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Structure building tools & techniques

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Structure building tools & techniques
Posted by The Milwaukee Road Warrior on Saturday, May 1, 2021 8:07 AM

I am not much of a model builder.  

I know some of you excel in this area.  I'd like to hear what special tools/techniques you have found helpful when it comes to assembling kits.  The majority of kits I will be getting are Walther's Cornerstone.  

I've seen some modelers use magnetic pieces that hold building walls at 90 degree angles while glue dries, and I know some people use either balsa wood or some sort of goop to seal up interior gaps so light does not bleed thru.  

What else can you structure builders recommend for tools/techniques?  What is essential to get a good looking building?  

I'm not talking about airbrushing/detailing/weathering/sign installation etc.  I'm just talking about best practices for building the structure itself.   

I have a hobby knife, a boxcutter, and a sprue cutter.  I have CA.  That's it.  I still have to get a cutting mat lol.

Thanks!

Andy

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Posted by NorthBrit on Saturday, May 1, 2021 8:26 AM

I don't have much more.

A cutting mat

Steel rulers.   I have a six inch and 12 inch rulers

Good quality tweezers.   I got mine off my wife, Dawn.

Pencil

 

Others will have more things and will surely let you know  them.

 

David 

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Posted by Track fiddler on Saturday, May 1, 2021 8:43 AM

Good morning MRW

I always build my bridges and building structures on glass, (the glass table), that way everything dries flat and not warped.  When fusing styrene or plastic together (with styrene solvent) I like how the fused pieces don't stick to the glass.  Later the dried solvent and residue comes off the glass table easily with a razor blade.

I traded in my exacto in for a wallpaper knife.  The long adjustable/retractable blade comes in intervals of 1/8" perforations.  With a needle nose this gives you a brand new sharp blade anytime you want it in a snap.  Quite cost-effective and the variable length is convenient for shaving or trimming long to thin areas.

For wood models my new found favorite glue is E6000.  You have about 5 minutes to make adjustments and after 10-15 minutes it is set so you don't have to worry about anything moving anymore while your gluing other things.  E6000 also works very well for adding painted pieces of styrene or plastic later.  The other thing I like is it's forgiving.  If you slop a little it comes off with a little finesse after it dries and doesn't damage anything.

I always have 2 in 1 Poly-Seam-Seal on deck.  In my opinion Poly-Seam-Seal is the best adhesive for foam and does not melt it like E6000 does.

 

 

 

TF

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Posted by Lakeshore Sub on Saturday, May 1, 2021 8:45 AM

Andy,

Lots of #11 blades for the hobby knife and a razor saw is handy for cutting through thicker stock or if I am kitbashing and cutting walls into smaller pieces.  I also have a carpenters square handy to make sure the corners are square. A small set of hobby clamps to hold things in place as they dry is handy also.

Definitely get yourself a self-healing mat to work on.  In the long run it saves your work surface.

I prefer using glue made for styrene when putting together Walthers kits instead of CA but you can use whatever works for you. 

As David said,  you don't need much more to assemble most plastic kits.

Scott Sonntag

 

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Posted by tstage on Saturday, May 1, 2021 9:03 AM

I totally agree with David's list above - especially the tweezers.  I use three distinct kind:

  • Fine-nose (sharp)
  • Flat-nose (broad)
  • Locking tweezers (handy for holding things)

And if you want "good-quality" you'll want "Swiss-made" and stainless steel.  Yea, you'll pay $20-$25 for a pair...but they are worth every penny.  You can purchase less expensive tweezers but the tips may not line up well (or bend easily) and that makes a huge difference in frustration.

Techni-Tool is a terrific vendor for those, as well as other tools.  For the tweezers mentioned above I use models 3C, 2A, and 932.  They will make model building a much more enjoyable experience for you.

Two other tools worth mentioning: A good task light and a 2.5x magnification visor (e.g. Opti-visor).  Your vision may be just fine at this point in your life.  Even if it is, the magnification visor will help you see small details of the parts you are removing from the sprue, as well as their orientation as you are apply them to the model.  There is also magnification task lighting that combines the two features - i.e. should you not like having things on your head or over your eyes to see up close.

