Shrink-wrap heat guns range from a few hundred bucks to more than $1,000. While it’s true with heat tools that you get what you pay for, DIY boaters probably don’t need—or even want—some of the features available on top models. To get to the heart of heat-tool comparisons, I asked two industry pros for their hot tips on selecting the right gun.
Chuck Milliken, president of heat-tool manufacturer Shrinkfast (shrinkfasttools.com), says it’s safer to minimize climbing ladders while heating shrink-wrap. Less ladder work speeds up jobs too, which is why professional installers appreciate Shrinkfast’s 998 top model ($599), a heat tool that offers several extension combinations spanning from 2 to 8 feet. But that reach and flexibility is beyond what most DIY boat owners require, although large boats, particularly those that are both tall and wide near the top, benefit from long extensions.
Ripack heat tools (ripack.us) are similarly intended for professional installers or large jobs, with four models offering multiple extensions reaching past 6 feet.
Shrinkfast’s slightly smaller, lighter prosumer MZ model ($499), beginning in spring 2022, will offer a 3-foot extension that meets most DIYers’ needs. (By starting at the bottom and working up, Milliken says rising heat does much of the work, minimizing direct heat needed near the top.)
A 3-foot extension is available for Dr. Shrink’s consumer-oriented Rapid Shrink 100 heat tool (dr-shrink.com).
Shrinkfast’s 998 pro model puts out 200,000 Btu—around 1,100 degrees F measured 6 inches from the gun’s tip—compared to 60,000 Btu and 730 degrees from the MZ model. (Shrink film reacts around 200 degrees.) Keeping either gun in the same spot—for just fractions of a second—will burn shrink-wrap, but Milliken says the MZ’s lower temperature provides a forgiveness factor two to three times longer against momentary lapses.
Dr. Shrink’s RS100 ($415) falls between the two, with 100,000 Btu output. Ripack heat guns range from 55 kW (near 200,000 Btu) to 80 kW (almost 300,000 Btu).
Ryan Polcyn from Dr. Shrink, a leading shrink-wrap supplier that sells all three brands mentioned, says: “They all self-ignite with the trigger pull and include a regulator, 25 feet of hose and a carrying case. It comes down to Btu and build.” Dr. Shrink’s RS100 is a budget tool for DIY boat owners. Its plastic body (with all-metal innards) won’t stand up to hard use as well as all-metal Ripack and Shrinkfast tools.
Shrinkfast and Ripack models include a dual-action safety integrated into the grip, as well as an outer heat shield encircling the combustor that stays cool to the touch. Both carry UL approval in the US, as well as Canadian CUL and European CE certifications. The RS100 heat tool lacks the cool-to-touch heat shroud and trigger safety. Hoses and regulators are UL-approved, but the heat tool itself is not.