Thursday, November 29, 2018

Tools of the Trade: Essential Modeling Supplies

We have had a section of the blog dedicated to talking about the different tools we use for our hobby endeavors for a few years now. We have grown as hobbyists since the blog was started and felt it was time that we updated this list.

Hobby knife - X-acto #1 Precision Knife with #11 Fine Point Blades:

The most important tool for this hobby is, without a doubt, having a good knife with disposable blades. It is essential for removing mold-lines and excess plastic from pieces after they are removed from the sprue. While there are many types and brands, we have come to prefer the X-acto #1 Precision Knife, equipped with the #11 Classic Fine Point Blade. The #11 blade has a fine point that is excellent for delicate detail work, and the spine has a flat surface that is good for removing mold lines, eschewing the need for buying a separate mold-line removal tool.

A simple X-acto knife with a classic #11 blade has served use well for many years.

One of the greatest strengths of such a hobby knife is that the blades are disposable. The blades get noticeably duller with continued use (particularly with metal models, but also with plastic and resin), making it wise to change them frequently (I often do between models). You would be amazed at the difference a new blade can make when trimming models, drastically lessening the amount of force and effort needed to cut off mold-line. Although it might not seem critical, you want the tip of the blade to be intact and straight. With use the tip can break off or bend slightly. This imperfection often causes unintentional scratches on the models you are working on.

As mentioned earlier, the back of the blade can be used to scrape mold-lines off models, rather than cutting them off. To do this, you just make smooth broad strokes with the back of the blade across the piece you are working on, applying constant pressure across the entire surface. Since the back of the blade is dull, it slowly removes material in a uniform fashion, which can be very difficult to achieve using the sharp side of the blade.

Glue - Tamiya Extra Thin Cement:

The second most important element for building and converting miniatures is having good glue. Since most Games Workshop models are plastic, it is essential to have plastic glue. Our favorite is Tamiya Extra Thin Cement, hands-down. While most glues require you to apply the adhesive to the individual parts before fitting them together, this plastic cement has a water-like consistency and relies on capillary action to be applied. You simply touch the brush (contained in the lid of the glue bottle) to the seam you want to bond and the cement is sucked in. This is fantastic because it allows you to dry-fit models together and apply the glue without ever “disassembling” the model. This dramatically reduces assembly errors, like glue setting before you push two pieces together fully.

Tamiya Extra Thin Cement is far and above the best glue we have used for plastic models. Krazy Glue is a good super glue for metal and resin models.

Additionally, you can use the glue in a more traditional fashion by brushing it on each piece and then fitting them together. The glue is thin enough that it does not ooze out when fitting the pieces together, but it becomes tacky in seconds, allowing you to reposition the part as needed. After you get the parts in their proper place, you can always apply more by touching the brush to the seam, and more will be wicked up like I mentioned earlier.

Krazy glue:

Not every model is made of plastic, so it is good to have a cyanoacrylate glue in your collection. I have used many different brands of superglue over the years to assemble my models, but have always come back to the first I ever tried, Krazy glue. It creates a strong bond and sets quickly, on plastic, metal, and resin. The glue is contained in a small plastic bottle with a long snout for applying the glue. It makes it easy to apply small amounts, and being that the bottle is plastic, it always maintains it shape (making it easier to always add glue consistently). It has a small thumbtack to close the bottle, and the entire bottle then fits inside a hard plastic sheath. This keeps the bottle upright and prevents it from being crushed or otherwise damaged.

Clippers - Tamiya 74035 Sharp Pointed Side Cutter:

Since most plastic models are found unassembled on plastic sprues or runners, it is essential to have a good clippers to remove each piece. Without one, you need to cut the pieces off directly with a blade, which can easily lead to damaging them, typically by the tearing the plastic. While you can get a cheap clippers from any hardware store, spending a little extra money to get one designed specifically for miniatures is worth the investment. We currently use the Tamiya 74035 Sharp Pointed Side Cutter. The blades are very thin, allowing you to easily access even tightly packed plastic sprues and clip extremely closely to the plastic piece in question, without tearing the plastic. This substantially reduces the cleanup time on plastic models because you have less of the connecting sprue to trim away.

