Getting Started

Recommended equipment:  Sharp wire cutters, hobby knife, plastic cement, assorted rubber bands, twisties and clothes pins.


OK, so you spent your hard-earned money on that model, you take it home and open the box. Now is the time to develop some good habits.

READ THE INSTRUCTIONS! Sure, the two head pieces go together, get attached to the neck, and so on. Read them anyway. Check out the pieces in the box, make sure they are all there. It does happen that the kit makers will forget to put a part or two in the box, and the one time you don't check will be the time this happens. Also, look for defects in the model, such as parts that weren't completely formed when plastic was injected into the mold. You might have to take the model back (sob!) for exchange. Some companies like Polar Lights are great about sending you the missing part if you contact them, but then you're stuck waiting for the part to arrive in the mail. This is also the time you begin to get a "feel" for the model and make a plan on how you're going to tackle it.     

Preparing the parts for assembly:  A sharp set of wire cutters is best for getting the part off the tree - it's easy to break a small part while twisting it loose, and using a knife to cut the part off is risky to the part and your fingers. Try not to damage the part when snipping it off the tree, instead leave a little nub of plastic that can be trimmed with the knife. Speaking of knives, an exacto type hobby knife is a must. Use it to trim off the "flash" (extra plastic) and make little scrapes and corrections to get a good fit. Get plenty of extra blades, since it doesn't take long for these to lose their edge. An old Boy Scout rule is that a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp one. I try to start every model with a new blade in the holder. Double check the number of the part against the instructions before removing it - some parts will look identical and people have been known to glue the left foot on the right leg, etc.

It's best to build the model using the "sub-assembly" method. For instance, you'll usually have the front and back of the head, body, arms, and legs to glue together. If you do this first, the glue will be drying while you go on to other parts. Then these sub-assemblies will be glued together, etc. Here's where your planning comes in. Some parts will need to be sanded, puttied, and even painted before final assembly, while some will be easier to work on after joining. Occasionally one part will need to be glued on before another; for instance the Aurora Batman cape will not fit around the neck once his head is glued on.

TEST FIT THE PIECES! The object is to have two parts that go together with no gaps, and aligned so that the edges perfectly match. Yea, right. In reality the model kit makers usually do a fair job in the molding, but you'll need to correct their mistakes as well as improve on the fit if you're going to make something that looks like one sculpted piece and not a collection of parts. If you're working on a snap-fit type model, the kind that advertises "no glue required", you'll need to clip off the little locater tabs in order to test fit. As a matter of fact, I often cut these tabs off on all my models when I need to fine tune the fit. Put a lot of effort into getting the parts matched, since this reduces the putty and sanding work later on.

Now for the glue. Don't use the old squeeze tube type if you can help it. Pay the extra few bucks for the bottle.  It's easier to work with and generally stronger bonding. I use Testors #3507, but there are other good brands. One bottle will last practically forever, if you REMEMBER TO PUT THE CAP BACK ON THE GLUE! Make sure the glue you use says on the label it works with "ABS" as well as styrene. ABS is a type of plastic now used by some model companies, and requires a stronger glue to bond well. By the way, plastic cement should only be used on plastic models; a vinyl or resin model needs superglue.  

OK, let's talk about superglue, otherwise known as Cyanoacrylate (if you want to sound really smart when the subject comes up). If the stuff is good enough for resin or vinyl models, why not use it on plastic, instead of the slower acting cement? Well, you can if you want to. I keep a tube of it on the workbench and it certainly comes in handy. There might be a small part that must be held in place until the glue bond sets up, for instance. Perhaps two parts must be pressed tightly together to eliminate a gap, and because of their shape rubber bands or twisties won't work. The thick gel superglue makes a great gap filler and can be used instead of putty. For most of the assembly, though, that extra "wiggle" time to get the parts matched up using plastic cement really helps.

Then there's the problem of working with superglue. I've found you need at least three hands to effectively use the stuff without bonding your fingers, model, and table into one solid assembly. I use the tiny tubes that can be found almost anywhere. You can get big squeeze bottles of superglue at hobby stores, but I've never found one yet where the opening didn't get clogged up before I used up half the stuff in the bottle, and once that happens you're in for a frustrating fight every time you want to use it.  

Now on to the assembly. Gather a collection of clothespins and twisties and rubber bands, and use them to keep pressure on the pieces while the glue is drying. The cement available today dries faster than the stuff sold way back when, but this is still a step that can't be rushed. Use enough glue to cover the areas being pressed together, and use a thin coat. Apply the glue to one piece, then press them together and check closely for proper alignment, looking for gaps that need extra pressure to close. Don't wipe away the bead of glue that may squeeze out of the crack, since you'll just be smearing it on areas you need to paint later. Hold the pieces together long enough for the glue to bond, and wait for the glue to dry completely before going to the next stage. A few hours is usually enough time. That's when you scrape off the extra glue with the knife as part of the sanding and putty step.

  You'll be painting some parts before assembly, but DON'T GLUE ON TOP OF PAINT OR CHROME. This is the most common beginner's mistake.  Liquid cement needs to contact the plastic to melt it together, so if you get lazy on scraping enough paint off for a good bond your part will eventually break off.  Trust me, there's nothing worse than having your model fall apart somewhere down the road after all your time and effort.  If you're working on a clear part, be advised the cement will cloud and stain the plastic.  So will the superglue products.  I've used regular white Elmer's glue in the past, but today you can get special model glue for clear parts.

One last area to cover before you get started, and that's SAFETY.  If you have a very sharp hobby knife and relatively hard plastic you're trying to cut,
you have to be careful.  Many old modelers have scars on their thumbs from one moment of carelessness.  That's learning the hard way.  Another safety point involves the fumes from the paint and glue.  In the old days I probably fried a few brain cells from using the old formula glue and spray painting enamels in my closed room.  The acrylic paint I use is non-toxic, and if you provide some ventilation you'll be safe.  Do I need to remind you not to eat any of the stuff?  In particular, the putty contains solvents that should be washed off the hands and kept away from the face.  

Pretty basic, huh?  Hey, putting a model together isn't rocket science.  On the other hand, many rocket scientists started off building model kits.

TIP: Don't take the small pieces off their plastic tree until you need them. I've spent many an hour on my knees looking for the little piece that I was sure I put back in the box.

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