Garage Kits 101: The Tools of the Trade

In my last blog, I’ve discussed a brief introduction of garage kits. This week, I will cover the tools GK modellers like me use to assemble and paint kits. Please excuse the poor/ overused quality of the tools. That just proves how well they serve their purpose in this hobby. These are not arranged in any specific order:

Cutting Board


Not really a totally required tool but very useful, regardless. I use this so I can easily cut masking tapes in strips. It also helps me cut stuff easier and evenly.

Hobby Knife

Considered as one of the most important tools of modellers, one can’t simply go without a hobby knife. No, a small cutter won’t cut it. You need pencil-like control and manueverability to carefully and surgically reach whatever needs cutting or shaping. You can call this, a modeller’s scalpel.

A sharp hobby knife is imperative for accurate and clean masking jobs. If you use a dull blade, chances are your masking tape will peel off as you follow the pattern you wish to cut. And just so you know, leaving even just a millimeter space in your masks will allow paint to seep through, leaving ugly “bleed” marks. Ensuring that you have a good mask saves you time than repairing the bleed damage later.

The hobby knife pictured above has replaceable blades and a container where you keep spare blades. There is another enclosed compartment in that container where you can slip in your old blades safely.

Drill

A drill is used to… oh wait, that’s the wrong image. Haha, sorry – she’s the first one that came up in mind whenever I hear the word drill. Anyway, the real drill I use is found below.

You use drills to bore holes where your pins go. Basically, you need to pin parts together to give them more strength before gluing them. (Actual pinning process and other steps in building GKs will be discussed in the succeeding blogs) I prefer manual hand drills since you can easily control the depth and pressure. It’s not always a good thing to bore a hole through your precious kit. The drill I bought came along with spare drill bits but since the spares cost a lot (around 500 pesos for that set inside the case), I suggest to local modellers to visit Deeco, an electronics store in Quiapo. I got that nifty pack of spares for a fraction of that price. Besides, you won’t be using those large drill bits that much anyway, especially if you’re working on garage kits.

Metal Wire or “Alambre”

Ah yes, the trusty, flexible metal wire. Though I have this thought that putting on a Mexican hat and shouting Alambre! is funny, I am happy to inform you that I have contained that urge to save myself from utter embarrassment. In any case, these metal wires are what I use to pin parts of my garage kits together. Aside from that, they also serve as good drying poles where I can stick the parts to paint and dry. You can also put alligator clips on them to give them gripping power.

I use the standard sized metal wire for larger kits. For smaller ones, you’ll have to use the smaller size. So far there’s only two sizes I’ve seen so far and both of them fit perfectly to the holes bored by the two small drill bits I had. Sorry I can’t remember their exact measurements.

Pliers and Cutters


The leftmost pliers is what I use to carefully insert pins to pinholes. The small green one in the middle is what I use to cut “flashes” or plastic residue from kits. The rightmost one is what I use to cut larger flash pieces and of course, the alambre.

Putty

Putty is another important tool used in garage kits. They are used to fill “air bubbles”, fix deformities and cosmetic damage, converting parts for customized kits or even hold separate/broken parts together. Though you can use the generic hardware/construction type putties, I’ll still recommend the ones used exclusively for hobby-related kits. I’ll just cover some of the basic putty types I normally use.

The Basic Type putty pictured above is what I use to fill holes or to smoothen up a rough surface. This putty dries fast and can easily be sanded to shape. You can also use this to fill unwanted gaps but it’s not adhesive or strong enough to hold parts together.

I use Smooth Type putty most of the time. These come with the putty itself (white) and the hardener (light green). You need to mix equal amounts of both before you can apply them. The good thing above these is that they have the consistency of hard clay, which will allow you to shape it the way you want. So far it worked great in converting parts or whole kits. IT takes 12-24 hours for this putty to completely dry.

If you want quicker curing/hardening time, you can also use the Quick Type Putty. It works the same but it allows you to work faster. Of course, it’ll be a bit pricier than the Smooth Type.

If you really want the fastest curing putty, you can get the Light Curing Putty. It dries pretty quickly, literally just by placing light on it. This is the priciest out of the three but definitely a must for modellers catching up a deadline.

Paint Brush

This is an integral tool for modellers that only handbrush their kits. Since I use an airbrush, I use paint brushes for minor repair and detailing stuff, especially the eyes. I exclusively use Tamiya Modeling Brush Pro (No.000) for painting the eyes because it has an ergonomic shape which helps keep your hand relaxed and stable. It also has a pointed tip that allows you to cleanly paint very small details.

Sanding Paper

Sand paper play a great role in making kits smoother and more presentable. You can use sand paper to correct uneven edges, rough surfaces and even alter the shape of some parts. The numbers you see are called “grit”. Grit determines the roughness of the sand paper. The lower the grit, the rougher it is.

The correct usage of sand paper is simple. You just start from lowest to highest. My common pattern is 400/600 >1000/1200 > 2000 / 2500. Tamiya Branded Abrasives are pricier so if you’re looking for good and cheaper alternatives, you can buy the generic ones found in certain hardware stores.

Glue and Epoxy

I use instant glue almost all the time because it bonds instantly and holds parts together well. I only use clear epoxy when working on clear resin parts. The problem with epoxy adhesives are you need to hold them still together for 2-3 minutes. Besides, if you happen to slip or move the parts with the adhesive not completely dry, they’ll leave a sticky mess that’s challenging to remove. I recommend using epoxy adhesives for large parts that you don’t need to hold manually. For smaller parts of the kit like hands, arms, head, etc, a few drops of instant glue should do the trick.

