A hot glue gun is a crucial tool for hobbyists and professionals alike. It lets you apply melted glue that can bind to almost any material. Its adhesive works on plastic, wood, paper, metal, fabric, stone, you name it! While glue guns were originally used for bonding shoe soles, their versatility has made them a popular tool for DIY projects, home improvement, upholstery work and arts & crafts.
In this article I will teach you how to get the best results from your hot glue gun, and explain how to use it safely. I will also show which glue sticks are best to use, so that you can create long lasting bonds on almost any objects and materials.
Let’s dive in!
What is a glue gun?
A hot glue gun is a handheld device that lets you melt and apply hot melt adhesive. This adhesive comes in the form of solid sticks and is also simply known as hot glue. The sticks are fed in through the back of the glue gun, whereas the melted glue comes out through the nozzle in the front.
The advantage of hot glue guns is that they are easy to use and that they let you create strong bonds between many different materials, especially when used with the right type of glue stick.
There are a few important steps and safety measures you have to keep in mind however. This article will explain them to you.
What is hot glue?
Hot glue is the adhesive that gets melted in a glue gun. It is also referred to as hot melt adhesive or thermoplastic adhesive. When it comes out of the nozzle it has a tacky, slightly sticky feel to it. After it cools down, it solidifies.
The most commonly used form of hot glue (for us DIY folk at least) is glue sticks. But hot melt adhesives also come in other forms, like ones that you can apply by spraying or dipping. Dipping in a hot glue dipping pot is a method that is frequently used for flower arrangements and other floristry.
Benefits of hot glue
Hot glue has several benefits compared to other adhesives. For example, it dries fast. This lets you keep working on your projects without having to wait a long time for glue to dry. As a result, using a glue gun is very time efficient.
Hot glue also has a high viscosity. As a result, it does a great job filling gaps and bonding rough surfaces together.
Another big advantage of hot glue is that it has a long shelf life. I am sure you are familiar with tubes of glue drying out by themselves. With hot glue sticks, this is not an issue.
If you store glue sticks in a clean, dry place, at room temperature and outside of sunlight, you can basically store them indefinitely.
Additional advantages of hot glue are:
- There is no loss of thickness when it cures.
- Hot glue guns are affordable because they are such simple devices.
- It works well with color additives. You can even use colored glue sticks. These are great for crafting or for matching the color of the glue to the color of the object that you apply it to.
- There is little to no waste.
- It does not contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are harmful to your health.
- It can often be disposed of without having to take extra environmental precautions.
How do glue guns work?
Hot glue guns are straightforward and uncomplicated devices. They consist of a few simple components that work together to provide you with a steady supply of melted glue. Typically these are a trigger mechanism, a nozzle, a heating element and a few electronic components.
Let’s take a closer look at what each component does.
The mechanical trigger mechanism in a hot glue gun is responsible for driving the glue stick forward towards the heating element and the nozzle. When you engage the trigger, a force is applied on the stick that advances it forward. The further you engage the trigger, the more glue gets fed through.
Some glue guns are manual-feed instead of trigger-feed. This means they rely on the user to feed the glue stick through by hand, typically with the thumb.
The heating element heats the nozzle of a glue gun, so that the nozzle in turn can melt the glue. In order for the heating element to not overheat, it is typically controlled by a thermistor.
A thermistor is a resistor that is sensitive to temperature. In this case, it helps limit the power of the heating element. This prevents the glue stick from overheating. It also lets us handle our glue gun safely, without the risk of burning ourselves.
At the front end of a glue gun we find the nozzle. It usually has a conical shape and is made out of metal. Needless to say, it gets very hot. For that reason, it can come with a protective layer of rubber or temperature-resistant plastic. This makes it safer to use.
The nozzle allows us to precisely place the melted hot glue where we want.
Some hot glue guns come with interchangeable nozzles. These let you control the shape and size of the hot glue bead. For different projects you might want to lay the hot glue down in different widths, or with more precision instead of more flow.
