- Mr. Tompkins in Miniscale land 3: Tools
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Mr. Tompkins in Miniscaleland - chapter 3: Tools

Mr. Tompkins

If you were inspired by previous two chapters of my miniseries, you are probably sitting in your favorite place, plan scrutinized a hundred times is in front of you and not far away there is small hill of the best material a hobby shop can offer. I’m sure you feel that action is close and the material has to be transferred into the model using various tools. Following paragraphs will hopefully help you to avoid the mistakes I made.

The razor blade is the base for everything. It has to be new, hard and sharp as Death’s scythe. We must break the razor longitudinally into two halves, using just fingers, it’s not that hard (well, to be honest, ISim first explained the breaking method on the phone, but I made him break my first razor from pre-war stock). After treating the cutting wounds we take one half, and break it again (in the paper cover, or just small piece of paper), this time crosswise to get sharp cutting edge. If there is at least one functional finger remaining, we can start to do some model building. When it becomes dull we can break the razor crosswise again, as with break-away tips blade knife. Do it often, not like me, as the sharp blade is the base of happy modeler.

Pins. In Mr. Koutný book "Modely letadel s gumovým pohonem" one can find the whole chapter about pins. First it scared me a bit and I went to find the super pins – thin, thinner, sharp and perfect! I found nothing. So I’m using the ordinary pins you can get in any model shop. The thing is, that you can pin anything to anything anyway, as the spars and stringers are soooo thin that the pin hole would be to them as the iceberg hole to Titanic. Therefore the pins are stuck just next to the spar and serve more as movement limiters.

Grandfather of all hobby glues - Kanagom


Glue. ISim always wrings his hands when he sees me to use Kanagom directly from the tube only with the adapter, but so far I think it is sufficient. Lately I have heard that Kanagom is not what it used to be and there is L510 glue available instead. Dispersion glue is also useful, but the drying time is longer. (Karen's note: I think you are talking about white glue, or PVA glue because I looked it up on line, but either of those terms is more familiar to the American audience). Regarding modern glues CA can be used. As Adam Jenik states, its application is surprisingly simple, one can use syringe with 0.5 hypodermic needle. When the glue dries in the needle it can be singed with lighter. The most important disadvantage of CA is that once dried, the glued parts can not be easily separated, contrary to Kanagom. I tried CA when building Minilot peanut. I did not know the trick with syringe at the time, so I put the glue on using sharp bamboo rod. I transferred a tiny droplet of CA into glued parts. It went ok until the glue worked as it is supposed to work and bamboo got connected with model parts. I was hoping that I could rip the bamboo out. I could. So I threw away the model and returned to Kanagom, in spite that fact that ISim is always fainting when he sees me to use it directly from the tube.

Sand paper. It is useful to have very fine sand paper ready, even so fine that you would never think that it could be used for anything. As the dimensions of all the parts are soooo small, the quick sanding with “normal” sand paper corresponds to using rasp in common size models. So e.g. for sanding the varnished parts made of full balsa I use sand paper which is finer on the working side than on the back side, but still it somehow works. It reminds me a little of last Xmas, when I bought to my wife special mini milling cutter (the one which is removing fuzz balls from knitted sweaters). After unpacking the machine my wife immediately tested the machine and when I asked how it works she said that the sweater looks better but that she expected better results. After a while she discovered that there is transparent plastic protective cover hiding the blades so it could not work at all. . .

Work bench is the place you will be building your airplane on, I guess I should have started with that. Miniscale models have a great property – you can build it in living room without your family crying over the clouds of balsa dust. If you have at least a little space, you do not have to clean the room after your work is done, as the working place can be tiny, with work bench (board) made from battenboard. Mine is about 300x800mm. It is good to have it from not very hard wood, so the pins go easily in. When buying the board, be sure that it is flat and there are not too many nobs as those are usually too hard.

Steel ruler becomes handy when cutting long straight parts from balsa with razor blade. If you use plastic ruler, after a few attempts you will have a nice template for drawing the ploughed field. The razor cuts the plastic too easily. So far I cut all the stringers and spars without balsa-cutter, however both Felda and ISim were shaking their hands over the beer when I told them.

Among other tools I can think of apart from a big coffee mug is probably just a pair of tweezers. I used the one I stole from my dear wife from the set of handy home tools (as she is a doctor, sometimes I can find remarkable things at home). Tweezers must be long enough so that modeler can reach all required parts when a gynecological search inside the aeroplane is performed.

All previous tools are useful for airplane bones. However, the bones must be covered and for that we mainly need brush, small brush, tiny brush and mini-mini-tiny-brush. I found that brushes used by my kids are not very useful as the hair was too hard and made bruises on balsa and cover paper. So I’m using soft ones now. And be aware of falling hair as moulting brush equals catastrophe.

And at the end of this chapter we have quiz again. Which of following tools is necessary for miniscale modeler ?

Break-away tips knife Throwing knife Hobby knife and razor blade Saw for larger parts

A: Break-away tips knife

B: Throwing knife

C: Hobby knife and razor blade

D: Saw for larger parts

And the correct answer is....................... who knows?

Professors notes...

ISim's notes:

From the previous chapters you probably intuit that first Ruja had to clean his cellar workplace and remove the tools he used to build 2m wingspan Liberator into “Joiners tools” cabinet and add the tools a bit finer.

