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Is Wood Glue the Same As PVA?


Some of the most popular wood glues on the market are PVA-based, including Titebond II and Gorilla Wood Glue.

Something else that’s PVA-based is the white craft or ‘school’ glue used by kids the world over for various craft projects.

Based on the fact that they’re both formulated from PVA or polyvinyl acetate, a common question is whether or not you can use standard PVA glue for woodworking or the occasional furniture repair.

After all, if they’re both PVA-based, then they must be the same, right?

PVA wood glues are not the same as white PVA craft or school glues. They’re both based on the same synthetic resin (polyvinyl acetate), but PVA wood glues are stronger, set faster, can be sanded, and are more water/heat resistant. Some wood glue varieties, such as aliphatic resins, also dry yellow.

Keep reading on as we’ll be comparing craft glue to PVA wood glue to determine whether it’s just another marketing ploy designed to push up prices, and to figure out if you really would be better off having a wood-specific PVA glue to hand.

What Is Wood Glue?

The term wood glue can be applied to any adhesive that’s capable of bonding wood.

Some glues, for example, Titebond II and Gorilla Wood Glue Ultimate shown below, directly reference ‘wood glue’ on the bottle because they’re intended specifically for bonding wood.

That’s not to say that these glues won’t bond other materials, because in most cases, they will, but they’re primarily intended for woodworking applications or for things like repairing wooden furniture.

an image showing titebond 2 and gorilla wood glue ultimate side by side

Some other glues are multi-purpose, meaning that they’ll bond things like glass, metal, plastic, ceramic, and wood, too.

Gorilla Glue Clear is one such example, and you can see the various types of things it bonds written on the front of the bottle:

an image showing gorilla glue clear

While these multi-purpose glues aren’t technically a ‘wood glue’, it isn’t uncommon for them to be referred this way. After all, they are still a glue that bonds wood.

Looking at both specific wood glues, and other options which are capable of bonding wood, there are plenty of different types available, including:

  • PVA wood glues
  • PVA wood glues are essentially modified versions of standard PVA craft glue. Both craft glue and PVA wood glue are derived from the polyvinyl acetate polymer, but the modifications to PVA wood glue make it better suited to woodworking applications (we discuss the specific benefits in the next section).

  • Aliphatic resin wood glues
  • Aliphatic resin glues are another type of modified PVA glue derived from the polyvinyl acetate polymer. They’re often referred to as carpenter’s glues or yellow glues because of their wide use in woodworking and the fact that many varieties dry yellow (although many do dry brown).

  • Cyanoacrylate wood glues
  • Often referred to as CA glues, they’re available in a variety of thicknesses, with thicker CA glues being suitable for gap filling as well as bonding.

  • Polyurethane wood glues
  • These glues typically foam up quite a bit when drying, and the squeeze out usually requires scraping back or sanding. A major advantage of polyurethane glues is that they’re waterproof, making them ideal for outdoor projects.

  • Epoxy
  • Most epoxies are two-part, consisting of both a hardener and a resin. They can bond plenty of different things, not just wood, and have excellent chemical and water resistance.

  • Hide glues
  • A natural type of wood glue, these glues are typically made from the hide or bones of cattle. They’re non-toxic and provide a good level of chemical and water resistance.

  • Hot glues
  • Often referred to as hot melt adhesive, the glue comes as a stick that is heated and emitted from the nozzle of a hot glue gun. Probably better suited to hobbyists than woodworkers, one major disadvantage is that the glue will return to a liquid when reheated.

The chemical properties of each of these different types of glue influence things like drying time, the color the wood glue dries, strength, ability to withstand exposure to moisture, etc.

Recommended: Does wood glue dry clear? [6 popular types tried & tested]


What Is the Difference Between PVA and Wood Glue?

Before answering this question in detail, it’s worth pointing out the three main types of PVA-based wood glue that this question will be covering:

  1. Standard PVA glue – often referred to as craft glue or school glue.
  2. White PVA wood glue – a modified version of standard PVA glue to better suit woodworking applications.
  3. Aliphatic resin wood glue – another modified version of standard PVA wood glue that’s also better suited to woodworking applications.

Based on this, there are three main comparisons that we’ll need to make to answer this question fully (click to navigate):

3. PVA wood glues versus other types of wood glue


PVA Craft Glues vs. White PVA Wood Glues

Used by millions of kids worldwide, craft glue is probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think of PVA glue.

Here are some of the main features of craft glue:

PVA Craft Glues

Sometimes referred to as white glue or school glue, children and crafters used PVA craft glue to bond things like paper, cardboard, and fabrics, and it’s both odorless can be easily cleaned up with water alone.

