Some of My Modeling Tools

(This page is always being updated.)

It's no secret that having the right tool for the job can make that job go easier and give you a better finished product, whether it's building a tiny ship or a huge house. The reverse is also true - having a lot of expensive tools will not necessarily give you a better result. I am living testament to that one!

However ... boys and their toys. There's just something about a well-made tool that brings joy to my heart. Here are some of the tools I have amassed in the few years I have been back in the hobby:

Cuticle Scissors 

Yeah, the same thing women use to do God knows what to their fingers and toes. I use them to cut bits of wire, brass rod, thicker plastic rod and other tough stuff. When they wear out I can get another set for next to nothing at the beauty supply store. Yes, I have a frequent-shopper card at Sally Beauty Supply (hangs head). 

Cutting Board/Mat

A good work surface isn't a tool, per se, but it sure can make life easier. A lot of modelers use a self-healing vinyl cutting mat because they have a non-slip surface and don't get trashed as quickly from all the knife cuts you make on them. I make do with a small hard plastic Martha Stewart cutting board from K-mart, flipped upside down so I can work on the flat side (the top has a pebbly texture). I found out by accident that getting a brightly-colored one enables me to see parts better as I am cutting photoetch or assembling small pieces.

Decal Scissors

What's wrong with using the big 'ole ones you have left over from grade school? Nothing, if all your decals are hugeeeeeeee. I build small models, so the decals are tiny. Sometimes really tiny. I needed a pair of scissors that would cut straight and close, and found them at Micro-Mark. They're made from a springy kind of steel, sharper than you-know-what, and are actually used by doctors to remove stitches. The Squizzers are part no. 81204.

Dental Mirror 

OK, so I cribbed this from the kids. They weren't checking their braces like they're supposed to anyway, so ... It's really handy for scrutinizing the final assembly on ships, so I don't stick my face too close to the model and knock something else loose.  

Diamond Needle File 

Getting the little nubs off pieces of photoetch after you remove them from the fret can be devilishly hard. Sometimes I can do it with a single-edged razorblade, but more and more I am using a diamond-coated half round needle file from Tamiya, No. 400. It's easier to hold a tiny part with tweezers and file the nub off than try and pin the part to the cutting board with one finger and aim for the nub with the other hand.

Dividers 

If you build ships and want to put photoetch railings on them, you must get a good set of dividers. It is the only - repeat, only - sane way to measure how long a 'run,' or given length of railing, should be. Look in the Drafting Supplies section of your office supply or big box store. Chances are you'll see some other handy things there too, like triangles and bendy plastic rulers and gum erasers and  ...

Filler Putty

There are all kinds, by all different manufacturers, and you are going to need this at some point in your modeling efforts. There are some manufacturers (who shall remain nameless) whose kits need more filler putty to hide the seams than there is plastic in the model. 

I've tried several brands: Testors regular (execrable); Tamiya Normal, the gooey gray stuff (good for most jobs); and Squadron White (much finer grain but dries really fast). You'll have to see what works best for you. 

Hobby Knife/Blades

Make that knives, plural. Actually knife handles. My hobby shop stocks two brands, the venerable X-acto (No. 1) and Excel. Both are fairly easy to grip and control, and have the ever-important plastic sleeves to put over the tips to keep you from hurting yourself on naked knife blades. What is more important is what you put on the handles. The things you cut yourself, I mean your models, with. I use mainly X-acto blades and currently have:

Hobby Tape

There are some fairly expensive 'hobby' tapes out there. Sooner or later you're going to have to use some kind of tape to mask off areas that do or don't need that next coat of paint. I've tried Testors and one of the Tamiya types with mixed results. Your mileage may vary. I decided to stick with 3Ms low-tack blue painter's tape. It's cheaper and I can cut it to any width I want. If you burnish it down carefully you won't have too many leakage problems. 3Ms Scotch brand Magic tape (the frosted clear kind) is also good for making very precise straight edges, but only on flat surfaces.

Jar Opener

It never fails, the lid of the next jar of paint you want to use is stuck tighter than a welder's ... anyway, more than brute force is required to get the lid off. I use one of those rubber mat-like things to get the extra grip needed, and it has also served as an impromptu cutting mat on occasion. I picked it up at a dollar store.

Miniature Chisel

This is one of the handier tools I've bought because when you're adding photoetch to a ship kit, you usually have to remove some molded-on details. You can sand the details off, if they're on an open flat surface, but the chisel is easier and quicker. Mine is the 2mm-wide one available from Micro-Mark, No. 82709. The slightly rounded corners help keep you from gouging out more than you intended to. And it doesn't sink into your flesh nearly as easily as a hobby knife when you slip (are you seeing a pattern here?).

Miniature Drill Bits

We're talking really tiny here, but when you look at the size of the ships I build ... and these actually come in quite handy for airplanes, too! They don't even list them in the common inch sizes, like 9/64th, because it would look silly. I have a set with Nos. 61-80, 20 bits in all. The No. 61 is 0.059-inches in diameter and the No. 80 is 0.0135-inches, or just a little thicker than a hefty human hair. I usually use a No. 75 to bore out portholes, and the No. 80 is great to make holes for airplane aerials or biplane rigging. They're also great for forming small loops of wire to make various things. A word of caution - the smaller bits (specifically the No. 80 in my case) can be quite fragile. I've been known to go through two or three No. 80s on a single model if there's a lot of drilling involved; keep some spares handy so you're not left high and dry in the event of a breakage.

