Tools for Building Models

Tools & Supplies for Building Models

All model kits have a few things in common: tools, paints, and assembly skills being among them. 

What I want to give you here is a quick list of the items on my hobby desk. 

If you don’t have them or you’re buying a gift for someone without these things, it might help you make a decision on what to get next.

Below is a list of what I’ll be covering here. Keep in mind that, depending on the models you like, you won’t need every single item on the list.

Some will be necessary, some are optional, and some won’t apply to you until you’re ready to branch out with different types of models.

So, don’t feel overwhelmed by the following list; just build up your tool collection as you progress and don’t forget to have fun as you learn!

Just click on the ones you’re most interested in to jump directly to that section, or enjoy reading the entire thing to get excited about your next model building adventure.

In a hurry? Here’s a quick glance at the absolute basics you’ll need to complete most entry-level models.

So, those four items will be enough to get you started, but keep in mind that they are the bare minimum.

You’ll definitely want to grow your collection from there, but that will give you a fairly good starting point. Now, let’s jump right in and get you fully immersed in the world of scale modeling.

Safety Gear

Working on models isn’t too inherently dangerous, but you’ll often be exposed to fumes when painting and small dust particles when sanding, and you never know when a tiny piece of your project may become a projectile missile when you’re cutting, so it’s best to protect yourself.


Gloves are a given to protect your hands from the various chemicals when priming, thinning, painting, etc. 

Nitrile gloves are my personal favorite. Vinyl gloves or latex will work too; I’ve just found the nitrile to be the most comfortable and most durable.

Wostar Nitrile Disposable Exam Gloves Medium...

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Ordinary dust masks, like what you might use when cutting the grass or cleaning out the attic, will not be enough to protect your lungs when painting, airbrushing, sanding, or any other task that produces harmful fine particles. 

I’ve used this 3M Reusable Respirator for quite a while and have no complaints. It’s comfortable to wear, fully adjustable, and doesn’t block my vision at all.

The open/close quick latch makes it super fast to raise or lower on the face, and best of all, I don’t feel as if I’m suffocating when wearing it. Highly recommended!

3M Rugged Comfort Quick Latch Half Facepiece...

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Eye Protection

Your vision is too important to not protect. Goggles don’t need to be too fancy or even top of the line.

Look for a pair that offers sufficient protection, can be worn over glasses, are anti-fog, and can be worn while using the respirator.

This set meets all of the above criteria and is quite a bargain considering you get three pairs.

Safety Glasses Goggles Over Eyeglasses Anti Fog...

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Basic Tool Kit

For any beginner, this should be your first stop. You’ll need all these tools at some point, and this kit is extensive and practical.

Rustark 21Pcs Modeler Basic Tools Craft Set Hobby...

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Basic Paint Kit

Another must-have, although it’s highly dependent on what model you are painting… this kit is the most versatile.

Vallejo is high quality and great value. Great colors, and they mix really well with each other if you like creating custom shades.

Vallejo Basic USA Acrylic Colors Paint Set, 17ml,...

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Get yourself one nice sable brush. I recommend a size 2 with a sharp tip like this Raphael 8404.

Raphael Kolinsky Sable - Fine Point Round - Size 2

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Inexpensive, Synthetic Brushes

These all-purpose brushes are so versatile and come in a great range of sizes and shapes.

They’re perfect for all kinds of painting, regardless of what type of model you happen to working on and whether you’re using acrylic, oil, or lacquer paints.

Soucolor Acrylic Paint Brushes Set, 20Pcs Round...

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Work Desk

Obviously, you need some kind of workstation to store supplies and have ample room to work on your models.

If you already have a nice tool bench, then you’re all set. If not, know that the kitchen or dining room table is not a long-term solution. 

I mainly work inside, and this simple yet stylish desk is what I use. I’m very pleased with how it blends with the interior decor yet allows me to enjoy all my hobbies. 

Tribesigns Modern Simple Style Computer Desk PC...

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You, however, may want to go with one with shelves or drawers or perhaps something a little more industrial looking.

For a totally customizable option this work bench kit is about as ideal as you’re going to get. 

You need to supply the lumber, but with the heavy-duty brackets, you can make your bench as large or small as you like.

Add as many shelves as you want, paint it, stain it, throw some pegboard on the back to hold more tools, you get the idea.

Nice enough to go inside your home  or a fantastic addition to your garage. This kit is awesome.

2x4basics 90164MI Custom Work Bench and Shelving...

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Lights & Magnification

Something else that’s often overlooked by beginners is a good lamp and something to magnify your work.

This Brightech lamp takes care of both and is something I use each and every time I hobby. 

