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Discover Mid-America — July 2004

A new 'bond' to try

For the antique furniture restorer, collector and dealer, a new arrow in the quiver of adhesives has joined the struggle against loose veneer and chipped corners. In addition to the already familiar hide glue, resin glue, two-part epoxy and so-called super glue comes the new boy on the block, the cyanoacrylate (sigh-a-no-ack-ree-late) family of adhesives, the "CA’s".

While not really new to the industrial world or in chemical engineering circles, these glues are working their way into everyday use by craftsmen, professional and amateur, and by just about anyone who owns or collects antique furniture.

CA’s are not just another tacky addition to the clutter of the workbench. They are revolutionary in that they are the only instant bonding glue at room temperature that has only one component. The fastest drying variety will bond in seconds under very light pressure without an external energy source. The secret is that it uses the moisture found on the surface of just about everything, including wood, as the catalyst. The atmospheric moisture film is a weak alkaline solution and that sets off the chain reaction cross linking called polymerization that creates the bonding power of the glue. Enough of the chemistry stuff.

As with almost everything else, we demand lots of choices — at the grocery store, at the drug store, etc. Cyanoacrylate glues are no exception. It comes in four basic flavors although most distributors only carry two or three. The four varieties are thin or “wicking,” the fastest drying, medium (of course), the all-around general purpose member of the family, thick, used to fill small crevices as well as form a bond and gel, used to fill nail and screw holes and surface defects.

The thinnest version bonds in 3-10 seconds while the gel may require up to a minute, still pretty fast by non-CA standards. But they can be made to work even faster by the use of an accelerator, a more powerful alkaline solution than atmospheric moisture that puts the cross linking into hyper drive. And it too comes in flavors, the original very, very fast and the newer non-CFC very fast. The use of the accelerator can reduce bonding time from 10 seconds to 1 or seemingly truly instant.

The ideal application for CA glue is in the spot repair of small areas such as lifting veneer along the edges or reapplying broken pieces of carving. In these cases, the two thinner varieties of glue are desired. Lift up the loose veneer and prop it up with a toothpick or small piece of wood. This frees one hand. Insert the pointed end of the glue applicator under the veneer and squeeze out the amount needed to cover the surface when the veneer is lowered. Spread the glue around evenly with the toothpick and quickly remove it. Using a paint paddle with waxed paper wrapped around it apply light pressure to the entire area but leave yourself access to the very edge. Now the real magic starts. Pump spray the accelerator on the visible edge and you will actually be able to see and sometimes hear the chain reaction cross link form. The accelerator will penetrate the glue and the veneer and create a uniform bond. As the bond forms you may hear it crackle slightly and any squeeze out or excess glue will turn white and crystalline. When that happens your glue is dry and you can move on. In this manner you can repair an entire table top of loose veneer in minutes instead of hours or days.

Other applications such as repairing carving use a similar technique of glue, press and pump. The thinnest CA can utilize its wicking ability to temporarily stabilize joints without disassembling the piece. A loose chair rung for example can be tightened by applying the glue around the joint, allowing it to "wick" into the joint for few seconds, then pump some accelerator around the area. However, emphasis must be placed on the temporary nature of this type of repair since old glue has not been removed from the joint and may interfere with the bond of wood to wood.

Like most things that seem to good to be true, the CA's do have some draw backs. One is the problem of excess cured material along a veneer edge for example. If this excess has crystallized, it will be hard as a rock and will have to removed by scraping or sanding. Once flush with the surrounding area though it can be re-colored and most finishes will adhere to the cured glue.

Another problem is the question of personal safety. The accelerator is a combination of certain petroleum distillates and you are spraying this as an aerosol in your personal space. If you have sensitivities to petroleum distillates be very careful with this product. The other personal safety concern is sooner or later you WILL glue your fingers together or to the work and this is no trifling matter. That glue bond is the real thing and you will lose some skin if you try to force yourself free. Before using CA anywhere on anything make sure that you can reach the solvent sold with the glue or keep a can of acetone, an equally viable solvent, close by.

CA's can be purchased from almost any woodworking, finishing or craft supplier. Be sure to buy extra tips for the bottle because they do clog up and remember that unopened containers stored upside down in the freezer will keep the product fresh indefinitely. Most important of all, use your best tool, your head, and be very careful.

Fred Taylor's new book "HOW TO BE A FURNITURE DETECTIVE" is now available for $18.95 plus $2 for S & H. Send check or money order for $20.95 to Fred Taylor, PO Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423.

Fred and Gail Taylor's video, “IDENTIFICATION OF OLDER & ANTIQUE FURNITURE,” ($29.95 includes S & H) is also available at the same address. For more information call (800) 387-6377, fax (352) 563-2916, or e-mail

> Common Sense Antiques Archive — past columns

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