Using a Heat Gun in Upholstery

Heat Gun

  A heat gun is great for "carefully" heating up vinyl to make it stretch easier around curves and corners, such as this:

The red vinyl on this job was a "heavy" 50 oz. vinyl (as compared to 26 oz to 32 oz. of most average vinyls.) This smooth corner would be very difficult without a heat gun, but was realatively easy with the heat gun. A steamer would not be of much use in doing a corner like this.

Now, if you won't use a heat gun very often, or if funds are tight, and you have to decide which to get, you can get by with a hand-held hair dryer, such as this:

Click here for a Click larger picture of hair dryer.
It is much slower since it doesn't get nearly as hot as a real heat gun. This would get you by if you don't  do much vinyl work. However, if you are going to do a lot of vinyl, a real heat gun will do a much quicker job.
After using this (above) hand-held hair dryer for quite a while, I finally got this heat gun. It gets "hot", so be careful using it:

Click here to enlarge picture

After using it I ask myself, "Why did I wait so long to get a "real" heat gun.

Note: When using this "real" heat gun, I use a method I call "heat and touch". As I heat up the vinyl, I repeatedly touch the are of vinyl that I'm heating. If the vinyl gets hot enough to almost burn my hands, it's plenty hot. It is very easy to scorch viny if you don't watch it carefully as you are heating it. I keep the
As I'm heating the vinyl, I keep the heat gun moving, in a pattern similar to this:

Using this movement pattern, I heat an area of at least a foot square. By keeping the gun moving in this pattern, I can use the gun as closely as 6" to 8" from the vinyl. This way the heat gun quickly heats a wide area. Careful, if you get this close and just aim the gun and heat the vinyl without moving the gun, it would be pretty easy to damage the vinyl. You would need to experiment and test out what would work for you.

I learned this from papasage: To protect the heating element of the gun from burning out, I'll let the heat gun run in "cool" after each time of heating the vinyl. For example, as I'm heating the vinyl, I'll switch the heat gun to high, heat the vinyl using the above pattern. When the vinyl is hot enough, I'll switch the heat gun to cool, set it down on its built in stand, and let it run as it cools while I'm pulling and stapling one section of the vinyl. Then, when I'm reading to heat the next section of vinyl, I'll pick up the gun, switch it to high, and heat another section of vinyl. When that section is hot, switch gun to "cool" and set it down on it stand again. I'll repeat this pattern all lthe way around each section of the seat I'm working on. When I'm finished with the gun, I'll let it run on cool for a bit until it has cooled own.

Heat Gun Stand

Note: if you look in the picture at the above red heat gun, you will see that it is setting upside down on the table on its built-in stand, which is connected around the motor. If you are going to buy a new gun I highly recommend that you find a gun that has some type of stand. This stand keeps the "hot" nozzle up in the air while it cools down. Additionally, because of the long cord, the gun easily tips over. While using the gun, each time you set down the gun, carefully position the gun on it's stand at an angle so that the cord won't pull the gun over. You might want to experiment with finding whiich way to set the gun down (without falling over) before you start using it. (You don't want to have the gun fall over while it is hot and posibly burn your table, etc.)

A word of Caution. Many vinyls have a embedded grain pattern on the surface. If you get the vinyl too hot, the grain will smooth out and dissappear. then you would have to replace that piece of vinyl. So, be careful and watch what you are doing.

If you are new to using a heat gun of this sort, you might want to practice on a piece of scrap vinyl first. As a side note, the hand-held hair dryer doesn't get nearly as hot and takes much longer to heat up the vinyl, but it might be safer to use for a novice.

Yes, You Need Both

So, the answer is "Yes", you should have both. But, from personal  experience, I know there are times when you simply can't afford "everything". So, if you can afford to get both, and would have use for both, do so, and get a good quality ones. But, if you will only use one or the other very little, you can get by with the cheap models until you see that you really need the better ones. Anyway, these are just some thoughts. I hope that they are helpful to you.