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Building your first kit

Building your first plastic kit (or your 51st)
 
Building a plastic kit is fun and with a few tips, you can end up with a very nice model. Taking on board these tips will help you along the way, whether building your first kit or your 51st. Often the instructions give you a few tips too!
 
If you are in a hurry and haven’t built a kit before or it’s been a long time, have a look at these 9 points first. You may want to read the rest after.
 
  • Choose a suitable kit for your skill level.
  • Read the instructions carefully before you build it.
  • Identify the correct part before you cut it from the sprue.
  • Cut parts close to the sprue first, then trim or file excess plastic nibs from part.
  • Dry fit each part first and check the fit. Trim or file to fit if needed.
  • When gluing clear parts, aircraft canopies, windscreens, headlamp and tail lamp glass use white craft glue NOT the solvent cement.
  • Scrape chrome plating or paint from the surfaces to be glued. Glue will not stick to plated or painted surfaces.
  • Use good quality glues made for plastic kits, not CA super glues. Glues with an applicator make it easy to put glue where you want it to go, squeeze tubes go everywhere.
  • Use paints made for styrene kits.
We recommend that you choose your workspace, gather some tools and consumables and get started. When you have got these organized have a look at some more of the tips and recommendations below. Happy modelling! 
 
Choose a workspace
Find a suitable table or bench where you can work without too many interruptions or distractions. A comfortable chair or stool is a must and good lighting and ventilation is essential. Great if your workspace does not need to be cleared away each time as parts can get lost and models damaged. Often the best workspace is the kitchen table.
 
Gather some tools
A small number of modelling tools are essential and will make building much easier, quicker and give a better result. However you don’t need them all at once and you can easily add to them as you go.
 
Here is a list of basic modelling tools and what they do.
  • light duty modeller’s knife – cutting parts from runners, trimming parts to fit, scraping away plating and cutting decals. It has a very sharp blade that can be replaced, keeping it sharp. Also has a cover to keep you safe.
  • sprue cutters – cuts thicker runners or sprues away from the part. You then use your modelling knife to safely remove the part.
  • mill saw file – fine cut file with one safe edge (plain edge with no teeth). Good for removing flash or nibs from parts. Use to file parts to help them fit and to shape parts.
  • tweezers – fat fingers just won’t do! Great for holding very small parts and putting parts into position where fingers won’t go.
  • self healing cutting mat – ideal cutting surface where the knife won’t slip.
  • wooden clothes pegs (spring type) – great clamps and holders for small parts.
Don’t forget consumables
  • plastic glue - made for styrene plastic kits such as Revell Contacta, Testors Liquid cement. Plastruct or Humbrol Poly.
  • craft glue - white glue for clear parts (Aquadhere).
  • wood toothpicks and skewers – good for applying small amounts of glue and for holding small parts.  
  • wet & dry abrasive papers – 400, 600, 800 1000 grit are useful for sanding, either wet or dry. A pencil rubber of the right size makes a great sanding block.
  • paint and thinners – choose paints especially made for plastic kits such as Humbrol, Tamiya, Floquil or Steam Era. Use their recommended thinner too!
  • brushes – a small number of different size brushes for painting and to apply liquid cements such as Testors or Plastruct. 
  • plastic putty – sometimes you have to fill holes and gaps
  • decal softener – we use Mr Mark Softer for getting decals to sit down into the paint. It really does work. See Modelling Tips à Applying Water Slide Decals.
  • Blue-tack – helps hold things when gluing, painting and dry fitting.
Plan your build
 
When you open your kit, look at the instructions (don’t be shy, they are the things that show you how to build it). Note the order of how it is put together. Sure you may not follow it exactly but just be careful as some parts must be assembled in a particular order.
 
Some parts you will need to let the glue dry first before they can be added to, so work out some other areas that you can go on with. Planning here means you will always have something to work on.
 
Match part numbers with the instructions before you remove them from the runners. Check that all parts are there and are not cracked or broken or poorly moulded.
 
Write notes on the instruction sheets to help you. Write in paint colours, assembly order, differences in LH & RH parts, upper & lower parts or inner & outer, what ever helps you with the build.
 
Identify parts that can be glued together as assemblies and then painted. This is easier than painting them individually. Other parts can be painted while still on the runners so they won’t get lost. Glue a scrap piece of runner to parts that are too small or are too awkward to hold, to make a handle for painting or fitting.
 
Painting? Never, before, during or after?
 
