Bigger hammer

Experiments with Hide Glue

I've been sticking random bits of scrap wood together tonight with hot hide glue (AKA animal glue or pearl glue) because I intend to use it a lot in my concertina restoration and wanted to get a feel for what it's like to work with. This is the really good stuff, made from genuine boiled and distilled bits of dead animal, just like carpenters and instrument-makers used for thousands of years before the invention of modern petrochemical-based synthetic glues.

It's as strong or stronger than modern PVA wood glue and has several important advantages. The two big ones are: 1. It's possible to dismantle a joint without damaging the parts by steaming it until it softens. 2. You can often assemble joints without any clamps because it goes quite tacky in less than a minute as it cools and gels, then gradually pulls the joint tighter over the next few hours as it dries out, shrinks and goes rock-hard. It's also incredibly cheap - I bought enough of it on eBay to make up 3 litres of glue (that's a lot of glue) for less than £10. I'd expect to pay at least three times that for a good quality PVA glue (more if you buy it in small quantities).

Disadvantages are that it's more faff to work with (you need to mix it with the right amount of water in advance and then heat it carefully to liquify the gel), once mixed it has a limited shelf-life (though it can be frozen), it isn't waterproof (no good for garden furniture then), you don't have much time to assemble a large/complicated joint before it goes tacky (heating the wood a bit first helps), and it smells quite "interesting" when in its hot liquid form.

I also wanted to have a try at hammer veneering because I'm thinking of using this technique to make the new ends for the concertina. This involves using hot hide glue and a heavy smooth-faced metal squeegee to stick a very thin sliver of wood (often something exotic and visually attractive) onto the visible surface of another (usually cheaper and stronger) piece of wood. I don't have a purpose-made veneer hammer, but it turns out my largest blacksmith's cross-pein hammer makes an excellent substitute. I don't have any veneer yet either, so I glued a piece of scrap card of about the right thickness onto some scrap plywood instead. It was very easy to do (following instructions I've read on the web) and, as far as I can tell, it worked perfectly the first time.

The next thing to try is inlays, which is where you cut out an area of the veneer and replace it with something visually different of exactly the same shape and thickness (e.g. a veneer cut from a different coloured wood, a piece of mother-of-pearl, or a sheet of brass/silver/gold).

Comments

I remember seeing a TV programme which demonstrated the great strength of hide glue. I hadn't known that you could steam it to get things apart as well.

I'm looking forward to seeing photos as this project progresses (and lots of talk of the processes involved)
Very useful for dismantling damaged antique furniture and musical instruments so that you can repair them. I cringe a bit when I read advice to use modern glues for repairing things that were originally built with animal glue.
Yes, that's like using cement on a lime-built house.