One thing I wish I had done - when you get your set make sure it has a sturdy holder - with a secure lid or cover -  to keep all of these tiny guys in one place and always available (they call them indexes for some reason). If they do happen to fall out all over the floor, you will never, ever, get each one back in the correct hole. I got my set at Micro-Mark.

Miniature Needle Files

Sooner or later you will have to remove or shape a bit of plastic or resin in an impossibly small place. Needle files are a good way to do that because, like a needle, they are pretty small. My set is from Testors, No. 50630C, and includes round, half-round and square files. They are the smallest needle files I've found to date. The package says you can use them on soft metals in addition to plastic and wood but ... well, don't.

Pin Vice

This is what holds your miniature drill bits. Why they call it a pin vice, I have no idea. Mine is from Testors but I wish I'd spent a little more money to get a better one - the collets on each end are a little off center, something I have to compensate for every time I drill a hole. That gets tiresome.

Precision Cutting Board

If you have to cut a lot of pieces of plastic stock, especially if they're all supposed to be the same size or cut at the  same angle,  get one of these. Almost all modelers who scratchbuild to any degree have one, because they enable you to make precise cuts at exact angles, and make assembly line style part production as easy as lifting the handle up and down. I have The Chopper by North West Short Line, No. 49-4. I wish I had gotten the one with the self-healing cutting mat instead, though. I've already worn a groove in the hardboard base of mine.

Precision Shears

I got these with the idea of using them to cut all kinds of photoetch, but haven't used them as much as I thought I would - their main use has been cutting the ends of photoetch ship's railings off square. The Xuron shears, No. 440,  do give a nice, square, clean cut when I do use them on PE or small-diameter wire, and that saves me from having to sand the end square.

Razor Saw

There are all kinds of razor saws on the market, but the JLC razor saw is special. It is so fricking thin that you can actually cut apart canopy sections and not have to worry about hugeee gaps between them in 1/72 and 1/144 scales. It is flexible steel and comes with fine and ultra-fine teeth on each blade, it flush cuts with ease, and the wooden handle makes it easy to hold. I got mine from UMM-USA, the US distributor, and now that I've been using it for awhile, wonder how I got along without it. Even if the blades break, save the fragments. They're great for engraving panel lines and lots of other little modeling tasks.

Scale Ruler

You don't need a scale ruler, but like a lot of the other tools on this page, it can be a really nice one to have, especially if you are into scratchbuilding or customizing. A scale ruler is just like a regular ruler. You use it to measure things, but in this case, in the same scale as the model you're working on. I do a lot of 1/700 scale ships. Yeah, I could do the math and find out how many sixteenths of an inch long a 45-foot-long cargo boom should be when I convert it to 1/700 scale, or I could just lay the scale ruler down next to the plastic rod and lop it off at the 45-foot marking on the scale ruler (It's 0.77-inches in case you're curious). They come in most popular scales, and the better ones are flexible plastic so you can measure around curved surfaces. Mine is from Loose Cannon Productions.

Sprue Cutters

Sprues are the plastic trees that all the parts to your models come on. Getting the parts off of the sprues without damaging same can be a challenge. You could just twist them off (kidding!) but using a hobby knife is better, and using a sprue cutter is better still - and a whole lot safer. Most of the time all you need to do to get the part ready to use after cutting it off with a good sprue cutter is a few swipes from a sanding stick. Mine is from Squadron, No. SQ10206.

Sanding Sticks

Someday I am going to buy a resin or plastic model kit where all the parts fit perfectly, and no filler or sanding is needed ... until then, sanding sticks are a key part of my modeling arsenal. Mine are from both the beauty supply store and Squadron, in various grades from coarse (think industrial sandpaper) to ultra fine (good for polishing and not much else). I'll typically use two or three grades to shape and smooth a part or remove a molding seam. Squadron does make a tri-grit sanding stick, No. 30505, with medium, fine and ultra fine grits all on one stick, for those of you who like to keep your worktable clutter to a minimum. 

Tweezers

Almost without exception, your fingers are too big to do the job of putting little parts exactly where they need to go. Enter tweezers. Some of mine came from the beauty supply store, others from the local hobby shop. I have two different kinds:

Waldron Miniature & Sub-Miniature Punch-and-Die Sets 

Yes, these are hideously expensive. But they allow you to add an awful lot of small details to your models. Punch-and-die sets let you cut small circles out of plastic. In the scales I work in, I have used these to make life rings, windlass assemblies, instrument dial faces, steering wheels, truck tires, antenna housings ... it's surprising how many things.

Both sets are only available from Roll Models now that Waldron has folded. The miniature set has six punches, ranging from 0.160-inches to 0.039-inches. The sub-miniature set has 10, going all the way down to 0.018-inches. That's really tiny. You'll have to buy a small, soft-faced (plastic) hammer to use with these; I got mine at a craft shop for $4. Please note, although these punches are made out of steel, they will bend if you don't hold them straight while applying hammer to same (especially the sub-miniature ones). One straight, firm tap ought to do it for each disk you're creating. 

One final note, it's a good idea to paint the top inch or so of each punch a bright color, like fluorescent orange, so that when one inevitably goes flying off into space you can find it again despite the Carpet Monster's best efforts. Or you can not paint them a bright color. But I would (please don't ask me how I know this ...)

 

There you have it. For the moment, anyway. Someday I may even put a picture in here showing all these little bits. Do you need all this stuff to build a good-looking model? Heck no! Can they make the process more enjoyable? Absolutely.


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This page was last updated June 25, 2011.