The included clip secures the lamp to your work surface so you never have to worry about the lamp crashing down into your model, even when you extend the neck horizontally.

Great little lamp to help with detailed work!

Brightech LightView Pro Flex 2 in 1 Magnifying...

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For bright, clear, broad lighting, my favorite by far of all the different models I’ve tried is the Phive LED Task Lamp.

I love the broad coverage, clean light, and the sleek look that adds a bit of style to my desk. 

What’s great about this lamp is that while the light is soft without any glaring harshness, it still brightly illuminates my entire workspace.

You’ll need a separate magnifier, as this is just a light, but it’s a light you’ll be glad to have.

PHIVE LED Task Lamp, 20 Watt Super Bright Desk...

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Another fantastic lighting option is the Globe Electric Clamp Lamp. It’s smaller than the Phive but perfect for focused, bright light.

Both the shade and swing arm are fully adjustable and stay where you put them, and the lamp accepts any standard bulb, so it really is fully customizable for your needs. 

The C-clamp mounts easily to your desk, or you can move it around and even use it to mount the lamp so it shines directly into your spray booth when painting.

All-around great light, one that I highly recommend.

Globe Electric 56963 32' Multi-Joint Desk Lamp...

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If you’re already set as far as lighting is concerned, you’ll just need a really good magnifier, one that won’t mess too much with your depth perception.

Of course with models, hands-free versions are really the only way to go. 

A lot of modelers use a simple stand magnifier. Ram-Pro Helping Hands is a really nice, affordable option.

The two alligator clips are great for holding tiny parts steady while you work. The heavy-duty cast iron base provides stability, and the lens and clips are fully adjustable. 

The lens provides 4x magnification, but there are no additional lenses included, so functionality is somewhat limited here.

Still a great tool to have, especially if you deal with a lot of small pieces routinely.

Ram-Pro Helping Hands Magnifier Glass Stand with...

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Personally, I like the visor-style magnifiers a bit more because of the additional versatility.

For example, if I’m working on a piece that’s already in place on a large model, I can position myself directly in front of the component I’m glueing or painting, whereas this would be impossible with a stand magnifier.

Yoctosun Head Mount Magnifier is comfortable to wear due to the forehead padding, is lightweight, features an adjustable LED light, and comes with five different lenses ranging from 1x to 3.5x. 

You can allow the arms to rest behind your ears or use the included adjustable headband to guarantee that it stays in place while you work.

Various magnification intensities wherever you need it, and perfect for all kinds of modeling work!

YOCTOSUN Head Mount Magnifier with 2 Led...

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Additional Paints

Hobbyists today have a dizzying amount of options when it comes to paint for their models. It really comes down to personal preference.

You can’t go wrong with a good-quality acrylic, but experiment with an enamel or two, and you might be pleasantly surprised.


Vallejo, the maker of the basic paint set above, is pretty hard to beat and is used extensively by modelers everywhere, but there are a lot of other fantastic acrylic paints too. 

I’m a big fan of Citadel paints myself, even though they come in pots rather than dropper bottles. Great colors, consistent results, and super affordable.

Hobby Model Choose-Your-Own Paint Set (Air Paints...

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Mission Models is another fantastic option. They offer a huge assortment of colors and various finishes. Works great in airbrushes too.


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While acrylics are overwhelmingly more popular, enamels still have a place in the modeling world.

They are more durable than acrylics, less prone to showing brush strokes, dry to a nice, hard finish, and give good, consistent coverage and depth of color. 

Note that enamels will perform much better, show greater detail, and dry faster when thinned, and if you use an airbrush, thinning is not negotiable. 

Testors makes a great quality line of enamel paints in a wide range of colors.

Those who like automobile and military models will find these to be just right as far as color and consistency are concerned.

Testors 9146XT Promotional Enamel Paint Set(...

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Revell is a huge name among modelers, and their paints are exceptional. Just look at the colors in this military paint set. Perfect for planes, tanks, trucks, and army figures.

Revell Enamels 14ml 32340 Military Colour Paint...

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For durability and extreme shine, lacquer paint is hard to beat, though it isn’t appropriate for all models.

Lacquers are generally used for model cars, aircraft, and remote control models when the crafter desires a beautiful gloss without sacrificing toughness.

Tamiya TS series lacquer is often said to be the best of the best and is available in many colors.

It cures quickly, is great for covering large areas, and is compatible with both acrylics and enamels, which means that you can use this as your main color and then go back and detail with whatever other paints you have available.

Tamiya Spray Lacquer TS-15 Blue - 100ml Spray Can...

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Testors also has high-quality lacquer spray paints that are dry in under half an hour and give a lustrous, metallic gloss finish. You may even be able to skip the top coat!

