Full Chisel Blog

October 28, 2011

Making the case for Liquid Hide Glue

Yes, Hot Hide Glue is better [whatever that means] than Liquid Hide Glue.  It has a greater strength.  However Liquid Hide Glue is better [and I know what that means] than any modern glues.
Hot Hide Glue is the benchmark to which all glues are compared as it was one of the first glues used by humanity.  Hot Hide Glue is mentioned in all Adhesive Technology references right up front, first thing and it is the adhesive to which all others are judged against.
Many groups like [I have been told] the Society of Period Furniture Makers and many luthier groups do not like liquid hide glue and only use hot hide glue, and there is nothing wrong with that.  However dismissing liquid hide glue out of hand is a bit much.
Liquid hide glue is a far better choice than any modern glue because of the many reasons that I have mentioned before here and in Hide Glue – Historical & Practical Applications.  Liquid hide glue because of the anti-gelling agents added has lost about 10% of the strength of hot hide glue.  Adding things like alum to make it waterproof, or glycerin to make it flexible, or bone dust as a thickening agent also reduces the strength of hot hide glue by 10%.  So altered hot hide glue and liquid hide glue still has a shear strength in excess of 2800 psi.
Old Brown Glue, Lee Valley Fish Glue, and Franklin/Titebond liquid hide glues are all available and are all very good.  People complain about the shelf life, but if stored at low temperatures the usable life of the glue can be extended for years.  The problem most people have with liquid hide glue is the stuff they used was too old.

Do the stringing, cottoning, legging test to see if it is fresh enough to use.  Place a small amount on your thumb and index finger of one hand and touch them together repeatedly.  Fine filaments will appear in an ephemeral looking smoke if the glue is fresh.  If not it has expired and can be thinned and put in the garden, high in nitrogen.
I use both in my work but to be honest I use more liquid hide glue than hot hide glue and I have not had any trouble with making furniture using liquid hide glue or for many repairs.  The stuff is easy to use, convenient and has all of the benefits of hot hide glue [less 10%] and none of the drawbacks of modern glues.
Easy to clean up, now, tomorrow or a hundred years from now, does not suffer from creep, is largely transparent to stains and finishes [glows under UV light for easy removal], is reversible and washes out of your clothes.  And it is organic and contains no petroleum distillates and is renewable.

Hot Hide Glue is great but so is Liquid Hide Glue, give it a try.


  1. I picked up some Old Brown Glue, to use on my next project. I thought I was wimping out, because everyone says you have to use Hot Hide Glue. I thought it was a good place to start, because I haven’t used Hide Glue before. I don’t feel like an wimpy outcast now :).


    Comment by Mike Lingenfelter — October 28, 2011 @ 11:44 am

  2. “Hot Hide Glue is great but so is Liquid Hide Glue”

    That ought to be a bumper sticker or a t-shirt or something. For what it’s worth, I think most people don’t use it because of the “It’s old technology, therefore, it must be inferior” line of crap advertising loves to push.

    Comment by Doug F. — October 28, 2011 @ 12:04 pm

  3. One of the great advantages of liquid hide glue for a hobbyist woodworker like me is that it gives you a lot more control of your time. I don’t often get huge chunks of time to work in the shop, so when I’m at a point where I can glue up something, I can do it relatively quickly without breaking out the glue pot and all of that, and having to clean brushes afterwards.

    And on the other hand, when I’ve got something a bit more involved to glue up (like, say, the 20 mortise-and-tenon joints in one stage of my current project), I really appreciate the long open time of liquid hide glue. I don’t have any extra sets of hands to help me when I’m getting everything into place. If I were using hot hide glue on something like that, I’d have to worry about the temperature in the shop and all of that.

    But that’s not to detract from hot hide glue. It’s fun to use when I can.

