The Glue Vocabulary: Types of Glue for Different Jobs

There are types of glue for different jobs, with dozens of glues to choose from, designed to stick ceramics, fabric, glass, leather, metal, paper, plastic, rubber, Styrofoam, vinyl and wood together.
By Joe Hurst-Wajszczuk
June/July 2003
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There are many types of glue to choose from for different repair jobs.

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Learn about the different types of glue to use for all sorts of repair jobs.

Is your kitchen counter curling up at the edges? Are you ever going to fix that broken handle on your favorite coffee cup? Are your most comfortable running shoes falling apart? Here's how to pick the right glue for every repair job!

Four thousand years ago, ancient Egyptians made glue by boiling animal hides and used the substance as a binder in paint and for woodworking. This early glue technology didn't change much until the middle of the 20th century, when different organic and synthetic glues began to be developed.

Today, dozens of glues designed to stick virtually anything to anything else are on the market. Favorite "anythings" include ceramics, fabric, glass, leather, metal, paper, plastic, rubber, Styrofoam, vinyl and wood; mix and match as needed. Despite the advances, no miracle glue has yet been invented; what works well with some materials may not work at all with others.

To help you make the right choices, a glue "vocabulary" follows. All types of glue are about the same strength as long as you use them according to the directions. Remember, some are toxic or contain irritants, so try to use the least-toxic glue available for your job.

The Vocabulary of Glue

Open-assembly time: This is the period of time you have between when you spread the glue on the surface and when it starts to set. If you're fixing the handle on a broken mug, you want a glue with a short "open-assembly time" — in other words, a "quick-set" glue. If you're working on a more complex job, such as repairing an antique chair, use a glue with a long open-assembly time so you have time to fit all the pieces together.

Glue cure times The amount of time it takes for the glue to form its maximum bond. This can vary from as few as 24 hours for white or yellow glue to as long as a week or more for some epoxies.

Glue shelf life: Good glues do go bad. "Shelf life" refers to the period of time that glue remains useable. White, yellow and polyurethane glues last for about a year if properly stored in airtight containers. Hot-melt sticks and epoxies remain useable for many years. Improper storage can cause glue to spoil prematurely. (For this reason, buying a larger container isn't always a bargain.) As a rule, if the working properties of a particular glue seem abnormal, don't use it.

Glue pot life: For those glues that require mixing, "pot life" refers to the time you have to apply the glue to your work after you have mixed it. Epoxies have pot lives that vary from five to 30 minutes; if you need more time, lowering the glue's temperature will extend its pot life.

Related Article:
Chart: Choosing the Right Glue

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