Tools – Heat Sealing Irons

A heat-sealing iron is the only specialized tool you’ll need to make a DIY Packraft. (Learn about the DIY Packraft heat-sealing technique here.)

A model airplane covering iron like the Coverite Black Baron pictured below can be purchased for around $20-$30 USD. (Read my review of this model here.)

The Coverite Black Baron heat sealing iron, designed for covering radio controlled airplanes with heat sealable plastic film, has plenty of power and is robustly built.

These model airplane irons are robust and have plenty of power and thermal mass so they maintain a constant temperature well. The non-stick surface is a bonus, too, and the simple dial type temperature control means you can fine tune the temperature.

The Clover Mini Iron II, pictured below, can be bought online for about $25 USD (I’ve seen it as low as $15), but it is not as strong as a model airplane iron, does not hold temperature as consistently, and only has three temperature settings. The North American version has worked well for me on the highest temperature setting, but avoid the overseas version, as it has less power than the North American version and will not get hot enough for heat sealing TPU coated fabrics. You can read my original review here.

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The North American version of the Clover Mini Iron II works well and is very affordable, but some people have experienced problems with it.

If you want to go the DIY route, you can make your own heat-sealing iron by modifying an adjustable-temperature soldering iron (see pictures and instructions here). Honestly though, unless you have a shop full of tools and spare parts already, it’s easier to spend a few dollars on something that works out of the box and save yourself the time it takes.

I have tried several other heat-sealing devices. First, the tools I have used that work are, in order of preference from most preferred at the top to least preferred at the bottom:

  • Coverite Black Baron Heat Sealing Iron
  • Clover Mini Iron II (only the North American version works)
  • Adjustable-temperature soldering iron with modified tip (i.e. DIY heat-sealing iron)
  • Top Flite Sealing Iron (works, but has a design flaw that makes it difficult to use the side of the iron for sealing narrow areas)
  • Regular household clothes iron (too big for most applications)
  • 1500 Watt hot air gun – seals the fabric well, but it’s very difficult to direct the heat to a small area, so adjacent areas get melted too. Also difficult to use with just two hands.

The irons that I have tried that do not work at all are:

  • Century 21 Trim Sealing Iron (not hot enough for sealing TPU)
  • Dritz Petite Press mini iron – mine wasn’t hot enough, but other people have had better luck with this iron

Other things you’ll want to have on hand when constructing a packraft:

  • Scissors
  • A permanent marker (silver Sharpie works well on black fabric)
  • Parchment paper (a.k.a. “baking paper” – silicone coated paper used as a non-stick surface for baking, available in your local grocery store)
  • Ceramic or wooden bowl without a sharp lip around the bottom, for sealing curved seams (or a purpose-built wooden form)
  • Paperweight-type items, such as books, to keep you fabric from sliding around
  • A clean rag for pressing on the seams as they cool
  • A fairly large work surface in an area with good lighting. You don’t need a workshop or garage – I built my first three prototypes on my dining room table while living in a small condominium
  • Pieces of wood, cardboard, or some other smooth, flat, heat-resistant material to protect your teak dining room table from burns…
  • You should probably wear some kind of heat-resistant glove on the hand you use to hold the fabric (I have burned myself several times because I don’t always follow my own advice)

 

 

12 thoughts on “Tools – Heat Sealing Irons

  1. What are you thoughts on a hot air plastic welder?
    1600w Handheld Hot Air Plastic Welder Gun PVC Welding GUN Plastic Welder Similar to Leister Hot Air Gun

    1. I haven’t used a hot air welder before, but I’ve seen videos of people using them and it looks like it could work well, especially for fabrics without a heat sealable backing because the plastic coating appears to get hot enough to fuse to another piece of fabric when it’s put under pressure.

      Some caveats are that it would be more difficult to heat up only the part of the fabric you want welded, so it might not work on fabrics with an actual heat sealable backing (because it might stick where you don’t want it to). Also, 1600 watts is a lot of heat output, so you would need to use it in a large or well ventilated area if you were using it for any length of time…

      Where I’ve seen these used it’s been either in joining two straight edges that are laid out on a flat surface, or where one or two people are working together to feed the fabric into a machine that has the heat gun mounted so it shoots hot air over the fabric right before it gets pressed between two rollers (you have to apply pressure to get the weld to form properly). The problem is that if you’re joining curved edges that won’t lie flat, you need more than two hands to hold the two pieces of fabric plus the heat gun, plus the roller to press them together – definitely a two person job if the heat gun and rollers aren’t mounted in place and controllable with foot pedals.

      I’ve actually been thinking about trying to rig up something like this: http://www.jpwinc.com/pages/images/compdogretroends3em.JPG which is what I’ve just described, but that’s a bit beyond the scope of what I’m doing at this point. I just posted a video (https://youtu.be/xqvCLiK5_DE) that shows how I use the sealing iron to join straight edges, and I’ll be posting a video soon showing how I join curved edges (you’ll see then why it’s harder to do).

      Thanks for the suggestion and for reminding me of this – if I ever start making packrafts commercially, I’ll definitely consider investing the time and/or money into getting a hot air welder. In the meantime, if you give the heat gun a try, please let me know how it goes!

