Building quality models takes practice. And like all creative things, the final result depends on your preparation. As Abraham Lincoln once said “If I had 8 hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six hours sharpening my axe”.
You might be excited to open a kit and get right down to it, but before you start cutting and gluing, here’s some great tips on getting your preparation right and setting yourself up for success.
Location. Pick the right spot for your workspace. You will need as much light as you can get (natural or artificial), and plenty of room to spread out. You’ll have tools, parts, paints, glues, brushes and much more that you’ll need close by, so make sure you have a good bench to work at.
Safety. This is a bigger issue than you might think. Hobby knives are scalpel-sharp and are prone to roll across (or off) your workbench. Paints, thinners and some glues all give off toxic fumes – some of which you can’t smell. Make sure your workspace is well ventilated, and if you’re painting (even with acrylics) always wear a mask. You can buy disposal painting masks at your local hardware store.
Scale. This is another important aspect. This site is mainly concerned with cars, so the question of scale is easy. There are far more kits available in 1:24 and 1:25 than any other, so if it’s variety you’re after, these are the scales for you. If you’re not so nimble with your hands, a larger scale like 1:12 or 1:16 might be better. The pieces are larger, but there is usually more detail in those scales (engine wiring, interior detail, etc). But if you’re short on space or if you like a challenge, 1:32 might be the scale for you. Remember that you don’t have to commit to just one scale. I have kits of all five of these scales I’ve mentioned.
Plan. Don’t just open a kit and start building. Unless you’ve built the exact same kit over and over, you really need to spend a few minutes checking the instructions and preparing for your build. Make sure you have the right tools, paints and glues beforehand so you don’t have to stop work to go back to the store. Most hobby stores will let you open a kit you’re about to buy so you can check what paints and other tools you may need to buy. Just be sure to ask before opening a kit. As you progress with your modelling, your planning process will evolve. You will become familiar with what aspects are important to YOU, and what things you can stop worrying about.
Practice. No matter how good you are at everything, remember that practice makes perfect. My favourite saying is that every kit I build is practice for the next one. You will learn something new with every single kit you build, whether that’s from a success or a failure. So don’t be afraid to fail, it usually means you’ve learned something! My biggest “practice” tip is to try to get your hands on some cheap, sacrificial kits. That way, when you need to use a new technique (like painting or modifications) you can try it out on a cheap kit rather than risk the actual kit you’re working on.
Time. Give yourself time to build a kit. I know it’s exciting to get your hands on a kit you love, but rushing the build will give you less than awesome results, and you’ll be disappointed in yourself. Try not to set a deadline for your build, just work through it at your own pace. Some kits will go together quickly and easily, others are more difficult and require patience. Plus, there’s always that one kit that seems like it just doesn’t want to be built, and will fight you all the way. If need be, pack up the kit, put it back on your shelf and leave it. I have some kits that have taken me years to finish, simply because I get frustrated after a few hours and need to leave it be.
Learn. Just like practice, you need to take some to time to learn new skills. There’s nothing wrong with building a kit “out of the box”, but eventually you’re going to want to include some more realistic touches. That could be wiring an engine, carpeting the interior, hinging doors and trunks, adding working lights or maybe something harder like lowering a car or changing the wheels. Use the internet (google, Facebook groups and forums) to learn how other people do what you want to do. Then, grab your sacrificial kit and give it a try.
Have fun. After all, this is the main point of any hobby, right? Whatever you’re doing, remind yourself that you’re in this hobby to enjoy yourself, so if something’s giving you grief, put it aside and take a break.