The higher quality nozzles come with a check valve. This is a valve that is placed at the back of the nozzle. It prevents backflow from expanding hot glue that tries to move in the wrong direction.
What types of hot glue are there?
Hot glue can be divided into two main categories based on their melting points; high temperature and low temperature glue. These two types are different in their melting temperatures, application and the materials they can be applied to. It is essential to use the right type of hot glue for your projects.
High temperature hot glue, as the name suggests, needs a high operating temperature (starting at 195 °C / 380 °F) to melt. Because of this, it is also known as hot melt. In order to apply it, you need to use a high-temperature or high melt glue gun.
The higher melting temperatures create better bonds than lower temperatures, and also give a longer working time. This means you have more time to position your workpieces before the glue sets.
Another benefit when it comes to high temperature hot melt is that there is a wider range of adhesives you can choose from. So if you need to work with more difficult to glue materials (like glass end metal), high temp is the way to go.
As for downsides, it is more dangerous to work with than low temperature hot melt. Both for the user and for the material that is being glued. Us humans can get serious burns from molten high temperature glue, whereas delicate materials can end up melting and deforming.
Works best for
Creating strong bonds. Because of the high temperatures, this works best with materials that can resist the heat. Some examples are:
- Plastics, like polypropylene and ABS.
Low temperature hot melt glue, you guessed it, works with less heat. To work with low melt glue sticks you need a low temperature glue gun. Typically these operate at or around 130 °C / 260 °F instead of the 195 °C / 380 °F of a high temp gun.
Its strength comes from being able to work with delicate materials that can not stand a lot of heat, without warping or damaging them.
Because of its lower operating temperatures it is a lot safer to work with, especially for children. For arts & crafts, this is usually the type of hot glue you want to go with.
Low temperature glue has a relatively short working time, which means that it solidifies fast. This is not necessarily a disadvantage. You don’t have to spend as much time waiting for things to dry, and there is less risk of your workpieces accidentally shifting around before they are set in place.
The bonds provided by low melt hot glue tend to be less strong than when working with high temp melt. Again, this can be an advantage. For example, if you are prototyping with styrofoam and need to disassemble several pieces without damaging them.
Works best for
Any materials or objects that are delicate and risk getting damaged when getting hot. For example:
- Thin foil
- (Inflated) balloons
It is typically recommended to not use hot melt glue sticks in a low temperature glue gun. The same goes for low melt sticks in a high temperature gun.
There are ways around this though. For example, you can buy multi-temperature glue sticks that work at either temperature. These are a compromise between the two types of glue sticks. You can use them with both high and low temperature hot glue guns.
What are the different types of glue guns?
Because of the various types of hot glues that are available, you can also find different kinds of hot glue guns. Ultimately, what you should go with depends on the type of jobs you will be doing. Let’s take a closer look at the different types of glue guns.
High temperature glue guns work with high temperature hot glue. Sometimes they are referred to as hot melt glue guns. They let you form strong bonds and are suited for the more heavy-duty stuff.
This is the type of hot glue gun you need when you do woodwork, construction, home improvement or any other application that needs a lot of bonding strength.
Low temperature glue guns work with low temperature hot glue. They are also named cool melt glue guns. These are ideal for working with thin and temperature-sensitive materials, like fabric, paper and foam.
This type of hot glue gun is more suited for hobbyists that are into arts & crafts, or for children that need a safe glue gun to work with.
You can also find adjustable temperature glue guns. These usually have a setting switch that allows you to switch between temperatures. This gives you the best of both worlds and lets you work with both hot melt and cool melt glue sticks.
Hot glue guns with adjustable temperature give you a lot more flexibility in the types of projects that you can tackle, but do come at a higher cost.
Mini glue guns
Mini glue guns are more compact than your typical hot glue gun. They usually come with a smaller nozzle and put down smaller beads of glue. This gives you finer control over hot glue placement, making them ideal for small-scale projects like scrapbooking.
