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Everything You Need to Start Modeling Pt. II of II

Hello! How’s everybody doing? Just here to—

What do you mean where have I been? I’ve been right—

Well, I was gonna write, like, tons of articles—in fact, I’ve got them all written already, like, I just have to upload them into the… Mother… base(?) and then like BOOOOOM, they’re gonna be so many articles written by me that you’re gonna wish that you were never even born! I mean… ugh…

I don’t know why that would make you wish you were never born—I’M SORRY! COME BACK! Ah man… PLEASE COME BACK!?!

Anyway, for those of you who are still here, this is the long awaited (*scoff*) follow-up to my article that almost talked about what you need to get started modeling! In fact, this is Part II of that article right here! Can you believe it? Me either! Oh, and the puppy picture up at the top is the real reason I haven’t written any articles in like three years is because I got a PUPPY! And that’s her at the top, her name is Audra Countess of Sheep and she’s the best puppy in the world ever (just so you know).

So, now that you have chosen your first model all because of my help from that one article about that and then the other article about what you need to get started, I am positive that you have been waiting for me to know what to do next!

Ah yes, a list! People LOVE lists…

So, Here Is A List of Stuff You Will Need to Build Your First Model!

1. Sprue Cutters – So your modeling parts most likely come on these things called sprues (not trees, remember?), and you might even think that they come on those things for ease of twisting them off and getting them to your working mat—OH! You’re going to need a working mat, uh, consider that 1.b., okay? Great! Now let’s continue!
So, back when I was just a wee one, I would spin all those pieces off of the sprues right when I opened any model box. Thus leaving myself with no corresponding numbers for anything AND the main reason you don’t want to just crack them off the sprues, there were always giant gouges in all of my precisely molded plastic bits (you can fix this with putty, but that will be further down the list, I promise). And when all of your pieces have giant gouges or extra plastic on them from not being able to twist off all of it, your pieces are going to be A) ugly and 2) they probably won’t fit together that well.
So? What should we do instead? Well, here is where you can go ahead and use something you already have instead of spending any more money on this hobby that you are not even sure you want to commit to yet (but you should go ahead and commit to it, ’cause it’s AWESOME!). You can use a small pair of wire cutters (or sometimes called diagonal wire cutters or even side cutters) to get those pieces off of those sprues! The ones that look like this:


And you can get away with using these for a while (I did), but I think you should go ahead and invest in some genuine, real deal sprue cutters, which are made (as the title might suggest) specifically for modeling! Xuron is, like, the top of the line sprue cutters (but I have never used them so I can’t say whether I think you should buy them or not), but I have been perfectly satisfied with these guys that look like this:


And these ones are just things I got at Michael’s (I know, I know, I said to never go there again once you found your LHS, but sometimes you just need to scrapbook or you’re gonna go crazy! You know what I mean?*). They were in the beading section… just fyi ya know?

So, Numero Uno, is get yourself some dedicated sprue cutters—OH, and this is important! DON’T use them to cut wire! Keep your old wire cutters for wire (even if you just wanted to get started modeling and decided to use them until you got your sprue cutters) and only use your sprue cutters on plastic. They will last a long time if you stick to that, trust. And…

Apparently she is the only person in the world who makes these things...
Apparently she is the only person in the world who makes these things…

1.b. Hobby Mat – Which is a self-healing plastic/rubber mat thing that will protect your table/desk/whatever-surface-you-are-building-your-model-on, from all the knicks and cuts your surface is about to incur from model building. There are lots of brands that make hobby mats, my advice is to not pay attention to the brand and just get the one that suits your needs the best. And this means to just get one that will fit well in your modeling space, but that also won’t take up too much room as to be a nuisance. Unless you are going to do like some guys who turn their entire tabletop into a hobby mat covered surface, but those guys must be, like, Poseidon’s nephews or something to have enough money to do that, am I right folks?! Huh? Poseidon? Gold? … whatever.

