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Tools used for making, repairing and modifying models

Here's an overview of the tools I mention on my model pages and in repair guides.

hobby knives

various hobby knives For general cutting and when accuracy is not that important I use a knife with snap-off blades (black/yellow Olfa F knife pictured).
For accurate cutting I usually use a hobby/craft knife fitted with a curved-tipped number 10 blade, only for tight corners and cutting tiny things I use a knife fitted with a pointed number 11 blade.
For shaving down uneven seams on plastic parts I prefer a used number 10 blade without a handle (pictured on the far right).

The hobby knife bodies are available in 3 sizes: type #1 is the thinnest and is meant for delicate cutting, type #2 is slightly thicker and is best for tasks that require more force and type #3 with a thick plastic handle is best for fitting larger tools such as a razor saw blade (the red handle in the razor saws picture).

vernier calipers

vernier calipers Vernier calipers are used for taking accurate measurements of parts.
I have two: one made out of plastic and one made out of metal. Due to its construction the plastic one is not as accurate but has the advantage of not leaving marks on delicate plastic parts.
Despite the vernier scales on both allowing for 0.05mm accuracy, I trust the plastic one up to 0.1mm at best.


various pliers Useful for handling not-too-delicate objects and for squashing metal wire.
The round nosed pliers at the top of the picture are also useful for bending metal wire.
The flat nosed pliers at the bottom of the picture have smooth jaws that leave no marks.

pin vise

pin vises Pin vises are useful for holding drill bits for drilling but also for holding pins or needles for accurate punching or scratching.
The one at the top of the picture has a single piece body and a single reversible chuck for holding bits between 0.1mm and 1.0mm diameter, the one below that was taken apart to show all of the parts, from left to right:

The chucks can be swapped, each of the chucks is reversible and has a differently sized opening at each end to allow for fitting bits between 0.1mm and 3.5mm diameter.
When fitting a drill bit, choose the side of the chuck that fits the shaft of the bit best.
When fitting small diameter bits, make sure the bit does not slip between the grooves of the chuck, one way to prevent this is by wrapping some adhesive tape around the base of the bit.

motor tool

motor tool with power supply For use on plastic the most important feature of a motor tool is the ability to run at low revs (below 600rpm). Tools that run 10,000rpm or more are great for engraving glass or steel but are virtually useless for drilling holes or cutting grooves in plastic (the resulting heat will melt the plastic, clogging up or even ruining the bits).
The second most important feature of a motor tool is accuracy, the drive shaft should be suspended by a ball bearing behind the head (a solid bronze bearing will wear out over time, resulting in inaccuracy and a vibrating head which causes bits to break) and the head should be able to hold thin bits exactly centered.

The motor tool I use is an old high speed 16v DC one fitted with ball bearings and a head that can keep any bits from 0.3mm to 3.2mm diameter perfectly centered.

power supply

To power the motor tool I use a 12v DC power supply (a heavy duty lead battery charger).
The best way to slow down a high speed motor tool is by using an electronic circuit that chops up the DC power into variable width blocks ('pulsed power supply with variable pulse width') where the width of the blocks can be controlled by a variable resistor. I built such a circuit myself using a thyristor and fitted it inside the casing of the power supply.
For those rare occasions when I do need high revs I added a large (17,500µF, 16v) capacitor with a switch across the output of the power supply, this will boost the output voltage by some 20%.

The result is a motor tool with a usable rev range from 60rpm to 16,000rpm.

drill bits

various drill bits Sharp spiral drill bits can be used with a motor tool or in a pin vise.
When using a motor tool for drilling into plastic make sure the drill bit doesn't get clogged up with molten plastic (either use low revs or drill a hole in multiple short intervals, removing the bit from the plastic to allow it to cool down every time).
Remove plastic dust or clogged plastic from used drill bits as soon as possible, using a toothpick or fingernail.

