Alternatives to Formaldehyde-Content Adhesives

Woodworkers discuss the risks of formaldehyde in adhesives, and the availability of other choices. March 26, 2013

Most know there is some serious health risk using formaldehyde glue. On the other hand, this is also known as the best hard adhesive, creep free, to use for some veneer application. Can anyone direct me to a substitute?

Forum Responses
(Veneer Forum)
From contributor C:
I used to use Uni Bond 800 exclusively for my veneer work. Great product. Great results. Rigid glue line. Available in different shades for dark and light woods. Very bad smell with furfural alcohol in the mix. Needed to wear a respirator and it smelled up the shop for days.

I now use Pro-Glue Resin Veneer Bond exclusively for my veneer work. Great product. Great results. Available in different shades for dark and light woods. Same rigid glue line. I wear a respirator while mixing so I do not accidentally get any of the powder in my lungs. Does not smell up the shop. Shelf life is much longer. Easier to mix just what you need. There may be other brands available.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. Allow me to add this embarrassing fact. I saw PRO-GLUE before, and know it was developed in conjunction with Paul Schurch and sold by VAC-U-CLAMP. I read the MSDS too fast and saw UREA and FORMALDEHYDE stopped me right away. But read carefully... It has less than 2% formaldehyde! Nothing to be concerned about. Goes to say… read the MSDS carefully.

From contributor C:
I have talked with Paul on this issue. That furfural alcohol is some very nasty stuff.

From contributor G:
I would suggest hammer veneering with hide glue. If it is inappropriate to your needs, which you have not specified, then the Unibond is the usual.

From contributor H:
We had a test done on our workers and monitored their exposure to formaldehyde. The test was using a 68" wide spreader. 5 x 10 press, putting veneer (which contains formaldehyde ) on flk board (also contains formaldehyde) with a liquid formaldehyde adhesive at 100 degrees Celsius… for 7 hours straight. When the test results came back, we were at 5% of the acceptable limit per OSHA.

I cannot speak to the offgassing of the final product, but our product is completely coated with lacquer (soon to be catalyzed waterborne topcoat). On a flame test, it may be an issue, however, if your furniture is on fire, you may want to leave the building anyway.

My point is that while formaldehyde is not a suitable topping for your ice cream sundae, it may not be the villain that some claim in the concentrations that we use. We currently use a PVA adhesive for 75% of our laminations for other reasons (flexibility, etc.), but nothing beats UF adhesive for a quality bond.

From contributor J:
How do you figure the veneer contains formaldehyde?

From the original questioner:
That is a very interesting test result. 5% does appear low… But how low can we go to be safe? On the other hand, regardless of the level, why play with a potential can of warms if it can be altogether avoided?

If budget is not much concern, there is a good alternative: liquid, pre-mixed fish glue. I’ve been using this for over ten years now. Wonderful stuff for small projects and custom one offs.

Make a test on wax paper - you’ll see. It dries hard, almost as hard as, say, Unibound. But at +/- $20 a quart, not cheap! For small projects and low volume usages, much better than anything out there as it has a super long pot life (more than a year) and has a long open time of +/- 20 -25 minutes.

From contributor H:
All wood has formaldehyde. That is why PB without urea formaldehyde glue is called NAF board: "no added formaldehyde", not formaldehyde free.

Regarding the test, OSHA was happy to say the least. Our press area is well ventilated (we have a large dust collection system) and has 16 ft ceilings. Also, the process of pressing is pretty automated so there is no hand rolling involved.

While I do not advocate playing with poison or carcinogens, take a look at what people have in their bathroom closets. There are lots of serious chemicals if ingested or exposed to for long periods of time - chlorine, ammonia, oxidization agents, drain cleaners. My feeling is there is a perceived fear that is often unfounded, and we look to others to protect us, i.e. government agencies, etc. We do our very best to be safe here, but having perfectly good products banned because of unfounded fears is just stupid.

FYI, I'm not reckless - I've been a vegetarian for 40 years and eat mostly organic food.