A Modeling Help Article by Dad
Building models has always been a great choice for a hobby. It’s relaxing, fun, builds fine motor skills and gives you full control over how you pose or build your models. Whether you build muscle cars, airplanes, tanks, or full armies of fifteen or twenty-eight millimeter models for tabletop wargames, you’ll need a core set of tools in your toolkit to be able to build them properly.
For me, miniature modeling is my meditation and therapy. It’s my time to recharge after a stressful day, or simply have fun creating something. I gravitate towards twenty-eight millimeter figures since I play Warhammer Age of Sigmar by Games Workshop. But whether you are new to miniature modeling, or you’re looking to round out your modeling toolkit, this list should give you a starting point no matter what kind of modeling project you’re tackling. In no particular order, here are my top 10 tools of the trade for building and customizing plastic, resin or metal model kits.
Building plastic model kits starts with clipping parts of the model off of the plastic sprues. The sprue is the frame that holds all of the parts together after it comes out of the molding machine. You’ll need a good set of clippers to cleanly cut the parts off the larger parts of the sprue. I use the Cheery Lynn Designs S140 Metal Snippers. They make clean cuts and have thin cutting tips to get into those hard to reach places. Because they are capable of cutting metal, they can be used for metal and resin kits as well as providing a very clean cut on plastic. Another great and affordable choice is the IGAN-170 Flush Wire Cutters.
Hobby Knife & Extra Blades
After cutting out your parts, you’ll need to clean up any leftover mold lines and bits of sprue on each peace. A good hobby knife that uses number eleven (#11) blades is a must-have when building any model kit. You can use the sharp side of the hobby knife for cutting and trimming parts, and you can use the back side of the blade at a ninety degree angle to scrape off mold lines. I use the Excel Blades Soft Grip K18 Hobby Knife because you tighten the blade down on the back side of the knife and it prevents the blade from getting loose during use, which is an issue with cheaper hobby knives.
I highly recommend picking up at least a one hundred (100) count pack of extra number eleven blades so you can always be using a fresh and sharp blade. Dull blades can cause the knife to slip and instead of cutting the plastic you can end up cutting yourself. I change to a new blade after every few model kits, depending on their size, as a safety precaution.
A Pin Vise is a precision tool for drilling small holes. Pin Vises are necessary to drill out the end of weapon barrels as they are often filled in on a lot of model sculpts and adding small magnets to models for swapping weapons. Pin Vises are also essential when building metal models, as the joints often need to be pinned as well as super glued for strength.
Pinning is a modeling technique where you drill small holes into the mating surface of two parts and glue in a small section of stiff wire or paperclip when attaching the parts together. This reinforces the model in the same way that rebar bolsters concrete.
Pin Vises normally come with a set of tiny metric drill bits, but I recommend picking up a small set of standard (SAE) drill bits as well, because most pin vises can hold up to a one eighth inch drill bit and one eighth inch is a good size for most magnetization needs. I use an older Citadel pin vise that is no longer available, but for more up-to-date kits, I recommend either the Paxcoo Pin Vise kit or the CML Supply Mini Micro Drill Bit Set and Pin Vise. Both sets come with a thirty piece set of micro drill bits in a range of sizes.
Work Holder for Small Models
For painting individual miniatures or parts of all scales, it is useful to have something to hold the miniature after you’ve built it to get it primed. Work holders or painting handles can be made of just about anything. Old pill bottles, small jars, or wooden craft block are all useful as a work holder with the addition of some sticky tack on top to hold the mini or part.
Games Workshop also has an official Warhammer 40K Citadel Painting Handle with a spring loaded top made for holding primarily twenty eight millimeter miniature bases. I have one in addition to my home made painting handles, and it works awesome with enough weight in the base to hold even full metal minis without the handle falling over when you set it on the table.
I mainly use it for single hero figures that I spend more time painting on and it works great. Games Workshop also has two other versions of their painting handle, the XL is for holding larger based models than the standard size can hold and the Assembly Handle that has two soft hold clips for holding delicate parts while gluing a hard to work with miniature.
