Tips on Making Plastic Models

Written by john reinhart
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Tips on Making Plastic Models
Building plastic models is a fun and rewarding hobby. (Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

Building plastic model kits is both fun and challenging. Recent technological developments in the plastic moulding process, as well as in the plastic itself, have resulted in a whole range of modelling subjects previously not available in plastic kit form. No matter how simple or difficult the kit is, however, there are some basic steps that will help you get the very most out of the experience.

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Use the Proper Tools

You will need a sharp No. 11 hobby knife, such as an X-acto knife. Sandpaper and a small file will ensure that the parts fit together tightly. Tweezers or a pair of needle nose pliers can help you manage small parts. You will also need a good, strong light under which to work, especially if the kit has small parts.

About Model Paint

While many model kits come predecorated, there are some kits that will need at least some degree of painting. Model paints fall into two categories: enamel and acrylic. Enamels are oil based and require thinner to clean up. They can give you bright, glossy finishes. Acrylics are water based, and therefore easier to clean up and thin. Achieving a gloss finish is more difficult with acrylics. If your model requires a glossy finish, such as an automobile, you will want to use enamels. Otherwise, acrylic paints will be fine for your kit.

Wash the Kit First

Before you build your plastic model kit give it a bath in warm, soapy water to remove any mould-release oil that may still be on it. Dish soap will work just fine.

Paint the Interior Details First

Make sure to paint the interior details that will be visible from the outside, such as cockpit control panels and wheel wells, before you assemble the kit.

Follow the Instructions Carefully

Plastic model kits are designed to be built in a specific sequence, which is explained in the instructions. Read them thoroughly and follow them carefully.

Remove the Parts with Care

Plastic model parts are cast on long runners called sprues. Although kit designers try to minimise the size of the sprue where it connects to the part, be careful not to cut into the part when removing it from the sprue. Use your hobby knife to remove as much of the sprue remains as you can. Use the sandpaper and file to clean the part for assembly.

Use Cement Sparingly

Plastic cement works by momentarily melting the plastic. Using too much cement can cause the plastic in your model to sag. Follow the cement manufacturer's recommendations and apply just a thin bead to most parts. If you are using cyanoacrylic glue, marketed as Crazy Glue, Super Glue, etc., a small drop on most parts will suffice. If you must glue a long seam, the rule of thumb is one drop per inch.

A Note on Cyanoacrylic Glue

Don't use cyanoacrylic, or CA, glue on clear parts as it can cause them to "fog" and lose their transparency. CA glues have great tensile strength, which means that the parts are hard to pull apart, but very low tortional rigidity. Use a plastic cement if the parts you are gluing need to survive some degree of twisting.

Give Yourself Time

Finally, don't rush through your kit. Take your time and enjoy each phase of the construction. The end result will be a model you'll be proud to display.

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