It’s not often woodworkers are stumped when it comes to glue. But when asked about CA glue (cyanoacrylate) they most likely will say: what is CA glue?
To start, CA glue is:
- A fast setting, thin layer adhesive
- Available in various viscosities (watery to gel) to penetrate wood or form a bond
- Capable of everything from sealing wood or bonding metal, wood and other materials together
- Available in clear or a variety of colors to match your projects needs
So why would woodworkers want to use it? And what types of CA glue are available? Learn how this unique glue can help with everything from assembly to fixing wood chips and dings.
What is CA Glue?
Cyanoacrylate (CA) glue fits into a family of fast bonding glues that work for everything from household repairs to woodworking. These glues require the presence of water to react and, once activated, dry quickly. However, these glues do have minor toxicity and contact with the skin should be avoided.
While in the same class of fast drying glues, the CA abbreviation is less common to homeowners as it is an industrial or professional term.
But that doesn’t mean home woodworkers shouldn’t use it. It is widely available in a range of viscosities that are useful for wood glue-ups.
Both StarBond and Titebond Instant Bond (shown above) are popular brands of CA Glue.
Types of CA Glue
While other glues are generally one-size-fits-all the CA family of glues has a variety of options.
And while that can cause some concern, the rules of use are generally simple:
- Thin CA glue is able to penetrate porous surfaces
- Medium CA glue has some penetration capability but will leave more of a surface film
- Thick CA will mostly stay on the surface
- Gel CA is a surface applicant
- And lastly, CA glues are also available in colors such as black and shades of brown
We’ll cover on uses later, including accelerator sprays that almost eliminate wait time during assembly.
Top 6 Reasons Woodworkers Use CA Glue
You likely know this, but the standard glue on a woodworkers bench is usually Titebond II.
And while this popular glue is a master at incredibly strong joints, its thick viscosity and long dry time make it frustrating for fast repairs.
Which is where CA glue comes into play.
Woodworking Use #1 - Assembling Small Projects
When gluing up small projects its difficult to use a thick wood glue that takes a long set time.
As an alternative, CA glue offers up the advantages of:
- Watery or gel consistency to work with all joint types
- Fast drying set time
- Sands easily
Best CA glues: A variety is best (thin, medium, thick, gel) as small projects may require a bit of each type of CA glue.
Woodworking Use #2 - Repairing Minor Wood Splits and Damage
While larger wood damage requires a more traditional wood glue, cyanoacrylic glue is good at fixing surface blemishes and non-structural cracks.
How do you decide if CA glue is right for wood repair? Most woodworkers will apply the tape test: if the wood pieces can be brought together by tape then CA glue is an option.
Best CA glues: Gel or medium consistency for larger cracks, thin for hairline cracks for penetration.
Woodworking Use #3 - Sealing End Grain for Hardness With CA Glue
With many softwood projects a common issue is the end grain of the wood can be easily dented or scratched. Since the wood fibers and growth rings can be raised, these surfaces tend to damage easily.
But, by applying a coat of a thin (watery) CA glue you can seal the grain AND make the end surface harder.
Best CA glues: Thin consistency
Woodworking Use #4 - Fixing Wood Damage, Chips and Dents
After hours of assembly and work you face a woodworkers nightmare: a tool slips, drops or misbehaves and damages the wood.
The solution? Well, if you’re lucky enough to have a wood chip out and can find the chip, simply re-insert and glue in place.
But if you can’t find the wood piece then woodworkers will mix sawdust and CA glue together to make a paste. And then fill the area and let dry.
Best CA glues: Thick to gel consistency
Woodworking Use #5 - Tight Joinery
When faced with very tight woodworking joints a standard woodworking glue can work.
But, another option woodworkers use is to use a thin viscosity CA glue that seeps into the wood and helps to quickly hold the joint.
Concerned you need both? Well, a simple trick is to use a combination (not allowing them to touch, of course) for a fast setup with CA glue and a stronger joint with standard glue.
Best CA glues: Thin consistency
Woodworking Use #6 - Seal Spalted Wood
One of the common problems with hard maple is it isn’t always hard. What does that mean? Well, some maple has spalted spots that are softer and may not hold up to your projects intended use.
How do you harden the wood?
Well, a simple and effective trick is to use a penetrating CA glue to seep into the wood fibers and firm them. This process is similar to sealing the end grains.
Just watch out of for color impacts to any finished stain (test first). But, woods like maple are notoriously hard to stain so a clear finish is usually best.
Best CA glues: Thin consistency
Best CA Glue For Woodworking
After understanding why and how woodworkers use this glue where do I start?
Well, since viscosity of this wood glue is the most important factor in use the best place to start is with a kit that includes fine, medium, thick/gel and an accelerator.
CA Glue Accelerators
While not required, most glue manufacturers, like FastCap, will offer an accelerator that speeds the drying process and yields an instant bond.
Accelerators are commonly used for:
- Quick glue-ups where other fasteners, such as pocket holes or nails are used to further strengthen the joint
- Complex projects where clamps can’t be used
- Prototyping when you’ll want a temporary hold that can be broken down later
Frequently Asked Questions
Are super glue and CA glue the same?
Both super glue and CA glue are in the same family of glues. However, professional or industrial CA glue offers a wider range of viscosities that allow it to be used for anything from thin-film bonding to gap and hole filling.
What does CA mean in glue?
The term CA in glue refers to cyanoacrylate, which is a family of adhesives used for metal, household and woodworking projects.
Is CA glue strong?
CA glue will form a strong bond between materials and is both fast drying and available in a variety of viscosities. However, it lacks shear strength found with other glues and the type of CA glue used must be chosen appropriately. For example, a thin CA glue is meant to penetrate. While a thick viscosity CA glue is meant to bond two pieces together.