Durable and resistant to chips and peeling, Testors is always an excellent choice.

TESTOR 1830MT 3 oz Diamond Gloss Lacquer Spray...

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It can be really easy to get bogged down in all the primer options available today.

Some folks use a material-specific primer, but I don’t want to have dozens of primer cans cluttering up my workspace. 

That’s why my hands-down favorite primer is Stynylrez.

It works equally well on plastic, wood, or metal, sprays on like a dream, provides excellent coverage, and clings to the model perfectly – every time.

I don’t even need to thin when using it in my airbrush. It’s just all-around fantastic.

Badger Air-Brush Co. SNR-410 Stynylrez, 3 Piece...

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You’ll probably hear recommendations for Vallejo primer as you interact with other modelers on forums or in hobby shops.

Vallejo does indeed make excellent primers, though they may require thinning in an airbrush; I just happen to like Stynylrez’s performance more.

Vallejo White Primer Acrylic Polyurethane, 60ml

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If you’re not the best with a brush yet and haven’t got around to investing in an airbrush, Rust-Oleum Spray Primers are a perfectly valid option.

Just practice spraying a bit before actually trying it on your model.

Rust-Oleum 331182 Painter's Touch 2X Ultra Cover...

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Now, all of the above primers are acrylics. If you prefer to go with an enamel primer, I’d say go with Testors. Quality product. Made in the U.S.A. Great for use on metal models.

Flat Gray Spray Primer Testors

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Tip: Remember to wash your model thoroughly with dish soap, go over it carefully with sandpaper, and then clean it up again before priming.


Thinners are used to reduce a paint’s viscosity, or thickness, and to make the paint flow more easily through an airbrush or spread better when manually brushing.

Thinner paint will show more of the model’s fine details and will dry a lot faster too. Just better results overall.

For Acrylics

If you’re using Tamiya acrylic paints, you’ll want to stick with Tamiya thinner. Period. For other acrylics, you can use water to thin your paint until you get the right consistency.

Personally, I prefer to use Vallejo’s Thinner Medium. It provides a nice, smooth flow without diluting the color too much, as water can.

Vallejo Thinner Medium, 17 ml

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Liquitex is what’s known as a flow improver or flow aid.

Like thinners, Liquitex reduces the paint’s viscosity, by breaking the water tension and reducing friction among the paint particles, allowing for a smoother, more efficient application. Awesome stuff! I use it all the time.

Liquitex Professional Effects Medium, 118ml...

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For Enamels

Because enamels are oil-based paints, using water to thin them isn’t going to work.

You’ll want to use a paint thinner made specifically for oil paints, mineral spirits, or turpentine to thin your enamels.

Note that these thinners are also ideal for cleaning your brushes after each painting session.

Sunnyside Paint Thinner, Cleaner and Degreaser,...

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For Lacquers

Most of the lacquers used by modelers are of the spray can variety, but if you choose to use another lacquer paint, you can easily thin it with either a lacquer thinner or acetone.

Note that lacquer thinners are even more volatile and hazardous, so absolutely no skimping on safety gear!

Klean-Strip Green QML170 Klean-Strip, 32 Fl Oz...

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Top Coat

Applying a clear coat on your completed model allows you to achieve two things: a protective layer and control of the finished appearance in terms of shine. 

Clear coats are available as acrylics, enamels, and lacquers, but your safest bet is to go with an acrylic clear coat.

It’s easy to work with, can be applied over any type of paint, and provides a durable finish. The enamels and lacquers may result in a more durable finish, but they are trickier to apply.

4636 Flat Clear Acrylic FM02015 1 oz

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Note that you’ll want to thin the top coat before use and apply several very thin layers, allowing for complete drying between each layer.

Tip: Try adhering decals after the first layer of clear coat has been applied and dried properly. Then, add another layer of clear coat to seal the decals to the model.

Stains & Finishes

Obviously, stains are only applicable to wooden models, such as certain architectural kits, model ships, and landscape features for model railroads.

Generally, any well-known, basic stain, like Minwax, and a good-quality polyurethane finish can be used wherever you wish to enhance the wood’s beauty and maintain an authentic appearance. 

Some may argue that polyurethane may yellow or form small cracks in the finish, but I’ve never experienced either of these problems.

Note that it’s common to need to both paint and stain on wooden models – double the fun!

Also know that in some instances it’s better to stain individual pieces before assembly to eliminate the chance that glue seepage will cause certain areas to be unstainable.

Tip: You can use a water-based finish over an oil-based stain and vice versa as long as the stain has been allowed to dry for at least 72 hours before finish is applied.

