Wood Glue Vs. Construction Adhesive

Wood glue and construction adhesive are two different formulas. They may both be applicable for a given project, but subtle differences in application and function can make a difference in the outcome.

Carpenter applying glue to a piece of wood.

Wood glue and construction adhesive are two different formulas.  They may both be applicable for a given project, but subtle differences in application and function can make a difference in the outcome.


Wood glue, also known as carpenter's glue, polyvinyl-acetate-emulsion, or PVCs, hardens as it cures, bonding surfaces together.  It's easy to use and has a water-based formula that is considered environmentally friendly.

Wood glue can range in color from white to yellow.  It is primarily designed for indoor use.

Construction adhesives have a broad range of formulas ranging from water to solvent-based.  The tacky, thicker consistency of construction adhesive make them more applicable to larger projects, due in part to their ability to bridge gaps up to 1/16 inch.

With resistance to cold and wet conditions, construction adhesive can be used outside. 

Trim Application

Wood glue works better than construction adhesive on cabinetry, trim and most woodworking projects.  Wood glue penetrates better than construction adhesive to bond joints together, and when laminating wood.

It dries hard with little or no visible glue line.  Construction adhesive also bonds wood, but the bond is not as tight, and the consistency of the adhesive leaves a thick, unsightly line on the wood where pieces are joined.

Use wood glue to bond moldings or trim on mitered corners or to splice moldings.  Use construction adhesive to fasten the molding to the wall.

Construction adhesive fills cracks and inconsistencies between the wall and the trim.  The thick, tacky consistency, makes construction adhesive grip and hold longer pieces of molding to the wall.

Wood glue is too thin and dries too fast to be used in this manner. 


Use construction adhesive when bonding composite materials, plastic or metal to wood.  For example: use construction adhesive it to bond vinyl baseboard to cabinets or drywall.

The sticky formula has the initial grip that holds materials in place.  Wood glue won't stick to nonporous materials.

Wood glue is typically used for wood to wood contact only, and will not stick permanently to anything other than wood with the exception of paper and fabric. 

Floors and Framing

Subfloor materials such as particleboard, oriented-strand-board or plywood should be attached with construction adhesive.  The gap filling capacity, slower drying time, and the occasional wet or cold conditions make construction adhesive superior to wood glue for this application.

Construction adhesive works better than wood glue for joints on studs, beams or anywhere glue is needed during framing.  The thick formula fills cracks and bridges gaps on framing joints that are sometimes cut in haste, and assembled without a tight fit.

Wall Coverings

Some designs call for fabric or canvas to be attached to walls or frames.  Use wood glue to attach fabrics or canvas to wood.

Wood glue is preferred for this purpose due to it's ability to lay down flat.  Construction adhesive with it's thicker formula can create bumps, lines and creases in lighter materials.

For attaching paneling or larger sheets of building materials, construction adhesive works better than wood glue.  It dries slower, has the ability to stick to almost anything, and fills gaps and imperfections.

About the Author

Specializing in hardwood furniture, trim carpentry, cabinets, home improvement and architectural millwork, Wade Shaddy has worked in homebuilding since 1972. Shaddy has also worked as a newspaper reporter and writer, and as a contributing writer for Bicycling Magazine. Shaddy began publishing in various magazines in 1992, and published a novel, “Dark Canyon,” in 2008.

Photo Credits

  • Errol Brown/iStock/Getty Images
  • Errol Brown/iStock/Getty Images