Building Plastic Models. How-to, tools to use.


This article presents a “short form” and then repeats the short form with a longer discussion of each point. The goal is to put the basic information needed to build a plastic model into your hands as quickly and easily as I can. Please let me know if you used this guide, what you liked, what could be improved, what you didn’t like. And don’t forget to mention how your model building went!

Minimum Tools:
1) Diagonal cutters or fingernail clippers or kitchen scissors or small pruning clippers…

2) Masking tape, the blue, long-use type…

3) Non-toxic plastic model glue (Testor’s blue label). Like the toxic stuff, it dissolves the plastic to form joints. Very strong when dry.

4) At least a coarse fingernail sanding stick, a piece of sandpaper or an emery board… Coarse

5) A paint stirrer, if you’re using paint.

Optional: 6) A really sharp knife for trimming parts…

7) Some “Future” brand floor wax if you’re using clear parts or decals…

8) A container for water to rinse your brushes, if you’re using paint…

9) A small, fine, flat file and rat-tail round file. The file on a nail clipper will work.

What to do:

1) Wash all the plastic parts in warm water with a little bit of dish detergent. Dry gently.

2) Read the instructions all the way through.

3) Brush 2-3 coats of Future over all clear parts

3.1) If you’re going to use paint, you can put the first, second, etc. coat of paint on the parts while they’re still on the trees. Parts that are glued together will need paint removed where the glue should go, and touch-ups along the seams where trimming, sanding, etc, has removed the paint.

4) Start at the beginning of the instructions, build a subassembly, put it aside for the glue to dry, start the next.

4.1) Fit the parts together dry, without glue. Use tape to hold them in place.

4.2) Use the clippers, knife, sanding stick and file to get each part to fit

4.3) Apply glue lightly, where the parts will touch, back from the edge. Big joints benefit from glue on both pieces.

4.4) Fit the parts together, with many small pieces of tape right across the joints.

4.5) Let the glue dry at least a day. If you can smell glue solvent, its not dry yet.

4.6) After the glue is dry, sand, scrape, file, trim, etc before you continue with the subassembly or before paint.

5) To glue the clear parts, sand or scrape off the Future from where the glue should dissolve the plastic, put the pieces together, tape them in place, ‘wick’ the glue between the parts. Easy does it. You can always make a second pass.

6) Do the final painting of parts when a given subassembly of a given color is together. Not before or after assembly, but during assembly.

7) Most of the work in painting is preparation.

8) Get the piece or subassembly as nice as you can before you start painting.

9) Stir the paint until you are sure it’s completely blended. Then stir one more minute.

10) Don’t expect good paint coverage in 1 coat, use many THIN coats. Sand or scrape off unwanted paint, don’t paint over it.

11) You can mix a lot of colors from red, yellow, blue, black, white and flat aluminum.

12) If the paint seems to dry TOO fast, makes lumps, brush marks, or pull off when you add another coat, add a few DROPS of water, or water mixed with rubbing alcohol, and stir thoroughly.

12.1 ALWAYS clean and dry the top of paint jars, so the lid seals neatly and can be opened easilyl.

13) Future floor wax and the water-based paint don’t react to the non-toxic glue. So you can blot-up extra, especially on the outside.

14) Just let the bare plastic be the basic color when you start with painting. Paint the little bits that should be silver, or black, or other colors that stand out. Paint the interior but not the exterior. Paint the engine but not the body, the wheels and tires (on airplanes) but not the wings.

15) If you really must paint the whole thing, use many thin color coats. If you want shiny paint, you can paint with a flat paint that’s easy to use, followed by several coats of Future to make it shiny. Expect it to take a week. Or more.

16) I use and recomend Polly Scale acrylic paint for models. Also Testor’s Model Master Acryl (water based) and Tamiya water/alcohol based paint. Tamiya’s spray paints are pretty neat too, but they’re NOT water based or non-toxic. I leave anything I spray outdoors or at least in the garage for 24 hours.

17) Check your public and school library for “Fine Scale Modeler” (USA) or your local model builder’s magazine. FSM, and the others, also have web-sites. You can find reviews and advice on how to build, paint, and improve many models onine.

18) Internet Modeler and Hyperscale are other general-modeling sites. Modelling Madness tends more toward military airplanes, Airline Modelers Digest (AMD) and Airliner Cafe are specificly for commercial, passenger, aircraft.

19) In the southern San Francisco Bay Area, The Silicon Valley Scale Modelers club meets every 3rd Friday-of-the-month in the Milpitas Library meeting room. 7:00 to 10:30 pm. The Fremont Hornets meet at 7:30pm, Wally Pond Irvington Community Center, 41885 Blacow Road, Fremont, CA, similar hours. New modelers are always welcome at both clubs.