Keep in mind that mini glue guns take smaller glue sticks than standard glue guns (more on this later). Because they deliver a smaller volume of glue per squeeze, they are not suited for larger jobs. For precision they are ideal however.
You can find mini glue guns in high, low, and even dual temperature variants. Their small size makes them perfect for compact storage.
Cordless glue guns
Cordless glue guns are ideal for when you do not have access to AC power. They are battery powered and let you work anywhere. Even if you work at a workbench with access to power, it is nice to not have a power cord getting in the way.
While there are simple cordless glue guns available, the more serious ones is where all the fun is at. They reach high temperatures and come with a large lithium-ion battery that lets you use it for hours without recharging. These are ideal for things like woodworking and home improvement.
The best cordless hot glue guns typically come with extra features, such as an auto standby feature, swappable nozzles and even LEDs that light up your working area.
What kinds of glue sticks are there?
Aside from differences in melting points, hot glue sticks vary in other ways. For example, not every glue stick has the same size (both in diameter and in length) or even the same color. Some glue sticks are designed to work with very specific materials, like wood.
Hot glue sticks come in different sizes. They differ in diameter and length, but the diameter is the most important. Hot glue guns accept sticks of many lengths, but they only fit one specific diameter of glue stick. Make sure to keep this in mind when buying.
When you need to precisely apply hot glue, you are unlikely to need a lot of glue at once. For bigger stuff like carpentry or DIY home improvement however, you need to push a high volume of glue through the nozzle. To achieve this higher flow rate, you need larger glue sticks and a hot glue gun that fits them.
Typical glue stick diameters
- 7 mm / 5/16” – This is the typical glue stick size used for mini glue guns. It is mostly used for arts & crafts. They often come in a variety of colors, like glow in the dark, or with glitter. In terms of adhesive quality, they are not too strong and do not offer a lot of choice in different glue formulations.
- 11mm / 7/16″ and 12mm / 1/2″ – These diameters are roughly the same and can sometimes be interchanged. 11mm / 7/16″ glue sticks seem to be more common in Europe, whereas 12mm / 1/2″ is favored in the US. They are the most common sizes available.
These sticks come in a wide range of glue formulations and are the most affordable. When buying, make sure that the recommended temperature for the glue sticks matches up with the temperature of your hot glue gun.
- 15mm / 5/8″ – These hot glue sticks let you lay down a higher volume of hot glue, which makes them great for large projects. A secondary benefit of these larger sticks is that you have to replace them less often than smaller sticks.
- 43mm / 1 3/4″ – These massive glue slugs are used exclusively in industrial applications where a high output volume is required. They are often just as long as they are wide (43mm / 1 3/4″). Not very useful for hobbyists, but I have included them in this list nonetheless.
As for length, this varies depending on the brand of sticks, but it rarely causes compatibility issues with the hot glue gun. Unless you go out of your way to buy very short glue sticks, it is likely that they will work in a standard glue gun. The diameter is a more important dimension to pay attention to.
A typical hot melt glue stick has a partially transparent, milky white color to it. But it is also possible to get glue sticks in different, opaque colors.
Bright colored glue sticks are mostly used for arts & crafts. They typically have lower melting temperatures, and they are not that great for heavy-duty fastening. For the simple stuff they are great however.
For hot-gluing car audio equipment and other black objects, you can find solid black hot glue that blends in well with dark plastics.
Glue sticks for specific materials
If you plan on working a lot with a certain material, then it is useful to get hot glue sticks that are specifically designed for it. All-purpose sticks work well overall, but do not create high strength bonds on all every material. For that, you need something specialized.
For example, there are specific glue sticks for woodworking that create strong, long-lastig bonds between pieces of wood. These sticks tend to give better results than generic hot glue. Additionally, their tan color lets them blend in with the wood.
