The Tools of The Trade

by Loran

Hey there! My name is Sophie/Loran, whichever you prefer. I’ve been a Gundam fan since Gundam Wing first aired on Toonami, and have been building Gunpla since September 2000. I’ve effectively been a fan for half my life now. My favorite series is Turn A Gundam (obviously!), and I primarily build 1/144 scale kits from the Universal Century.

It takes a lot of tools to build a Gundam model. Sure, you can just slap it together right out of the package, but what if you want to make it look like it actually does on the package, or like those crazy professionally-built kits in those magazines? Well, here are the basic tools that can get you on the road to being a pro!

1. Wire cutters These are the single most important tool for building kits. These are the most effective way to remove parts from the runners. Just pulling the parts off with your bare hands is not a very good idea, as you risk the chance of breaking the parts.
2. Paintbrushes If you’re using Testors paint, these are some of the best ones to use. The medium-sized flat brushes are the best ones for covering large areas. You’ll also want some smaller brushes for covering smaller areas of the plastic.
3. Hobby knife Mainly a supplement for the wire cutters, these are primarily used to cut off the excess flash left behind when you cut the parts off the runners. They can also be used to re-scribe panel lining detail that gets obscured during the gluing process.
4. Paints There are many different brands and types of paints to use, and everyone has their preference. Acrylics are your best bet, and use enamels only for colors like gold, silver, and copper. My preference lies with Testors/Model Masters brand paints. They offer a very wide variety of colors and can be found at virtually any hobby shop. Expect a tutorial on mixing and thinning paints soon.
5. Glue Yes, while almost all modern kits are snap-together, gluing is still vital for making your kits look nice and smooth. I recommend Model Masters liquid cement-it has a precise metal applicator for getting the glue on cleanly and lasts a very long time. I’ve been using this one bottle for almost two years now and it still hasn’t run out!
6. Sanding films These are important for getting rid of the excess glue from the gluing process and to make your kit look nice and smooth. Start with the coarsest film in the set and work your way down to the finest. It’s a long and carpal tunnel-inducing process, but it’s worth it.
7. Clearcoat Use this to lock in your colors at the end of the painting process. Apply it lightly like a coat of spraypaint. I use the Model Masters lusterless (flat) because I like a nice, flat look on my kits. It can also be used to make glossy colors appear flat.
8. Tweezers A simple household item, they can be used to apply stickers and decals to your kits with more precision, and to keep any oil and dirt from your fingers from getting on them.
9. Putty A tool you rarely need for newer kits, this is mostly used to seal up gaps between parts. You probably won’t be using this much on newer kits because they tend to fit together fairly well.
10. Empty Paint Jars and Pipettes These tools are helpful for mixing custom colors. You want to use soft plastic pipettes for mixing, as they’re easier to clean. Paint will just stick to the inside of glass and hard plastic ones, which costs you a bit of paint. Testors offers sets of pipettes and empty jars, and Tamiya sells single jars for a pretty low price.
11. Fine-tipped ink pen Possibly the easiest way to do the panel lining on your models. I use the Sakura Micron .005 pen. These are easily found at Arts and Crafts stores. Be warned, however-they tend to be pricy (averaging about $3 a pen), run out quickly, and can bend if you are not careful. However, they look better and last longer than Sharpies, which I strongly advise against for panel lining.
12. Paint thinner Paints usually don’t come in the consistency you want them in. Thinner can be used to “water it down”, so to speak, to make it easier to work with. DO NOT USE WATER. I normally thin at a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio. The best thinner to use is Tamiya’s, which comes in a variety of sizes and is rather inexpensive.
13. Brush cleaner These are mostly intended for enamel paints but can work with acrylics as well. Warm water also works to keep brushes clean.
14. Acetone Nail Polish Remover Another household item turned into a useful hobby tool. This isn’t always used in the construction of kits, but more in the removal of paint. Be sure to distill it and just put some on a rag or paper towel to rub off the paint. Be careful not to use too much, as you may damage the plastic.

As you can see, making a kit takes more tools than it may seem. It may seem overwhelming at first, but trust me; it doesn’t seem as bad when you’re actually working on your project.Do you have any other tools that you use for building kits? Let us know!

-While Loran is definitely a better kit builder, Chris thinks he is funnier. Therefore he wrote the outro for this article!

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  1. taiki

    How do you remove the extra flash off the pieces? Everytime I use a hobby knife to clean up I wind up with a knife in my fingers. Or do I just have to be slow and careful?

  2. Loran

    taiki: That’s where the sanding and gluing comes in, if you plan on painting the kit, anyway. You’ll want to glue along the seams of the kit while assembling, then sand it away with the sanding files.