Hide glue: more interesting than you thought!


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Back in the old days,(pre 2005) when I was working for Kodak, they owned a gelatin plant in Peabody, MA. I was doing analytical chemistry back then, and one of the things that I analyzed occasionally was that gelatin. I got a pretty good understanding of the whole process. As the hides (or bones) are cooked and extracted, the best gelatin comes off first, then in subsequent cooks, other grades of gelatin come off, and finally the hide glue "dregs". The photographic grade gelatin made the food grade gelatin look like garbage. Since Fuji was a major competitor back then, we always joked about spreading the rumor that the gelatin that Fuji used in their film was made from whale bones.

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There's been information circulating for years that there is only one manufacturer of hide glue in the US, Milligan and Higgins, irregardless of who's name is on the label. Not sure how accurate that is. Part of my vintage varnish resin collection includes a jar of gelatin from a luthier's estate labeled Swift Premium Chicago Gelatin - Violin Glue. I think it's from the 70's. I'll have to break it out and take a closer look. I'll try and post a photo tonight. Looks different than hide glue granules.

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In Cennini's time, Florence 100 yrs before Andrea Amati, artisans apparently commonly made some of their own glues.

And they had a clear awareness of different kinds of glue.  He describes bone and fish glues as the clearest, hardest, and most brittle. And he describes a parchment glue as made from scraps of the pig skin parchment.

The process he gives is simple and straightforward.  Cook the material down to create a gelatin.   Cook further to remove more water.  When the gelatin begins to set but hasn't dried hard, cut the gel into thin pieces or cakes of a usable size.  Let these dry out.

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I am reminded of my Dad making head cheese.

It's not something I ever enjoyed eating...not because the pigs' feet grossed me out...but because of the texture...

I think I'll pass on trying to make my hide glue, should I ever need some...

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5 hours ago, Woodland said:

There's been information circulating for years that there is only one manufacturer of hide glue in the US, Milligan and Higgins, irregardless of who's name is on the label. Not sure how accurate that is. Part of my vintage varnish resin collection includes a jar of gelatin from a luthier's estate labeled Swift Premium Chicago Gelatin - Violin Glue. I think it's from the 70's. I'll have to break it out and take a closer look. I'll try and post a photo tonight. Looks different than hide glue granules.

Glad this was brought up. I purchase small samples from time to time to try other hide glues and suppliers. The qualities are noticeably different. Is it that Milligan  ( US ) is selling different qualities to different group of suppliers within the United States? and the suppliers are purchasing different grades, to sell to woodworkers? 

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3 hours ago, Rue said:

I am reminded of my Dad making head cheese.

It's not something I ever enjoyed eating...not because the pigs' feet grossed me out...but because of the texture...

I think I'll pass on trying to make my hide glue, should I ever need some...

Take some of the lighter colored hide glues, usually called "technical gelatin", and add Kool-Aid to it. Take it to your next party, when allowed. Don't say a word.

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There's different gram strengths and different clarities available of the gram strengths. In other words, you can have different grades of the same gram strength that can have different appearances. Not sure if the clarity affects the performance, supposedly not. I choose the gram strength based on what particular job I'm doing. Others just use 192 gram strength and control the strength by how thick they make it.

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10 hours ago, Rue said:

I am reminded of my Dad making head cheese.

It's not something I ever enjoyed eating...not because the pigs' feet grossed me out...but because of the texture...

I think I'll pass on trying to make my hide glue, should I ever need some...

Ahh yes, but with enough garlic, it's a great supplement to ward off arthritis in the joints.

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