A good chunk of the work involved with model ship building revolves around gluing things together. There are all kinds of opinions on what glues are best and how they should be used.
I present you with my current thoughts on glues…
I only have four glues on my work bench (the fifth bottle in the back isn’t glue…I’ll get to that).
For me, these take care of everything I’ve encountered so far in ship building. Some serious modelers would probably want epoxy added to this list…but I haven’t run into a need for it yet (and it is a bit of pain to mix/use epoxy).
Let’s break these down, starting in the front…
CA Glue (Super-Glue)
These three bottles look very similar. You’ll notice they are different brands – these are mass produced and sold by local hobby shops and online retailers under private brands. So, the brand doesn’t matter – just look for the general bottle / label design.
These are CA glues, or cyanoacrylate. You might also call it super-glue. Shown above are two different ‘thicknesses’ of glue (blue and purple), as well as a glue-remover (green). Approximate cost: $5/each.
CA glue is clear. It dries very, very fast, and it holds very, very strong.
The thickness (my term, no idea if that’s right) determines how runny or thin the glue is. The blue bottle is super thin. This stuff is like water. It dries in seconds, and will only work when the parts are in direct contact. It will seep into any tiny little seam it can find. After you apply it, you often only need to hold the part for 3-5 seconds.
The purple bottle is gap filling. This is a little thicker. It dries slower (hold the part for 10-15 seconds). This thickness will fill small gaps. It works great when the parts almost fit.
The green bottle is an un-cure. CA glue can’t be removed with water, and can’t be wiped off. If you get some on your skin, it will harden. If you try to wash it off, you’ll have a hard white patch on your skin. Un-cure dissolves CA glue. I keep a bottle of this next to the sink near my work bench. When you glue something to your hand (and you will), pour this over it, let it soak in, and slowly work the part off.
During my Phantom build, I spent days building the rudder. The last step was to install the tiny hardware to mount the rudder to the hull. I used CA glue. I glued the rudder to my hand. The un-cure saved my hand (and pride). I waited a month and rebuilt the rudder from scratch.
- Dries really fast.
- Different thicknesses let you pick the right one for the job.
- Holds strong.
- Cannot be easily sanded off or removed. If you get this all over your model, you might as well paint over it.
- Hardens whatever it gets into. It will stiffen thread and rigging line. It will turn wood into a block of plastic.
- Can leave a shiny or white residue if you use too much.
How I Use It
- I use this for securing metal parts (pins, castings, etc).
- I use this when I have something that can’t be easily clamped and I need it to dry fast.
- I used a tiny drop of this when I “cheat” on rigging to hold a line in place while I tie it.
- Almost any amount you use is probably too much. A little goes a very, very, very long way.
PVA Glue (Wood Glue)
This stuff comes in a variety of styles/colors/brands. I started using Titebond based on comments I saw online, and I’ve been really happy with it. Approximate cost: $6.
I heard somewhere that two pieces of wood bonded with wood glue were held stronger than they would be with nails or screws. I believe it.
This stuff works great for gluing wood to wood. All the wood gluing on my Phantom build was done with this bottle. It takes longer to dry than CA glue, so you’ve got to hold or clamp pieces together. Sometimes this extra time helps – it lets you position things just right. I’ve found this stuff is dry enough for me to continue working with about 20-30 minutes (unless it is structural/load-bearing, then give it several hours or overnight).
- Holds wood to wood strongly.
- Isn’t horrible if you get some on your skin – just wipe it off.
- Gives you a little squish time to position parts before it dries.
- Not great at bonding stuff other than wood.
- Needs to be clamped or held while it dries.
How I Use It
- I use this for everything that is wood-to-wood.
- Doesn’t take much – just a light, thin layer between the parts.
So, this one is new to me. I just started using it. Like today.
Doing my first plank-on-bulkhead build, I saw a lot of people strongly suggest using Weldbond to secure the bulkheads to the keel instead of PVA glue. The idea seems to be that once Weldbond dries, it is incredibly strong. Approximate cost: $8.
My glue is still drying, so we’ll see.
- It is a white glue, feels similar to PVA glue.
- Goes on easily.
- Parts feel pretty solid after about an hour, but I’ve read to let them sit overnight.
Update: I ended up using Weldbond to secure the bulkheads, and that was about it. After those were in, I just went back to using normal wood glue. For my uses, there just wasn’t compelling reason to use Weldbond over normal wood glue.
When I first started, I tried applying glue directly from the bottle. That did not turn out well.
You do not need as much glue as you think you do.
The most important skill you can develop with glue is the ability to apply a very, very, very small amount. When you think you’re applying the smallest amount possible – you’re not.
I’ve seen a ton of suggestions on how to apply glue…
- Plastic applicator tips
- Sewing needles
- Surgical needles
My current go-to is dental applicators.
I cut a bunch of small squares of wax paper. I do this once a month or so, making 30-40 at a time. When I need to glue something, I drop a small amount of the appropriate glue onto the wax paper.
Then I grab a dental applicator (purple stick in the photo above), get a little glue on the tip, and brush it on. Typically the glue will stay ‘workable’ on the wax paper for 10-20 minutes. In this time, my ‘brush’ might dry out, so I grab another one. The dental applicators are available on Amazon – I think I paid $11 for 400 of them.
This approach lets me use some glue, then toss the whole thing (wax paper, dried glue, applicator) in the trash.
I used to use toothpicks, but it was hard to ‘brush’ glue on with a stick. I tried the plastic applicator tips, but if you don’t keep them clean (which is tough with CA glue), they just clog up.