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A Model Maker’s Guide

A Model Maker’s Guide

by Jerry Kelly


Basswood is the preferred wood for model building because of its fine grain and workability. It is available in many sizes from 1/32″ square to sheets ½” X 4″ wide and 24″ long. When painted it shows no trace of grain. It is also available in structural steel shapes such as I-beams and wide flange beams. Sheets 3″ wide are also made to look like planks, corrugated siding, board and batten, weatherboard siding and others. Thin sheets and sticks can be cut with knives.


Balsa is noted for its light weight and softness. It can be easily cut (thin sheets or sticks) with knives. Balsa does not have the strength of bass and has the added drawback of having a very open grain that is emphasized when painted. It is not too bad when stained. Sticks from 1/16″ square and sheets as wide as 6″ are on hand; lengths are 3′ and 4′.


Cherry, Mahogany, and Walnut are stocked in a more limited variety of sticks and sheets. All are 2′ long. These are much harder woods and are generally used when their special color or grain is needed for special effects.


Plywood is also stocked in sheets up to 1′ X 4′ and from 1/64″ thick to ¼” thick. This wood has a fine grain, great strength and flexibility, and accepts paint well. Cut thin sheets with knives: thick sheets with saws.


Cynoacrylate is the most remarkable and useful glue modelers use. Three types are available:

Thin: Because this glue is water thin, a good fit on parts is required. Parts are held together lightly, glue applied on the outside of the joint, and capillary action draws the glue into the joint. The bond is made in a couple of seconds: too much glue and the bonding is delayed. If all you have is the THIN glue and the parts are not a good fit, ordinary “Arm and Hammer” bi-carb can be used as a bridge. Dust the joint or build up the gap with some bi-card prior to applying the glue. This works well but it releases unpleasant gasses. Continued exposure to these fumes could result in some kind of allergic reaction. Use only in a well ventilated area.

Thick and Gap Filling: My favorite! Use this as you would most glues. Apply a small quantity to one side of the joint, align parts and give a gentle squeeze. In three or four seconds you can release the pressure. If too much glue is used, it will take a little longer to harden and it might ooze out, gluing your fingers to the work.

Thicker and Gap filling and Slower setting: not much left to say except it takes about 30 seconds more to harden then the thick and gap filling.


KICKER: I call this “Glue on command.” When sprayed on the glue, it will harden the joint immediately regardless of the amount of CA applied. This also emits unpleasant fumes. Store the kicker away from the CA glues.


Storage: At room temperature (air conditioned) the CA will last for months without spoiling. If you are not using it rapidly enough, the shelf like can be extended greatly by putting the bottle into a capped, clean food jar, and keeping it in a refrigerator .


Plastruct is a line of styrene structural shapes and plain sheets. I beams, H beams, channel, round tubing, square tubing, rectangular tubing, angle and other shapes come in sizes from 1/16″ to ½ “. Lengths vary from 12″ to 15”. The structural shapes are generally cut with a razor saw. The smaller sizes can be cut with an Xacto knife.

The sheets (as all styrene sheets) are cut by scoring with an Xacto knife and then flexing to break at the score. Circles can be cut by scoring with a pair of dividers that have sharp points. All Styrene products accept paint well and are glued together with a liquid solvent or super glue.


Evergreen makes a wide line of impossible to make thin strips, plain sheets, decorated sheets and tubing, while Holgate and Reynolds supply a useful variety of embossed styrene sheets. Brick, stone, and many other building surfaces are available. These also handle like Plastruct.


K&S and Special Shapes makes metal shapes that are very useful. Round, square and hexagonal brass telescoping tubing are available in many sizes. Rectangular tubing, channel and angles come in brass as well. Solid brass rods from .020″ to 3/16″ in 1 or 3 foot lengths. Brass sheets, meshes. and telescoping aluminum tubing are handy. Cut with razor saw and paint with anything. Glue or solder together (can’t solder aluminum).


The Xacto #1 handle and the #11 blade is the tool that you will reach for most often. The #11 blades are available in packages of 5, 15, or 100. The Mitre Box and Razor saw are next in importance being essential for accurate cuts and good fitting parts.


DRILL BITS for plastic, wood, or metal are available from 1/64″, in very small increments, to ¼” A “pin vise” is used to hold bits from 1/8″ and smaller: the pin vise is operated manually. The larger bits are generally used with electric drill.


DREMEL makes a line of power tools used in modeling. The “Dremel Tool” has come to mean the hand grinder (not for grinding hands) that is very useful for cutting metal tubing and hard steel rods. It will rough cut wood, grind and polish metal, drill holes and many other odd jobs.


AIR BRUSHES are miniature spray guns that have a paint pattern that has very little overspray. Because of this, masking is simplified and shading is possible. Any type of paint can be used in an air brush as long as it is thin enough and has no particles that would clog the small openings. They are not expensive but the compressor, which is a necessary part of a set-up is. If you can find the colors that you need in spray cans, you should be able to get along without an airbrush.