Tips for hassle-free glue ups

Woodworkers often turn to their hobby to relax. But the time pressure of completing an assembly before the glue dries often creates the very stress you want to avoid. Don't blow a blood vessel: Take a deep breath, kick up your feet, and have a nice herbal tea while you read these helpful tips to help you banish the stress from your glue-up routine.

  • Things to do before you glue

    Do a dry run
    To avoid surprises—too-small clamps, joints that don't come together tightly, not enough space on your workbench—take a practice run at assembling your project. Lay out all your clamps with the jaw handles fully retracted, as well as any additional tools or clamping accessories you'll need, such as squaring braces. Go through the process of clamping the assembly as you would in real time, recording how long it takes from start to finish. This will tell you if you can complete the assembly before the glue sets. (See slide #2 to select the right glue.) Make any needed adjustments to clamps or your process.

  • Choose your glue on time

    Once the glue comes out of the bottle, the clock starts ticking. Typical yellow woodworking glues lose their effectiveness about 10 minutes after application, if left exposed. (This is called a glue's "open time.") For complex assemblies, such as a project with 12 mortise-and-tenon joints, switch to a glue with a longer open time. For example, Titebond III wood glue has about 15 minutes of open time, Gorilla white and Titebond liquid hide glue about 20 minutes, and polyurethane glues 20-30 minutes. Titebond also makes "Extend" versions of its yellow glues with open times of 20-25 minutes.

  • Create a code

    Anytime you build a project with multiple joints and identical parts, label them so you can quickly match them up during assembly. For example, in the photo at left, numbering a coffee table's legs and aprons makes it a cinch to assemble. Make the marks where they can either be easily sanded away or will be covered up by another part (the top, in the case of this table).

  • Raise the grain now to save effort later

    Wiping away glue squeeze-out with a damp rag works great, but can also raise the wood grain—even if you've already sanded to 220 grit—leaving you additional sanding. This can be especially tricky in tight areas, such as the edge of the chair back in between slats, shown. Wet these surfaces prior to assembly and let them dry, raising the grain. Then sand to a fine grit (220 should suffice). Now, wiping away glue squeeze-out won't raise the grain again.

  • Get a better grip

    For small or slippery clamp handles, improve your grip by applying anti-slip tape. This self-adhesive tape, available at home centers and hardware stores, comes in rolls of various widths, with grit applied to one side.

  • Mask the bars to prevent glue snafus

    Dried glue proves difficult to remove from clamp bars. So minimize post glue-up clamp cleanup by applying masking tape to the top of your clamp bars or pipes that will make contact with your project. This way, any glue that squeezes out won't stick to the metal. We prefer blue painter's tape because it peels off the bars easier than common masking tape. An added benefit: The tape prevents dark stains on your wood caused by wet glue on the exposed metal.

  • What to do after you glue

    Make big panels from small ones
    When edge-gluing boards to form a panel, work with your thickness planer's width capacity in mind to greatly reduce sanding time. Let's say you're gluing up a 36"-wide tabletop from boards 4-5" wide. If you glue up the entire panel at once, you'll have six or seven glue lines to clean up and sand smooth—a tedious chore. Instead, glue up your panel in subassemblies narrow enough to run through your planer. Scrape off the dried glue, and then plane the subassemblies smooth. Then, clamp the two or three subassemblies together, leaving you only two joint lines to sand on the final panel.

  • Don't forget to brush

    If you're like most of us, your highly technical glue-spreading device is attached to your hand. To avoid leaving gluey fingerprints on your projects, though, try using an old toothbrush to gently spread glue. Its soft bristles evenly disperse the glue, and later wash out cleanly with warm water.

  • Put a lid under it

    Metal-handled acid brushes also make great glue applicators, especially for mortises, tenons, dovetails, and box joints. For easier gluing with these brushes, save a few plastic lids from food containers and use them as pallettes for your glue. These make good places to dab the brush, and the rims keep the glue contained. When you're done, simply set the lids aside; the glue peels off easily when dry.

  • Focus on faces and edges

    Face grain and edge grain bond well when glued together, but end grain glued to anything lacks holding power. So don't waste glue (or precious open time) on end grain if you don't need to. For example, on this mortise-and-tenon joint, apply glue to the faces and edges of the tenon and mortise walls, but don't bother with the shoulders—it will just cause extra squeeze-out you'll have to clean up.

  • Clamp without clamps

    Not every project assembly needs hundreds of pounds of force to pull the joints together. For many applications, such as small boxes or applied moldings, brads or masking tape can "clamp" parts in place while the glue dries. To do this, joints must be machined precisely; don't count on brads or tape to pull difficult joints together.

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