A good clippers helps speed up plastic model assembly and clean-up.

It is important to note that the Tamiya 74035, and many similar clippers designed for the miniature hobbyist, are strictly for plastic (and resin). If you attempt to cut metal (for pinning or cleaning up a metal model), it will likely deform the blades of the clipper. Because of this, it is a good idea to have a cheaper, heavier duty clippers for dealing with metal. Currently we use a simple Craftsman Diagonal Cutting Pliers. We primarily use it for cutting straight pins for pinning models together (The process of pinning entails drilling a hole into two parts that are to be joined, and inserting a "pin" to strengthen the connection. This imparts extra stability that glue alone could not provide).

Sandpaper - Tamiya Sanding Sponges:

Another important tool for preparing models is sand paper. While not always required for plastic, it is essential for metal models. After removing mold lines, or any other excess piece of metal/plastic from a model, sanding the area ensures that the surface is smooth and consistent (something that is very difficult to achieve with a knife alone, particularly with metal). This sort of touch-up requires sandpaper with a high grit number (and therefore very fine/small abrading particles), preferably 600 or higher. While sheets of sandpaper are very useful because you can fold them in various shapes to access different parts of a model, recently we have started to use Tamiya Sanding Sponges for more routine sanding. They are a very simple product, just different grit sandpaper attached to a thin sponge. The sponge provides additional support when sanding and prevents it from quickly deteriorating and tearing.

Tamiya Sanding Sponges are a good way to get very fine grit sandpaper for delicate hobby work.

Pin Vise - Tamiya Fine Pin Vise D:

As we have become more and more experienced modelers, we have come to make extensive use of pinning our models. The process of pinning entails drilling a hole into two parts that are to be joined, and inserting a "pin" to strengthen the connection. This imparts extra stability that glue alone could not provide. Without pinning, many models’ joints are too fragile and break off during even careful gaming. It also can be very useful to repair the hafts or pommels of weapons. We commonly use stainless steel dress pins with a diameter of 1/16’’. Pins of this diameter work well for most applications on models, whether it is pinning on an arm or replacing the shaft of spear. We prefer using pins over paper clips because they are more uniform in shape and diameter and tend to not be electroplated (which can flake off after being cut, and create a less sturdy connection).

A pin vice designed for miniatures helps a lot because they are designed to hold the smallest drill bits.

After selecting a pin, you need to find a drill bit that matches the diameter (or is close). The pins we use are quite small, and therefore require quite tiny drill bits. This can pose a problem for some cheap hardware store pin vises, because the chokes on them cannot accommodate bits smaller than 1mm, in most cases. Due to this, we have come to favor the Tamiya Fine Pin Vise D, which is designed to hold bits ranging from 0.1 to 3.2mm. After using a generic pin vice for years (which we needed to use a wrench to tighten the choke to hold smaller bits), transitioning to the Tamiya pin vise was practically a revelation. It is easy to switch between bits of different sizes, and it securely holds each bit with minimal tightening.

This is yet another example of how spending a little additional money on high quality tools can make the hobby process far easier and more enjoyable. You will have noticed by now that many of the tools on this list are made by Tamiya. This is not an accident. They make excellent tools that were specifically created with the miniature hobbyist in mind. Importantly, they are also readily available at hobby shops and online vendors like Amazon.

Sculpting Tools - Royal Sovereign Color Shapers:

Green stuff is a two part modeling putty that can be used for all manner of tasks, from simple things like filling gaps, to sculpting entire models. Using it can be very intimidating; it has taken us many years to get even somewhat proficient with the material. While there is no substitute for practicing with the material, various tools can make the process a lot easier. The most important of them are Color/clay shapers. These tools are essentially paint brushes with the bristles replaced with a silicone head of various sizes and shapes. They are tremendously helpful for creating smooth surfaces and seamless transitions between the putty and actual model.

