Adhesives 101: Getting a Grip on Adhesives, Resins and Glues

By thewriteDuffy •  Updated: 04/08/24 •  7 min read

The white glue we used in school always comes to mind when we think of the sticky stuff, but other than making construction-paper art, it’s not very practical in DIY situations.

If you want to stick two things together without nails or screws, the options below are going to be your best bet for home projects, but each one is better suited to particular materials and siturations, so read down the list if you’re unsure.

Wood Glue

Yellow, or carpenter’s, glue is the most basic kind of wood glue. Carpenter’s glue and wood glue are the best adhesives for attaching wood to wood, such as when repairing a piece of furniture.

Most wood glue can be applied in temperatures from 40 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit and the working time is about 15 minutes. Carpenters glue typically has a shelf life of about one year.

With that said, not all wood glues are the same.

How to Choose a Wood Glue for Your Project

Several brands of wood glue sell tubes of glue that look nearly identical except one will be “premium,” “Superior,” or “extra-strength.” This can make it super confusing.

Titebond for example has three main varieties with slightly different labels. Though every brand will have its own labeling system, taking a look at the differences between the three Titebonds can give you a good feeling for the differences between the “strengths” of wood glue.

Here are the three Titebond glues broken down by properties and when you would use them:

  1. Plain Titebond is the typical wood glue you’d want to use for most woodworking and carpentry jobs.
  2. Titebond II can also be used for most woodworking and carpentry tasks, but it also offers waterproof/exterior uses.
  3. Titebond III, which some woodworkers simply use as a default glue, has good exterior capabilities and has a longer “open” time than the other Titebond glues.

Pro Tip: Open time refers to how long before a glue starts setting. This is important if you’re working on a project that requires a lot of setup or assembly prior to being clamped.

When using wood glue, make sure to apply a solid bead and spread it evenly using an acid brush. Apply enough so that the mating surfaces are thoroughly covered.

How to Use Wood Glue (Basics)

When using wood glue, make sure to apply a solid bead and spread it evenly using an acid brush. Apply enough so that the mating surfaces are thoroughly covered.

Secure the two pieces, use a cloth to wipe off any excess glue, and clamp if necessary to hold the pieces together during drying.

Polyurethane Glue

In the last few years polyurethane glues, such as Gorilla Glue have become popular. Polyurethane glue is appropriate for a variety of projects, as it can be used indoors and outdoors and on a variety of materials.

With that said, the bonding surfaces have to be dampened to activate the adhesive it can get messy.

The process creates a foam that penetrates and fills the bonding surfaces. Not knowing how much foam will be created after the initial squeeze often causes DIYers to use too much and ultimately create a big mess.

Polyurethane glue products require the bonding surfaces to be dampened to activate the adhesive. This process creates a foam that penetrates and fills the bonding surfaces. But be careful: Not knowing how much foam will be created after the initial squeeze often causes DIYers to use too much and ultimately create a big mess.

How to Use Polyurethane Glue (Basics)

Before applying polyurethane glue, wet the surface with a damp cloth.

After applying the glue, immediately clamp the pieces together, and allow 24 hours for the glue to dry. Clean off any excess polyurethane glue with mineral spirits.

Contact Adhesive (Contact Cement)

Contact Adhesive, or contact cement, is avery strong solvent-based adhesive that makes for a permanent, quick and flexible bond.

Contact cement is a good choice for materials that are nonporous including rubber, tile, metal, many plastics and decorative laminates.

Water-based contact cement won’t stick to metal or glass, but a solvent-based contact cement will. Both of them don’t stick to masonry.

Pro Tip: Contact Cement is not the same as Rubber Cement, which is best left for school banners and colages.

How to Use Contact Cement

Unlike other adhesives, contact cement needs to air-dry for 15 to 20 minutes before assembly. The cement needs to be applied to both pieces you’re joining for the glue to stick.

Contact cement doesn’t stick; it’s a solid glue with solvent added for easier application. Using it is a bit stressful because permanent bonding happens with just momentary contact.

Pro Tip: Make sure your work area is well-ventilated as solvent-based contact cement releases volatile organic compounds (VOCs). U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulates VOCs because they’re flammable and toxic in high doses.

Heavy-Duty Adhesives

Heavy-duty adhesives (or construction adhesives) such as Loctite and Liquid Nails brands are best for large projects like laminating beams, though they’re also good for smaller jobs like attaching trim, molding, and paneling, especially if you don’t want to use fasteners.

In general, construction adhesives bond surfaces that cannot easily be joined with mechanical fasteners, like screws or nails, or can be combined with them to form very strong bonds.

Available in tubes and calking-like cartridges, most (especially water-based and solvent-free types) need at least one of the surfaces being bonded to be porous.

How to Use Construction Adhesives

If you’re using a small tube of heaby-duty adhesive, the process is pretty self-explanitory and you’re going to use the product just like any other glue.

However if you’re using construction adhesive in a tube, like pictured above, you’re going to need to use a caulking gun.

There are lots of caulk guns out there, and they range from a few dollars to $12 or more. It doesn’t matter which caulk gun you buy, because they all do the same thing.

Your best bet is a midrange gun at about $6. Some of the cheaper ones — less than $3 — can stick and have to be taken apart and reassembled frequently, which is not something you want to do in the middle of a job.

Start by removing or cutting off the tip of the calk cartridge. The opening at the tip determines the size of the adhesive bead so start small and go bigger if you must.

Pull back the gun’s plunger or rod and load the cartridge into it.

To dispense the adhesive, apply even pressure to the trigger. When you release the trigger, adhesive will continue to dispense due to a buildup of pressure.

You will have to push the catch plate to make it stop. This is something I didn’t know my first time using one, and a giant mess was the result, so don’t forget this step because a big mess of heavy-duty adhesive is not fun.

Once you have the adhesive applied you may want to spread it out with a trowel or putty knife, or just rely on the pressure from sticking the two pieces together to spread it out if you’re confident.

Pro Tip: Not all construction adhesives are quick-setting, so you’ll need to check the label and use a clamp if necessary.

Epoxy Resin

Epoxy glues (also called resin, or epoxy resin), such as J-B Weld, are made by mixing two compounds: a resin and a hardener.

Epoxies are best for heavy-duty and permanent uses including large outdoor projects and connections that have a weak joint.

How to Use Epoxy Resin

Epoxy glue is made by mixing two agents (a resin and a hardener) in exact proportions. Once mixed, it’s used in the same fashion as regular glue.

Where a secure anchoring point for a wall fixture is required (on shelves, for instance), inject the resin into the hole before the fixture is inserted.

If you’re using epoxy on wood, it’s often a good idea to mix a little sawdust from the wood you’re gluing into the epoxy mixture if you can. This helps ensure that the glue will dry the same color as the wood.

thewriteDuffy

At home, April is a mom, wife, and DIY darling. Among other home projects, she helped her husband Dan renovate their 1986 bungalow and is currently designing and decorating the 2023 custom home they are building themselves. Professionally, April is a writer, author, and online marketer with 15 years of experience writing for newspapers and magazines, building online authority websites, and publishing books.