Gear: Glues and Solvents

In the beginning, there was tube glue. This awful, vaguely gel-like substance was the default modeling glue, but I really don’t understand why. Gooey, prone to getting all over fingers, and with ridiculously long set and cure times, it seems, in hindsight, like the worst possible adhesive for an impatient kid slamming together a dodgy F-15 kit.

In time, I discovered Testors liquid cement, which was better. But, since I was a kid, I didn’t really understand the concept of solvents, and how this cement worked by literally melting plastic and welding it together. So I’d slop the stuff on to parts, then jam them together. Half the time, the cement had already done its stuff and evaporated.

A bit later, I learned about cyanoacrylate. Or, in common parlance, super glue. For an impatient pre-teen modeler, this stuff was gold. It set fast, and if fast wasn’t fast enough, you could always spray it with CA accelerator that would make it set RIGHT NOW AT THIS INSTANT! From then until the time I faded out of modeling in my teens, CA was my go-to for just about everything.

When I came back to modeling in the summer of 2010, CA was among the first supplies I picked up.

But these days, I find myself using it less and less, and apart from a few specialized uses, it’s quickly being relegated to the back of my little ‘glues and solvents’ bin.

So what am I using these days?

Let’s go down the list.

Solvents

Solvents are basically harsh chemical brews that temporarily melt plastic, causing two pieces to fuse together as one. Testors Liquid Cement is a solvent, albeit a weak one. It’s a Coors Light in a crowd of tequila shots and single-malt scotch. The hotter stuff – Tenax 7R, Ambroid Pro-Weld, and Plast-i-Weld, for example – will melt and weld plastic in the space of about ten seconds. After a minute or so, even shoddy fits cure sufficiently for you to relax your grip.

If I’m joining something that has to look pretty – say an aircraft fuselage – I tend to bust out the Touch-n-Flow to deliver solvent to the seam with surgical precision. If you’re not familiar with it, the Touch-n-Flow is basically a thin glass tube with hypodermic tubing on one end. You load the Touch-n-Flow with solvent (I use one of those infant snot suckers to draw the solvent into the tube), touch it to the surface, and then pull away, drawing a thin bead of solvent over the join. This leaves very little mess, and if you manage it right, you can get seams so clean that all they need is a gentle sanding before they’ll disappear under paint.

If I’m sticking a cockpit to a sidewall, or gluing bit onto a tank or something where it doesn’t have to be as neat and perfect, I tend to use a microbrush to apply the solvent.

Of course, solvents do have some limitations. They will only join plastic to plastic, so they can’t be used on resin or photo-etch parts. They also don’t tend to work very well with painted plastic, so many subassemblies that get painted off-model (such as suspension bogies or landing gear) may need to find an alternate means of attachment.

Cyanoacrylate

I tend to use solvents for probably 70% of any given buildup. When I can’t, I reach for CA. Or rather, I used to. Yes, it can glue resin to plastic, or photo-etch parts to resin, or anything to anything else. But CA sets up very fast, so there’s no room for error.

Another drawback of CA is that it tends to exhibit pretty poor shear stress characteristics. With normal, pulling-type stress, it’s pretty great, so it’ll hold a great bond if you can stick part A into a socket of part B. But any sort of lateral stresses can cause parts to just snap off.

One area where I still make pretty frequent use of CA is with wire rigging, such as the aerials running from an aircraft’s radio mast back to the tail. For these purposes, I use a drop of CA, then apply a drop of accelerator that I’ve loaded into the Touch-n-Flow applicator. This is way more precise than bombing the entire area with the ridiculously pump spray mechanism most accelerators feature. And when you consider that CA accelerator can mess with paint, fog clear parts, and generally just be a huge pain, the precision’s nice to have!

So what’s shouldered cyanoacrylate and a few other glues from their pride of place on my bench?

Gator’s Grip Hobby Glue

The best way I can describe this stuff is “like white glue…only awesome”.

I don’t know quite what I expected when I picked this glue up. A better canopy-gluing solution? A slightly more forgiving PE adhesive? A great stand-in for sour cream in a pinch?

Hey, two out of three ain’t bad!

In all honesty, though, this glue has blown me away. Out of the bottle it behaves just like white glue. Maybe it’s a little thicker than what you’d plop out of a bottle of Elmer’s, but same idea.

That’s where the similarities end. White glue takes awhile to set up, and when it does it’s still pretty fragile.

Gator’s Grip sets up much faster. If you’re talking about a small part, or two parts that fit well together, you’ll have a reasonable bond in about a minute or two. If it’s a part that needs to be forced into place a bit, or held with some force while it cures, obviously you’ve got a longer wait, but it’ll probably be good to go after 10-20 minutes.

And once it cures, boy howdy. I wouldn’t say you get the same solidity you might expect out of a solvent welding two pieces of plastic into one, but this glue holds well, and in my opinion far surpasses CA in terms of shear strength, especially with small fiddly parts.

You can buy Gator’s Grip HERE. And I’d highly recommend that you do. I don’t often fall completely 100% in love with many modeling products, but this is one of them.

3 thoughts on “Gear: Glues and Solvents

  1. Doogs, I say I’m sold & order some up right now,But what your informative review didn’t answer for me [ unless my reading glasses need cleaning again ] was, Will it work on a P.E. to plastic/resin bond ? Also,will it work on resin to resin & P.E. to P.E. ? Are you completely using it in place of Tenax Et. al. ? I think I’m gonna try it anyways, I’d just like to know what you’ve discovered in the aforementioned scenarios. Thanks,Doogs. keith r.

  2. Hey Keith – it can pretty much glue anything to anything. Think of it like white glue on steroids (but with different properties once it’s dried). It can glue PE to PE, PE to plastic, resin to plastic, PE to resin, you name it.

    I still use Tenax wherever I can for plastic-to-plastic bonds, and I still use CA in certain applications (attaching aerial wires, etc), but this stuff is largely replacing CA on my bench.

  3. Thought id use this thread for my first post.

    Im primarily a ship builder but build AC at times too. I started using Gator awhile back for the P.E. ship rails. They are notoriously hard to set. Gator gives me the need time to set the piece and do any required “tweaking” for that just right fit.

    Oh,..and its a bit flexible and completly clear when dried!

    Nice write up Doog!

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