You are not limited to only using glue with a hot glue gun. There are also wax sticks for glue guns available that you can use to create wax seals. These are ideal for when you need to create a lot of seals in a short time. Plus, no more burning your fingers or soot ending up on your pristine wax seals!
How to use a hot glue gun
What you’ll need
Useful if you need extra strong bonds
To protect your work surface
Work area preparation
- Read the manual of your glue gun. Before doing the actual hot gluing, it is important to first do a bit of preparation. Read the manual to make sure that you know how your glue gun works, how you can use it safely and whether you have the right glue sticks for both the gun and the project that you are going to work on.
- Check whether anything is damaged. You should never use a damaged glue gun. Its high voltages and temperatures can be dangerous. Any cracks or splits in either the body of the glue gun or in the wiring are a sign that you can not use the device safely.
- Prepare your work area. Hot glue can damage the surface you are working on, so it is important to protect it. You can use a piece of aluminium foil or carton to cover it up, or if you are up for using something more refined, you can use a glue gun pad. Also check that the entire work surface is level, so that there is less risk of the hot glue gun falling over.
- Protect yourself. Melted hot glue hurts and can cause burns, especially when working with the high temperature variant. To be sure that you don’t burn yourself with glue splatter, it is a good idea to wear gloves, long sleeves and eye protection.
Glue gun preparation
- Clean the nozzle. Any residue left over from previous projects should be removed from the nozzle before heating it up. This ensures that the freshly melted glue has somewhere to go, instead of backing up into the glue gun. If you are using a glue gun with a removable nozzle, you can detach it first to make cleaning easier. Follow the included instructions for this.
To do the actual cleaning, you can use a pair of tweezers to peel off leftover glue pieces and something thin (like a toothpick) to clean out the hole of the nozzle.
- Make sure that the glue gun contains a glue stick. Check the gun to see if it already contains a (partially used) glue stick. If it does, finish that one first. You don’t need a brand new stick each time you hot glue something.
If the barrel is empty however, you should insert a new stick through the back of the glue gun.
- Heat the glue gun up. Plug the gun into a power socket and if necessary, flip the on/off switch and set the right temperature. Depending on the device, it can take somewhere between 2 and 8 minutes to get up to temperature. Because you have read the manual, you know exactly how long it takes for your glue gun. 😉
Preparing the objects
- Prepare the surface of the objects to be glued. To get the best glue bond, it is important that the surfaces that you will apply the glue on are clean. This means wiping off any dust, oils, debris and other particulates.
For smooth, shiny objects it is recommended to lightly sand the surfaces with 120-150 grit sandpaper. This is also a good idea when hot gluing wood. Sanding the area gives the hot melt a coarse, grippy surface to bond to.
- Test the glue gun. While it is tempting to immediately start gluing, it is important to make sure that the hot glue gun works properly. Lightly engage the trigger of the gun and check whether there is a steady stream of hot glue coming out.
If everything works as it should, continue to the next step. If there are any issues, you need to troubleshoot your hot glue gun.
- Wipe the nozzle. To ensure that no glue blobs or strings end up on your workpiece(s), wipe the end of the nozzle on your crafting mat to clean it.
- Glue the workpiece(s). Place the nozzle on the area you intend to glue and gently press the trigger to lay down the hot glue. Move the nozzle to lay the glue down in the pattern you want (straight lines, dots, curved lines, etc.). After applying the glue, line up the objects and firmly press them together. Some additional tips:
- You can release the trigger a bit before the end. The glue will keep flowing for a bit after the trigger is released.
- It does not take long for hot glue to dry. Thinking a few steps ahead during the gluing process lets you work swiftly before the glue hardens.
- For an extra strong bond you can clamp the objects together. This also keeps them from moving while the glue fully hardens.
- Wait for the glue to dry. To make sure that the glue sufficiently sets, wait at least 4-5 minutes for it to dry.
- Remove any excess glue. You can use a sharp blade to remove any excess hot melt that you don’t want on the final product. It is best to do this when the glue has solidified.