The stain I’d recommend, in whatever shade you like:

1/2 pt Minwax 22150 Red Oak Wood Finish Oil-Based...

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And the finish:

Minwax Helmsman Water Based Spar Urethane, Quart,...

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A popular alternative to the polyurethane is tung oil, and the results often speak for themselves.

Tung oil is absorbed slightly by the wood, giving it a depth and richness, before it hardens to a protective, all-natural finish.

100% Pure Tung Oil Finish Wood Stain & Natural...

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Depending on your model and choice of finish, you might want to add additional protection and a high-gloss sheen. For this, you’ll find that a wax polish is just right. 

Renaissance Wax Polish is an excellent choice for both quality and protection.

Your model’s surface will be protected from dust, fingerprints, accidental spills, you name it. Just apply a thin layer, and polish to your desired shine.

Renaissance Wax Polish 65ml

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Painting Accessories

Paint Mixers

You can use a little plastic cup or glass jar (be sure to label it just for paints) and a cheap brush to mix paints, but you run the risk of incorporating tiny little air bubbles into that new shade you just created.

Don’t get me wrong, this method gets the job done; you just need to mix slowly and carefully.

Or, you could treat yourself to a paint mixer, like this LabGenius Mini Vortex. I love mine. It gets used every time I hobby and that justifies it for me!

It really mixes the paint well and does it fast. It also eliminates the need to put any agitators into the paint bottles.

All you need to do is add your paints to a test tube (any size will do) or a narrow bottle, insert it into the machine, and watch as the vortex shaking motion blends your paints perfectly.

Trust me, you’ll look forward to mixing paints with this little guy at your disposal.

LabGenius MI0101001 Mini-Vortex Mixer,...

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Paint Shakers and Agitators

You may find that over time sediment settles in the bottom of your paint bottles.

Manually shaking the bottles will help reincorporate the heavy pigments and make the paint uniform in color and consistency again, but shaking multiple bottles that haven’t been used in some time can get old really quickly.

This is where the beauty of shakers and agitators comes in. In addition to stirring up paints that have settled, both shakers and agitators can be used when mixing separate colors as well.

Simply use an empty paint bottle to combine the colors and then rely on the shaker or agitators to blend the colors together.

Shaker: Robart Paint Shaker

I recommend this particular shaker for several reasons. It’s reasonably priced, and it shakes the paint bottles at a rate of 5,000 shakes per minute, which is plenty more than I could do by hand. 

It’s also really easy to use. Just strap down a bottle (¼ ounce to 2 ounce size), and turn it on. In about 30 seconds to a minute, you’re good to go.

For the occasional remixing job, this shaker will definitely work. 

If you’re pumping out a few models a week and are constantly needing to mix up some paints, you may want to invest in a higher quality model, but for beginners and recreational hobbyists, the Robart will be just fine.

Paint Shaker,AC Powered

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Agitator: The Army Painter Mixing Balls

Many people simply use small ball bearings inserted in the paint bottle to agitate the paint while they shake. The problem is that these can rust over time, which of course will ruin your paints.

Army Painter balls are designed specifically for use with paint. They’re made from rust-proof stainless steel, and they’re just the right size to fit in small paint bottles. 

Just drop one or two balls into the bottle, replace the top, and shake well. The balls greatly increase the agitation within the bottle, adding more power and effectiveness to your manual shaking.

The Army Painter Paint Mixing Balls - Rust-Proof...

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Wet Palette

Paints dry quickly, which can be frustrating when you’re painting a large model or like to really take your time.

A wet palette keeps water-based paints fresh and wet for long periods of time, allowing you to paint for hours on end or take a long break and come back to find your paints still usable. 

Once you close it up, the paints will remain nice and fresh for days or even weeks. You can even mix thicker paints directly on the palette! A wet palette is truly a game changer.

The Army Painter Wet Palette isn’t too pricey and well worth every penny when you consider how much paint you won’t be wasting.

It includes two hydro foam pieces and 50 hydro sheets, so it will be a long time before you need any replacements.

I love the built-in brush holder and hard plastic case to seal in moisture, but where it really shines is the anti-mold protective agent.

Everything stays nice and clean and free from disgusting mold growth, even when left with paints inside for weeks.

The Army Painter Hydropack Bundle Stay Wet Palette...

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Airbrush & Compressor

I spent a whole lot of time researching both airbrushes and compressors for things like quality, value for the price, functionality, and overall performance.

I finally settled on the following combo and have been super pleased with them both.

Badger Patriot 105

Badger Air-Brush Co. Model 105 Patriot Fine...

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Zeny ⅕ HP Compressor

ZENY Professional Airbrush Compressor with Tank,...

