Wood glue vs. construction adhesive

Written by patrick gleeson, ph. d., registered investment adv
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Wood glue vs. construction adhesive
White glue. (bottle of glue on black marble image by phizics from Fotolia.com)

Woodworkers commonly use wood glue, a polyvinyl acetate water-based product, for cabinetry, furniture making or similar tasks to provide a permanent tight bond between two pieces of wood. Construction adhesive, a rubber-based elastomeric product that is water-based or solvent based, will almost instantly bond any two dry objects together, and has a very wide variety of uses.

Product Flexibility

Wood glue comes as a "white glue" or a "yellow glue." They have similar chemistry; yellow glue dries a little faster. Wood glue dries to a hard and inflexible substance. Construction adhesive hardens to some degree upon drying, but remains slightly flexible. You would use wood glue when you wanted the finished construction to be rigid--gluing a chair-leg into a wooden seat, for instance. You would use construction adhesive when the finished product will necessarily flex to some degree--a floor tile over underlayment, for instance. You don't need to clamp; simply press the two objects together.

Wood Glue-Drying Times

Wood glues come in plastic squeeze bottles and with a variety of drying times; a slow wood glue might take a half-hour to dry to touch and 24 hours to reach full strength. A faster drying wood glue might dry in three to five minutes, but would still require about 24 hours to reach full strength. Fast-drying wood glues allow you to unclamp glued objects quickly; slow-drying wood glues give you more time to adjust and "fine-tune" your clamping arrangement. You should lightly clamp glued objects together for at least an hour.

Construction Adhesive Drying Times And Typical Applications

You buy construction adhesive in tubes and apply it by "shooting" it out of a gun-like applicator in a tubular string. Solvent and water based construction adhesive dry over several hours. Solvent-based adhesives work better to bond metals and glass; water-based adhesives work better to bond wood. The solvent-based product will dissolve certain polyurethanes and similar foams; in these instances you must use the water-based product.

Making Adjustments in Bond After Application; Clean-up

Once wood glues have dried you can't open up the bond and readjust; the bond remains rigid. After wood glues have thoroughly dried, they don't clean up easily. You can heat up the bond of water-based and solvent-based construction adhesives with a glue-gun, hairdryer or similar device to loosen the bond and renew the flexibility. This allows relatively easy readjustment of the materials. For best results do this within the first few hours. Solvent-based adhesives require a solvent clean up; you can clean up water-based adhesives for the first hour or so after application. Thereafter you must use a solvent

Details of Application Differences

When gluing up large pieces of wood you can squeeze out wood glue in a series of open loops, then smear it with a straightedge without achieving an exactly even distribution. This gives you more time to apply glue over a large surface before it begins to dry. For smaller glue-ups an even spread, with a trowel or your fingers, will result in a more reliable bond. Most professionals (floor-tilers, for example) use a notched trowel and spread the construction adhesive evenly. For such applications construction adhesive's slower drying time provides a tangible advantage. All construction adhesives resist water better than wood glues. Some construction adhesives have specific formulations for outdoor use. Use wood glues for indoor application only.

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