RECORD CRACK: No. 008 – Wood glue cleaning experiment

  • If you are an information junkie as I am, then Twitter is definitely the place to consume anything and everything. In the last year, there has been a continued resurgence in records, whether as a format to listen to or as a collectible. A story that popped up a lot when it surfaced was the idea of being able to clean a record with nothing but wood glue. Wood glue? There have always been products out on the market to keep upkeep your record collection, whether it’s special brushes to brush off dust and lint, or different solutions that would aid in clearing out dirt and grit, products for the budget minder to those who wish to get very extravagant. Wood glue? I am not into crafts, when I think of wood glue, I think of something my mom would make, something my sister might use for a doll house, or when my dad was alive, maybe he would get involved with some project that involved it. But me? Pfftt, hell no. In the last few years, I’ve wanted to become more crafty, and not just in music related things. There’s a great magazine called Make, which takes a slight step back from the tech-savvy world we live in today and allows readers to get involved with do-it-yourself projects you can do at home, school, or anywhere. Now my dad, he was crafty in cars, where he could go to a junkyard, hunt down car parts and know from the pile of trash and metal what to find. That was not my thing, but lately I’ve wanted to get involved with trying something.

    While this article was not found in Make, it would fit in perfectly. It had to do with cleaning records with nothing but wood glue, the idea that when you place a layer of glue on the record, it will help to clean the record by seeping into the grooves and removing any dirt, grit, particles, or oils that are on the surface. This was perfect: my love of records combined with a DIY project. Awesome.

  • Not knowing a thing about wood glue, I went into Wal-Mart (yeah, I know) to find a bottle in the craft section, and was able to find a bottle. I went home and decided not to start it on that day, but the next. I knew what record I wanted to use, one that has been with me for almost 30 years. Growing up and being a fan of the drums, I fell in love with an album called Out Here (Blue Thumb) by Love. The thing is, when I found it, there was only one record so for years I only knew Side 2 and 3. It was Side 2 that featured the great song with a drum solo by George Suranovich, “Doggone”. I had never heard a drum solo like that before, the tympani/kettledrum creating sounds that were otherworldly. I wanted to be a drummer and play like that, and as hip-hop and its production entered my life, I wanted to create songs using that beat, especially the “funky break”. By the time I was able to create music on my own, I had discovered that “my beat” was known by others. Nonetheless, the record is significant for me as I’ve used it numerous times in my own music, and while I do have a cleaner pressing and the CD, this record has and will always stay with me until it cracks. To show you how nerdy I was, I would actually create my own messages in the run-off groove by using a pin and writing “Side One” on Side 2, and the bold “Side 3: FUCK YEAH” on the other side. It has “cue burn” from all the times I’ve scratched with it, so to be honest, I was not looking for revolutionary restoration, but the record was beat up, I really had nothing to lose. What I did not want to use was a new record, or even an older record that was cleaner. For one, the other articles I’ve read on this wood glue treatment showed that it was a success, so I figured I would be lucky.
  • One thing I did not do is capture video of my experience, but since what I did was a success (let me get that out of the way), I will do it next time. Most of the photos you’ll see in this article are taken from other sources (i.e. screenshots from YouTube videos), so I give them credit first and foremost.

  • First thing I did was get my Love album. Second thing: open up the glue. The instructions in the article about indicated that I should use a liberal amount of glue. I bought a 4 ounce bottle of Elmer’s wood glue, and I ended up using about 3 ounces total, but I place a few drops on the record first before I lathered it up. While I could have attempted to lather it manually, the instructions did indicate that it should be done using the turntable. I applied a piece of newspaper onto my turntable pat, trimmed the paper a bit so that it would fit properly. I did not want any glue on the turntable itself, although with a project like this, do expect for a small bit of it to drip onto it. Upon placing the record on, I placed more glue on the record as it spun around.
    Image and video hosting by TinyPic

    As you can see, this is why you test it on a junk/non-valuable record. Wood glue is safe to use without gloves, although if you are allergic to it, use the appropriate gloves. Anyway, once the glue is applied, you’ll want to smooth it out to cover the playing surface, everything but the record label for two obvious reasons:
    1) no music on the label itself
    2) peeling the glue mask afterwards will also peel the label. Unless you’re in an environment where other DJ’s are eyeing your records to see what vinyl you’re playing at the club, you do not need to peel your labels off.

