Super glue is one of the best glues for assembling miniatures and scale models. Super glue, or cyanoacrylate, is a fast-acting, water-activated glue that can effectively bond many types of materials, quickly. Despite its popularity and utility in our scale modeling and miniature hobbies, the super glue has a storied history that many don’t know about.
In this article, I share what I learned about the history of super glue and why it is so popular today for hobbyists.
Who Discovered (and Abandoned) “Super Glue”?
Dr. Harry Coover, the inventor of Super Glue, originally discovered it in 1942 while attempting to create clear plastic gun sights for Allied soldiers fighting in WWII. It was not, as a popular urban myth claims, accidentally discovered by solders during World War II who then began using it to seal battle wounds.
Although Dr. Coover’s chemical didn’t work well for clear plastic gun sights, it made an excellent rapid bonding adhesive. Of course, despite the commercial potential of such a bonding product, Dr. Coover abandoned his formulation because it was unsuitable for his current endeavor.
The Rediscovery of Super Glue
It wasn’t until 1951 that Dr. Coover’s invention gained traction. While working for Eastman Kodak, Dr. Coover oversaw a project to create a heat-resistant acrylate polymer for jet canopies.
To his surprise, one of his colleagues, Fred Joyner, was currently working on that project and tried out the Super Glue solution by applying ethyl cyanoacrylate between two refractometer prisms. The prisms bonded firmly together to their astonishment.
This time, Dr. Coover didn’t throw out the cyanoacrylate (Super Glue), but rather saw its enormous potential: a product that would instantly connect to a range of materials and only need a little water to activate, which is usually in the items being joined itself.
Commercialization of Super Glue
Super Glue was first sold by Eastman Kodak in 1958 and was known as the less memorable name of “Eastman #910,” although they subsequently renamed it “Super Glue.” The original brand, Eastman #910, was quickly licensed to Loctite, who rebranded it as “Loctite Quick Set 404.” However, Loctite then developed their own variant, naming it “Super Bonder”.
By the 1970’s, there were numerous manufacturers of cyanoacrylate adhesives with Eastman Kodak, Loctite, and Permabond accounting for around three-quarters of all “Super Glue” sales.
In 1982, a new improved formula using ethyl cyanoacrylate was introduced and labeled simply as “Super Glue,” which is the version most commonly used today.
Saving Lives: Medical Use of Super Glue
Although most recognized for mending pottery, household products, and other material, super glue also became important during the Vietnam War. During the war, Dr. Coover created cyanoacrylate sprays for use on the battle field after testing the compound’s ability to stop bleeding.
In wartime, the biggest problem a solider had with a bleeding wound was getting to the hospital without bleeding out. Many soldiers died because they bled to death. Using the super glue spray, Dr. Coover created, medics could stop the bleeding and get wounded soldiers to the base hospital. Many lives were saved with super glue.
The life saving aspect of super glue is one of Dr. Coover’s proudest accomplishments with his invention. Interestingly, the USA’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had not given approval for the glue’s medical use at that time. However, the military used it regardless (Hayes, Sharon Caskey. “Discovery of Super Glue helped land Coover in National Inventors Hall of Fame,” Kingsport Times-News, July 11, 2004).
How Does Super Glue Work?
Modern cyanoacrylate (aka super glue or crazy glue) is an industrial adhesive that is used to bond materials. Cyanoacrylate glue forms a strong bond when it comes in contact with both the materials being glued. The curing time of cyanoacrylate is less than five seconds, which makes it one of the fastest glues out there. It has the ability to stick to various surfaces, including plastics, glass, metal, rubber, foam rubber, fabrics and many other items.
However, cyanoacrylate is a contact adhesive. Therefore, you need to make sure that both the materials being glued are in direct contact with each other for it to work. It will only stick where surfaces touch. For example, if there is air between two items then this glue won’t be able to bind them together.
Interestingly, for super glue, crazy glue, or cyanoacylate adhesive to work, it must be exposed to some amount of water moisture to activate. If cyanoacrylate is applied to a surface and then exposed to dry air, it will take much longer for the adhesive to harden. The water in humid conditions or from the bonding materials themselves helps activate this chemical reaction needed for bonding.
When You Shouldn’t Use Super Glue
Cyanoacylate adhesives may be used on various materials; however, there are some surfaces that should not be used with this adhesive. For example, cyanoacrylate shouldn’t be applied to leather or silk materials because they can become discolored and damaged by the glue chemicals
Cyanoacylate is also not recommended for use on surfaces that are exposed to high temperatures since heat can disrupt the bond. This may include metals or polymers that are exposed to high heat.
Cyanoacrylate is also not recommended for use on surfaces that are exposed to sunlight because it can discolor, change texture, and/or lose strength when in exposed ultraviolet (UV) light.
Read on below for more fun facts about super glue!
Super Glue Fun Facts
You can start a fire with super glue
When a sufficient amount of cyanoacrylate is exposed to cotton or wool fabric, the material will catch fire as a result of the anionic polymerization reaction–which evaporates water and produces a lot of heat, e.g., an exothermic reaction.
This is a fantastic concept to bear in mind during survival situations, especially if you need to start a fire. With cyanoacrylate, you can have a quick way to mend bleeding wounds, as well as a way to start a fire with commonly found wool or cotton fabric. This also means that you should be careful when applying Super Glue to fabric surfaces that are in contact with your skin, which could lead to burn injuries.
Super glue is really, really strong
When applied under optimal conditions, a 1-square inch surface bound together with super glue can hold a ton of force under tension. In a famous experiment, super glue bonding a metal surface on a crane to the top of a car allowed the crane to lift the car off the ground without the glue coming apart (source).
