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What’s in the Box

What is in the Box

When faced with hundreds of parts on dozens of sprues, together with brass photo-etch frets and other media it can appear overwhelming.  A systematic approach will help to get to grips with your new project.


This article is aimed at those modellers about to start their first build and those that have a few kits behind them, but are still trying to develop a successful build method.  It deals with the first few steps in building a model BEFORE you start gluing pieces together, or even removing them from the sprue.

Where To Begin?

Let us imagine that you have just sat down with a brand new model and are ready to start the build process.  You open the box and are presented with several plastic sprues containing hundreds of tiny parts.  There may be other bits and pieces such as rubber tyres, chains, twine, brass photo-etch sheets, clear parts, metal gun barrels, PVC piping, decal sheets and more.  Amongst all of these is an instruction booklet with dozens of steps and exploded diagrams, most likely in several languages.  Just where do you begin?

Hopefully, if you are new to the hobby and you have followed the advice in ‘Choose Your First Model’ then your kit should be fairly simple and not that overwhelming.  Nevertheless, no matter how simple, or complex a kit is, there are a few simple steps to work through before beginning the construction process.

Parts list

The instruction sheet for this armoured vehicle contains a diagram with all the sprues making it easy to check that all is present.  Helpfully, parts not needed for this model are shown in blue.

Step 1 – Check The Contents

On receiving a new kit, resist the urge to immediately rip open the box on the doorstep.  Take the kit to a place where there is a clear work surface and plenty of room.  Open the box carefully assuming that there may be small loose pieces inside that must not be mislaid.

Take a look at the contents and memorise how they are laid out.  Some kits will have a large box with a few sprues rattling around inside.  On the other hand, some manufacturers manage to fit a lot of plastic into a small box, so before taking out the contents note how everything is packed, so it can all be put back into the box.

Now take out the sprues and other items one at a time and examine them.  Check that all the parts are still on the sprue and they are an acceptable standard.  A few sink marks are accepable, but if a part is badly deformed, broken or missing you will need to consider getting a replacement.  Look at any decals provided to ensure they are printed well.

The next item for attention is the instruction sheet or booklet.  Usually, the instruction sheet will have a list, or diagram, showing what should be in the box, so as soon as possible check that all the sprues and other items are present.  All of the above should be done as soon as you receive a new kit even if you do not intend to build it for some time.  It will be much more difficult to claim that the kit is faulty, or deficient in some way, if you have had it stored away for a long time.

What if there is a fault with the kit?

If you discover anything missing or damaged beyond repair, then you need to contact either the supplier or manufacturer.  Some kits will contain details of how to contact the manufacturer direct for missing parts, but if not then contact the supplier who should be able to help or advise.  If you have followed the advice in the article ‘Where To Buy’ then you will already be aware of how to get after sales service from your supplier.  If you have no luck with either of the above, then try visiting the manufacturer’s website for a solution.

Fortunately, most kit manufacturers operate to a high standard and you are unlikely to find any problems with the kit.

Step 2 – Plan The Build

Instruction sheet Instruction sheets will vary enormously, but all will be broken into a set of logical steps.  Take some time to go through these mentally to get a feel for how the build should progress.  Find out which steps rely on previous steps and which ones are independent.  Do not be afraid to make notes on the instruction sheet.

Take some time to look over the instructions and get a feel for how the model kit goes together.  This may be a good time to test fit a few major piecies such as hull or fuselage halves, but resist the urge to start taking parts from the sprue until necessary.

With a simple kit it is usually best to follow the manufacturer’s instructions fairly closely, but as kits become more complex some modellers prefer to deviate a little from the suggested steps.  Good examples of this are tank kits.  The instructions almost always show to assemble the wheels and suspension first, but some modellers leave these to last to make painting easier.  By studying the plans it is possible to identify which steps lead on to other steps and have to be completed in the right order and which steps are independent and can be completed at any time.  Often it may be best to leave small details such as lights, aerials and grab handles until the end to avoid the risk of them being broken off.

