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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Lately, I've had a couple people say to me...ME!... "I wish I could do that" referring to the stuff I've managed to mangle into something else or cobble together from junk into, well, a different looking bit of junk. They seem to think it odd, or I'm kidding, when I say, "You can!" ... I'm probably the exact wrong person to give anybody advise, I'm in awe of what so many of you guys do. There's an old saying (which dates back to the O vs HO debate and beyond) "As a watchmaker, I'm a pretty fair blacksmith.".... Anyhoo, enough blathering. I figured we could again use a thread JUST about basic tools and skills to help convince the new guys to come in and play. Comments and questions are always welcome...


Tools:
#1 - A hobby knife with FRESH blades. There I said it, the number one trade secret magic wand that we all use. Why sharp blades? Because there some things that an old blade WON'T do....and my dad beat into my head a long time ago that there's nothing more dangerous than a dull knife.. Sharp blades require less pressure, so the chances of slipping and cutting yourself are less. Dull blades might be OK for glue or putty spreaders or maybe wire strippers, but not for cutting on models.


#2 - A steel straight edge/ruler. It can be a scale one, or a hardware one. Personally I have two, one for measuring, and one for laying out. I'll use dividers to transfer a measurement. Handy if you have them, but not absolutely necessary.

#2a - A triangle and/or square, and a compass. You'll be laying out (drawing) a LOT of right angles, and some circles. Other stuff not as often. Swipe your kid's geometry book if you get stuck.


#3 - A razor saw, preferrably one with a mitre box, and an extra blade. Get a decent one, you're gonna wear this sucker out.


#4 - Glue - Here's where the experts often disagree. There are good choices and not so good choices, but rarely a "best and only" choice. I use Welder brand cement a LOT. I like it for the reason that it remains flexible, so I can undo my mistakes or change my mind. E-6000 is similar, but stinks a bit more. Others will tell you that you need plastic cement, wood glue, white glue, and one or two types of super glue to build, depending upon the materials. IMO Use whatever you are comfortable with that does the job.

#4a -Those old flat style wood toothpicks make pretty good glue applicators for small work (and occasional wedges or gap fillers, too....)


#5 - Alligator clips, file the teeth off, and you have dandy small clamps. Those medical clamps work well too, but weigh more.


#6 - Spot putty, this stuff can be your best friend, and will rescue you from some rather bad mistakes. For most jobs the cheaper automotive stuff seems to be as good as the Squadron brand. I use both.


#7 - Sandpaper, sheet, sponge, block, even emery boards 200 grit to 400 grit for most jobs, finer when you need an even smoother surface.


#8 - A nice flat hard work surface. On that note, lets face it, you're going to make a mess. Something like an acrylic cutting board that you can just pick up and carry all the useless bits to the trash makes sense, doesn't it? The kitchen table works, if you like bach-ing.... many significant others will quickly lose patience with you if you ruin the finish and/or get nicks, glue or paint on it.


#9 - Tweezers and small pliers. Small parts are often a pain. I find myself using those bent needlenose ones a LOT, they get your hand out of the way so you can see what you're doing.


#10 flush cutting nippers, OK you don't NEED these, you can do the job as well or better by other means, but they speed up the job, especially if you need to cut 500 coffee stirrers to length to make a fence, or similar.


#11 - magnifying glass, hand held or on a stand. Obvious as to why, I think.



#12 - a decent light source, not so bright it hurts or casts deep shadows, but you need to really be able to SEE. I use one of those student swing arm desk lamps, with a full spectrum bulb... nothing like having stuff you didn't see show up badly in flash pics, or broad daylight.


#13 - a sharp pencil or marker (both?)

#14 - A pin vise with an assortment of small bits. Power tools are fine, and make multiple tasks go faster, but sometimes there's just no substitute for turning the tool by hand.



Skills:
A - First, you need to be able to draw a STRAIGHT line between two points. This you'll be doing a LOT both on flat (easy) and curved (not quite as easy) surfaces... hint, a sheet of paper wrapped around the curved surface works most times. For curves, a template helps, I have both a template with various sized holes and something called a "french" curve, a funny shaped plastic thingie with just about any curve you can imagine. find a section that is close to what you need, and zip a line. We will leave compound curves for another day, you won't have to do many, anyway.


B - Measure, and transfer measurements. Nothing like making a part too small. Measure twice, cut once.


C- Cut to a line, or at least cut close to the line (oversized) and file to the line. You can often score (with a knife or saw) and snap (by bending near the line) straight lines on plastics. Other shapes or materials you'll have to actually cut the whole way through. Complex shapes, or holes in large pieces you can chain drill (drill a series of small holes around the perimeter) cut between the holes, then file to final size.


D - sand and file, This is where I sometimes get bored or in a hurry, but the better job you do the better the end result.

E- drill a hole, WHERE you want it, at the angle you want it, and the depth you want it.


F - glue, learning how much is just enough takes a bit of practice. I still use too much sometimes and have to scrape sticky blobs. Gluing in windows without at least ONE blob, string, or sticky fingerprint seems to be beyond me, though..... (We are ALL still learning, even the old masters, lol)


G- Tramming, that's where you use a piece of string to do nifty stuff like make sure things line up or are square. Sounds hard, or maybe silly, but it's dead simple, and it works. If you hold a piece of string tight it makes a straight line Up, down, sideways, crossways, the string doesn't care, Just sight along it and you got a straight line...and it's often easier to use than a bulky ruler. Now, if you stretch that same string diagonally across the corners of any structure one way, and then stretch it diagonally the other, and the lengths of the string are the same, then it's square (provided you made the opposite sides the same length, see B)


H - brush paint without too many blobs brush marks... I CAN"T use an airbrush, so I don't. even the guys who do airbrush still use brushes for detail work. I think I have about 5 different brushes of various sizes and shapes that I use regularly, depending on how big an area I have to cover. And since I'm a hacker. I'll let someone who can actually paint add his tips, lol.

