Upholstery is a useful skill to acquire when you are looking to save money when buying new furniture — especially “fancy” furniture that will burn a hole in your wallet. After all, why spend hundreds of dollars on a new chair set when you can find cheaper, durable chairs at any yard sale, flea market or shopping supercenter, and then apply your upholstery skills to make them shine?
The first step in any such endeavor is to gather the right tools for the job. In the case of upholstery, a strong, reliable glue is a necessity. But with how many different types of glue that exist on the market, how do you know which ones will work best? Which ones fit the need of the job at hand?
This guide is meant to help you understand the different types of upholstery glue, what jobs each of those types are best suited for and which glues will give you the best quality.
UPHOLSTERY GLUES: THE TYPES AND THEIR USES
Depending on the type of upholstery work you are trying to get done, it is important to understand that not every glue is designed to work universally. Knowing which kind of glue you will need for each aspect of your project is crucial to seeing a well-done end result that you can be proud of.
First on the list is the spray adhesive, which, true to its name, is an aerosol-based glue. Spray adhesives come in a variety of strengths, so make sure you have a good idea about what strength you may need. For instance, the Camie 513 Upholstery Spray Adhesive is the perfect strength to work with foams and fabrics, but it is a weaker strain than its predecessor, the Camie 313 Upholstery Spray Adhesive, which can also work well with bonding wood, metal and fiberglass components. However, the Camie 513 has a much lower Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) level, which may be a better choice, depending on where you are working and what you are working on.
Again, it is important that you have a good understanding of the project you have in mind before you set out to buy your first supplies. Are you working on reupholstering an old chair? Maybe add a foam cushion to the base before you apply a chic fabric overlay?
Then a spray adhesive is probably the tool you are looking for. Carefully balance the fact that you will need to bond foam to wood, and then fabric to foam, when choosing your spray adhesive strength.
When you are done with your spray adhesive, it is advisable to clean the nozzle on the bottle before putting it into storage. An easy way to do this is pick up a little extra foam from your project and use it as a lightweight abrasive against the nozzle. This will keep your bottle from glue buildup that will make future projects frustrating, if not impossible.
A popular choice for certain repair projects and arts and crafts, hot glue is non-toxic and generally easy to apply. Similar to spray adhesives, hot glue sticks come in a variety of types that primarily revolve around the temperature threshold. If too hot of a glue is used on certain substrates, they could become damaged (e.g., some hot glues can melt fabric fibers); not hot enough, and you may not get a good seal.
If you are wanting to use hot glue as an anchoring tool, such as placing two pieces of wood together with glue and then cutting them so that they are the same shape, then you do not need to get the strongest bonding glue to see results, since you will be separating the pieces eventually anyway. However, if your goal is to set a new pane of glass in an old window or cupboard opening, you will want to make sure that you use a high-quality, higher temperature glue, and a lot of it.
Choosing a hot glue gun is nearly as important as choosing the right glue. For upholstery and woodwork, you want a glue gun with a high-power wattage and maneuverability. The Ad Tech PRO 200 Glue Gun is an excellent choice for the sometimes heavy-duty work required in upholstering, and it sports a four finger trigger that makes using the gun more comfortable over long periods of time. The Ad Tech PRO 200 also has an adjustable tip, and the manufacturers offer a wide variety of replacement nozzles, allowing you to customize this 200-watt glue gun to suit any project.
If you prefer a cordless option, then the gas powered Steinel TM 6000 Butane Hot Glue Gun might be a better option. This particular glue gun heats up quickly (within three minutes) and uses a refillable cartridge that can easily be removed and filled with butane. Since the Steinel TM 6000 does not run on a corded electrical track, it is not reliable for projects longer than an hour and 40 minutes. But for a wireless glue gun, the Steinel TM 6000 is a force to be reckoned with.
Remember, hot glue guns are just that: hot. So always be careful when using a hot glue gun, and never store it when the gun and glue sticks are hot. Make sure everything is cooled completely before you pack gun and supplies away.
Spray Foam Adhesives
Foam adhesives come in a can similar to normal spray adhesives, but, of course, the former is made of polyurethane foam that expands once applied. The most common uses for spray foam adhesives are to plug up energy-wasting leaks on the outside of the home, or as a “filler” for gaps around pipes.
The primary drawback to spray foam adhesives is the fact that once they are applied, they refuse to be unapplied. Always take care when using any form of adhesive, and make sure you are ready to apply before doing so to avoid costly mistakes.
Spray foam adhesives are nice (and unique) because they are insect, water and mold-proof. Small rodents can still chew through the foam after it has solidified, but for the most part, this adhesive is fairly indestructible. If your upholstery project involves creating outdoor furniture with crevices that might be susceptible to bug infestation, it might be a good idea to reach for the foam adhesive and seal those up.