Look online or ask at your local hobby shop for the club in your neighborhood.

———-========== Long Form ==========———-

1) Diagonal cutters or fingernail clippers or kitchen scissors or small pruning clippers or some other small tool for neatly cutting the parts off the trees. Put the flat (bottom) side of cutters against the part, the stuff you want, and let the connection to the tree get mushed by the diagonal part of the cutters. You can use a sharp knife for this but clippers are easier. If you use a knife, cut against a plastic or wood cutting board or the back of an old phone book or something like that- thick, smooth, something the knife can’t either hurt or cut all the way through.

2) At least a coarse fingernail sanding stick to smooth the clipped edges and any ‘flash’ or wrong-shaped areas on the parts. A medium and a fine stick would be good too- start with the coarse, then the medium, then finish with the fine. The colored ones with white foam inside them are waterproof and you can get better results by using them ‘wet’ with a little water from the sink. Experiment on the part trees to see what you can do with them. A piece of sandpaper- 100 to 300 grit, would work if you can’t get fingernail sanders. “Emery boards”, with beige stuff on wooden or cardboard sticks, are NOT waterproof and will fall apart if you wet them, but they work too. Medium Fine

3) Masking tape to hold the parts in place while the glue dries. I prefer the long-life stuff that’s colored blue- you can leave it on for weeks and it doesn’t get ‘funny’, the way the old beige style does. One roll will last for years. A given model needs maybe a foot, or less. Use lots of little pieces right at the seams to hold parts.

4) Non-toxic plastic model glue. Testor’s make a liquid and a gel ‘glue’ that are flamiable, but not toxic… neat trick that. The tubes and bottles have blue labels, to be different from the red-orange label on their toxic, flamable, glue… I’ve been using the non-toxic for years, it works great. It really melts the plastic, but doesn’t give you a headache. Work in good ventilation anyway- open the window, sit outside, leave parts that are drying somewhere that the fumes can escape easily (garage, on the porch, etc.)

5) A paint stirrer. A piece of solid copper wire, a large, long, shiny nail, a small, clean, screwdriver. Something metal that you can put into the paint, stir with (like a wooden stirring stick for house paint) and rinse off in hot water and/or with a scrubber to get ALL the paint off it.

6) A really sharp knife for trimming parts. You can get along with just clippers and sanding sticks, but a knife will make short work of small trimming jobs. It can also be used to carve away extra glue or melted plastic at joints, or scrape adjacent surfaces to a common plane (or curve). A sharply pointed knife can do many jobs you might expect to require a drill- making holes enlarging holes or openings in parts. A kitchen pairing knife that’s been sharpened will do, as will any other small pocket knife that is sharp, or a box cutter, X-acto knife, scalpel, etc. Single-edge razor blades are more trouble than they are worth for plastic models. A small Xacto knife handle and small package of #11 pointed blades is a part of many modeler’s tool kits.

7) Some “Future” brand floor wax- if you don’t use it in your house, maybe one of your friends or neighbors does. Its like magic, two or three coats over ‘flat’ paint and it looks like the part was dipped in glass. SO shiny! It completely protects clear parts from damage by solvent glue, both non-toxic and toxic kinds. And it cleans up with water. Its also a good undercoat for decals, which work best on a glossy surface, and a top coat to seal them. If you want a dull, flat, finish, a barrier coat of Future followed by Testor’s Dullcote from a rattle can will do the trick.

8) A container for water to rinse your brushes in as soon as you finish using them. A plastic deli container, plastic drink container, etc, anything you can rinse out with HOT water and scrub off extra paint will work. Empty jars are good, coffee cups with broken handles, salsa containers from a resturant. A damp paper towel works almost as well.

9) One or more small, fine, files, 4 to 8 inches long. The most useful are a flat one and a round, tapered, rat-tail. The file from a nail-clipper is a start, a but you’ll soon want more than you can do with it. An inexpensive file assortment will last a lifetime. Use a wire brush to clean the faces if they get clogged with plastic.

What to do:

1) Wash all the plastic parts in warm (not hot, like bath water when you’re done) water with a little bit of dish detergent. Use your fingertips to rub soapy water all over all the parts- they’re cleaner and softer than any sponge or brush. Rinse well, pat dry with a towel and then let the parts air dry completely. This will remove any oil or ‘mold release’ that might be on the plastic and allow paint and glue to work best.

2) Read the instructions all the way through, find all the parts, figure out how they fit together. NEVER apply cement unless you’ve put the parts together FIRST and confirmed that you’ve got the right ones and you know the way to assemble them. Ask me how I know this…. For complex stuff, assemble the parts and tape them together. When you’re ready to glue, take off all the tape, stick it on the edge of something, stick it back on as you glue things together.

