Repair of Wood Aircraft Structures – Suitable Wood (Part Two)

in Aircraft Wood and Structural Repair

Glues (Adhesives)

Because adhesives play a critical role in the bonding of aircraft structure, the mechanic must employ only those types of adhesives that meet all of the performance requirements necessary for use in certificated aircraft. The product must be used strictly in accordance with the aircraft and adhesive manufacturer’s instructions. All instructions must be followed exactly, including the mixing ratios, the ambient and surface temperatures, the open and closed assembly times, the gap-filling ability, or glue line thickness, the spread of the adhesive, whether one or two surfaces, and the amount of clamping pressure and time required for full cure of the adhesive.


AC 43.13-1 provides information on the criteria for identifying adhesives that are acceptable to the FAA. It stipulates the following:

  1. Refer to the aircraft maintenance or repair manual for specific instructions on acceptable adhesive selection for use on that type aircraft.
  2. Adhesives meeting the requirements of a MILSPEC, Aerospace Material Specification (AMS), or Technical Standard Order (TSO) for wooden aircraft structures are satisfactory, providing they are found to be compatible with existing structural materials in the aircraft and fabrication methods to be used in the repair.

New adhesives have been developed in recent years, and some of the older ones are still in use. Some of the more common adhesives that have been used in aircraft construction and repair include casein glue, plastic resin glue, resorcinol glue, and epoxy adhesives.

Casein glue should be considered obsolete for all aircraft repairs. The adhesive deteriorates when exposed to moisture and temperature variations that are part of the normal operating environment of any aircraft.

NOTE: Some modern adhesives are incompatible with casein adhesive. If a joint that has previously been bonded with casein is to be reglued using another type adhesive, all traces of the casein must be scraped off before a new adhesive is applied. If any casein adhesive is left, residual alkalinity may cause the new adhesive to fail to cure properly.

Plastic resin glue, also known as a urea-formaldehyde adhesive, came on the market in the middle to late 1930s. Tests and practical applications have shown that exposure to moist conditions, and particularly to a warm humid environment, under swell-shrink stress, leads to deterioration and eventual failure of the bond. For these reasons, plastic resin glue should be considered obsolete for all aircraft repairs. Discuss any proposed use of this type adhesive on aircraft with FAA engineering prior to use.

Resorcinol glue, or resorcinol-formaldehyde glue, is a two-component synthetic adhesive consisting of resin and a catalyst. It was first introduced in 1943 and almost immediately found wide application in the wood boatbuilding and wood aircraft industry in which the combination of high durability and moderate-temperature curing was extremely important. It has better wet-weather and ultraviolet (UV) resistance than other adhesives. This glue meets all strength and durability requirements if the fit of the joint and proper clamping pressure results in a very thin and uniform bond line.

The manufacturer’s product data sheets must be followed regarding mixing, usable temperature range, and the open and close assembly times. It is very important that this type of glue is used at the recommended temperatures because the full strength of the joint cannot be relied on if assembly and curing temperatures are below 70 °F. With that in mind, higher temperatures shorten the working life because of a faster cure rate, and open and closed assembly times must be shortened.

Epoxy adhesive is a two-part synthetic resin product that depends less on joint quality and clamping pressure. However, many epoxies have not exhibited joint durability in the presence of moisture and elevated temperatures and are not recommended for structural aircraft bonding unless they meet the acceptable standards set forth by the FAA in AC 43.13-1, as referenced earlier in this section.

Definition of Terms Used in the Glue Process

  • Close contact adhesive—a non-gap-filling adhesive (e.g., resorcinol-formaldehyde glue) suitable for use only in those joints where the surfaces to be joined can be brought into close contact by means of adequate pressure, to allow a glue line of no more than 0.005- inch gap.
  • Gap-filling adhesive—an adhesive suitable for use in those joints in which the surfaces to be joined may not be close or in continuous contact (e.g., epoxy adhesives) due either to the impracticability of applying adequate pressure or to the slight inaccuracies of fabricating the joint.
  • Glue line—resultant layer of adhesive joining any two adjacent wood layers in the assembly.
  • Single spread—spread of adhesive to one surface only.
  • Double spread—spread of adhesive to both surfaces and equally divided between the two surfaces to be joined.
  • Open assembly time—period of time between the application of the adhesive and the assembly of the joint components.
  • Closed assembly time—time elapsing between the assembly of the joints and the application of pressure.
  • Pressing or clamping time—time during which the components are pressed tightly together under recommended pressure until the adhesive cures (may vary from 10 to 150 pounds per square inch (psi) for softwoods, depending on the viscosity of the glue).
  • Caul—a clamping device, usually two rigid wooden bars, to keep an assembly of flat panel boards aligned during glue-up. It is assembled with long bolts and placed on either side of the boards, one on top and another below, and parallel with the pipe/bar clamps. A caul is usually finished and waxed before each use to keep glue from adhering to it.
  • Adhesive pot life—time elapsed from the mixing of the adhesive components until the mixture must be discarded, because it no longer performs to its specifications. The manufacturer’s product data sheet may define this as working time or useful life; once expired, the adhesive must not be used. It lists the specific temperature and quantity at which the sample amount can be worked. Pot life is a product of time and temperature. The cooler the mix is kept, within the recommended temperature range, the longer it is usable.