Whether you like reliving your childhood or enjoy the challenge of assembling things, scale modeling is a fun way to pass the time. If you're interested in getting into this popular pastime but don't know where to start, you've come to the right place. In this guide to model building, we'll show you how to build your first scale model from start to finish — from choosing your first kit to putting the final touches on your model.
How to Select a Model Kit
When picking out your first model kit, consider factors like your experience, your interests and the size of the model you'd like to build. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Choose an Appropriate Skill Level
Building a model kit is meant to be an enjoyable activity, so pick a model kit that corresponds to your skill level. If you're building your first model, try model building kits for beginners. This will make your experience more fun than picking a more challenging one.
Each model kit indicates how challenging it is by displaying a "Skill Level," which ranges from 1 to 5. Skill Level 1 model kits are the easiest to build.
You may also want to seek guidance from other modelers online in forums, online articles, or even YouTube to see what supplies can help you build your model kits.
When building your kit, keep in mind that it doesn't need to perfect or even complete. If you want, you don't have to paint it — just focus on getting the parts to fit well and fill any gaps. This alone will build your confidence and knowledge, two valuable skills for scale modelers.
Pick What You Really Like
Whether it's a plane, train or space ship, you should pick a model that truly interests you. Creating model kits takes a few hours to finish, so it should be something you are interested in or would like to learn more about.
Research Your Model
After picking your perfect model kit, do some research on your model. Look over photos of the real thing to familiarize yourself with all the details. Visit forums where experienced modelers share model building tips and are glad to speak with beginners and help them throughout their builds.
Decide on a Scale
Pick a scale you're happy with. Popular scales for model kits include 1:8, 1:12, 1:16, 1:24, 1:32, 1:48, and 1:72. The smaller the second number, the closer the model is to the real thing in size. Model car kits, for example, are often a 1:24 scale.
Modelers with more experience tend to choose large-scale models as they show more details and allow them more freedom to add their own flourishes. Beginners, on the other hand, often find small-scale models to be more enjoyable because they take less time to complete. If you're a beginner and want to take on a larger model, know that these tend to be geared toward modelers with more experience. If you want to take on the challenge, make sure to follow the instructions closely.
Keep in mind that the larger the scale, the more space you'll likely need to display your model. One advantage of smaller models is that you can display them almost anywhere.
What Supplies Do You Need for a Model Kit?
Just as a builder wouldn't build a house without hammers, drills or tape measures, you shouldn't begin building a model kit unless you have the tools needed for the job. While you don't have to buy every tool right from the start, getting a few basic model building supplies will make your experience easier and more fun.
The Model Kit
When building a model, the most obvious item you need to buy is the model kit. Model kits feature all the parts needed to assemble the model, which are usually attached to a framework called a sprue. When you want to use a piece attached to the sprue, simply cut it off.
There are model kits that depict all sorts of subjects, ranging from vehicles to animals to comic book characters. At Auto World Store, we have a wide assortment of products, so you'll have no trouble finding a model that matches your interests. Some of our popular categories include:
Before you learn how to glue a model kit, you must first find the right glue for your project. Liquid cement is an excellent choice for many applications, but several other options are available, each of which is suitable for certain types of models:
- Polyvinyl acetate (PVA): Polyvinyl acetate, also called PVA, is a popular glue commonly used for landscaping or building dioramas, where you can easily spread over a bigger surface. Although its hold isn't as strong as clear adhesives, PVA is affordable, easy to use and good for adding fine details like stones or grass. Also, if you make a mistake, you can remove it quickly.
- Aliphatic glue: Aliphatic glue, which is also called wood glue or carpenter's glue, shares some similarities with PVA but is better at soaking into joints, which results in stronger bonds. This glue type also sets faster and is more resistant to sand and water. As its name suggests, it is well suited for bonding components made of wood.
- Canopy glue: Canopy glue is great at bonding plastic components together. This glue is also easy to use and has a transparent finish, which means there won't be any unattractive white marks on your model once the glue has dried. Although it doesn't form a particularly strong bond, it's a useful tool when building smaller models.
- Cyanoacrylate (CA): Commonly referred to as super glue, cyanoacrylate or CA is extremely popular in the model making world. It's particularly useful when bonding metal components or metal and plastic components. Keep in mind that it sets very quickly, so you should take care when you line up the parts so you won't have to deal with a tough fix later on. It should also not come into contact with your skin, as it is also effective at bonding fingers together.
