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Home > From the Bench > The Beginner’s Toolbox or Everything You Need to Start Modeling (pt. 1 of 2 (Hopefully))

The Beginner’s Toolbox or Everything You Need to Start Modeling (pt. 1 of 2 (Hopefully))

“I know, I know, it hasn’t been that long since we last spoke to each other, it’s just that… I guess I sort of felt bad the way I left things. And I know that The Game tells me that I should wait at least seven days before trying to contact you again, but—no, wait! Don’t hang up! C’mon Baby, I know I upset you leaving the way I did what with that last post and all, and I couldn’t let it go too much longer. *Shy laugh* My friends say I’m crazy to talk to you again so soon, but listen Girl, I had a really, really good time last night, and I couldn’t imagine you going off with your new model all picked out and not knowing the essential tools you’re gonna need to—you know—get busy on it. I’m serious, Baby. Well, maybe I do care about you already, I know we just met and I feel like I’m always making this same mistake but I think there’s something different about you—Nah, don’t just brush me off like that! I really don’t mean to be coming on so strong, but… this is the truth now Girl: you’re going to need me to show you how the rest of this works.”

Sheesh, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve had that conversation! People’d be all, “What up, Nickelmang!” And I’d be all, “Psssshhhh, Haaaaaa!” but you know, what can you do?

And I did feel bad leaving you guys hanging, telling you to go out and buy a brand new model and then just vanishing for a week (a little over a week, whoops). Leaving you all alone in this harsh world, not knowing what to do with that plastic wrapped box just sitting in the chair you call your “office chair” but is really just a clothes hanger and a place where you stack all the different books you are half-reading at the same time (this might be me “projecting” as they call it in therapy, but don’t worry about that, worry about you). But I know you also, didn’t just sit there waiting for me to post a “How-To,” you probably found things around your home that you already have that could assist you in at least getting the box open and maybe even getting some of the parts together and reading the instructions (I can not help you with learning how to read the instructions, if you need to learn how to read I am not really sure how you even know what I’m saying right now… how do you know what this is saying if you can’t read?)

Oh, also, I will introduce you to some terminology (at least one word that I can think of right now), and will provide links for the products that I am recommending, it’s the least I can do 🙂

So. You have figured out how to open the box all by yourself and now you think that you don’t need my help, well fine! Be that way! Good. See if I care—I mean… sheesh, there’s a lot of relationship-y stuff going on with me and this post *makes note to talk to therapist about post*
ANYWAY, these are not only the tools you will need to get yourself going in this hobby, but also a few steps to take with each model, each time. Don’t let this overwhelm you—OH, and if you are coming back to the hobby like I am after taking a 20 year break between buying your first models and opening your first models, I think the first thing you will see is that the hobby has changed much, very much since the last time you thought about putting paint to plastic. OH (another OH for you), this “Beginner’s How-To” thing is primarily for polystyrene plastic kits (which, don’t be overwhelmed—easy—are just your ordinary, most common model kits, so it is most likely the type of kit that you bought and are wanting to work on) as I am not accustomed to working on resin kits or little metal figures or things like that. But yeah, the coming back to the hobby thing, you will notice that the kits these days and the ways they are built up are WAY nicer looking than anything you thought you’d be able to do 20 years ago, and the way the models look now is probably only something that you thought that the old guys who worked at the LHS that was estd. 1847 could produce, and you know what? Twenty years ago those old guys might have actually been the only people who could make models look that nice. But now, as you will see once you get going, there are literally thousands more new products to help you on your builds than there were 20 years ago when all your Michael’s had was the little wire rack of Testor’s paints, one leaky orange tube of Testor’s cement, and one rusted can of Extra-Odored-Epidermis/Paint Thinners with a caution on the can which read, “Use in room without any lighting as light will make this product burst into invisible flames. Wear Hazmat suit while using. Pregnant women should not been in same county as product. If/when death occurs stop using.”

So you might be a little overwhelmed with choices and possibilities now that you have WAY more tools/supply options, and the sight of these AMAZINGLY built models but not to fear! We also have that awesome thing now called Teh Internets! That’s right, you can YouTube your way to model building amazingness with techniques that you can learn in one night, techniques that probably took those old guys at the LHS their entire lives to learn (not kidding)!

And now that I think I have given every caveat and asterisk-worthy mention a mention, maybe I can get to the point of my article… I’ve never done that in my writing history, but there’s a first time for everything, right?


