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You're using super glue all wrong

Super glue is amazing stuff, but are you getting the most out of it?
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor
Reviewed by Alyson Windsor
Superglue in metal tubes is cheap and convenient

Super glue in metal tubes is cheap and convenient 

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

Super glue -- chemical name of which is cyanoacrylate, also popularly known as crazy glue -- is amazing.

Also: This stuff is better than super glue

First sold as an adhesive by Loctite in the 1960s, it's an adhesive that can stick together a wide range of materials – from plastics to wood, glass and porcelain, metal and fabric, and even human skin (no, super glue did not start out as a way to close wounds, although it was used for this purpose during the Vietnam war in the 1970s).  

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It's great stuff, but most people use it wrong. They apply a big splosh of glue to the joint, slam the two bits together, splurge a bit more glue over any cracks that might be present, and then wonder why the joint fails.

You can get better results by following a few simple tips and tricks.

1. How to figure out which super glue to buy 

I don't find that it matters. I've bought the pricy stuff, and I've bought the cheap stuff, and the main difference I see is in the packaging -- the cheap stuff comes in metal tubes, the more expensive in packages that make it easier to apply the adhesive.

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One thing to look for is the viscosity (how runny the superglue is). Most of the stuff you buy is quite runny, but for certain applications, such as applying it at awkward angles, a gel or "high-viscosity" version might be easier to use.

Regular and high-viscosity superglue

Regular and high-viscosity super glue

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

2. Use the right adhesive for the job

Super glue isn't the only adhesive out there, and while it's a very versatile adhesive, some jobs are better suited to other kinds of adhesives.

UV set glue (this one comes with a UV light) is great for soft plastics

UV set glue (this one comes with a UV light) is great for soft plastics

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

3. Read the instructions

There's a lot of interesting information on the container. Read it!

Most of this is common sense stuff, but it's amazing how often I come across failed repair attempts because people have not followed the instructions.

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Here are the basics:

  • Make sure the surfaces you want to stick together are clean and dry
  • Apply a small amount of adhesive to only one of the two surfaces you want to adhere together
  • Bring the two surfaces together and hold them together (or use a clamp) for a few minutes

4. Take safety precautions

Keeps children and pets away when working with superglue.

It's also a good idea to wear nitrile gloves and eye protection just in case a tube bursts (it's happened to me a few times) because if you get super glue onto skin, it's very hard to remove.

Nitrile gloves will protect you from splashing superglue onto your skin (the glue also doesn't stick to these gloves)

Nitrile gloves will protect you from splashing super glue onto your skin (the glue also doesn't stick to these gloves)

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

5. Clean the surface before applying the adhesive

Here's what I do:

6. Test fit the joint before applying adhesive

Bring the two parts you want to repair together to test the fit before applying the adhesive.

If the break has left a crack that doesn't close properly, then make sure you have some baking soda handy – I'll tell you how to use this in a bit.

7. Only use a tiny amount of super glue

It's definitely not a case of "the bigger the blob, the better the job."

You only need a small amount.

A miniscule amount.

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In fact, add too much and the joint will fail.

To aid in this, I like to use disposable micro-applicator tips that allow me to get the smallest amount of adhesive possible.

Disposable micro-applicator tips allow you to apply the righ amount of adhesive

Disposable micro-applicator tips allow you to apply the righ amount of adhesive

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

8. Fill in any cracks with baking soda

If there's still a crack after you apply the adhesive and bring the two parts together, sprinkle some baking soda on the crack to fill it up. 

The cracks need to be filled with baking soda or the superglue won't stick

The cracks need to be filled with baking soda or the superglue won't stick

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

For bigger cracks, you can apply a tiny bit more adhesive if needed to hold the baking soda together.

The baking soda creates a matrix for the adhesive to stick to, bridging any gaps or imperfections.

Crack in plastic filled up with baking soda and superglue, making a really strong joint

Crack in plastic filled up with baking soda and super glue, making a really strong joint

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

9. Make super glue set even faster

You can buy activator sprays that will cure super glue almost instantly. This is handy for situations where you can't hold or clamp the two pieces together.

Superglue activator spray

Super glue activator spray

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

10. Clamp or hold the surfaces together for a few minutes

Forget about all the "instant" or "sets in seconds" stuff and give the glue a few minutes to set. If you mess with the joint before it has set properly, you've basically ruined it and you should start from the beginning.

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