NPF: STUCK TOGETHER

I'm going to keep this brief today while we (I) continue to reflect on yesterday's experiment in fiction. It is possible that I am the only non-stoned person on Earth to watch marathons of the Science Channel show How It's Made. It's a flashback to the grainy color films I saw in grade school when the teacher was hungover; shiny objects whizzing along on conveyor belts, a ballet of robots moving in unison, and the hands and tools of humans whose faces we rarely see. Look, it's not the most exciting programming but I find it perfect to have on in he background. It can easily be tuned out when I am focusing on writing or reading, or I can pay attention to it for a few minutes and learn something irrelevant but interesting.

Also, it's a nice throwback to when networks like The Learning Channel and Discovery had programs that weren't about motorcycles, people blowing shit up, and swamp truck log pickers or whatever.

If there is an episode of How It's Made that does not use a combination of the terms glue, resin, and epoxy at least ten times, I have not seen it. You could be a pedant and explain how those are not the same thing. I don't care. My point is that the lesson I take away from that show most often is that everything in the damn world is glued together. Things made of metal, wood, plastic, cloth, carbon fiber…it doesn't matter. It's all getting a "coat of resin" before it gets stuck to something else. Everything from coffee pots to billiard tables to appliances to boats is basically glued together, with a few screws here and there.

Now I have no scientific basis for judging whether this is good, bad, or irrelevant. It is a tad jarring, though, to realize that the whole world is held together by glue, as I associate gluing things together as a last resort second in laziness only to the application of duct tape.

Oh, and speaking of, can I interest you in a bumper sticker? See what I did here? That was the mother of all segues.

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22 Responses to “NPF: STUCK TOGETHER”

  1. jjack Says:

    As a person who once attempted a degree in Welding Engineering (before switching to Civil), the motto was "What is the best welding process? Don't weld it." They were considering changing the name of the program to "joining engineering." Point is, GLUE is the wave of the future, man.

  2. Warmbowski Says:

    I haven't seen that show, but I hope the segments are delivered on VHS by a half crazed delivery man, to a low key sweater-wearing guy talking to the camera, just before said camera zooms into a framed picture on the wall and fades into the segment.

    Speedy Delivery!!

  3. c u n d gulag Says:

    Is it me, or does "Krazy Glue" not glue as good as it used to?

    Seems like, 30-40 years ago, when that sh*t was first sold, it'd hold almost ANY two-three things together – and for a long time, too!

    Now, the only sh*t it holds together for any length of time, are my damn fingers.

    Maybe it's me…

    And yeah, like MTV and VH-1, Discovery and TLC now suck.
    But, then, maybe that's me, too…

  4. RosiesDad Says:

    Nice job, Ed. I'll stick the bumper sticker on my guitar case.

    I love epoxy. Came to love it when building Pinewood Derby cars with my son when he was 7 or 8. (Can't have the wheels fall off, can we?) Gorilla glue, cyanoacrylate, duct tape and don't forget good old Elmer's Carpenter's Glue. Things a 21st century man can't possibly live without. That and a good selection of C-clamps.

  5. Mike Says:

    "Now I have no scientific basis for judging whether this is good, bad, or irrelevant."
    You don't need a scientific basis. Ever tried to fix anything? Nine times outta ten it's impossible or made really difficult because something is glued together.

    Ex 1: The stick shift on my wife's 86 VW Jetta. The ball is epoxied to the stick (despite being threaded on as well). There is also a plastic arm epoxied to the side of the stick that fits into a slot under the shifter cover. This is the one that forces you to push in and fish around for reverse in the Volkswagen style of shifter.
    Should you break this plastic arm, the only way to get the stick out for replacement is to lift the car, drop the exhaust, and access the whole thing from underneath the console/linkage. Had the ball not been epoxied to the stick, it would have been a three minute job that you could do WITHOUT a screwdriver.

    Ex 2: Almost any cheap computer. Almost any apple computer.

