’ll give it a try. I have a huge bottle of fish glue from Lee Valley to try first, though. They claim an open time of 60-90 minutes. (I haven’t tested it yet.)

  4. Dave Anderson NH

    I use both the hot hide glue and the liqueid type from Patrick. Both work fine for me. As for John’s comment about springing for a dedicated glue pot, I respectfully disagree. I do just fine with a candy thermometer, a small boullion jar provided by my wife, and a $7 electric mini crock pot from Walmart. The thought of spending close to $200 for an electric glue pot just doesn’t fit with my Yankee heritage. YMMV

    Best regards,

    Dave Anderson NH

  5. Dave Anderson NH

    I use both the hot hide glue and the liqueid type from Patrick. Both work fine for me. As for John’s comment about springing for a dedicated glue pot, I respectfully disagree. I do just fine with a candy thermometer, a small boullion jar provided by my wife, and a $7 electric mini crock pot from Walmart. The thought of spending close to $200 for an electric glue pot just doesn’t fit with my Yankee heritage. YMMV

    Best regards,

    Dave Anderson NH

  6. John Walkowiak

    Adrian,

    Old Brown Glue is hot hide glue that Patrick has modified to last 6 months. He claims it stays open for 30 minutes, but that was not my experience, nor others who have used it. I tried it in cold and warm shop temps. Perhaps the batches vary from one to another. Titebond hide glue will always stay open longer. As far as it being best, I think that claim falls into the marketing catagory, such as we see in magazine ads with each glue claiming it is stronger that every one elses.
    For joining pieces of wood that are properly prepared, if a glue produces a joint that is stronger than the pieces one is joining, what more does one need? And, remember that in the last couple hundred years of woodworking that preceded us, hide glue was used successfully to glue exotic woods, metals, shells, horn, and such to a piece of furniture for decoration.
    Hot hide glue, and Old Brown Glue have an advantage over liquid (Titebond) glue when it comes to tasks where a quick tack is advantagous, such as hammer veneering or work that is difficult to clamp.I would think of Old Brown Glue as a more convenient hot hide glue that is waiting in my refrigerator, and I don’t have to wait for the flakes to dissolve.
    On that note, I would advise any woodworker to bite the bullet and buy an electric glue pot. Think of it as a first class tool that will last your lifetime. I don’t understand why anyone would want to fool around with baby food jars, hotplates and thermometers. If making hot glue is more convenient, you will use it when the job calls for it.

  7. Bill

    Marc Adams teaches a really great class on all kinds of Glues and adhesives in his joinery 1 class. He can get as technical as you like, and has all kinds of data to back it up. Great Class. Ya’ll should try it.

  8. Adrian

    John,

    I thought Old Brown Glue was considered the best type of liquid hide glue. If it’s not liquid hide glue, what is it? Which product did you find had a longer open time? (titebond?)

  9. John Walkowiak

    I too have used Old Brown Glue and found it had a rather short open time, compared to liquid hide glue. Patrick Edwards formulates his glue to be more user friendly than hot glue for veneere work. It works well for this, but I don’t believe it’s purpose is for tasks that require a long open time. Liquid hide glue is perfectly suited for this purpose. It has a long open time, it is reversable, it is repairable, it produces a joint stronger that the wood, it easily cleans off so as not to interfere with stains or finishes. It’s only "drawback" is the piece should remain in clamps overnight. If your pieces are not going to sit outside in the weather, I don’t see any reason not to use hide glue in one form or another for furniture. There are lots of reasons not to use the other stuff.
    John Walkowiak

  10. Christopher Schwarz

    James,

    Brian described this sizing process in some detail at the 2008 Woodworking in America. I should try it!

    Chris

  11. James Watriss

    Back when I took Brian Boggs’ class, he was really irritated by the FWW test, and said it was proof that they really didn’t know how to use hide glue.

    Acc to Mr. Boggs, the proper way to use hide glue is to size each piece… "size" in tehi case meaning to apply a coating to each piece that is to be glued, and let it cure for a few minutes. The glue will soak in, he says, and essentially plant "roots" in the wood. The reapply warm glue to reactivate the sizing, and glue the pieces together.

    He demonstrated this using an end grain to face grain butt joint. Later on, when the glue had dried, he broke the joint apart. The face grain tore out. I was impressed.

