Heat guns, or hot air guns as they are also known, are not the first power tools that come to mind when talking about DIY or the building trade but they can play significant roles in certain DIY situations and professional building jobs. Heat guns are essentially electrically-powered versions of the familiar propane or butane blowlamp or blowtorch, but unlike blowlamps, there is no naked flame making heat guns safer to use as well as easier to switch on and off. In this review of hot air guns, we first look at what makes a heat gun tick and the characteristics that should be assessed when looking to purchase one. Following this, we then examine the actual heat guns available on the UK market that are popular with consumers.
The Heat Gun
Heat guns are mostly simple machines that operate on the same principle as hair dryers (although they should never be used as such!). They consist of an electric motor and fan that sucks air into the back of the machine where the air is heated by a heating element before being expelled out the front of the heat gun. Like a hair dryer, the fan speed and the rate at which hot air is expelled can usually be controlled for different applications, and so too can the hot air temperature at the nozzle so that an optimal temperature range can be used for different tasks. The nozzles on the device can also usually be changed to different form factors so that they can direct the airflow optimally for different applications. Unlike a hair dryer however, the hot air temperatures produced by the heat gun are much higher than the personal drying accessory.
What DIY applications can a hot air gun be used for?
Heat guns can be used for a range of different DIY tasks including:
One of the major roles of a heat gun is in paint stripping as the hot air softens old paint and varnish allowing it to be stripped off using a paint-stripping hand tool. Maximum airflow speed and the highest temperature settings are usually required for this. The same is true of other heat-labile adhesives which can be removed in the same way. However, caution has to be exercised here as some paints or adhesives can produce toxic chemicals if overheated. A good example of this are old lead-bearing paints, which can damage the nervous system of humans and other animals if inhaled or ingested, and should not be removed using a heat gun.
Like hair dryers, hot air guns can be used to dry out certain materials like damp wood. However, one has to be careful not to scorch the surface, and the heat gun should never be used on any surface that is heat-sensitive.
Soldering and welding
Hot air guns can also be used for welding and soldering pipes used in plumbing, especially in situations where a naked flame might not be appropriate.
Object shaping and heat shrinking
Heat guns can also be used to shape some heat-labile materials like plastics or vinyl for example in the bending of plastic piping. Hot air guns can also be used on heat-sensitive shrink wrap or film.
Freeing up rusty fasteners
Heating up 'frozen' (as in stuck) fasteners like nuts, bolts and screws can significantly aid in their freeing up and the heat gun is usually ideal for this task.
Thawing frozen pipes
Heat guns can present as an efficient way to thaw pipes that have accidentally become frozen during winter. The correct heat-distributing nozzle for pipes should be used here.
What to look for in a Heat Gun
Now that we have a good idea of how a heat gun works and what it can be used for, let's take a look at what technical specifications are found on today’s crop of heat guns.
Heat guns are usually mains electricity-powered and usually have a power rating of 1500W or more. In general, the higher the power of the heat gun, the quicker the machine can reach the desired temperature. This is especially important when working with the very high temperatures needed for certain tasks such as paint stripping.
The temperature at the nozzle can usually be controlled so that the heat gun can be used for a number of different applications, each of which requiring different levels of heat to get optimal results. When choosing a hot air gun, one should aim for the greatest level of control over these heat settings so that the most versatile machine is obtained. Some typical nozzle temperature settings and their applications are as follows:
Hot air guns also often provide the user with control over hot airflow, which goes hand-in-hand with nozzle temperature. The greater the airflow, the faster the heat is applied to the area being targeted, which means that results will likely be obtained faster than at lower airflow speeds.
Heat guns can often use a range of different nozzles to direct the airflow optimally for different applications, so choosing a heat gun that comes with as wide a range of nozzles included should be the objective here. Common nozzle types include:
Since heat guns are fire safety hazards when operating, they should have, as part of their design, a thermal cut-out mechanism that switches off power to the tool if it detects that it is overheating. Overheating can occur if a fault develops in the tool or if the rear air intake or the front air outlet is blocked. Fortunately, all reputable brands of heat gun will have this safety mechanism incorporated into their devices.
As is recommended for most power tools, having a bespoke carry case for the heat gun is always a bonus, as it makes it easy to protect it during storage and transportation. A good carry case should also be expected to hold a selection of nozzles used by the device.
Popular Heat Guns in the UK
at Nozzle (oC)
|Bosch EasyHeat 500|
|Einhell TH-HA 2000|
90 - 600oC
at Nozzle (oC)
Heat Gun Reviews
VonHaus 2000W Heat Gun Review
With an inexpensive price tag and simple features, the VonHaus 15-181 heat gun is a popular choice amongst DIYers looking to get their hands on a competent paint-stripping aid. It has a high power rating of 2000W and can operate at two different temperatures and airflow settings for use in different applications. The heat gun’s lower setting produces a hot airflow rate of 250 L/min at a temperature of 350ºC while its high setting delivers 550ºC heated air at a flow rate of 550 L/min. Unlike some of its competitor machines, the VonHaus heat gun has no digital readout, with the company opting for a minimally-featured power tool to keep its price low. Indeed, the heat gun reaches temperature very quickly making such sophisticated features almost unnecessary.
One of the unique features of the VonHaus heat gun is its body shape which has been designed to stand on its rear surface without falling over. This is a useful feature when needing to cool the gun’s hot end safely, ensuring it does not inadvertently damage any surface it is placed on in the process. In addition, the design can also be useful if two hands are needed to hold an object to be heated, although extreme care should be taken if using the heat gun in this way as the hot air stream is dangerously hot and the heat gun is not immune to being accidentally knocked over.
