Tool Chest: Heat Gun

Should the next tool in your DIY tool kit be a heat gun?

Welcome back to my Tool Chest series. In these blog posts I’m going to introduce you guys to tools I think belong in any DIYers tool chest.

This tool chest is going to be easy on the old pocket book. If you’re doing a DIY project and you’re in a rush chances are you’re going to want a heat gun nearby. I’ve been using the same basic heat for 5+ years now. It cost me $40 dollars, it’s been to hell and back, and it works just as well now as it did when I first bought it. This is not a tool where you need to spend a lot of money to get something that’s going to work.

What’s a heat gun? It’s basically a super charged hair dryer. It’s a fan strapped to a heating element with a handle for you to hold it with. Typically a heat gun is used for loosening adhesives and stripping certain types of paint, and while that’s all well and good, I hardly ever use my heat gun for those typical purposes. No, I find the heat gun is far more useful when I’m in a rush and waiting for something to dry.

Heat Gun (5 of 5)

Careful application of a heat gun can dramatically speed up a drying process. Just laid down some water based paint, but you know you’re going to need to do a second coat and don’t have time to wait for dry naturally? Hit it with the heat gun for a few minutes and speed up the evaporation process. Just applied some wood filler and you need to sand it asap so you can start painting? Heat gun. Just patched a hole in your wall and the plaster is taking forever to dry? Ok, you get it.

Like spider mans dead uncle once said “with great power, comes great responsibility”. Heat guns aren’t toys and they can be dangerous to you and your project if you aren’t careful with them. First and foremost you can burn your self very easily with a heat gun. Even cheap heat guns will get way hotter than any hair dryer ever would, I’ve seen the air coming out of a heat gun burn wood before. It’s definitely hot enough to burn your skin and anything you might be wearing. It’s not just the air coming out of the heat gun that can burn you, the metal tip will glow red hot after prolonged use, so watch where you put it down.

Heat Gun (3 of 5)

Safety concerns aside you can also easily ruin whatever you’re working on with a heat gun. If you’re too impatient and using the heat gun too liberally you’re just as likely to destroy your finish as you are to speed up the drying time. Plasters and wood fillers are likely to crack and shrink if you hit them with too much hot air. You can also end up with a situation where the outside layer dries while the inside remains soft. Oil finishes may bubble and discolour if you push them too hard. Water based paints and other products are probably the most resilient, but still if you try and dry them too fast they can crackle and discolor as well.

Heat Gun (4 of 5)

So how do you know how much is too much with the heat gun? Testing and experience. Test it out in an area that wont be seen or on a piece of scrap before turning it on your main project. Even when you’re in a huge rush, try and be as patient as you can possibly be. Watch closely, as soon as you see anything weird happening, shut the heat down and pray you didn’t screw anything up.

Ok you’re sold, but, you’re wondering how do you make sure that you buy the right heat gun? Generally I’d say don’t worry about it. It’s really basic technology and there are many no-name brands producing dirt cheap heat guns that, at least from my experience, are just as good as any brand name products. Try and find one that has a variable fan speed and variable temperature. This will help you when you’re working with more sensitive materials and products. Plus on lower heat settings it could definitely double as a hair dryer.

Heat Gun (2 of 5)

There’s never going to be a true substitute for time when you’re waiting for something to dry. If you can spare the time always do it the way the paint can tells you for the best results. In a pinch though, a heat gun can be a real life saver.

Here’s a link to an almost identical heat gun to the one I have. For $35 CAD it’s hard to go wrong. Don’t waste your money on anything over $50.

That’s it for now. Take care and good luck on your next DIY project!

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