Sunday, October 10, 2010

What type of glue do you use?

Oh man, I wish I had a dime for every time I’ve been asked that. After many, many years of experimenting I’m finally ready to reveal some of my trials and errors.

I’m sure that many of you are familiar with the website This to That, and it is very useful at times, but still, YMMV. Before I get into what I do use, I’d like to discuss what I don’t use, and why.

There is a lot of snobbery in the jewelry world from the people who do hot connections towards the people who do cold connections. Sure, it’s hip to risk burning yourself for the sake of art, but it’s not always necessary, either. Soldering is a very tricky business, and can either give you a flawless professional finish, or it can ruin your work irreparably.

Metals have very different melting points, and when you’re trying to join a tiny brass gear to a large steel pocket watch case, the differences in materials is going to give you a heck of a time. Even if you do get the seam or join you want, then you have to deal with things like fire scale, pickling, polishing, etc. Total PITA if you ask me.

Another popular way to assemble metals is to use a rivet set. You can get some really awesome industrial looks with riveting, and I’d really like to learn how to do it some day. You can use a wide variety of metals, and you don’t risk burning the house down. You do, however, have to buy a set of punches, a bench block, the right types of hammers, and keep a stock of all different sizes of rivets in different metals, as well as a drill to make your holes. Now try riveting that 4mm gear. Not as easy as you thought, eh? Not to mention the fact that if your hammer or pin slips, you’ve just smashed up your work, your fingers, or both. There may be much swearing involved, and this could be a problem if there are impressionable children around.

This to That recommends JB Weld 2 part metal bearing epoxy for metal assembly. While this stuff may be just the ticket for repairing your radiator, I’ve found it to be less impressive for detail work. If you get the mix exactly 50/50 and get everything set up and clamped in plenty of time for it to cure properly, then it will be bulletproof. If you get the mixture even a teeny bit off, or if you’ve delayed a bit and it’s started to cure already, then you will get a very brittle and unpredictable bond that will look stable, but could fall apart on you at any time. The fact that it’s a really ugly, lumpy looking pile of gray ooze on the back of your jewelry is another major drawback in my book.

Two part 2 Ton Epoxy is another adhesive that gets a lot of mention, but I’m not a fan of it either. It has all of the problems that JB Weld has, except that it dries clear. It’s still unpredictable, and even MORE fussy to work with. It stinks, it’s horribly toxic, and it is sticky as all get out. I tried to like it, I really did. I tried 2 minute set, 5 minute set, 30 and 90 minute set times. All of them were so hit and miss that it drove me crazy, and I spent a lot of time fixing bad connections.

So, you still with me? Yay, you get a cookie!

Here’s what I like to use. E6000
I buy it by the case.

There’s a trick to using E6000, but it’s pretty common sense, really. First of all, you have to prep, prep, prep your surfaces. This is a great thing to do if you are bored or feeling uninspired. No creativity? No problem, get in there and prep your supplies.

The first step is to get a Dremel, or some other type of flex shaft with a grinding wheel. You’ll want a really coarse grit for this. Scuff up every surface that you want to adhere, and scuff it good. Then degrease all of the parts with acetone or rubbing alcohol, and let dry. Next time the muse hits you, you’ll be able to just grab a part that’s ready to go, and you will thank me, oh yes you will.

Now, apply a THIN layer of E6000. The strength is NOT in the volume, that’s a major mistake that most people make. If there is a bit of ooze, wipe it off with a Q-tip or a wooden popsicle stick, OR you can do your cleanup later.


Clamp every single part that you are gluing. Clamp it like you’re afraid it’s going jump off your bench and run away. Clamp like you’ve never clamped before. THIS is what makes the adhesive really cure hard. Leave it for 24 hours, and you will have a very, very secure join. When it starts to set up you can clean up any oozing with a scalpel or extremely sharp craft knife, by trimming around your components and then gently teasing away the excess. You can only do this in the first 12 to 24 hours, after that it’s nearly impossible.

The bad news is, if you didn’t clamp the parts straight, then once the glue is set you will end up with a crooked assembly. I’ve had pieces where I’ve taken a knife blade and tried to wiggle them apart, and then I tried to pry them apart like shucking an oyster. No go. They were stuck, and stuck good, so make sure that you’re positioning is perfect.

The next day, give your work the “yank test” to make sure that everything is holding tight. Sometimes, rarely, when there’s too much humidity, Mercury is retrograde, and there’s a bad moon risin’, things will come loose and you’ll have to do it over. Better to find out now, rather than later.

Extra tip: If you are working in layers, start at the bottom and work your way to the top. Glue and clamp the pin to the brooch base, and let set overnight. If that’s holding well, the next day you can add some more elements, glue and clamp, and check. Then you can add the stones, finishing touches, whatever. It can take a week or more to make a really detailed piece, but it will be worth it knowing that you’ve done your very best every step of the way.

Now go make something cool!


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