Anyway, I do like the ones that have simple standard and metric little rulers on them, and some even have things like angle positions and stuff, so go with one that will have the most functionality for you. If you just have to start modeling right now, then I’ve seen on some videos people who have just used old kitchen cutting boards as their hobby mat surfaces. I think the idea of having a kitchen cutting board up on your desk seems a little cumbersome, but I have seen it used plenty, and this might be another way you can get out of having to buy more brand new materials… but, let’s be honest: it looks chintzy. And when all the hot ladies are coming by your place to scope out your crazy modeling skills, you don’t want to look chintzy now do you? I didn’t think so!


2. X-Acto Knife – If you don’t have one already, then it is time for you to make a purchase that will be there for your entire life. Take a deep breath, because this is big. Okay. Ready?
It’s time for you to buy an X-Acto knife (EEEEEK! I’m, like, so excited for you!). And I don’t mean major purchase as in expensive, ’cause they are way cheap! And you know why you will never have to buy another one? I don’t know why, I just know that they last forever. Have you ever been to an old person’s house? And have you ever seen their desks? Yup, everything on there looks like it has been replaced about once every 10 years or so, but they still have that same X-Acto knife that they got for some school project back during the depression that is sticking up out of some 1,ooo year old wad of Silly Putty or a gummy eraser or something.

And for this one I want you to get the X-Acto brand knife! I know that, like, Fiskar’s makes some (but their name is Fiskar’s… ew), or you can get whatever is in the Martha Stewart section of the store if you want, some pastel colored thing that I’m just sure you want to have sitting on your desk next to your Stug. III in process… Nope, just get the X-Acto brand knife and get the one that comes with a bunch of different kinds of blades. The most common blade (as you will learn) is the #11 style knife, but try all of the different style blades as you may like the feel of, say, the scalpel-type blade better than the totally straight-edged one. And I also suggest getting the pack with the different blades because even if you only end up using the #11 blade for stuff like getting pieces off the sprues, and cleaning up excess plastic left after sprue removal, you are still going to want to have other blades for photo-etch parts. Just like with the sprue cutters and the wire cutters, you’ll want one blade that never touches metal. And personally, I think some of those other weird shaped blades are actually better for cutting the photo-etch pieces than trusty #11 (and this is all until you decide you want to keep up with this hobby and graduate up to some dedicated photo-etch cutting tools, but those are definitely not a necessity yet.)

After a quick search my estimate is that 8% of the entire internet is dedicated to emery boards for some unknown reason.
After a quick search my estimate is that 8% of the entire internet is dedicated to emery boards for some unknown reason.

3. Emery Boards/Sandpaper – Here’s another implement that if you have a decent toolbox stocked up you might just have around already: Sandpaper. See, once you get started modeling (or restarted), you will realize that a HUGE part of modeling these days is just about getting the pieces off of the sprues and then getting those pieces to look pretty and fit together well. This is all due to… ah, sorry guys I have to do this to make this make sense…

Yet another list inside this list!

The Three Main Types of Molding Errors That Occur on Your Models That You Need to Get Rid of Before You Start Building

A. Seam Lines – I think I talked about it in one of my other articles, but in case you haven’t yet read everything I’ve written, I will quickly go over the plastic molding process.

So, like I said before, when they make the molds for your model pieces it is basically like baking. They pour molten plastic into a mold which has been coated with some kind of oil or grease so that the plastic can come out of the mold, and lots of times the molds are two parts that are sandwiched together so that the pieces come out and both sides make single pieces. This leads to what are called seam lines. Think of lots of plastic toys you’ve had that have had that raised seam all around the perimeter of the figure, that’s what this is. And to make a good looking model this is one of the first things you want to get rid of. Lots of people just use the back of their X-Acto knives and some sandpaper to clean these up. And if you decide later on, there are some really great tools that are specifically made for seam removal, which you might think sounds so unnecessary, but are actually GREAT products that I think are super helpful to have around BUT not a necessity for sure.