PVA craft glue is usually a milky-white color in the bottle but dries almost colorless with a translucent appearance.

Its ability to be cleaned up with only water exposes one of its major disadvantages – it has little to no water resistance, meaning that craft glue will break down if exposed to moisture or if used outside.

It takes around 24 hours or so for craft glue to reach its full strength, meaning that whatever you’re gluing needs to be well supported and ideally clamped for a better bond.

The slow initial ‘grab’ of PVA craft glue makes it great for complex, time-consuming glue-ups as it gives you plenty of time to assemble everything or correct any mistakes.

Next up, let’s look at white PVA wood glue and some of the main similarities and differences between it and craft glue:

White PVA Wood Glues

As mentioned, PVA wood glues are essentially modified versions of standard PVA glue (both are formulated from the same synthetic resin – polyvinyl acetate), with some additional features and benefits that make them better suited to woodworking applications.

One similarity with regular craft glues is that white PVA wood glues can easily be cleaned up with water, making it easy to clean off any excess adhesive or glue squeeze from whatever you’re working on.

Another similarity is that white PVA wood glues typically dry with a translucent film that’s essentially colorless when completed dried.

In terms of differences, many types of PVA wood glue feature additional chemical properties or additives that make them stronger than regular PVA craft glues.

Also, while some PVA wood glues are available in slower setting varieties, most typically dry much faster.

Another significant difference and benefit of PVA wood glue is its superior water resistance. Whereas craft glue has little to no water resistance, most white PVA wood glues fare better, with even interior grades typically resisting a certain amount of moisture.

And finally, another area where PVA wood glue outshines craft glue is in its ability to be sanded once dry. PVA wood glues typically dry harder, meaning you can sand them to improve their look and finish, which is something you’d struggle to do with craft glue.

Aliphatic Resins vs. White PVA Wood Glues

Aliphatic resins contain tackifying resins or ‘tackifiers’ to improve some of the inherent weaknesses of standard PVA for woodworking, for example, the glue’s poor water resistance and high susceptibility to creep.

Although the tackifiers used in aliphatic resins range from yellow to light brown, these glues get the majority of their color from dyes which are added to help differentiate them from regular white PVA glues.

One such example of an aliphatic resin that dries with a distinct color is Titebond Original:

an image showing the yellow orange dried color of titebond original wood glue

The changing of the color is essentially a marketing ploy, although there is arguably a slight advantage to be had from the glue more closely matching the color of the wood on which it’s being used.

Here are some of the various similarities between aliphatic resins and white PVA wood glues:

  • They’re both modified versions of standard PVA glue, and each one features different changes to the basic polyvinyl acetate formulation to improve its properties for woodworking.
  • They’re both capable of creating joints that are stronger than the wood itself.

And here are some of the differences between the two:

  • The first and most obvious difference is the color of the glue once dry. Most PVA wood glues dry translucent and colorless, whereas aliphatic resins typically dry yellow or light brown depending on the tackifier and the specific shade of dye used.
  • Aliphatic resin glues are usually more expensive than white PVA wood glues.
  • Another difference is the ability to ‘unstick’ the glue’s bond once dry. In most cases, you can reverse the curing of a white PVA wood glue by adding water, but the additional chemical reactions in aliphatic resins mean that this isn’t always possible. Applying heat is usually the best way to de-bond an aliphatic resin.
  • We’ve found that yellow aliphatic resin glues have a better initial ‘bite’ that reduces the amount of clamping time needed. A potential downside to this, though, is that you’ll have less time for particularly complex assemblies, and you’ll be under a bit more time pressure to have everything in place before the glue sets.
  • Aliphatic resins are usually more water-resistant and heat-resistant than conventional PVA wood glues.
  • We’ve mentioned that white PVA wood glues dry harder than craft glues, but aliphatic resins dry even harder still. Because of this, they can be easier to sand to achieve a smooth finish.

It can sometimes be challenging to differentiate between an aliphatic resin and a white PVA wood glue.

You certainly can’t rely on color alone.

Some PVA glues that dry translucent may, in fact, be aliphatic resins, for example, but the manufacturer has opted not to add a dye, and the back of the bottle and the sales page refers to PVA with no mention of aliphatic resins.

Also, a cheaper glue that isn’t an aliphatic resin may have had a yellow dye added, even though it doesn’t contain any of the other properties you’d expect to see from a genuine yellow wood glue, for example, superior water resistance and reduced creep.

For this reason, we recommend paying more attention to the various features of a specific glue, as opposed to whether or not it’s explicitly referred to as an aliphatic resin by the manufacturer.

After all, provided the glue in question meets your requirements, it doesn’t really matter what the manufacturer has classified it as.

