Heat Shrink Tubing Aglet
Normally used to insulate electrical joins, heat shrink tubing makes a neat, though slightly flexible, aglet. It's my favorite method when shortening laces.
Choose a diameter that easily slips over the shoelace. If the fit is too snug, the tubing won't be able to shrink as much, resulting in a flimsy aglet. I generally use about 4 mm (5/32") or 5 mm (3/16"). Heat shrink tubing contracts inwards to about half its diameter or less, but doesn't contract lengthwise, so cut a short section the same length as the aglet you require – about 15 to 20 mm (1/2 to 3/4 inch).
Slip the tubing over the end of the shoelace; it may help to “twist” it on to avoid fraying the shoelace. If shortening a shoelace, it's easier to slip the tubing over the existing aglet before cutting to length.
A heat gun is normally used to shrink the tubing, but you can also hold it a little way above a flame, taking care not to burn the tubing or shoelace. As suggested by Sue K, gently clamping the tip with a travel-sized hair straightening iron for about ten seconds gave great results.
Although red heat shrink tubing was used above (for contrast), clear tubing produces aglets that are almost identical to the factory-made originals, albeit slightly flexible. This is actually an advantage because they don't split.
Combining several colors, with a clear overlay for security, is a great way to display the colors of your country, school or sporting team!
If you are shortening a shoelace to length, you may find that a clear heat shrink tubing aglet is a close enough match to the original aglet that you can get away with cutting only one end of the shoelace. In this case, re-lace the shoe so that one end is the desired length and all the excess is on the other end, then shorten that end to the desired length.
Heat shrink tubing is primarily meant for electrical insulation, and isn't really designed to hold securely under extreme forces. Pulling a shoelace out through a tight eyelet can therefore pull off a loosely applied heat shrink tubing aglet.
For extra security, I've found that heat shrink tubing can be taken through two stages: In the first stage, applying heat will shrink the tubing to a smaller diameter just as it was designed. Carefully applying more heat will take it to a second stage where it just starts to melt and bond to the shoelace.
It's tricky to apply just the right amount of heat, as too much will cause the heat shrink tubing to either burn or split, and if the shoelace is synthetic it could melt or deteriorate as well. With clear tubing, the ideal moment is when the underlying whiteness of air gaps starts to disappear as the tubing and shoelace begin to bond together. Otherwise, watch for the surface of the tubing starting to turn shiny. Either way, immediately remove the heat if the end starts to curl or if there is any sign of smoke.
Another alternative is heat shrink tubing with a glue layer inside (often called “Dual Wall”). This can be distinguished by gently squashing the empty tubing flat and “hearing” the tacky interior as the sides separate when you let go. This glue layer results in a more secure aglet that is also firmer and less flexible. On the downside, the thickness of the aglet can be a problem if your shoe has very small eyelets, plus the tacky interior makes it much more difficult to slide over the end of the shoelace.
Yet another alternative is to cut some thin slivers off a hot glue stick and to feed them with the shoelace into the tubing. The slivers of glue will melt while the tubing shrinks, so watch out for hot glue being squeezed out the ends of the tubing!
You can also squeeze a couple of drops of an “instant” cyanoacrylate glue – such as “Super Glue” or “Krazy Glue” – into the end of the tubing after shrinking. Note that the fibers of the shoelace provide a huge surface area, which can cause this type of glue to cure too quickly. This may give off some nasty fumes, so beware!
As suggested by Eric A, in order to combat the slight flexibility of heat shrink tubing aglets, try inserting a piece of rigid wire into the tip of the shoelace prior to shrinking the tubing. Suitable wire includes solid brass wire (available at hobby shops), unstranded picture hanging wire, a length cut from a paper clip, even a pin or a very thin nail.
Where to Buy Heat Shrink Tubing
Heat shrink tubing comes in a range of sizes and colors and is available from electronic or electrical suppliers (ie. places that supply electricians with switches, wires, circuit boards, components, etc) or from some auto parts stores.
You can also buy online from Amazon.com and help support Ian's Shoelace Site:
5/32 inch (4mm) (paid link)
3/16 inch (5mm) (paid link)
NOTE: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
I saturated an aglet length at the end of the lace with good quality wood glue (which I have a lot of in my shop). Then I slipped the heat shrink tubing on over that, removed any excess, and applied the heat gun. The next day I had a very rigid and soundly attached new aglet!
– David W., USA, Aug-2019
Thank you so much for making the website with such fascinating information, especially about “aglets”, which I was not aware of before I tried to re-lace a walking shoe and found that my aglet was too large to fit through the final, smaller hole on the shoe.
I thought that all was lost, but then I found that I could cut the lace and re-seal the aglet using heat-shrink tubing, which worked amazingly well (and did not damage my girlfriend's hair straighteners in any way, which is perhaps even more important). All for a very low cost and effort, but it couldn't have happened without your website.
– Nick M., Apr-2015
I tried your heat shrink tubing idea - buying some at a local hardware store, cutting off the frayed ends, and shrinking the tubing with a heat gun (a bunsen burner or candle would do just as well, assuming the necessary fire prevention measures).
And? It worked! I rue the needless waste of so many cotton Converse Allstar laces I've dicarded over the years for the want of aglet repairs. Now I can stride boldly into the future, shedding merely a few inches off the ends of sneaker and boot laces when needed, proud of my frugality, and confident my late, depression-era baby parents would also be proud if they could see me now.
