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Home : Trade Secrets Archive : Issue 30, Which super glue to use: thin, medium or thick?
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Photo: gluing a string nut

Which super glue,
thin, medium or thick?

When I first tried super glue back in the 1970s, I didn’t have much luck: that little tube of grocery-store glue was too thin for the job I tried it on. Now we have more glue options, so here's a guide to picking the right glue for the situation.

Dan Erlewine signature Dan Erlewine, May 17, 2007
Photo: Dan Erlewine
3 viscosities because one glue can’t do everything

These examples will give you a feel for when to use thin, medium, or thick:












Photo: gluing a fingertip

The late great Stevie Ray Vaughan gave me this tip: broken skin on your fingertip can be fixed with #20 super glue. Just a drop will hold the cut closed!
– Dan  
Photo: Dan and Stevie Ray







Photo: Nut and saddle files
Nut and Saddle Shaping Files
Photo: gluing a fret

Photo: scraping a fingerboard

Photo: filling a chip

Photo: filling a chip
#10 Thin Super Glue
The thin stuff penetrates deep into small cracks, making some repairs possible that couldn’t be done without it. The key idea here is “wicking,” or capillary action: the #10 glue pulls itself into tight places. Use it on two surfaces that are already pressed together.

Illustration: super glue wicking

Useful for fretwork: #10 glue applied to the edge of a fret immediately wicks under the fret and into the slot, holding that fret down tight. If there's any excess glue, scrape it away with a single-edged razor blade.

Sawdust fill: When I refret an old, worn fingerboard I’m likely to find some chips knocked out along the edges of the fret slots. I fill these little potholes with sawdust (with luck, I’ll have matching dust left over from sanding the very same fingerboard). I fill the slot with a piece of plastic (the plastic tag from a bag of bread works well), pack the sawdust into the holes, then add a drop of #10 glue. The effect is instant: the glue wicks into the dust and makes solid, matching fill. In seconds, it’s ready to file, scrape, or sand.
#20 Medium Super Glue
Photo: #20 super glue I use #20 medium the most. It's for jobs like binding repairs, gluing on a peghead overlay, and drop-fill finish repairs on level surfaces. (The list goes on and on...)
Photo: gluing fingerboard chips
Gluing chips: Medium viscosity plays a role in fretwork, too. For example, if the fret slot’s chipped but the pieces are still attached, I run #20 along the chips, then I smoosh them down and burnish them by rubbing over them using wax paper. When wax paper isn't handy, the bottom of the super glue bottle is my burnisher. Super glue won't stick to that, either!

I smooth the chips with my fine-grit nut-shaping file held at almost a right angle to the work.

Photo: gluing a string nut

Photo: drop-fill
#30 Thick Super Glue
Photo: Super Glue Accelerator

Spray on accelerator immediately before or after applying the glue, to speed the bond. It helps bond hard-to-glue materials, too.
I use #30 thick when I need the glue to stay right where I put it, and cure without running or sagging.

Gluing a nut: #30 is perfect for lightly gluing in a nut. Three small drops clinging to the front wall of the nut slot (the fingerboard end) are more than enough, and they won't run down into the slot before you can position the nut.

Drop fill: For drop-filling deep finish chips, dents, and dings I use #30; its heavy body lets me place the glue where I need it using a plastic drop-fill toothpick. I can move #30 glue around with the tip of toothpick before it starts to set.
Black & White Super Glue
Photo: ebony bridge repair

Photo: ebony bridge repair


Pigmented black super glue blends into black binding or ebony. It was useful for this bridge repair on a 1970s Martin D-35: the saddle was too far forward, so the guitar’s intonation was sharp. I filled the slot by gluing a piece of ebony using #20 black super glue. The result is a near-invisible fill enabling me to cut a new saddle slot in the proper location (marked here with yellow pencil).

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I use white super glue for gluing white to white — bindings, for example. The white glue line is less visible in these cases, and doesn’t allow the dark underlying materials to show through the way clear glue would.


Dan Erlewine signature


Problem-solving products mentioned above:
Photo: Stewart-MacDonald Super Glues Photo: Nut and Saddle Shaping Files Photo: Stewart-MacDonald Super Glues
Stewart-MacDonald Super Glues
Professional instant adhesives for instrument building and repair. Foil-packed for freshness!
Nut and Saddle Shaping Files
Specialty files for smoother, easier nut and saddle shaping
Super Glue Accelerator
Spray on immediately before or after glue application, to speed the bond of our instant glues. Helps bond hard-to-glue materials, too.
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