If you’ve wandering the aisles at a home center or hardware store looking for "glue," you probably found that that once-simple word isn’t quite so simple any more.

Modern technology has given the do-it-yourselfer an amazing selection of adhesives for just about any material and application you can think of. That makes getting good results on your next home project that much easier, providing you select the right one.

So here’s a guide to some of the more common adhesives you’re likely to encounter, and where they’re best used:

White glue: One of the most common and safest glues, it is often referred to by one of its most common trade names: Elmer’s Glue. It bonds to wood, paper, cardboard, cloth, and a wide variety of other porous and semiporous materials. It’s easy to use and clean up, with a long working time, and is ideal for light-duty, interior repairs.

Yellow glue: This is the common name for aliphatic resin (AR) adhesive. AR adhesives have a thick, rather creamy consistency, and are an ideal choice for woodworking projects. There are both interior and exterior varieties; use the exterior if your work will be exposed to sheltered moisture conditions outside, or high humidity conditions inside, such as building a bathroom cabinet. However, exterior yellow glue is not completely waterproof, so it’s not for projects in full outside weather exposure. In addition to wood, AR adhesives can be used on paper, cloth and a variety of other porous surfaces.

Polyurethane: This is a waterproof adhesive that’s great for outdoor projects, including things like outdoor furniture, planter boxes and many exterior repairs. It bonds to wood, metal, ceramics, plastic, stone and a wide variety of other materials. It’s thick, with a long working time. On the downside, it’s more expensive than some of the other adhesives, and has a relatively short shelf life after it’s opened, so you might want to buy it in small quantities.

Epoxy: Epoxies come in two parts, a catalyst and a hardener, which are mixed together in equal parts before use. Epoxy forms a very strong bond, and sticks to just about anything. It fills gaps very well, and can be found in both liquid and solid (putty-like) formulations. The working time after mixing varies with the brand, but is usually around five to 10 minutes. Epoxy is expensive, but typically has a longer shelf life than polyurethane. You can also get epoxy in a syringe; as you squeeze the plunger, the two parts of the formula are mixed in a chamber in equal parts and dispensed.

Cyanoacrylate: Cyanoacrylate (CA), also called instant glue or, after one of its most common brand names, Super Glue, is one of the most popular of the household and shop adhesives. CA adhesives dry very quickly, and they work well on a wide variety of both porous and nonporous materials. CA adhesives are available in different thicknesses, and each one will have different gap-filling capabilities. You can also purchase an accelerator, which will dry the glue almost instantly, and solvents, which are highly recommended for ungluing stuck fingers.

Contact cement: Contact cement is applied to both of the surfaces being joined, and then is left to dry. The two glued surfaces are then brought into contact with each other, and the bond is instant and very strong. Contact adhesive is one of the best materials for gluing large flat surfaces such as plywood, plastic laminate, particleboard and other similar materials. Contact cement is somewhat sticky and messy to apply, and some types have a fairly strong odor and must be used with adequate ventilation. Both surfaces must fit well and be ready to be glued; once the two glued-up pieces contact each other, there’s no turning back.

Construction adhesive: Sold in tubes that fit in standard caulking guns, construction adhesive is used to bond a wide variety of common construction materials, including wood, masonry, metal, ceramics, foam insulation and drywall. The material is thick and sticky, and fills gaps well. There are different formulations for different materials, as well as for interior and exterior use, so be sure you’re getting the correct one.

Read the labels carefully

With any of these products, you really need to read the labels carefully if want to achieve good results. Each manufacturer will provide specific instructions on what materials the adhesive will bond to; what surface preparation is necessary; what the conditions should be during the application and drying period; what clamping is needed and for how long; what safety and cleanup precautions to take; and much more. If you have any questions, request a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) from the retailer or online store where you’re buying the product, or contact the manufacturer directly.

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