Yes, to all these. You don’t have to paint your model, but they look better if you do. Some models are best painted before assembly, some parts are best painted during assembly and some after you have put it all together. You will work it out when you look at the instructions and plan your build. See Modelling Tips -> Painting Your Model
 
Before you glue
 
From the instructions
  • check that the part number matches the part. Drawings sometimes get it wrong or are viewed from different angles. Don’t guess.
  • make certain the parts to be glued are the right parts. Sometimes parts look right and fit but are not correct. For example, the wide inner rim on the rear wheel may fit the outer rim of the front wheel, but leaves a gap when fitted with the narrower front tyre. Spare wheels may have different hubs to those fitted on the front and rear axles.
  • make sure the part is the right way round. Cylinder heads, manifolds, wings, rudders and propellers can often fit both ways. Look at the illustrations, box photos, a photo of the real thing or the real thing (most of us have a full size F111, Panzer tank or Spitfire MKIIX in the backyard). Mark correct orientation with masking tape, pencil or a marker so you get it right when you glue it.
Dry fitting parts
  • Dry fit each part before you glue. Check how each part fits. Locating pins, locating holes, tabs and slots or special keyways sometimes don’t match up well. Pins can be too tight or too long, parts may not line up properly or there are gaps down one or more sides.
  • Fix these simply by drilling out locating holes, shorten or cut off locating pins, file locating tabs or slots. Make new pins or new tabs from Evergreen styrene rod or strip or use brass rod glued with CA as pins. These are all ways you can improve the fit of parts. You may have to use putty or filler pieces too!
  • Check the fit and alignment of other parts. Bulkheads that fit to one half of a hull or fuselage need to line up correctly otherwise the other half will not fit properly. You can file or trim these parts to get the correct fit. Or sometimes you can just leave them out. (that’s how you get spares).
  • broken, missing or poorly moulded parts or parts that are over scale, lack detail or are inaccurate can be replaced. You can make new or better, more accurate parts using brass rod or strip, styrene shapes or photo etch (brass etch) parts. You can add parts made from resin castings or parts built from scratch. 
  • Never be afraid of making changes to correct the kit to get it right!!!
Gluing parts
  • Plastic glues, Revell Contacta, Testors Liquid cement, Plastruct, Humbrol Poly are solvent based glues. They work by melting the plastic surfaces to be joined and make a strong weld or bond when the solvents dry (evaporate). You need only a small amount of glue applied with a toothpick, nozzle or a small brush. Often you use a small amount on one surface only and gently work the two parts together until they hold. They dry fairly quickly but still give time to adjust the position of parts.  
  • Solvent glues won’t work if the surface to be joined is painted or is plated with chrome, brass or aluminium finish. Scrape, file or sand away paint or plating from the surfaces to be glued.
  • One glue wont do it all so when gluing different materials like metal or wood to the plastic use a quality CA glue like Zap (thin or medium). I’m not a fan of using CA for plastic to plastic parts; however it is handy for difficult joints or small delicate parts.
  • Clear parts require special care. Use a white craft glue or Clearfix as these both dry clear. Use these glues for windscreens, canopies, headlights and tail lights, any part that needs to be clear. Solvents in other glues including CA fog up the clear parts and turn them milky white. Not real good if you want your model pilots and drivers to see.
Advanced modelling tools
 
As you gain experience and confidence with your building, you may want to add some more tools to your kit. Some we keep, some we don’t.
  • metal scale ruler – marked in scales 1:24 1:32 1:35 1:48 1:72 1:76 1:87 1:148 1:160 and others. Lets you easily measure the correct size in your scale for making and modifying custom parts. Scratch builders and kit bashers love them. 
  • glass plate – dead flat surface for checking heights, cutting masking tape strips, checking that models are flat or that all wheels touch.
  • Scriber & try square – for marking out and getting square corners. Good for marking accurate hole positions.
  • Needle files – small files in various shapes help you get into corners, file out slots and keyways and for small general filing jobs.
  • Pin vise and drills – if you want to drill holes smaller than 2.5mm then you need a set of special drills and a pin vise to hold them. The pin vise is hand held as many of the drills will break if you use a power drill or Dremel. We have them as sets and as single drill bits.
  • thread taps – joining parts may be best with threaded bolts or screws. Styrene will drill and tap and will hold a thread, better than with a self tapper.
  • vernier calliper – essential if you want to measure heights, depths, thickness and diameters. You don’t have to be able to read them as they are a still useful gauge to check like parts.
  • height gauge – toolmakers use these to check heights and scribe lines. If you want to check the height on both sides and mark a line at the right height this is ideal.
  • razor saw & mitre box – if you want to cut square, straight cuts or 45 degree angles. Thin blade on razor saw has stiff back for straight cuts, removes little material when cutting.
  • small clamps – you can’t stand there all day waiting for glue to dry. Helps put light pressure on parts while gluing.
  • Dremel – hand held small power tool for grinding, cutting, shaping, drilling & polishing. 240V or cordless, your choice. Lots of attachments help you model.