CA Glue Basics

Pen makers can use “CA” glue to finish their pen barrels, and works regardless of whether your pen barrels are wood, acrylic, or polymer clay. It even works fine with many standard polymer clay surface treatments.

CA glue is sometimes called Superglue or Crazyglue, but those are both specific brand names. “CA” comes from “Cyanoacrylate” (Wikipedia) — and no, there is no cyanide in it despite the “cyan” in the name. It’s an acrylic resin.

They form their bond when exposed to moisture, which means they bond very well and quickly to human skin, and also means that their bonding time is faster in humid air and slower in dry air. So if you live in a climate that swings between very dry and very wet, you will need to adjust your technique, and if you live in an exceptionally dry or humid area, be aware that you may end up with more or less time to work than what you see in videos.

All my “Before you start” with CA glue articles:

Safety

Take proper cautions around fumes, avoid having your skin glued together, and be careful of exothermic reactions, but remember that CA glues are agreed upon to generally be safe by the UK and US.

The next few posts after this one go into more detail on CA glue safety.

Shelf life

CA glue does not have a long shelf life. Opened it lasts for about a month (though Mercury says their bottles have caps that let them last longer) and unopened only about a year. Most people will want to buy the smallest bottle they can, as you don’t use very much on each pen.

If you do end up buying in bulk, you can put it in the refrigerator to increase the shelf life from 12 to ~15 months, but make sure it warms up throughly before you open it: condensation inside the bottle would start the bond and could ruin the bottle.

Brands of CA

Not all CA is created equally for pens. If you have had issues in the past with cracking or cloudy CA, it may have been how you were applying it but may also have been the brand.

Per the excellent information on Toni’s site, one of the key things to look for is a CA glue with “flex”, to reduce the chance that you will get cracks or spidering during stress. One example is PMMA (poly methyl methacrylate).

I chose to buy Bob Smith Industries CA glue due to the recommendation on Toni’s site: “Other brands such as super-gold by BSI use other ingredients which works even better.” I got the Supergold thin and Supergold+ Medium because I wanted odorless CA (see below.)

I’ve also heard good things about Mercury from some other polymer clay pen makers.

March 2020: I’ve since switched to Mercury, and wrote an article about why: CA glue: BSI Odorless vs Mercury Flex

Odorless CA

Odorless CA costs about twice as much, but (quoting from the Bob Smith Industries page on Supergold) “eliminates the irritating fumes from the evaporating monomer that make repeated use of CA unpleasant at times.” (But: see my article on CA Glue Safety: Fumes before assuming that Odorless CA or accelerator are perfectly safe.)

CA Accelerator

Because you’re just spreading CA on a surface, rather than pressing two pieces together, and then putting on multiple coats, you may find CA Accelerator useful. However, as I learned on Toni’s site, the ingredients in accelerators can cause some of the cracking/clouding problems.

Specifically, the page says, you want to avoid accelerators with acetone in them, and look for ones like Naptha and Heptane. If you aren’t sure, you need to find the manufacturer’s website, they will have the MSDS/SDS (Material Safety Data Sheets) there and you can read what’s in them. For example, here is the relevant part of the BSI accelerator’s SDS:

She recommends the following brands, but I suggest you click through to the page to see if there have been any new ones added, and to see the ones she is recommending against as well.

My preference is ones like the BSI InstaSet, because they aren’t an aerosol, but are a pump action. I explain why in my article on applying CA to the pen body.

Applying CA glue

While I have a longer article on this as well, the short and sweet is:

  • Your surface must be completely dry (so don’t pre-treat with something like modpodge)
  • You should have already sanded your blank to at least 800 grit, as any big scratches will be amplified by the glossy surface (just like what happens when you try to use resin on a scratched piece)
  • Getting CA off your bushings is a pain; if you have regular CA you can use plastic bushings that don’t bond to CA, but if you’re using odorless you will need to use paste wax on the bushings

For more information, see my article on applying CA to the pen body.

Safety: Fumes

If you are new to CA, I’d recommend reading my post on CA Glue Safety: Fumes for more detail on handling CA glue (including odorless) and accelerator safely.

Safety: Protecting Surfaces

If you’re thinking of getting gloves, you may want to read my post on CA Glue Safety: Protecting Surfaces.

Safety: Natural Materials

If you didn’t know you can get a chemical burn from CA glue and your jeans, you may want to read my article on CA Glue Safety: Natural Materials

I am very grateful to Tony Ransfield Street (Etsy) and Ed Street for posting a primer on using CA Glue when making polymer clay pens. While I’ve expanded on it here with what I’ve learned, theirs was the first really good information I was able to find and I appreciate their generosity.


All my “Before you start” with CA glue articles:


None of the information here is certified or warrantied in any way. I am a hobbiest and sharing the best information I’ve learned, but I may be 100% wrong on everything and your safety is always your responsibility and you should verify and confirm information for yourself. Where possible I have included links to serve as a starting point for research for you.

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