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PVA Glue – What’s It Used For And Why It Works

A good PVA glue is a woodworkers best friend. It’s cheap, easy to apply, easy to clean up, and creates a bond stronger than the wood itself, which is really all you could ask for, right?

Well apparently there are a few more things to consider when choosing the right wood glue for your next project.

Keep reading to learn all about what PVA wood glue is, what it does, and the different options you have to choose from.

pva glue

What Is PVA Glue

It stands for Polyvinyl Acetate glue, and it’s used for many different things.

There is a basic PVA glue that is more commonly used for things like binding books, or gluing papers together. It dries clear and remains flexible. This would include the Elmer’s Glue you used in grade school. 

But for this article we’ll be discussing PVA Wood glue, also known as carpenter’s glue. This is an aliphatic resin but, while different than basic Elmer’s glue, it is still part of the PVA glue family.

PVA wood glue is a water-based adhesive, that swells the fibers of the wood pieces. When the glue joint dries, the fibers are intertwined and shrink back down as the adhesive sets.

If done properly, the joint will be stronger than the wood itself. This means the wood near the joint will break before the glue joint itself comes apart.

You’ll find that different PVA wood glues have different dry times, which is how long it takes them to dry and become full-strength.

This is different than how long they must be clamped. Usually clamping is needed for 20 minutes to an hour, then afterward you should avoid stressing the joint until you’ve met the dry time.

Open time (aka Assembly time, aka Working time), is how long you have after the glue is applied, up until it should no longer be manipulated.

For simple glue ups, you may want to have a quick open time so you can get the piece glued and move on. 

For more complicated glue ups, you’ll want a longer open time to allow for the longer glue up process.

Variations of PVA Wood Glue Colors

White PVA glue dries clear, and yellow PVA glue does not, it will retain its yellowish color.

This matters because in some cases, you will see the glue seam after you’ve completed a project, and with light colored woods, you wouldn’t want a yellow glue seam exposed.

So why not just use white glue all the time?

A few reasons. One being that many woodworkers find that white glue seems to dry a little softer, making it nearly impossible to sand smooth.

One workaround is to use a cabinetmakers card scraper to remove the squeeze out.

It’s also possible that your glue seam may not be perfectly flat, with a few gaps here or there. These will fill in with the glue and be very noticeable if the glue does not match the wood color.

You can find dark variations of PVA wood glue to help. This may suit better for a dark wood project, or if you’re staining the wood dark before finishing.

Keep in mind, wood glue does not take stain or protective finishes like wood does, so you’ll want to be sure you remove all remnants of dried glue before you apply your stain or finish.

PVA Wood Glue Options by Brand

Titebond 1 – Fast setting standard indoor use wood glue.

Titebond 2 – Water resistant, longer working time than Titebond 1.

Titebond 3 – More water resistant and longer working time than Titebond 2.

Titebond Extend – Slower setting version of Titebond 1.

Titebond Dark – Dyed version of Titebond 2.

Titebond Translucent – White glue that sets faster than most, dries clear.

Titebond Quick & Thick – Fast setting, interior projects, dries clear.

Elmer’s Glue All – Standard white glue with a really long working time, interior use.

Elmer’s Wood Glue – Standard yellow glue with long working time, interior use.

Elmer’s Wood Glue Max – Water resistant variation of Elmer’s wood glue.

Gorilla PVA glue – Natural wood color and water resistant.

DAP Carpenter’s Wood Glue – Water resistant and fast setting.

V&S Carpenter’s Wood Glue – Fast setting, high solids to fill gaps.

Food Safe Wood Glue

If you’re looking for a food safe wood glue, you’ll want to check the specific brand’s website for the necessary FDA rating to be sure.

You’ll find that some PVA wood glues are in fact labeled “food safe”. Titebond III, for example, is listed as FDA approved for indirect food contact, on their technical sheet.

Titebond 2 is also safe for indirect food contact, as well as Elmer’s white glue.

How To Choose The Right Glue

The main thing you should consider when choosing a PVA wood glue is the moisture conditions for the finished project.

You shouldn’t use regular indoor carpenter’s glue for building an outdoor bench that will get rained on.

Instead, get you some water-resistant PVA wood glue, like Titebond 2 or 3.

The next consideration is the assembly time. If you’re doing a complicated glue-up on your project, you’ll want a wood glue that has a good 15 or 20 minute working time or longer.

There’s nothing worse than glue joints setting up before you even finish lining up all the boards and getting all the clamps in place during a big glue up.

NOTE – for complex and long glue up processes, consider Hide glue, it’s got a really long assembly time.

Finally, consider the color. If the criteria above still leaves you with a few options, pick the glue that matches the color of the wood best.

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As for me, for special situations like outdoor furniture or a dovetail box, I’ll use different glues for their different properties. 

But I find Titebond 3 to be a good catch-all for most projects because it sands down well, and it has a longer assembly time.

Related:
Best Glues To Use For Wood Projects
Beginner Woodworking 101
How To Make Flatter Panel Glue Ups

PVA Glue – What’s It Used For And Why It Works

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About The Author
Adam has been woodworking for the last 10 years. He considers himself a 'Small Shop Woodworker' and practices his hobby in his garage. With the lack of time, space, and proper tools, he always finds ways to get great results without over-complicating or over-thinking the process. Various shop jigs, table saw sleds, and tricks of the trade have served him well. God has blessed him with a beautiful family, as well as a passion for teaching others about woodworking. You can read more about Adam here.