A Wealth of Hide Glue Information - Popular Woodworking Magazine

A Wealth of Hide Glue Information

 In Chris Schwarz Blog, Woodworking Blogs

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

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  • carleighfi

    least partially technology content system 2007 era

  • Ben Hohman

    Titus Andronicus (act 2, scene 1) right after Demetrius and Chiron enter

    Why, boy, although our mother unadvis’d
    Gave you a dancing rapier by your side,
    Are you so desperate grown, to threat your friends?
    Go to; have your lath glued within your sheath,
    Till you know better how to handle it.

    Google: shakespeare play text glue

  • Chris C

    Perhaps by "Shakespeare" he was talking about the company that
    makes fishing poles. :->


  • Wood_Wench

    I think the use of hide-glue in reference to lips and death relates to the practice of mortuaries gluing or sewing the lips together for the viewing or the layout of the deceased.
    In Shakespeare’s day the glue of choice would no doubt have been hide-glue.

    I think this relates to wood working in the sense that, if my recollection of history lessons from my past are correct, the same person that made the coffin prepared the body for viewing.
    Of course, I think the village carpenter & blacksmith & barber were often considered to be the Jack-of-all trades, such as mortician & vet & dentist/healer respectively.

    I use hide glue for making bandings/inlay and veneer work – especially if I’m making a period style piece of furniture.

    I think I’ll go order this book now. Thanks for letting me know about it.

  • B Griffith

    Perhaps a bigger stretch, but the melting part caught my eye.
    Also from King Henry VI, part III:

    Act II, Scene VI
    Here burns my candle out; ay, here it dies,
    Which whiles it lasted gave King Henry light.
    O Lancaster! I fear thy overthrow
    More than my body’s parting with my soul!
    My love and fear glued many friends to thee;
    And, now I fall, thy tough commixtures melt,
    Impairing Henry, strengthening mis-proud York.

  • Wm Claspy

    One possibility on the Shakespeare quote, a bit of a stretch but perhaps this is it:

    The OED mentions "lip glue" as a form of hide glue:

    "2. A hard, brittle, brownish gelatin, obtained by boiling the hides and hoofs of animals to a jelly; when gently heated with water, it is used as a cement for uniting substances. fish-glue (see FISH n.1 7). Dutch or Flanders glue: a very fine kind of glue. lip or mouth-glue: a compound of glue and sugar, which can be used by moistening with the tongue."

    And there is a quote from King Henry VI, part III:

    Act 5, Scene 2
    WARWICK Why, then I would not fly. Ah, Montague,
    If thou be there, sweet brother, take my hand.
    And with thy lips keep in my soul awhile!
    Thou lovest me not; for, brother, if thou didst,
    Thy tears would wash this cold congealed blood
    That glues my lips and will not let me speak.
    Come quickly, Montague, or I am dead.

  • Timbecon wood working

    Sounds like a very interesting read, especially the historic uses you have mentioned in your review. Tried a Google search for shakespeare + "hide glue" without any luck. Perhaps try asking the author himself?

  • megan

    True TS, but that refers to the verb form of glue, as in to join together. Shepherd says he writes specifically about hide glue, but I can’t find it, and it’s not in my concordance (and please tell me you didn’t pull that KJ ref from memory — if so, I’m hanging up my scholar’s gown and bowing to your superiority!). I love Snug – and Peter Quince the carpenter (it’s long been argued that Quince is an alternate spelling of quoin).

    Mike, I used hot hide glue for veneers and joinery on a table last year – once you get used to the smell (a few days does it), the stuff is great.

  • TS Jones

    In King John Act III Scene IV line 65 glue is mentioned.

    But what I like is in "A Midsummer Nights Dream" is the character Snug the Joiner. What a name, eh? grin.

  • Mike Lingenfelter

    I picked up my copy a little while ago, but haven’t had a chance to read it yet. I haven’t started to use Hide Glue yet, but I’ve always thought it trying it. I thought Stephen’s book would help me get started. I have this next off and hope to get caught up on a lot of reading and projects :).

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