Masking Tape

Masking tapes are another integral tools in garage kit building. I use both Tamiya-branded masking tapes and generic ones to have both quality and affordability meet in the middle. Tamiya masking tapes are easy to apply, cut and they adhere to surfaces solidly, ensuring that there are no bleeds. You can’t easily get these results from generic masking tapes since they don’t really stick to surfaces that firmly.

What I do is I use the Tamiya tapes to mask the edges of the parts I need masking. If you need to mask a larger area, you can just use the generic masking tapes or even aluminum foil on top of the tamiya ones to save.

(Styro)Foam

You can use it as base shapes for dioramas or simply as drying stands. I prefer the foams that are used as insulation from refrigerators since they’re hard enough to hold what you stick in them in place – unlike your typical styrofoam. You can even get them for free if you ask your local junk shops since they’re not really using it at all.

Droppers, Shot Glasses, Aluminum Molds

These are primarily used in mixing paints. You can buy droppers from any drugstore, shot glasses and aluminum molds or anything similar in houseware shops or department stores. Try to get either aluminum or glass ones because they’re easy to clean. For droppers, you need to keep a lot of them. It’s recommended to use one dropper per paint color to prevent accidental mixups.

Bamboo Skewers, Coffee or Wooden Stirrers

Don’t confuse these with barbeque sticks. The bamboo skewers pictured above have round, pointed edges that you can use to carefully shape or apply putty in tight parts of the kits. The coffee and wooden stirrers are used to mix paint.

Airbrush

If you’re aiming for high quality finishes and lesser frustrations, you definitely need an airbrush. I’m using a generic double-action, gravity type airbrush. Basically I can control the flow of air by pushing and pulling back the trigger on top of the brush, which is important if you’re working on shading and stuff.

If you want to read more about airbrushes, you can just refer to this article or just ask our buddy, Google. Just remember, getting a good airbrush doesn’t make anybody a professional artist.

Air Compressor

To use an airbrush, you need a source of air. To get best results, you need a stable, steady source of air. That’s why even before I started my first kit, I opted to get an 1/4 horsepower Vespa air compressor with tank – the same compressor you’ll probably see in vulcanizing shops and auto repair shops.This ensures that I have a steady flow of air. You can attach various add-ons here like air regulators to control the PSI (pressure level) and moisture traps to prevent moisture or water from getting to your airbrush.

There are air compressors without tanks that constantly pump air but that means it needs to keep running to supply air to your airbrush. This is impractical and your air pressure won’t be that constant.

Other alternatives include CO2 tanks (which you can refill), air tanks, and air spray cans. These may seem cheaper alternatives at first but if you’re going to make garage kits as your regular hobby, you should get a compressor with tank. It’s costly but it will save you in the long run.

Magic Kettle (Paint disposal container)

No, I didn’t get the help of a genie to help me build my garage kits but this little mini-kettle is what I use for cleaning my airbrush. Basically, I just spray excess paint and thinner inside it. The fumes are released but the paint is captured inside where it safely dries up. Look ma, no mess!

Heat Gun

Beginner modellers won’t need this immediately but if you encounter kits with warped and deformed parts, the only way to fix them is by heating them up and reforming them yourself. A heat gun is basically a powered-up blower that can generate 400-600 degree celsius of hot air – enough to make plastics soft as bread fast and clean.

Mini-drill Electric/ Grinder

Ah yeah, this joke is getting and probably not easily understood by people that haven’t watched Ladies vs Butlers. Anyway…

This useful mini-power tool has replaceable grinder and drill bits which you can use to magically create holes or fix deformed parts. For example, if there’s uneven mold inside a kit’s skirt part, you need to remove the extra resin inside the skirt using this tool. You can’t possible do that quickly and efficiently by hand and sandpaper alone.

Painting Booth (or a sorry excuse for one)

Well since I paint in front of our sari-sari store where there’s lot of open space for paint fumes to get out and an endless stream of curious, annoying brats trying to get a peek, I need to make sure that no rogue paint stains gets out and mess the place up. I just tape up some cardboad boxes, put a lamplight beside it and an electric fan behind me and voila!, I have a (sorry excuse for a ) painting booth. It doesn’t have to look good, as long as it does it job.

Well that’s it. Sorry for not getting into too technical stuff regarding some items I presented; I just don’t want you to guys to skim through the pictures without reading what I’ve wasted 3 hours of my life on (j/k).Since it already took this long to list all the items, I’ll just feature workspaces from my fellow GK modelers next time.

Have a good one everyone!

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This entry was posted in Garage Kits and tagged , by vhayste. Bookmark the permalink.

About vhayste

Vhayste is a Filipino game walkthrough writer who's a fan of RPG games, shooters, strategy and adventure games. His works can be found on major gaming sites such as IGN, Supercheats, Gamefaqs, Neoseeker, etc. He is also an amateur garage kit modeler and a fond collector of PVC figures. He's into mechs (though he shied away from building gunplas), cars, fighter planes, history, astronomy, paleontology, general science, dogs, pasta, rootbeer and of course, chicks.

12 thoughts on “Garage Kits 101: The Tools of the Trade

  1. Oh, I think we both have the same compressor, though I only have basic airbrush. xD planning to buy a better model even though it’s kinda expensive. anyway this article is great! at least I know what materials I needed to start up on doing GKs. xD Thanks!

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