  2. Hi Matt. What wattage would you recommend in regards to soldering irons? I noticed on a previous post you said you were using a 25 watt iron, but the one you’ve linked in this description goes up to 60 watts…Was 25 inadequate? Also, why have you switched from the trim sealing iron tips to a crimped piece of copper tubing? Were they also not performing? Cheers.

    1. Hi Ben,

      The 25 Watt iron was hot enough – even too hot at times – but the temperature on that one was not adjustable. The trim sealing iron tip worked very well but I haven’t found a supplier for those tips that doesn’t charge a ridiculous amount for shipping and I wanted to design an iron that would be cheaper and easier for other people to replicate. The 60 Watt adjustable iron + copper tubing is not perfect, but I can fine-tune the temperature and I chose that iron because it’s readily available and has good reviews online. If you have purchased a different iron and have trim sealing iron tips, I think you will have no trouble. I was disappointed that my Century 21 trim sealing iron would not get hot enough, so I can’t recommend it, but I may have just received a bad one (though it still wasn’t hot enough when I modified the circuit inside to increase the power).

      Cheers,

      Matt

  3. Matt,

    I have been experimenting with bonding the fabric I bought before making my packraft. (200d Oxford TPU one side). I have had no luck with a small (seal rite) trim sealing iron or soldering iron with the seal rite iron tips. Neither irons seemed to get hot enough. I was successful bonding practice pieces with a full size regular iron, which I know is too big.

    Can you post your latest soldering iron/copper tubing mod soon so I can try that?

    Thanks, Craig

    1. Hi Craig,

      I’m surprised your soldering iron isn’t getting the tip hot enough to work… maybe there is not enough contact area between the soldering iron and the tip for sufficient heat to flow into the tip?

      I have just posted a quick overview of how I made my new iron – it’s on the blog and also under the How To menu.

      Cheers,

      Matt

  4. Hi Matt,

    I stumpeled upon this heat sealing iron which I now believe will fit the purpose for packraft building, unmodified in terms of size and temperature range. I ordered one all the way from Poland, I live in Denmark and it was EUR 11,90

    (http://www.modele.sklep.pl/en/Katalog/NARZEDZIA-I-PRZYRZADY/Zelazka-i-suszarki-do-folii/Q-MODEL-606-1-ZELAZKO-TRIM.html)

    but there many retailers out there, so I through I would give it a shot. When I got the iron there were temperature settings on the box as stated below, however not if it was given in celsius or fahrenheit.

    The temperature range if compaired to Coverite trim sealing iron, seems to be very close provided the temperature measurements on my trim iron are given in fahrenheit. I was dissapointed and also ordered a soldering iron, so that I could do the recommended modifications.

    (https://www.amazon.de/dp/B01HYUR7SG/ref=pe_386171_51767411_TE_dp_1)

    However when I orderes the trim iron I also approached the Taiwan manufacture Ming Yang via Taiwan trade approx. two weeks ago and I got an answer from them today that the temperature range is indeed in celsius.

    Hence I believe this would work, have not tried it on facric yet as, it is in the mail. Below see some photos of the iron and the well short but still reply from Ming Yang in Taiwan.

    It has four temperature settings :

    HI: to etched line 270 °C (518°F)
    HI: to set pin 318 °C (604.4 °F)
    Low: to etched line 186 °C (366.8 °F)
    Low: to set pin 215 °C (419°F)

    https://goo.gl/photos/mZ4sAKitKUrkhpwS6

    Best regards

    Christoffer

      1. Hi Matt,

        Received your material I ordered today, thanks.

        Made a small test with my Ming yang 606 sealing iron.

        Small video on this link, I used the high setting but did not give it time to heat up and it worked, 5 min after it was warmer and I believe this is the amount of seal that is required. Not sure because it is my first attempt with your fabric, however for me it looks promising and I think I can recommend the product instead of doing modification with soldering iron.

        https://goo.gl/photos/mZ4sAKitKUrkhpwS6

        Looking forward to build a packraft.

        Best regards

        Christoffer

  5. Hi Matt,

    As promised my 2cts about that iron sold by a Polish shop.

    I gave it a bit of testing this afternoon and my opinion would be to stay clear from it:
    I first tried the setting that was meant to give me the right temperature with no luck so I gradually increased.
    Ended at the max setting, with one hour of preheating and still it kind of bonded but would not get the proper fusion of both TPU layers (they’d still come appart each on its original fabric when I rip it appart)
    Fair enough it’s pretty cold in my workshop at the moment but still.
    And after only about 15cm of sealing tests the so called teflon treatment on the tip starts to show some wear and lets the aluminium thru.

    What I ended doing was adapt the tip on a 40w soldering iron I had around and it worked a treat, perfect strong bond like you get in your fabric testing video, no melted nylon, all good.

    For those looking for a solution in Europe when searching I came across models made by Antex (which I’ve seen my father using soldering irons from for the past 30 years) for quilting that might be a better option than what I bought.

    I hope this helps.

    Cheers

    Frank

    1. Hi Frank! I was going to order one and give it a try myself, so thanks for saving me the trouble. The Antex quilting iron looks like it might be a good option, and possibly cheaper than the Clover in Europe. I will see if it’s available here and if so I will try one.

      Thanks again!

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