One of the easiest, but most feared tasks for new woodworkers is learning how to glue wood panels. Is the wood dry enough (or, why does that matter)? Do I need to alternate grains? What’s the best wood glue? How long does it need to dry?
Look, anyone can glue wood panels with basic tools.
And, everyone can make these panels last for decades by following a few simple rules.
Perhaps you’ve tried gluing panels together before and didn’t trust the glue so you tried to add-in biscuits or pocket holes (there is NO NEED to do this!).
Or, perhaps you didn’t have the right pipe clamps and ended up with a crooked mess.
I’ve glued thousands of panels, and this article will help you to avoid this and show you:
- How to select the right wood
- Tools and supplies you’ll need
- Techniques to prepare the wood
- Best clamps for gluing wood
- How to glue wood panels 3-4 at a time
- Cleaning up and preparing your panel for sanding
Tools and Supplies Needed
After decades of gluing panels, here’s what I use for my projects:
Dry Wood is Your First Key to Success
Look, no wood panel will be guaranteed to retain its size or avoid splitting if the wood is wet.
If your wood is wet, freshly sawn, stored outside and not kiln dried or straight from a big-box store it’s very likely not dry.
In fact, wood is like a sponge for water. And given enough time in a humid environment it will start to absorb the water into it’s cells.
Why does this matter? Well, you CANNOT GLUE WET WOOD.
Due to the forces drying places on the wood the joints will fail later as the wood shrinks. Or, the panel will “cup” as one side dries faster than the other. Or, wood will split if it has been secured and shrinks/expands.
Determining if Your Wood is Dry
So how do I know if my wood is dry enough to glue?
To start, you can tell if wood is dry by finding it’s relative moisture content. Fortunately, this is a standard measurement used by cabinet and furniture-makers alike that indicates if the wood is dried.
And, like everything else in woodworking, there’s a tool for that:
- For a DIY’er the General Tools moisture meter is a good place to start. And, remember, it’s about the same price as a 1x6x8′ piece of hardwood but will last for years.
- Planning to woodwork extensively? Then check out the Professional moisture meter used by cabinet and furniture shops.
What Moisture Content is Right for My Project?
The answer: it depends on where the finished piece will be used.
For example, wood stored and used outdoors will generally stay above 12% moisture content.
On the other hand, wood used indoors will range from 4% humidity (in the winter, wood burning homes) to 8% humidity.
So what’s a good rule of thumb? I like to see:
- Indoor softwoods at 8%
- Indoor hardwoods at 6%
- Exterior (garage) at 12%
Wait a minute, though, that means the wood still has water?
Yes – but at a certain % wood becomes stable. And, with most homes at 70-degrees and 20-40% relative humidity a 6-8% target will yield a stable wood.
For more, check out Fine Woodworkings Equillibrium Moisture Content chart.
The BEST way to make sure your wood is ready for gluing? Buy kiln dried wood.
Use Pipe Clamps to Glue Wood Panels
Cheaper can be better when it comes to choosing the right clamps for gluing wood panels.
Now, the confusing thing is there are all types of cabinet clamps to glue wood together: from parallel clamps, sash clamps, and parallel clamps.
But a pipe clamp is the cheapest, longest (custom lengths, actually!), and provides more than enough force to glue projects.
Here’s a few tips on using pipe clamps:
- Divide the length of your panel by 12″ to determine the # of pipe clamps you’ll need. For example on a 36″ wide panel plan for 3 pipe clamps.
- Next, always use a flat and level surface to glue
- Lastly, buy extra black pipe to convert a 24″ clamp to a 72″ clamp (common for switching between panels and face frames)
Recommendation: Buy a half dozen 3/4-inch Bessey pipe clamps. I own dozens of pipe clamps and have managed to use them all in a single panel gluing session…
Tip: Use 3/4″ pipe and buy a pipe clamp that will operate over a bench (so the screw won’t hit as it turns) and has wide feet for stability. DO NOT BUY cheap knock-offs. Use 1/2″ for short pipes only.
Choosing the Best Glue for Wood Panels
For over two decades I’ve only used Titebond II Wood Glue for my cabinet projects.
Can you use variations? Sure.
Will Gorilla Glue work? Probably – but it’s more expensive.
Preparing Your Wood Panels
Now this is where budget starts to come into play.
My method for preparing panels for gluing goes like this:
- First, rip boards on the table saw to no wider than 3-1/2″ in large quantity (I will go 5″ on Cherry)
- Next, move to the miter saw and cut your panels to length
- As you are cutting, mark your panels with a lumber marking crayon like this Dixon Lumber Crayon. Why? Think of dropping 100 sticks on the ground and figuring out where they went!
- Then move to the jointer, and run each edge to achieve a perfectly flat edge (making sure to keep panels together, and using your lumber crayon marks)
- As you’re jointing be sure to avoid “snipe” on each end of the stick. And, make sure to double check the panels are fitting together tightly.
Tip: Notice in the above pile of drawer sides the panels are shorter on top. I ALWAYS cut the longest pieces first, then move to shorter panels. This reduces waste.
