If you’re a hobbyist of just about any stripe, then you know that using the right glue for any given project or papercraft is critical. Certainly, any glue may be good enough for some types of jobs, particularly if finesse or durability are not important to you. However, if you do care about quality, fit and finish, durability, or simply want to have a finished product that you can be proud of, then choosing the right type of glue really does matter.
Different types of glue have different holding strength, will respond differently to various surfaces, and will respond differently to moisture, wear, and other conditions. Here, we’ll cover some of the basics of different types of glue to help you be a better craftsperson.
Table of Contents
Different Types of Glue
There are many different types of glue to choose from. It can be hard to keep a collected assortment, since glues tend to have a limited shelf life. That means one of the first steps to starting any craft project will be going down to your local craft or hobby store and obtaining the right glue or glues for the job.
Polyvinyl Acetate (PVA) glue is a great choice when working with wood. It is composed of a gum made from aliphatic resin and is good for both interior and exterior uses. PVA is good for use on paper products such as wallpaper or for packaging purposes. It also makes perfect adhesive for sealing an envelope, and it’s the adhesive of choice for bookbinders. PVA can also be a good glue for scrapbooking if you’re careful not to use too much. You can even use it to glue stubborn origami folds in place, if you want to.
PVA glue works best on light, porous, organic materials. It is also most effective when spread thin between large, flat areas when pressed firmly while it dries.
Woodworking projects that require PVA glue will also call for special clamps to hold items in place while the glue dries. PVA glue does not have to have a grip like steel, since it is often used in combination with nails, staples, and other types of mechanical fasteners.
There is a variety of different PVA glue types for indoor and outdoor uses. This type of glue also tends to be low in toxicity, though ventilation is still recommended during use.
There is a wide variety of products available under the category of construction adhesive. These are high strength, high durability glues for use in heavy-duty applications such as one would find in a construction yard. Probably the most popular example of construction adhesive on the market today is the product known as Gorilla Glue. Other popular examples are PC-Concrete, Loctite Premium, and E6000 High Viscosity Adhesive.
While these products are each designed for different specific use cases, what they have in common is high strength, high durability, and resistance to the elements. Interestingly, while these glues are exceedingly strong, they tend not to last as long in the types of applications in which they are used. The simple reason for this has nothing to do with any deficiency in quality. It has everything to do with the fact that users ask for a lot from these types of glues.
Therefore, it is recommended that the user deploy a range of fastening methods on large, important projects that are expected to last. It should also be borne in mind that many construction adhesive products will expand as they dry.
This type of adhesive comes in many different forms and levels of quality. It can be had in the dollar store version, which works well for many light, albeit relatively permanent, applications. Two-part epoxy adhesives come in a range of performance profiles, all of which are excellent in their capacity to deliver long term, lasting hold.
These performance profiles include rigid epoxies with high tensile strength, flexible formulations with lower strength but higher resistance to movement, and toughened epoxy which is well suited to resist impact loading and high tensile stress.
For the average hobbyist, these types of glues might be best thought of as more like a type of construction adhesive. They are perhaps best suited to non-crafting repair jobs such as securing the exterior wood grip components on a firearm or a high-quality golf club.
Before deciding on which epoxy adhesive you should use, it is best to consider the specific properties of the glue you are considering. Most importantly, it must be kept in mind that mismatched bonding will be difficult to fix after application.
This type of adhesive could be considered a type of construction adhesive, but it has a range of use cases that justify it being categorized on its own. As the name suggests, it tends to adhere on contact. This means that the user cannot expect to be able to touch pieces to be glued, pull them apart, reposition them, and so on. Objects to be glued should be carefully aligned before contact is made—otherwise, any misalignment may be relatively permanent.
This type of adhesive is most often used to bond mirrors to walls, leather, glass, fabrics, wood, many types of plastic, and much more.
Contact adhesive dries quickly due to the fact that it contains a flammable solvent that evaporates very quickly. Rather than having to wait for water moisture to evaporate over a period of hours as with other glues, the flammable solvent evaporates within a few seconds to a few minutes, depending on the product and existing conditions.