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Note: With this combo, you’ll need this adapter to properly attach the airbrush to the compressor’s hose.

You’ll also want to pick up an airbrush cleaning set.

It comes with five different brushes, five needle files of different sizes, an easy-grip handle, a wash needle, replacement filters, and a glass wash pot.

I love that it can double as an airbrush holder – really comes in handy when you’re working!

Master Airbrush 13 Piece Airbrush Cleaning Kit -...

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Of course, you’ll need to pick up some airbrush cleaner as well. I use Vallejo Airbrush Cleaner after every spray painting session, but Iwata-Medea is really good too.

APOWUS Airbrush Cleaner for Water-Base Paints,...

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Spray Booth

Now, if you’re just getting started with models, you can probably get by with a DIY spray booth, aka a cardboard box, for a while.

The more you get into the hobby though, the more need you’ll have for a real spray booth with proper ventilation for fumes. 

I use the Master Airbrush Portable Spray Booth and have zero complaints. It’s nice and roomy, has good lighting, and comes with a rotating tray so you can maneuver your projects while painting without having to touch them.

Master Airbrush Brand Lighted Portable Hobby...

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Painting Handles

Here again, at first you can keep things pretty simple. Place your model on an upside-down paper cup or similar object. 

My favorite hack? A coat hanger paint stand! Bend a wire coat hanger so that the hook and side arms form a base and the horizontal bar is shaped to fit inside the model car, effectively holding the car midair with nothing actually touching the base.

As your skills advance, you’ll want to up your painting game and have some nice handles and stands to hold various parts while you paint.

You’ve got quite a few options here.

I use the Citadel Painting Handle for painting all my miniatures, and it would work fine for some larger models with a good size base.

This Tamiya two-piece set is perfect for painting car bodies, hoods, and similar pieces. Each stand can be adjusted and will hold various shaped and sized pieces.

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A sturdy set of alligator clip sticks really is a must-have for securely holding small parts, like side-view mirrors.

I like that with this set, you can have 40 different pieces in various stages of completion going at one time. Perfect if you happen to be working on several different models at once.

MAY.T Model Painting Alligator Clip Sticks 40PCS...

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Brush Cleaners

While many people simply use paint thinner to clean their brushes, I prefer to use the real deal. My favorite is “The Masters” Brush Cleaner and Preserver.

It gently cleanses and restores brushes to a like-new condition and works equally well on all paints. The fresh, lemon scent is nice too.

General Pencil General 105-BP Pencil Masters Brush...

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Most model kits will advise you as to what type of glue to use, but you’ll find that the big three are super glue, white glue, and plastic cement.

There are, however, more options for load bearing parts, advanced work, pieces that will be enduring more stress, etc.

As you progress with your skills and gain some experience with more complex models, you’ll discover what types of glue you personally prefer for specific applications.

Super Glue

Hobbyists usually call this CA, short for cyanoacrylate. CA bonds fast, is strong, and works on a variety of materials, including plastic, wood, and glass, but it won’t hold up well under torsion.

They’re available in both liquid and gel forms. I’ve found that Gorilla Super Glue Gel stays where you put it and bonds really well.

Gorilla Super Glue Gel, Two 3 Gram Tubes, Clear,...

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White Glue

Yep. Just good old-fashioned white glue, like the kind you used for school projects.

For many lightweight models that will sit on a shelf for display, this glue, also known as PVA, will be all you need.

It’s easy to work with and clean up and is inexpensive, but for plastic models that will be handled frequently or if you’re working with metal parts, you’ll want a stronger glue than this one.

I like the Elmer’s Extra Strong Formula as opposed to the regular version because a little extra bonding power is always a good thing.

Elmer’s Glue-All, Multi-Purpose Liquid Glue,...

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Plastic Model Cement

Model cement is designed specifically for bonding plastic to plastic and usually consists of a filler, such as polystyrene, and a solvent, such as toluene.

The solvent works to chemically melt and fuse the plastics together so a very strong bond is formed. 

However, that leaves no room for error since the surface of the plastics has been altered. Know that it may yellow with age and be stringy to use until you get the hang of it.

Beginners should probably practice a time or two on some scraps before using it on an actual model.

Modelers everywhere are familiar with Tamiya Extra Thin Cement as it runs smoothly down gaps of the parts and has a pointy applicator tip to allow you to get the glue where you want it and keep it off what you don’t.

Tamiya 87038 Extra Thin Cement Glue Fine Tip 40ml

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Testors is another great cement and very much used in all kinds of modeling applications.

It’s not quite as thin as Tamiya, but when you need the glue to stay in place while you join parts, this one is the way to go.