    Comment by Brian — October 28, 2011 @ 1:03 pm

  4. Woa! Wait a darned Second There Pardner! Are you trying to say your hot hide glue is better than my liquid glue? Well, let me tell you, my liquid hide glue will harden faster than your hot hide glue any day of the week! If you don’t believe me, I’ll challenge you to a competition at the next Woodworking In Utah exhibition in 2010, got it?

    Comment by Gary Roberts — October 28, 2011 @ 4:59 pm

  5. Amen. I use Liquid Hide Glue frequently. I make it myself (non-iodized salt instead of urea… plus a little glycerin). I really like it a lot but have been using Lee Valley’s High Tack Fish Glue more recently. I am becoming a big fan. Certainly easier than mixing it up yourself. (I’ve heard too many stories about Franklin’s Liquid Hide Glue failing well within shelf life date.)
    Hot Glue is good for scarf joints when the “natural clamping” feature of the glue is a boon. But often on full chair glue-ups or complicated assemblies, I use my liquid glue or fish glue.

    Comment by Joshua Klein — October 28, 2011 @ 5:30 pm

  6. I’m curious if you folks who like it all live in Utah or similar dry climates. I work on violins and live in Idaho, a relatively dry area. After reading Stephen’s book (even writing the forward for it), I have tried the bottled glue again. I still don’t trust it for real, long-term joints. I use it to glue in inventory labels, spreader wedges on bows (which are removed next time the bow is rehaired), and have now used it to tack corner and endblocks to the form — another joint which I want to fail easily.

    Other than it being fast and/or convenient, how do you know you like it? That is, how long have you had success with it? Not trying to be argumentative, just curious.

    Comment by Ken Pollard — October 29, 2011 @ 10:58 am

  7. Not doing enough working wood to warrant a hot pot of glue, I use liquid hide glue, the occasional fish glue and if it’s flex that’s needed, barge cement which has nothing to do with this topic it’s just good stuff if smelly.

    I wouldn’t recommend this, but years ago, in order to loosen an old hide glue joint, we used to squirt some benzene or benzine (whichever was the slightly less lethal one) into the joint, wait a bit and then pop the joint when the glue crystallized. Stephen, you most likely know the chemistry behind this. We also liberated pure 200 proof ETOH from the lab for parties, but that as another thing altogether.

    Comment by Gary Roberts — October 29, 2011 @ 11:03 am

  8. Gary,
    Yes, Ethanol will crystallize hide glue in joints. Since 200 proof is hard to come by, you could use 190 Proof Ethanol Denatured Alcohol. Many brands have a lot of methanol. Sunnyside brand and Klean-Strip “Green” have high percentages of ethanol and are good and acceptable for mixing up/ thinning shellac (but that is another thing as well). You can find their MSDS to check this info out through a quick Google search.
    The thing to think about with injection of any alcohol is the solubility of coatings. If it is a coating soluble in/sensitive to alcohol (shellac, early nitrocellulose lacquers)you have to be VERY careful. Generally speaking I find hot water (for hide glue) or warmed vinegar (for hide or modified PVAs like Yellow glues) to be safer for finishes.
    Be well and be warm, friends.

    Comment by Joshua Klein — October 30, 2011 @ 8:45 am

  9. Liquid hide glue works just fine – except for hammer veneering. For that, nothing but the hot stuff will do. The liquid does not develop the rapid tack needed to keep the veneer in place without a press.

    I do have a question though. I’ve read that urea can be used to extend the gel time of hot hide glue. Add enough and you get liquid hide glue. What’s the appropriate amount to just extend the gel time a little – say 30-60 seconds?

    Comment by Larry Blanchard — January 3, 2012 @ 12:06 pm

  10. Larry,
    I have actually used liquid hide glue and fish glue to hammer veneer, so it does work, hot hide glue is much quicker.

    Add about 2% by weight of urea or table salt to extend the open time of hot hide glue. You can also have a warm glue room and at 90 degrees you have 10-14 minutes of open time. This is all in my book on Hide Glue.


