Drawing on his almost four decades of experiential knowledge as well as historic evidence dating back thousands of years, in “Hide Glue: Historical & Practical Applications” author Stephen A. Shepherd provides an in-depth look at the history, chemistry and techniques for making and using hide glues , as well as compelling reasons to do so.
The historical information is of particular interest to me. I was fascinated to learn, for example, that the Neanderthal artists of Lascaux used hide glue to help secure their paintings to the cave walls, and that a circa 1500 B.C. Egyptian mural depicts a glue pot on a fire. Shepherd also recounts a fairly detailed history of the hide glue industry in America.
A chapter on chemistry and physics reveals the technical reasons why hide glue works, and Shepherd provides specifications for those adventurous few who might wish to prepare their own glue from hides of all sorts (rabbit skin hide glue is the right stuff for metallic leafing and some book binding). But for woodworkers, the practical value of this book is in the techniques sections. Shepherd covers everything from the various forms of glue pots to brushes , including how to make your own by pounding the ends of a length of cane. And of course, he digs deep into hot hide glue preparation and use for joinery, veneering and more, as well as creative methods of clamping (proper clamping pressure is, he writes, paramount in achieving a good hide glue glue-up).
So why use hot hide glue when there are so many adhesives available that require no special equipment or preparation time (and have longer open times)? Beyond tradition, the best argument for hide glue is its reversibility. With a little water and heat, a hide-glue joint can be taken apart for repair, and reglued , without having to clean away all the old glue. Plus, the glue is inexpensive, ecologically sound, doesn’t interfere with finishes as do yellow glue and other modern adhesives, and it’s a lot easier to clean up. In short, Shepherd argues that hot hide glue is as good , if not better , than modern glues, and has many advantages.
“Hide Glue: Historical & Practical Applications” is a useful and informative book, especially for anyone interested in restoration work and traditional approaches to woodworking. It’s available from Tools for Working Wood ($19.95).
And a final note: Shepherd writes that Shakespeare mentions hide glue , and I’m mortified to admit I can’t find the reference (heck , I even read through “King John” last night!). If anyone knows, drop me a line.
, Megan Fitzpatrick, managing editor