To do any job right, having the proper tools is a must. Using the right tools means that you have precisely what is needed to do the job the right way. That said, having the right tools takes time and money to accumulate.
If you need heat shrink tubing but don’t have a heat gun, you can use a blow dryer instead, as they work the same way as a heat gun. However, pay attention to the model of your hairdryer, as this will determine what type of heat shrinking you can do.
It can be frustrating if you have heat shrink tubing but don’t have a heat gun. Don’t worry, though; we have you covered. Let’s get started!
What Is Heat Shrink Tubing And What Does It Do?
Before we get to how to do it, we should probably know what heat shrink tubing is. It is a shrinkable tube that, when heated, shrinks radially to conform more tightly to the material beneath.
Heat shrink tubing is used to provide electrical insulation to connections, wires, joints, splices, and terminals.
It also works for bundling loose wires and providing a protective covering. Especially in areas where moisture becomes an issue, heat shrink tubing can be an effective means of protection.
How To Use Heat Shrink Tubing Without A Heat Gun
That said, circumstances can be different for us all. Whether we want to or not, having access to a heat gun may not be possible.
That is why it is helpful to know the various ways of using the heat shrink tube available to you. Here are the four most effective ways in particular.
The closest thing to a heat gun is a hairdryer. Though it does not get as hot as a heat gun, the presentation is essentially the same. You can hold it in much the same way that you would hold a heat gun, too.
It takes a little while for the hairdryer to get up to the proper heat. Ensure that you hold it as closely as possible to the heat shrink and put it in the highest possible setting.
Try to move in even strokes so that you can apply the heat properly. When the shrink tube contracts unevenly, it can create uneven protection for the materials beneath.
Not every solution is going to be the most professional, and the lighter definitely falls into that category. Still, it is a solution, no less.
The major caveat to using a lighter is that it offers no precision and is quite dangerous than a heat gun or even a hairdryer.
In a pinch, a lighter will apply a lot of heat in a short time. The trick here is that you have to move quickly to achieve and level of even coverage. Not only that, but you will have to watch out for your fingers along the way.
A cigarette lighter is never really a great option for heating your shrink tube. But when it is all you have, it is all you have. If you can get your hands on a butane lighter, it is quite similar but with a few differences.
For one, control is a lot better. With smoother control, you get more even coverage. No pockets where the shrink tube is bubbled up higher to contend with.
The flame on a butane lighter is also relatively a bit higher. That means getting the results you want sooner rather than later.
While the others on this list are smaller and less powerful than a heat gun, the process heater goes in the opposite direction. Process heaters are much larger, cost a lot more, and are far less portable than a heat gun.
That said, they have a lot more power and can achieve higher temperatures. If you have to work with a lot of heat shrink, a process heater may wind up being the better choice between the two.
Like a production line, a process heater is a vastly superior choice to a heat gun in process-intensive environments.
We are getting down into MacGyver territory now. If you are at this point, your tools had to have been lost or destroyed. That said, this solution will work even if it isn’t the best or most accurate option that you have.
You can take the cover off the light and hold the heat shrink close to the light bulb. Depending on the type of light bulb, it may put out quite a bit of heat. Wait for the heat shrink to start to contract and melt into place.
While it would be somewhat confusing for someone to have a soldering iron but not a heat gun, let’s pretend. Soldering irons get extremely hot, providing the necessary heat to melt the heat shrink down to size.
Soldering irons provide an excellent level of precision, but there are caveats. For one, the tips are smaller, so you will have to spend a lot more time covering even a tiny area.
For two, it requires a precise hand. It is all too easy to use a soldering iron here and get a bubbly, uneven coverage.
This method is not recommended. Wielding a torch takes not only a significant amount of precision but care as well. It is all too easy for things to go awry, melting away the heat shrink or burning yourself in the process.
If you use a torch, make sure to keep it a safe distance from yourself and the heat shrink tubing. Getting too close could not only burn right through the tubing but damage the wiring, joints, etc. beneath.
