For woodworkers that don't want to cook up their own glue, but do want the convenience and remarkable attributes of real hide glue for their projects, your prayers have been answered!
As I explained in Part #1 of the series, hide glue can be modified to suit various purposes, whether it be for flexibility, strength, or ease of use.
It can also be modified (entirely naturally) to so that it is pre-cooked and bottled in a soft gel state. The result is the the world's only truly organic liquid hide glue.
W. Patrick Edwards is the man behind Old Brown Glue. He a renowned antique restorer and along with his business partner Patrice Lejeune are internationally acclaimed for their "American School of French Marquetry" in San Diego California USA.
Up until recently, The American School of French Marquetry was the only institution outside Eco Boulle in Paris, France, (where Patrick studied under Dr. Pierre Ramon) where one could learn the French style of marquetry. A couple of years ago, one of their top students, Paul Miller opened the Canadian School of French Marquetry, so now there are two.
Patrick Edwards & Patrice Lejeune with their Marquetry Treasure Boxes
Paul Miller's unbelievable Marquetry Jewellery Chest featuring six Pivot Drawers
Prefaced by the above background on Patrick, the following is from an excellent article by Michael Dresdner in the 2004 issue #112 of Woodworker's Journal and it can be found in full on the Old Brown Glue website.
OLD BROWN GLUE
For most woodworkers, the name W. Patrick Edwards evokes images of some of the finest, most complex marquetry on the planet, and so it should. Pat, as he is know to friends, is the expert who owns and runs The American School of French Marquetry, and executes eye-popping inlay to back up his well-deserved reputation. What you may not know is that he, his wife, Kristen Arrivee, and Matthew, one of their three sons, manufacture and sell Old Brown Glue.
What is Old Brown Glue? It's Pat's "boutique" version of hide glue, modified to give it better handling properties and a longer, yet variable, open time. It's used by Brian Boggs, Kelly Mehler, and a host of antique repair people and chair makers who love the controlled open time, which can vary from 20 minutes to an hour merely by changing the temperature in the shop.
As is often the case, the glue was created to fill a need by its developer, who then concluded that others would also appreciate having it. To understand how it came about, we need to get a bit of background both on hide glue, and on the type of work it benefits. In Pat's case, it's marquetry and antique restoration.
A native of San Diego, Pat has owned and operated Antique Refinishers, Inc. in the same location for the past 35 years.
After studying in Paris at Ecole Boulle under Pierre Ramon, he focused his business on restoring pre-industrial furniture, (18th and 19th century or earlier) and specialising in veneer and marquetry. Four years ago, he and Kristen started the American School of French Marquetry at the same location.
It is the only school outside of Paris that teaches the French method of marquetry, which allows you to make multiple copies quickly and accurately using only hand tools . Veneers are cut on a curious device called a "chevalet," or "marquetry donkey," that looks like a cobbler's bench on steroids. The school has been so successful, that they are currently expanding the building.
"Originally, I started using a glue pot with hot hide glue. It did everything well. It was strong, transparent to stains, easy to clean up, reversible, economical, and the only adhesive which glues to itself both mechanically and chemically. That makes it ideal for repairing antique furniture, all of which, incidentally, was originally made with hide glue. If a joint breaks, you simply add more glue without having to clean off the old, and you get a perfectly strong joint."
"One of the trends I see today is the use of non-reversible glues. Furniture that will last, will eventually need to be repaired. In fact, sometimes, you need to repair during construction. In my restoration work, reversibility is essential. Hide glue is reversible, even after many decades."
By manipulating heat and moisture, you can modify how hide glue behaves, affecting viscosity, open time, and cure time. This control is especially important with veneer work, chairs, and other complex assemblies. But hot hide glue requires almost constant attention, and sets too quickly for some veneer operations. "At times, you must overlap the veneer, because it can shrink and pull back from the joint while curing. Hence, you need a glue that takes a longer time to set, allowing the veneer to shrink before the seam is cut. Old Brown Glue does just that."
It started in 1996 during a European trip, where he joined a marquetry conservation group discussion on modifying hide glue to be liquid at room temperature. Back home, he started work on his own formula.
"While other liquid hide glues exist, I found that they gave me uneven results, probably because the glue was not always fresh." Though dry glue granules have an indefinite shelf life, once it is mixed, it starts to deteriorate. "Other companies use preservatives, but that does not always work. Besides, some of the preservatives are hazardous, and since glue tends to get on your skin, I wanted to use only organic ingredients. I wanted to make glue as simple and safe as possible."
True to his mission, Old Brown Glue is made in small batches and sold fresh, like upscale coffee or handmade chocolate truffles. The shelf life is about one year after you buy it, but you can extend that time by keeping the glue in the refrigerator. "No one else sells fresh, liquid hide glue cooked in small batches," says Pat.
It's easy to see why. Old Brown Glue starts in the kitchen of their building, where Milligan and Higgins' 192 gram strength hide glue is cooked, along with the other ingredients, in a huge double boiler. It takes four days, during which time the pot must be stirred every hour. They bottle it themselves. "The shop dogs chew on any glue that drips onto the floor. That's not a problem," Pat says, "since the glue is non-toxic and almost pure protein." Each batch yields only 300 ounces. (8.5 litres)
"Unmodified hide glue gels at around 100ºF (38º C). For Old Brown Glue, I reduced the gel point to about 80ºF (27ºC). When the glue first arrives, it appears to be a gelatinous solid, if the room temperature is below eighty degrees Fahrenheit. Put the bottle in sunlight, or in warm water for a few minutes, and it is ready to use".
Even more surprising than their manufacturing method, is the way they do business. They are about to start taking credit cards, but up until now, they have simply sent out the glue, and asked people to send the money once they received it. It's an Old World honour system that dovetails nicely with this Old World product.
None of this lends itself to mass production. "Old Brown Glue remains a specialty product for a small group of customers who appreciate the features it has to offer. For 30 years, I tended the hot hide glue pot, maintaining the glue," Pat told me. "Old Brown Glue is a convenient, easy-to-use improvement. It's made my life much easier, so I wanted to share it with other woodworkers."
Thanks go to Michael Dresdner for his wonderful article on Pat Edwards and Old Brown Glue.
If you stop for a moment and contemplate the thought that a remarkably large part of our intent in making furniture, is to make something that will last, will have meaning and have legacy, and will stand the test of time.
By explaining my own experience as an example, maybe this thought process will be easier to understand.
At the age of 16, I made a child's Windsor chair entirely by hand and lathe. It was built of Imbuia and stands about 600mm high. All the leg tenon were through tenons and were fox wedged. The two main back supports were done in the same manner. I built this chair for my 2 year old niece.
Well, she grew up on this chair and so did her younger brother, who is now in his mid 30's. Then her daughter was born and she has grown up on this chair. Her daughter is now 14 years old....Another few years and maybe more generations will be able to grow up on this chair....
The important thing here is that hand made furniture is intended to be used and enjoyed. The only repair that I have ever done on this chair was to replace one rear centre spindle that the kids broke about 25 years ago. This chair was built using hide glue. To replace the spindle, I simply had to disassemble the top rail from the back stiles and spindles. The job took all of 2 hours in total and the chair was back in service.
Now, imagine if I had built that chair with PVA glue or epoxy.....
Old Brown Glue is available in Canada, the UK, Germany, Australia and now at long last in South Africa.
Magnificent Marquetry Chart Boxes designed and created by Paul Miller of PRM Designs and the man behind The Canadian School of French Marquetry.
Take a look at these websites and be amazed:
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