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.)
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.
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:
- 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)