Tips, Tools, and Tricks

I’ve had the idea for this post in the back of my mind for quite some time now.  I’ve mentioned many of these items in various construction threads but I’ve really never shown what I was talking about.  These are all things which are useful to have laying about the modeling bench and make modeling more efficient and enjoyable.

This is a rather simple but useful tool – UMM-USA’s scriber / scraper.  It does everything the name implies and does it well.  I have also found it quite useful for close cutting tasks such as opening up rectangular access panels in aircraft models – simply scribe your way through the panel and then square the opening with an Xacto knife.  UMM here:
In a spectacular “well, duh” moment I inserted a pin into a cheap pin vice.  The result is one of the more useful tools on my bench, I find myself reaching for it often.  It can be used to make rivet impressions, start pilot holes for drilling, open up clogged glue bottles, remove sanding dust from panel lines, or applying small drops of glue, among many other things.
I am old enough to have used mechanical drafting at work, I actually find it relaxing.  One of the tools which migrated from the drafting table to the modeling bench is this proportional divider.  It is just the right tool for measuring odd little distances on models to fabricate parts – one example which comes to mind is measuring lengths between struts for rigging biplanes.
Buying paint thinners and the “thin” glues from the hobby store is great if you are rich or don’t build quickly.  Otherwise consider getting these items at the hardware store and saving some money.  Most thin cements are composed mainly of Methyl Ethyl Ketone (MEK).  This 32 ounce can cost me $8.89 at the hardware store, or $0.28 per ounce.  Compare that to a bottle of your favorite thin glue at the hobby store.  I decant the MEK and paint thinners into smaller bottles for use on the workbench and spend the savings on kits.
Razor saws are a must-have item, this is another UMM-USA product.  The blades are replaceable but will last a long time if they are not twisted when cutting.  Each side has a different tooth course and makes and extremely fine cut.
This is a rather silly “tool” but it works, I have had this for years.  It is the lid from a Humbrol paint tin.  I find it is the perfect size for mixing small amounts of paint for detail work.
These scissors go by a number of names, often all at once.  They are Noyes spring iris surgical scissors or some variation of those terms.  They are really good at cutting thin plastic or even metals, and useful for cutting out small or tightly printed decals.
These little measuring spoons are intended for the kitchen but are just the thing for transferring paint to the airbrush.  It is easy to mix proportions if you are matching a formula, and the size allows them to dip into bottles with small openings.
A good punch and die set is not cheap but should last forever with the proper care.  They are surprisingly useful and come in handy in unexpected ways, far beyond producing the holes and disks which are the most common tasks.  You will need to locate a small hammer to use them, which I found to be not as easy as I expected.
BB’s make good ballast, so it’s always good to have several thousand laying about.  They are useful for preventing aircraft with tricycle landing gear from becoming tail-sitters or adding a bit of heft to your armor models.  I fix them in place with casting resin or epoxy glue.  Cheap when bought in quantity.

A Tour of the Secret Underground Workshop

I am fortunate to have both a basement and a tolerant wife.  The basement follows the footprint of the house, but the wall layout meanders about as a continuous space broken up by the mechanical requirements of the structure.  There is one separate room which we use as a guest bedroom but the rest is all open “pass through” area.  One “zone” is a workout room, another houses the entertainment center, and the area most relevant to this blog is where I do my modeling.
This is the modeling bench, made from kitchen cabinet components, plywood, and covered with a glass worksurface.  Overhead are four can lights to illuminate the worksurface and two stereo speakers to pipe in music or my favorite podcasts while I work.  On the left are two B-17s which have stalled for several months awaiting paint masks.  In the foreground are the recently completed StuGs ready to go into the case.  Against the back wall a group of Yellow Wing biplanes have just been started.
In a rather oddly-shaped alcove is the light box I use for studio photography.  This really improved the quality of the model pictures for the blog, if you’re serious about sharing pictures of your projects I highly recommend getting one.  The work table is also used for wrapping packages and protecting my books with BroadArt covers for the dustjackets.  The kit stash lurks beyond.
My kit stash is modest compared to most other modelers.  I have (mostly) managed to build as many kits as I purchase each year, but the stash does manage to grow just a bit over time.
I have been able to acquire several commercial display cases over the years.  This one houses Jagdwaffe builds.  I set out to build the aircraft of all the Luftwaffe Experten with over one hundred victories but that effort has stalled due to lack of documentation on a few of the aircraft.  I have gotten through over seventy so far though, along with several side tracks.
This case is mainly Japanese aircraft with some 1/700 scale ships and submarines on the bottom shelf.  I got the display cases at a substantial discount as businesses moved or shut down, then re-wired them and had additional glass shelves cut as needed.


More Luftwaffe multi-engined types with ground vehicles on the bottom shelf.  These cases are a little smaller and not as fancy as the first two.

This one contains mainly U.S. and Allied types, along with a shelf of modern jets.  On top is the USS Skipjack.
We remodeled the basement two years ago and while that was going on I rebuilt this alcove with the thought of possibly installing a base and sliding glass doors across the front to house larger models one day.  There are several ships which I would like to do in 1/72 scale at some point and they will need a long display area.  Until then the alcove contains another case with some more recent completions.  On top is the Japanese seaplane tender Akitsushima and the Los Angeles-class fast attack submarine USS Indianapolis (SSN-697), both scratchbuilt projects.