Tools of the Trade - things every modeler needs, and their uses
  • The Internet

Believe it - referencing other people's efforts cuts your learning time significantly.  Also helps you shop for paint, airbrush compressors, etcetera.  In my case it's one of the things that started this whole thing, too.  (Wink)

  • Dropcloth

Covering your work surface with a dropcloth not only protects your table, but when small parts go rolling they won't end up missing.  Even if your table is dispensable, a clean work surface really helps along the way.

  • Latex gloves

This is number one on my list for a number of reasons.  Modeling can be a messy business and you're dealing with many sharp objects and tools (the latex won't keep you from getting cut, usually it's the snags that just remind you to be careful).  These were most useful when painting because enamels are messy and between the chemicals and such it makes cleanup exponentially easier.  These are also imperative prior to painting because the oil from your hands will mess up the paint job.  Toward the latter stages of your model building, you'll be wearing these constantly (I went through six boxes in total!).

  • Dental tools

These little babies were among the most useful tools in my kit, everything from scratching grooves, checking glue, lining up parts, moving parts into position...  The list is endless - they're worth every dime.

  • Sandpaper

This may seem obvious, but not only do you need sandpaper you need multiple grades and backings.  Paper backing is good for some things, and plastic backing is good for others.  From shining tips on large fiber optic runs to removing the flash from a sprue part, you'll be using sandpaper constantly.

A trick I used was to get the foam makeup triangles and use rubber cement to glue the sandpaper to the triangles.  After a part of the sandpaper was exhausted, I just cut that off with scissors.  This is flexible, yet firm enough to be positioned easily.

  • Tweezers

Another seemingly obvious one, these are imperative for adjustment of small parts, as well as reaching in for things when you drop them.

  • "Bulldogs"

Essentially long nose tweezers, all the better for reaching those hard-to-reach places, as well as orienting small parts (I used these most for shuttle bay construction, 2/1/02 (the tip of which is shown in the picture).

  • X-Acto knife and scalpel

Maybe it's just because I like knives so much, but I think every modeler needs sharp objects on the table to get the job done.  I found that a better glue-contact edge was obtained not by sanding, but by dragging the side of the X-Acto along the plastic and taking of tiny shavings.  The scalpel just takes it to the next level, putting the steel exactly where you need it.  It's also imperative for cutting out the decals.

  • Mini file set

Sandpaper's sometimes too flexible.  Better results are sometimes obtained by a small file set.  Like the X-Acto, you can also obtain great results by dragging the edge along the plastic instead of the flat surface.

  • Paper towels

Essentially, anything that cleans, can get dirty and abused and is disposable will fill this role.  Very useful for cleaning your tools, getting plastic off of your files, cleaning your hands, etc.  Don't use your jeans, just get used to taping a length of paper towel to your workspace...

  • Diagonal cutters

For cutting parts off the plastic part-sprue, primarily.  You can move the plastic around, use the X-Acto, etcetera, but don't - just cut the puppies off, it works better that way.

Also best used for cutting lengths of fiber optic cable.

  • Glue - super, plastic bonding, clear, elmers

Glue is quickly going to become one of your best friends and worst enemies.  You need to identify the plastic / resin / material you're working with, and figure out what glue will work best.  You need to experiment with the sprue plastic and make sure you get the bond you think you should have.  Elmer's glue was core for the repair of a decal (reference 11/26/02)

Reference 8/23/01 for one of the mishaps I've had with glue - experiment and test!

  • Flashlight (Fiber optics?  Make it blue!)

You'll need not just a basic flashlight, but the smallest and brightest one you can get (I used a doctor's light with a controllable pinpoint brightness).  LED flashlights are available now, and they work extremely well.

If you're working with fiber optics, a blue light is the best!  If you use a while light it's bright and works, but a blue light jumps out at you.  You can use this for fiber testing, tracing lines, etc.  Reference 4/1/02 for more information.