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — January 5, 2012 @ 12:47 pm

  11. Hi Stephen,
    I was doing some research and your name kept coming up as the expert on Hide Glue. I was wondering if you could clear something up for me. I’ve heard of hot hide glue being used as a wood sealant, have you ever done that? I’m building my first mandolin and am using HHG for the body and neck and wanted to use it as a sealer but don’t know how to mix it. I was thinking maybe 5 or 6 parts water to one part glue?
    If you have any input, I would love to hear it.



    Comment by Katie — September 14, 2012 @ 9:41 pm

  12. Katie,
    Hot hide glue is made into ‘size’ by mixing it with water. Take the hot hide glue once it is mixed at the normal rate then heated and dilute it down to 10% with the water and apply it to the surface.
    Good Luck.


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — September 15, 2012 @ 6:33 am

  13. Hi Stephen,

    I make my living as an acoustic guitar maker and have been using Franklin’s liquid hide glue more and more lately. My main woodworking glue has and continues to be Titebond original yellow glue but i really like using the hide glue. It seems to work well for certain segments of my work and basically I just really like it. My concern is that the stated shelf life is quite short but I have used it past the due date ( not too much past) with no obvious problems. I’ve considered going to hot hide glue but have concluded that it’s really not worth switching over and the 10% strength loss (if that’s what it is) is not an issue for me.


    Comment by Marc Beneteau — February 17, 2013 @ 6:41 pm

  14. Quick question —

    I would like to know if Franklin’s TiteBond Hide Glue can be softened after the glue has set. I need to disassemble some parts and wonder if TiteBond hide glue will work.


    Comment by Wakt — February 28, 2013 @ 7:21 pm

  15. Walt,
    yes it is thermosplastic so heating up to just 150 degrees {F}. Steam or water or vinegar will also soften the liquid hide glue {Franklin}


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — March 1, 2013 @ 8:29 am

  16. Hi Stephen,

    I hope you can tell me what I am doing wrong. I just bought a pound of hide glue (from a highly regarded place in GA, so I think it is safe to assume the glue is not expired) and mixed a small batch up (2/3 water and 1/3 glue), soaked it for two hours and heated it up to 135 F. I tested a a few joints – both rubbed and clamped, but they come apart with very little force. I don’t doubt the reputation of hide glue strength so I must be doing something wrong here.

    How critical is the temperature? I doubt +/- 5F matters in this context. I tried the finger test but I don’t see any filaments forming. Is it because I have too much water in it? One more thing, my fingers feel quite sticky until some point and suddenly the stickyness is gone!

    Should the glue be viscous? Say like honey?

    Thanks for any advice you can provide 🙂

    Comment by PhilM — May 16, 2013 @ 4:24 pm

  17. Phil,
    Properly stored ground hide glue will last forever. I think your problem is too much water and too low a temperature. Say 1 tsp glue, 2 tsp water and let it thicken up before heating, unless you are in a hurry. Before heating it is a jelly consistancy, most people think it is too thick and thin it too much. The heat turns it into a liquid. The suggested heat for hot hide glue is 145 degrees [F]. Give that a try and let me know how it goes.


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — May 17, 2013 @ 7:09 am

  18. I really enjoyed that post. Thank you for talking about hide glue it is a wonderful glue.
    For furniture I myself use Old Brown glue at 140-150 °F for anything that is not hammer veneering or rub joint. It is a bit pricy but it is in my opinion a quality product. I do not like the franklin, I had couple problems with it, it does not glue as nicely. Did anyone else had any trouble with it?

    Comment by Josh — June 6, 2013 @ 1:28 pm

  19. How do I get a copy of your book “Hide Glue: Historical & Practical Applications”. I want to learn more about this marvelous adhesive. I use it when ever possible, but I feel that I need to know more to use it to its full potential.

    Comment by Robert Crane — October 1, 2014 @ 6:08 am

  20. Robert,
    It is currently out of print, I hope to have a new edition available shortly.


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — October 7, 2014 @ 1:01 pm

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