diy 101: building your toolbox — adhesives

I have been obsessed with craft supplies since my early childhood, and I am not afraid to talk about my lifelong love affair with glue. It’s rivaled only by my love of tape, but more on that later :) Glue is a magical substance, and trust me when I say that the ability to permanently stick anything to anything else has revolutionized the world. Did you know the first simple glue was invented in 200,000 BC? Clearly, we thought it would come in handy, and it has.

Modern glues are leaps and bounds beyond primitive pastes, and today there is a strong, durable adhesive for just about every job you can imagine. I’m going to walk you through some of the most common forms of adhesive available, excluding industrial glues and any industry-specific types of adhesives. Glue may not be as dangerous as some of the power tools in your DIY kit, but there are some basic facts you should know before you get started. So let’s dive into adhesives! — Kate

Read more about adhesives after the jump!

Types of Adhesives

  • Craft/ PVA (polyvinyl acetate) Glue: This includes regular white glue, such as regular Elmer’s glue, school glue and glue sticks. These are great for light-duty projects using porous materials like wood, paper, plastic and cloth.

Set & Drying Time — 1 hour (must be held in place for about 30 minutes)
Curing Time — 24 hours

  • Wood Glue: There are many different kinds of wood glue, but the most common type is a yellow PVA glue, and it shares similar bonding and drying properties. The glue becomes rubbery as it sets and solid once completely dry. Wood glue is extremely durable once cured but takes a while to set up, so it’s a good idea to have clamps handy when using wood glue on mid-size or large projects.

Set & Drying Time — Wood glue should be secured/clamped for at least 20–30 minutes while it sets. It dries within an hour.
Curing Time — 24 hours

  • Super Glue/Krazy Glue: These glues are also known as cyanoacrylates; they are similar to epoxy glues, but without the two separated parts. They provide strong, durable bonds and are great for metal, glass, ceramics, plastic and rubber.

Set & Drying Time — about 5–15 minutes to set, dry within an hour
Curing Time — 24 hours

  • Silicone Adhesives: Silicone adhesives resemble rubber caulking and are often used  in plumbing projects or for glass repair. They are used to create flexible, waterproof bonds for metal, glass, rubber, wood and ceramics. The glue comes in several colors, including black, clear and white.

Set & Drying Time — sets in about 5 minutes and dries within an hour
Curing Time — 24 hours

  • Epoxies: Epoxies consist of two substances — an adhesive resin and an activator/hardener — that must be mixed before application. Epoxies are extremely durable and waterproof and work best on rigid surfaces like metal, ceramics and plastics. J.B. Weld is a form of epoxy that works best with metal.

Set & Drying Time — Varies. You can buy some rapid-set epoxies that will set anywhere between 5  minutes and 2 hours. The glue will dry in about 12 hours.
Curing Time — 24–48 hours

  • Hot Glue: Heated glue comes in stick form and must be used with glue guns, which come in both corded and cordless and high-temp and low-temp models. High-temp glue guns can heat glue up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit and should be used with caution. Both high- and low-temp guns create moderately strong bonds, making them ideal for lightweight materials and temporary adhesion.

Set & Drying Time — One of the benefits of hot glue is that it sets quite quickly, about 15–30 seconds, and dries in about 5–10 minutes.
Curing Time — 24 hours

  • Fabric Glue: There are many different kinds of fabric glue. Some fabric glues are similar to standard PVA/craft glues but provide flexibility and wash resistance. Fusible webbing is another form of fabric adhesive; it comes in strip form and melts under the heat of an iron to bond two fabric surfaces together.

Set & Drying Time — Bottled fabric glue sets in about and hour and dries in about 12 hours.
Curing Time — 24 hours

  • Spray Adhesive: Spray adhesives disperse in fine droplets to provide a thin, uniform bonding surface. Spray adhesives work best on lightweight materials, such as paper, fabric and small or thin pieces of plastic, wood, and metal. They come in both high-tack and low-tack varieties; low tack allows you to lift and reposition the materials, while high tack will instantly create a permanent bond upon contact.

Set & Drying Time — Low tack will give you a few minutes before it sets; high tack will set instantly. Dries within 30 minutes.
Curing Time — 24 hours

  • Rubber Cement: Rubber cement is made from a mixture of elastic polymers and a solvent that keeps them fluid. The rubbery texture allows you to remove to the material without much damage, which makes it great for mounting posters or artwork or in collage work. It is a fairly toxic substance and should be used in a well-ventilated area.

Set & Drying Time — Glue sets in about 15 minutes and dries within 6 hours.
Curing Time — 24 hours

  • Expandable Glues: Gorilla Glue and Zap-A-Gap are popular brands of expanding adhesives. The glues are polyurethane based and extremely durable once cured, making them great for industrial-strength projects and heavy-duty materials including wood, metal, ceramics, glass, plastic and stone. The glue has foaming properties that cause it to expand and fill in cracks within a material. The glue hardens once it dries, allowing you to scrape off any excess with a paint scraper or chisel.

