To praise the unglamorous American invention

Glue is generally not top-of-mind for me, which is why I thought when my partner, Richard, introduced me to a beautiful cutting board he had made – hard eastern maple, shot through with swinging purple veins of African padauk – must just grow in extremely intricate ways I had never noticed. Only when I heard him and his other woodworkers talk about “lim-ups” did I realize that there was a tremendous amount of adhesive involved in mixing wood, and the wonders of this fabric are greatly diminished when we call it by the name that best used for Elmers.

Wood glue has – again with a bit of fanfare – become extraterrestrial. There are names associated with radicalism in adhesives: Mildred Bonney and Langdon T. Williams, the couple who founded the adhesive company Franklin International in 1935 in Columbus, Ohio, who released their flagship product, Titebond, in 1955. Titebond is a polyvinyl acetate (PVA) adhesive. It swells the fibers into pieces of wood so that they intertwine; As the glue dries, the fibers shrink to their normal size, but they are now so tangled that the bond is virtually unbreakable.

While some luthiers still use animal glue when building string instruments – yes, the kind reproduced from animal skins – most woodworkers have switched to PVA, and especially Titebond, and especially (for projects that need it) Titebond III, which inspires arias of awe everywhere on the woodworking internet as it counts itself as fully waterproof, although some experts are admittedly in doubt. It also has a large “open time”, which means it stays sticky and does not dry out, even if you are hesitant about how to arrange your wood for a full 10 minutes. Titebond II gives you just five.

But the real breakthrough with all the Titebonds is of course the tape. How much cleavage, compression, bending, shock, tension or displacement is required to break the plane of a Titebond bond? This is measured in pounds per square inch, and the Titebond III takes up to 4,000 lbs to break. Two awful tons. Hardwood will crack before this glue.

From glue to eyelashes. And although old-fashioned false eyelashes require glue, it is far weaker than Titebond – and it’s enough to think of hard-sealed eyelids. The new thing in eyelashes is a synthetic prostaglandin analogue called bimatoprost. (A synthetic prostaglandin analog is also the active ingredient in misoprostol, one of the pills approved for autonomic abortions.) Where chemical engineers can explain how ultrasound machines and PVA adhesives work, bimatoprost is a happy accident, and some of a mystery. Basically, ophthalmologists worked to reduce the pressure in the eyes of glaucoma patients, and they discovered that bimatoprost relaxes the ciliary – the anxious muscle in the eye that chronically contracts when we read on our smartphones – causing the outflow of aqueous fluid inside eye. They were surprised to find that this movement of plasma-like fluid also served as Miracle-Gro for eyelashes.

Since the invention of technology that can grow human hair seems to be humanity’s highest ambition, this was a thrill. “Hypotrichosis,” or what the National Institutes of Health calls “an insufficient amount of eyelashes,” is the disorder bimatoprost treats, which can be seen in people with alopecia, but of course the compound has more futile uses. Interestingly, bimatoprost could even trigger hypertrichosis – excessive eyelash growth, the formation of a lush, abundant fringe over the eye that eliminates the need for the thickening mascara paint. “These hairs,” says the NIH study, “had a more robust appearance, were longer, thicker, and more strongly pigmented, and appeared at a more acute angle from the skin than in the control eye.” The only catch? Hypertrichosis caused by bimatoprost sometimes comes with “irregular pattern of lash curls.” OH FOR HELL NO.


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