Editorial Comment Thought for the day... Tips and Techniques


So you want to learn to build models? Best learn the fundamentals, first...

Skill takes time to accumulate and though there is the odd genius out there that can create a masterpiece from the bat, they are most definitely the exception, not the rule…



Recently, there seems to have been some debate on just what are the basics when it comes to modelling and who decides on what should, or shouldn’t be learned, by the budding modeller. Well, let’s take a look.

Like anything in life, you have to learn the basic skills needed to build a simple kit before you move on to more complex projects. But of course, that’s obvious, isn’t it? You wouldn’t expect your child to enter infants school and expect them to complete algebraic equations, without first being able to recognise the individual numbers, would you? Of course not. And yet there is an assumption that when it comes to modelling, you just have to buy and kit and the tools du jour and you are off and running to your first masterpiece.

If only life was that simple.

The problem is that most people only see the completed model in the mind’s eye and have no comprehension of the journey it takes to get it there. And we, as Online correspondents, are partly to blame. The Internet instantly offers all manner of sites, forums and other portals, that show the enthusiastic amateur what is possible from modern kits; what it doesn’t show is the years of blood, sweat and tears that those modellers have gone through to build up the skills necessary, to complete the models that are often greeted with attaboys from anyone that sees them. Trust me when I say this: to make anything look easy, you first have to make everything look as difficult and demanding as possible! Skill takes time to accumulate and though there is the odd genius out there that can create a masterpiece from the bat, they are most definitely the exception, not the rule. To build great models (and that’s what we all strive to do, right?), you have to practice, practice and then practice some more.

Let’s be honest though, learning basic skills is soooo boring! Who wants to learn how to sand a seam down, when you can be weathering the crap out of your next model?! Well, no-one. But if you don’t, that next model that you’ve so valiantly painted, will be ruined by that nasty great seam that’s running down its fuselage and no amount of fancy paintwork, will hide the fact that you were too lazy to deal with it. And so on and so forth.

The basics are there to form the foundations on which you build models that fully create the illusion of reality. From simple construction, through alignment and onto the application of the paintwork and decals, each step is underpinned by the basic techniques that have been used for the last 50 years. Techniques in terms of finishing may have changed recently, but gluing the parts together, cleaning them up, aligning sub-assemblies, etc., have all remained the same. The materials used may have changed, but the techniques have not.


But more than that, what if you want to build a certain subject and you cannot buy that off the shelf, or the only way to do it, is to build an older kit – what do you do then? Do you think to yourself “well, that’s a bit beyond me, I’ll wait until Tamiya release one”, or do you think “well, I can do that” because you have the skills in place that are beyond only building the very best kits that need nothing more than snips, glue and paint, to complete. Having a back-catalogue of basic skills is not wasted, even if many of those skills remain unused day to day, because they open up projects that you may not consider and that will – and I’ll say this quietly – expand your enjoyment of the hobby! Yeah, yeah, I know – who the hell am I to tell anyone how to enjoy their hobby. I get it, I really do…


So here is a list – off the top of my head – of basic skills that you will need to master to be able to tackle most kits that you build. It’s by no means exhaustive, but maybe the next time that you fancy building the Airfix Vulcan and you wonder just how hard it can be, you’ll not think “no way” and instead think “okay”.


It’s a bit like learning to play drums without knowing the rudiments, or a guitarist without his scales

A list of basic skills…

How to remove parts from a runner.
How to glue those parts together neatly.
How to clean up the seams so that they don’t show.
How to apply paint accurately.
How to fix a canopy in place without EVER getting glue marks on it.
How to apply decals so that they don’t silver.
How to apply a smooth finish either free from brush marks, or by airbrushing, to create smooth finishes and tightly defined edges.
How to to apply clear flat, or gloss, coats.
How to align parts so that they are accurately positioned.
How to reproduce accurate colour shades and tones.
How to mask edges so that they reveal no evidence of bleed-through between the colours.
Knowing which paints are compatible – i.e. what will damage what, if applied over the top.
How to fix sub-assemblies together without damage to surrounding paintwork.
How long to leave each type of paint that you are using to dry, before handling.
How to decide of whether you can move on to aftermarket products.
How to remove etched parts from their runners.
How to fold etched parts.
How to use resin details.
How to remove and clean-up resin parts.
How to thin paint for airbrushing.
How to hold an airbrush to get the best results.
How to clean an airbrush.
Basic paintbrush care.
Which brushes to buy to allow the best paintwork to be created – sable or synthetic.
How to decide which tools you should have in the workshop.
Which knives should a modeller use?
Which is the best way to hold a knife when modelling, so that you don’t cut yourself?
When sanding seams and mould lines away, what are the best tools for the job?
How to use sanding sticks and files.
How to clean up tiny parts without damaging each one.
How to hold parts whilst painting them.

These are self-defining needs based on what modellers will need for almost every project that they start – and that’s before they ever begin to think about more complex ideas and techniques. It’s a bit like learning to play drums without knowing the rudiments, or a guitarist without his scales; eventually, you will will hit a roadblock and will simply not know how best to get past it without those basic building blocks in place…

I'm formerly the editor in charge of Military In Scale magazine and latterly, Model Airplane International. Editing duties to one side, I'm now a full-time modelmaker with Doolittle Media, working to supply modelling articles and material for a number of their group titles, including MAI and Tamiya Model Magazine International. I'm also an avid fan of Assassin's creed, Coventry City FC and when the mood takes me, a drummer of only passing skill. Here though, you'll find what I do best: build models and occassionally, write about them!

1 comment on “BACK TO BASICS

  1. Jon Bius

    Excellent read. It reminded me of some conversations I’ve had with a modeling friend. He’s told me he likes my airbrush work, and on several occasions he asked “how do you do you do that?” And I’d oblige with descriptions of paint thinning, air pressure, paint type, etc., etc. And then the next time I’d see him, he’d ask the same question.

    I finally told him all of these items- individually- were tools in a tool kit, basically. And without utilizing those tools regularly, maybe even making some mistakes initially, you won’t learn how to use them, or even any additional tools & skills that may be required. It takes all of these individual items, combined with applying them repeatedly over time, to build up skills and get results. And you’re never really *there*…. it’s a continual learning process.

    The next time I saw him, he ignored me, and asked another modeler “so how did you do that?” đŸ™‚


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