Friday, February 28, 2014

Eleven Reasons to Use Animal Hide Glue in Fine and Antique Furniture

I almost titled this post ‘Pardon My French’ in dedication of a recent hair-pulling project I completed. This French bergere was a bugger to get right. The client has a local upholsterer they were going to have recover this chair. Knowing it was very loose, they called me to reglue the frame first. Deupholster and reglue. Easy enough, right? Wowie. I wish.

Sometimes the seemingly simplest projects end up with the most unforeseen issues and complicated looking ones turn out really straightforward. I can’t even tell you what was so frustrating but it did revolve around three issues: 1. The seat rails are not perpendicular to one another, making clamping AND spreading a difficulty. 2. I believe the last person to work on this chair used something other than hide glue. 3. The “joinery” was delicate little dowels. Needless to say, some dowels needed to be replaced and the chair was assembled in stages. This brings me to my point...

 These tenons were not part of the bergere. I wish they had been.

Hide glue. It has dawned on me that my level of satisfaction and feeling that all is well in the studio is directly proportional to the amount of hide glue I encounter. When a piece has been glued with hide glue and I am regluing with hide glue, things generally go very smooth. The working properties, clean-up, self-clamping, and lack of toxins in the glue all make me a happy camper.

So without further ado, let me persuade you to use hide glue in your furniture. Here’s a quick, off-the-cuff list of reasons for you to consider. For sake of the next guy to work on it, please dump the synthetic glues and convert to collagen.

1. It’s reversible. 
This is critical to safe repair in the future. Adhesives that are insoluble after drying present great danger to joinery when a piece needs to be disassembled for treatment later on down the road. All adhesives fail after a while. So if you want this piece to last longer than twenty years, use hide glue.

2. It adheres well to old glue. 
Because the glue softens when introduced to warm water, a fresh application of hide glue will soften the old for proper adhesion. This is important when regluing something because glue penetrate the surface of the wood and if an incompatible glue has “sealed” the surface, you will have a hard time getting full adhesion.

3. It’s easy to modify/manipulate working properties. 
Hot Hide Glue (totally unmodified), when heated to 140* and ready for use can have a very short open time. We’re talking a minute or two. Because the glue gels before drying, everything needs to be set in short order. There are so many factors that change hide glue’s working properties. Ambient temperature helps (the hotter your room, the longer you got), preheating the adherends with a hairdryer or heat gun helps, adding canning salt or urea to your mix can slow it down to give you 30 – 60 minutes of working time, glycerin reduces fracturability of the glue, alum makes it water proof, etc. The list goes on.

4. It’s inexpensive. 
I bought 50 lbs of granules from Eugene Thordahl for $5.00 a pound. I am able to mix it fresh whenever I need it and this should last me at least twenty years working professionally.

5. It is self-clamping. 
As the glue dries, it actually draws the adherends together making clamping unnecessary in some cases. This is very handy with small bits that need to be repaired (ie. veneer chips, carvings, etc.) This is how boards were edge glued in days past. They would plane the edges straight and square, apply the hide glue to both sides and rub them together for a few moments until the gel action set in. They would then just set these pieces aside to let it self-clamp. I do this occasionally. It’s amazing.

6. It is easy to clean up after it dries. 
Glue covered fingers, glue splattered pants, and drops and drips on your shoes are easily taken care of even after it dried. Know how? You guessed it: warm water. (Or saliva!) I think the value of this property is way underestimated.

7. It’s incredibly strong.
Depending on your mixture and gram strength, hide glue is one of the strongest glues, very close to epoxy.

8. It’s not too strong. 
You don’t want glue in joinery too strong because if something crashes down and is going to break, you want it to be the glue line and not the tenon snapping off. Please ignore all marketing claims of glue being “stronger than wood”. That’s not what you want in antique furniture joinery. Hide glue is just the right amount of strength for fine and antique furniture.

9. It’s a renewable resource. 
Cows always make more cows. That ain’t changing anytime soon.

10. It’s safe for your health. 
Cow protein is safe for human consumption. I’ve tasted it. A little weird but when the set time is depressed with salt it really brings out the complexity of the flavors. (wink.) Bovine collagen + h2o = safe for people.

11. It’s historically accurate. 
This stuff has been used in the furniture of Egyptian tombs (30 centuries ago) and it was standard “glue” until the advent of synthetic glues (mid 20th century). Used all over the world for most of recorded history, I’d say it’s got historic street cred.

Projects like this bergere necessitate a 'clear your head' walk no matter what the weather.


  1. i know what you mean, nothing works better. For most things than hide glue!

  2. My hide glue needs are paid for by the shirts I don't have to throw away.

  3. Hello Joshua,

    Great site!!!!
    Keep the info coming.


  4. 12. pays for itself in t-shirts you didn't have to replace.

  5. It is not obvious to me how to purchase the hide glue granules from the Bjorn website.

    1. For list if available grades and prices contact:
      Eugene B. Thordahl
      Bjorn Industries, Inc.
      551 King Edward Road, Ste: 211
      Charlotte, NC 28211
      (704) 953-2026 voice

      Or E-Mail: