Glues for Miniatures and Models - What to Use and When

I'm often asked about particular glues for miniatures, dolls houses and models so I've tried quite a few! For most purposes I suggest people use PVA or white glues whenever possible as they are easy to clean up, don't give off fumes, and will hold most porous materials, as well as holding some non porous materials to porous materials.

For miniatures and wood structures that might get damp, PVA glues aren't as effective as urethane glues, but these foam and expand in moisture...MORE (which is required to set them) need to be applied to both surfaces to work and pieces must be clamped together. These are also much more difficult to clean up than pva glues, as they usually need lacquer thinner or some other strong solvent. For gluing plastic to plastic, Plastic Welding glues which partially dissolve the plastics give the best bond. Like Cyanoacrylate glues (Crazy Glues) they can damage the surface they are applied to, so test first and only use in well ventilated conditions.

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    Methyl cellulose glue powder.
    Methyl cellulose powder is a good pH neutral reversible glue for paper and marbling size. Photo © 2014 Lesley Shepherd

    Methyl Cellulose is a useful water based glue for dollhouse wallpapers, paper miniatures, and books. pH neutral, it is recommended by professionals as it is 'reversible' and mistakes can be easily remedied. It can be used on its own, or mixed with pva glue for more 'slip' and longer drying time of the PVA. Unlike some craft paper glues, which are based on corn starch, metyl cellulose is not attacked by pests. Learn how to use it and you'll be able to use it for paper...MORE projects, book repairs, even as a marbling size for paper or fabric.

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    PVA or Poly Vinyl Acetate Glues - White or Yellow Glues

    Minature stoneware planter held upside down with Moveable Miniatrues Glue
    Moveable Miniatures Glue is strong enough to hold a miniature stoneware planter and it's contents upside down without slipping. Photo ©2007 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to About.com Inc.

    PVA glues are the standby of my workbench. Non toxic and with low fumes they clean up with water. I have several different formulations and use them according to materials. My first choice is always an acid neutral glue. Other than that I occasionally use 'tacky' glue formulations to hold materials on an upright surface, or thick PVA glues which will hold metals or plastics against porous materials like wood paper or leather. I also use PVA wood glues or carpentry glue for interior and...MORE exterior uses. I save the yellow glues for exterior use where moisture won't be a problem. Various Types of PVA Glue:

     

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    Polyurethane glues like the popular Excel and Gorilla Glue form bonds which in some applications are stronger than PVA glues or Cyanoacrylate glues. These are highly water resistant glues good for exterior applications and will bond wood, as well as non porous materials like stone, ceramics, metals and some plastics. Polyurethane glues foam and swell up as they cure. These glues do not clean up with water, so have denatured alchohol handy to clean up your joints before the glue sets. Most...MORE solvents are inactive on polyurethane glue, so don't ever plan on removing them without sanding once they have bonded.

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    Cyanoacrylate glues, also known as Crazy glues or Super glues have some special uses for miniatures. They are fast setting, but generally brittle glues, except for particular formulations. They can be used to help hold materials while other slower bonding glues set up, but are rarely advisable for use on their own with most miniatures. Be careful when using them to work only in well ventilated areas, with eye protection. You can develop sensitivities to them. Gloves are also advisable.

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  • 05 of 08

    Epoxy Glues and Pastes

    Preparing epoxy putty to make a backing for a miniature mermaid mirror.
    Small amounts of two part epoxy putty are measured into equal balls and kneaded together to make a backing plate for a miniature mirror. Photo © 2013 Lesley Shepherd

    Two part epoxy glues, putties and pastes are useful for bonding metals and ceramics, although they can also be used with wood, glass, stone and some plastics. Permanent when set, they are available in a range of thicknesses, partially detemined by the gap size they are expected to fill. Epoxies have the advantage of being very stable when cured, as they are resistant to heat and to chemicals. Most epoxies will deteriorate with exposure to UV light.

