There are a lot of different heat gun models out there. Some get extremely hot, others are cordless, and many are super simple with just a high/low button for the heat.
Having a variable temperature heat gun with speed control is important for the type of techniques that I like to create with polymer clay. However, it may not be necessary for you if you don’t like to experiment with faux glass. Many people use regular embossing heat guns that you can find at the craft store.
Since I don’t an embossing heat gun, I’m going to lay out all of the reasons why I think having the more expensive option is worth it if you’re a polymer clay enthusiast that likes pushing faux glass boundaries.
Make Faux Glass Hollow Beads
This is an example of a faux glass bead I made out of liquid polymer clay using my heat gun. Check out my tutorial if you’d like to learn how I did it! You can preview the tutorial for free before you buy.
Holding Steady Low Temperatures is Really Useful
There are a lot of heat guns out there (embossing guns for crafts included) that only allow you to turn them on and off and select high or low for the temperature. Something that I’ve found with heat guns like this is either they don’t get hot enough to actually be useful on the low setting, or they so incredibly hot that it’s really hard to avoid burning the clay on the hot setting.
With my variable temperature heat gun, I’m able to start the temperature as low as 120℉ if I wanted to. Although it goes all the way up to a approximately 1,000℉, which would never be useful for polymer clay, it also holds a very steady temperature between 250℉-300℉. This is desirable when you want to quickly gel liquid polymer clay so it doesn’t run all over the place on a 3D form.
Having Control Over Air Flow Prevents Sloppy Messes
Being able to choose a low air flow is extremely handy when you’re using a heat gun with liquid polymer clay. This makes it so that you can have a little bit of wiggle-room when it comes to liquid clay layer thicknesses.
If you’re just working with a heat gun that has a high air flow, then you’ll have to be very conscientious about keeping your layers extra thin (and keeping the piece moving pretty quickly) so that you don’t blow the liquid clay all over the place before it has a chance to thicken.
Hands-free Operation Makes Work Easier
The corded Milwaukee heat gun that I use has a stable base that I can set down on my table so that I can use both of my hands for something else. I love this feature! It’s something that I definitely could not do with an embossing heat gun.
Instead, when I had one of those, I had to rotate my clay piece with one hand while holding the embossing heat gun in my other. Definitely doable, but more cumbersome. If you’re planning on replacing your craft store version with one from the hardware store, then I highly recommend shopping around for a model that has a wide support base so it can be used hands-free.
Do you use a heat gun to completely cure the clay?
I don’t use my heat gun to fully cure polymer clay. Instead, I use it to partially cure the liquid clay so that it no longer runs all over the place. I always put my polymer clay pieces into my craft oven once I’m finishing using the heat gun for a final cure just to make sure everything fully bakes through.
Should you test the temperature output of a variable temp heat gun?
Absolutely! Even if you have a digital screen like mine. Even though you’re selecting what seems like a very specific temperature, it’s always good to confirm whether or not it the tool is running hot or cool. Additionally, if you test the air stream you will know approximately how far you can hold the piece from the nozzle without burning it. You will need an infrared thermometer with a k-type thermocouple probe to test how hot your heat gun is getting.
Do you have to have a variable temperature heat gun?
People definitely successfully use regular craft store embossing heat guns for polymer clay projects – just check any polymer clay forum to read posts about it! If you decide to try out a model that only lets you set the temperature to low/high, then make sure you are carefully watching your piece for smoke so you can move the nozzle further away. I still recommend using a k-type thermocouple probe with an infrared thermometer to test the output.
Final Thoughts about Heat Guns for Polymer Clay
In general, heat guns really aren’t used very often for polymer clay work. The exception to this would be if you like to use liquid polymer clay as a “glaze” for the pieces that you make. For the average polymer clay artist, an embossing heat gun from the craft store will work fine. That being said, if you love creating super transparent beads that mimic glass like I do, then you’ll find the features offered on a more expensive variable temp/speed heat gun very useful.