Horse glue, also called Animal Glue, is used in woodworking and restoration of antiques. But also use in bookbinding and leathercraft.
Why are horses turned into glue? Horses are used in glue making because of the collagen. Collagen is a protein that’s found in the bones, muscles, skin, and tendons. Its primary functions to serve as a glue that holds the body together.
As you can guess, this substance is very sticky – you’ve felt it for yourself whenever you ate meat with your bare hands. That stickiness on your fingers comes from collagen.
You’ve also used it as food glue every time you made anything with gelatin. Gelatin comes from collagen and is produced by boiling animal skin, bones, tendons, etc.
One of the collagen’s most recognizable features is that it dissolves in heat. This allows horse glue to be applied, removed, reapplied, and layered as many times as needed. No matter if it is because of a mistake or alterations, the glue completely melts to reveal a clear surface.
Another “why” has to do with the animal itself. Collage in all animals, so why horses?
Most animal glues in history were made form horses and cattle because they were simply there. They were a big part of our daily lives, and once they die, they would become a free source of collagen. It was a lot more convenient to hand over Bessie or Thunderbolt, than to hunt down a hundred rabbits.
Still, horses would be used more often because cattle’s primary destination was the butcher. Once he finished his job, there would not be a lot left for the glue factory.
Horses were far more likely to be sent out whole, therefore allowing for more collagen to be extracted.
Where is the horse glue used?
Today, animal-based glues are in use only in very specific situations. It’s water-soluble, so it can’t be used for anything that will get wet. It will also darken and shrink with age, so it can damage surfaces it is used on.
Because of its organic nature, it’s also vulnerable to micro-organisms. On top of it all, the production process of this glue is complicated, so factories often opt to make other types of adhesives.
The most obvious use for horse glue is in the repair and restoration of antiques. Since it was used in the initial construction, it makes sense to reach for it once again.
It’s also used in leather craft and bookbinding. In mass productions, manufacturers go for cheaper and modern options, but a lot of craftsmen are likely to stick with the traditional tools and materials.
The most important use today is in building and repairs of music instruments – strings and organs to be precise. Some of the properties that are not the most desirable in other fields are becoming an asset here and contribute to a better sound.
The joints horse glue creates brittle, which can be an asset in the production of musical instruments. In case of damage, it’s less painful if it happens to a part that is easy to repair.
Horse glue also works as its own clamp, so there is no need to apply them on delicate violin wood.
Are horses killed to make glue?
Unfortunately, yes. There are quite a few farms and ranches around the world that grow horses solely for their meat, hair, and other parts.
However, the vast majority of horses that are used to make glue have died a natural death or were euthanized. When a horse is kept for racing, ranching, or as a pet, it is up to the owner what will happen to them after they die.
There are multiple guidelines for safe disposal of the remains that are designed to show both the respect for the animal and address overall health and safety.
In most countries, it’s illegal to sell off the remains to a glue factory without the signed permission from the owner. At the very least, it will be treated as theft of property, but many other charges will be tacked on as well.
How are the horses made into glue?
There are two key types of horse glue – hide glue and hoof glue. For both, the procedures are very similar.
The hoof glue is made by first breaking down the hooves into small pieces. Then, they are boiled in some water until they turn liquid. An acid is added, and then the mixture is left to cool completely.
When stored, it looks like a chunk of resin. It needs to be reheated again before the application. How much it’s reheated will determine how liquid it will get. And how thick or liquid it will determine what it will be used for.
Making hide glue is almost the same. Hides are boiled in water, but this time lime is added to break them down. Then the acid is added as well and boiled some more to create “glue liquor.”
The glue liquor is heated many more times before it’s left to cool down and then chopped into pellets.
When did we start to make glue out of horses?
The earliest recorded animal-based glue recipes are over 4,000 years old. There are records of humans using horse glue from 6,000 years ago, but we don’t know how they made it back then.
Throughout antiquity, horse glue was used in everything from woodworking to pottery repair. A thousand years ago in China, it was mixed with pigments to produce a very durable paint.
The Terracotta Army, a collection of figures that were buried with the first emperor of China Qin Shi Huang, was painted using this mixture.
Throughout centuries in Europe, horse glue was used for a similar purpose, as well in the production of musical instruments.
In the 18th century, firs glue factories were established, and horse glue experienced a rise in popularity for the next 200 years. Most of the antiques and furniture that have to repair with horse glue come from this period.
Animal glue factories managed to survive through the Great Depression but soon fell out of favor with the invention of synthetic adhesives.
And the chances of emergence are very low since contemporary consumers are not to keen on the origin of the main ingredient.
I don’t want to use horse glue. How can I avoid it?
The glue used in schools and offices is not made from horses. The same goes for a sizeable chunk of craft glues.
If you are in doubt, look at the ingredients list and search for gelatin. It might not say where it comes from, but it’s definitely of animal origin.
Some manufacturers are attempting to make more vegan-friendly products. If a product claims to be vegan or vegetarian, check the ingredients list again – most common substitutes are agar or carrageenan.
Is Elmer’s glue made out of horses?
No, but it used to use animal collagen. Now they rely on a synthetic substance made from a special secret recipe – just like the seven herbs and spices, but more sticky.
Are there other products that have horses in it?
In 2013, a few supermarket chains in Britain found themselves in a lot of trouble. After testing various products, they discovered that a lot of minced meat items contained horse meat.
People eat horse meat all around the world, but they prefer to know that they are doing so. The European Union is supposed to have a firm grasp on the issue now. However, authorities believe that it’s still possible to encounter this issue in countries with poor oversight.
A few years ago, horse oil became a very trendy ingredient and appeared in many face, body, and hair products. The oil itself is rendered, and purified horse fat – harvested after the animal is killed. If you want to avoid these products, pay attention to anything with the word “Mayu” in its name.
Horsehair is used in the production of violin bows, paintbrushes, jewelry, fishing equipment, and upholstery textiles.
And there is white sugar. Bone char is a material that comes from horse bones. It is used to create a filter that bleaches cane sugar, but it doesn’t end up in the final product.
And finally, jello and gummy candy. The same gelatin that is used to make glue is also the prime ingredient in these snacks. Unless the brand states where their gelatin comes from, there might be some that came from a horse in there.
Hotdog rules apply here – if the packaging lists beef collagen, all collagen must only come from cows.