Royal Sovereign Color Shapers: Top/Middle: Angle chisel point ; Bottom: Taper point

After applying an excess amount of greenstuff to the area you want to fill/reshape, you can simply use the color shapers to flatten out the putty in one uniform motion, easily creating a smooth surface and transition with the model. The greenstuff is much less prone to sticking to the material of the shapers than an X-acto knife or your fingers. Despite this I always make sure to wet the tip of the shapers before touching greenstuff. The color shapers come in various shapes and sizes, but I have found that taper points, angle chisels, and flat chisels work the best for my purposes (sizes ranging from from 0-6).

After identifying an area to greenstuff, apply a liberal amount of the putty to the surface. In a single motion, forcefully drag the color shaper over the greenstuff and over the area you wish to fill. This should evenly fill the area. Any excess greenstuff can be removed via X-acto knife.

Lighting - Daylight Company UN1190 Natura Light-11 Task Lamp:

Another element that can go a long way at improving your modeling potential and results is working in an area with sufficient lighting. Although it may seem like an extravagance, good lighting makes a tremendous difference. Once you invest in a high quality, natural light, you will never want to go back, and difficult to work effectively on models without it.

For years, we used a Daylight Triple Bright Lamp, but recently switched to an updated model that replaces the tube bulbs with LEDs. Both produce a soft, natural white light that does not distort color or cast strong shadows. It easily illuminates even the largest hobby desk, and is mounted on a highly posable retractable arm, which allows it to be adjusted to best suit any task. The upgrade from traditional bulbs to LEDs does not make a huge difference in day-to-day use, but they have a much longer lifespan, removing the need to change burnt out bulbs (something that happens quite frequently on the Triple Bright Lamp).


Brass Tubing - Albion alloys micro brass tubing:

Our blog puts a lot of emphasis on converting more realistic firearms, often scaling down 40k weapons substantially. Doing this is difficult, but made easier by having brass tubing of various sizes. This tubing is rigid and uniform, perfect for creating gun barrels and other elements of a firearm. Albion Alloys sells excellent sets of “slide fit” tubing, that consists of tubing of decreasing diameters that interlock with one another. Interlocking tubing gives you a lot more options when using the brass because each works in conjunction with one another. The tubing can be a little challenging to work with, but we have found that putting a pin or drill bit inside the tubing before cutting it prevents the tubing from being crushed.

You can get brass tubing that is far thinner than the plastic barrels on Games Workshop's firearms.


  1. I was curious to see what all changed on this list as it is something I have looked at a few times over the years. I recently started to try and cut down to only hobby supplies/tools that I really use. Trying to keep all of my tools available at hand on my desk led me to searching for some safety caps as the ones I had have been missing for a long time. In the end that was more expensive than ordering 2 new knives and giving a coworker around 7+ different xacto knife handles that I didn’t use but have hoarded for years. Long story short I can’t recommend the Excel K18 enough. Excel placed the blade lock on the other end of the knife so the blade doesn’t need to be retightened every time you go to use it.

    1. I admit, I was a little surprised how little it has changed over the years, aside from replacing a lot of my cheaper tools with tamyia ones. I might continue to update it with some miscellaneous things, like the brass tubing we use, the static grass, etc. And maybe what airbrushes we have and paints we use.

      That Excel knife looks quite nice and very inexpensive. The lock at the back seems like a good design, one that is less likely too loosen over time.

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks, I plan to keep adding to the list!

    2. For me, the gift of this majesty has pushed my building game (for the reduction of frustration in constantly dropping tiny parts)to another level. Whenever i use it, i remember how it sucked, not to have one:

      Thank you, my love (it was actually a christmans present from my wife) for this beauty:

    3. I have a pretty large tweezers that is helpful at times, but often too cumbersome to be too useful. Is this one rather small?

    4. The tip is tiny! Just like a model knifes tip. And the angled shape of the gripping part really does a difference for handling and reaching difficult areas.