Selecting the right glue was a head-scratcher for the man in his mid-forties, even though the hardware store attendant was doing his best to help.

The customer needed something to adhere a Formica backsplash to drywall, but neither of the two tubes he had selected was good for the job.

Luckily, the attendant knew his stuff. He plucked the right contact adhesive from the shelf and helped the do-it-yourselfer avoid a sticky situation. The customer went away happy.

Whether tackling a large home repair project or reattaching a broken piece on a plastic sports figurine, we often act like the customer in the hardware store I ran across a few weeks ago. We reach for a tube of "super glue" or a bottle of white glue -- and hope for the best.

We could all use a little more glue know-how. "Talking about glue doesn't make you popular at parties," said Doug Roach, marketing director for Cincinnati-based Gorilla Glue. "But it can be useful."

Household glues work one of several ways. Some glues, such as plastic cement, dissolve or melt the material they are applied to, and then, as they dry, two or more pieces are molded into one. White and yellow glues fill in tiny openings, connecting them as they dry. That's why they're good on paper, wood and other porous materials. Other glues can create a vacuum seal and, when dry, hold pieces together by suction.

Roach's Gorilla Glue is one of the newer types of household glues on the market. A polyurethane that is waterproof after it dries, Gorilla Glue is an excellent multipurpose adhesive, but it is expensive -- about $6 for a four-ounce bottle. And while it might work, it wouldn't be the best choice for repairing that plastic sports figurine or sticking together construction paper for your child's school project. That's because Gorilla Glue is most effective when it can be clamped. Plus, polyurethane glues expand as they dry, and that can be messy.

Gorilla Glue illustrates the confusion out there when it comes to glue -- it is multipurpose, but not all-purpose. No glue can do all jobs. And there are about 15,000 glues available in North America, with more than 100 different chemical types.

"Most glues work very well, provided they are used as designed," said Michael Terhardt, marketing director for Loctite, a division of Henkel Adhesives, one of the world's largest manufacturers of household glues and adhesives. "Consumers need to know what surfaces they are trying to glue together."

And they need to check labels. Most of what you want to know about a glue is right there in the fine print, but often consumers don't take the time to read it.

"Some glues are very good at attaching dissimilar materials," Roach said, "and a polyurethane fits that niche. But when it comes to gluing wood to wood inexpensively, then perhaps the best way to go would be yellow glue."

Surveys by Henkel Adhesives show that almost 70 percent of household glue users have little or no knowledge of the product they are using. These people are involved in no more than five projects a year that involve glue, according to Terhardt, so they might know a little something about one type of glue.

To help consumers through the glue maze, Loctite has a "Choose A Glue" search engine at www.loctiteproducts. com/glue.asp.

There are ways to make sure the glue you're using sticks more effectively -- among them proper surface preparation. "Usually, the surfaces must be clean and prepared to the directions on the label," Roach said. And he suggests a trial run, especially with polyurethanes, which expand as they dry, and epoxy products, which must be mixed.

Even Roach has more than one glue in his workshop. There's the white stuff for his three children's school projects and super glue for repairing plastic toys and figurines. And, of course, he keeps a small bottle of Gorilla Glue handy for everything else.