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Many novice modelers wonder what types of adhesives they should use when making a wooden ship model. There are many to choose from and each has its uses. Hopefully, the information that follows will prove useful.
I've actually lumped two glues into the category - white and yellow. Both are similar. These glues are also known as aliphatic resin glue, polyvinyl acetate (PVA), or carpenter's glue. The yellow in the glue is just a dye. One very common brand is Titebond. There is regular Titebond, Titebond II, and Titebond III. The latter two types are water resistant, slightly stronger than the regular, and Titebond III has twice the working time of the other two. All clean up with water. Personally, I've never bothered with anything but regular Titebond (none of my models go in the water). In fact, as you can see in the picture, my big bottle of yellow glue came from Home Depot - it's just their generic version, it works perfectly well, and it's cheaper. The white glue (Elmer's in this case) is also fine for gluing wood. One difference is that some white glues dry less hard than some yellow glues, making it harder to sand some white glues. But not all brands have the same properties. Elmer's, as shown in the picture, does tend to be a bit softer (more flexible) when dry. Regardless, both are stronger than wood.
I don't use the big bottle of yellow glue as a dispenser. You can't find very small bottles of yellow glue, so I get a bottle of Elmer's white glue and refill it with the yellow glue.
There is also a brown version of PVA. I have heard of people using it to glued down deck planks so that the glue between the planks resembles caulking. I tried it once and didn't like it but your mileage may vary.
One great use for white glue is to dilute it 50/50 with water. It can then be painted on rigging lines (knots especially) to help hold them in place. When the glue dries, it is invisible. If you need to make a line sag, or make sure it's really straight you can paint it with the dilute mixture then weight it until it dries. For example, the lines in anchor tackle often don't want to hang straight because there's no weight in a model anchor. So put a fishing weight on the anchor while the glue dries and it will always hang straight.
If you need to de-bond parts joined with yellow (or white) glue, white vinegar is very effective. You can either soak the parts or wrap a paper towel soaked in vinegar around the parts. Keep trying it every now and then to see if it has loosened. Some joints can come apart easily. Others may have to soak for an hour or more.
Cyanonacrylate (CA) glues are very popular. They aren't meant for general purpose use but they can glue together a lot of diverse materials, if, for example, you need to attach a piece of brass to a piece of wood, or styrene to some other material. And, of course, they will glue wood to wood.They come in different thicknesses. The blue bottle on the left is known as "thin" CA. It seems thinner even than water. It is best used very sparingly and objects to be joined must mate almost perfectly - it will not fill gaps. What it will do, however, is wick into tight joints. If you have to join two parts together that can't easily be clamped, thin CA can often do the job nicely. Be aware, however, that thin CA can also easily wick into the space between the object and your fingers! You can glue yourself to the model before you realize it. If you do, you'll want to use some type of debonder to free your fingers.
The purple bottle contains a thicker (medium) CA that will fill small gaps. The thin CA bonds almost instantly. Medium CA has a set time of about 5-10 seconds when parts fit well, longer if there are larger gaps. Both take some time to reach full strength - 1 hour for the thin, 2 hours for the medium. There is also a thick version of CA. It takes about 20 seconds to set. It is much more viscous than the medium. I don't find a lot of use for the thick CA myself.
CAs can be cleaned off your fingers with acetone, nail polish remover (scented acetone), or special debonders. Parts incorrectly joined can also be taken apart after soaking in acetone. Be aware, however, that acetone can dissolve plastic and styrene, so if you're using CA with those, you will likely have to cut the pieces apart or toss away and start over. You might, however, try white vinegar. It can take a while, but it may leave your plastic intact. It can certainly debond metal from wood.
CA has a short shelf-life of one to two months once you've opened the bottle. The more humid your environment, the more quickly it will go bad. You'll know when it's bad because it won't glue things together any more. You can store never-opened bottles in the fridge for a year or so, but once opened, the clock starts ticking. And opened bottles should never be stored in the fridge. When you take them out into a warm environment, condensation will form, which will ruin the glue. For that reason, it's typically best to buy the smallest bottle possible (1/2 oz.). Chances are, you'll wind up tossing out half of a larger bottle because it will go bad before you can use it all.
It's often best not to apply thin CA directly from the bottle and that's often true of medium as well. You can easily make an applicator by cutting off part of the end of the eye of a large sewing needle (so it looks like a two-pronged fork) and inserting the other end in a dowel. Just dip the eye in a small pool of CA and then touch the eye to your part. The CA will flow right off the eye onto the part. The eye will get clogged with dried CA eventually. The simplest way to clean it is to hold it in the flame of a match or lighter. The CA will burn right off.
Epoxy is very strong and quite thick, so it can be useful for joining parts made of different materials and can fill large gaps. While you can buy epoxy in little metal tubes or in something that looks like two hypodermic syringes welded together, it's best to buy in packaging like you see on the left - 4.5 oz. bottles - because it's much easier to dispense small amounts. Bob Smith Industries is one such brand but many hobby shops rebrand BSI with their own labels.
The biggest disadvantage to using epoxy is that it has to be mixed first - equal parts of each. But if you need a really strong joint, epoxy is the way to go. There are epoxies that take longer to cure, but I'm usually just fine with a 5-minute working time. Note that it can take at least an hour to reach full hardness and in some cases, it's best to let it sit overnite.
There's not much that will debond epoxy. Surprisingly, I have had white vinegar debond some small parts that I had joined together. So if you're desperate, give it a try.
This product is really like an epoxy. The difference is that it's a dark gray color. If you need to glue something together where you will see the joint and want it to be dark, then you may want to use J B Weld. I keep some on hand but rarely use it. However, I have a friend who swears by it and prefers it over regular epoxy. Each to his own. There are several varieties with different set times. There is also a putty available. I have never tried to de-bond J B Weld, so I can't offer any advice there.
These are very useful for gluing patterns to wood. I used to use rubber cement for that, but it gets dry in the bottle quickly, it's expensive, and it's messy. Glue sticks are cheap and work very well indeed.
So, that's about it for the adhesives I use. These have served me well for many, many years.
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Last Updated: April 3, 2021