    Only other story I read, that I thought was worth mentioning, involved the early Thonet bent chairs. Turns out his earlier chairs were bent laminations, made with wood that had been boiled in glue. Given the era described, I’m pretty sure it means he was using hide glue. Anyway, things were going well, until some princess bought a bunch of his chairs and brought them to Africa, where the heat and humidity caused the chairs to begin to come apart. After that, Mr Thonet, to save his reputation, worked the kinks out of his steam bending techniques, and sent her a new set of chairs.

  12. Luke Townsley

    Two notes.

    1. Liquid hide glue has a relatively short lifespan. I think it is good for a year under decent storage conditions.

    2. The now-famous Stephen Shepherd, Father of the modern hide glue movement, uses garlic to treat oily woods like Ebony and SYP. You can find out more on his blog at fullchisel.com

    I have tried the garlic trick with SYP, and it seems to work well, but I haven’t stress tested anything.

  13. Derek Lyons

    Bookbinders swear by the hot version, freshly made from flakes.

    I’ve never used it either binding or woodworking FWIW.

  14. Adrian

    I took a look at Stephen Shepherd’s blog and notice that he says he glued at 60 degrees to extend the hide glue open time. That’s curious. The Old Brown Glue is solid at 68 degrees. It doesn’t flow at all. I can’t even get it out of the bottle without heating it up. After it sits in the 130 degree water it is very thin. Actually it was very nice to spread, much thinner than the PVA I usually use. But it cools down quickly and rapidly gels after I’ve brushed it on.

    I consulted at rather great length with Patrick Edwards, who makes the glue, and as I noted, he said I needed to warm my shop to 75 degrees.

    He makes it in small batches. I wonder how much the batches vary. Could I have gotten one that was particularly solid and needed a warmer temperature?

    Regarding reversibility, I wonder if it makes a difference what type of joint you’re trying to separate. My joint was a long grain to long grain joint with a total joint area of about 26 square inches. A mortise and tenon in a chair probably has a comparatively minuscule joint area.

  15. dave brown

    Looks like Stephen Shepherd’s blog is experiencing overload after your mention. LOL I heard photobucket is launching a site called Photo-Hosting-Sites-Against-The-Schwarz!

  16. Bart Hovis

    Fine Woodworking’s (issue 192) test showed liquid hide glue slightly ahead of hot hide glue in strength. I use hot and liquid hide qlue as well as fish glue for guitar making, where a very hard cure with no creep is desirable. I’ve done a lot of informal glue tests on my own and in all cases, all of the above glues created a bond that is stronger than the wood. I use hot hide glue only when a very quick set is desired, as in my cold shop HHG has an open time of about 5 seconds.

  17. Robert Winkler

    Have never used animal glue might try it sometime. For some reason I am fond of titebond III

  18. Steve McDaniel

    Chris,

    Thanks for the info. I’ll use the method you recommend, and I’ll look forward to the book by Stephen Shepherd.

    Steve

  19. Christopher Schwarz

    Doug,

    As I understand it, liquid hide is weaker than hot hide. But it’s not a consideration for woodworking because the differences are not meaningful for furniture applications.

    I believe a recent test by Fine Woodworking pointed this out.

    I’ve never had a hide glue joint fail on me.

    Chris

  20. Steve McDaniel

    I’ve used yellow glue fairly regularly, but have recently been seriously considering hide glue for some of the same reasons that I like to use shellac:

    – Shellac may not be as durable as some other finishes, but I understand that it is much easier to repair. I’ve heard that hide glue is easy to repair too.

    – Shellac is a traditional finish, and there are many examples that have stood a long test of time. The same can be said of hide glue.

    I’m interested in learning a lot more in depth about hides glues, both the liquid and the traditional heated-in-a-pot versions, relative strengths of the glues, application methods, open times, and repair methods. This might make for a good series of articles or a book, maybe something on the caliber of Bob Flexner’s Understanding Wood Finishing. (Maybe there is a book like that in existence that I’m unaware of.)

    One thing I’m especially curious to know for an upcoming project is would hide glue work well for adhering ebony wedges in cherry, would yellow glue be a better alternative, or should I go with another type of glue to ensure a good bond between the ebony and the cherry. (I’ve never worked with ebony before, and don’t know if I need a special glue or special methods for it.)

