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[P&M] Modeling Tools & Materials of the Trade

  1. Space Marine Senior Member Company of Heroes Senior Member  #1
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    [P&M] Modeling Tools & Materials of the Trade

    edit: Note please that the original discussion thread can still be found here, and is where you can bring new tools/materials to BA's attention so he can update the master list. - Ap0k

    Please refer back to this often. As I find locations where you can shop for these materials, I will add them to the descriptions. I also plan on adding pics and detailed descriptions of tool use as time permits.

    Someone recently noted that there's no specific mention of what tools work for what level of experience the modeler has. That's a really good point, so I've added a note to each, (thanks Scorpion). Sometimes I forget I've been doing this off and on for 25 years.
    • Beginner: Tools which are a necessity in any collection, but are most useful to a starting modeler.
    • Intermediate: Tools for the modeler branching out from basic assembly to conversion work.
    • Advanced: Esoteric tools for those happy few who do things a little differently. The average modeler can go an entire lifetime without such tools.

    NOTE: GW is about to launch their high priced citadel tool set. Many of the items in the kit are discussed below. As is typical for GW, the various parts can all be assembled for much cheaper. However, in this case, I actually recommend the kit. If you're just starting out and not replacing/duplicating tools, it has total merit. Even if you're an old dog like me, GW finally learned how to put some value in their items by adding ergonomic grips to everything. I have yet to find anything on the open market with these features and comfort is the key to staying productive during long modeling sessions. It's also using their standard carrying case. For an extra $20, you can buy 3 more foam inserts, giving you figure storage for 144 infantry models and carrying capacity for 108. I priced everything out via my normal vendors and once I added in GW's case, the price was commensurate, which is a far cry for GW normally.

    Cutting Tools

    Sprue Cutter Beginner
    Games Workshop
    You basic light duty cutters, their jaws will generally have a very flat surface on one side and a steep cutting groove on the other. Designed to trim objects cleanly, they will help you minimize the amount of cleanup you may need to do later. Really only useful for cutting parts off plastic sprues. Do not use them to cut wires, pins or other hard, metal objects. Their cutting surface is far too soft.

    Wire Cutter Beginner
    For cutting hard metal, (such as stick pins, paper clips and brass rod), you should get a dedicated pair of wire cutters. Their cutting edge is hardened and can take such abuse for many years.

    Jeweler's Saw Intermediate
    Games Workshop
    A simple, adjustable saw designed to hold extremely thin blades, this is an absolute must if you plan to to alot of metal conversions. They can trim pewter easily with little to no damage to the surface.

    Razor Saw Intermediate
    Just like the jeweler's saw above, this item is a necessity for performing fine cuts in model conversions, (such as head/arm swaps). After snapping many jeweler's saw blades, I have found that for most of the projects I've done in the past, a razor would've been the better choice.

    X-Acto Knife Beginner
    Games Workshop
    Your standard, extremely sharp, don't run while carrying, your mama warned you modeling knife. Everybody knows what they are and they are another must have for your toolbox. I prefer the kind with disposable blades which retract into the handle. Aside from safety, you just snap off a small piece as it wears, keeping a sharp edge.

    Forceps/Tweezers Beginner
    Hobbylinc (alt)
    Games Workshop
    Basically locking tweezers, a decent pair of forceps can help you hold on to your model parts while you are sawing, cutting, painting, trimming, etc. A good jeweler's/modelers forceps can hold very strong while not damaging the surface. They can come in straight or curved jaw models. A cheaper way to go would be spring-loaded or cross-action tweezers, which lock automatically via spring pressure in the handle.

    Cutting Mat Beginner
    Games Workshop
    The big green mat. Self sealing/healing, you can X-Acto all day on this thing and it will keep coming back for more. A must have if you don't want to replace your desk surface every couple of months.

    Hobby Vise Intermediate
    It seems like a luxury until you're trying to find a way to elevate your model off the top of your workspace and away from the edge of the desk 'just so' in order to make that final cut on the neck of that robed marine with your jeweler's saw and your hands are shaking. All kidding aside, until you have one of these handy lil' gadgets, you won't know what you were missing. Painting, sculpting or cutting, a simple hobby vise will prove a life saver many times over once you're accustomed to using it. I recommend a good suction cup model over a clamp model. You can use it anywhere without having to find a surface to clamp it to. They can lose suction over time, but double checking before your session should be enough to guarantee it stays put.


    JB Kwik Intermediate
    Designed to fill cracks in engine blacks and other heavy chunks of metal, (JB Kwik has a tensile strength of approx 2424psi), this is a major boon to any modeler wishing to glue metal together. It sets very fast, so you can only mix is a bit at a time, but it blows away any other adhesive I've used. You can drop a Wood Elf dragon off the table and it'll just bend instead of breaking apart. (Of course, the bending part sucks!) It can be purchased anywhere from Ace Hardware to WalMart and is available throughout North America, Europe and even Russia. To quote their website, it can bond "any combination of iron, steel, copper, aluminum, brass, bronze, pewter, porcelain, ceramic, marble, glass, PVC & ABS, concrete, fiberglass, wood, fabric, paper -- just about any porous and non-porous material." 'Nuff said.