First List: Things You Need to Do to Prep

1. You will need a decent-sized space to work on. But also not, like, the whole kitchen table or anything, but maybe that space where you have your “office chair” you might want to unearth some of that flat surface under all of your unpaid bills and To-Do lists (throw those things away, they aren’t doing you any good in that stack) and now you have a clean, flat surface to work on. Leave a little space on the sides too, for things like bottles, paints, tools, instructions, etc., or else you will just be adding to these stacks and stacks of stuff and things will fall at the point when you are concentrating the hardest on tweezing the tiniest piece into the hardest spot on the model and you will hear the awful, awful tiny “tink” sound of the metal tweezers coming together and that will also be the sound of your tiniest part (and your sanity) flying into the carpet oblivion in slo-mo to the 2001: A Space Odyssey soundtrack.

So number one is flat surface and space for stuff, check!

2. Since you took the plastic off of your new model (without even waiting for me… whatevs), you look inside and you should have some other plastic bags (usually, if not DON’T WORRY), some instructions, maybe some photo-etch (terminology!) pieces (maybe not DON’T WORRY), some decals, and a few big plastic pieces which all of your model parts are connected to which are called sprues (terminology!).
P.S.Don’t call them “trees,” it makes it sound like you don’t know what you’re talking about.
So, now get everything out and make sure all the parts are there. There is usually a space in the instructions that show you which parts you will be using, and YES, you should check to make sure all your parts are there because one time I opened a brand-new Dragon Kleine Panzerbefehlswagen (you’ll soon learn a lot of German in your modeling life) and they had left out the entire lower hull! I was way disappointed because I had not checked to make sure all the parts were there so I had started this model, and gotten kinda far before I realized there was nothing to connect any of the other stuff I had just been building to…
Anyway (again) so make sure you have all your parts and then take your parts in the bathtub with you and give them a gentle scrub with a toothbrush and some mild liquid soap. Also, not kidding!

Okay, you don’t have to bathe with your model, but you should still take all the plastic sprues and give ’em a rinse and a quick wash in some warm water with some liquid soap (or “mild detergent” for our British friends) and a light scrub with an old toothbrush (not too hot or you could deform the plastic) in the sink or something. Okay, another ALSO is needed here because this is starting to sound like a lot and I really don’t want this to be overwhelming. See, all of these steps—to me at least—are just a fun, relaxing part of the whole process. I like these little starting steps because it a) gives me some time to familiarize myself with the pieces and the what parts are on what sprues and b) it’s just fun! I’m about to start a new thing! So there’s that… where was I? Oh yeah, so the reason you need to give your plastic sprues (DON’T rinse your photo-etch or your decals or the instructions please!) a rinse is because the way they make those plastic parts is sort of like baking. They pour the molten plastic into a mold, cook it, and pop it out of the mold when it’s done. But just like baking they have to use certain oils and grease and stuff to make sure it does in fact pop out of the mold instead of sticking to the sides. So when you open up those fresh bags of sprues there is still some residue from those oils on your plastic and when you finally have your model built and try to paint it, guess what your paint is gonna do? That’s right, it’s not going to want to stick to your model at all if there is still some of that oil residue on there!

So! Number two is check your parts and give ’em a quick bath!

3. Are any of you familiar with cooking? Like you watch the Food Network, or might’ve read some of Anthony Bourdain’s books? Well, even if you haven’t, there’s this thing in the cook lingo that comes from the French (as lots of cook lingo does), called mise en place which means “putting in place.” And what this is referring to is organizing your workspace before you get started. It’s a great habit to get into, whether cooking, or building models, or writing weird articles about building models. This is one of those areas where “modeling” becomes so much more than just sticking pieces of plastic together, and can really start working its way into the rest of your life to make your life that much more organized/balanced/fulfilling/coherent etc. etc. because it really does help with so many things once you start to get the fundamentals down.

*Also (pt 3) just a heads up here, I am splitting this post into two parts, seeing as how I am approaching the 2,000 word mark, which is, like, longer than Dubliners (and just less confusing than Finnegans Wake), so the continuation of this post will be the necessary tools to mise en place with!

So. Number 3 in model-building prep, is prepping appropriately and prettily (alliteration! Man, I get, like, 500,000 literary points for this article, and this I will break down to you by points allotted:

500 points: Almost got to the point of my article
27,500 points: taught you a few polysyllabic words
3,000 points: French!
The remainder of the points (I’m too tired to do the math it’s 7 in the AM and I’ve been working on this for three hours now) SO, the remainder of the points are split between my James Joyce references and that funny bit about the Paint Thinners with the Hazmat suit and the whatnot…


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 :)
  • Thanks Jeroen! I hope that something in this article can help you on your modeling journey. And please feel free to ask any specific questions you may have and hopefully I can answer some of them for you 🙂 All the best and nice to meet you!

  • Jeroen Wijnands

    Interesting. There’s precious few beginner’s tutorials around.