The hobby of scale modelling can be practiced without injury or damage to health and this should be the aim at all times. Regrettably, everything that we do in life involves some risk and certain guidelines need to be followed in order to minimise risk to health when modelling.
The main risks with modelling arise from several distinct areas:
- Injury from knives, tools and parts
- Solvents and toxins
- Superglue (cyanoacrylate) in the eyes
- Skin irritation
- Fire and explosion
Special considerations are needed for juveniles and there is a separate section covering these at the end.
Injury From Knives, Tools And Parts
Most modellers probably spend more time with a knife in their hands than any other tool. Here are some important safety tips when using knives:
- Use only light pressure when cutting, scraping or whittling. This is not only a safety tip, but is good practice.
- Try to cut away from your body and where this is not practical make sure that you hold the knife and the part you are working on in a firm controlled grip so that it cannot slip. Also consider protecting fingers with a band aid/plaster to prevent minor cuts.
- Use a sharp blade – ironically the additional pressure applied when using a blunt blade means that any slips are more likely to cause damage.
- Consider using knives with retractable blades and only expose the minimum amount of blade. For other knives consider wrapping masking tape around part of the blade you are not using.
- Modelling knives come in different sizes and many can be fitted with a variety of different blades. Make sure you have the right knife and blade for the job and avoid using a knife or blade that is to small for the task as it might break.
- When not using the knife, put it in a safe place – make a habit of keeping it the same place so you do it automatically. A piece of cork with a slit is useful for protecting the blade when not in use.
- Dispose of blades safely. At the very least wrap masking tape around the blade and seal it in scrap cardboard. It is often useful to keep the packet that the blades came in for disposal.
- Work in a good light.
Unplug any motorised tools when not in use and keep them in good condition making sure that the flex is not damaged. Before using a motor tool always make sure that both the tool and object are firmly gripped so they cannot slip. Consider the entire action of using the tool – for example when drilling, consider what will happen when the drill bit comes out the other side. Before you press that ‘on’ switch take a second to think ‘what could go wrong’.
Protective Eye Wear
Although this may be inconvenient, it should always be worn when using a motor tool and should be available at other times. It is very easy for small parts to fly off when snipping with manual pliers.
The wearing of a protective dust mask should be considered whenever sanding or cutting, particularly using a motor tool. This is especially important when working on resin parts as these produce a fine dust that is harmful to the lungs. If you wear glasses then make sure that the dust mask or respirator you plan to purchase will accomodate them.
Injury From Kit Parts
At first it may seem difficult to imagine that kit parts can cause injury but they can. Possibly the worst offender is photo-etch metal. These are very tiny sharp parts and if they are accidentally flicked into an eye will cause great damage. It is also possible to get splinters from photo-etch shavings, especially in the foot if they are dropped on the floor. Wear suitable shoes and vacuum clean your work area and floor regularly.
Care should also be taken when dealing with rods of plastic or metal such as those used for aerials. It is all to easy to poke yourself in the eye with these, so take care and wear appropriate eye protection.
Solvents, Toxins and Paint Spraying
These days there are many modelling paints and products that are water based e.g. acrylics and thankfully these do not normally give off harmful fumes. However, there are still many products that do such as:
- polystyrene cement
- certain fillers e.g. squadron green stuff
- enamal paints and thinners
It is not possible to eliminate exposure to these entirely, but every attempt should be made to minimise it. Read the instructions on the product to find out just how dangerous and/or flammable the product is. Work in an open well-ventilated area. Put the tops back on when they are not in use and give yourself regular breaks from modelling moving to a different area.
If you feel at all light headed or get head aches then you may be getting too much harmful vapours. It is very easy for this to creep up on you because if you are in a room for a long period you will get used to the smell. Ask someone else to come into the room and if they can detect a strong smell of turpentine, acetone, or similar then the room does not have enough ventilation. REMEMBER THERE IS NO SAFE AMOUNT OF THESE VAPOURS.
Avoid licking paint brushes to bring them to a point.
Spray painting, whether from a can or airbrush, produces a very fine mist and even if the paint is non-toxic every precaution should be made to avoid breathing airborne particles. Ventilation is very important and the ideal system is a spay booth with an extractor and filter.
If you do not have access to a spray booth then you should wear a mask specifically rated for spray painting – an ordinary dust mask will not be suitable as it will not filter out the fine particles. This may seem an inconvenience, but it is not worth damaging your lungs for the sake of a hobby.
Note that a spray painting mask will still not protect you from solvents so you will still need to ensure good ventilation.
Risks From Superglue (Cyanocrylate adhesives)
This has become an indespensible material in the modellers toolbox and it’s famed ability to stick almost anything includes human tissue. It is very easy to accidentally stick fingers together which is more of an inconvenience than anything else but the real danger comes from getting these adhesives in the eye where serious permanent damage can occur.
The only way to avoid this is to be very carefull when handling cyano adhesives. Always replace the top immediately after use. Keep plenty of paper towels handy for spills and wiping any excess off fingers and models. Always make sure you have a ready supply of super glue remover.
If you do get superglue, or any other irritant, in the eye then avoid rubbing it. Flush it with plenty of water, gently cover it and seek medical help immediately.
You should be aware that many modelling materials will irritate the skin, if not immediately then over a period of time. Minimise exposure and consider using latex or cotton gloves (these are a good idea when handling models during the painting process to avoid greasy fingerprints).
Fire and Explosion
Since many modelling substances are either flammable or give off flammable fumes, it is common sense not to use tobacco products when modelling. Some modelling techniques use heat or naked flames, so care should be taken to remove any flammable substances and ventilate the work area to remove any fumes before starting any technique using heat or flame.
Scale Modelling and Children
Modelling is a great hobby for youngsters, but special care is needed. It is not possible to suggest an age where modelling is safe because it will depend on the maturity of the child, the type of model kit and the level of supervision that a parent/guadian is willing to provide. However, we would suggest that up to the age of eight most children are better having their creative urges directed to traditional construction toys such as Lego. After that age, if they are capable and mature, then perhaps introduce simple kits of the snap-together type. Ultimately parents must ensure that childern are properly supervised, trained and that any tools are suitable.
The following are some general tips:
- Choose kits that are simple – many kits will indicate the skill level required, or the number of parts included and the seller may be able to advise on this. It is possible to buy some kits that are snap-together requiring no glue or knives – however, be warned, if your child gets the modelling ‘bug’ then these simple kit will not keep them satisfied for long.
- Choose knives that only require a small amount of blade to be exposed or a type where the blade can be retracted when not in use.
- Select glues, fillers and paints that are low odour and non-toxic.