Modeling Tools: The Weird Stuff

There was a time that my wife had to go to some very sneaky lengths to get me into a craft store. The thought of perusing those aisles full of wooden blocks, yarn, chalk, fake flowers, and various and sundry other trinkets was viewed about like dousing myself in honey and then rolling around in ants. Ants covered in glass.

Carrying tiny flame throwers.

Yeah, I didn’t like them.

Then a funny thing happened. I got back into scale modeling. And in a trip with my wife to a craft store (which she tricked me into!), I made an important discovery.

There was some darn useful stuff in there for the scale modeler.

And as time progressed, I realized other places held hidden treasure – the kitchen store, the cake baking store, any “dollar store”. In fact, every store visit became an almost insatiable pursuit to find anything and everything that could be used for scale modeling purposes.

Some products are more obvious in their use. But others required a little thinking, looking at them a bit different. Of course, I can’t say any of them were unique “discoveries” on my part. Many I’d heard other modelers talk about. And the few that I thought up on my own were so painfully obvious that I knew I could not be the only one to think of this. (And time has proved that to be true… despite what mama told me, I ain’t all that special! 😉 )

So here’s a list of some of my favorite “non-modeling” model products that you may find interesting. Plus, it gives me a blog entry for the middle of the week. 😀

The More Obvious Ones

Cotton Buds – A must have for any modeler. They’re great for getting moisture out from under decals, wiping away various panel washes, paint application, and even cleaning your ears. 

Toothpicks (Cocktail sticks) – These things are like the Swiss Army Knife of modeling. I’ve used them to move decals around on a model, to mount parts on for painting, cleaning a clogged airbrush nozzle, removing sanding dust from panel lines, applying tiny paint dots/super glue/other liquids, cleaning paint from canopies, removing masking from clear parts, and so much more I can’t even recall it all. I’ve literally gone through thousands of these.

Toothbrush – Make sure this is NOT your wife’s toothbrush or there will be shouting. It’s great for cleaning off sanding dust, lightly scuffing surfaces, scrubbing parts to clean them off, and in a pinch can make a handy back-scratcher.

Tweezers – Well, they hold stuff. Tiny stuff. And they are GREAT at sending small photoetch parts flying off into space at incredible velocity. (Also known as “tweezerpulting”.)

Birthday Candles – These are handy to have around to quickly melt sprue for stretching. They can also be used to celebrate that dang F-105 that’s been in the works for nearly a year now when it reaches its first birthday. {sigh}

Mechanical Pencils– An awesome way to get some very precise panel lining. Also great for making chips and scuff marks in high wear areas on any model. And of course you can write with them too.

Alligator clips/various clamps – Another multi use item. Great for mounting parts on for priming and painting, or for holding parts together while glue sets. And you can never have enough – there’s always a different size that is needed. (And don’t forget clothes pins!)

Eraser Templates – cheap and easy to find at most hobby stores, these work well as scribing templates

Some Not So Obvious (To An Outsider)

Future Floor Polish (Also known as Kleer, Pledge, and probably 97 other names) –  If toothpicks are the Swiss Army Knife of this list, Future is the whole Swiss Army. When I tell non-modelers I use it, they give me the oddest looks. But its uses are astounding – gloss coat, photetch part adhesive, paint thinner, temporary canopy glue, dipping clear parts, creating glazes, decal setting solution, creating glass effects, and who knows what else. I’ve even heard rumor it can be used on floors, of all things.

Hair Spray – While purpose made chipping fluids are becoming more widely available and popular, the use of old fashioned cheap hairspray is still a very simple way to create chipping and streaking effects. And it’s 80’s Hair Band approved!

Nail Polish Remover – I use this stuff quite often to smooth out and clean up various modeling putty, especially Tamiya Basic Putty. Slap the putty on to an area, use a cotton bud soaked in nail polish remover, and very quickly you have everything smooth and shapely with little sanding required. (I use the acetone based stuff.)

Baby Powder – Mix this with super glue and you have a great gap filling paste that will not shrink.

Wine Corks – I’d never thought of using these until I started painting small figures. They make an excellent way to mount figures for easy holding while painting. (Works great in conjunction with toothpicks!)

Calligraphy Pens – These can be an excellent substitute for panel line washes. Apply over a good gloss coat, wipe away the excess, perfect panel lines every time. And finer tipped versions are great for picking out details on instrument panels, etc.

Florist Foam – Combined with your alligator clips, there are a must have for holding up those parts mounted for priming and painting. (A must for Gunpla!)

Kitchen Cutlery Trays – Stand these up on their sides, and they make great paint shelves. Check the size though! Some paint bottles work better than others.

But Wait! There’s More!

A few weeks ago, I posted a question on my Facebook page (you have “liked” it, haven’t you?), asking modelers what they used, Here are just a few of the items that were posted there:

Niki – Wall filler for terrain and basing as well as roofing slate and beach sand.

Ghoti SG – I used clear Nail Varnish to tighten loose moving joints on some of my Gunpla.

Stewart – Wedge shaped dense foam makeup sponges. They can be used to dab on paint for highlighting or mottle camouflage.

Brad – Dental tools for sculpting, Post-It Notes for masking.

Ben – Plastic spoons for testing paints/ techniques.

Mark – Toothpaste for camouflage masking. (Plus it leaves your models minty fresh!)

Brian – Yoghurt pot foil lids, clear celluloid packaging

From a “special” acquaintance– For masking, slices of Spam. 😉

And So Much More

Suffice to say that when one enters into the world of scale modeling, everything the eye sees is evaluated for some form of use in the hobby. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that there are likely as many odd product uses as there are modelers. I’ve yet to meet anyone who has been in the hobby for long who doesn’t offer some tidbit that, if not useful, is in the very least entertaining.

I suppose the greatest difficulty is finding space to store all of these items. Of course, there are plenty of storage options at the craft store. Now where’s my 40% off coupon when I need it?

Do you have your own unique product usage? Contribute them in the comments below!


6 responses to “Modeling Tools: The Weird Stuff”

  1. Real men don’t use nail polish remover. They buy cans of acetone at the hardware store, instead. Ook, ook, ook!


  2. I can’t use wine corks because the wine I drink comes with a twist-off cap…..


  3. Pollycell Fine Surface filler is excellent for dioramas. It’s ready mixed so all you need to do is mix it to a smooth, creamy consistency and then spread over the area. Used it for fake plaster/render effects etc but could use for other stuff too. Can smooth it out with a bit of water on an artists pallet knife (another useful tool for you!) and once part dry can be scribed if required. Easy to paint over and drys rock hard but easy to sand too.


    1. That sounds pretty handy!


  4. Miniature scenery company (and others) make great desk equipment and paint holders. Also good to use as a basic template for what you can create


    1. Cool! Good to know.


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