B. Flash – Flash is not as common as it used to be (as I’ve noticed on lots of models coming out today, but it does still exist). Flash is what happens when—well, let’s stick with the baking analogy? Good. So, we’re making waffles (not really, just in our heads… which are really models… man I can complicate stuff… ugh pt. 2). And what happens when we add too much waffle batter? According to The Simpsons we get delicious waffle run-off, but in the modeling world all that happens is that you get these random sorta flat, blobby looking bits of hard plastic overflow. These are also easily removed with an X-Acto and some sandpaper, and you can usually tell the more cheaply made models these days by whether they have flash or not, as most of the better model manufacturers these days have figured out how to pour their waffles models without spillover by this time in the universe…

C. Ejector Pin Marks – These marks look like about 1.5mm diameter circular divots on your plastic pieces. These are caused by pin points that are built into the molds to make sure they can press them out of there after they are done cooling (I do not know of a baking analogy for this and I feel I have failed you, I’m sorry…). This is another thing that most of the better brands available have figured out how to get around, just so you know whether you have purchased a sorta cheap-o model or not…


3. (Cont.) Emery Boards/Sandpaper! So, you probably have some sandpaper lying around somewhere, and this works fine, BUT I totally 100% endorse using emery boards instead of sandpaper. What is an emery board, you might be asking? It’s those things your mom uses to file her nails (boy, I bet you are hearing that sound in your head right now!). Anyway, I remember my mom doing this all the time, and whenever I go home it’s something that I always ask if she has any around that I can take home because Mom, I’m like, totally broke these days and I can’t even afford to go to the Duane Reade (you will recognize this place as Walgreen’s if you do not live in New York) and buy any emery boards *sobsobboohoo*, and my Mom always lets me take home like two bundles of these things because she feels bad for me!

They work great! They get into small spaces, they last a long time (longer than little bits of sandpaper anyway), and Moms and Girlfriends always have endless supplies of these things!

Now, you will also hear other model guys giving you advice on what grit to use. Grit is the degree of coarseness of the sandpaper/emery board. The way it goes is that the lower number the grit the more coarse your paper is. Give you an example, between 50 & 150 are generally grits used to do stuff around your house, like remove tough paint or things like that. But I’ve noticed that grit number and its relative coarseness varies significantly from brand to brand. Like, I have some sandpaper sheets that are 1200 grit and they are so fine they feel almost like printer paper. And then I have some little spongey sandpaper pads I bought where the grit starts at 1200—which, for this particular brand is fairly rough—and goes up to 4000, which is still not even close to as fine as the 1200 grit sandpaper I have!

Therefore I will not recommend any grit to you for either sandpaper or emery board, although I will tell you that emery boards are “what’s up.” And they’ll go perfectly right next to your Martha Stewart “Kumquat Sands” colored Hobby Knife! And as for grit number, just feel that stuff for yourself with your fingers. You want one that’s rough enough to smooth down bumps or gouges in your plastic, but nothing so rough that it will take away any detail molded into the plastic along with it. And then you want another finer piece to smooth out any scratches you might have made with your first grit. And as you go along you will start to know instinctively (I’m serious) what grits you will need for what projects, and you will find yourself browsing the Hand/Nail Care aisle of every drugstore you ever enter just to see what kinds of emery boards they have (it’s true!).


4. PaintBum bum buuuuum. This is maybe the most contested and widely debated part of the entire modeling world. So instead of giving you exact suggestions, I will just tell you a few things I have learned since I started modeling again, and I will push you down the hill of paints with the training wheels of my words… soothing, huh? And you lucky sons-a-guns even get one more list at no extra cost!!! You’re right, I am too kind thank you—no, thank you—you can stop applauding, you’re welcome thank y—

A. Don’t buy anything that says “Starter Set” or “Beginner’s Box” or anything like that. It’s sorta like buying Neopolitan ice-cream when all you want is the chocolate, and all you’re going to use is the black anyway, and you will be stuck with a jar of Gloss Red paint that you will be handing down to your children when you die because you will never use it but also never get rid of it. Go and look on any elder modeler’s desk and you will find a yellowed glass jar of Testor’s Gloss Red that is rusted shut. I promise.

