Red glue and other woodshop hazards

Woodworkers are loyal to the products they use. Whether it’s a type of blade, tool, nail or screw, they often stick to what they know works. This even holds true for glue. Woodworkers want a glue that sticks and they cannot take chances on a product that will not hold, a problem that could lead to a shoddy end-product, damage to their reputation and ultimately a dip in sales.

For that reason, many cabinet and countertop shops swear by solvent-based glues, commonly known as red glue. Unfortunately, the truth is that red glue is a highly flammable adhesive and exudes vapors that could also sicken those around it. Because these vapors are heavier than air they hover near the ground where they can meet an ignition source, such as an electrical outlet or a heater with an open flame.   

As a safety measure, use red glue only within the confines of a spray finishing booth or designated spray room. These should be UL Listed or FM Approved, constructed of noncombustible material, have an exhaust fan built in and include an automatic suppression system. Any lighting and electrical inside or close to the booth should be intrinsically safe to withstand an explosion and any ignition sources should be at least 20 feet away from the booth. For more information, the National Fire Protection Association offers guidance on the subject, NFPA 33: Spray Application Using Flammable or Combustible Materials.

Oily rags and other flammables, such as solvents, lacquers and thinners, should also be stored in UL Listed or FM Approved cabinets that are properly grounded. As the cabinets are fire-rated, any ignition will be constrained.

Wood dust is another highly combustible material, particularly if it’s allowed to build up inside the shop. To help reduce the risk of a catastrophic fire, ensure electrical equipment is protected from sawdust and locate electrical panels, transformers, and other electrical equipment as far as possible from dust-producing equipment. All dust-producing operations should have dust control equipment. Also have in place equipment that includes precautions against explosions. Finally, good housekeeping goes a long way. Clean floors, walls, ledges and even ceilings on a regular basis to remove built-up sawdust. Recommended wood dust control measures are outlined in the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standard 664, “Prevention of Fires and Explosions in Wood Processing and Woodworking Facilities.”

To understand the risks to an individual shop, owners can contact their specialty insurer who can identify their unique risk exposures, whether glue or wood dust. A good insurer can offer practical alternatives to red glue, assess the safety of spray booths and spray rooms, provide guidance on proper solvent storage, as well as share tips on a variety of other safety matters.

Source: Pennsylvania Lumbermens Mutual Insurance Co. For information, visit; Twitter: @PLMinsurance


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