3) For the clear parts, you don’t have to wait for the parts to dry- Use the wide, flat brush to paint Future floor wax, maybe with a little tap water on the brush to start, lightly and smoothly over all the clear parts. Don’t make big puddles, just a little, light coat, everywhere. When the parts are covered, prop them up somewhere where any excess can drip off and no dust will fall on them. Alone, inside the box the kit came in, is good. When the first coat is dry, 20-60 minutes, put another light coat on. You want complete coverage. When its time to glue on the clear parts, scrape or sand off the Future where you want the glue to work. The Future will serve as a barrier and keep the rest of the clear parts from being damaged by glue. No finger prints, no white clouds, just shiny, clear, parts.

4) Start at the beginning of the instructions and build sub-assemblies. If you’re painting, stop when you get all of a given color together- for example, the cockpit of an airplane or engine block of a car. Put it aside for the glue to dry, and go back and build more. Cut out, trim, fit, glue, tape, let it sit, repeat. Test-fit and Clean-up the sub-assemblies before assembling them further.

4.1) Fit all the major parts together dry, without glue, before you apply glue. Use tape to hold the parts in place, see how it all fits, and where adjustments may be needed. This is when you check that all the tires of a vehicle will touch the ground at the same time, that you’ve got enough wieght in the nose of an airplane, etc.

4.2) Use the clippers, knife, sanding stick and file to get each part to fit, and look right. Remove material slowly, its much harder to add! If you think you need to use the knife, try the file first. If you think you need the file, try the sanding stick. Everything should fit with no effort needed to hold it in place, but only just.

4.3) Apply glue lightly, where the parts will touch, some distance back from the edge if you can. Big joints like body or fuselage or wings benefit from light glue on both pieces. Most small parts are fine with glue on just one before joining. I prefer liquid glue because I can apply less of it, but small amounts are still very sticky, as they disolve the plastic.

4.4) Fit the parts together, with many small pieces of tape right across the joints. If parts fit perfectly, you can tape them tightly in place FIRST and then apply the glue, wicking it along the seam, or apply it from the inside or back-side. Many small parts will stay put without tape or other clamping. It may help to prop the sub-assembly against or on top of the kit box, on paint jars, etc. Long, thin, parts, like landing gear, gear shift levers, etc., dry well while hanging straight down. This may be easier to arrange than taping them firmly in place AND correctly aligned.

4.5) Let the glue dry at least a day. If you can smell the glue solvent, its not dry yet. You CAN check alignment and gently manipulate parts that aren’t right- SMALL adjustments of a few degrees are ok, larges ones may need re-gluing. To hold airplane models in place while horizontal stabilizers, rudders, engine pods, antennae and so forth are drying, I slide one wing between a tight bunch of books on a bookshelf. putting the plane vertical. You can check of alignment of parts that should be 90 degrees apart by holding them directly above a CD case or a book or some other stiff, right-angled, object. Sight along the center lines of the parts- surface to surface angles are affected by any taper in the form of the part, so the correct 90 degrees at the center of two surfaces might be 95 degrees from the surface of one to the surface of the other

4.6) After the glue is dry, sand, scrape, file, trim, etc before you continue with the subassembly or before paint.

5) To glue the clear parts, sand or scrape off the Future from where the glue should dissolve the plastic, put the pieces together, tape them in place, ‘wick’ the glue between the parts. Easy does it. You can always make a second pass.

6) Do the final painting of parts when a given subassembly of a given color is together. Not before or after assembly, but during assembly. You can start painting the parts while on the trees, and do most of it there, but not all. Other than Future on the clear parts, the final paint needs to happen when all the stuff that is going to be one color or related colors put together. So, for example, you can start painting the seats, or the engine block or transmission, on the trees, but then assemble and let the glue dry, THEN do the finaly paint. Paint will prevent the glue from melting the plastic, so you need to remove it from the gluing surface but you don’t want to glue things together that will be different colors if you can paint them separately. If you get paint on the parts that the glue should be on, just wipe it off with a paper towel, and when it dries, scrape it off with the edge of a knife blade or sand it gently with the coarse sanding stick. (or fine, etc.) So paint the steering wheel, gear shift, parking brake, etc, now.

7) Stir the paint until you are sure it’s completely blended. EVERY time. Then stir for at least one more minute. This allows you to build up thin coats, all the same color. If you don’t stir completely, they won’t be the same color.

8) DON’T try to paint anything with one coat. For a good gloss, you’ll need at least 2-3 coats of Future. For a good black over white plastic, 2-4 coats, letting them dry in between. FOr a good white over black, it might take 5-7 coats. For red or yellow, put a coat or two of white under it unless you’re painting over clean, white, plastic. If you get a splotch of paint where you don’t want it, don’t try to hide it with another color. Clean it up NOW, using warm-hot water and a paper towel. If something goes really wrong you can always dunk the model pieces under running, hot water and the old finish will disappear. You can scrub with fingers and a dish scrubber, and detergent. If it dries, you can gently sand (with running water and fine sanding stick) or scrape with a knife.