Tom

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Posted by rrebell on Saturday, May 1, 2021 9:03 AM

Lots of bracing, wood for wood and styrene for styrene. For sealing against light I use acrylic caulk, then paint inside black. Last you need a scale ruler and a min iature carpenters square.

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Posted by mobilman44 on Saturday, May 1, 2021 9:11 AM

I can sure echo the above, and have to add:

The best thing you can spend your money on are some simpler kits so as to build up your skills and experience.  If you need additional tools/supplies, it will become obvious as you go through the building process.........

 

ENJOY  !

 

Mobilman44

 

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Posted by dknelson on Saturday, May 1, 2021 10:22 AM

I have the steel base with 90 degree edges and magnets to hold parts in place.  It is useful, but not essential. But the one thing it does do is force you to make the space available on your workbench or work surface for the kit in question, which is actually even more important.  A self healing mat is good but again, giving yourself space for assembly (well lit space) is simply a matter of discipline.

I have a large collection of small files, sanding sticks, abrasive pads, reamers, scribing tools and such and all find uses when building your typical plastic kit, and even more importantly, when modifying or kitbashing such kits.  They are also useful for laser cut wood kits which I recommend trying.  I find myself using sanding sticks more than files lately.  Even cheap emery boards from the drugstore's beauty section are better than nothing and don't be afraid to alter them to a custom size if the need dictates.  

I also have sprue nippers, one is like a tweezer, the other is like a wire cutter.  NEVER twist a part off its sprue no matter how tempting.  Cut always. 

A good hobby knife is good BUT a supply of fresh blades -- and a willingness to use them even if the "old" blade still seems "OK" -- is essential to good kit construction.  

Perhaps the one speciality tool that I'd recommend even more than the steel base with magnets that MicroMark sells would be a few of the Coffman corner clamps which really are ideally suited to structure building.  Coffman also makes a splice clamp (so not for corners).  Check out their website or what MicroMark has about them.

I also recommend having several of the clamps that fasten by pulling a trigger - if they have a technical name I do not know it.  I have them in a variety of sizes.  The local hardware store has them; they are not a modeling tool per se.  

This might sound funny but I also keep a supply of larger rubber bands.  You want them just tight enough to hold cemented walls together - not so tight as to distort or bend them

While I sometimes use CA for plastic kits, I prefer the solvent nature of plastic cements for a strong bond.  My favorite cement for plastic structures is Faller's Expert and Super Expert because I like the long needle like applicator.  Chemically I suspect it is more or less MEK like most plastic cements.  It was recommended in a Miles Hale video showing him building a Design Preservation (Woodland Scenics) kit structure.  It might be on YouTube and is recommended as being full of good ideas.  But everyone seems to have their own favorite cement and method of application.  I'd just say this -- just because a cement comes in with a build-in brush in the cap does not mean you have to use THAT brush.

Keep the sprues - there are many uses for them.

Dave Nelson  

 

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Saturday, May 1, 2021 10:31 AM

The Milwaukee Road Warrior
 I'd like to hear what special tools/techniques you have found helpful when it comes to assembling kits.  The majority of kits I will be getting are Walther's Cornerstone.  

I have found Walthers Cornerstone kits to be quite well made and fit properly, so tools needed for these is minimal.

I think I just use sprue nippers, X-Acto blades, Testors glue, large flat file, a square, and sandpaper for these kits.

I do have magnetic gluing tools for right angles, but I use these on resin freight car kits and wooden structure kits. I have never needed them for a Walthers kit.

-Kevin

Wink Happily modeling my STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD. A Class A line located in a personal fantasy world of semi-plausible nonsense on Tuesday, August 3rd, 1954.

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Posted by Overmod on Saturday, May 1, 2021 11:07 AM

tstage
And if you want "good-quality" you'll want "Swiss-made" and stainless steel.  Yea, you'll pay $20-$25 for a pair...but they are worth every penny.  You can purchase less expensive tweezers but the tips may not line up well (or bend easily) and that makes a huge difference in frustration.

