How to Soften Glue in Wood Joints

Wade Shaddy

Restoring wooden furniture may be rewarding. Some joints come apart with a few gentle nudges or a few taps with a mallet, while others are more stubborn. If you try too hard, it's a safe bet you'll break something. Woodworkers employ a few tricks to help soften glue joints and allow them to separate.

Soften glue then tap gently to loosen joints.

Moisture Method

Moisture and heat softens glue joints. Some woodworkers drill a small hole in the joint and inject steam through a small tube. This works for older antiques that were assembled with organic hide glue, which was widely used in the past. If the steam doesn't loosen the joint, inject hot water or denatured alcohol through the tube and allow it to seep in. If you use alcohol, avoid getting it on the finish. If the water disappears, add more water until it's saturated. If it remains stubborn, use a vinegar-and-water solution or straight vinegar. If the joint breaks to expose the end of a dowel or tenon, drill a small hole and inject the solution into it. These lighter solutions should work on organic hide glue. If the joint has been glued with carpenter's glue, stronger solutions are needed.

Stronger Solutions

Use acetone -- fingernail-polish remover -- on joints that won't soften with water solutions. Be careful as acetone dissolves clear-coat finishes. Tape off the surrounding area before applying the acetone to the joint with a cotton swab or cloth dampened with acetone. Manipulate the joint back and forth, up and down to allow the acetone to penetrate into the joint until it softens. If the joint does not soften or release no matter what you do, check for braces, brackets, screws or nails you might have missed and remove them.