Some people are dependent on alcohol, some on heroin, but I am addicted to cyanoacrylate (industrial nickname CA). It has saved me huge amounts of time in my life, enabled me to impress my family and friends by my ability to perform instant repairs, allowed us to keep fragile items in our house within reach of children and then grandchildren, secure in the knowledge that I can fix them when they are broken, and been critical to various strange hobbies I have.
It has been a part of my life since soon after it became available in the late 1950’s. I first met CA while working in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. It was sold by Eastman Kodak, where it was invented, and was called Eastman 910. At JPL it was first used by the test engineers, who needed to rapidly place accelerometers on prototype spacecraft to measure the effects of simulated launch vibrations—these vibrations being perhaps the most severe portion of the launch environment. Since CA adhesives in their pure form set in seconds, make strong bonds, and are immune to high temperatures and most solvents, they were perfect for attaching these accelerometers. And conveniently, CA is not immune to acetone, which softens the set glue and allowed the accelerometers to be removed and attached elsewhere if desired.
I first discovered CA as the result of a common prank played on new employees (those were the days of pranking, which I sorely miss). Lubrication of mechanical components is always a problem in space, because most lubricants will “outgas”, and spread a thin layer of themselves on neighboring surfaces. Not good, since such surfaces are critical for temperature control, and one would like the lubricants to stay where they are needed. Eastman 910 came in small bottles with a pouring spout, and the prank was to find an innocent engineer (me), tell them that there was this amazing new lubricant that would not outgas, and which was a superior lubricant to any others available. “Try it”, the prankster would say. “Put a couple of drops on a finger, and rub it against another finger, and you will be amazed”. Amazed we were, because the fingers instantly glued together, and tightly enough that if not told about acetone, would have required slicing apart with a razor blade. As you can see from the Wikipedia information here, one of the uses of CA is to glue skin together in cases of wounds, surgery, and other applications. I later found out that in three or four days they could be separated even without acetone, but life is somewhat less convenient with two fingers glued together for even a short time.
Although at this time, the glue was rare and expensive, it is now common and very affordable (a little goes a long way). It is sold under various trade names, such as Super Glue and Krazy Glue, and often tricked up with other components so it can be marketed more easily. But I am a purist, and stick to the straight stuff. I usually buy it in the model section of hobby shops. The small bottles (1/2 ounce) are often enough, since over time it is almost impossible to keep them from terminally plugging up. It usually comes in three thicknesses. The “thin” sets within a few seconds and makes the strongest bond if the joint is in good contact. The “gap filling” is the middle one, takes longer to set, but does not require as tight a mechanical joint. I never use the thickest version, which can handle even more “gap”, because part of the magic is the very rapid setting time, compared to other glues. Clamping is rarely needed. It is usually possible to apply the glue, hold the parts together a bit, and voila – mission accomplished.
The skill, strangely enough, is to use it without gluing your fingers together, gluing parts to your fingers, getting it on your clothes or your best furniture, or otherwise losing control of the magic fluid. But a few embarrassing accidents will help you learn. One of my early ones resulted in my gluing a finger of each hand to a small pot that had broken into several pieces. I was so intent in holding the pieces together I neglected to realize what was happening. I was working in the garage, but looking around, I could see no acetone. I remembered that my wife had finger-nail polish remover (acetone) in the house, so I went to find it. But unknown to me, she had gone on an errand and locked the doors of the house. Since the glue had set and the pot was repaired, I did not want to re-break it. But ever try to get a full key ring out of the pocket of tight Levis with both hands glued to a pot? No cell phones in those days, and even if there had been, at that point in my life I would have been reluctant to give my colleagues, friends,and neighbors, the tasty story that hot-shot Ph.D. rocket scientist Adams had glued his hands to a pot. Fortunately I was more agile in those days, got the key free without re-breaking the pot, opened the door, found the finger-nail polish remover, and managed to apply it to my attached fingers (and a bit on the floor and bathroom counter) before my wife returned.
A professionally valuable result of my early exposure to CA, was that I became fascinated with glue, and how it works. In fact, in retrospect I was becoming annoying at JPL, because I could see no reason why most of the spacecraft was not glued together, instead of using such archaic means as nuts and bolts, rivets, and welds. The knowledge I acquired has served me in good stead all of my life. Thank you, Eastman Kodak.
Incidentally, while you are in the hobby shop, buy yourself some 5 minute epoxy and hardener if you don’t have any. Not as strong a joint as regular epoxy glue, but you probably don’t need that much strength, and 5 minutes is better than 5 hours.