And get the files, abrasives, and 3M lapping film to be able to dress and shape those tips accurately, including when they deform.

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Posted by MisterBeasley on Saturday, May 1, 2021 12:25 PM

I second the idea of getting a razor saw.  For most Walthers kits, you won't need it much unless you start scratch building, at which point it suddenly becomes invaluable.

I keep lots of different glues around, depending on what I'm attaching.  Styrene glue and CA, of course, but adhesives like Aileen's Tacky Glue and Canopy Cement are also valuable.  I also keep a roll of blue painters' tape handy, because I like to mask parts of models to get clean paint lines.

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Posted by BATMAN on Saturday, May 1, 2021 12:55 PM

Magnets and sawblades.

 

Always be willing to get creative.

 

For a larger structure build it on the bench and move the bench from the layout and back when working on it.

 

 

 

Brent

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Posted by tstage on Saturday, May 1, 2021 1:05 PM

Overmod
tstage
And if you want "good-quality" you'll want "Swiss-made" and stainless steel.  Yea, you'll pay $20-$25 for a pair...but they are worth every penny.  You can purchase less expensive tweezers but the tips may not line up well (or bend easily) and that makes a huge difference in frustration.
And get the files, abrasives, and 3M lapping film to be able to dress and shape those tips accurately, including when they deform.

 
The only one likely to deform is the fine-tip tweezers.  And the best way to re-align them again is using a pair of flat-nose pliers with smooth jaws.  That way you aren't removing material from the flat ground surface of the tweezers.
 
Good-quality tweezers will come ground so that the two surfaces mate perfectly.  Cheap tweezers will generally be mis-aligned and won't hold parts well when closed.
 
Tom

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Posted by ROBERT PETRICK on Saturday, May 1, 2021 1:20 PM

In addition to what Kevin said about mini-squares and what TF said about using a piece of heavy plate glass as a base, I also use some machining blocks and parallel offsets. Heavy steel. Certified flat, square, straight, parallel, and perpendicular. I have a bunch of others, but I just happen to have this photo laying around. Not only used to line up walls and corners and whatnot, they are also good to add uniform weight and resistance to insure that walls and roofs stay straight and in-place until the adhesive sets up.

Also a photo of a of a jewelers' saw, a coping saw, and the venerable X-Acto razor saw. Notice the tiny blades for the jewelers' saws. About 80 TPI, I think. Use pretty much like an ordinary coping saw.

Robert

 

 

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Posted by York1 on Saturday, May 1, 2021 1:25 PM

My wife gave me this (the light, not the TV) for Christmas, and it has turned out to be one of the best things I have.  The lighted magnifying glass really helps with small parts, and the light by itself can be moved close to the work.

 

York1 John       

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Posted by doctorwayne on Saturday, May 1, 2021 2:16 PM

The Milwaukee Road Warrior
...I have a hobby knife, a boxcutter, and a sprue cutter. I have CA. That's it. I still have to get a cutting mat lol.

My first suggestion is to put the ca away...it's not a suitable adhesive for all-plastic structures.  I can't count the number of DPM structures I've bought off the "used" tables of various hobbyshops that were assembled using ca...they're easy to break apart into the original components, but it's a little time-consuming to file- or sand-away the excess ca, in order to allow proper assembly using a solvent-type cement.
I use MEK, bought in a gallon can, and decanted into what was formerly a bottle of Walthers' Solvaset, with a useful brush-in-cap.

I use a #11 blade in an X-Acto handle for cutting parts off the sprues, and a good utility knife for general purpose cutting, such as .060" sheet styrene for walls on the unseen-side of structures on my around-the -room layout.

I have a number of squares, from a 2"x2" machinist's square,  up to a carpenter's framing square.
I don't use lighting in structures, so no need to seal gaps to prevent light leakage, but I would suggest that strip styrene would be a better choice for such use, rather than balsa or basswood.  Styrene-to-styrene joints are easily made and stronger, too.