Another positive feature of the VonHaus heat gun is that it comes with a small selection of accessory nozzles. These include a glass protection nozzle which can be used to direct heat away from the glass when paint-stripping window frames. This is important since too high an air temperature applied to glass can cause it to crack. The VonHaus heat gun also comes with an air spreading nozzle to distribute the heat over a wider strip-shaped area, ideal for removing paint from large flat surfaces such as doors or skirting boards. The third nozzle accessory is a concentrator nozzle for focusing the heated airflow onto a narrower point than what the gun alone can do, which is useful for paint-stripping thin beading, architrave, mouldings and crevices. The final nozzle that is included with the VonHaus power tool is the reflector nozzle which is designed for heating around elongated structures such as pipes that need defrosting or (in the case of plastic pipes) bending, and electric wiring when heat-shrink tubing needs to be used as electrical insulation.
The VonHaus heat gun comes with a reasonably long 1.8m power cable that is sufficient for most uses, however, can be too short for some situations, such as when working up a ladder. The heat gun is also very lightweight making it easy to hold for long periods, although there is a little vibration when the device is operating, which can become annoying for more sensitive users.
In use, the VonHaus heat gun works very well, easily lifting thick layers of paint right down to the underlying wood, while thin paint layers sometimes need to be helped off with a separate scraping tool. Both high and low heat settings can be used for paint removal with the lower heat setting taking longer to achieve the same result but protecting the wood more from being scorched. Importantly, new users should be aware that, out of the factory, the VonHaus heat gun does produce a little smoke when first switched on as new components heat up and burn off oils and other residues from the manufacturing process.
On the more negative side, as the VonHaus heat gun is an inexpensive budget model, component reliability over the long term and quality control during manufacturing are not as high as with more premium devices, sometimes even making the occasional unit of the VonHaus machine fail after only a few uses. Although this is rare, it should be noted that both the blower or the heating element may fail, producing different failure symptoms. This means that when buying the heat gun, it is important to make sure that it is used and tested thoroughly immediately upon reception so that any faulty units can be dealt with right away. Unfortunately, VonHaus does not make it easy to contact them (essentially only via email) to get problems sorted out promptly, so one should rely more on returning any faulty devices via the Amazon ecosystem.
Due to the budgetary nature of the VonHaus heat gun, the nozzles also do not always maintain a perfect fit, with some nozzles loosening as they are heated, while others sometimes becoming too tight, making them difficult to remove. Therefore, a little bit of DIY ingenuity is sometimes needed to ensure a stable fit. In addition, contrary to the impression given in the marketing material for the VonHaus heat gun, the nozzles are not themselves scrapers, being too flimsy to be used as such, and a separate scraper needs to be sourced when using this heat gun for paint stripping.
Other minor dislikes of the VonHaus machine is the triple position trigger, which is responsible for turning on the device but also for setting it to the high or low heat and airflow configurations. A separate lever or button for setting the power level would have been preferred, especially since the trigger is too easy to operate unintentionally.
Overall, the VonHaus heat gun is a powerful, basic device that performs admirably in its primary role as a paint-stripping aid. It comes with some useful accessories that allow for more precise application of heat to the surface of interest, making it good value for money overall. Being a budget device means that it will not cost an arm and a leg to purchase, however, it will not last as long as premium heat gun brands, making it more appropriate for DIYers and not so much for the heavy-using professional.
DeWalt D26414 Heat Gun Review
One of the premium heat guns available to homeowners and professionals is the D26414 from DeWalt. This DeWalt heat gun is at the upper end of quality and design when it comes to consumer heat guns.
The DeWalt D26414 consumes 2000W of power when running at its maximum heat output of 600ºC and a maximum airflow rate of 650 litres per min. It also has a lower airspeed setting, which is useful in situations where the target object needs to be heated more gradually.
As with most heat guns, the temperature on the D26414 can be set using controls on the heat gun, but the overriding feature that makes the DeWalt power tool stand out from most other heat guns is that its temperature setting is digital. Using up and down arrow buttons on the back of the machine to raise and lower the set temperature displayed on an LCD readout, the temperature of the air flowing out of the heat gun can be precisely set to any 10ºC increment within its 600ºC temperature range. This digital control provides an easy way to ensure that the target object is never overheated which better facilitates its use in a wide variety of heating applications. This is unlike most other consumer heat guns where a certain amount of trial and error is required to get the heat gun to the desired temperature.
As might be expected from a premium heat gun, the DeWalt D26414 is quick to reach its set temperature. However, with its more accurate temperature setting, it is easy to forget that the digital readout represents the temperature at the heat gun nozzle and not necessarily the temperature of the target.
As for other features and accessories, the DeWalt heat gun comes with a good length power cable of almost 3 metres, as well as two different half-inch diameter nozzles consisting of a cone nozzle and a fish-tail surface nozzle. Unfortunately, that is all you get with this DeWalt power tool which does not even come with its own carry case.
Importantly, the DeWalt heat gun can be obtained in the different voltage versions of 240V (for the home) and 110V (for the worksite), both of which come with the appropriate UK plug on the end of the power cord. However, some versions of the heat gun originally destined for sale in mainland Europe are also sometimes sold in the UK and these versions come with a standard European plug, so scrutiny of the exact specifications is recommended before any purchase.
Ultimately, the DeWalt D26414 heat gun is an excellent option for those who need or want a high-quality heat gun that provides the user with the highest level of control and awareness over the amount of heat applied to an object or surface.