Full Chisel Blog

July 11, 2010

If you are making furniture, remember at some time it will break and need to be repaired.

Every piece of woodworking be it furniture or other wooden objects will be damaged and require repair and restoration.  So with that in mind, use a glue that will be friendly to whoever has to do the repairs in the future.  And the only glue that will not make the restorationist curse a blue streak, is animal glue, hide glue, either hot or liquid or fish glue.

Here is a table that I am in the process of restoring that was originally glued together with hide glue, but was broken, as always happens and unfortunately repaired with modern glues, both white glue [PVC] and the cursed polyurethane foaming crap.  A copy of an older style table it was made during the late nineteenth or early twentieth century in the revival style that was popular then.  Had it been original it would have mortise and tenon construction, this one is dowelled together.

The above photograph shows the upright [upside-down] with the stretcher to the left.  Remnants of the top of the leg are still attached and the yellow brown crap is poly glue that I began to scrape off.  It was like removing fresh sponge cake from a plate with a fork, it was soft foamy crap that just didn’t stick.  Touted for its gap filling properties this plastic material fills those gaps with hundreds of tiny bubbles, which in my book are voids or gaps

This photograph shows the leg with the remains of modern white and poly glue, both slathered on, little evidence of clamping and oozing out on the surface of the leg and on the upright support and no attempt to clean up the ooze out.

As you can see no attempt was made to clean the surface prior to the attempt at repairs and you can see both the white and brown residue that passes for glue.

The modern glues stick fresh broken wood together better [unfortunately] better than it did at the joint, but because it is not properly aligned nor clamped it will require that I take all apart, clean off the new glue and do a proper repair with animal glues.

In order to help remove the remaining pieces I used an insulin needle to inject vinegar into the joint and splits to soften the white glue.  I used the small knife and larger glue scraper to remove the crap modern glues, it will require much more work than if proper glues and clamping techniques were used.

I will need to add new wood where the old wood is missing and also to the areas that are destroyed by using modern glues.  Have I mentioned that I don’t like modern glues and there is a special place in hell for those that used modern materials for repairing antique furniture?

I will continue to curse until the repairs are completed and show the progress in future with expurgated blog posts.



  1. Stephen, what is the purpose of the black and white object in the photos? Are those inch measures and you are documenting, or what?

    THank you,

    Comment by John M. Johnston — July 11, 2010 @ 9:26 am

  2. John,

    Welcome. It is a gnomon with one inch squares and used for showing size/scale. Made of holly with ebony inlayed. I put it in most of my pictures.


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — July 11, 2010 @ 10:07 am

  3. BTDT….

    I’m definitely with you. Sometime in the late 70’s early 80’s my dad got enamored with using epoxy for repairs, especially with chair rungs. I’ve had to repair many of his “fixes” and they are god-awful things to deal with.

    I honestly don’t understand peoples aversion to using hide glue – with the hide glue in a bottle, it’s certainly as handy as any modern glue. Putting future repairs aside, I find using hot hide glue actually makes performing these kinds of repairs in the here and now so much easier as well.

    Good luck with the repairs – I’ll be certain to watch your upcoming series on the them and how you put Humpty Dumpty together again…


    Comment by Leif — July 11, 2010 @ 8:46 pm

  4. Keep preaching, Stephen. Maybe some will actually listen and start using hide glue. I can’t imagine going back to my carpenter glue days. The thought of bringing that bubbly crap near a piece of furniture just makes my skin crawl.

    What’s odd is that hide glue is simply so much nicer to work with than these other glues, whether you’re thinking about repairs or not.

    Cheers — Larry

    Comment by Larry Marshall — July 12, 2010 @ 8:07 am

  5. Thank you Leif and Larry,

    The other broken and loose leg came off with a little pursuasion, wooden wedges and putty knives did the trick. Easy repair and the old hide glue will be reconstituted when I glue it back on the upright. The relatively fresh breaks were easy to repair with clamps, clear plastic glue blocks and a wire clamp.

    table repair6


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — July 12, 2010 @ 12:41 pm

  6. A wooden material is an organic substance. It will still work and develop until it will be completely dry. That’s why we have to protect every piece of wooden material with suitable (preferably natural) coating and painting if necessary. It is more then obvious (according to the pictures above) that the natural material needs to be stick with the same natural consistence as itself.

    Comment by Jay Banks — July 13, 2010 @ 3:50 am

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