Working Around a Tight Budget
So in this step a jointer is likely the tool you don’t own.
And while a table saw is required, there is one trick that I’ve used to skip the jointer: a glue-line rip blade.
With dry wood, and some time, you can go back to the table saw after you’ve finished cutting your panels to length and:
- Use a glue-line saw blade like this Freud Glue Line Rip
- And, adjusting your saw each time (with ALL safety equipment on) take a 1-32″ to 1/16″ off the edge of the wood
- Do this for all strips and MAKE SURE all edges are perfectly matched as you place them in the pile
- See a gap? Fix it by re-running the strip until it’s perfectly parallel.
I can’t stress how important it is that you find a perfectly flat surface.
Get this step wrong, and you’ll risk having a twisted finished panel.
A few things to consider:
- In a temperature controlled workshop (basement, garage in summer with low humidity) the floor is acceptable though I would use a sheet of 4×8′ OSB.
- Sawhorses like these economical Bora saw horses with a sheet of OSB are a better option. And, sawhorses will let you keep the clamps in place without needing to lift and move them for larger jobs.
- Make sure to use a protective surface. And for that, I keep a roll of red rosin paper on hand to catch the glue that WILL drop onto the surface below. That is, if you applied the glue right.
Setup and Glue the Panels (Finally)
By now you’ve realized that learning how to glue wood panels takes a lot of preparation, tools and patience.
But it’s worth it.
And this is my favorite part of the job.
Here’s a few tips on gluing:
- First, set all your bottom clamps in place, and space no further than 24″ apart (the top clamp will split the difference)
- Then, using your lumber crayons as a reference, stand all but one of the wood strips on edge. Do this for all sticks in the batch.
- Continue by applying a solid bead of glue to the entire length of the board edge. While methods vary, I go for a 1/4″ round bead on standard 13/16″ thickness boards. My goal is to achieve an even squeeze out of glue.
- Then, lay the sticks down one-at-a-time and simply “rub” them together 1″ back and forth 2-3 times. By doing this you are evenly coating the wood edges (skipping a glue brush).
- Prior to clamping, make sure your ends are all lined up
- And lastly, place your top clamps (at least one – even on a narrow panel!) and start to evenly squeeze all top and bottom clamps.
During clamping you aren’t looking to smash the wood – but rather set a very firm clamp that squeezes out the excess glue and provides firm pressure while the glue (which contains water!) expands and sets.
Excessively tightening the clamps will lead to a dry joint where you’ve squeezed all the glue out. Which will cause a failed joint later. so, while it’s an art, I look for a very firm tightness on the pipe clamps – and strong enough I can pick up the clamps and panels and move them around.
Whoa! What about all this excess glue?
First, if you don’t see excess glue, you didn’t use enough.
But if you’ve covered the wood edges and applied proper pressure with clamps you should see a thin line of glue (and perhaps a few drops) collected on the top and bottom of the panel.
So how do you take care of them? Well, here’s what I like to do:
- For large jobs that go through the planer (tomorrow) I’ll leave the glue and use a glue scraper to remove it when they boards are out of the clamps.
- But, for small jobs with hand sanding I’ll wait 30 minutes and use a glue scraper to remove as much excess as possible.
Unless you absolutely need to, try to avoid using a wet rag as it introduces excess moisture.
10 Tricks to Gluing Wood Panels
As promised, here is the 10 things to pay attention to while gluing your panels:
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best glue for wood repair?
For re-assembling wood my preferred glue is Titebond II for interior wood repair, and Ttiebond III for exterior wood repair.
How do you glue thin wood panels?
To glue thin wood panels you’ll need to provide more surface area for the glue to adhere to. And, the best way to increase surface area is with a lap joint that will provide extra surface area AND a surface to clamp to and provide additional alignment.
How do you keep boards flat when gluing?
To keep boards flat while gluing you will need to ensure that (1) the edges have been properly sawn or jointed at a 90-degree angle and (2) that even top AND bottom clamping pressure is applied. Due to the extreme force applied during gluing, a top clamp is required over wood panels to prevent them from curling (or popping) out of place. Gradual, even pressure is a must during the clamping process for top and bottom clamps.
Is wood glue stronger than screws?
In my experience yes, a wood glue joint is stronger than screws because it forms a bond over the entire length of the board surface. However, this is only true over a larger surface area. For example, a butt jointed 1×2″ against another piece of wood will hold with glue; but a screw is required for structural rigidity.
Can I screw into wood glue?
While wood glue provides some screw holding power, it lacks the fiber structure of wood to form a strong hold. And, of course, you can screw through a wood glue layer without disrupting it’s hold.
Hopefully this article was helpful in showing you how to glue wood panels. Be sure to check out our other guides for related supplies and tools.
- About the Author
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Eric has been a professional woodworker for over thirty years and has worked in small cabinet shops making everything from kitchen cabinets to hand-made furniture. Now working from a home woodworking shop Eric is sharing his passion for woodworking, tool advice and how-to knowledge from his Minnesota-based woodshop.