What sort of tools do I need to start building models?

I’m thinking about getting into building models (mostly ww2 tanks to start, and then some aircraft, etc), and I’m not sure what tools I’ll need to start things off. I figure I’ll need a knife of some sort, some glues, some paint, but other than that, I’m clueless.

Can someone list the basic gear for me and how much it’ll cost, roughly?

You’ll need:

  1. Some very small X-acto type knives, available at hobby stores for a couple of bucks.
  2. Brushes. Get good ones, camel’s hair ones. You will need some very, very small ones for fine detail work. Brushes usually range around 3-6$ for good ones.
  3. Glues. I prefer liquid cement, not the tube kind but the kind that looks like water in the bottle and that you brush on. Others don’t. Again, just a couple of bucks.
  4. Paints. You need specific paints depending on the model. Paint runs $2 per bottle or so, depending on what paint it is.
  5. Some very fine sandpaper. This is good for smoothing out edges and extrusions, used in conjunction with your knife. Cheap.
  6. A few small vice clamps. These are highly useful when you are gluing two large parts together - for instance, the fuselage of a model airplane usually comes in two parts - and it takes awhile for the glue to set, and you want to make sure it’s a perfect seal.

One thing to remember about paints is that glossy paints don’t look realistic like matte paints do, because tanks and airplanes are obviously not painted with glossy paint. However, if you paint in matte paints, decals don’t go on very well. Some people paint in glossy, apply the decals, and then cover with matte finish, which you can find at a hobby store. However, if you do this wrong, your model will look like crap. So a big purcahse you may want to consider is

  1. An air brush. These run $60-$200 for good ones, plus you either need compressed air or an air compressor. These can be a little tricky to master, but if you get good with them they give you far better work than brushes on large surfaces, such as the hull of a tank. There are also some camouflage patterns you really can’t do with a brush. “Badger” brand airbrushes are the most commonly used and are more than good enough for the casual hobbyist.

Regarding the two types of glue (tube vs. brush), I find that the brush stuff is easier to work with, but also tends to get brittle and lose its grip more quickly. I have several model cars that fell to pieces while sitting on my shelf, because the glue released. If I remember correctly, all the ones that exhibit that problem were built with the liquid brush-on glue (Testors brand). So you might want to take that into consideration. Other than that, I think RickJay covered everything.

-Andrew L

What kind of glue were you using? Didn’t you have clean plastic in the joint? Testor’s model cement actually chemically changes the plastic causing it essentially to fuse with the piece your attaching it to.

From my experience, Testors makes good airbrushes too. A compressor would also be a good purchase if you intend to stick with this hobby and build models requently and don’t have access to an alternate source of airbrush propellant except those canisters of compressed gas that you can buy at hobby stores. Those can get expensive when you use a lot of them and the fumes are toxic.

Putty is also a good investment since there might be seams between parts that aren’t meant to be there that glue and sanding won’t get rid of. Just put putty in the seam and sand it until it’s flush with the surface.

Simply using flat finishes over gloss paints isn’t the best way of getting decals on a gloss finish, since many colors, if not most, don’t come in both gloss and flat–just one or the other. Just spray the model down with gloss clear coat, apply the decals, and go over that with flat.

Remember: several thin coats are always better than one thick coat.

Set of x acto files too. Good suggestions above.

I’d put the airbrush/compressor on the back burner, for now - they’re damn handy, but when you’re just starting out they’re not necessary. Armor kits are usually all one color, and spray cans are available to match. Do the spraying outside, in the garage, but not inside unless you have a spray booth ducted outside, with a fan to blow the fumes out.
Remember to get extra blades for that X-Acto knife - the only safe blade is a razor sharp one. And be careful with it, especially when trimming small areas. My thumbprint is now a #!
Don’t work in an area with carpeting, especially deep pile. You will be dropping parts on the floor - it’s nice to be able to find them again (especially those pesky headlight guards and handholds).
Provide for good ventilation - liquid cement will get you woozy real fast. So will enamel paints, but a suggest the water based Testors/Polly Scale - they’re a lot easier to clean up.

Testors has an excellent book on model building – from simple snap-together kits and basic kitbuilding techniques, up to dioramas, advanced detailing, and kitbashing. It’s written for young pre-teens (around 8-10), but I found it to be an excellent guide for all ages.

The name is called Model Building and Finishing Guide. Dunno if you can buy it from Amazon (I’ve never seen it in a regular bookstore), but a good hobby store might be able to help you get a copy. I can’t recommend this book enough for anyone getting started with modeling.