A good set of tweezers and a set of pliers are essentials for your toolkit. Some model parts are very small and hard to hold while gluing pieces in place. Tweezers assist well here, as well as with adding rocks and plants to your bases after painting. I suggest you grab a set of Tweezer Guru Precision Tweezers as they are high quality without being too expensive.
Pliers are a necessity for pinning models as they are needed to straighten out lengths of wire or paper clip and then cutting them to length. I like to use a set with a ninety degree angle on the jaws such as the Ion Tool 7” Angled Needle Nose Pliers as it makes it easier to shape your pinning material as well as removing temporary pins. ProTip: Never use your pliers directly on plastic parts as they will quickly ruin detail.
A good plastic glue is necessary to build any plastic model or miniature. There are several options available from all of the major brands like Plastruct, Tamiya, Testors and Citadel. Plastic glue actually melts the plastic where it is applied and when two parts are glued together this way a permanent bond is created as the plastic from the two parts melts together and then dries. Plastic glue also comes in several thicknesses. I personally prefer the Tamiya glues as they have a nice brush in the cap for precision application. I use the Extra Thin consistency for most of my model building needs, and medium consistency Plastic Cement for more gap filling action between parts.
Super Glue/Super Glue Accelerator
Plastic glue is great for plastic models, but if you are building in resin or metal, super glue is the right adhesive for the job. I have found most plastic minis don’t adhere well to their bases with plastic glue, so I attach all of my minis to their bases with super glue.
Super glue is useful for adding rocks, plants, cork, etc to your bases. Virtually any super glue will work for building models, and cheap super glue is readily available at any hardware or dollar store. For me though, I’m one of 5% of the population that is extremely allergic to super glue (you can read more about what to do if you have a glue allergy here), so use I use Super-Gold+ Odorless superglue that doesn’t off gas the substance I’m allergic to.
A proper super glue accelerator like Insta-Set does what it says and instantly sets and dries any super glue it comes in contact with. I find this to be essential when attaching built models to bases as it’s inconvenient and sometimes impossible to hold the model to the base in position until the glue dries.
You might be surprised to find that standard white glue used in kid’s craft projects is a useful adhesive to keep on hand. Elmer’s is the most common brand here in the USA and is the one I use. White craft glue is useful for gluing grass flocking or dirt/rock mixes to bases. It can be thinned down with water in a one to one ratio to allow it flow down and through thick coverings of these materials. The white color allows you to easily see where the glue is being applied, and it dries clear and takes primer and acrylic paints well if needed.
“Green Stuff” is a universal two part modeling putty material with a long working time and a twenty-four hour full set time. Green stuff can be worked by clay carving tools or molds to fill gaps, or to create unique custom parts for your miniatures. This one material can expand your ability to be creative when building models by allowing you to easily customize pieces to your own liking or for special purposes.
Green stuff is available from all of the major miniature modeling companies such as Army Painter, Reaper or Gale Force Nine but can be acquired cheaper from other suppliers. Check out this thirty-six inch roll of of putty from Kneadatite as it is a fantastic value for the amount of green stuff you get, and this putty has an amazingly long shelf life.
Add a cheap set of clay molding tools like this eleven piece set from eBoot and you’ll be making custom parts in no time.
Games Workshop also makes a product called Liquid Green Stuff although not everyone likes it. For me, I find that it is useful as a gap filling material as well as giving you the ability to add texture to flat surfaces.
No matter which version of Green Stuff modeling putty you use, once dry, green stuff can be easily sanded and primed for painting.
Once your model is built, and your green stuff is dry, you may need to cleanup some minor flashing or sand down your modeling putty into the proper shape. Sanding sticks like these twenty packs from DuraSand are cheap and come in many different grits and can be further cut to any length. Essentially, they’re a more flexible emery board like those used by nail salons. Sanding sticks are able to get into those hard to reach places and their flexibility means you can bend them around curves of different radii with ease. I keep a little cup on my hobby table full of sanding sticks ready to go when building models or using green stuff.
I hope these recommendations help you to get started building your go-to toolkit for modeling. The more you model, the more creative you’ll get with finding tools to keep your creativity going. No matter if you’re just starting out, or you’re a modeling professional, having the right tools for the job makes all the difference.
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