I - Project management. Q: How do you eat an elephant? A: One bite at a time! Just pick a place and start! Breaking a huge complex project into small, easily managed steps is the key to not getting overwhelmed. Making multiple similar parts while you already have the materials and tools out saves time as well.


I think that's most of it.... The rest is just practice.
 

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Nice post Mik.

Here's a downloadable version of it if anyone's interested.

Tools of The Trade
File Format: PDF / File Size: 42KB
Left-click to open - Right-click to download
 

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Nice list.

Often I find that 2 hands aren't enough and that is compounded by needing to hold something to see it.
First thing I grab and put on my head is my pair of Optivisors, flips up when not needed and down when it is... more often is down than not.

Optivisors are dual lens magnifiers that are worn on your head and have a lens holder that is hinged, down when in use and flipped up when not, always ready, no trying to remember what it was that I was looking for, flip it down and continue....



No you can't get it for the price of a magnifying glass, but they do last a lifetime and cut way down on eyestrain. There are different lenses available as well so if your vision is changing you can still see better.

John
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
On the note of project management - Only YOU can determine the level of detail that you are happy with, just don't be so critical of your own first works that you quit before you even start. Like anything else there is a learning curve. The more projects you do, the better your skills get. Start with a few "throwaway" projects, tool shanties are always good, outhouses as well. Smallish projects that you won't have much tied up in if you REALLY make a mistake on it.

Also, along the same vein, decide what your TIME is worth to you. Say you want to build a bridge which has dozens of identical nuts and bolts, it's entirely up to you whether you spend many hours making these fiddly bits, buy the fiddly bits (an Ozark catalog is a handy thing, lol), or even leave them off - either entirely or just use them selectively to give an impression.

Last thought, and I say this a LOT..... DON'T be afraid to tear it apart. Simply pull/cut/pry the pieces off you aren't happy with and redo them. If it's a total wreck, then salvage the good bits, and start over. I do this ALL the time, I just usually don't advertise it.

(might want to add this to your PDF steve, lol)
 

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Posted By Mik on 03/22/2009 7:18 AM
Um, OK, thanks Steve, I think... did you fix all the typos first? I caught at least 5 this morning. Note to self; don't sleep and type, or you'll look like an idiot....
Mik

Why don't you take a look see and if there's any changes you'd like done let me know.
 

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my only beef w/dremel is the variable speed doesn't allow it to go super slow. When you're on the slowest speed, there's not enough amps to keep it turning once you "bite" into something.

Dremel is best for hi-speed applications


----


and YES, putties are great
 

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An excellent, well thought out list!
You can do most of your modeling with those items.
I just wish I had learned sooner about the “score and snap” properties of polystyrene plastic.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Just thought I'd bump this back up from the brink of oblivion as an aid for those who've taken the plunge and joined us since March.

Also 2 quick ideas:

1. For really distressed looking wood, try dragging an old hacksaw or coping saw blade sideways along the grain. If it's missing a couple teeth, even better! For finer grain, an old dull razor saw blade works well, just don't bend your best one ;)


2. Don't forget to check the discount dollhouse suppliers for things like doors, windows, brick and stone sheet, hinges, plastic plants, animals, etc. Sometimes they have a larger variety and better prices than the model train suppliers.What they call 1/2 inch scale is the same as 1:24, so it works with our stuff.
 

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Mik,

That is a great post. I'd like to add just a tad...

1) Hand tools require learning (time + effort + patience) to use effectively, sometimes moreso than power tools. (Home type). Small motor skills have to be developed, but you'll thank yourself.

2) Moreso than with power tools, buy good-to-excellent quality. My power tools are what they are, low-end, mostly. My hand tools are the best brands I know to exist: Diamalloy, X-acto, that high-end razor saw & miter box, tool bits/drill bits/taps and dies from known quality manufacturers like Greenlee. Chisels, gouges, etc, all best you can afford. Buy a good, but modest set of model-maker's gouges/chisels, but don't be afraid to take a cheap screwdriver to the grinder and make whatever shape you want, either. Buy the stone that's made to keep them sharp and learn how. Strop them when done. A good whetstone mounted on/in a wood block is your friend, not a paperweight. It is not a file or hand grinder, either. Use oil on it. 3-in-1 is fine.

3) You must learn to keep these tools sharp! And rust & crud-free. Would you eat today's meal with yesterday's fork?

4) Don't try working to small tolerances when you're tired, angry or frustrated. Clean up the ol' workbench or something until you get a grip.

5) It's difficult (for me, anyway) to try to work while being distracted by people, loud noises (that I don't expect) and other suchlike. I'm not at all hesitant to 'put a quiet' in the house when needs be. (With the kids gone, that's moot.)

6) If you happen to buy a high-priced tool and find you don't like it--perhaps it doesn't fit your hand well--get one you do, that's of a different shape. Handles are not mined out of mountains, it is very possible to make/alter 'em to suit a particular grip. Blades, you're mostly out of luck.

7) Lastly, for the rank beginner, don't go buy a top-of-the-line hand tool just because 'the experts' own them. Buy a middle-range priced tool and learn how to use it. Then replace it with a nicer one. In this context, do not buy the cheap small tools, either. You'll hurt and frustrate yourself.

8) Don't be hard on yourself when you screw up. Everybody does. So will you. One great satisfaction is, eventually you'll realize how rarely you do make a mistake, compartively. You'll have a sense of satisfaction with yourself that is priceless.

Les
 
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