Cutting & Drilling
There are hobby knives and there are X-Acto’s. In this hobby, X-Acto is king. Unless you can’t get a hold of one or you really have to pinch that penny really tight, there’s no reason one shouldn’t have a good old regular X-Acto handle. They can be had for as little as $3, they’re comfortable and durable – buy a couple if you can afford it. There are really fancy-handled ones with rubberized grips and cool colors but they’re not necessary to do the job. Get’em only if you want to pay the price.
The only blade you’ll really need is the #11. This is the most common blade. Buy lots of these too for as sharp as they are they loose their edge very quickly while cutting/trimming metal and plastic. I purchase them in bulk 100 at a time. They may be a bit pricey up front but are cheaper in the long run. Other #’s and shapes can be had and are very handy for things like shaving and chiseling but only invest if you think you’ll need that.
I’ve seen the results of this tool a lot and Tommygun over at Warseer finally convinced me to pick one up. This is a specially designed compass that has it’s pencil or drawing tip replaced with a blade. It does take some time to get used to and the point and blade can be a bit fidgety. Even with all of that against it, if you ever cut more than 3 or 4 circles from cardstock it will be worth every penny. I’ll warn you ahead of time, you have to work slowly and carefully but the investment in time will pay off in very nice circles — which, honestly, always look impressive!
The picture at left is the one I own right now. It was about $5 on Ebay. After using it a number of times I think i will invest in a sturdier one made entirely of metal in the near future. Later on in my Advanced Techniques section I’ll post some tutorials on how to best use this tool, maybe I’ll even drop some videos – who knows?
There are two types of saws that can be a big help here. The razor saw and a jewelers saw.
Razor saws look a bit like a backsaw with very small teeth and come in various “tooths” or grades (coarse, fine, xtra fine) depending on the material you’re using it on. The X-Acto brand comes with a seperate handle so you can swap blades dependent on your need.
The jewelers saw looks like a miniature keyhole saw and is best for getting into tight spots the razor saw can’t get into.
Another very handy tool to have on hand if you plan on cutting any kind of tubing or channel is a mitre. X-acto makes on that comes with a special deep edged saw blade. WARNING: If you purchase mitre separately from the saw blade, make sure your saw blade is deep enough. Most standard razor saws aren’t as deep as most mitres so you’ll never be able to cut all the way through your part.
PIN VISE AND BITS
Also known as a twist drill, a pin vise is a miniature hand drill that uses very tiny bits. It’s usually a handle with a swiveling end that rotates as you twist the other end with your fingers. There are many types out there at varying costs so look around, pick one up and see how it feels. Get something that feels good in your hand. I have one with a large wooden ball at the end that nestles comfortably in the palm of my hand, relieving me of the “hole in the hand” symptom that can be caused by ones with smaller ends.
If you can afford it, getting multiple pin vices can be a bonus. Many modelers use the pin vice as a kind of clamp, holding the model or part so you can paint all around it. I’ll show you more on that later.
This is a tool that you’ll want to have multiple bits for, if you can get them cheap enough. These bits can be very, very small and the slightest tweak at the wrong angle can snap these delicate twists of metal in a heart beat. After X-Acto blades, these are the second most replaced tool item on my bench.
This is where I say “don’t buy brand name bits like X-Acto or Dremel.” Why not? Here’s where we go outside our particular hobby and pirate the supplies from another industry at a better price. Both X-Acto and Dremel sell bit sets with multiple bits (10-20) with a price range of $20-$40. With some sleuthing around one can save a lot of money in the quest for bits.
What we’re looking for are tool supply stores, more specifically, tool warehouses that buy up large lots of tools and tool supplies and sell them at what basically amounts to tool thrift stores. The quality of the tools and supplies may not be the best (or even close) but they usually have something we need. Boxes of bulk bits – cheap.
Here’s why they’re so cheap: They purchase used and broken bits from factories and the like. These bits are then ground down and recut to a shorter length but same size bit. Their overhead is reduced since the metal is recycled and all they’re doing is grinding them down to shorter lengths, they don’t have to make the bits first.
The metal itself is usually not carbon/tempered/titaniumized steel but for what we need, it works. And if it breaks? We put in another cheap bit. I picked up 3 boxes of these bits 10 years ago for $5 a box with I think 20 bits per box, I still have over half of them left. Twenty five cents a piece is pretty good compared to the brand names at $1 – $1.50 each. That leaves us with more money for models!
DREMEL TOOL or ROTARY TOOL/CUTTER
I’ve had a Dremel tool for as long as I can remember. Anyone being even semi-serious about this hobby should purchase one of these with a few bits. This makes the repetitive tasks a breeze (like boring out 30 Shoota barrels) and can be used for some other cool things that I’ll cover later in the advanced techniques section. I mainly use drill and grinding bits for my modeling and converting.
There are options available when it comes to picking a tool like this. The most important feature to look for is variable speed. Depending on the material your drilling/cutting/grinding on, you’ll need slower speeds so you don’t melt/burn your figure. CAUTION! Faster speeds will melt plastic. They will also heat up pewter incredibly fast and that heat transfers almost instantly to your fingers! Be extra careful when using these tools on your models.
Fit and comfort is the next thing to look for. Go to the big chain hardware stores (Lowes, Home Depot, etc.) and try one out. They usually have a display where they’re unpackaged but chained down. Pick’em up. Pretend your working on a very small piece of metal in your other hand. Get one that feels good in your hand and won’t fatigue your wrist.
In recent years, smaller palm sized version have shown up with rechargeable batteries, severing the AC umbilical cord. If you can afford it, get one. I still lumber along with my AC version. See, even us grizzled modeling vets can use an update sometimes!