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Activating Hide Glue with Steam

Activating Hide Glue with Steam

by James Ham

Originally published in American Lutherie #102, 2010

A technique of mine that has attracted considerable attention involves the use of fresh hide glue in assembling my basses. Rather than rush to clamp a joint before the glue gels (not an option on a large instrument) or try to work hot glue into a joint with a knife, I coat both surfaces to be joined with glue, and then allow it to dry before clamping. When the pieces are perfectly aligned, I reactivate the glue with a focused blast of steam from a handheld steamer.

The idea developed over many years repairing instruments. One of the most common repairs I encountered was that of regluing an open seam. The normal method is to introduce hot water with a thin palette knife and move it around until the glue feels slippery, then add some fresh glue with the knife and clamp it. Sometimes you don’t even have to add fresh glue. New hide glue is perfectly compatible with old. If the seam is open for a long way, you need to put the clamps on before you do this, and loosen just a few at a time so you can get the knife in.

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