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15 years of glue

I was talking to Puppets in Melbourne‘s Naomi the other day via our twitter (come along, join the fun!) and we got to discussing types of glue we use and prefer. And although it was informative in tiny 140 character chunks, I figured I should expand and share my 15 years of gluing experience to others in the puppet building way…

We make puppets in any number of ways, we’re not a one puppet type company. We’ve made finger puppets, hand puppets, hand and rod muppet type puppets, shadow puppets, toys as puppets, bunraku type table top puppets, marottes, marionettes and other, random types of guys that don’t really fit into any one puppet type but did what we needed them to do and we were ok with that. And the point of this long and badly grammarised list is that we make lots of different types of puppets out of lots of different types of materials and different glue is needed for different things. So here is a list of glue types, what they’re for, how they dry and what you could use them for.

CONTACT ADHESIVE We use this a lot. A very lot. Contact adhesive is for foam, cardboard and can be used for metal rods as well. IF you’re making a hand and rod puppet out of foam, this is the glue for you. We use a gel formula, which means that it’s non drip, which is really handy for all the odd and weird angles you’ll end up gluing when building your puppet. Although it’s perfect for foam it can bleed through thinner materials (like thin felt you might be using to skin the puppet) so be wary of that. Test it first if you’re worried on a scrap. It’s usually a yellowy colour and will dry that way, so be careful in the application so you can’t see it in the final product, however it is wonderfully flexible, which keeps it adhering to your foam no matter what bizarre shapes it gets bent into over it’s lifetime. It has a strong smell and it’s best to use outdoors or in a well ventilated area. These types of glue can be toxic, so read the warnings and actually heed them. Damn useful glue, lets hope in 30 years time it doesn’t turn out to be this generation’s asbestos or something.

HOT GLUE GUN This is our other staple. It’s much more versatile than the contact adhesive, you can use this pretty much for anything. Cloth, foam, paper, cardboard, metal rods, this glue does it all. However, it’s not all positive. It dries opaque white, so again try very very hard not to have it leak out to the top of your final product. It also dries in a less flexible wodge (depending on how much you put on) so it can break away from whatever you’ve glued if you’re a bit unlucky. The thicker wodge also will show up under paper, so avoid using it for gluing paper to card for sets or standies and you’ll probably see it under most materials too. It will soak through thinner materials, so it’ll look like a permanent damp patch. Bad for faces and hands. Always test it out first on a scrap to see what it’ll do. This little tip goes for any kind of gluing. It’s also hot when it squirts out of the gun. Very very hot. You will get burned by it at some stage. That’s a given. Be prepared, if you get yourself a good one, it’s gunna hurt like a massive burn. Which is what it will be. But it’ll probably leave a great blister you can gross your friends out with.

SPRAY ADHESIVE this is an awesome glue, but for very specific purposes. It holds paper to cardboard like a dream. For months. No lumps, no problems. It might start lifting after a while though, it’s not a permanent solution. But then, what is? It also holds material to cardboard for a short time, which is perfect for hand and rod puppet mouths to position the material in the right place without any wrinkles before hot gluing or contact adhesive-ing it underneath.

These three are the most useful glue for making puppets. But there are always a bunch more.

Super Glue (thanks to Naomi’s comment below for reminding me!) it a super strength grippy glue. But it has it’s downsides. Again, it dries white rather than clear, so it’s best to keep it away from visible places in the finished puppet. It also dries hard and pretty damn inflexible. In one of my puppet-making books it suggests to use superglue for seams when making puppet clothing, but I can’t see how that would be a good thing owing to superglue’s tendency to soak into fabric and turn white, plus it’s inflexibility when dry wont lend itself to clothing moving properly. It doesn’t glue everything to everything, no matter what the makers claim, and remember it was invented for medics in the battlefield, so it’s super awesomely good at gluing skin together. Keep your fingers clear! I know of a girl who once superglued herself to her car. Dreadfully embarrassing for all concerned.

PVA glue was created as a wood glue. As such it glues wood like a dream. As long as you dream of gluing wood I suppose. It’s also the glue you reach for if you’re making or repairing books. Which works as paper is just wood further down the manufacturing line. It’s super useful for paper mache, which is one traditional way of making puppets and most people have done it during primary school. It dries clear and sort of flexible, more flexible than hot glue, but it doesn’t hold as well to weird things like foam.

Foam (she says, diverting off topic for a moment) is a weird and thirsty subject. It’s impossible to paint in a normal manner, the foam, being a sponge, sucks up all the paint and you’re left with very very little on the surface. Dreadfully frustrating. If you’re looking to paint foam, go for the spray can approach. That covers the surface with your chosen colour and doesn’t give enough to soak in and disappear. Do test a patch first to ensure that the paint has no chemicals that will dissolve or pockmark the foam. You can also use an airbrush successfully, if you have an airbrush and can use it successfully. Use a mix of ink and water and you’ll be laughing. No need to buy expensive fabric paint! (Oh, if only someone would have told me that when I first started!) If you do find you need to paint your puppet with regular paint, use acrylic paint and mix it with latex. You can get this in craft stores. It’s usually pink or yellowy and dries to a weird transluncent orangey colour. It’s very flexible when dry and lends that flexibility to the paint you mix it with so that the paint doesnt crack and flake off with the movement of the foam.

Back to glue.

If you have hot glue, contact adhesive and spray glue, you’re pretty set for puppet making. Occasionally we use Araldite for set things, but with it’s total non-flexibility I wouldn’t use it to make puppets with. The only other type of glue we use for puppets is a CRAFT GLUE I bought at a fabric store. It’s perfect for glueing fabric to other things (cardboard, wood ect) and thus makes set-making pretty simple. It dries clear and with no thick wodge, so it works under thin things like material and paper and it’s nice and simple to use. I’d still test it on materials first because it can soak through thinner materials and again look like a wet patch even when dried.

So that’s your glue round up for the moment. Feel free to add others that I might have forgotten or don’t know about.

Good night and good luck.


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