Hide Glue

Hide Glue: The Original Adhesive

(As featured in the December 2009 issue of Practically Seeking)

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, Hide Glue was THE adhesive. Prior to the introduction of modern polymers hide glue was the strongest thing people had available to them — so strong that violins, and even pianos were glued with it! An extremely versatile product, I have personally witnessed my friend Joe Miller use hide glue, in making his art-glass creations, to pull the sand-blasted surface off of plate glass, leaving a stunning, frosted effect.

Hide Glue was used for almost everything "back in the day", and is still an excellent option for many projects, including bows. 

But whether you choose to use it for "primitive" or modern means, this is definitely one of those products that falls under the "first, not worst" category. Easy to make and simple to store, and another great way to both reduce waste and to honor an animal through use, once you've tried hide glue a few times I'm certain that you too will be sold on this fantastic original adhesive.

Step-by-step Instructions on How to Make Hide Glue:

  1. Trim any hide scraps you have into small pieces. The smaller the bits, the faster and easier the process becomes, so save all those bits from when you're scraping and tanning hides.
  2. Cutting up hide pieces Hide Pieces

  3. Put your hide bits into a pot (use an older pot — this is not a project for your best, new saucepan!) and cover completely with water.
  4. Place bits in pot and add water Cover completely with water

  5. Bring the hide-water to a slow boil and reduce heat to allow it to simmer. In the interest of maintaining family relationships I strongly suggest lighting a couple of nicely scented candles at this point in the project. :-)
  6. Bring to a boil

  7. And now we wait. The simmering process can take a few hours. You'll know it's done when the hide bits have turned somewhat translucent.
  8. Allow to simmer Hide turns translucent

  9. Strain out the hide bits using a metal kitchen strainer — once again, this is NOT the job for that brand new Williams-Sonoma strainer or colander. Do yourself (and your significant other) a favor and pick one up at the dollar store while you're out buying your scented candles!
  10. Strain using colander Strained hide glue liquid

  11. Return the liquid to the heat and continue to simmer off the excess water. Once your mixture begins to thicken slightly, remove it from the heat. Once it is cool enough to touch, put a small sample on your fingertips to confirm that it feels sticky. If not, return the pan to the heat and continue to simmer off more water. Be careful not to scorch the bottom! There are a couple of things that smell worse than burnt hide glue, but it is a very short list!
  12. Return liquid to pot Simmer off excess water

  13. Strain out the finest particles using some old pantyhose or a couple of layers of cheesecloth. Pour the strained liquid into a wide, flat container — a foil pie plate or foil pan works great for this — then allow the mixture to cool completely.  Once it is fully cooled the substance will congeal, and will feel really rubbery.
  14. Wrap the other end Smallest bits strained out Hide glue congealed

  15. Squeeze the gel-like substance between your fingers or mince it with a knife to break it up into small pieces and place these bits aside to dry in a cool, dry place with good air circulation. Repeat this process every day until the crumbles are completely dry, or your glue will mold. (Once last piece of advice — don't try to do this in a dehydrator. I have, and you will regret it.)
  16. Squish up gel Cut up gel

  17. Once the crumbled bits are completely dry, place them in a waterproof container to store until use. A glass jar with a tight-fitting lid works well.
  18. Hide glue Dried hide glue

  19. To use your hide glue, take out about as much as you think you will need and warm the bits slowly, adding very small amounts of water as it heats to re-hydrate to your desired consistency. (The less water added, the stronger and thicker your glue.) Do NOT bring to a boil — this will make the glue weak and brittle. Allow several days for the glue to dry completely.

Hide glue can be used for anything from attaching feather fletching to arrows to
gluing sinew onto the back of bow to making furniture.
Just remember hide glue is affected by moisture, so choose your projects carefully,
and Have Fun!