How to Unglue Wood: Step-by-Step Guide

Learn how to break wood glue joint
How to Unglue Wood Image

Wondering how to unglue wood?

As a professional woodworker, here are four methods that work fast and effectively when unglueing wood furniture.

Let’s cut to the chase;

How to Unglue Wood in 4 Ingenious Ways

Supplies/Materials

You will need the following tools and/or materials to unglue your woodworks using the steps in this masterpiece:

  • Awl or Drill
  • 1/8-inch or smaller drill bit
  • Syringe
  • Warm water
  • Acetone or denatured alcohol
  • Heat gun
  • A knife
  • Hammer 
  • Crowbar or Flat-Bar

How to Break Wood Glue Joint

If your trouble is to get glued joints apart, here are the best ways to unglue wood without damaging the surrounding woodwork. 

Rest assured that the methods I have in this article will break or soften the glue bond and you will not necessarily need to forcefully pull the wood pieces at the joints.

Let’s get started.

Method 1: How to Unglue Wood Using a Heat Gun

Before attempting this method, be warned that using a heat gun to separate glue joints is risky as you can scorch the wood and might not be able to reuse it.

Step 1: Heat the Area Around the Joint With a Heat Gun

Image courtesy of diynetwork

Power on your heat gun.  And hold it 6 inches away from the joint while moving it around the entire joint area. 

Continue hovering the heat gun over the joint while holding the joint together (don’t squeeze tightly) until the glue is hot. 

Ensure that you’re not heating one area, or you’ll damage the woodwork. 

You can use a hairdryer in case you don’t have a heat gun.

Step 2: Work a Flat Tool Into the Joint

Now that the glue is already hot, use a knife or a metal wedge to penetrate the glued joint. Carefully work it through while still hovering the heat gun over the joint. 

Heating the joint while wiggling a knife through will help you break the glue adhesive quickly as it will not dry up.

Remember to clean the glue build-up on your flat wedge using a rag.

Image courtesy of loctite

Step 3: Pull the Joint Apart

Once you realize that you have cut through all the glue adhesive, the joint should be loose. Pull the two pieces of wood apart to separate the joint before the glue dries up and you shall have unglued wood joints using a heat gun.

Method 2: How to Unglue Wood Using Denatured Alcohol

In this step, you’ll require a syringe and denatured alcohol (methylated spirits) – not whiskey (just kidding). Be warned that denatured alcohol is not for consumption because it contains some additives. Be sure to keep it away from children.

To add, ensure that you’re working in a well-ventilated area when using denatured alcohol.

Step 1: Inject Acetone or Denatured Alcohol Into the Wood Joint

Using a syringe, suck up some denatured alcohol and place the dropper against the joint you want to detach.

Press down the top of the syringe to force out the alcohol into the joint. 

Keep in mind that denatured spirit will not break the glue adhesive quickly as it will happen when using a heat gun. You’ll need to repeat this step until the joint is soaked with alcohol.

Step 2: Wiggle a Knife Into the Joint After Five Minutes

Next, allow about 5 minutes so that the wood joint can get saturated with alcohol. Afterward, use a flat wedge or knife to twitch through the joint.

It is advisable not to force the knife through the wood to avoid injuries or damage. Instead, work the knife on the edge of the wood joint until it penetrates seamlessly.

Step 3: Spray More Alcohol in the Joint as It Opens

Spray more alcohol in the joint because the longer the denatured alcohol settles on the glued joint, the more it soaks, and the glue bond will be broken. Continue working the knife to loosen the glue.

Step 3: Pry the Joint Open

Continue wiggling the knife to scrape away the glue adhesive. Soon enough, you should be able to pull the two woods apart.

Method 3: How to Unglue Wood by Prying the Wood Apart

Image courtesy of homedizine

I have included this method in this piece but be warned that you should only use it if you don’t mind destroying your woodwork or don’t plan to use the woods later. 

Again, because it requires force and energy, I prefer to use it on simple or basic joints like basic butt, mitered butt, and a few times on half-lap joints.

Here, you’ll need a hammer and a crossbar or a flat bar.

Step 1: Hammer the Flat End of a Crowbar or Flat-Bar in Between the Joint

Place the flat end of your crowbar or the flat-bar between the wood joint and hit the other side of the bar using a hammer. Be careful not to apply a lot of energy or force while hitting.

Pound the crowbar to dive into the joint at least 3-4 inches deep.

Step 2: Pull Down on the Opposite End of the Crowbar

Now pull down the crowbar by applying some pressure on the rear end of the bar to pry it apart. That’s it. 

If you did this gently, you should have your two sets of wood separated without or with little damage.

Method 4: How to Unglue Wood Using Hot Water

Image courtesy of woodhappen

This method is not the quickest of the above methods, but it can still get the job done pretty well. 

Also, the method will not be effective on all types of glue. If you find that the glue adhesive can’t be broken using hot water, simply switch to white vinegar, acetone or denatured alcohol.

You can use an awl to excavate around the joint to find out the type of glue that was used.

I realized that white glue breaks apart more easily than epoxy or urethane.