  6. Matt Says:

    I find How It's Made fascinating as well – for bonus entertainment, try guessing how much whatever they're making *costs*. It's usually pretty easy – count the number of humans you see interacting with it vs. how many robots.

  7. JB in Walla Walla Says:

    An aside … my bumper sticker is currently adorning the front of my refrigerator in the place of honor next to my son's grades.

  8. StoneFoxx Says:

    I'm going to assume you're familiar with these little gems:

    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x8ffip_look-around-you-maths_fun#.UPlsGXOQ3bo

    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x68y4g_look-around-you-module-2-water_fun#.UPlsoHOQ3bo

  9. skyskier Says:

    I love the show but it also makes me a bit sad at the same time. The show is based in Montreal so they used their proximity to a vibrant manufacturing base to film and watch stuff being built. The sad part is that many of the processes filmed in those early years are now all gone. Matrox making video cards? Gone to China. Orage making their clothes in Canada? Gone to China. Compact disc making? Gone. Toilets, 3-d puzzles, cross-country skis, Louis Garneau products? Gone.
    Now it would be one thing if these films were made in the 1960's but we're talking about a little more than 10 years ago as the show started in 2001. This show is a great documentary on how we *used* to be able to make stuff.
    (Granted, they still make the beer and toothpicks at the same spot they did 10 years ago. woohoo.)

  10. Mike R Says:

    What have you got against duct tape? To quote Red Green, "it is the handyman's secret weapon. Because if the girls don't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy".

  11. Tom Says:

    Long time reader, first time poster.

    I may have something to add to this that might explain why glue is used for everything. I am currently a PhD student studying mechanical engineering with a specification in robotic system design. When building prototypes, the regular nuts and bolts because it allows the designer to pull the thing apart and reassemble a different way during the design phase. However, when the prototype is satisfactory, it's time to redesign with glue.

    Why? Glue has many awesome benefits to nuts and bolts or other ways of attaching parts. First, gluing makes assembly really, really easy – especially for robots. Manufacturing robots have a very hard time picking up and handling tiny parts such as screws. They can grab a panel and press it on to another part very easily though. In fact, if glue was all of a sudden outlawed, those robots would become dust collectors in an instant.

    The more amazing thing about glues, however, is that when they are used in the right way they are often times BETTER than more traditional methods. One benefit is that they are incredibly light. In one of my classes, we had a case study of an airplane that was being produced that was 100% glued together (I think Boeing was making it and it was a commercial plane, but the name escapes me). The reason they did this was that by getting rid of all the rivets, nuts, and bolts, they decreased their weight by a substantial amount which made the plane more fuel efficient.

    Glues can often be stronger than rivets or bolts. Many glues are created for specific purposes and to be used in conjunction with specific materials. Take acrylic glue for instance. Acrylic can be a clear material, so seams will be very glaring when trying to put two pieces together. With a glue made for acrylic, it actually makes a chemical reaction with the two pieces that temporarily melts both part faces and then when it dries it becomes one piece. Literally, one piece. You take two parts and essentially make it one part which is a much stronger bond than trying to hold two things together with a clamp or something.

    As consumers we often don't run in to these specialized glues and instead stick with Elmer's, super glue, or some epoxy because the people selling us these products know that we want something universal, something that will bond whatever to whatever. And that's why they often suck. But when you have the right glue for the right purpose, it's awesome.

    –Tom

  12. Bill Says:

    It's not glue, it's ADHESIVE.

    Also, I am "not stoned" and both my wife and I love watching How It's Made. Great show.

  13. mothra Says:

    I think Boeing was making it and it was a commercial plane, but the name escapes me.

    Dreamliner, maybe? The one that has been pulled out of use shortly after its launch because of unexplained fires? Not that the glue has anything to do with the fires…

    And the only thing I can contribute to this discussion is barge cement. Adhesive of the Gods.