9) You can mix almost any color from red, yellow, blue, white and black and flat aluminum. Mix small amounts on a plastic container lid, wash the stirrer in the sink with warm water and a scrubber between colors, don’t contaminate one jar with paint from onother. Start with equal (one drop) amounts, use simple formulas you can remember and re-create: 1 drop red, 10 drops white for a pink, for example. Put the drops next to each other rather than on top of each other, and use your big brush to pull in the color you want to get the shade you need. Write down the recipe you like on the plans of the model, right next to the assembly you are painting. Orange = Red and Yellow, Purple = Red and Blue, Green = Blue and Yellow. Olive green = Yellow and Black. Brown = equal parts of Red, Yellow, Blues. Metalic gray is a little black and a little flat aluminum. Lighten to taste with white. Transparent red for tail lights is a little red and a little Future floor wax Transparent orange for turn signals and front markers is a little red, a little yellow, a little Future floor wax. Do your mixing in a disposable pastic container, a deli pint or coffee can lid, ice-tray you bought at the junk store, etc. If the paint dries, you can throw it away. Color and black is a “Tone”. Color and white is a “Tint”. Color with black and white is a colored gray.

10) If the paint seems to dry TOO fast, makes lumps or big brush marks, or applying the second coat seems to pull off the first coat, add a few DROPS of water or water mixed with rubbing alcohol, stir thoroughly, try again. NEVER more than 5 drops at a time. Once you put in too much water, its REALLY hard to get it out! (But you can, if you let the paint settle so the color is at the bottom, then take off a few DROPS of the clear liquid using a brush…)

11) To glue on the clear parts, sand or scrape off the Future floor wax from where the glue should disolve the plastic, put the pieces together, tape them in place, then gently apply the glue and let capilary action ‘wick’ the glue into the spaces between the parts. You can use this same technique for any big seam, but it works best when there’s an ‘inside’ or ‘underside’ (that nobody will see) that you can work from. Some of the glue will stay on the surface of the seam. To make your seams more invisible, apply the glue at the back edge of the parts and let it get squeezed out to the front.

12) Because the Future floor wax (and the water-based paint) don’t react to the glue, you can use a piece of power towel or tissue paper to blot-up extra glue, especially from external parts like door mirrors and other things on the outside of the body.

13) Let the bare plastic color be the body color when you start with paint your kits, don’t try to paint everything to start with. Painting is a lot of work and can be very frustrating. Let yourself enjoy building the kit and get it done. Paint some things with solid colors, enjoy the effect. If you really must paint the body, use many thin brush coats, after thoroughly stirring the paint, followed by several coats of Future, or many, thin, spray can coats… followed by Future. Expect it to take a week to get done.

14) Check your public and school library for “Fine Scale MOdeller” magazine. They also have a web-site and there are hundreds of modelers out on the web. You can probably find reviews of this kit and advice on how to build it. You can certainly find advice on paint.

15) Check your public and school library for “Fine Scale Modeler”, “Model Builder International”, “Modelist Konstructor”, etc, magazines. Many of these also have a web-site. (http://www.finescale.com/fsm/) Web membership is free, and you don’t have to subscribe to the magazine. You can find reviews and advice on how to build, paint, and improve many models in their forums.

16) Internet Modeler (http://www.internetmodeler.com/) and Hyperscale http://hyperscale.com/) are other general-modeling sites. Modelling Madness (http://hyperscale.com/) tends more toward military airplanes, Airline Modelers Digest (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/airlinermodelling ) and Airliner Cafe (http://www.airlinercafe.com/)are specificly for commercial, passenger, aircraft. http://www.rocketfin.com/model_car_links.html is a page full of links to automotive-related modeling sites. Steel Navy (http://www.steelnavy.com/) is for ship modellers, mostly military ships. http://www.combinedfleet.com/kaigun.htm focuses on the Imperial Navy of Japan, ending in 1945.

The Silicon Valley Scale Modelers club meets every 3rd Friday in the Milpitas, CA. Library meeting room. The Fremont Hornets meet at 7:30pm, Wally Pond Irvington Community Center, 41885 Blacow Road, Fremont, CA You can find help and advice at either club, and ask questions of other modelers, or just sit and watch. Both are chartered by the IPMS/USA, the International Plastic Modeler’s Society, which formed in the 1960s in the UK. Most of every meeting is “Model Talk”, where each person talks about the model they are working on, or the one they just finished. Its free, and its fun. There are door prizes for those who bring a model to share, done or not. New modelers, their parents and friends are aways welcome at both clubs.

About these ads

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s