Wood, Metal, and the Glue that Binds Them

In the continuing saga of the Wicked Circus Tin, we come to my decision to cover the outside of the tin with wood.

Various WoodsWood by Many Names

For covering my tin, I used bass wood. My choice was based on the following facts: 1) I’m comfortable working with bass wood; 2) it’s light weight (but not as soft as balsa); and 3) I have a small ton of it stashed away (all from the Northeastern Scale Lumber Co.).

But there are numerous types of wood that will work (and at least one that won’t). In the example below, I used a variety of wood choices — everything from bass wood to matchsticks to a very thin mahogany.

Here’s a tip about very thin mahogany: it doesn’t like sticking to metal.

woodsiesOne source of cheap wood that works well is “Woodsies.” Sold by the bag, these are bits of hardwood (birch?) designed for craft purposes and usually found in the “kid’s crafts” section of craft stores such as Michael’s. Popsicle sticks also work.

various gluesOne Glue To Bind Them
Most standard white glues (such as Elmer’s and Aleen’s) will form a bond between metal and wood, but an incredibly fragile one. Cyanoacrylate glues (CA), such as “Super Glue” and “Zap”, form a slightly stronger bond, but with a low shear strength (which is a problem for this project — more on that in the tutorial below).

Enter the Big Gun: Gorilla Glue. Because of fume inhalant concerns and just plain messiness issues, Gorilla Glue is overkill for most craft tasks. But when you need a bond that’s going to hold up to some pretty serious manhandling, it’s a great choice.

Even knowing how well Gorilla Glue works, I wasn’t convinced the bond would withstand the abuse I planned to heap upon my final project. Which is why the tin I’m using in the tutorial below may seem to start in an abused condition — it’s the tin I used to test a variety of procedures (drilling holes, hammering the embossed logo, gluing wood).

– Altoids Tin
– Wood (Woodsies, popsicle sticks, matchsticks, etc. )
– Gorilla Glue
– Latex Gloves
– craft sticks, toothpicks, etc. for applying glue
– Saw
– Mitre/Chop Box (Optional)
– Rubber bands (for clamping)
– Wood Stain or Paint
– Sandpaper

prep the tinStep 1: Prepping the Tin
Use sandpaper to remove paint and rough up the tin where the wood is to be applied.

prepping the woodStep 2: Prepping the Wood
There are two ways to approach this step. You can either cut the wood to the finished size (this requires a good deal of precision) or you can cut the wood into approximately 1.5″ strips and trim the strips after they’ve been applied to the tin.

For my style of work, the second option is the way to go (I deal with enough “precise” work that I avoid it whenever possible).

applying glueStep 3: Applying the Glue

Select enough of your pre-cut wood to cover approximately 1/4 of the tin. Set the rest of the wood aside.

Follow the label directions for applying the glue. Use water to moisten both the tin and the wood and then apply the glue to both surfaces. Apply it as thinly as possible (which I was not good about in this demo, ergo the “yellow foam” you’ll see in later pictures). Allow both tin and wood to sit for approximately five minutes prior to attaching them.

Also note that I’m wearing latex gloves. Gorilla Glue is not kidding when it says it will stain your skin. It will. And if you happen to have some acrylic paint on your fingers and then you get Gorilla Glue on top of that paint, you might just find yourself scrubbing your skin with sandpaper so you can be presentable at some meeting you have to attend.

Not that that ever happened to me.

applying woodStep 4: Applying the Wood
After five minutes, apply the wood to the tin. Remember, you’re covering just 1/4 of the side of the tin.

rubberband clampStep 5: Clamp and Dry
Use a rubber band as a “clamp”. Surprisingly, this doesn’t have to be a super-tight or heavily weighted “clamp” — make sure the rubberband is soundly snug and you’re good.

Allow ample drying time. DO IT. I know waiting is hard, but I strongly recommend about eight hours. You’re about to really test the bond you just created and if you don’t allow the glue to thoroughly dry, you’re just going to wreck your project and you’ll have to start over at Step 1.

trimming the woodStep 6: Trim to Fit
Remove the rubber band and then use a saw to trim the wood level with the tin (as shown in the picture).

This is the step really tests the strength of your bond (and why the low shear strength of CA glue makes it a poor choice for this project). Gorilla Glue passed the test with flying colors. Other than the thin mahogany strips (which failed numerous attempts), none of the wood pieces budged during the rigorous sawing.

This step is also the reason for only covering 1/4 of the tin at a time. The sawing should be done with the blade resting on the tin, sawing outward (which is not possible if you cover the entire tin at once).

Sawing from the outside-inward actually increases the stress on the bond (not to mention it’s much tougher to trim to the right height when you don’t have top of the tin to act as a guide) and greatly increases the odds of you ending up with an unadorned tin in your hand and little strips of wood littering the floor of your workroom.

trimmed woodRepeat Steps 3-6 three more times or until you’ve gone all around the edge of the in.

If desired, use the same process to cover the top of the lid. The top of the lid can be done all at once.

finished Step 7: Apply Finish
Finish the wood as desired. Be aware, while the dried Gorilla Glue can be stained, it does not take stain the same way as wood does. So, if you get glue on your the wood, there will be variations in the color. This worked for me (I actually used glue to paint a “wear pattern” onto the wood, so that it wouldn’t be evenly stained), but if you don’t want a distressed look, either be super careful with the glue or use a paint finish. 🙂

If you’re wondering about covering the bottom edge of the tin with wood, well, yes, you can. But, and this is the “but” that kept me from doing it, the finished tin will only open as far as a 90-degree angle. If you want your tin to open fully, do not apply wood to the bottom side where the hinges are.

If you do decide to cover the bottom sides of the tin with wood, go ahead and apply the wood with the tin closed (to correctly line up the strips), but open the tin while the glue is drying — nothing like ruining a project by gluing it shut!

The next and final installment of the Wicked Circus Twin saga: When Mistakes Influence Design

4 comments for “Wood, Metal, and the Glue that Binds Them

  1. Carolyn
    April 5, 2011 at 10:35 pm

    What a clever idea to use wood siding – it does look like alot of work!

    • Jivvy
      April 6, 2011 at 6:16 pm

      It’s really not bad “work-wise.”

      However, it’s quite painful “waiting-wise.” 😀

  2. Lisa
    June 7, 2012 at 9:57 am

    I’ve wondered for years on how to flatten the embossed lid on altoid tins (makes me wish I had saved them back when they still had a flat top!)
    What method did you use? How did you get it flat without denting the crap out of the lid?
    By the way, I found you through Craftster (sewing matchbook project) – your work is absolutely incredible!!!
    Inspirational (as in I hope to be half as good someday!)

    • Jivvy
      June 7, 2012 at 10:08 am

      Ah, my flattening method is tried and true. It’s called “being a hoarder.” 😉

      At the time of this project, I had one or two of the old flat tins in my stash. Sadly, I don’t think there’s any way to get the embossed lids pleasantly flattened or even slightly smoothed.

      Thank you for your kind comments.

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