Set & Drying Time — Varies, depending on which type you buy. The standard drying time is about 1–2 hours and about 30 minutes for a fast-dry version.
Curing Time — 24 hours

* These glues are not ideal for adhering the material but can be sufficient if the project is small and lightweight, and non-functional (craft only). When using hot glue for styrofoam projects, choose a low-temperature glue gun only. High-temperature hot glue will most likely refuse to bond and melt the plastic, which gives off harmful fumes. Also note that only waterproof glues should be used on ceramics such as mugs, dishware and vases. Lastly, if your paper projects involve fine artwork (or anything you’d like to keep for a very long time) you should use archival adhesives instead of the standard glues above.

How to Glue

First, you always want to clean and prep your materials. Dust, dirt and moisture will likely weaken the bond of the glue, so always try to remove any debris, and dry the surfaces thoroughly before gluing. Many glue jobs can be messy, so I like to have a scrap piece of cardboard and a few rags handy to clean up any spills. A majority of glues contain harmful chemicals, so always use your glues in as well ventilated an area as possible, and be careful to keep the glue away from your eyes and skin.

The process for proper gluing will vary depending on what kind of materials and glue you are using. For gluing metals, ceramics and woods, some adhesives recommend scoring or lightly sanding the surface where you will be applying the glue in order to create a better bond. Some of the expanding glues require the surface to be slightly damp beforehand to activate the glue. Some glues, such as rubber cement and super glue, will recommend that you apply them to both sides of the joint for increased bond strength. Always be sure to read the complete directions on an adhesive prior to use.

For larger glue projects, such as those requiring multiple clamps or involving heavy or delicate materials, consider having a friend handy to help you hold the project while you secure the clamps, tape or whatever will help hold the piece as the glue sets. It’s much better to spend extra time prepping and planning for the glue job than having to continually reapply glue to a sagging or broken joint or to be running around with glue flying everywhere, desperately searching for something to prop up the project . . . I’ve been there, and it’s not fun. Also keep in mind that most adhesives are flammable, so never use adhesives around open flame or heat.

When using spray adhesive: Spray from a distance of at least 8″ away from the surface and pass over it a couple times to cover the surface with an even, uniform coat. The nozzle on spray adhesives can often become clogged — to prevent this, simply turn the can upside down after each use and spray into a trash can or onto a scrap piece of paper for about 1–2 seconds or until the can begins to spray only air. You can also pop off the nozzle and soak it in turpentine for extreme clogs.

When using wood glue: Spread wood glue along the entire area of both surfaces that you are gluing. Apply a generous amount of glue — the layer should be thick but not overflowing. It also helps secure the bond if you slide the two surfaces back and forth against one another gently after pressing them together, and then settle them into place and clamp securely to set and dry.

Useful Things to Have around When Gluing

  • Gloves — Nobody likes gluing their fingers together, right? I recommend using latex or some other kind of thin protective glove when gluing to prevent contact with the skin.
  • Respirator — Glues can be very toxic. If you plan to use adhesives for an extended period of time or if the glue has a very high toxicity level, you should definitely err on the safe side and use a respirator, even if you are in a well-ventilated area. You can purchase different cartridges for the respirator that correspond to the type of chemicals in the glue you are using. Safety first!!
  • Rags — Gluing can sometimes get messy, so I recommend having damp and dry rags around for cleanup, just in case.
  • Clamps — For more heavy-duty gluing, clamps can be a great way to hold the objects together as the glue sets. You can also use clamps to apply pressure and tighten joints while they bond.
  • Masking tape — For lightweight objects, masking tape can be an easy way to hold the joint in place as the glue sets.
  • Cleaning solventGoo-Gone is a reliable agent for removing adhesives from surfaces and might come in handy for unwanted glue stains. For epoxy and some other adhesives, you may need to use acetone or rubbing alcohol to remove glue residue.
  • Scrap cardboard or gluing surface — To catch any glue drips.
  • Windows — Good ventilation is essential for safe gluing, particularly with spray glue, epoxy and other high-strength glues. If you don’t have a respirator, please ensure that you are using the glues in an open area with good air flow.
  • X-Acto knife or paint scraper — If your glue has dried completely but you notice drips, sharp blades are the best way to clean off excess glue. Gently scrape off the adhesive and wipe the area with a damp rag or a Q-tip soaked in a cleaning solvent.

Glue Alternatives

The hard truth is that most effective adhesives owe their strength to chemicals and other unsavory ingredients. Most brands will list the ingredients on the package or on their site. Some modern glues are actually comprised of entirely synthetic materials, making them vegan-friendly, although no less toxic, unfortunately. If you’re looking for a more environmentally friendly form of glue, there are several homemade recipes you can try. I’ve included a simple, kid-safe version above, which will work for most paper and small wood or plastic craft projects, but here is a list of 11 natural glue recipes you can try. I can’t guarantee a secure, permanent bond with any of these, but depending on the project at hand, they just may do the trick — allowing you to be respirator and worry free.