Testors 3509C Testors Plastic Cement Value Pack

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Epoxy is only typically used in high-stress or load-bearing areas in the modeling world.

There’s no doubt it is a strong adhesive, but it’s heavy and not generally used for lightweight display models.

However, it is great for bonding two different materials, something most glues can’t handle.

Epoxies usually come in two separate tubes – one’s a resin, the other is a hardener – which must be combined just before use.

They can be used on plastics, wood, and metal, or a combination of those materials, and they can even be used to fill small voids when joining two parts.

Some epoxies have a cure time as low as five minutes, while other types will take more than 12 hours to fully cure, so check the package carefully before using.

Most modelers would agree that the slower cure epoxies, like bsi slow cure epoxy, are the better choice for superior holding power.

Bob Smith Industries BSI-205 Clear Slow-Cure Epoxy...

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Carpenter’s Glue

Just from the name alone, you know that this one is only good for wood models, but it does a great job when used for what it was designed to do.

It’s stronger than white glue, is lightweight and easy to clean up, and doesn’t bond instantly, giving you plenty of time to make sure that parts are lined up perfectly.

There are plenty of options, but I’m partial to Elmer’s Wood Glue Max. Inexpensive. Easy to use. Cleans up with a damp rag. Great product!

Elmer's E7310 Carpenter's Wood Glue Max Interior...

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Polyurethane Glue

For situations when you need more bonding strength than carpenter’s glue provides but don’t want to go with a heavy epoxy, a polyurethane glue will work. 

Never heard of it? I bet you have. Remember the original Gorilla Glue? That’s a polyurethane glue. Not quite as strong as super glue, but definitely serves a purpose.

Be aware that it is rather thick, so it can be a little messy or ooze out of the joints you just bonded, but cleanup is easy with an acetone nail polish remover or paint thinner.

Gorilla Original Gorilla Glue, Waterproof...

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Rubber-Based Contact Cement

Once one of the most used adhesives among hobbyists, particularly model railroaders, Walther’s Goo doesn’t seem to be as popular anymore, BUT it is absolutely just as good as it used to be. 

This stuff will bond practically anything, and because of the rubber component, it remains flexible and forgiving when dry.

It is crack resistant and able to withstand movement and vibrations quite well, which is one reason it’s so great for model trains. 

The only downsides are that it dries to a brown color, not clear, and it takes a bit of finesse to get the hang of using it, as it’s rather thick.

Walthers 904-299 Goo Glue Cement

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Additional Tools & Supplies

A Good Set of Clippers

While the tool kit comes with snips, a really nice set of clippers is a good thing to have.

You can use the cheaper ones for the day-to-day stuff, but these Citadel clippers are so sharp and high quality.

They will make a big difference in how clean you cut the hard-to-clip parts or sprues. Just so you know, these are also often called sprue clippers or cutters. 

Tip: When snipping off parts from the sprue, cut cleanly as close to the part as possible without any twisting motions at all. 

Games Workshop 5011921050109 Citadel Fine Detail...

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A Nice Hobby Knife

Similar to the clippers, a good hobby knife is really nice to have around for special use cases.

I especially like this one because it has a sharp tip that is good for starting a hole to drill when pinning or making a gun barrel. 

X-ACTO 2 Knife With Safety Cap

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Hobby Mat

Often called cutting mats, hobby mats will protect whatever surface you’re working on from damage when cutting and are designed to not dull your blade.

These things really are amazing. You can cut directly on them and within seconds, they will “self-heal,” and the surface cuts will completely vanish.

My hobby mat, an 18 by 24 inch mat by US Art Supply, is now a permanent fixture on my desk, and I really don’t know why I ever tried to do without one.

The grid of measured lines and markings for angles are a great help when precision cuts matter, which they do with most models. 

The mat itself consists of five layers, so it offers great protection and will last a long time. The company even offers a full replacement 10-year warranty! 

I love that both sides of the mat feature the grid, so if I accidentally dribble some paint or mess up one side somehow, I just flip it over, and voilà, a new mat is there ready and waiting.

U.S. Art Supply 18' x 24' Green/Black Professional...

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You’ll find that tweezers are useful for all kinds of small jobs, such as picking up tiny parts, holding small pieces in place while glueing, and affixing decals. 

If you’re assembling your own tool kit, you’ll definitely want to pick up a quality set of tweezers with different shaped heads and assorted sizes.

Look for tweezers with comfortable, nonslip grips, like this PIXNOR set.

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The basic tool set is fantastic, but it only comes with one set of pliers. As you move up to more advanced models, you’ll soon discover why having multiple mini pliers is useful.

They are ideal for holding small parts and fasteners, working in tight spaces, and cutting or bending pieces for a better fit or contact.