Hot Melt Adhesive
More commonly known as “hot glue,” hot melt adhesives have a wide range of uses and benefits. These can be used to bond metals, plastic, wood, tile, and just about any type of material provided that the material to be bonded can endure contact with the hot, melted adhesive.
There are a wide variety of hot glue adhesive products. Some of the hot glues made for the lightest applications are ideal for use on fabric. The experts agree that the greatest strength of this type of glue is its wide range of potential uses. The most common recommended uses include applications involving appliances, automobiles, furniture, electronics, packaging, and construction.
Perhaps the most important consideration before using hot glue is matching the width of the glue stick to the gap between materials to be bonded. Choose too large a stick, and it won’t fit into the hot glue gun. Choose too small a stick, and the adhesive could run out and come into contact with other surfaces such as carpet or clothing.
This type of glue is prised for its low shearing strength, which makes it ideal for temporary use in circumstances when the material to be bonded only needs to be held in place long enough to cut, form, shape, or otherwise process it. One of the most common use cases is the mounting of a sacrificial wood block to a lathe. From there, other pieces of wood or material to be cut can be cut using the sacrificial wood block as a kind of buffer.
After the cutting is finished, the sacrificial wood block will be knocked off the lathe. Then the remaining adhesive can be sandpapered off of the surface of the lathe.
Many of the famous quick bonding “super glues” fall into this category of adhesive, which comes as a surprise to some. While these glues are quick-drying and strong, they are still quite brittle. This gives them the ability to hold well for a brief period and then to be chipped or knocked away as needed.
A common mistake in the world of glue and crafting is the use of a type of “super glue” or cyanoacrylate glue products on thin sheets of plastic. The most common way this happens is when a hobbyist, attempting to build a model car or airplane for the first time uses “super glue,” and the glue melts through the plastic to be bonded, or produces spots of white clouding, ruining the project. In some cases, you can paint over the white clouding to salvage the project, but it’s better to avoid these problems altogether, especially since the fumes generated by these two materials can be especially toxic.
Fortunately, there are a number of plastic glue products specifically designed for use on plastic. These include JB Weld PlasticWeld, Amazing Goop, Loctite, and others. The thing to look out for to avoid the unfortunate scenario described above is to be sure not to use the “super glue” types of adhesive on acrylic-based plastic materials.
Other than avoiding contact between acrylic and cyanoacrylate glue, the most important thing to remember is the need for proper ventilation. Bonding plastic always comes with the risk of toxic fumes which can be harmful to your health. Always be sure to work in a well-ventilated area with at least one open window and a fan to move the air away from your immediate work area.
A perennial staple of all elementary school crafting projects, the humble glue stick remains an inexpensive and easy way to complete many simple, or not so simple, crafting ideas. The great thing about most glue sticks, especially good old Elmer’s Glue sticks, is you can hand them to children and just let them go to town… with some supervision, of course.
Glue sticks are designed for ease of use. They will begin to dry within two to five minutes, so there is some pressure to work quickly. When applying glue stick adhesive to a large paper surface it’s best to only apply it to sections of the given surface at a time. Slowly apply the glue to a portion of the surface, and gently bend or fold the paper down to cover the glued section, leaving the unglued section open. Then proceed to apply glue to another section of the paper and proceed in this way till completion.
This type of glue is great for kids, but it is not limited to children’s projects. It can be used as a temporary adhesive for fabrics related projects and the like. It is also a great choice for making a magazine collage, which is a fun project for anyone. You can even use it for scrapbooking if you want to use a less-permanent glue and don’t want to use up all of your washi tape. Your Cricut machine can even cut through paper that has been glued with a gluestick as well as tougher materials such as laminated paper.
Before you begin your project, it’s important to research the type of glue you intend to use. We mentioned the problem with fumes and cyanoacrylate glue, but any type of glue can produce fumes that you should be wary of. If you wish to produce a project that exudes craftsmanship, do not resort to the cheap dollar store “super glues.” Take the time to find the right glue for your project and invest in a quality adhesive. At the end of the day, that will save you time and money. But most importantly, selecting the right glue will give you the best chance of walking away from a completed project that inspires pride in a job well done.