There are infinitely more details and questions to be answered when it comes to glue, but hopefully these tips will help you with the majority of your gluing projects. For specific project questions, try visiting thistothat.com, a fun (albeit old-fashioned looking) interactive site about glue where you can plug in materials and receive a recommendation for which glue to use. Feel free to ask questions as well, and I’ll try to answer as many as I can. In the meantime, I highly recommend you purchase a few of these nifty glues and start sticking stuff together!!!

Here are some fun DIYs that you can make with these cool adhesives:

  1. Rose says:

    Personally I would advise against using Rubber Cement with Styrofoam as I have had the glue eat away at the Styrofoam.

  2. Andrea says:

    I think you need to take environment into consideration too. Cyanoacrylates break down with the introduction of water. (Which is why you’re supposed to soak your hand in warm water if you glue your fingers together.) They also work best with tiny cracks, whereas two part epoxies can fill in gaps.

    The former adhesive chemist in me wants to write a blog post about this now! :)

  3. laksh says:

    Hi

    I am looking for a gle which doesnt dry. Can you help me with the same. The purpose of it is that it should stick the material in place and should let go of the same when removed.

  4. geralyn says:

    Hello, I was hoping to find the best glue that would withstand rain, wind, and outdoors. The project I’m making will consist of different types of things. Copper piping, ceramic, plastic, glass. Should I buy a different glue for each one. Also if I’m gluing let’s say copper piping to a piece of ceramics, or a piece of ceramic to a piece of glass, how would I know which one to use. Is there a fantastic glue that does all of the above plus be outside getting rained on, hot son, winds? Thanks for your help

  5. CansadaK says:

    I think an epoxy is the best all=purpose glue for things like ceramic, piping, etc. I think the recommendations on thistothat.com can be a little hard to find. I use:
    http://www.gluehow.com/recommendation/Ceramic/to/Ceramic

  6. Laura says:

    Great info… I need to know what glue to use for a project I’m doing. I need to adhere wood letters to a painted canvas. I used acrylic paint on the canvas. I appreciate any suggestions.
    Thanks, Laura

  7. Rick Brittingham says:

    I need a glue that can bond styrofoam to a screening material. I also need a slow drying time to give extra time to work with mounting material.

  8. Mickey says:

    RE: your FANTASTIC “which glue should I use” chart: the important asterisked info below the chart does not appear when this is pinned to a Pinterest board—It would be a good idea to somehow incorporate that text into the actual image of the chart, so it comes along when being pinned. Thanks!

  9. Jamie says:

    Can you use apple cider vinegar instead of white vinegar?

  10. Fran says:

    I opened an old Elmers Craft Bond extra strength glue stick and it is all black. It still sticks but is that black mold and will it harm pictures even if it says it is acid free

    1. Grace Bonney says:

      Fran

      That sounds like mold- it’s time to toss that one and start a new glue stick :)

      Grace

  11. Laura says:

    Great information. Thank you very much! What do you suggest for gluing watercolor paper to tin. This has proven very difficult. I see your chart does not have overlapping glues that are good for both metal and paper. And the watercolor paper is particularly thick and porous, which makes it a challenge. I’ve tried Nori and Yes glues, in addition to rubber cement, Elmer’s, spray adhesive, and crazy glue. I wrap the tins with rubber bands. They look fine a week later. But a month to a year later, the tins all begin to peel. I was thinking to try an epoxy or E6000 next, but I remember hating the fumes from that glue. Perhaps I could sand the metal a bit to give it a toothier surface. What would you suggest? Thanks!

  12. BA says:

    I am building Fairy Houses from materials I find in my yard ,such as discarded branches palm frons and tree bark etc. I have been using my hot glue gun to keep then together and it works fine because of all the odd shapes and sizes of the material that is used. The problem I am having is , if I put them outside they fall apart after a month or so, the weather in Florida is not good for hot glue . The hot glue is great if you keep it out of the weather . What can I do to keep my beautiful creations together I want to put them in my garden

  13. Janae says:

    I need to glue a microwave part. One side is metal and one side is plastic. It is a part connected to the door, so it will be opened and closed alot. What would be the best glue for this situation?

  14. mysti says:

    I would like to know what type of glue will bond to plastic and metal at very high temperatures for repairing a pan lid that split on the plastic and will no longer hold the metal that is holding all the weight together.

  15. Jenny shelton says:

    Ok here is my secret homemade glue additive….spiking gel, or hair spray and that to you finished flour paste and guarantee it’s 10 times more sticky :)

  16. Thikrayat says:

    I want to decoupage bags (made out of fabric, or faux leather) and was wondering if using pva glue would make it too stiff and ruin it

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