Keeping track of the exact sizes of the bits saves a lot of work and errors, that's why I keep each bit in a marked stand or holder.

cutting discs

various cutting discs various cutting discs These are ceramic discs for use with a motor tool. These small (22mm diameter) discs come in two grades: standard and reinforced with woven fibres.
The standard non-reinforced discs are 0.6mm thick and are quite fragile, to keep any fragments from flying off the spinning disc I cut two circular pieces of masking tape and stick those on either side of the disc.
The reinforced discs are 0.8mm thick.
The discs can be used on plastics, metals and ceramics, when used with care the discs will wear down instead of breaking.

Some tips for prolonging the lifespan of these discs:

cutter heads

miniature cutter heads Miniature cutter heads are meant for use with a motor tool and come in a variety of shapes and sizes, the smallest ones are the ones I use most often, the larger ones on the left of the picture I only use for making items like ankle cups.
When accuracy is not that important, used dentist drill bits can be useful, these are often small ball shaped cutter heads (remember that the cutting edges of these drill bits are often worn).

razor saw blades

razor saw Often sold as extensions to be fitted to a hobby knife handle, these saw blades come in a variety of sizes and tooth counts. Usually the teeth are set at a slight angle so the saw cut is slightly wider than the width of the blade.
The saw on top of the picture is a Roco Multi-saw, it comes with a moulded-on handle, has a slightly thinner blade than most other saws and is suitable for metal, wood and plastics (it was designed for cutting miniature train tracks).
Apart from saw blades for hobby knives there are also photo-etched saw blades that usually fit on a surgeons knife handle (shown at the bottom of the picture).
For use on plastic I prefer saw blades with a high tooth count, the large blade on the picture has 54 teeth per inch.

true razor saw

true razor saw This 'Czech razor saw' is the perfect tool for making very narrow saw cuts.
Unlike regular razor saw blades, these are actual razor blades with teeth etched into the cutting edges, one edge of the blade has even finer teeth than the other.
The hardened blades are more fragile than ordinary tempered saw blades (teeth or corners will snap off of the razor blade when handled wrong).
A typical saw cut made with this type of saw is about 0.15mm wide, which is less than the width of a panel line on most top quality model kits.
Ideal for separating small canopies from windshields or flaps and ailerons from wings.
With care the tip of this type of saw can also be used for engraving panel lines.
Available from JLC (pictured) and Czech Master Kits.

miter box

miterbox A miter box is helpful for cutting parts at exact angles using a razor saw. Most miter boxes have grooves at 90 degree and 45 degree angles, some also have a groove at a 60 degree angle.
I prefer a miter box out of plastic over one out of aluminum or hard wood because plastic is more gentle on the teeth of the saw when you accidentally cut into the box.
The small miter block on the picture is made by JLC for use with their true razor saw.

single cut metal file

single cut metal file Single cut files (as opposed to cross cut files) can be used when little material needs to be removed. Single cut files are usually finer than cross cut files so results can be very smooth.

A single cut file is also useful for creating a groove pattern in small plastic tires, just roll the tire along the file and press it down firmly (it is best to use an old file for this).

crosssection cut file (2.8kB) With cut files always remember to only apply force when the file is moved forward, else the grooves get pressed shut which dulls the file.

rifler files and rats tail files

rifler files Rats tail files, also known as needle files, are meant for creating recessed details and cutting grooves.
When used on plastic (or wood) clean the grooves regularly using an old toothbrush or a similar stiff brush.

Sometimes sets of small files are sold without handles. An easy way to add handles is to use heat shrinkable tubing.
Use tubing with a diameter that is about 1.5 times larger than the diameter of the end of the file, cut a length of tubing, slide it over the end of the file and apply heat evenly to make the tubing shrink.