Perhaps as basic a glue solution as they come, fabric glue has yet to go out of style in terms of its usefulness for small, quick projects. If you have a seam that is splitting on a fabric chair, then pulling out the hot glue gun might be a bit overkill (unless you want to reupholster the whole thing, in which case, have at it!). A small application of extra-strength fabric glue is both sufficient and efficient enough to get the job done.
However, keep in mind that fabric glue is far inferior in terms of bonding ability and strength than spray adhesives or hot glue. If you are not seeing results with fabric glue, then it might be time to bring in the big guns — though at perhaps a lower strength or temperature.
USING UPHOLSTERY GLUE
Now that we have the basic specifications out of the way, we should have a pretty good idea of what kind of glue we need for a specific project. Knowing the type of glue is a huge first step; now, how do we use it?
Prepping for Spray and Foam Adhesives
Spray adhesives can be highly toxic, especially in a closed-off room or small space. When you are preparing a work area to start your project, make sure you choose an area that is open, or at least well-ventilated.
Also make sure you have access to a face mask for an extra layer of protection, and always wear gloves (latex works well, and they are disposable). Spray adhesives are, well, highly adhesive, and getting the material on your skin can be dangerous. So always take the necessary precautions.
When you are prepped and ready to begin spraying, make sure the surface of whatever you are gluing is clean and free of debris, moisture, oil or grease. The last thing you want is for your bond to be compromised because the adhesive was unable to make full contact.
While spraying, stand back about 6 to 8 inches away from the surface, so you avoid “puddling,” or creating too concentrated a spray area. The application should be even, uniform and not too close to the edges of your surface, so the glue does not seep out during the bonding process.
Once your base surface is ready, you can apply the parts that you are adhering to it. Press firmly and be careful not to move them apart so the glue can do its job. Give the bond a little time to fully seal, and you’re done! Take a last look around your work area and make sure you don’t have adhesive sticking to anything it shouldn’t be. As long as the adhesive has not fully dried, you should be able to use a wet rag to remove the excess.
Spray foam adhesives work in a similar manner, namely that they can be highly toxic and should be used with the proper protective equipment to avoid contact with the skin. Foam adhesives are far more concentrated in terms of viscosity, so you still want to make sure you are not closing yourself up in a small room where the fumes can build up and cause respiratory issues.
Prepping for Hot Glue and Fabric Glue
One major benefit of hot glue and fabric glues over spray adhesives and foam adhesives is that the former is generally non-toxic. You should still avoid ingesting them, but highly ventilated areas are not a strict requirement when working with more solid glues.
With hot glue, in particular, it is crucial to know what materials you are going to be working with, so you choose the right temperature of glue for the job. Hotter temperatures are good for quick adhesion and a strong initial bond but can melt less durable materials, which is when you should reach for lower temperature glue sticks.
When prepping your work area, make sure that it is free of clutter — particularly of the flammable variety — and that it is near an outlet (if you are using a corded glue gun). Always keep your glue gun away from the edges of the work surface so you do not risk knocking it onto the floor or, if you have small children or pets, so they cannot reach it. It is also recommended that you keep a bowl of ice water nearby (though not near the glue gun) in case of burns.
Protective equipment can be useful to help prevent common injuries that are associated with glue gun use. Depending on your project, consider wearing safety goggles or glasses for your eyes, leather or canvas gloves (since the glue will likely melt through rubber or latex), long-sleeve shirts, closed-toed shoes and, if you have long hair, tie it back, so you don’t risk getting it into the glue.
Once you’re ready, you can begin gluing. The first step is to let your glue gun heat completely before trying to force glue sticks into it. Also, always use the proper glue sticks that are made for your particular gun; using the wrong glue can damage the glue gun and render it useless. True to its name, the glue gun is shaped like a gun and has a trigger you gently depress to begin the gluing process.
When you’re done, set the glue gun on its metal rack and unplug it (or turn it off). Let the gun and remaining glue cool completely before you attempt to remove excess glue sticks or put the gun away. If you burn yourself, place the burned area in the ice water immediately. If it is a serious burn, seek medical attention.
Fabric glues come with a lot fewer dangers, but the trade-off is that it provides a weaker seal. However, when using any form of adhesive, you should always practice safety.
Upholstery can be personally fulfilling and a highly useful skill to develop. If you choose to do so, then the best thing you can do for yourself is stay educated on the different types, strengths and methods of adhesion you will need to complete upholstering projects. Upholstery glue is an extremely efficient bonding material, but when used incorrectly, it can also be it can also be a dangerous — and undoable — material, as well.