- Epoxy resin: This glue consists of two parts — an adhesive and a hardener — and binds practically any two kinds of surfaces together. You must mix it before using it, and it generally takes longer to dry than cyanoacrylate, although faster mixes are available. While applying epoxy resin results in an extremely strong bond, it is considerably less popular for building model kits, primarily due to the required mixing, the time it takes to harden and the mess it tends to make.
Tweezers are the perfect tool for positioning small parts. Although one pair will generally suffice, many types of tweezers are available, including flat or pointed ends and lockable or spring-loaded, so it's not a bad idea to have a collection of different types.
While many models these days come already painted, if the model you choose doesn't, or you want to make your own color modifications, you will need several different brush types, ranging from fine point brushes to soft, wide brushes.
Modelers typically use one of two types of paint for model kits: acrylic- and oil-based, each of which may be preferable in different situations:
- Acrylic-based paint: The most common paint for model kits, acrylic-based paints typically achieve the best results. This paint type is made by mixing color pigments with acrylic polymers, which is then emulsified with water, creating the final product.
- Oil-based paint: Oil-based paints were the most common type of paint for model kits until acrylic paints began to offer a similar performance. They combine pigment with linseed oil or other dry oil, and when you apply these paints, the drying oil undergoes a reaction with the air, and the result is a hard, durable finish. This hard finish, along with the paint's ability to bind to practically any surface, is why some people prefer to use oil-based paint. Some disadvantages of oil-based paint are that it takes a long time to dry and turpentine is required for the cleanup.
Tape is great for marking out paint areas or panel lines, holding together loose parts or holding glued components still. The types of tape that tend to work best are masking, electrical and transparent.
A hobby knife is extremely useful for scribing panel lines, applying filler, cutting out decals, removing parts from sprues and any other situation where you have to scrape or cut pieces from your model. However, a hobby knife isn't too useful if it isn't sharp, so make sure that you have several extra fresh blades on hand for when the one you're using gets blunt.
A cutting mat will protect your surfaces from marks and damage caused by sharp cutting tools. Self-healing cutting mats are particularly useful, as they are made from material fibers that allow sharp edges to slip between them. However, if your blade is dull, it won't slip between the fibers, which is another reason to always work with a sharp blade.
9 Model Building Tips for Beginners
So, you've found the perfect model kit and acquired all the necessary tools. But before you begin, read these scale modeling tips and techniques to make your building experience as enjoyable as possible.
1. Prepare Your Workstation
If you're new to model building, you first need to decide where your workstation will be, which can be anywhere with a flat surface and enough lighting. However, we recommend places like garages, office rooms, sheds and attics, as you can turn these into workstations more easily than, say, a bedroom or living room.
Once you've picked a spot, find a surface that's big enough to accommodate the scale of the model you want to build. Garage workbenches and computer desks are great options, but if you're handy, you might be able to build yourself your own workstation.
Once you have your workstation, you want to make sure it is well lit, as poor lighting can lead to poor assembly and painting, and it's also bad for your eyes. While it's good to have regular overhead lighting and lots of natural light, you'll want to get a moveable, retractable desk lamp, which will let you spotlight when you want to focus on fine details.
Some other accessories you may want to add to your workstation include:
- A vice: This is useful for holding bigger pieces in place.
- Paper towel holder: This makes it easy to access paper quickly for painting or cleaning up messes.
- Wall hooks: These are handy for holding your rags.
- Stackable containers: These can hold brushes, paints, tools, glues and various other things.
2. Carefully Read the Instructions
While you may not feel like perusing an entire instruction booklet and would rather get started on your build, we strongly encourage you to read the instructions — and read them carefully. This will help you understand how all pieces of the model go together before you start your assembly. We also encourage you to examine each component on the sprues before detaching them. For instance, some parts tend to look very similar to one another, or there may be several of the same part. For this reason, it is important to compare the pieces with the instruction book's illustrations.
Once you start the build, you should continue to follow the instructions closely. One mistake beginners commonly make is jumping ahead to find out later that some pieces don't fit. Remember that the instructions exist to make your building experience more enjoyable and ensure all pieces go together properly. As your confidence and experience grow, you'll have a better feel for the pieces and building sequences, which may allow you to get away with merely skimming the instructions.
