We were all snapbuilders once, but, we are beginners only once.
Year in and year out, this hobby of ours get a lot more people who are getting into the hobby than people getting out of it, as such, the same questions we asked back when we are newbies are now being asked by the younglings, or at least, not so younglings, who are first getting their feet wet into Gunpla, or scale modeling in general. Truth of the matter is, there is no age limit or requirement for this hobby, so it’s quite amusing when certain young ones chide older modelers about their age. You can’t teach old dogs new tricks, but old dogs do have hobbies. Some people have started young and have grown into the hobby, others start way later.
I remember the first time I got myself a Gunpla; it was an HG Wing Gundam. That time, all I had as a tool was that flimsy, black metal cutter that was part of a Tamiya 4x4 tool set. I got it when I was collecting Tamiya 4WD racers. That cutter was made of soft metal, it was dull after its first year of use with nothing more than cutting runners of Tamiya 4WD kits, but I didn’t really care back then. When I used it for my first Gunpla, or to say more aptly, my first 4 HG Wing kits, it was a good enough tool.
I still had and used that tool when restarted collecting in 2007 when I got hooked with 00 and got me the fab four. But, it was not until I started doing modifications and customs did I find my tools, or lack thereof, uh, lacking.
So, I started doing research. Tamiya had a couple of high-end cutters, but, at the time, it felt too expensive for me. After a little digging and happenstance, I found a nifty and cheap side cutter in the form of a generic tool: The Alexan Side Cutter.
|Not godhand, but good enough.|
It was made of sturdy stuff that it could cut through most anything, even thin-gauge wires, so, using it to cut through 3-mm thick gates and beams was almost too easy. It took a long while to get dull, and it does get dull over time, so I decided to get a couple more as back-up.
But I started to make a lot more complex custom builds, and I felt I need better tools. I then got me the Tamiya round head and the Tamiya slim head, at different times. I lost those two cutters along with several other tools, including my two Tamiya pin vises, drill bits and (sigh) my iPad when I left and lost my backpack in the back of a cab while going home with groceries. I didn’t forget the groceries, but I forgot my backpack with all my stuff.
Anyway, to make a long story short, I had to reinvest on new tools a few times, either because they got lost, or, they got too worn down to use effectively. Nowadays, I often have two of everything, just for flexibility, and if I lose or misplace one.
Now, seeing that the same questions pop up here and there, then and again, here are the needed tools based on level:
Level 1: Basic (Snapbuilding)
- Side Cutters - Branded cutters range from affordable (Mineshima, Tamiya, Wave) to expensive (Meng, godhand, Platz). There are <unbranded> side cutters that are entry level cheap, like the trusty Alexan Side Cutter.
- Modeling/Art Knife - X-Acto comes to mind, which is actually more about the blades itself than the shaft. There are cheap blades and shafts, but, it’s best to invest on metal shafts for their durability. The drawback, though is that if you do use a knife to cut away stupid, stubborn nubs, you can potentially damage the surface of the plastic you’re cutting. So use this tool selectively, sparingly and carefully.
- Utility Knife / Plastic Cutter - You wouldn’t want to waste your art knife blade’s sharpness cutting thick sheets of plastic, so, you use a utility knife (retractable, with snap-off blades) instead.
- Tweezers - for laying down those nasty, ugly stickers and dry-transfers you just have to use to put detail on your work, especially in older kits, and later on, when you decide to up your game with water slide decals.
- Plastic Tubs - I’ve seen a lot of people lament about the dreaded black hole when they cut rather smallish parts from runners, and like a live fish, flies off in to the vast nothingness of space, or at least your room. When this happens, that part is damn nearly impossible to find. Having reusable, microwaveable tubs is a handy solution; simply aim the part you are cutting down into the tub, and it will catch said part. It’s also worthwhile to line the bottom of the tub with a few sheets of tissue or toilet paper to prevent those parts from bouncing off (it can happen).
Aside from those tubs, you can use ice cream containers as well.
Level 2: Intermediate (Snapbuilding)
You’ll need everything in L1 plus:
- Sandpaper / Sanding Blocks / Sanding Sticks - of various grits. I find that having 600, 800, 1000, 1200, 1500 and 2000 grit and up are the best combination if you plan to go beyond simple nub cleanup, because a cutter or a knife, no matter how sharp, just won’t cut it (pun intended) when it comes to nub removal. You can make your own sanding blocks and sticks by attaching a sheet of sandpaper onto a firm foam block or popsicle sticks respectively, if buying expensive, pre-made ones does not appeal to you.