– Mitch, Illinois, USA, Dec-2013
I note you said the heat-shrink aglet can be too flexible. I simply clip a section of straight sewing needle, a bit shorter than the aglet, and slip it inside before heat shrinking the aglet. It makes quite a stiff result.
– David W., California, USA, Sep-2012
My laces are round with a braided nylon core and a nylon sleeve, and the sleeve inevitably shrinks more than the core, being thinner and closer to the heat.
This was the method I used after having a look at your site:
I cut a clean end, then turned the lace while vigorously waving my lighter back and forth across it (in the MIDDLE of the flame for even heating, not at its more intense tip) for about five seconds. At this point it had barely begun to go limp, condensing slightly and taking on a smoother, flatter appearance as the nylon softened. Then I rolled it between my fingers until it felt hard. If too much of the white core was exposed, I cut that part off (this was also a chance to make sure the lace had been fused all the way through). Finally, I softened and rounded the tip, ensuring a tight cap.
I think letting it get too hot might hurt the thin sleeve's bond between aglet and lace...but I don't really know that. What is most important, it seems, is bonding the sleeve to the core to create a solid tip.
– John F., Jan-2010
A tip for the heat-shrink/tape methods. If you're not “out-bush” as you say, a drop or two of super-glue (aka cyanoacrylate or CA) to the exposed tip after you shrink the tube, and you quite effectively bond the tubing to the lace. This is ~highly~ recommended with laces that will not melt with heat (like cotton)
NOTE: you need to be careful using the CA with synthetic laces (and webbing). The superglue can sometimes cause a reaction, and you'll see what appears to be smoke (its actually reaction-fumes) and should not be inhaled.
The other thing you need to watch out for is the “wicking” action of the glue. Like the wick of a kerosene lamp, the lace can pull the glue down past the enclosed end of the lace. You only need a drop or two of CA... just enough to harden/bond the lace to the tube
After the CA is absorbed by the lace-end, it usually doesn't matter if the tube slips off... its already done its job: to like a “mold” for the CA-to-lace saturation, and to make the “aglet” nice and tight.
If you have no shrink but have the CA, and still want a nice tight aglet, wet your fingers before you put the glue on the end, then quickly roll the end in the wet fingers. Even better than wet fingertips is hand lotion - it saturates the pores, preventing the skin from “wicking” the CA off the target object - and makes it MUCH easier to remove any residue that does adhere.
The heat-shrink+CA method works on everything from light threads, to heavy rope, webbing of many sizes, to even bungie cord! Very Highly Recommended!
– P. C., Ottawa, Canada, Nov-2009
However I've added a small twist to your simple technique because the laces I typically repair don't seem to hold the tubing firmly enough: As I thread the lace into the tubing, I also put in a small sliver of glue-gun glue. Now, as the tubing shrinks, the glue liquefies, then upon cooling I have a nearly permanent fix. It also somewhat stiffens the aglet, which may be an advantage.
– Frank G., May-2007
If you’re a youngster, you can use brightly-colored shrink. If you’re an old fogey, you can go with black. It’s readily available, it’s easily cut, it’s very inexpensive, and anyone can shrink it onto their laces with almost any heat source. If you goof up, you can cut the shrink off and try again. Brilliant!
– Rodger F., Texas, USA, Feb-2007
I have twin 6 year old daughters and am always trying to come up with something cute and different for them when it comes to shoes. They have several pairs of plain white sneakers and I wanted to jazz them up with fancy shoelaces made from colorful ribbon but could never figure a way to get aglets at the end of each tie. Nail polish didn't work, glues too messy, tape came undone, etc. So...
I tried your suggestion to use heat shrink tubing. (I had never even heard of heat shrink tubing!) Armed with a printout from your web site I headed to Lowe's and bought it. I used the 1/8", held it over a candle flame and it worked beautifully! I am so excited that I'm sending this to all my friends who have daughters!
Lowe's only had it in black so I painted my aglets with white craft paint. Worked beautifully! I did another Google search and found clear at an automotive shop and ordered it. You may want to make a note on your web site that heat shrink tubing can also be found at automotive repair sites.
– Debbie J., Alabama, USA, Sep-2006
I opted for your favorite repair, the heat shrink tubing method, since I figured this would be the most durable and most fun. The repair went beautifully except that the tubing size I selected was a hair too large for the eyelets of my skates. I can get the aglet halfway through the eyelet until it sticks very hard and then with much torque and force I can pull the rest of the lace through. I don't mind that. However, when pulling the lace the opposite way through the eyelet (after I'm done skating), the inside edge of the tubing snags completely on the eyelet and eventually slides off the lace. The next smaller gauge tubing at the hardware store looks like it would be very difficult to fit over the thick hockey lace before heat shrinking so I may try a new method. I'll let you know...
– Sean P., Pennsylvania, USA, Sep-2005
The “Aglet Repair” section came in rather handy when I had to make lacing for the bodice of my Renaissance costume. I used hand-woven cording I had made on a kumihimo loom, then made the initial aglets with heat-shrink tubing. Since those laces take quite a beating, I then overlaid them with the brass tubing method. The bodice finally wore out, but the laces are still usable for other costumes!
– Sally J., Mar-2005
In my experience, the best way to apply heatshrink tubing is to wrap the whole section in aluminium foil then apply the heat directly.
– Ben P., Australia, Oct-2004