Scale Modeling Tools
by Lars E. Liljeblad
Before starting to acquire tools for scale modeling, you'll need to find a room to work in, and a large work surface with good lighting. Preferably an area that doesn't have distractions and a work surface you can walk away from, leaving your current modeling project to recommence at your leisure. This room should also have good ventilation, considering that some of the materials like glues, paints, and solvents can be dangerous if inhaled. Strong odors are also fatiguing when working long sessions.
Some of us don't have the luxury of having different areas in our homes for different tasks, such as airbrushing, sanding and cutting toxic materials such as resin. We then have to make do with the room of choice and become mindful of how to protect our surrounding area and health. A smooth surface to model over such as a piece of short pile carpet or Masonite will save you a lot of frustration when trying to find those small parts accidentally dropped during your modeling sessions. It's hard to eliminate this problem altogether, but taking a few minutes to organize your area will help.
Now that we're set up with a room and place to work, let's start with some essential tools to get started:
- Hobby Knifes: X-Acto (#11 & #10 curved) The single most important modeling tool.
- Files: An assortment of mini and regular needle files
- Tweezers (preferably Swiss-made by Mascot Tools)
- Scissors (good quality small size, for precision cutting)
- Drill bits: Set of 20 in plastic case #61-#80 sizes
- Pin Vise
- Dremel Moto Tool: cordless or regular (preferably with variable speed)
- Measuring & calculating: 6 inch ruler with metric & standard scale / calipers
- Sandpaper: Wet or dry preferably an assortment of: 320, 220, 180, 400 & 600 grit
- Glues: Ambroid Pro Weld, Cyanocrylate "Super-glue" & Epoxy two-part
- Masking tape: Tamiya 6mm / 10mm / 18mm & Drafting tape
- Containers for parts: small tins, jars etc.
- Self-healing cutting mat
- Plastic Sprue cutters
- Blu-Tak (for holding small parts while painting)
- Respirator (two-stage, for airbrushing with solvents)
Airbrushes & Air Supplies
By far the best way to paint a model is with an airbrush. With an airbrush you'll be able to apply thin coats of paint without obscuring fine detail, and it will allow you to spray intricate shading, highlighting, and camouflage if you're into military modeling. The other nice thing is that there is far less paint wasted with the airbrush, and less in the air to breathe.
For those that are really serious about modeling, an airbrush is something that you will most likely acquire sooner or later (why not make it sooner). A good single action, or preferably a nice double-action is not really that expensive if you shop around. Some notable brands; Paasche, Badger, Iwata, and Tamiya are reliable and good names to look for. As for air supplies, most hobby shops and craft stores carry aerosol propellant cans; a good way to get started for the budget minded. However, when you get more into airbrushing, and find yourself going through several cans in a short period, it may be time to consider a compressor or carbon dioxide tank. A compressor will actually be a cheaper air source in the long run, plus you can regulate the air pressure. Some recommended brands: Oil-less diaphragm type, Badger, Sears, Paasche or best of all, Iwata with Smart Jet technology. This compressor is both affordable, and quiet. Being quiet is another advantage during long modeling sessions; the rumble from a noisy compressor gets quite annoying!
There are several good polishing compounds available for modelers nowadays. Tamiya makes a three-step assortment of polish: coarse, fine and finish. Blue Magic (automotive polish) is excellent for polishing plastic models prior to applying metallic finishes. For clear plastic such canopies, windshields and general clear parts I highly recommend Novus 1-2-3. This is an excellent polishing compound, readily available, and comes in different size bottles. Basic toothpaste works well on clear parts, and as a bonus it smells good!
There are several types of glues on the market for assembling plastic models, the standard gel type, Super-Glue (Cyanocrylate), epoxy and more. But liquid cement such as Tenax 7R and my favorite Ambroid Pro Weld are the best way to go. This type of cement is a solvent, and actually melts the plastic parts, creating a welded seam. To apply correctly, hold the pieces together and apply the liquid cement with a fine brush and let the capillary action run along the seam while lightly squeezing the parts together. You will see the melted plastic ooze up creating filler on the seam, which is a bonus, not to mention a very strong joint when set. Avoid trying to apply liquid cement to one side of the fuselage and then putting the parts together, the cement evaporates too quickly and you may not have a strong joint.
The tools I have covered are a realistic minimum to achieve a good standard of model construction and painting. But as we get more enthusiastic about this hobby, we will want to collect as many tools as possible, even though we may not use everything we already have! It seems to be part of the fun. Some optional items that aren't absolutely essential, but can help make modeling easier are: a set of spring clamps, a cutting board, double stick tape (for holding parts during painting and construction), a spray booth with fan for airbrushing (this is something that you could actually make yourself, and save some money if you desire),and a (Dremel) drill press adapter for drilling 90 degree holes a necessity in certain modeling projects. As I mentioned earlier, a separate room with a workbench would be ideal. However that may not be an option, in which case we have to make the best of what we have. Some very nice models have been built on kitchen tables! Experience is your most valuable asset, and having the right tools of good quality are essential to getting good results. Happy modeling!
About the Author
Lars Liljeblad is a full time modeler who works exclusively for private collectors. His work can be seen on a variety of websites including his own http://larslil.com/ as well as www.scahms.org. His writing credits include work for Fine Scale Modeler and Sci-Fi & Fantasy Modeler.
Lars is currently president of the Southern California area Historical Miniature Society. Striving for excellence in modeling, the club holds a yearly international model competition exhibition which attracts modelers and collectors from around the world.
Lars is a former automotive metal fabricator and his other interests include collecting movie and television memorabilia, as well as history, science fiction, movies and music.