- Turn the hot glue gun off. Once you are completely done gluing, turn the gun off. Either by flipping the on/off switch, or by unplugging it. Let it cool down while it is placed on its stand. You can let any glue that drips out fall on the mat.
- Read the glue gun manual.
- Check the hot gun for damage.
- Prepare your work area.
- Wear appropriate protection gear.
- Remove any old hot melt from the nozzle.
- Insert a new glue stick if necessary.
- Bring the glue gun up to temperature.
- Prepare the workpiece surfaces.
- Do a quick test of the glue gun.
- Remove any molten glue from the nozzle.
- Glue your parts together.
- Wait for the glue to dry.
- Remove any extra glue.
- Turn off the glue gun and let it cool down.
Frequently asked questions
You might have some questions, like how to remove hot glue from fabric or what hot glue is made of. Here are the answer to the most frequently asked ones.
How can you remove a glue stick from a glue gun?
This is actually something that you should never do. Removing the glue stick from a glue gun can cause damage to the internal components. No matter if the glue in the nozzle is liquid or if it has already solidified and hardened.
What should be done instead, is to leave the glue stick in the gun until you use it next time. This is perfectly safe and will not cause any damage. If the current glue stick is almost used up, you can simply feed a new one in through the back.
How long does it take for a glue gun to heat up?
The time it takes for a glue gun to heat up depends on the type of gun. Low temperature cool melt guns might only need 2 minutes, whereas high temperature ones take around 5 minutes. The real heavy duty glue guns can take even longer to heat up.
If you are not sure how long it takes for your glue gun to heat up, it can help to check the manual.
Is hot glue permanent?
It depends on how you look at it. After gluing something with hot glue, it will stay in place and will not release by itself. In that sense, it is permanent. The bond is not extremely strong however, and you can remove it with enough force if you want.
How to remove hot glue
When you work with hot glue, it is inevitable that at some point you spill it. Whether it is on hard surfaces like plastic or on soft ones like fabric, there are several methods you can use to remove hot glue.
Arguably the best and easiest way to remove hot glue is by using rubbing alcohol:
- Soak a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol. You can use 70% or 91% isopropyl alcohol, either works fine. Alternatively, if you do not have any rubbing alcohol available you can use acetone (nail polish remover) instead.
- Apply the alcohol around the edges of the spilled hot glue.
- Wait. It will take a bit of time for the hot glue to react with the alcohol. The glue bond will have loosened after about a minute.
- Remove the hot glue. You can simply use your fingers to peel the glue off, or use a dull scraping tool instead.
- Clean the area. After you have removed all of the hot melt, clean any remaining glue or alcohol residue. You can use water for this, or whatever else is appropriate for the material being cleaned.
How to remove hot glue from fabric
While it is possible to use the isopropyl rubbing alcohol method for getting hot glue off of fabric, you might not always want to do so. Some fabrics dyes can fade because of the alcohol, and rubbing alcohol itself sometimes contains blue dye that can stain clothes.
Luckily, there is another simple method that you can use to remove hot glue from fabric and clothes: the freezer method.
- Do not try to rub the hot glue off. Before removing the hot glue, it is important to not try to rub it off. This will only make things worse, as it will spread the hot melt into smaller gaps and cause it to bond better with the fabric.
- Place the fabric item in the freezer. This causes the hot melt to dry and harden as quickly as possible.
- Wait. It will take about 1 hour for the glue to fully dry.
- Remove the fabric from the freezer.
- Peel the hot glue off. Make sure to take your time and take things slow here. Especially thin fabrics are at risk of damage from peeling too fast.
What is hot glue made of?
Hot glue is typically made of three types of ingredients. Polymers, which are responsible for the strength and flexibility, resins, which take care of the adhesion, and plasticizers, these are what thicken the hot glue and make it easy to apply.
At what temperature does hot glue melt?
