In praise of the unglamorous American invention

Glue is generally not the most important thing to me, which is why my partner, Richard, gave me a beautiful cutting board he made – a hard eastern maple, dotted with the winding purple veins of the African Padawak – I thought trees must just grow in extremely intricate ways I never noticed. It wasn’t until I heard him and his fellow woodworkers talk about “gluing” that I realized that hard glue was involved in mixing wood, and the wonders of this substance are greatly diminished when we call it the name best used for Elmer’s.

The wood glue – again with a little pomp – became alien. There are names associated with radicalism in adhesives: Mildred Bonney and Langdon T. Williams, a couple who founded the adhesive company Franklin International in 1935 in Columbus, Ohio, which in 1955 released its flagship product, Titebond. Titebond is a polyvinyl acetate (PVA) adhesive. The fibers of the pieces swell, and intertwine; as the glue dries, the fibers shrink to their normal size, but are now so twisted that the bond is almost unbreakable.

While some lottery workers still use animal glue when building wire instruments – yes, those made from animal skins – most woodworkers have switched to PVA, especially Titebond, and especially (for projects that need it) Titebond III, which challenges arias of awe all over the internet for woodworking, because it is considered completely waterproof, although some experts doubt it. It also has a great “open time”, which means it stays sticky and doesn’t dry out even if you bother about how to arrange your wood for a full 10 minutes. Titebond II gives you only a high five.

But the real breakthrough with all Titebonds is, of course, the connection. How much splitting, compression, bending, impact, tension, or shear does it take to break a flat Titebond bond? This is measured in pounds per square inch, and the Titebond III needs up to 4,000 lbs to break. Two fucking tons. Hardwood will break before this glue.

From glue to lashes. And while old-fashioned false eyelashes need glue, they’re far weaker than Titebond – and that’s enough thinking about tightly closed eyelids. What’s new in lashes is a synthetic prostaglandin analogue called bimatoprost. (A synthetic prostaglandin analogue is also the active ingredient in misoprostol, one of the pills approved for self-monitoring abortions.) Where chemical engineers can explain how ultrasound machines and PVA glue work, bimatoprost is lucky and something of a mystery. In essence, ophthalmic researchers have been working to reduce the pressure in the eyes of glaucoma patients, and found that bimatoprost relaxes the ciliary body – an anxious muscle in the eye that chronically shrinks when read on smartphones – causing water to drain inside the eye. They were surprised to find that this plasma-like fluid movement also serves as a Miracle-Gro for lashes.

As finding technology that can grow human hair seems to be the greatest aspiration of mankind, this was a thrill. “Hypotrichosis” or what the National Institutes of Health calls “inadequate amount of lashes” is a disorder that treats bimatoprost, which can be seen in people with alopecia, but, of course, the compound has more futile applications. Excitingly, bimatoprost could even cause hypertrichosis – excessive eyelash growth, creating lush, abundant edges above the eye that eliminate the need to thicken mascara color. “These hairs,” according to a NIH study, “had a more robust appearance, were longer, thicker and more pigmented, and erupted at a sharper angle from the skin than in the control eye.” The only wait? Hypertrichosis caused by bimatoprost sometimes comes with an “irregular lash curl pattern”. OH HELL NO.

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