You've indicated that you're not interested in airbrushing, etc., etc., but painting some items can be crucial in the assembly of structure kits.  For example...

...a friend gave me this kit...

...but since my layout is an around-the-room type, I decided to use both of the long walls (slightly modified) on the visible side of the structure.  Here it is, the walls assembled and with an over-all application of grey paint, done with an airbrush...

I later brush-painted the stonework....

...then added "mortar", using pre-mixed drywall mud...

The next step would be to add the doors and windows, but they were all cast in a very dark green plastic (a common colour used for trimwork), while I wanted to use white.
Before cutting those parts from the sprues, I masked-off all of the gluing surfaces and then airbrushed them with grey primer...

...followed by an application of white, then removed the masking...

I now had window trim in the desired colour, and once the "glass" was cemented to them, completed windows ready-to-install.

When you're building kits, think ahead to the changes that you might wish to make, in order to suit the structure to your layout and its time period. 
I have, I think, one Walthers' kit, built to the kit's instructions, and at least another 22 built with modifications to suit what I wanted.

Other tools which I've found to be useful include:

Dividers or draughting compasses with two pointy bits:  these are very useful for replicating dimensions for spacing details or to create a consistent pattern for drilling holes.  They're often used in conjunction with a scale rule, as is the caliper, mentioned below.

A digital caliper, with uses similar to the above, but with a wider range.

Like TF, I'm a big user of a glass work surface, and, in most cases, prefer it over a cutting mat.  It's especially suited to the proper cutting of decals, which I won't go into, for the sake of brevity.

Clamps can be useful in some kit building, too, and mine range from hair clips, to clothespegs, to C-clamps in a myriad of sizes, along with bar clamps and pipe clamps, too, as some structures may use parts from more than one kit. 

Other useful tools include a variety of pin vises and suitable drill bits, tweezers, brushes in various sizes for glue application, and, for old fogeys like me, an Optivisor.  Don't forget, too, good lighting...if you can't see what you're doing, you're likely doing it wrong.

Wayne

 

 

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Posted by Lastspikemike on Saturday, May 1, 2021 2:16 PM

3 pairs of tweezers are useful. Straight ("needle tip"), angled tip (very handy) and reverse tweezers (spring loaded, squeeze to open).

Cutting mat is VERY handy.

Model makers pliers are basically big strong tweezers. I have very long needle nose, angled tip needle nose and flat faced stub jaw pliers. I'm looking for a pair of flat faced short nose needle nose pliers. I "acquired" a pair used by someone who managed to distort the joint so the faces aren't parallel when closed. Usually that's a result of using pliers too small for the task. 

Exacto type of razor saw with aluminum mitre box is invaluable. Several blades are available. I use the very fine tooth blade most often. 

Vice grips invented the pistol grip clamp described above (at least I think they did) and at one time they made a set of tiny clamps probably as an advertising promo since they were included as a "free" bonus with a set of more practical sized mini clamps. I use the tiny clamps more than my full sized ones! They are one handed operation AND the clamping faces stay parallel as you squeeze on the pressure. Actual clamping pressure is very adjustable and easy to develop the skill. 

Alyth Yard

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Saturday, May 1, 2021 2:42 PM

I am beginning to think you guys put a lot more effort into Cornerstone structures than I do.

Assembing a Walthers Cornerstone kit, for me, is a break from all the precision tools and fiddly diffculties.

-Kevin

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Posted by Doughless on Saturday, May 1, 2021 2:45 PM

Xacto knife

A razor saw and straight edge (if you're kitbashing)

Cutting board

Sand paper to rub the nubbies off of the straight edges, maybe a small household file. 

Orange tube testors glue

And big rubber bands to press the building together after you've glued it on the base and set the roof in. Or cut little triangle gussets if you're kit bashing your own footprint.

Work fairly quickly to put the big pieces in place.  The rubber bands take the warp out of the edges of the walls as the glue cures over night.  The corners melt together and the building becomes rock solid.

