It’s so funny – as a kid, good old Elmer’s glue seemed to be a life staple. It was everywhere – school, home, arts and crafts day at the park. You name it, they had white glue.
As an adult, as a teacher even, I never seem to to have white glue. I don’t keep it in stock at home, and if I need it at school, I’m running around looking in six supply closets trying to find some.
But you know what I do religiously keep in-stock? Wood glue. The minute my container gets low, I’m ordering more.
So that begs the question: can wood glue be used as white glue?
Wood glue and white glue have very similar chemical make-ups, and because of this, wood glue can be used as white glue. However, wood glue dries an amber color, while white glue dries clear, so use caution if the glue needs to be invisible.
This doesn’t necessarily work in reverse, however, so lets dive a little deeper.
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Using White Glue as Wood Glue
Using wood glue as white glue is simple – apply it and go. You can use wood glue exactly as you would use white glue, just be aware that it won’t dry clear.
Using white glue as wood glue, on the other hand, is a no-go, for a number of reasons.
Wood glue has a lower water content than Elmer’s glue, and for a good reason! Water warps wood, and using white glue on wood increases the risk that the wood will warp.
That doesn’t mean people haven’t done it. I know people who use exclusively Elmer’s glue instead of wood glue for the costs savings.
But to me, the risk isn’t worth it.
White school glue is primarily intended for childhood crafts. Nobody expects it to last forever.
Wood glue, however, is frequently used to hold wood together on a variety of projects, including some that eventually live their lives outdoors.
Because of this, wood glue needs to stand up to rain, snow, cold, heat, and all sorts of other unfortunate settings you might toss it into.
Wood glue is formulated to stand up to water, and white glue is not.
This is incredibly important if your project is going to be exposed to any sort of wet or humid climate. Outdoor projects are obvious, but bathroom drawers also get exposed to condensation and humidity.
White glue won’t hold up. Wood glue will.
Wood glue is significantly stronger than white glue, which shouldn’t shock anyone.
It takes much more strength to hold two pieces of wood together than it does to hold two pieces of paper together.
Because of this, wood glue can easily be used for white glue applications. It’s stronger, and will serve the same purpose.
But going the other way is basically using an inferior glue, and taking the risks that come along with that.
I don’t know about you, but many times when I glue two pieces of wood together, glue seeps out.
(For the record, I was trying to make a mess here to experiment with how to remove wood glue.)
And the best way to remove unwanted wood glue is to sand it off.
But white glue isn’t as easy to sand as wood glue. Wood glue is specifically formulated to be sandable.
Sanding is a miserable step to begin with. Don’t set yourself up for failure by using a glue that doesn’t sand well.
Before I begin this section, there’s something you should know about me.
I have been reliably informed as such by wonderful Youtube commentators who have never met me.
I’m also a math teacher, so I’m competent enough at math to know that white school glue is cheaper than wood glue.
At posting, this school glue is about half the price of this identically sized wood glue.
White glue is significantly cheaper that wood glue.
But even with the price difference, I buy wood glue for all the reasons listed above.
Also – they’re both pretty cheap. It’s not like you’re comparing a $2 product with a $30 product. And the larger quantities of wood glue you purchase, the cheaper it gets per ounce.
So I just buy in bulk. It’s never gone bad on me, even when it’s taken a year or two to work my way through it all.
Wood glue can be used as school glue, given you don’t care if the glue dries clear. It’s basically asking wood glue to do something that it’s overqualified for.
Elmer’s glue, on the other hand, shouldn’t be used as wood glue. It’s missing a lot of the qualities that make wood glue practical for wood, and won’t necessarily hold up over time.
Do some people use white glue anyway? Yes, of course, it’s cheaper, and there are people who are willing to take that risk.
But as someone who happily uses freebie paint brushes, who made a whole video devoted to proving Harbor Freight clamps aren’t as terrible as everyone says they are, and who is generally considered “cheap,” I am telling you, don’t skimp on your wood glue.
It’s not worth the risk.