When building boats up north, I believed that epoxy was one of the best bonding agents that ever existed. The shop would get varying parts of epoxy in 55 gallon drums. On the shelves behind these drums would be retarders, advancers, silica thickeners, and anything else a boatbuilder may need to create the perfect recipe for the perfect bond.
Down here in my small shop in Virginia, things are a bit different. Yes, I do have epoxy, but I keep it under lock and key from myself due to the cost. Unfortunately many customers desire the self-leveling bar coat for tabletops. I try to keep in the proper mindset and get the customer to follow in thought that the self leveling coat takes every quality about wood that a person enjoys and seals it up so tight and slick that the wood now has qualities that match a hard linoleum floor. With that said, the self-leveling does have a great purpose in commercial use, such as the bar and bathroom sink we brought back to life while building The Palisades Restaurant and the cafe tables we built with inlaid logo for Tangent Outdoors.
I also try to not get distracted with bent laminations, as beautiful as they may be. Again, are they natural? Do they keep the qualities of the wood? Thinking along these lines (AND COST!!) usually allows my epoxy usage to stay to a bare minimum. Once I started slowly replacing epoxy with Titebond in even major glue-ups, I noticed no real difference in tightness, glue lines, and longevity of the joint. Nothing proves this more than a cutting board. Strips of wood, sometimes heated and dried from the abuse of the mistaken placement of the dishwasher, never set flat on its plane when stored, the cutting board doesn’t have an easy life. The more I think about it, the more a cutting board has in common with the life of a boat.
Before the glue is even reached for, a check should be done for tightness and accuracy of joints. There should be no daylight seen once dry assembled. If there is, a quick swipe of the hand plane or even cardscraper can help remedy the problem. One rule that almost always seems to get lost in the sawdust is that during assembly, the clamp is not a tool to rectify a measurement, nor should it have to suck the daylight out of an accidental saw kerf. A clamp should simply be there to hold the joint barely tight enough until the glue dries. If you find yourself clamping down with all your might, chances are you will not only have a distorted and out of square piece of work, but you will also squeeze the glue right out of the joint, weakening the bond before it ever has a chance to cure.
Once assured that the joints are true, be sure that plenty of clamps are on hand and also dig around in your scrap pile to make clamping cauls to keep everything in alignment. I usually elevate and clamp on runners that I know are Once you have a system in place, cover all caul edges, aligning pieces and clamp ends that may be exposed to glue with packaging tape.
Here is the trick to keep it simple and speedy. I usually have two small disposable plumbing brushes on hand. One is for water, the other for glue. Don’t worry about cross contamination, unless you plan on eating or drinking it. Submerge the one brush in water and lightly dampen the edge to be glued.
Take the other brush and spread the bead out. You will find that the dampened wood will easily let you spread the glue. Mate the two pieces together. If mating multiple strips, continue until all strips are done, only applying glue to one side of mating pieces. Wipe up any drips with a damp cloth .
The water technique will allow more open assembly time and also will keep you from putting excessive amounts of glue in a joint just to squeeze it out and ruin your hand planes and chisels on later. What I just said may seem elementary and slightly backwards (adding water to glue) but it’s the small steps that save time and allow for a great build and satisfied customer.