  21. Christopher Schwarz

    I am not an expert on hide glue. Stephen Shepherd is the guy for that. Check out the section of his blog on hide glue:

    http://www.fullchisel.com/blog/?cat=15

    My experience with liquid hide glue is that the open time varies with temperature in the same way that PVAs vary:

    Cold shop equals long open time.
    Warm shop equals short open time.

    Most of my chairmaking has been in the winter, which might explain why I could get an our of open time.

    Chris

  22. Samson

    You might want to try out lee valley’s 2002 GF pva.

    "With an open time of 15 to 20 minutes and a clamping time of 30 to 90 minutes (depending upon application), it can be worked after 4 hours. After 24 hours it reaches its full strength, which is in excess of the strength of the strongest wood in shear, sugar maple."

    I swear by the stuff.

  23. Bob Diehl

    I’ve used Titebond liquid hide for bent laminations including a "u" bend for a chair. Worked great and plenty of open time and the chair is going on 7 years and not a sign of a problem.

  24. Luke Townsley

    I use the old fashioned hot hide glue and have really learned to like it. Stephen Shepherd got me started on it.

    I don’t think anyone would dispute it is generally stronger than the bottle variety of hide glue, but if you do proper joint preparation, and they are both stronger than the wood you are gluing, does it really matter?

    I use the hot version because I have a very warm shop (Caribbean warm) with high humidity and because it is a lot cheaper and stores well in flakes.

    My understanding (I have never used it) is that the bottle variety sets up faster at higher temps while the hot kind is the opposite. I am sure ambient humidity and wood moisture content also play a role.

  25. Doug Fulkerson

    I have heard a rumor that the liquid hide glues that you mention are inferior to using the dry flakes to mix batches as needed. There are a couple of variations on the rumor, but it boils down to the additives that keep the glue liquid also, supposedly, impair the strength of the bond. Have you heard anything about this?

    Also, if you’re interested in making home made hide glue, check out this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjBT7WOAuLE

    Primitive bow makers like to use the flakes or the home made hide glue to bond sinews and/or horn to the wooden cores of composite style bows. I’ve never done it myself, but the liquid hide glues have the reputation for not working very well in that application.

  26. Christopher Schwarz

    Adrian,

    Very interesting.

    I’ve been using the Old Brown in a wide variety of applications for five years now and haven’t encountered any of the problems you mentioned. I’ve used it in my shop in winter (64° F) with no problems. I’ve reversed it several times.

    That is a shockingly short open time.

    Never tried fish glue.

    You might consider using polyurethane glue, which has a longer open time. It is harder to clean up (use gloves). But it does work well for complex assemblies.

    Thanks for your comment.

  27. Adrian

    After seeing all the good talk liquid hide glue was getting I decided to try it out. I ordered a bottle of Old Brown Glue and tried to glue a panel together. I heated up the glue in 130 degree water so it would flow and brushed it on thinly and put on the clamps. I think the working time was about 5 minutes—much shorter than yellow glue. I was trying to glue a panel of four boards together and the glue set up so fast that by the time I got the clamps on it didn’t squeeze out all the way. The glue lines looked too fat.

    After looking at the result for a few minutes I decided that it wouldn’t do and I pulled two of the boards off. The last pair looked like they were OK. But once they were dry and I cleaned the glue line I decided that really that line looked kind of ugly as well.

    Reversibility? I tried putting water on it and heating it with an iron and such. Nope. I ended up just sawing the pieces apart. Glued everything up with yellow glue without any glitches of fat glue lines.

    So why do I get a 5 minute open time when people praise the glorious endless open time of liquid hide glue? The reason is evidently my shop temperature. My shop is 68 in the summer and a few degrees coolor in the winter, perhaps down to 63. Old Brown Glue doesn’t work at that temperature. The guy who sells it recommended that I heat my shop to at least 75. (Yeah, right.) I tried warming up the workpiece with a rag soaked in hot water, but that didn’t seem to help any.

    Is the titebond different?

    I have a job coming up for which I need a long open time and I’m thinking I’ll try fish glue, which I’m told will have its long open time even if you’re not doing your glue-up inside an oven. Ever tried that one?

  28. Joe

    Wood Welder…. I remember that from high school shop, 1980 something… Although, I seem to recall that it would set the glue, but you still could not stress the joint for 24 hours. At least that was the shop rule. I’ve always used yellow glue, small projects. I’m going to have to look into this hide glue stuff. I have some ideas for larger projects, and have been worried about glue setup… Thanks!
    -Joe-

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