Versatile heat guns can do more than remove paint


August 28, 1993|By Gene Austin | Gene Austin,Knight-Ridder News Service

Heat guns provide one of the fastest and cleanest methods of removing paint, but paint removal is just one of many uses for a gun's electrically heated stream of air.

You can also use heat guns to thaw frozen pipes and locks, soften adhesives, soften and remove window putty, remove vinyl flooring, remove bumper stickers and decals, loosen nuts and bolts, bend plastics and speed the drying of some patching and caulking materials.

Many guns have variable settings to control the temperature, which in some guns can reach 1,000 degrees.

Heat guns suitable for most do-it-yourselfers can be bought for less than $40. Black & Decker and Wagner are among the brands geared toward this market.

Milwaukee (MHT), Bosch and Master are among the brand names offering heat guns designed for heavy-duty use. These guns are often priced at $80 or more.

The electrical connection and the high temperatures reached by heat guns require great caution during use. Always wear gloves. If a tool is laid aside temporarily, make sure the hot tip won't damage the surface where the tool is resting. Also make sure the hot tool can't accidentally be touched. One good system is to unplug the tool and put it in a metal bucket while it cools.

Heat guns must also be used with care on old, dry wood and other flammable materials. Keep a fire extinguisher on hand.

If paint to be removed was applied before 1979, always test it for lead. Kits to detect lead in paint are available at some paint stores or can be obtained from HybriVet Systems Inc., Box 1210, Framingham, Mass. 01701. HybriVet's LeadCheck test kits use chemically treated swabs that turn pink if lead is present. An eight-swab LeadCheck kit costs $19.95 postpaid, or call (800) 262-5323 for more information.

If lead is found, it is best to have the paint removed by an experienced painter with the equipment required to handle lead paint.

When heating any material that might have harmful fumes, such as some adhesives, work only in well-ventilated areas and wear a respirator-type mask capable of filtering toxic fumes.

Carefully read the instructions supplied with the heat gun for other safety tips.

Removing paint with a heat gun requires a bit of practice, but once some skill is developed the work can be done quickly and efficiently.

To remove paint, a scraper is usually needed in addition to the gun, since most guns only soften the paint. A few guns, including one by Black & Decker, have an attached scraper blade that makes it possible to soften and scrape in one motion.

If a regular heat gun is used, hold the gun in one hand, with the nozzle a few inches from the paint surface, and the scraper in the other. A good technique is to keep the scraper just behind the nozzle of the gun as the gun is moved over the paint. Move the gun slowly so the paint softens and bubbles and can easily be lifted with the scraper.

Several types of nozzles and scrapers are needed to remove paint effectively. These are supplied as accessories with some guns, or can be bought separately.

Most guns have a built-in round nozzle that works well for general paint removal. A fan-shaped, add-on nozzle, with a narrow opening that helps spread the heat, is also good for general paint removal. Another useful add-on nozzle has a small, round opening that directs the heat at a specific point.

A shield-nozzle is used for softening window putty. This wide nozzle has an opening on one side to direct heat at the putty, but the other side of the nozzle is closed to shield the glass from excessive heat, which can crack the glass.

A flat paint scraper about three inches wide is ideal for general paint removal from flat surfaces such as siding and table tops. Specialty scrapers with pointed or rounded heads are useful for removing paint from window trim and other surfaces with grooves or concave and convex surfaces.

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