 

 

- Douglas

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Posted by Doughless on Saturday, May 1, 2021 2:45 PM

SeeYou190

I am beginning to think you guys put a lot more effort into Cornerstone structures than I do.

Assembing a Walthers Cornerstone kit, for me, is a break from all the precision tools and fiddly diffculties.

-Kevin

 

+1

- Douglas

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Posted by doctorwayne on Saturday, May 1, 2021 3:05 PM

SeeYou190

I am beginning to think you guys put a lot more effort into Cornerstone structures than I do.

Assembing a Walthers Cornerstone kit, for me, is a break from all the precision tools and fiddly diffculties.

-Kevin

I think it depends, whether you want the building Walthers offers, or the building you wish to create from their kit.

All of the tools and accessories which I mentioned are hardly necessary for a basic kit that's going to be assembled as per the directions, without being painted.

I would do those with a #11 blade in an X-Acto handle, along with a brush and some liquid cement for styrene...nothing else would be needed.

Wayne

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Posted by tstage on Saturday, May 1, 2021 3:27 PM

SeeYou190

I am beginning to think you guys put a lot more effort into Cornerstone structures than I do.

Assembing a Walthers Cornerstone kit, for me, is a break from all the precision tools and fiddly diffculties.

-Kevin

I can't think of a single Walthers kit that I've assembled over the years that I haven't modified in some way, shape, or form.  Mostly it's just minor changes - e.g. adding detailing to the inside or exterior of a structure or a building using moving parts, furniture, molding, people, and/or lighting.  But that's what adds to the realism that I'm trying to accomplish with my modeling.

Tom

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Posted by "JaBear" on Saturday, May 1, 2021 7:39 PM

The Bears bare behind minimum.Smile

IMG_0320 by Bear, on Flickr

 

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Posted by hon30critter on Monday, May 3, 2021 10:34 PM

Hi Andy,

I don't have anything to add to the tools already mentioned, but I will strongly suggest that you use a styrene adhesive as opposed to using CA. In addition to creating weak joints, the gas produced by CA as it sets will fog the clear plastic used in the windows.

I use Tamiya's Ultra Thin Cement but it can be hard to find. Testors makes a good styrene cement as well, and the Faller products with the fine application needles are excellent too.

As was mentioned, if you want to add interior lighting to your models, you need to paint the interior walls black or silver before adding any interior colours. Otherwise the lighting will glow through the walls.

Dave

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Posted by The Milwaukee Road Warrior on Tuesday, May 4, 2021 9:35 PM

hon30critter
Testors makes a good styrene cement

Is this the orange Testors that was mentioned earlier?  I've only ever seen and used the blue tubes for building jet airplane models as a kid.  Never seen an orange tube, even at my LHS.

Andy

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Posted by dstarr on Tuesday, May 4, 2021 11:22 PM

We are talking about tools for building kits as opposed to scratch building.  A set of needle files is good for cleaning up molded plastic parts.  And perhaps a small single cut mill file for flattening edges.  Plastic welder cement for plastic.  I glaze the windows with the clear thin plastic that makes the boxes for Entemann's Danish.  That cuts nicely with a good pair of sissors.  Fine sandpaper (220 grit).

  If you plan to light your structures you will need to do a little electrical work.  Small needle nose pliers, small diagonal cutter, and perhaps soldering equipment, iron, flux, solder.

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Posted by NittanyLion on Tuesday, May 4, 2021 11:57 PM

I have enough odd scars from X-Acto blades rolling off a surface or getting bumped with an elbow to make the Lego cradle my knives go in to be a critical piece of hardware.

That and the foam block my paint or glue bottle lives in. 

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Posted by ROBERT PETRICK on Wednesday, May 5, 2021 12:22 PM

NittanyLion

I have enough odd scars from X-Acto blades rolling off a surface or getting bumped with an elbow to make the Lego cradle my knives go in to be a critical piece of hardware.

That and the foam block my paint or glue bottle lives in. 

 

Although I have never personally knocked over a bottle of solvent weld Whistling, I invented a little stable base just in case . . .

Robert

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