This article will cover some of the many tools available to the modeller. Some have been specifically developed for scale models whilst others have general uses.
There are certain tools that are essential and all modellers will use these on a regular basis. These are covered in the article ‘The Basic Tool Kit’ . However, a look into most modellers’ tool boxes will show a large number of tools that are not in the basic tool kit. Most modellers will continually add to their tool box – sometimes faster than they add models to their collection – and this is part of the pleasure of modelling. At model shows there are always plenty of trade stands selling tools and these are very popular.
No two modeller’s will have exactly the same set of tools. This difference starts right at the beginning when a modeller has to choose what type of craft knife and tweezers to use, but the difference continues depending on the modeller. Some modellers love creating unique models and will spend much of their time scratch-building or kit-bashing. These modellers tool boxes will be filled with devices for cutting and shaping plastic, resin and metals. Other modellers may concentrate on painting rather than construction, so their toolbox may appear to be simpler. The scale that a modeller tends to work with and the type of model can also affect the range of tools he or she owns.
Often, there are several different ways to complete a task and different tools to do it. Each modeller will have his or her favourites and this leads to differences in the tool box. Some modellers even end up making their own tools for very specific tasks where there is no commercially available tool for the job.
For all of these reasons it is not possible to recommend a set of tools for experienced modellers and the only advice is to get the tools as you need them. A list of all possible tools for all possible circumstances would be very long indeed, but there follows a list of many tools that modellers find useful.
As it’s name suggests, the sole purpose of this is to cut out circles of plastic. It is similar to a pair of compasses with a small replaceable blade at the end of one arm.
It will only work on soft materials such as plastic card and although it’s use may seem limited when you have to cut out a circle of plastic it would be very difficult to do it without this tool. Modellers who do a lot of scratch-building and converting find this indispensible.
These are very useful for holding parts tighly so that they can be worked on with both hands. They are smaller versions of the vises that can be found in any carpenter or metal workers workshop.
These vises normally clamp on to any work surface, so they are quite versatile. Care is needed with plastic parts because it is easy to tighten them too much and damage the part, but they are ideal when there is a need to file or shape metal parts.
These can vary enormously in quality and before purchasing check that the opening and closing action is smooth and the jaws come together properly with no gaps or misalignment.
Large Soft Brush
There are many uses for large soft brushes. They are handy for washing parts in soapy water to remove grease and mold residue. They are useful for brushing dust off parts after sanding and before painting. In addition, they are great for dusting completed models on the shelf.
Artists brushes can come in large sizes and are ideal, but very expensive and there are many cheap alternatives such as cosmetic brushes.
Drawing Tools Including Steel Ruler
A steel ruler is essential for both drawing and cutting straight lines.
For scratch-building and kit-bashing, it is necessary to cut shapes out of plastic card and for this a good set of drawing tools is needed such as set squares, protractor, pair of compasses and dividers.
The dividers are particularly useful for measuring the length of an object and then replicating that length many times over.
This is a weighted stand that holds a magnifying glass and two or more crocodile clips. The magnifier is of limited use because it is fairly small, but the croc clips are very handy for holding one or more pieces while they are worked on or painted.
Care is needed not to mark soft plastic parts with the croc clips, but this is easily acheived by using paper towel or rag in the jaws.
These really come into there own for any modeller trying the technique of soldering to join metal parts. This usually involves holding two parts plus a soldering iron and perhaps flux, so anything that can hold something in place for the modeller is very useful.
Optivisor / Magnifier
The Optivisor is the trade name for a head band that holds two magnifying glasses and thus allows the modeller to get a close up look at the subject and keep both hands free. It is a good quality product that is very popular with modellers and is used by other professions as well. There are a range of lenses for different magnifications and if possible it is best to try them out before buying to get the right magnification (although extra lenses can be bought and added later).
It is difficult to imagine a modeller going for long without using a magnifier of some sort and some wear an Optivisor, or similar head band magnifier most of the time.
There are many types of magnification available and they are covered in more detail in the article ‘Use Of Magnification’ .