    Zap-A-Gap/Cyanoacrylate Glue Beginner
    The War Store
    Games Workshop
    Your basic plastic glue. It works by 'melting' the molecular bonds of the plastic long enough for the two pieces to merge together into one piece. Interesting chemistry. It can do a decent job of keeping metal and plastic together, but since I started using JB Kwik, I have pretty much relegated it to plastics only.

    Super Sculpey Intermediate
    Basic modeling putty, I use this stuff to help hold pieces together instead of my hands. Using this would require a tutorial all it's own. Coming soon.

    Pin Vise Beginner
    Games Workshop
    The basic hand-held drill, this little tool will help you make those crucial holes for setting pins. "What are pins?", you ask? A pin is any short piece of hard metal used to hold two pieces together. It is a reinforcing joint. You can use stick pins, paper clips, brass rod, pretty much anything studier than the plastic or pewter the two pieces of model are made from.


    Kneadatite Beginner/Intermediate
    The War Store
    Games Workshop
    Also known as Green Stuff, it is a 2-part putty which remains pliable long enough to sculpt into necessary shapes, yet hardens relatively quickly. The converting modelers friend, you can't do alot of custom work without it. There is also something by Kneadatite known as Brown Stuff, which is an aluminum based putty. It hardens to a much firmer finish and is often used there crisp, solid detail is required. NOTE: I say Beginner/Intermediate on this because in my opinion, beginners should use it to become accustomed to it's use for gap filling and such, but actual sculpting and other such work is more geared towards the Intermediate modeler.

    Dentist Picks Intermediate
    The War Store
    Any kind of pin or pointy metal device will do, but if you can find them, the basic dentist pick is an amazing tool to have on hand. You can to all manner of subtle, detailed sculpting with it. NOTE: The above example from TWS is an amazing kit. If I hadn't already scoured every swap meet from here to Albuquerque to obtain my current set of tools, I would buy this kit in a heartbeat. This also includes blades, spatulas, etc.

    Sculpting Tool Intermediate
    The War Store
    Games Workshop
    The standard, bladed sculpting/application tool is invaluable, esp when working with broad surfaces, (such as sculpting the folds in robes & such). It generally has a thin, blade-like appendage on one end and a small, curved spatula on the other. NOTE: The above example from TWS is an amazing kit. If I hadn't already scoured every swap meet from here to Albuquerque to obtain my current set of tools, I would buy this kit in a heartbeat. This also includes dentist style picks, etc.

    Abrasives Beginner
    Games Workshop
    Generally referring to needle files & such, there are a variety of things you can use to remove fingerprints from your sculpting, clean up mould lines and generally trim unwanted flash from your model.

    Clean & Prep

    White Vinegar Beginner
    Sure, Dawn dish liquid is nice, but I find vinegar washes the models up very well, evaporates cleanly and leaves little to worry about when it's gone. Be sure to thin it with some warm water so it'll last you awhile. You MUST wash your models before primering if you want the paint to last a long time.

    Toothbrush Beginner
    Any dirty old toothbrush, the perfect tool for cleaning and prepping for paint.

    Simple Green Intermediate
    The ultimate paint stripper. Sure, it's not as fsat as brake fluid, oven cleaner or Castrol Super Clean. What it is si non-toxic and biodegradable. So you won't burn your hands and it will work on both plastic and metal models. 24 hours of soak should be more than enough. NOTE: Simple Green may be known by another name in your country. They their global partners page for details.

    Tenax-7R Space Age Plastic Welder Intermediate
    I haven't tried this technique for removing mould lines yet, but it's too brilliant not to include. I'll offer an update as soon as I can try it out.

    Gesso Surface Primer Beginner
    Art Supplies Online
    I stumbled across this, so I thought I'd add it here since spray primer isn't the only game in town. Priming with gesso. When I get a chance to try it myself, I'll add more info.


    Hardboard/Masonite Beginner
    Hardboard is a compressed, composite board. Fiber residuals are saturated in a wet process and then compressed to specific gravity. A fine fiber overlay is applied to create smooth faces, typically light brown in color.
    Now that the textbook definition is out of the way, I can discuss this most basic and necessary element to terrain building. Over the years I've tried everything from cardboard to plastic to foam to whatever. Few surfaces give you the consistency and rigidity necessary to built long lasting terrain which can take years of abuse that hardboard can offer you. Generally, you get Tempered Hardboard in 1/8" thickness and it can be sued to base anything from your new Cities of Death ruins to a stand of trees or a nice hill. You can often buy it in a 4' x 8' sheet for about $8-9. In the past I've stolen clipboards and frame backing from friends and family whenever I could to obtain it. Now, however, there is an incredibly convenient way to obtain it. Home Depot sells it in full sheets, but also in 2' x 2' and 2' x 4' for about $1.50-$2 each. I picked up four 2' x 2' sheets recently for my new Cities of Death project and have enough to make about 14-16 buildings for barely $6 and I didn't need a truck to haul it home!