The Kendo Six-Piece Mini Pliers Set includes long nose, bent nose, needle nose, diagonal cut, end cut, and combination pliers as well as a roll-up storage bag.

The pliers themselves are constructed from heavy-duty, nickel-plated carbon steel, so this set will last you for years to come.

KENDO 6-Pieces Mini Pliers Set, Long Nose, Bent...

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Whether or not you need screwdrivers will depend on what type of models you’re into.

The older railroad cars that you actually had to assemble, for example, would definitely require a good set of mini screwdrivers.

Many remote control models too will require at least one type of screwdriver.

This precision screwdriver set by TACKLIFE will have you covered no matter what screws you run across in your project.

It includes two Philips (0 and 00), four flatheads (1.5, 2.0, 2.5, and 3.0), six torx (T4, T5, T6, T7, T8, and T10), and an Oxford cloth carrying case. 

They’re made from CR-V steel and have matted plating and black oxide point tips to protect against corrosion. Best of all, each tip is magnetized to help you deal with those ridiculously small screws.

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One good set of diamond needle files will last for years and years.

Modelers use them for enlarging holes, sanding down putty or rough edges, removing flash lines, and even for reshaping parts to achieve a desired profile.

Needle files come in all kinds of shapes, but the best I’ve found is this 10-piece set by Gaxcoo.

It includes a knife file, half-round file, dead file, oval file, taper-flat file, round file, square file, triangle file, half-round file, and a flat file that all can be used on just about any surface.

They’ll get the job done where sandpaper proves inadequate.

Tip: If files seem a bit dull, soak the metal portion in plastic solvent, then scrub with a stiff metal brush.

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Here again, the type of sandpaper you need will depend on the specific model you’re currently working on.

Sandpaper comes in many forms for various uses, so I’ll give you a quick rundown of what I tend to use regularly.

  • Wet/dry general purpose, assorted grit sandpaper – These work great on wood, plastic, resin, and metal, and the grit doesn’t wear away as fast as with other sandpapers. Includes 12 grits ranging from 120 – 3,000.
  • Sanding sponge blocks – They’re easy on the hands, good for getting into corners, can be used wet or dry, and may be cut to whatever size you need.
  • Sanding sticks – These handy sticks are perfect for sanding in specific spots, like for removing sprue nubs after cutting. Also good for reaching hard-to-sand areas.


Modeling putty is used to fill in the occasional gaps between components for a nice, smooth, realistic look and sometimes for solving problems with contour issues.

Vallejo and Squadron both make a wonderful modeling putty, but my favorite is by Tamiya.

Tamiya putty is easy to spread; works well on plastic, metal, and wood; fills nicely; and is completely sandable and paintable. No complaints!

TAMIYA Putty (Basic Type)

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Various Clamps

While clothespins and rubber bands are great for holding pieces while curing, for certain situations, you’ll want something a bit sturdier and more secure.

Build up your collection with various sizes and styles as you move on to more complex kits.

I’d recommend picking up a pack of small spring clips, especially for models that call for a lot of glueing in highly visible areas, like aircraft wings and fuselages.

Just make sure that your clamps aren’t applying too much pressure or glue will seep out and parts may become deformed.

Bora 1-Inch Mini Spring Clamp, 20-pack, 540520....

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Bar clamps can also come in handy, particularly for delicate or curved parts.

They can be adjusted to provide just the right amount of pressure without risking denting the surfaces or leaving behind any marks. 

Excel Blades 3 Inch Plastic Bar Adjustable Clamps...

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I recently discovered this Magnetic Glueing Jig, and in my humble opinion, it’s nothing short of brilliant!

The moveable magnets securely hold various sized components together without too much tension or undue pressure. 

It’s just right for creating perfect seams and flush 90° angles. With the included eight magnetic holding plates, you can bond multiple pieces simultaneously. Fantastic device!

Tip: Lay a sheet of wax paper on the metal surface before arranging your glued parts to keep the base nice and clean.

Magnetic Gluing Jig, 10-1/4 Inch Square, Quickly...

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General Items to Have on Hand

Most of these items you probably already have somewhere in your home, but read through the following list and double check that you have everything before actually starting on a model. 