There are many types of pliers available and they are general tools that can be found in any hardware store.
These become particularly useful for working metal such as bending brass rods, but they are also handy for a variety of odd jobs such as getting a firm grip on parts or opening a subborn pot of glue. There are numerous types and sizes and modellers will find smaller ones the most use.
The most economical way to get pliers is to buy a complete set and even though one of them might not be very useful to the modeller the saving by buying a whole set more than makes up for this.
Quality is important as some of the cheaper tools may be made of soft metal that will not last very long when used for cutting and bending metal.
Stainless steel dental probes are useful for applying filler, shaping and sculpting. The fine pointed probes can be used for scribing panel lines. Like pliers these can often be bought economically as a set.
Mission Models Chisel
This is a great little tool for removing seams and other raised details. The replaceable chisel tips are very sharp and hard and come in different sizes. Also available are round chisels and scribers.
These are used by artists for applying oil paint, but are useful to modellers for mixing and applying large amounts of filler. Probably only the very smallest spatulas are useful to the modeller in most situations.
From time to time, it is necessary to hold parts together while glue sets. Rubber bands and masking tape are often used for this, but spring or screw tight clamps are also useful and having a collection of these handy is worth while.
Razor and Micro Saws
When it comes to cutting through large amounts of plastic a saw is needed. Razor saws are miniature versions of full-size saws used for cutting timber. They have very fine teeth and come in a variety of depths.
The saws usually come without any handle and can be used in this way but normally they can be fitted to a standard large knife handle which makes it easier to hold them.
A razor saw will make quick work of cutting through most plastic and are ideal when major kit parts need to be cut up when converting or kit-bashing. They will also cut resin parts, but are not suitable for metal when a hack-saw with hardened teeth is needed.
A micro saw is an even smaller version of a razor saw with a very thin blade and tiny teeth. These blades fit into a knife handle and are very flexible. They are mainly used for cutting away surface detail when it needs to be reused, for example they can be used to slice away a bulge on an aircraft wing that needs to be relocated.
Photo Etch Folding Tool
Photo-etched metal parts have become a very common addition to models. They allow modellers to add parts that are either too small, or too thin to be made out of injection molded styrene or resin.
Working with photo-etched parts will involve bending them at precise angles in exact places and this can be difficult without help. This is where a specialist folding tool is very useful, if no essential. The two most popular types are the ‘Hold & Fold’ and ‘Etch Mate’.
They are essentially a clamp that holds the part down firmly, so that a blade can be inserted underneath and used to bend the part upwards. This makes sure that the part bends with a clean straight line. The tool has a variety of cut outs to allow multiple bends of the same part at different angles. Folding tools are available in a variety of sizes. A small size will suffice for most purposes, but if you need to bend something like fenders that run the full length of a tank, you may need one of the larger versions.
As a modeller, you will very quickly find there is a need to have a surface to cut against. Without it your work surface will very quickly become damaged. Any old piece of chipboard or MDF will suffice, or even a chopping board from the kitchen. However, the ideal solution is a self-healing cutting mat.
These mats have a hard stiff plastic base on top of which a soft rubber-like surface is mounted. The rubber-like surface is ideal for cutting on. The rubber surface grips well so what you are cutting will not slip and the surface will not blunt your knife blades. Surprisingly, the mat never seems to be damaged by the knife blade. I have used mine for years and made hundreds of cuts on it, but it still looks like new (apart from the paint spills). These mats normally have a grid marked on them which can be useful for making easy parallel or perpendicular cuts.
Cutting mats such as these come in a wide variety of sizes, but we would suggest you get one at least A4 size and larger if you can afford it. It is one of those tools that once you have it you will wonder how you managed without it.
This is a plastic template intended for technical drawing that has a range of different diameter circles. It can be used to cut out circles in plastic card by running a compass point around the circle over and over. It is also useful for masking when a circle needs to be painted such as masking the tyres of wheels when painting the hubs (see ‘Painting Tank Wheels’ )