    There are a wide range of slight differences...MORE between brands of epoxy glues, putties and pastes, based on the type of resin and hardener (activator) used. The various types and brands differ mainly by cure time, color, the ability to withstand heat, flexibility when cured, and consistency. Choose a brand which will work for the widest number of applications you will need epoxy for. Most have a short shelf life after opening. Be sure to follow safety guidelines when using all forms of epoxy. Allergic reactions to the hardener can develop.

    Kneadable epoxy putties are often used to repair large cracks, or fill areas on models for repurposing a model. They are used by model horse enthusiasts to reshape horses, and by gamining miniature enthusiasts as a modelling material for new sculpts. Retooling and sanding work differently on various brands, so experiment with a few if you intend to use them for sculpting or re-sculpting models and figures. Some thinner two part epoxy pastes such as Apoxie Paste can be used for making casts in simple moulds, as well as for bonding and filling larger cracks in broken ceramics and other materials. Specialist 'Jewelery Putties" like Enviro Tex Jewelry Clay, will accept colors and pigments to make unique shades. You can see this putty colored and used to make miniature gnomes for outdoor gardens.

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    Plastic weld glues for tight bonds in a range of plastics for models and miniatures
    Plastic weld glues for tight bonds in a range of plastics for models and miniatures. Photo Copyright 2011 Lesley Shepherd
    A number of glues will work with plastic, but there are special plastic welding cements that dissolve the plastic to create a stronger bond. Plastic glues don't work with all plastics so you need to know what types of plastic you are trying to bond together and use the apppropriate glue. If acetone (nail polish remover) causes the surfac of a scrap of similar plastic to become tacky, you can usually use that plastic with a plastic cement or plastic weld.
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    Small tube of silicone adhesive sold for scrabooking and decoupage.
    Small tube of clear silicone adhesive sold for use for layered decoupage. Photo © 2011 Lesley Shepherd

    Silicone caulk and glues are used by modellers for a range of very different purposes. They are often used to simulate flowing water in railroad terrains. Silicone is also used to hold vibrating motors in place in model airplanes and boats, and is used to glue glass and metal to a range of other surfaces. One of the confusions with silicone is that very similar types are available for a range of 'specialized' applications. If you need small amounts, try pet stores where it is sold to...MORE repair aquariums, or dive stores, where it is sold to seal masks. Scrapbook stores sell small tubes of clear silicone 'glue' to hold beads, glass and metal securely to metallic papers and cards. Automotive stores sell small tubes of gasket material, or window sealant, which are all the same basic silicone.

    If you need to paint silicone for any reason, make sure you buy a 'paintable' silicone to start with, usually found at a hardware store.

    As many silicones give off acetic acid as they cure, try to use 'oxime' cure silicones where you are working with materials that need to be acid free. Why You Should Use Acid Free Materials

    A special type of "moldable"  silicone glue can be used to hold diverse materials together, as well as molded for simple flexible miniatures. Known as "Sugru"  this form of silicon is a colored putty which can be blended to a range of different colors.  A "do it yourself" form of this putty can be made from the instructions for "Oogoo"  found on the Instructables website. This is made from silicone glue or caulk and corn startch or talcum powder. 


     

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    Crystaline wax used to hold miniatures to furniture, shelves or walls in scale scenes.
    Mini Hold is a brand of 'tacky wax' or 'museum wax' useful for holding miniature items secure on furniture, shelves or walls in miniature and model scenes. Photo copyright 2010 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to About.com Inc.
    Crystalline waxes and wax gels are sold under a variety of names for temporarily holding items to smooth surfaces. Sometimes called 'museum wax', 'tacky wax' or 'quake wax' , these are good for positioning miniatures as parts of models or scenes. Model horse artisans use them to hold bits on model horses, collectors use them to hold items on display shelves, and miniaturists of all types use them to fix items into the hands of figures. These waxes are available in gel or...MORE wax formulations. The gels are usually clearer, and are useful for adhering clear glass objects to clear shelving. They are of limited use in displays which will get hot enough to soften the wax.