  • Dish soap – use it to wash manufacturing residue off of sprues before you cut individual pieces.
  • Toothpicks – use for wiping off excess glue, applying small dots of glue, holding tiny parts, designing elements of railroad or town layouts, touching up paint nicks – so many uses!
  • Glass jars – small sizes are great for mixing paints, containing small parts you haven’t used yet, etc. 
  • Plastic cups – good for mixing paints.
  • Scissors – one sharp pair for snipping off glue strings, opening packaging material, etc.
  • Clothespins and rubber bands – work well for holding components together while working or as glue cures.
  • Compressed air duster – helps remove dust, lint, etc. right before painting.
  • Tack cloth – helps to remove dust, lint, etc. right before painting.
  • Markers – good for marking raised seams, molding lines, imperfections, etc. that you want to sand away.
  • Masking tape – helps to hold parts together during assembly until glue dries.
  • Lint-free cloths – for cleaning off the work surface while you work.
  • Pipettes – ideal for transferring paint, thinner, etc. when mixing paints.
  • Flat metal ruler – used for measuring, obviously, but also for a cutting aid, marking straight lines, and lining up pieces precisely.
  • Small square – for ensuring accurate 90° angles.

Specialty Tools

As you gain confidence and advance to more complicated builds, you’ll likely want to enhance your tool box with a few specialty tools catered to your particular favorite modeling niche.

Of course, the world of modeling is quite large, and you’ll find that what works for one modeler may not be quite right for you. 

With time, you’ll develop a feel for what you need to complete a certain task, but for now, scan the following general list to see what many modelers consider to be helpful.

  • Soldering iron – uses heat, solder, and flux to permanently bond metal parts together. 
  • Dremel – so many uses – drilling holes, grinding, sanding, polishing, cutting, and more.
  • Scale ruler – easy, accurate way to convert actual dimensions to scaled down sizes – popular among model railroaders.
  • Punch-and-die set – used to form round holes in sheets of plastic or metal and cut discs for accessories such as rivets, and instrument control panels.
  • Hobby vise – holds small parts securely while freeing both your hands for work.
  • Pin vise and twist drills – for drilling holes by hand in plastic, resin, and wood and for scribing deeper panel lines.
  • Helping hands – a device with multiple arms and clips to hold parts in position for you. Perfect for when glueing or soldering.
  • Hobby drill press – for vertical holds.
  • Hot glue gun – good for quick fixes, adding decorations to railroad scenery, and other light jobs.

Cleaning Supplies

After you complete a model, you’ll probably proudly set it on a shelf for all to admire… and the dust collection begins.

Eventually, your models will need to be cleaned, and a quick swipe with a feather duster isn’t going to cut it.

Here’s a short list of what you’ll want to have on hand to keep your models in pristine condition and looking brand new.

Where to Find the Best Models

Here, I’ll show you all the places I visit regularly to find models of all types and skill levels. Settle in for a while, because once you start looking around, you won’t want to stop.


Amazon is typically my first stop when looking for a new kit. Thousands and thousands of choices.

Model cars, planes, boats, trucks, tanks, rockets, ships, trains, architectural structures – you name it, you can probably find it here.


These guys have a ton of different models and supplies and carry a lot of name brands you’re probably familiar with.

I love their Star Wars and Strek collections, but their space models are pretty cool too.

Whether you’re into Gundam, railroading, ships, aircraft, wood structures, cars, or anything else, this store is for sure worth checking out.

Scale Hobbyist

Another fantastic site, Scale Hobbyist is one of my favorites for scenery and artillery items, though their assortment of scale models is quite impressive too.

They have a great selection of various scales for each model type and carry a bunch of well-known, highly respected name brands.


This company has been around since the 1940s and is one of the most trusted brands in the modeling world. Huge variety. Excellent quality. Well-respected brand. Need I say more?


As you’ve seen in this list, Tamiya is a big name in the scale model industry.

Tamiya offers more than 3,000 modeling products and has fine-quality radio-controlled vehicles in addition to many, many scale models.

Dragon USA

Here you’ll find plenty of military models and some not-so-standard models as well, such as Iron Man figurine kits.

There’s a lot to explore on their site, especially if you’re in the mood for something unusual.


You could probably spend a few days browsing the 6,000+ products offered here.

With nearly 3,000 plastic models to select from, in addition to metal 3D model kits and tons of tools and supplies, you’re bound to find something you like.

Metal Earth

If you’d rather skip the glueing and painting and go with a really cool piece-together metal model kits, Metal Earth is definitely for you.


Squadron carries all kinds of supplies, paints, tools, and, of course, model kits. You’ll find some really nice airplane kits, submarines, battleships, and even radio control models.

There You Have It!

So, now you know what you need to get started, have an idea of what to plan for as you get more involved with the hobby, and, if you’re anything like me, probably now need to wipe the strings of drool off your chin.

The main thing is to remember that a modeling hobby is supposed to be fun! Don’t let yourself be overwhelmed by all the gear listed here.

Start with the basics, pick up what you need later on a model-by-model basis, and have a fantastic time along the way.

Last update on 2024-05-28 at 04:38 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API