Waxed paper
Softwood work surface
Ambroid cement and/or Zap cyanoacrilate glue
Needlenose pliers
Wire cutters
X-Acto knife and blades

… If you want to build balsa flying models. :wink:

A good reference site: Finescale Modeler. The magazines are excellent and the books first rate. Kalmbach Publishing is the company. Stop by your local hobby shop and pick up Modeling Tanks and Military Vehicles - a very useful guide for beginners and the more experienced.

Use super glue instead of model glue if you want the model to stay together forever. It can be thinned with a bit of isopropyl alcohol. A little bit will go a long ways too. And be absolutely certain that is where you want the part to go. You will not be able to take apart anything after a few seconds. I always test fit the part 3 or 4 times before gluing.

I recommend the rec.models.scale FAQ. Definitely worth reading.

You’ll need a Barbie Doll, a bra, an electricity source (lightning works well), and a computer that came with a free toaster.

Hooking the doll up with electrodes, strap the bra around your head, chanting “Yama, Yama…” What? ::looks up::

Oops, my mistake. :smiley:


Seems like all the basics have been covered in regards to the actual tools above. Some modeling tools are hard to find outside of specialty stores, but there are plenty of places on the web to buy from as well. One source that I’ve used for all kinds of hobby supplies is www.micromark.com . They have pretty much everything you could imagine ever using for scale modeling (and some stuff you probably haven’t thought of!) and their prices are generally pretty reasonable.

If you have any interest in science fiction modeling, visit www.starshipmodeler.com . There is a large reader gallery, articles, and tips on everything from scratch-building to painting. I’ve also bought from HobbyLink Japan at www.hlj.com . They are a good source for Japanese kits that can be hard to find outside major metropolitan areas. The exchange rate is usually quite favorable, so often you can save money even with the shipping costs.

I would encourage you to support a local hobby store if you have one. But I know from having lived in several small towns that mail-order can be the only option available to some of us. Good luck and have fun!

You might start off with some inexpensive models you’re only slightly interested in at first - make your mistakes and have your “learning experiences” on something that isn’t your dream machine, then put those lessons to work on better kits.

Oh, and I’m another modeler who had a bad experience with the Testors liquid cement. After about a week on the shelf (before I got around to painting it), the lower wing panels on an F-15 fell off. Then the radome fell off the nose. Then the tailpipes fell off. Stick to the stuff from the tube. Oh, and make sure that no glue gets on any clear part - it’ll turn it white for a pretty good radius out from where the glue actually hit. Use Elmer’s glue for attaching cockpit canopies and windows.

Forget it – the last time I tried to build a model using a Barbie doll, she melted in the oven and I had a stinkin’ mess in the kitchen that took hours to air out.

No joke; I was trying to use the Barbie as the endoskeleton for a large-scale statue/figure. Worse, she was decapitated, handless, feetless, and had her breasts sanded off at the time…

I just bought a whole kit from Testors that had all the basics to get started, a tube of glue, glue for attaching windows (which can, in a pinch, make windows too), a knife, some really cheapass nylon brushes, and flat, military color enamel paints. According to their catalog, it’s part #9160. I think I paid about $15 for it.

It’s got pretty much everything you’d need to make military models. You might want to go to the hardware store and get more thinner, because the tiny amount they give you doesn’t last long.

I haven’t seen any suggestions for this, but one thing I use a lot is rubber bands, clothespins and those big metal paper clip things (I’ve heard them reffered to as binder clips). Use as many as will fit when gluing two things together. I use alumninum foil between the rubber bands and the model plastic, because some rubber band material can react with the plastic and melt it, also, it keeps the bands out of the glue.

Once upon a time, I had a bottle of the testor’s liquid glue that worked well. I’d never had one before that worked, and never had one after. I suspect that they go bad (active ingredient evaporates off?), and go bad pretty quickly, and I just happened to get lucky once and get a fresh bottle. I wish it did work better, because I really hate the little stringy things that come off the tube-type glue.

You need a pair of pliers as noted above, and perhaps a very small screw driver to push tiny parts into their places.

You guys must not be using enough, the joints must be painted, or it’s the wrong kind. Clear window cement, for example, is water soluble.

I’ve had a model of the USS Reliant from Star Trek II and a 1/48 F-16 sitting on the top of my bookshelf back home for almost four years now and they’re still holding together. Hell, I even have a box filled with scrap models that were glued together over seven years ago and the glue is still holding.

I’d generally advise against super glue with styrene kits. As someone, actually on the Starshipmodeler message board, said, super glue has great tensile strength but horrible shear strength.

Testors cement for plastic models actually dissolves/melts the plastic and fuses it together. I swear by this.