Razor - Ruja forgot important thing – it must be carbon razor (usual brands are Tiger, Tatra, Rapid). So if you ran into the drug store after reading Ruja’s first paragraph and tried to buy a shaving blade you are probably still trying to break it, you are holding a piece of crooked, very flexible steel and you are probably bleeding. You can use those shaving blades to cut a piece of finger, or spar with rhomboid cross-section, but for model purposes those blades are useless. Carbon blades are not common goods in drug stores and you might need to do some searching. Sometimes one can succeed in hobby shops. The razor blades must be packed, run away if they offer you blades from the plastic bag where blades are taking the edges from each other (I have seen that).

I would like to emphasize Ruja’s discovery that the blade must be sharp. A blunt razor bruises and rips the stringer resulting in ugly bone structure with redundant glue in places where the material was ripped off. During the covering also be prepared for frequent blade replacement. The finer the covering material, the shorter the life span of the blade – it starts to tear the paper instead of cutting. Looking at the trailing edge full of hangnails can ruin the look of an otherwise nice model.

Pins – as Ruja wrote, you can not stick the pin into 1x1 mm spar with impunity. Another aspect you will soon notice is that the hobby pin heads will hinder when working on a small space. Therefore when building miniscale (and especially peanuts and pistacios) the “fly pins” are often used – entomological pins of size "0", "00". When buying, get the silver ones, the black ones easily catch the glue and tear a piece of parts when being removed. Silver ones are more expensive but on the contrary to entomologists you will not leave the pins attached and use it over and over again. (Karen's note: I use silk pins from the sewing shop).

Allow me a quick note regarding entomology pins – these items can be easily ordered via internet. What you might note when searching is that Czech Republic is entomology-pins-empire. If you expect one producer you will be surprised. Another interesting thing I have found when searching for the pins was the manual describing beetle penis preservation – I could not resist showing that page to my wife so she knows that building miniscale models in the kitchen during the night is not the worst thing that could happen.

Suitable Not suitable

These pins are suitable for miniscale models

Pins not suitable for miniscale building

Glues – chapter also interesting. I personally prefer acetone based glues, however CA already found the place in my shell. Forget Kanagom, the content of the tube is not what it used to be. L510 is my choice, it smells like old Kanagom and glues well. I us the glue diluted in medical flask and apply the glue with brush of 000 size, bought in plastic models kit shop. The paint must be removed from the handle of the brush prior to using, otherwise one has colored everything around. The gluing technique is different for acetone based and CA glues, different people different tastes. When you glue your finger with CA to the 1x1 stringer on the fuselage, you will have to solve an interesting dilemma: how to break this involuntary marriage without physical destruction of the bride.

Dispersion glue (favourite one called Herkules), is necessary when laminating the wingtip arcs by gluing together very thin strips of balsa, that can be easily bent in required diameter. We will get to laminating later in more detail. You are probably not surprised by the fact that Herkules will be diluted...

Sand paper – one must make so called sanding block. Take a piece of balsa, 5-8mm thick (now you can utilize balsa which in spite of all the attention during selection and in spite of all advice in chapter 2 finally appeared to be unsuitable for building), cut a rectangle so it fits nicely in your hand (you will have to make more of these anyway) and glue sand paper on all the area. Forget the “tricks” with attaching the paper using four drawing pins. Use normal paper on one side and fine on the other. I would recommend the “waterproof” sand paper – the one for underwater sanding – it has better glue and does not loose the sand. I personally use Lux-Tool brand (brown) sold in OBI – I think its of higher quality than those normally available in drug stores. And why to use balsa block, why such a waste ? The reason is simple – when you will be sanding the fuselage of a peanut, weighting 0.9g and in the other hand will be holding the sanding block made of high quality beech tree wood weighting half kilo, the feeling you got is unforgettable.

As for the tweezers, I’m not sure from Ruja’s description what he does with it, however tweezers are absolutely necessary during the building as fingers extension. Hold the spar of 1x1mm cross-section, 8mm long, and put it to the proper place might be just too difficult to do with fingers. High quality tweezers are simply necessary.

Felda’s notes:

Miniscale modeling tools, that is topic for a number of chapters. To build one airplane you don’t need that many tools, but every modeler who steadfastly makes models gathers sequentially a set of special tools, templates and gadgets, he later can not imagine living without. The proper choice and quality makes the building easier and also influence the quality of the result – miniscale model.


What is necessary: work bench, cutting tools, pins, rulers, glues, brushes, sanding blocks, pliers.

What makes the work easier: balsa cutter, various weights, slide rule, needle tiles.

What might become handy: scales, Proxxon (Dremel), airbrush

As you can see, the financial requirements increase in each line, so the good approach is that to build first few simple models we only need the basic equipment and if this hobby becomes for us a good way to spend a free time, sequentially get more tools. It is not the question of money, many tools and templates can be made at home and it does not have to negatively influence its functionality, often it’s the other way round.

Simple balsa cutter made of MERKUR set for kids. Perfect for smaller spars from soft and medium balsa up to 3mm Balsa cutter made of steel profiles. Good for spars from hard balsa and balsa over 3mm Simple wire scale for weighting small parts up to about 3g

Simple balsa cutter

Steel profiles balsa cutter.

Simple wire scale

Final note:

We would like to thank Karen Climis (aka Mathgnome on SFA) for English proofreading and corrections.