3. Stir Your Paint
It's best to stir your paints before using them, as it will allow the contents of the paint to mix together. To do this, stir the paint for roughly one minute with a plastic stick, small wooden spatula or toothpick. Once you begin to paint, make sure to keep the can's edge clean by wiping it with a cloth. This will ensure you can firmly put the lid back on later.
4. Practice Before Applying to Your Model
Before you paint your model kit for the first time, we recommend practicing on another surface first. Plastic cutlery is excellent for practice, although you can also practice on the interior side of the parts — that is, the areas that won't be seen once you've assembled everything together.
5. Test the Fit Before You Glue
It is also important to test how accurately a part fits before you glue it to your model kit. A part may have some plastic residue that makes it difficult to fit. In this case, you will want to remove this residue with a file or knife until it fits perfectly.
6. Be Patient
While building model kits is fun, it's also a skill, and becoming a master model builder can take time. So when you're starting, remember to take things slowly. Take a break between each stage, and figure out how you want to handle the steps that lie ahead.
7. Make Sure You Have Good Ventilation When Painting or Gluing
When building model kits, you use many glues and paints, so your workstation should be well ventilated. Opening a window in the room will help improve ventilation, and placing a fan in the window will help even more.
If you're working in a room with no windows, then keep your door open and open windows in other parts of the house. This will allow fresh air to drift into your house, which will eventually circulate into your room.
Once you have your door propped open, find all the fans you can. Box fans are ideal for getting air to start flowing, but if you don't have fans this big, use the ones you have.
Position your first fan on the inside of your doorway and have it point into your room. Position the other fan inside your doorway as well, but direct it to blow air out of the room. With this configuration, the fans should be effective at removing stale air from your room.
8. Cut Off the Parts
When separating the parts from their sprue, you may be tempted to break them off. However, this can damage parts, especially if they're small. Instead, simply cut them off with a knife or side cutter. We recommend that you do this on a cutting mat as it will protect the surface below it and keep the blade of your knife sharper.
9. The Internet Is Your Friend
If you're confused about a step and the instruction manual isn't helping, don't despair. The internet has an abundance of resources, including forums and videos, to assist the budding model kit builder. Just search for the model type you're building or the technique you're attempting, and it will yield various videos, ranging from specific detailing to full builds.
When you're on the home stretch of your scale modeling journey, you should still keep several things in mind before you proudly display your hard work.
Keep All Small Parts and Tools in a Sealable Plastic Bag
Regardless of the size of your model, you'll be dealing with lots of tiny pieces you can't afford to lose. To this end, we recommend keeping a sealable plastic bag or a clean, empty container to store any tiny parts. You don't want to build the majority of your model only to find out that some small pieces have gone missing.
Once you've finished your model kit, you can keep it in its pristine condition by placing it inside a display case. This keeps it from collecting dust over time and prevents it from getting damaged if something bumps into it. When shopping for a display case, you'll notice that most packages indicate the scale that will fit best.
Practice Good Storage Habits
When stepping away from your build, don't leave all your tools lying around on your workstation. Make sure your model, tools and spare parts are secure and out of the reach of children and pets.
Remember That Your First Model Kit Is Usually the Hardest
Finally, we'd like to reiterate one of the most important tips for scale modelers: model kit building takes skill, so don't expect everything to go perfectly the first time. But when you make mistakes, you'll learn from them, and if you keep at it, before long, you'll be making models as beautiful as the ones you see on the package box.
Finding Your Next Model
When you finish your first model — once you've finished admiring it and showing it off to family and friends — you'll probably be eager to move on to your next project. When choosing another model kit, choose one at the same skill level or perhaps one level up. For example, if your first model kit was a Skill Level 1, you could try your hand at a Skill Level 2. Or choose another Skill Level 1 model kit that you like. As long as you're having fun!
Build the Model Kit of Your Dreams
At Auto World Store, we offer model kits in various types, sizes, colors, shapes and skill levels. Whether you want to build a battle tank or your favorite superhero, you'll find something that interests you in our vast collection. If you have any questions about our products, feel free to reach out to us using our contact form.