PVA Wood Glues vs. Other Types of Wood Glue

There are plenty of different types of wood glue available, as we’ve mentioned above, with PVA-based wood glues being just one type.

There are various advantages and disadvantages to each type of wood glue, and particular adhesives will be better suited to specific applications or uses.

Here are just some of the ways that PVA, aliphatic resin, cyanoacrylate (CA), polyurethane, epoxy, and hide wood glues can differ:

  • Whether they’re made from synthetic or natural materials
  • Whether they’re a liquid or gel
  • How long they take to dry
  • Their strength once dry
  • Their color straight from the bottle
  • The color they dry
  • Whether they’re toxic or non-toxic
  • Whether they’re water-resistant or waterproof
  • Their ability to be sanded
  • Their shelf life
  • What it takes to clean them up (e.g. water or chemicals)
  • The temperature they can be used in
  • Whether they can be painted or stained over
  • Their ability to resist damage from solvents

What Is PVA Wood Glue Used For?

A glue can be defined as:

Any non-metallic substance applied to one or both surfaces of two separate items that binds them together and resists their separation.

Wikipedia

In the case of PVA-based wood glue, the two surfaces in question would typically be wood. These could either be two fresh pieces of wood for a new project or older wood where you’re repairing a piece of furniture, for example.

PVA wood glues are generally good for:

  • Gluing two new pieces of wood together (this could be any combination of end grain, face grain, or side grain).
  • Gluing older pieces of timber where any existing glue or paint has been removed with the surfaces degreased beforehand to provide a stronger joint.
  • Minor gap filling requirements (a thicker CA glue is better for larger gaps, but we’ve found that PVA wood glue works well for smaller gaps).
  • Exterior projects where a fully-waterproof PVA wood glue like Titebond III is used.

Can You Use PVA Glue Instead of Wood Glue?

PVA craft glue is a multi-purpose glue that you can use to bond various materials, including paper, cardboard, and fabric.

You can also use PVA craft glue to bond wood, although you’ll be missing out on some of the refinements that make PVA-based wood glues a much better choice for timber.

Aside from PVA craft glue potentially being cheaper and easier to find than dedicated PVA wood glue, we’d struggle to find a strong enough reason to bypass wood glue in favor of craft glue for your woodworking projects.

A dedicated PVA wood glue gets our vote every time, and here’s why:

  • You can clean up most PVA wood glues with water alone (just like with craft glue).
  • They have a stronger initial tack or ‘bite’, which reduces clamping time.
  • They dry much faster
  • They’re stronger once fully bonded
  • They’re much less susceptible to creep
  • They’re more water-resistant and heat-resistant than craft glues
  • They’re sandable for a superior finish

In Summary

Wood glue is not the same as PVA craft glue.

PVA wood glues come in two main types – white PVA wood glues and aliphatic resins – and both of these are formulated from the same synthetic resin (polyvinyl acetate) as craft glue.

White PVA wood glues are essentially modified versions of craft glue that improve on some of the weaknesses of basic PVA, including, for example, improving overall strength and providing better moisture resistance.

Aliphatic resins are another modified type of PVA that use tackifiers to further improve the properties of standard PVA glue (even versus white PVA wood glues).

The yellow to brown color of aliphatic resins mainly comes from dyes, and these are added primarily for marketing purposes to differentiate these glues from white glues. The tackifiers do provide tangible benefits such as increased strength, better resistance to creep, and improved moisture and heat resistance, though.

As mentioned above, we don’t recommend worrying too much about choosing a white PVA wood glue versus an aliphatic resin glue.

Why?

Well, it can be very tough to tell them apart, and you can’t rely on color alone.

After all, some genuine aliphatic resins are made without dyes and dry white, and some cheaper PVA glues contain dyes even though the remainder of their properties fall short of what you’d expect from a good yellow wood glue.

In many cases, the manufacturer won’t specifically refer to a glue being an aliphatic resin either, and so you’ll be none the wiser with what you’re getting.

And because of this, we recommend picking a glue based on its features rather than its classification.

With regard to regular PVA glue (i.e. craft glue, school glue, white glue, or whatever else you want to call it), it is possible to use this for your woodworking projects, and it is a viable alternative to wood glue if you don’t have any to hand.

We’d still recommend popping to your local hardware store or waiting for some genuine PVA wood glue to be delivered from Amazon, though, because there are real benefits to using genuine wood glue. We know from personal experience that it isn’t just a marketing ploy.

If you’re looking for recommendations, the two glues we find ourselves using again and again are Titebond II and Gorilla Wood Glue.

If you have any particular questions or queries that you can’t find an answer to above, drop us a comment below, and we’ll do our best to get back to you as quickly as possible.

Thanks, and good luck!


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