Sticking to their guns

A bonding experience second to none comes from glue guns

Family Matters

March 07, 2004|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,Sun Staff

Kathy Cano-Murillo, also known as the Crafty Chica, nurses a glue-gun burn even as she speaks.

"I watch TV while I'm crafting, [and] something happened that made me gasp," says Cano-Murillo, the author of La Casa Loca: 45 Funky Craft Projects for Decorating and Entertaining. "I lost control and a dollop of hot glue fell on my wrist. Oh man, it hurt so bad," says Cano-Murillo, who also writes a crafting column for The Arizona Republic.

Cano-Murillo, and millions of crafting compatriots, regard the electric glue gun as an essential tool for making vases, ornaments, textile collages, miniature shrines, decorative planters, costumes, embellished lamp shades and picture frames, and 10 zillion other creations.

Avid glue gunners consider nasty burns (glue temperatures can rise to 400 degrees) an initiation rite. "Everyone has to go through it," says Christine Stickler, co-author of Wild With a Glue Gun: Getting Together With Crafty Friends. It's a "burn that goes through your whole body and just sizzles."

Twenty years ago, glue-gun choices were few. As the crafting craze has mushroomed, though, so have hot-melt variations. Once a nondescript contraption that performed the basic task of heating and dispensing glue sticks, the typical glue gun is now a sleekly curvaceous, cordless wonder, available in a range of tasteful colors.

There are high-temp glue guns, low-temp glue guns, cool glue guns and multitemp glue guns as well as multibarrel glue guns, mini glue guns and industrial-strength glue guns.

Glue-gun accessories abound as well: all kinds of nozzles, glue dipping pots, glue-gun stands and work surfaces.

Most glue guns are designed to appeal to women, the main consumers of craft supplies, and are available in stores like Michaels and Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts.

Adhesive Technologies, a New Hampshire company, designs glue guns with crafting circles in mind. They're smaller, so women may "plop them in their purses or in their craft kits and on a table with three or four or five women," company president Peter Melendy says.

Stickler, though, doesn't go in for dainty glue guns. "I like the industrial blue with the orange cord," she says. Predictably, these heavy-duty, glue-gob dispensing models are found at Home Depot and other building-supply stores that men tend to frequent more often than craft stores.

But men aren't always willing to own up to their glue-gun dependency. In consumer surveys, Melendy has noted a curious pattern. Male respondents will say, "I don't own a glue gun. My wife owns a glue gun." When asked if they ever borrow the glue gun, the men say, "Oh, yeah, I use it all the time."

Still, glue guns are a tough sell among men. They prefer a staple gun, says Laura Scaccia, product manager for Adhesive Technologies. They "can't relate to a glue gun. It doesn't make any noise."

It's easy to hold Martha Stewart responsible for the glue gun's rise and stunning makeover. In truth, this tool's versatility is its best selling point. The "not-Marthas" are as enchanted with this gadget as those who follow the decor diva's pronouncements to the letter.

"You can't separate the glue gun from the 'wild,' because they go together," says Stickler, who wrote Wild With a Glue Gun with Kitty Harmon.

Both women belong to crafting groups where glue guns are highly valued implements. "We joke a lot about the number of glue guns we each have. Some have three, some have more," Stickler says from Seattle, where she lives. And like crafting, an occupation that seems to hold friends together, the glue gun offers "the most permanent of bondings," Stickler says.

Adhesive Technologies introduced its first glue guns in 1982. His company's hot-melt tools range from those used by "the smallest neophyte crafter all the way up to a line of industrial tools used in airports," Melendy says. In recent decades, the market for glue guns has grown from about half a million units a year to "close to 10 million," he says. Glue guns usually cost $20 or less, although fancier ones may sell for more.

The glue gun caught on because, unlike other adhesives, "it provided instant bonding" as well as "flexibility in terms of what it could glue," Melendy says.

Florists were the first to use glue guns extensively in silk flower arrangements, he says. Then the tools were discovered by home-based crafters. "Everyone became a pine-cone-wreath glue gunner, if you will."

Since then, Melendy has heard of any number of novel glue-gun applications. They're even used in salons to attach hair extensions, he says.

For Valarie Perez-Schere, co-founder of Baltimore's Fluid Movement theater company, the glue gun is an invaluable tool for creating "the strange and the fabulous."

When constructing props and costumes, "I use it whenever I can," she says. "I don't know how people got along without it.

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