Here, you will need the following supplies:

  • Hot/warm water
  • Syringe
  • Awl or a drill

Step 1: Using a drill with a ⅛-inch bit, drill 3 or 4 evenly spaced joints into the joint. You can have the holes run about ¾ inch into the joint or perhaps make sure that the holes penetrate the glue for hot water to be effective.

Step 2: Fill the syringe with warm water and inject it into the holes you just drilled. Wipe off any spills using a rag. If the hot water dries out, redo this step. 

Step 3: After 10 to 20 minutes, gently twist the wood to loosen the joint. You can inject more water if the joint is still hard. Be sure to give it a few more minutes before you twist it. This time, you can use a hammer to separate the joint smoothly.

Alternative Methods To Unglue Wood

The methods mentioned above were my favorite because they worked just fine. However, I also found the following to be the best alternatives of the 4 methods if by any chance you’ll lack the needed tools for any of them.

  • Ammonia: Using the same steps as illustrated in method 2 (How to Unglue Wood Using Denatured Alcohol), you can use Ammonia to loosen glue adhesive. However, you must be careful when using it because Ammonia is corrosive. You must conduct the procedure in a well ventilated room.
  • De-Glue Goo: De-Glue Doo is a product created by Larry McNeil. It is an excellent option for loosening wood glue. However, when using it, you’re supposed to apply a heavy coat on the glue. It takes between 15 to 30 minutes,clean it off, and you’ll have your wood unglued.
  • Vinegar: Non-diluted vinegar can as well be used to dissolve wood glue. Maybe you are asking how? You just need a syringe and a rag or a flat wedge which you’ll use to penetrate it through the joint. The best part is that you don’t need a lot of it to separate the joint because of its acidity.

Cleaning up Your Wood After Detaching

Now that you have learned how to unglue wood without damaging your woodwork, I will walk you through the steps for cleaning up the wood after breaking the wood glue adhesive.

The two cleaning methods to use include:

  • Cleaning wet glue from wood after separation of joint
  • Cleaning dried glue from wood after separation of joint

Let’s get to it.

1. Cleaning Wet Glue From Wood After Separation Of Joint

If you have just separated the joint and have excess wet glue spills on the wood, don’t panic. Follow the following steps:

  • Get hot water and a clean cloth.
  • Wet the cloth and ring out in an up swiping motion
  • Leave the wood to dry.

2. Cleaning Dried Glue From Wood After Separation Of Joint

Most of the above glue loosening methods will leave some glue residue on your wood and below are some of the best methods for cleaning dried glue from wood after separation of joints.

  • Acetone: Acetone, also known as Propanone or Nail Polish remover is a corrosive and flammable chemical that must be used with caution. Before using acetone to clean dried glue residues or remove permanent marker from wood, ensure you have gloves on you, a respirator and glasses for your safety. If you have geared up, use a cloth or rag to rub Acetone on any remaining wood glue and it will be cleaned. To add, don’t use this chemical on stained wood else it’ll remove the stain.
  • Use a Knife: A putty knife can come in handy if you want to clean up dried wood glue. Just don’t press too hard because you might gouge the wood.
  • Sanding: This is the most used method for cleaning up excess dried wood glue. You can sand with 300 Grit sandpaper, a Fine Grit sanding block or use a 220 Grit sandpaper.
  • A Chisel is also another tool that you can use to scrape off dried wood glue though you need to be aware of beware of gouging the woodwork.

How to unglue wood glue FAQs

1. How Do You Remove Wood Glue Without Damaging Wood?

Vinegar is acidic, but it is the safest and non-toxic way of removing glue from wood without damaging it. All you need to do is soak a rag in vinegar and rub the glued joints to loosen the glue then clean it off.

2. How Do You Soften HardWood Glue?

How you soften hardwood glue depends on the type of glue that was used. If you realize that it is yellow or white glue, use white vinegar to soften it quickly. It is hard to soften polyurethane-based glue and epoxy.

3. How Does Vinegar Remove Wood Glue?

Vinegar removes or softens wood glue because of its acidic properties. Just soak a rag or cloth in undiluted vinegar and pat it on the dried glue to dissolve it. If the wood glue doesn’t dissolve, warm the vinegar and the glue will be removed quickly.

4. What Dissolves Dried Wood Glue?

Hot water, white vinegar, or Acetone will quickly dissolve white glue. Vinegar alone can be used to dissolve hide glue. Acetone or denatured alcohol can come in handy if epoxy or urethane was used to glue the joint.

5. Can You Unglue Wood?

Yes, you can unglue wood using either denatured alcohol, hot water, or a heat gun together with a knife or flat wedge. You can also use a hammer and a crowbar or Flat-Bar.

Read: What can I use to glue wood instead of wood clamps?

Conclusion

By following the methods and the steps in each method carefully, you’ll find that it is not such a big problem to unglue wood or rather dissolve traces of adhesive from wood.

With these simple hacks, you’ll be able to separate even the strongest joints in woodworking just like I was able to unglue 4 dovetail joints in less than 30 minutes using the heat gun method.

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