Summer’s right around the corner, but the heat is already on. From unrelenting sunshine to sizzling grills, feeling hot (and cooling down) are part of the daily grind now. PopSci is here to help you ease into the most scorching season with the latest science, gear, and smart DIY ideas. Welcome to Hot Month.
Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise—hot glue guns are magical.
Well, not literally. It’s basic science: high temperatures melt plastic, and once the heat is gone, the polymer returns to its previous solid state. This gives you the chance to reshape these plastic sticks into something else, including the bond that keeps two objects together—maybe ribbons and a hair clip, or a rhinestone and, you know, anything.
But using your hot glue gun to craft a Halloween costume once a year just seems like a waste. Here are three other ways you can take advantage of this truly versatile gadget.
Make everything non-slip
Go to YouTube and you’ll find a dozen videos listing 20-plus uses for your hot glue gun. But most of those tricks can be categorized under “adding more traction to something.” This works because not only the plastic in hot glue is malleable, it’s slightly sticky—exactly what you need when you want to keep things from sliding around.
Make non-slip socks
Placing a few blobs of hot glue on the soles of your socks will help you avoid slipping and falling on hardwood or tile floors. It’s as simple as that.
It should go without saying, but do not try this while wearing your socks. If they’re on your feet, take them off to avoid burning your skin. Then, put a piece of cardboard or parchment paper inside each garment so the hot glue doesn’t go all the way through the fabric. Skip this step and you risk ruining your sock by gluing both sides together.
If blobs are not your thing, you can always go for lines—zig-zags and waves work nicely. If you want to get creative and draw something else, you can do that too. The sky’s the limit. Just don’t put your socks on until the glue is cool and dry.
Make non-slip clothes hangers
Yes, you can buy velvet-coated hangers, but using your hot glue gun will allow you to upgrade the plastic and wooden hangers you probably already have.
Place three to five blobs of hot glue on both ends of a clothes hanger and let them fully dry. You may be able to tell by eye—solid hot glue is opaque—but it’s best to poke the dollops with a toothpick or matchstick to make sure they’re hard and won’t ruin your clothes.
Now you won’t have to look for your silk or linen shirts on the floor of your closet.
Make a non-slip cutting board
We don’t have to explain why it’s important to have a steady, solid surface for working with a sharp knife. We’ll skip trying to convince you and just go straight to how to make a non-slip cutting board.
First, get your cutting board and put it on a table with the wrong side up. If your board has a groove along its edges, the wrong side is the one that’s groove-free. If your board is flat on both sides, just pick the one you use the least.
Heat up your glue gun thoroughly so the polymer is soft and malleable. Drop one large blob onto each corner of your board. Lift the board an inch from the table surface and drop it to settle the blobs. Let them dry completely.
When they’re solid, flip your board and make sure it’s steady. If it’s not, use the tip of a spoon to remove the irregular glue and start over. Depending on the make of your board, the melted plastic probably won’t survive a lot of dishwashing, so have your hot glue gun close to make repairs. On the other hand, if you want to give your crafty creation a longer life, hand-wash your cutting boards and forgo hot water.
Use your hot glue gun as a 3D printer
Plastic made its way into mainstream consumer goods in the middle of the 20th century, and it has truly taken over. Because a hot glue stick is mainly just plastic, you can use it to make your own goods. It’s just a matter of letting your creativity flag fly high.
If you’re just starting to experiment, we’d suggest beginning with something simple like a box.
- Time: 15 to 20 minutes
- Cost: less than $1
- Difficulty: easy
- 5 or 6 glue sticks (depending on the size of box you’re making)
- Parchment paper
- Hot glue gun
- Use the pencil and ruler to draw your layout on the parchment paper. For a simple open box, this means a square or rectangle with the dimensions you want for the bottom of your box. Then, on each side of that shape, you’ll need to draw rectangles or squares depending on the length and height of your box.
- Note: When you’re done, your layout will look like a plus sign. Its arms should all be the same length, and this measurement will determine the depth of your box. If you need a taller one to use as a pen holder, for example, just make the arms longer.
- Heat up your glue gun and trace the outline of your box. Don’t wait too long before you start working—thicker, cooler plastic will be easier to handle. If your gun gets too hot, turn it off and let it cool a bit. When you’re ready, make sure your lines are as uniform as possible. Let it dry completely.
- Fill in all the sides of your box. Here you can be as creative as you want. We went with a simple lattice, but you can do whatever you want. Again, let it dry completely.
- Pro tip: If you’re not completely covering all sides with hot glue streaks, make sure any openings are small enough to prevent whatever you plan on storing in the box from falling through. For example, if you’ll be using your box to keep your jewelry when you go to bed, you’ll want small openings so you don’t lose little pieces like rings and earrings.
- Detach the solid plastic from the parchment paper.
- Bend the sides of the box toward the center and press firmly. This will help you keep the shape of your box while you glue the sides.
- Press two contiguous sides together and glue them. Keep pressing for 20 to 30 seconds after you’re finished to make sure they stay together. Repeat this process with the remaining sides.
- Pro tip: If you don’t feel like holding your fingers in one spot for that long, you can always use a clothes pin or a heavy-duty clip to keep everything together until the glue is totally dry.
- Fill your new box with whatever you built it to hold.
Use your glue gun to melt crayons
Crayons are just cylinders of colored wax. You know what else is a cylinder that melts from hot temperatures and can take myriad shapes? You guessed it—a glue stick.
So, instead of feeding your gun a glue stick, you can insert a crayon to use as a wax seal or drip-paint thick textiles. Choose your color, remove the paper wrapping, and melt away.
Keep in mind that liquid wax is a lot more fluid than melted plastic, so make sure you don’t let your gun get too hot. Otherwise your crayon will drip—and not only from the tip of your glue gun.
When using a small device, make sure you can easily fit the crayon inside. If it’s too thick, you’ll jam the mechanism that pushes the cylinder into the hot tip of the gun, so don’t try to force it. To avoid this, use a pair of scissors or a knife to scrape off the side of the crayon and make it thinner. And do not scrape toward yourself or anyone else—you don’t want to slip and slice anything.
Once the crayon is in the gun, drop some of the hot wax on paper and place a seal while the blob is still soft. Let it dry completely and then remove the seal to reveal the pattern.
If you’re into dripping as an art technique, you can let your inner Jackson Pollock go wild on some fabric. The cool thing about doing this is that because crayons are wax, melting some onto a textile will make it waterproof. If you needed a sign to give more life to your canvas sneakers, this is it.
Finally, if you don’t feel like sacrificing an entire crayon, but you have some pieces lying around, you can use those to color your glue. Just insert a piece into the gun barrel, followed by a glue stick. Try breaking the crayon fragment into smaller pieces, and don’t insert them all at once, as the plastic will dilute the wax. When you need to amp up the color again, remove the stick, insert another piece of crayon, and continue conjuring up color.
Correction May 25, 2021: An earlier version of this story suggested silicone was a major component in household hot glue sticks, but this polymer is more common in industrial hot glue.