It may be helpful to write notes on the instructions such as ‘paint this before glueing’ or ‘leave this to the end’ as a reminder later on.

Planning the build may also identify if you need to get any special tools or materials that you do not already have.  At the very least, you will get a feel for how the model goes together from start to finish, thus reducing the chance of going wrong later.  Starting to build a model kit without looking right through the instructions is akin to starting a journey without knowing the destination.

Step 3 – Decide On The Options

Instructions Colour Schemes This M548 by AFV Club has four colour scheme options for four different countries.

Most model kits give you some options.  At the simplest level there may be alternate decals or markings indicating different vehicles in a unit.  Normally, there is a choice of paint schemes which may depend on which theatres of war the vehicle fought in, or which race series that a car was involved in.  One of the appeals of modelling German WWII vehicles is the amazing array of paint schemes that were used throughout the war in different theatres.  Aircraft modellers are often given the choice between a wartime paint scheme that may consist of dull colours or one used at an air display with a dazzeling paint scheme that would not look out of place at a circus.

Colour aside, there are usually build options to be chosen.  For example, an aircraft might be built with undercarraige up or down, cockpit open or closed, wing flaps up or down, engine cowlings on or off.  For a modern aircraft, the modeller may have to decide which type of ordnance (if any) the aircraft is to have attached.  The choices made can make a huge difference to the look of the finished model.

Going to a more extreme level, the manufacturer may offer vehicle options providing alternate parts to make different versions of the same basic vehicle.  When Tamiya first introduced the M113 armoured personnel carrier in 1/35th scale in the 1960s the model was based on the only version in service at that time.  When the kit was re-released in 2003 there were alternate turrets, fuel tanks and other parts to build the M113A1, A2 or A3 models and the choice made determined one of four different paint schemes.

All of the above choices are provided by the manufacturer and so are fairly easy to make.  It is also possible to extend modelling skills and build something original by choosing a paint scheme, or vehicle version, that is not shown in the instructions.  Alternatively, it is possible to enhance the model with super-detailing where kit parts are supplemented or repaced with those offered by after-market suppliers or even hand built by the modeller.  This is where the really creative side of modelling kicks in and there is a great deal of satisfaction to be had from creating items from scratch using basic materials such as modelling putty and plastic card.  This is also where the need for research comes in.

One further choice that should be made early on is how the model is to be displayed.  Should it be stand alone, on a simple base, or is it to be part of a diorama with figures, scenery and perhaps other models?

Whether the intention is to keep to choices offered by the instructions (building ‘Out Of The Box’) or go it alone, the point of making these choices now is that you will identify early on if you need to get any additional tools, parts, materials, paints or bases and whether you need to do any research.

Step 4 – Wash Your Parts!

Washing Parts Gently rub all the sprues with a soft brush and warm soapy water.  Be very careful not to loose any parts down the plug hole!

All of the above steps are best done soon after receiving the model even if it is not intended to start the build straight away.  This last step is best done just before starting the build. Kit parts may be covered with a very thin mould release agent intended to assist the manufacturer in removing the parts from the mould when they are produced.  Regrettably, this can resist certain glues, fillers and paints so must be carefully removed.

Fill a basin with warm soapy water (a few drops of dish detergent) and gently wash all the sprues and major parts with a soft brush.  A large cosmetic brush is ideal for this.  Then rinse them with more clean warm water and leave them to dry naturally.

Although this is a necessary step it is also a recipe for losing parts, so great care is needed.  Before pulling the sink plug check that no small parts have fallen off the sprue and are lying in the basin.  Leave the parts to dry where they will not be disturbed.

Ready To Build At Last

Having done all of the above, the construction proper can now be started.  Hopefully, it should be more straighforward and enjoyable because of this preparation. So, pick up the instruction sheet and enjoy!

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