What Temperature Is Heat Shrink Rated For?
The polyolefin materials used in heat shrink tubing are generally all graded for the same temperature rating. The recommended temperature is around 190-195 degrees Fahrenheit. Most shrink tubing is rated to handle up to 480-500 degrees Fahrenheit at the most.
Choosing the right tool – other than a heat gun – means getting the most heat possible to constrict the tubing in a short period. Going above that threshold runs the risk of burning through the heat tubing and damaging what is beneath.
Things To Watch Out For When Heat Shrinking
There are a few things to bear in mind while shrinking heat shrink (with or without a heat gun).
- Make sure you’re using the right size heat shrink. If you use too large tubing, it will never shrink to the correct size. As a result, I always recommend keeping a kit with a range of heat shrink sizes on hand.
Before you begin, double-check the tubing’s specifications.
Because not all heat shrink is created equal, knowing your tubing’s maximum temperature and shrink ratio is critical to achieving good results. This information is usually found on the heat shrink’s sales or specifications page, or embossed on the tubing’s side.
- Overheating should be avoided at all costs. When using something other than a heat gun to heat heat shrink tubing, there is a risk of overheating the tubing. Avoid overheating the shrink tube as it can cause it to become brittle or broken.
Why Should I Use A Heat Gun For Heat Shrinking?
Why would you use a heat gun when there are so many other options? Shrink tubing, after all, can’t tell the difference between heat from a hot air cannon, a lighter, a hair dryer, or a soldering iron, can it?
To produce consistent results with shrink tubing, use a controlled heat source that isn’t too hot, not too cold, doesn’t catch fire, and doesn’t make a mess by leaving soot or other residues behind.
Using a heat gun is the simplest way to accomplish all of this. None of the other approaches yield the same results as this one. While they meet some of those requirements, their use can result in uneven shrinkage, insufficient insulation, or even physical damage due to overheating.
A hot air gun is the only way to evenly shrink adhesive-lined heat shrink tubing, heat the glue, and make a perfect watertight seal.
A Heat Gun Is Always Preferable
It kind of goes without saying, but the best tool for the job is a heat gun. You can grab one from your local home improvement store for relatively cheap, so having one ready for a time like this is the best move.
A heat gun provides better control. Moreover, it heats the shrink tubing far more quickly, accurately, and evenly than any alternatives. However, you can get your hands on a heat gun first and foremost.
What size heat shrink do you need?
Knowing that you need heat shrink tubing is the first step. After that, you need to determine what size heat shrink tubing you need to get the job done. It all depends on the diameter of the cable that is being covered.
Measure the cable at its widest part and then tack 30% onto the measurement to come to your tubing size. For 12 gauge wire, you would need 5mm tubing that has a .198″ diameter.
The same goes for 14 gauge wire. When moving up to 16 or 18 gauge wire, you would need 3mm tubing with a .118″ diameter.
Pay attention to the shrink ratio as well. If you see that a shrink tube has a balance of 2:1, it means that the tubing will shrink to half its size. A 3:1 ratio means that it will shrink to a third of its size, and so on.
What is adhesive heat shrink?
One of the downsides of heat shrink tubing is that the wiring beneath can still move around. While this typically isn’t an issue, you may run into a case where you need those wires to remain in place. That is where adhesive heat shrink comes in.
Adhesive heat shrink tubing comes with a liner of adhesive. The adhesive helps to keep the liner in place after it has been applied. The layer is comprised of a thermoplastic material. This material is then coated to the interior portion of the tub.
The additional adhesive layer is excellent for getting stronger adhesion and a better seal. If you are looking for a heavy-duty, permanent seal, then this may be the best choice of the bunch.
Ryan Womeldorf has more than a decade of experience writing. He loves to blog about construction, plumbing, and other home topics. Ryan also loves hockey and a lifelong Buffalo sports fan.
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