    Foam Cutter Advanced
    The War Store
    Foam Core, available in small sheets from art/hobby stores or in huge 4' by 8' insulation sheets from Home Depot/Lowe's, is the very core of terrain modeling, (no pun intended). Cutting it quickly and cleanly requires some form of heated blade. Since not all of us want to sit with a butter knife and a zippo while making terrain, an actual foam cutter is key. The default battery operated wire on a wire has been around for ages. However, the Crafter's Foam Cutter blade is really a solid piece of work. If you do alot of terrain work, this expensive tool is a must for your arsenal. NOTE: When asked why I consider this advanced, my decision is that few rookie/intermediate hobbyists are prepared to work w/ 4x8 sheets of extruded polystyrene, build & store several cubic feet of scenery and deal with the potential toxicity of heated plastic vapours. The use of a foam cutter doesn't require alot of skill, but it does require plenty of forethought and care.

    Circle Cutter Advanced
    This is a must have and thanks to Black Gobbo for showing off some tricks of the trade, you can now make your own display bases.

    Flock Beginner
    More to come

    Water Effects Advanced
    More to come


    Sheet Styrene/Plasticard Advanced
    More on this later
    Misc scratch building parts

    Caliper Advanced
    NOT what I would consider a must have, but when you are trying to convert models using magnets or match the size of a rivet on a current model so you can make new ones out of plasticard, (see above), then this little engineering tool starts to come in handy. They are expensive, but it will pay for itself in the headaches it helps you avoid.

    Dremel Advanced
    Another good tool, it can also be dangerous. You can get jeweler's saw discs for it, but one slip and you'll carve off a finger or a chunk of your desk. As always, use safety glasses.

    Extra Paint Bottles Intermediate
    Empty paint bottles are not just for mixing custom colors. They are very handy tools for helping to keep your freshly clued model the way you want it. Combine w/ Super Sculpey above.

    Rare Earth Magnets Intermediate
    US Vendors: Amazing Magnets, K&J Magnetics, Wonder Magnet
    UK Vendors: TEP, E-Magnets UK (thanks White Noise)

    Tired of paying an arm and a leg for your models? Feel like all those extra bits in the box are just wasted? Think again. Using REM's, (or NdFeB, Neodymium Iron Boron, Magnets), you can make several versions of the same model. The Space Marine Dreadnought is an excellent example. With parts to field a Lascannon, Missile Launcher, Assault Cannon and Dreadnought Close Combat Weapon, you could have 4 versions of this powerful vehicle instead of just one. What about swappable weapons on your devastator squad? Or changing the sponsons on your Leman Russ? Anything is possible with a little planning and forethought.

    Paints & Thinners
    I hadn't originally intended to use this to include paints of any kind, but I've begun purchasing a variety of different paints and trying to compare them. That project will be a LONG time coming, however I stumbled across something which I just had to share.

    Thinning Mixture Intermediate
    Miniature GIANT
    Several years ago I stumbled across an article on Reaper's craft site which really opened my eyes to what thinning paints could do for the quality of my paint work. Up until that time, I stuck with straight from the pot painting. I understood W&N flow improver and dry time extenders and such, but as I had no 'instruction' on their use or how best to apply it to my art, I reverted to the tried & true. I took up the Jen Haley mixture and after some practice and a few cunning experiments I have never looked back. It just so happens that you can buy this mixture very cheaply from Miniature Giant pre-mixed, (I'm only sorry I never thought of it before myself!). I literally have the same empty droppers with 1:1:2 (W&NFE:L-SD:H2O) mixes on my rack at home. *sigh*

    Windsor & Newton Flow Improver
    Miniature Giant
    Mister Art
    Michigan Toy Soldier Co.

    Liquitex Slo-Dri Fluid Retarder
    Miniature Giant
    Mister Art
    Plaza Art

    Painting & Modeling Tutorials
    Sometimes there is simply no better way to learn than to see someone do something and then try to emulate them. When I first started painting, (and when I look at model's in my collection from some of the real artists here, I recognize I am still just a neophyte despite my years), the words and static photographs available at the time failed to really convey how to actually paint. Over the years I have collected some DVD's which SHOW the art of painting. In any case, it's always good to know that there are examples of painting out in the world to help the new kids get a leg up or the vets learn that latest technique. I'll add some reviews when I get the chance, but for now here are a good list of those I own.

    Privateer Press Formula P3 Hobby Series
    Modeling & Painting Vol:1, Core Techniques

    Miniature Mentor
    The Complete Guide to Miniature Painting
    Advanced Tutorials: 1-4, (White Cloth, Black Cloth, Non-Metallic Metal, Realistic Skin Tone)

    The Painter's Guild
    The Painting Wizard's Workshop 1
    The Painting Wizard's Workshop 2
    Last edited by Brother Armand; 21st May 09 at 10:04 AM. Reason: Updated content from original post as of Dec 2008
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