We’ve had a cold snap this week, which means my outdoor (garage) workshop is too cold for thermoforming, so I’m doing all my crafting work in my kitchen right now. When working indoors, it’s important that your cosplay habit doesn’t damage your living space. (Nobody wants to kiss that security deposit or resale value goodbye.) The good news is, you can usually outfit your indoor work space for less than five dollars!

In addition to a power outlet for your heat gun, there are two very important things you need when working with heat guns and heat-activated material such as thermoplastics:

  • a heat-proof surface to work on – one that will not be damaged by OR stick to the surface of your material
  • a safe, heat-proof place to set your heat gun when it’s not in your hand

For my heat-proof surface, I use an enameled steel tray that I picked up at a yard sale a few years ago. (An old metal baking sheet will also work; check your local thrift store.) I’ve set the tray on top of my range, so there’s a heat-resistant surface beneath it, plus a nice air gap beneath it to allow the tray to cool more quickly. Don’t place a hot tray directly on a countertop or table without a pile of cotton towels/ironing pad/something insulated beneath it, as the heat can transfer to the surface below. Also, beware the hot metal while you’re working!

I use a silicone baking mat when I’m working with sticky materials. (Mine was 49 cents at Goodwill, but you can find them new for as cheap as $3 on Amazon.) The silicone has a slight surface texture, so I don’t use it when I’m working with very smooth pieces or rolling out little Worbla snakes to form surface designs, but it’s helpful for keeping the soft plastic from gluing itself to the tray (though for the most part, once the Worbla has cooled I can pop it off the metal).

With this setup, I can keep the hot metal end of the heat gun over the stove at all times, so it doesn’t make contact with (and melt) my countertop. Some heat guns are designed to be set upright with the hot tip in the air while cooling, but I’ve learned the hard way how easy it is for them to tip over (especially if the cord gets bumped), so I prefer to keep heat guns lying flat whenever possible.

If I’m working in the middle of the room and need to set a heat gun on a wood table, kitchen counter, or other non-heat-resistant surface, or if I’m teaching a workshop and need to protect the facility’s tables, I use wire cooling racks (the kind used for baking cookies) or large metal trivets to keep the heat gun safely elevated. Cooling racks are two for a dollar at my local dollar store, and metal trivets are frequently available at thrift stores for a dollar or two. It’s a very inexpensive way to protect your work space.

It’s generally a good idea to move anything heat-sensitive out of the area when you’re working with a heat gun, but if you’re careful, you can set up a workshop and build things right in your living space without risking damage to your property!