The picture below shows a small file without handle, a piece of heat shrinkable tubing and a small file with a handle made out of shrinkable tubing.
small file with handle out of shrinkable tubing

diamond file

diamond studded files These files are usually sold as nail files. The more expensive ones are studded with tiny industrial diamonds, the cheaper ones are usually studded with tiny sapphires. The cheaper ones wear out faster, but even the worn ones remain useful for finer work.
There are densely studded files and sparsely studded files (on the left in the picture), the denser ones are more effective but tend to fill up with plastic dust unlike the sparsely studded ones that hardly fill up at all.
Using a diamond file the result is slightly less smooth than that of a cut metal file but cut metal files may leave grooves while diamond files don't.
Diamond files can also be used with water.

sanding sponge

3M Sanding sponges These sanding sponges are thin flexible foam pads with a durable abrasive coating on one side.
Great for sanding, polishing and finishing contoured surfaces.
These sponges are sold in grades ranging from 500 to 1800 and can be used dry or with water.

wooden sticks

wooden sticks Wooden sticks for stirring coffee or from popsicles have lots of uses.

Sticks can be used for sanding, use some double faced adhesive tape or some contact glue to attach a piece of sandpaper to the stick.
A stick can be cut or filed to a specific shape before applying sandpaper.

Sticks can also be used to stir enamel paint. Don't throw away the stick after stirring paint, just let the paint cure and write the brand and tin number on the other end.

mini clothes pegs

Mini clothes pegs Mini cloth pegs are usually sold during the Holiday Season for hanging Christmas cards on ribbons.
These work the same as regular cloth pegs but are useful for clamping small items that do not require as much force.

plastic glue

There are three types of glue that I often use for model making:

polystyrene cement

types of glue for polystyrene and ABS Polystyrene cement comes in different viscosities, from very thin to rather thick glue in tubes.
Most types of polystyrene cement are also suitable for joining model/toy grade ABS.
I rarely use the thick tube glue anymore, the slightly thinner glue that comes in containers fitted with a needle shaped nozzle works less messy and the joins cure faster too.
I prefer using the thin versions for long well fitting joins and for sealing sanded ABS surfaces.
Some containers are fitted with a needle shaped nozzle, this allows for accurate application, but these nozzles tend to clog up so keep a piece of thin metal wire at hand to clear the needle.

Plastic Weld

Plastic Weld glue Plastruct Plastic Weld is useful when the type of plastic is not exactly known or when different types of plastic have to be joined together.
On ABS-like plastics Plastic Weld forms a stronger bond than most types of polystyrene glue/cement do, so I prefer using Plastic Weld for action figure body repairs.
Plastic Weld contains trichloromethane which is a very effective solvent to most types of plastic.

cyanoacrylate glue (a.k.a. super glue, or instant glue)

tube of cyanoacrylate glue Cyanoacrylate (CA) can be used for joining parts quickly and for attaching materials like metals or rubber to plastics.
CA can also be perused for filling small holes and shallow dents such as sink marks.
Use a cloth pin for clearing the nozzle and for transferring the glue from the nozzle to the subject.

Watch out for 'blooming' vapours when CA glue is curing: depending on the brand of glue and the ambient humidity, larger amounts of CA glue (more than a tiny droplet) may deposit rough white stains on the area surrounding the curing CA glue. Aluminum (like Bare Metal Foil, but also 'plated' model kit parts) is particularly sensitive to attracting these vapours.

Note that CA can withstand great loads at a right angle to the join, but a join repaired with CA easily breaks when subjected to shear forces.
Be aware that prolonged exposure to daylight or UV light will cause most types of cured CA to deteriorate (turn brittle).

white (PVA) glue (paper glue, or wood glue)

types of white PVA glue White paper or wood glue is water based, dries clear and does not dissolve or craze plastics. White glue can be used for attaching transparent parts, making light lenses and small windows or for temporarily attaching plastic parts.
Most types of white glue can be dissolved in water after curing (apart from some types of wood glue that are marked as waterproof on the package). Cured white glue also dissolves in most types of decal setting fluids, a coat of paint or clear varnish will prevent this.
Cured white glue can not be sanded.

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