    You can use a piece of cardboard or a plastic card, such as a discarded gift card, like this:
    Image and video hosting by TinyPic

    I do not recommend a regular piece of paper, for the glue may cake up onto the paper and may help spread the glue onto the turntable or turntable mat. You don’t want to take shortcuts with this procedure, so use something sturdy to “brush” the glue over the surface.
    Image and video hosting by TinyPic

    When you do this, make sure the glue is evened out as much as possible, no bubbling, although that might be hard to see when your record looks like the glue doughnut you see above. Once this is finished, remove the record from your turntable carefully. The glue is still wet, so a few drips may fall onto your player. This happened to me, but a bit of rubbing alcohol helped clean it up great. The instructions above stated that it would take 20 hours for the glue doughnut to create a mask that you can remove, so make sure you place it in an area where things will not fall on it, or if you have children, isolate it so your record will not end up stuck on the Playstation 3.

  • About four hours later, I noticed the hardening process was underway. The glue was still fairly even and not translucent, as it would end up being a few hours later when I was able to touch the dry surface. I could actually feel some grit coming through, so was this the glue at work? I would assume so. What I also noticed was that the outer edge of the record (the intro groove) had a ring of extra glue, and as I touched it, it was still sticky. At the time I wasn’t sure if this was okay or not, I didn’t know if the record surface would end up flaking off onto the glue. I let it go and let time do its thing, but I will say the glue did not peel off any part of the record.
  • The next morning, the glue layer was pretty much translucent, and after flicking off the edge a bit to test it, I decided it was time to peel the mask off. It had taken about two to three minutes to remove, but you’ll want to be careful nonetheless. The closest thing I could compare this to is when people apply a face mask, and when it’s dry, you can peel it off. Same thing here. In my case, there was still some glue residue in the inner and outer edges, but fortunately it can be removed with rubbing alcohol. This is another reason why you’ll want to use a non-essential record: if there is residue, you may have to use a bit of elbow grease to remove it completely, and that may include using your fingernail along the “grain” of the grooves.
  • I did not expect revolutionary results, not from this record. The surface didn’t become cleaner, and it sounds exactly the same. Maybe it was a bad choice to use this record, next time I’ll use one that has a bit more dusty and grit. Wood glue will not remove physical scratches, “dig marks”, or cue burn, it’s basically to clean what’s on the surface.
  • Before I started this, I did wonder something about the glue mask. Upon peeling it, I flipped it over and I basically made my own custom record, in that the glue preserved the grooves that it was on. Of course, this would mean that the “glue mask” would not only play backwards, but also sound backwards. Earlier this year, I highlighted an article about creating your own record molds, which would make it possible to get any record and press up your own, lo-fi copies. I figured this glue mask would be the next step down, but it would still be playable, right? Yes. This is what it looked like after the peel.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic

    Let me just say that I do not recommend playing the “glue mask” on your turntable, I will not be responsible for the damage to your turntable or needles. Play at your own risk. With that said, the glue mask will play, so center it on your turntable so that it does not warble. If the glue mask is warped slightly, it might hit your tonearm, so place it under something so that it will flatten, the process of which will take half an hour, if that. Be careful when you flatten it, since the glue mask is thin and brittle (like candy) and will crumble if not handled properly. I placed it in an unfolded cardboard box mailer, and then placed that under record storage boxes. Heavy books will do the job too. When flattened, you can now play it. I decided to place the needle where the funky break from the “Doggone” drum solo was. Click this link to hear the audio that was captured.

  • My first thought was that it sounds like those counterfeit pressings from Taiwan, where the crackle and surface noise can be louder than the music. At times the music would thin and drop out, and I believe that’s due to the thickness of the glue mask at any given time. I basically made my own backwards lo-fo flexi-disc, take that Eva-Tone.
  • The process is an interesting one, and I will try it again once or twice, but it is very time consuming, especially if your collection is more than ten records. There’s also a product out on the market called Record Devirginizer which uses the same principle, but is more expensive than wood glue. I normally use 91% isopropyl alcohol 91% to clean my records, as I found it a good and efficient way to clean vinyl since it evaporates quickly. Some cities and stores regulate the sale of 91% alcohol and may check for ID or the bottles may be behind the counter, as it seems that it is either used to create drugs (such as meth) or some will inhale its fumes.
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