- Files - for nasty, bumpy nubs that would take a long time to sand, having micro or diamond files is handy. You’ll need this to make quick work of stubborn nubs, and flattening cemented edges of seams, modified parts and scratchbuilds.
- Pens and Markers - If you’re like me you’ll outgrow these implements rather quick. I used to detail panel lines and small parts with pens and markers (I have even used a 0.1 technical pen), and for the very basic builder, these are the <go to> tools.
Level 3A: Advanced (Customs/Modifications/Scratchbuilding)
You’ll need everything from L1 and L2 plus:
- Pin-Vise - one of the more important tools you’ll need if to plan to get more than your feet wet. The <best> pin-vise around is the Tamiya Fine Pin-Vise D, which has a pair of reversible bit holders and can accommodate bits from 0.1mm to 3.2mm, but there are other branded as well as cheap generic ones.
- Clamps and Vises - You’ll need these if you have to secure sections or parts you’ve cemented or <sandwiched> together. In most cases, double-clips of various sizes would suffice.
- Saws - Yup. You heard it right. Saws. You’ll need a hobby saw for general cutting, especially thick plastics. You’ll also need thin etching saws (some of which also double as scribing tools) when you need to make precise cuts, say like cutting a whole MG Sinanju and Sinanju Stein in half and slap them back together with a mirror in between them.
It’s the next best thing to a *lazer* sword.
- Scribing Tools - You can easily use dull/blunted and shipped knife blades and retrofit them as scribers, or you can sharpen those micro-screwdrivers and turn them into makeshift chisels (see photo above). But, if you have reached this point, you’ll realize that those might not be enough, so, invest on better tools, like actual modeling chisels. At this point, you probably also have a job that pays well enough for tools.
- Router / Mini Drill - This tool is very handy when you need to cut something quick, or when sculpting something into shape. With various bits and heads you can also mount a polishing head for a quick polishing job.
- Materials - When doing customs, you’ll need more than just tools. You’ll be needing a lot more of these materials the more wet you get. PlaPlates (is a brand of PolyStyrene sheets made by Tamiya) and is the base term of pla-plating, which means cutting pieces of PS sheets and arranging them in a nice layout to enhance your Gunpla’s overall look. There are other brands of PS Sheets, like Evergreen and also some generic ones, but, everyone seems to call them Plaplates regardless. It’s like Xerox is to photocopying, or Colgate is to toothpaste.
Aside from Plaplates, you’ll also need beams of various thickness or diameter, especially when you start to scratchbuild a lot more than just a small part. You’ll probably need putty for some of the things you can’t do with plaplates, especially rounded and curved parts.
- Adhesives - when you do modifications and scratchbuilding, you’ll need something to stick things together. Whereas the first instinct of most is - when you do modifications and scratchbuilding, you’ll need something to stick things together. Whereas the first instinct of most is superglue (aka, cyanoacrylate, or resin glue, which you should have nevertheless), the best adhesive for the job is (aka, cyanoacrylate, or resin glue, which you should have nevertheless), the best adhesive for the job is plastic cement. You should have both regular and extra thin cement for various purposes.
Level 3B: Advanced (Painting)
- Paints - Obviously. There are Hobby Grade paints, such as Tamiya, Mr Color Citadel, Vallejo and quite recently, Armored Komodo (which is now available in North America). You can experiment on other paint brands, but these are so far tried and tested to work best on Gunpla. Personally, I use Vallejo paints mostly for detailing because it’s designed for handbrushing detail. I have started using Armored Komodo quite recently.
- Various Brushes - for handpainting, you’ll need plenty of various-sized brushes for detailing mostly.
- Airbrush - ah, yes. The airbrush. I have a couple of them buggers, and a compressor to boot, but I’ve been using a handheld mini-compressor AB for minor spray work to complement,
- Spray Cans - rattlecans, as others call it. Personally, aside from handbrushing detail, I mostly use Bosny cans as my go to paint choice (see photo above). They are basically affordable, easily accessible and convenient for people like me.
- Masking Tapes - When you start painting, you’ll need to shield those pegs and joints so they don’t get painted on, which results in getting them stuck together during dry fit, and later on, breaking. Joints most especially need to be masked properly, but I do a shortcut by priming painting joint frame parts already assembled. Masking also allows you to put paint details via layer masks, like decal-type details and camouflage patterns.
- Miscellaneous - Alligator clips, painting sticks, painting stands, buckets, tubs (for parts and clippings), metal rulers, compass, triangle, protractor, magnets, etc. All the things you will eventually think of needing later.