How to free skin bonded with super glue
Never try to pull bonded skin apart, tearing of the skin can occur as a result of forced separation. Try and dislodge as much of the dried glue from the skin as possible. This usually means using a scraping motion to rub off the glue residue. Then, you should immerse your hands (or whatever affected skin region) in warm soapy water and use a dull instrument to separate the bond.
Use water to strengthen a super glue bond
Super glue works instantly when exposed to water. When the hydroxyl ions in water interact with cyanoacrylate (super glue), the resin rapidly forms chemical chains that hardens into a strong and durable mesh like compound. In fact, without enough moisture in the air or on the bonding material, super glue won’t work well or at all.
Variants of super glue has robust medical utility
Super glue is an incredible wound closure agent. On some types of minor, small wounds, super glue variant adhesives outperform traditional suturing by lowering the chance of infection, speeding up healing time, and alleviating cosmetic issues, e.g., less scarring.
Best Super Glue for Miniatures and Models?
Super glues are commonly referred to as instant adhesives, CA (cyanoacrylate) glue or Krazy Glue®. Super glues are very strong and fast-acting adhesives. For miniatures and models, it’s important to find a glue that is strong enough to keep the two pieces together.
I’ve found that the best types of glue for miniatures and model crafts are cyanoacrylate glues, which are “super glues” because they quickly polymerize when applied to the surface. Below you’ll find my top 5 recommended super glues for miniatures and models.
This is a very popular super glue for assembling miniatures made of plastic, pewter (white metal), or resin. If you need a fast-setting, versatile glue that bonds a wide range of materials then this is just what you’re looking for.
The gel formula gives you more control over where the glue goes; in other words, it won’t run all over the place. The best part is that it dries quickly within 10-45 seconds. Be careful of your fingers getting stuck together!
Loctite Super Glue Ultra Gel Control is a great glue for any hobbyist. It bonds to nearly all materials, even paper and cardboard (papercraft terrain, anyone?). It even works on vertical surfaces because of its thicker viscosity, e.g., no running and dripping.
Loctite has created a patented design for it’s bottle with side-squeeze tabs, which maximizes the amount of glue dispensed, guaranteeing you only get what you need. ou won’t need clamps to hold parts together while this dries, as the bond Loctite super glue forms is instantaneous!
The special rubber-like cyanoacrylate formula makes this glue stand up to shock, vibration and extreme temperatures. There’s less risk of your miniatures and models falling apart when you’re playing during that all important tournament far from home.
This is my favorite super glue and provides the best value for your money. This large bottle of cyanoacrylate has lasted me months and helped me assembly entire armies of Warhammer and Age of Sigmar models.
The Gluemaster is a high strength cyanoacrylate resin that cures quickly, under 60 seconds. The thick viscosity is well-balanced for good flow and control. Using this glue is the epitome of easy when it comes to assembly miniatures.
With thicker super glue, you still have a good predictable flow to get the job done, but without the mess of glue sliding and running over unwanted areas. For small scale modeling, this is definitely my super glue of choice for most projects.
When you’re assembling miniature kits, sometimes parts don’t fit flush, which leaves annoying gaps between pieces. You try using a recommended gap filler, such as Vallejo Plastic Putty (which I use often), or try Bob Smith Industries INSTA-CURE+. This cyanoacrylate (or CA) is perfect for loose fitting joints that don’t fit flush with each other. Bob Smith Industries CA glue bridges gaps and fills in empty spaces between parts.
Insta-Cure+ gap filler work fast after application to surfaces, curing in about 5 to 15 seconds.
To prevent the glue from drying too quickly when trying to bond large surfaces, don’t spread it out into a thin layer. Instead, create a serpentine bead and place the larger parts together. The glue will help fill in air pockets and gaps between the joined pieces.
In my opinion, Zap-A-Gap Adhesives are great for any plastic or metal models, such as those for Warhammer 40k, Warmachine, or other gaming miniatures. Be mindful when using this or any super glue, because it will instantly bond to your skin.
The included applicator helps you dispense a smaller amount of glue and gives you a lot of control over where it goes. Overall, any hobbyist would this super glue as Zap-A-Gap can build up between poor fitting joints and fill gaps between pieces so you don’t have to worry about the joined surfaces being uneven.
How to Use Super Glue on Miniatures?
For gaming miniatures such as for Warhammer 40k, super glues can be perfect for attaching small pieces together quickly without having to hold them in place for a long time.
The key with super glues is to use as little as possible, apply it to one surface, and hold the pieces together until the glue dries completely. Remember, some moisture is required for super glues to work well.
If your super glues fails to bond properly, or takes a long time to dry, try using a glue bonding accelerant like zip-kicker, or add moisture, either with a dab of your saliva or a very tiny bit of water.
This history of how Super Glue came to be shows that it is a very useful and versatile product. It’s interesting to see how it evolved from being used in military applications, to medical purposes in emergency situations, and then to being used by hobbyists to assemble model kits and miniatures.
Check out this article to see how you can use super glue with ramen noodles to repair gaps, cracks, and broken furniture.
I’m quite sure super glue is one of those products we all take for granted. And, it shows by the fact that its history is relatively unknown. Of course, hopefully, you’re convinced that Super Glue is worth keeping around whether it is for your hobby, arts and crafts, or for those other unexpected situations.
Do you have a favorite super glue for your hobby projects? What is the weirdest use you’ve found for super glue? Leave a comment below.
Until next time, happy (super) gluing!