Liquid nails. Wood glue. I keep both in the shop, and they’re both great products for bonding two items together. But when should you use each? The quick answer:
Wood glue is best used to bond two tight-fitting pieces of wood together. Liquid nails is better suited for other materials, or to secure wood when the joint between the pieces is loose or has gaps.
But there’s a bit more to it than this, so lets dig in!
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A Note About Language
Before we start – liquid nails is also known more generally as “construction adhesive.” Liquid Nails specifically is actually a brand of construction adhesive.
It’s like how the term “Band Aid” is now used to apply to any sort of small bandage… even though “Band Aid” is actually a brand name for a bandage.
While I’ll continue to use the term “liquid nails” throughout the article, know that I really mean “construction adhesive.” I have zero attachment to the Liquid Nails branded product.
Wood Glue vs Liquid Nails – A Quick Comparison
While both liquid nails and wood glue are used to bond materials together, they actually don’t have a ton in common. Lets compare some of their different features!
Wood glue and liquid nails are both fairly inexpensive.
You can get an 8 oz container of wood glue on Amazon for less than $5, and the price per unit only decreases from there if you buy larger quantities.
And no, I don’t have a specific brand I recommend. I usually just buy whatever’s cheapest the moment I’m purchasing. I’ve purchased this Titebond and this Gorilla Glue lately, and both were great.
Liquid nails, on the other hand, usually costs around $2-3 per tube.
Pro Tip – If you live in the Midwest, before the pandemic, Menards regularly put 4 packs of construction adhesive (I think it was Titebond brand) on sale for $0.99 after rebate.
This is a steal.
Unfortunately, they halted these sorts of deals at the start of the pandemic. They are slowly starting to bring them back, though, so keep your eye out for this!
Ease of Application
In terms of viscosity and appearance, wood glue is very similar to white Elmer’s glue – in fact, you can use wood glue as a substitute in a pinch.
That means it’s easy to apply (and also easy to peel off your hands if you make a bit of a mess… or have an 8 year old fooling around while you’re working.)
Liquid nails, on the other hand, is a thick, brown substance. While some very small amounts come in flexible tube, most construction adhesive is packaged in a large cardboard tube, similar to caulk.
That means you need a caulk gun to apply it… which is kind of a pain.
Plus, if your caulk gun is terrible like mine, that means you have to fight with the caulk gun continuously to get anything to come out.
Along the same lines, it’s really easy to store wood glue. Close the container. Or don’t. I forget to close my glue all the time, to be honest.
It’s a pain to clear all the dried glue out of the nozzle, but most of the time that’s the only result of my carelessness.
Liquid nails, on the other hand? Forget it.
First off, how do you even close a cardboard tube that you had to cut open? It is possible, but it’s clumsy and weird. I typically stick a screw or a nail in the nozzle, like this:
Most of the time, this works. It’s usually pretty easy to pry the screw/nail out of the nozzle with some pliers next time I need to use the construction adhesive.
Sometimes, though, my screw/nail wasn’t a good enough fit, and air got in the nozzle. Then all the liquid nails in the nozzle dried up, and I have to throw the whole tube away.
(Theoretically, you could probably cut the tube open somewhere else, and find usable construction adhesive in the tube. Then you can apply said adhesive with a spatula or something. I’ve never been this determined, and I probably never will be.)
Wood glue usually requires about 30 minutes of dry time to achieve a secure state, and 24 hours of time to handle pressure.
Before those 30 minutes, though, the glue might as well not be there at all. In fact, I’ve found the glue makes the wood more slippery during that time, and less likely to stay in one place.
Liquid nails, on the other hand, aren’t slippery. When you apply construction adhesive to a project, it’s sticky enough on its own to hold light materials in place.
But it takes longer for liquid nails to fully dry – usually around 24 hours. I can’t think of a single project where this has actually held me up, but it’s worth knowing.
Wood glue is water soluble, and cleans up with a damp rag. Easy peasy.
Liquid nails, on the other hand, depends on the brand and product. Many products say they clean up with soap and water, and they do, but not nearly as easily as wood glue.
Other construction adhesives require mineral spirits.
Wood Glue vs Liquid Nails: When To Use Each
So then, which one should you use?
In my head, there are two questions to ask yourself:
1. Are you joining two pieces of wood together?
If not, use liquid nails. Wood glue is formulated for wood, and while it certainly works on other things, it doesn’t work nearly as well.
Any time I glue paneling to drywall (like here,) I always use construction adhesive. Drywall isn’t wood.
2. Will there be gaps between your two pieces of wood?
Wood glue isn’t voluminous. In fact, it basically dries flat.
If your two pieces of wood don’t fit snugly, wood glue will do absolutely nothing for you, because the glue won’t span the gap.
Take this example – I recently made faux butcherblock countertops for my basement, where I glued a bunch of oak flooring pieces to some plywood.
Wood on wood application. Seems like a job for wood glue, right?
Not necessarily. Take a look at the back of the flooring:
Side note: This was surprisingly hard to get a photo over. The change at the edge is where it’s most visible.
See those grooves? Wood glue would’ve have done a thing for me if I put the glue in those places. There’s no way it would’ve spanned that big of a gap to reach the plywood underneath.
(I did end up using wood glue, but I was very careful to apply it on the higher portions of the wood.)
Liquid nails, on the other hand, is thick. It can span gaps, and attach two things that don’t fit together perfectly.
This Wood Slice Wreath is a perfect example. The slices were all slightly different widths, and there were some gaps in the layering.
Construction adhesive would’ve been the right thing to use… although full disclosure, I actually used wood glue because I didn’t want to break out a full tube of construction adhesive just for this little craft project. It wasn’t great, but I made it work.
Liquid nails would’ve done a better job, though.