High temperature hot glue melts at temperatures a bit under 195 °C / 380 °F. Low temperature hot melts for delicate materials and crafting do not need such high temperatures. Instead, they melt at a bit under 130 °C / 260 °F.
Does hot glue melt in hot weather?
Hot glue does not typically melt when exposed to hot weather, even the low temperature variant doesn’t. But if you have a black and/or metal surface in direct sunlight that is bonded with hot glue, it might be possible for the glue to soften and weaken.
How long does it take for hot glue to dry?
The time required for hot glue to set varies on the amount and type of glue used (high/low temperature) and the material it is bonded to. Typically it takes somewhere between 1 and 10 minutes. It takes longer for the glue to fully cure however, about 24 hours.
How strong is hot glue?
The strength of hot glue is hard to quantify and varies on a lot of factors. The type of hot glue used, the material it is applied to and the exact formulation of the glue are all important. Applying a lot of glue also gives a stronger bond than using less.
In general, high temperature hot melt provides stronger bonds than low temperature hot melt.
Hot glue (or any type of glue) adheres better to objects with a rough surface. It is hard for glue to bond to smooth surfaces like polished metal and glass. If you need to hot glue these materials, it can be useful to roughen them up a bit with sandpaper first.
If you are looking for strong hot glue, I can recommend Gorilla hot glue sticks. They bond well to many materials, even metal and glass. You can use them with both high and low temperature glue guns. Because of its durability and weather resistance, it is a great hot glue for outdoor projects.
Tips & safety advice
No matter what you use it for, it is essential to know how to use a hot glue gun safely. High temperatures, melted glue and electricity can be dangerous if not handled with care. Here are the do’s and don’ts of working with hot glue.
- Fully inspect the hot glue gun before use. This allows you to spot potentially dangerous damage to the device.
- Always wear appropriate safety gear. Gloves, eye protection and long sleeves are all valuable assets in protecting you from hot glue. Tying up your hair is a good idea too, as removing hot glue from hair is quite a hassle.
- Create a suitable work area. Make sure that there is enough ventilation and that the surface you are working on is level and balanced.
- Protect the work surface. Covering your work surface with something like a glue gun pad prevents hot melt from damaging it.
- Keep a bowl of cold water nearby. This can be useful in case you get melted glue on your skin. Dipping the skin in the water soothes the burn and cools the glue down at the same time.
- Don’t touch the nozzle! It is hot during operation and will burn your skin.
- Don’t touch the liquid hot melt either. Leave it alone until it has cooled down. If you are working on a project where you do need to touch the glue while it is hot, you can use silicone finger protectors to keep your finger safe. These are a good idea for children as well.
- Never use a glue gun while it is tilted upwards. This can cause melted glue to leak back into the device and cause damage. This means that gluing objects overhead is not possible.
- When not actively using it, always place the hot glue gun on its stand with the nozzle facing down. This lets you know where it is at all times and keeps it from burning things.
- Never place the gun on its side. Placing the glue gun on its side can cause damage due to melted glue seeping in unwanted areas.
- Don’t leave the glue gun unattended while it is on. If you plan on not using the glue gun for 20 minutes or more, simply unplug it.
- Wipe the nozzle. It is best to do this while the nozzle is still warm, so that hot glue residue comes off easily. Do be careful.
- Make sure to let the glue gun fully cool down before storing it. Storing the device while it is still hot or warm can create dangerous situations.
- Never remove a partially used glue stick through the back of the glue gun. Once a glue stick has been inserted and used, it can not be removed. No matter if the gun is hot or cold.
A hot glue gun is a versatile tool that is useful in a lot of projects. Whether it is to form strong bonds while woodworking or using low temperature hot glue in arts & crafts, it lets you do so. For any project you can find the right hot glue gun and hot melt sticks.
- What a glue gun is
- How a glue gun works
- What types of glue sticks there are
- How to use a hot glue gun
- The do’s and don’ts of using hot glue
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