B. DON’T BUY ENAMELS!!! I know, I know that you still have that one leftover jar of Testor’s GunMetal from when you first started modeling in the mid-90s and you thought, “Gee, I’ve already got a collection of enamels started even though EVERYTHING suggests using acrylics these days but I’m a DUDE and I like fumes/waiting years for things to dry, so I’m just going to keep using this GunMetal and go buy ALL Testor’s 1/4 oz. bottles of EVERYTHING blahblahblah” and then WHOOOSH, suddenly three months have gone by and you have spent nearly $100 on enamel paints and you think, “Maybe I’ll give this acrylic thing a shot? One bottle can’t hurt now can it?” And then you’ll see that beautiful acrylic paint drying right before your very eyes in less than a minute (fer serious), and you’ll look at your stupid shelf of enamel paints that you just couldn’t let go of, and a single, shame-filled tear will roll down your cheek as you now imagine how much it will cost to replace every single one of those stupid little jars with acrylics.

C. Only get the colors you need for the one model you are working on. Especially if you are just starting. If you are anything like me—and I think a lot of modeler’s are, where you sort of have that collectory side to you also, as well as being a completist, meaning that once you start one hobby, you want to have the WHOLE SET OF EVERYTHING EVER AND EVER ALWAYS. And you will want to do this the second you find your brand of ACRYLIC paints that you love. But, as Enrique famously said to the Weasel in Encino Man, “Take it easy, Homes!” Now, maybe that’s not an exact quote, or even from that movie, but this article is already way too long and I DON’T KNOW HOW TO MAKE IT STOP!!! Ummm, right, so just keep getting the colors you need for each project and soon you will have an awesome collection of wonderful ACRYLIC paints 🙂

D. Get one good spray primer and maybe even get a good spray of the base color for your first project, too.

5. Paint Brushes – As you are just starting out, I think you can get away with getting a pack of Round brushes, which comes with size 0, 1, 2, and 4 or something like that, and one small Flat brush. Eventually you will learn which brushes you like, and then eventually eventually you will be getting an AIRBRUSH which will honestly be one of the most exciting days of your life! And even then you will still need lots of brushes for your projects, and they will just be another one of those things like the emery boards that you just start buying everywhere you find them because you will go through so many.

This is one of the first pics that came up when I searched putty so I felt I had to use it.
This is one of the first pics that came up when I searched putty so I felt I had to use it.

6. Putty – This is and will be and always has been sort of the bane of every modeler the world over. There is not a single one that does each job well. Your best bet is just to get a thing of Squadron Green Putty, and then as you continue just start buying every putty in existence hoping with all your might each time that it is the one truly all-purpose putty. But no, you will ultimately have a shelf of putties that will also get handed down to your children because you can never use them up, and you will need each one for the most minutely different of tasks. C’est la putty

Okay, I’m trying to think of other stuff you may need but as this article has cracked the 3,000 word mark I think I’m done, and that maybe—just maybe—you might be ready to get down to some modelin’!

If I do think of anything else you absolutely need then I will write another article with lots of apologies and it will only be three words long for your convenience, SCOUT’S HONOR!

*j/k, okay?

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Justin Skrakowski
I am a capital D Dude. I like Rock & Roll in my music and Blood & Guts in my movies. I was born in Dallas, Texas and currently live in Manhattan with my girlfriend who is awesome and beautiful. I am also a journalist, and I have a book available on Amazon entitled Strongman, you should totally check it out! My first model I actually finished was AMT's 1:25 Munster Koach. I'd like to thank George for letting me share some thoughts on this wonderful site :)