A woodworking glue up can go wrong in so many ways, but some solid preparation will keep one out of trouble. One of the consequences of poor planning can be sections of a work piece hardening before you are ready to complete the glue up. Another consequence can be having to sand away globs of glue after all the glue has hardened. Yet another consequence can be something called “white haze” which won’t show up until you apply your finish and it is too late. All of these issues can be eliminated with proper glue technique. Sounds kind of like life, doesn’t it? With a little preparation and wise living, we can make things a lot easier. Let’s explore in more depth, Dear Reader…
Make the complex simple
It’s very important to think through how the glue up is going to be done before starting to apply the glue (Titebond III, available at Lowes is my go-to glue), because once it starts setting up, there is no going back. I was working on a kitchen cabinet project a while back that had 38 tenons. I was working as fast as I could to coat every surface with glue using a small brush along with coating every surface on the tenons. Multiply this times 38 and that was just a bridge too far. By the time I got to the last joint and had to adjust the first joint, the glue had set pretty well and I had a heck of a time adjusting the first joint. Next time, I’ll break the job into smaller, more manageable pieces. The same goes in life. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, we’re preparing to move to a smaller house. It’s daunting to think of all the things that have to be done to prepare the house for sale. But sitting down with Mrs Woodworker to write everything down that needed to be done and then breaking the projects up into small pieces made things much more executable. We essentially split the house into three parts (each floor being a part), then went room by room until we were done. Tiling the basement was probably the hardest part, but with the four of us working together and doing it in pieces, we were able to knock it out.
Take the time to do things the right way
Another element of proper glue technique is making sure every surface is coated well and that maximum clamping pressure is applied across the entire joint. This will give you a rock solid bond. After the clamps are applied, wait 20 minutes for the glue to begin setting. Then take a dull chisel to scrape away the now-gooey (technical term) glue, and wipe off any excess with a wet rag. I’ve experimented with the timing on this and 20 minutes seems to work best. If improper technique is used, you may end up doing a lot of sanding of hardened glue. If you try to wipe the glue with a wet rag right away, the glue will be absorbed into the wood fibers and create the white haze I talked about earlier. You may not notice it immediately in a light colored wood, like maple or cherry, but after the finish is applied you will definitely see the haze.
How many times in life do we rush into something knowing that we should take a step back and be more deliberate? One of the great things about military training is we are very deliberate. As a cadet, we knew when we went on one of our summer field training events after sophomore year that we would have to execute something called “The 54 Commands“. This consisted of ordering a flight (a couple dozen cadets or more) through a series of difficult commands over a large parade field. The flight had to be positioned and moved perfectly in order to pass the steely-eyed gaze of our instructors. The only way to prepare was to practice, practice, and practice (see our post on grit) some more back at our home bases before we went to training. The cadets from our detachment did very well that summer because we had taken the time to do things the right way.
Make sure you are in alignment (also see our post about yoga and alignment)
Another element of proper glue technique is making sure the piece is oriented so the glue flows along the joint and not in rivulets along the joint. This not only makes it easier to clear the glue, but exposes less of the wood grain to the glue which causes white haze.
In one of my earlier assignments I was the commander of a military recruiting squadron. When I took over the squadron it was the second-to-last squadron in the country (out of 27 at that time). The leadership team and I got together and decided that since we were in a competitive business (recruiting) we might as well go for broke and set a vision of being #1. It seemed preposterous at the time, but that vision helped us align our people and resources. After 1 year, we were #7 then after 2 years we were #1. That would not have happened if everything and everyone had not been in alignment, just as our woodwork needs to be aligned for a proper glue up.
Just as in woodworking glue ups, we need to make the complex simple, do things the right way, and make sure we are in alignment. The next time you are approaching a wood glue up, I hope you consider these existential questions ; )