Some people reading this title will say “yeah, sure,” and doubtless others may say “what the heck is canopy glue?” For the latter folks, read on. But even if you know what it is, you may not appreciate all it can do.
Canopy glue was developed, as the name suggests, for aircraft modelers. They have the challenge of gluing a foil “frame” onto a transparent plastic molding of an airplane canopy. The glue that’s best has these features: it doesn’t attack or craze plastic; it glues the dissimilar materials well (metal foil and plastic); it dries clear and glossy, so any excess outside the foil is minimally visible; and it remains flexible for any differences in expansion and contraction of the materials that are glued together.
Some of these features turn out to be terrific for certain kinds of railroad modeling too. I have found canopy glue to be simply outstanding for gluing different materials together: metal to plastic, plastic to wood or cardstock, metal to wood, etc. (porous materials are no problem), just in terms of how well they adhere. And the “remains flexible” part is vital too. That’s why I use it exclusively for etched metal parts, like running boards or diesel grilles. In the many years since I first used it, I have never had one of these metal parts pop off its model, as many people have experienced with CA or other rigid adhesives. Some people have utilized canopy glue’s property of drying clear and glossy to make small model windows, but I personally have not found this to work very well.
So where do you get this stuff? Usually it’s only in the model airplane section of your hobby shop – the railroad side of the shop often doesn’t seem to know about it. Craft and art stores sometimes have it too. And yes, you can order it on the internet, with shipping no problem because it’s water-based. Amazon is just one of many sites where it is available.
Sometimes you will hear it said, “it’s just white glue.” In my opinion, that’s not even close to true, except that it’s a white color and is water-base. It is much tackier right away than any white glue I’ve used – helpful in assembling things – and is much stronger when fully dry. It sets up pretty strong in three hours and develops full strength in about 24 hours. There is an Elmer’s product called Tacky Glue, but it is definitely not the same as canopy glue, being distinctly less strong. Information I’ve found says that canopy glue contains a vinyl acetate polymer, but the same appears to be true for ordinary white glue. Maybe the quantity of the polymer varies.
The source used to be Wilhold, a big glue company, and their product was named R/C-56 (for Radio/Control, obviously alluding to model airplanes). In the 1990s, Wilhold stopped making this glue. Today, there are at least two sources: one is Testor’s, the other is Pacer. (Pacer Technology sells canopy glue under the Pacer name and also under the Zap name.) Chatting with those who patronize the airplane section of hobby shops, my perception is that Pacer is regarded as much better. Here are both Pacer containers, with the Wilhold product in the center.
I think it is no accident that the Pacer version is called “Formula 560,” given that the product which introduced many to this glue was called R/C-56. In fact, Pacer’s code name for the product is PT-56.
Here are two examples of how I use canopy glue, both being the potentially troublesome etched metal parts of some length. The F7-B unit has an etched grille, and the PFE reefer has an etched running board. Both were attached years ago with canopy glue, both have undergone a goodly range of temperature variation since, and neither has budged in the slightest.
All I can say is, if you don’t already know and rely on this glue, you should give it a try. Use it for something where CA or other adhesives have let you down, and see if it isn’t better. And any time you wrinkle your brow deciding how to join two dissimilar materials, here is your answer.