  14. Andrew Says:

    Glues can often be stronger than rivets or bolts. Many glues are created for specific purposes and to be used in conjunction with specific materials. Take acrylic glue for instance. Acrylic can be a clear material, so seams will be very glaring when trying to put two pieces together. With a glue made for acrylic, it actually makes a chemical reaction with the two pieces that temporarily melts both part faces and then when it dries it becomes one piece. Literally, one piece. You take two parts and essentially make it one part which is a much stronger bond than trying to hold two things together with a clamp or something.

    Yes, I think that's probably the best application of glues that I can think of. I find myself frustrated when metal pieces are glued together, though, because no such chemical reaction occurs and the resulting join can basically be snapped by light pressure. I know it's not really a big deal in the grand scheme of things – but it's weird that I no longer look at metal items in a store as being more durable than their plastic counterparts. Sure, the individual pieces might last longer, but the joins are way, way shittier.

    Upside is that I've learned to solder fairly well.

  15. Jon Says:

    Glad you didn't make good on recycling your Archer rant.

  16. Mo Says:

    According to a book I'm reading [Women's Work], the term for "glue" is one of the ancient root words in the Uralic language group. popular in northern Europe since the Ice Age.

    pages 47-51, for those who want to check their copy.

  17. chautauqua Says:

    I love nuts and bolts. They just don't make anything as good as they used to, like, say, my pre-war Martin guitar. Oh, wait.

  18. Scepticus Says:

    I like the trumpet, trombone, and horn episodes. No glue involved. e.g. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTvYxP9tjQs

  19. ladiesbane Says:

    I love shows like that, because they remind me of faded filmstrips of the Alberta sugar beet factories, and because I don't want to live in a world without zinc.

    But glue is special. I repair delicate and vintage books, and because glues (or glue-like substances) are used to make many kinds of paper and surfaced papers, water alone can sometimes be used to repair them.

  20. EJ Says:

    @Mike Your rant about glued-together electronics reminds me of a friend of mine who repairs violins. One of his least favorite examples of the sort of thing he derisively refers to as "Yankee ingenuity" is when he runs across an instrument that has been taken apart and epoxied back together.

    Traditionally, you use hide-based glues for assembling a violin, because among their many virtues are the fact that they are less strong than the wood they bond to, so glued joints can be easily pried apart, whereas taking an epoxied instrument apart without damage is next to impossible.

    And yes, for cost reasons they use hide glues in a lot of modern plywood. They are comparatively weak compared to modern synthetic glues, plywood stays in one piece mainly because the glued area is so large.

  21. Chris Says:

    Wow, something I can speak on with authority- I got my PhD in Materials Science and Chemical Engineering with a specialization in polymers, and I have been working for 15 years with 3M, the most adhesive-intensive company on God's green Earth. It's always good to someone that notices bonding science because you're right- adhesive systems are everywhere. This is for the simple reason that composite materials tend to be much more useful than neat materials. Or, to put it more broadly, complex systems are generally more useful than simple systems. "Glued together" implies "patched together in a jury-rigged manner", but, really, complex, composite systems all need a little bonding to work out. After all, a femur is a femur, but stick it to a few ligaments, tendons, cartilage, and muscles, bind it to some other bones using a simple ball and socket fastening system, and you've got a part of Usain Bolt.

  22. Paul Says:

    I have a buddy who builds guitars, a master luthier, not just a guy in his garage. On an acoustic guitar, a good one, the bridge is glued to the top, and then something on the order of 1,000 pounds of pull is exerted on it when it's strung up. Screws aren't needed, or wanted, for that matter, except in the tuning pegs. When two pieces of wood are well joined, the joint is stronger than a single piece of wood.

    Anybody who wants a great sounding, one off guitar, he's the man to see, especially if you're in a dry climate. They're built in Colorado, and already acclimated for it.

    http://www.coguitar.com/jcbaxendaleguitars.php