Mask glue joints before prefinishing
Glue won’t stick to finishes
Finishing the parts of your project before you assemble them can be a great time-saver and allow you to get a better-quality finish. But for a strong glue joint, you have to keep the joints free of finish. The solution is to apply masking tape to the surfaces that will be glued. Then remove it to expose raw wood when you glue up the project. Any good-quality masking tape will work. If you’ll be using a water-based finish, you’ll get the best results with a “no-bleed” tape.
Apply wood glue with a flux brush
Fully coat joints
Flux brushes, available in the plumbing department of hardware stores and home centers, are just right for applying and spreading glue. They work especially well for gluing intricate joints like the ones in the coped door rail shown here. You can store a wet brush for a few days in water and then wash and use it over and over again.
Cover bar clamps with wax paper
Avoid wood stains and messy clamps
When you use steel bar clamps or pipe clamps, and wood glue comes in contact with the clamp, the moisture in the glue can cause the steel to leave a dark mark on your wood. Lay a sheet of wax paper over the clamps to prevent this “dark spot” problem. It will also catch glue drips that would otherwise get all over your clamps and workbench.
Add one board at a time
Keep top surfaces aligned
When you’re gluing several boards together, it can be hard to get all the top surfaces perfectly aligned. Here’s a good tip: Rather than glue and clamp all the boards at once, add one board at a time. Let the glue joint set up for 20 to 30 minutes, then release the clamps and add another board. This method takes a little longer, but makes it easier to keep all of the boards’ top surfaces flush, which makes for much easier flattening and sanding of the surface.
Attach small pieces with superglue
Gel-type glue makes clean, strong joints
Of course you reach for a superglue (cyanocacrylate glue, or CA) to fix a broken teacup handle. But did you know that it works on wood, too? In fact, CA glue is really handy for attaching small trim pieces that would be hard to clamp. Just put three or four drops onto the parts and stick them together. We like the gel version of CA glue because it doesn’t run off and make a mess.
Spread glue with a notched trowel
Get better coverage on large pieces
When you’re gluing large surfaces, an inexpensive notched plastic trowel works great for spreading the glue. To find one, look in the flooring or tile section of the hardware store or home center. If you’re fortunate enough to have a “pinking” shears in the family sewing basket, you can make our own spreader from an expired credit card.
Let it jell, then shave it off
Dealing with glue squeeze-out
Look at any woodworkers’ forum and you’ll likely find a debate about the best way to remove glue squeeze-out. Some woodworkers insist that you should clean it up immediately with a damp rag. Others let it dry completely, then scrape it off. We think that in most cases the best method is to wait about 30 to 60 minutes—just until the glue turns a darker color and changes to a gel—and then shave it off with a sharp chisel. This will remove almost all of the glue without making a mess. You may still have a little cleanup to do, but it’s a lot less work than cleaning up wet glue or removing hard glue.
Remove excess glue with an abrasive pad
Scrub off squeeze-out
It can be difficult to remove excess glue with a rag. And if you don’t get it all off the surface when it’s wet, the dried glue can show up as light spots when you finish your project. But a synthetic abrasive pad, dampened with water, works perfectly to remove the glue. Unlike a rag, which is hard to rinse glue from, the pad releases glue easily. Wet the pad and shake it to remove most of the water. Then scrub off excess glue. When you’re done, dry the surface with a clean rag.
Remove hardened glue with a paint scraper
We’ve all been there. You glue up your project and then quit for the night. The next day you discover the rock-hard glue and realize that you forgot to scrape off the glue squeeze-out. Don’t despair. A sharp paint scraper makes fast work of hardened glue. Either a sharp steel scraper or, better yet, a carbide paint scraper will pop off all those glue beads in a heartbeat.
Keep boards in place with brad nails
Wood glue makes boards slippery, so it can be hard to keep them lined up correctly while you apply clamps. An easy solution is to hold the parts in alignment with a few strategically placed brads before you apply the clamps. For leg glue-ups like we show here, cut your parts extra long and place the brads where they’ll get cut off during the finishing process. Otherwise, just place brads where the filled holes won’t be too visible.
The Right Amount of Glue
With a little experience, you’ll develop a feel for how much glue is just enough. Too little glue creates a “starved joint,” which will be weak. Too much glue makes a mess and wastes glue. With practice, you’ll know just how much to apply. You should see a continuous line of small glue beads. When this perfect glue joint sets up a little, you’ll find it easy to scrape off the jelled excess, and you’ll have very little cleanup to do.