You’ve found yourself in a dilemma. You have decided which model you’re going to work on, and which miniatures will complement it, but – what glue should you choose?
You look at the shelves in the hobby store and your eyes start to glaze over. There are so many choices – how could you possibly know which is the best choice for your projects?
What modeling glue do I use for miniatures and models? This isn’t a one-for-one answer. It mostly depends on which type of material you’re working with and how secure you need your finished piece to be – will it be handled a lot, or will it sit on a display shelf?
Here are the top three adhesive options:
- Cyanoacrylate (CA), more commonly known as Super Glue.
- PVA Glue – Your every-day white glue such as Elmer’s™ Glue.
- Solvent Cement.
Let’s dig deeper into these three options, take a glance at three additional types of glues, and determine which adhesive works best for different material mediums.
We’ll also look at whether or not your project will need some finessing where it’s been glued before you begin your finish work and what, if any, impact that could have on your materials.
The Best Adhesives for Miniatures and Models
Some hobbyists suggest buying one of each type of glue, so you’re covered regardless of what project you are working on at the moment.
On the surface, this may seem like good advice, but what it doesn’t take into consideration is that after time, glues dry out and need to be replaced. When this happens, you’ve just wasted money on project supplies you didn’t need when you could’ve bought that awesome paint color instead.
When hobbyists refer to CA, this is the glue they’re talking about. You probably know it better as “super glue.” Super glue has been around for decades.
If you’re old enough, you’ll remember the video clip of the man attaching this hard hat to a steel cross beam with a little super glue and dangling there, with the city beneath his feet. The message? Super glue is super strong.
There are two predominant types of super glue:
- Liquid. Liquid super glue will slide its way into the cracks and crevices of your pieces through capillary action. It can run like water, so if you’re not extremely light with your touch and very careful, you’ll end up with much more glue on your project than you intended. Too much glue will most likely end up being visible at your seams.
- Gel. The gel super glue option is a bit easier to control as it is thicker. It will stay where you put it instead of running as the liquid version is known to do. Most hobbyists prefer this type because it helps them be more precise with glue placement.
If you’re looking for a great example of CA, consider using Gorilla Super Glue Gel, Clear. The nice thing about this one is that it is not only affordable; it is also reliable.
Speeding Up Your Super Glue
Want CA to set even faster? Put a bit of baking soda on it and it will harden as close to immediately as you can get. User beware, though. CA will not only glue your project parts, but it will also glue you to anything you touch if you have it on your hands.
Removing Super Glue
If you do find that you’re glued to something or that you ended up with glue where you didn’t intend to, try using a 50/50 mixture of acetone nail polish remover and Vaseline on a cotton swab to remove it.
Once you’ve been able to get yourself, or your project’s parts released, wash with warm soapy water to remove any residual acetone.
Caution: Acetone will melt certain plastics, so if you’re trying to separate glued plastic pieces, skip the acetone and instead use hot water:
- Pour very hot water into a basin and submerge your pieces.
- Gently separate the part
- Keep them separated until dry because once the pieces cool, the glue will quickly harden and dry again.
The Downsides of Cyanoacrylate
Other than not being able to pull things apart afterward if you need to move a piece, the only other potential downsides to using super glues are that:
- They have been known to dry with a cloudy to white color on certain plastics,
- They can have a strong, somewhat toxic odor, so must be used in an area with good ventilation
- They dry almost too quickly. If you’re not completely ready to glue your pieces together when you apply the glue, it may dry before you get your project ready.
2. PVA Glue
Who doesn’t remember good old Elmer’s™ glue from grade school days? Who could make a decent paper chain without it? When we talk about PVA, we’re talking about good, old-fashioned white glue.
There are several different types of white glue. Elmer’s Glue-All Multi-Purpose Liquid Glue Extra Strong is the way to go – after all, you don’t want anything coming apart an hour after you glued it, so the extra-strong option makes the most sense.
While it’s not nearly as strong as the CA, we just discussed, PVA is good, all-purpose glue. This is particularly useful when you’re working on backgrounds and landscapes.
Pro Tip: Want to create some cool effects? Mix a little white glue with moss, sand, or glitter and spread it where you want it. You’ll have the ability to provide additional texture because the glue is part of the compound.
PVA is also easier to clean up before it dries, so you don’t generally have to worry about blobs of glue drying where you don’t want them. If you don’t get the extra glue off before it dries, use a paintbrush dipped in hot water and brush over the excess.
3. Solvent Cement
Solvent cement bonds your project pieces together stronger than any other type of adhesive. They are the strongest on the market, but not a great fit for every project.
Historically, this adhesive was not for the faint of heart. It carried strong fumes that could become overpowering in poorly ventilated areas. Many versions of it today remain just as dangerous. While it creates a very strong bond and dries quickly, it should not be inhaled or allowed to contact the skin.
Fortunately, less toxic versions are available today, in the form of eco-friendly, low-odor PVC cements and glues.
Tamiya Extra-Thin Cement with a pointed applicator tip is a popular option among some hobbyists. Its applicator tip is so fine that it is very useful for miniature work.
The Downside of Solvent Cement
The disadvantages to this type of glue are that it can be stringy and messy – particularly for beginners who haven’t yet developed their own effective application technique.
You’ll want to be very careful with this glue. The way it works is that it actually chemically melts the two surfaces to bond them together – much like when a welder joins two pieces of metal together.
This is good for when you want to have an extremely strong bond because you need to do some reshaping or sanding before you paint.
What is Your Solvent Cement Has Crystallized?
If you’ve had your bottle of solvent cement for a while, check to see if it has begun to yellow or has crystalized. If it has, it won’t have good bonding properties. Additionally, if you open your solvent cement and it doesn’t have a strong odor, it may have been frozen at one point or dried out meaning you’ll need to buy some more.
A Few Secondary Glue Options
Maybe you’re wondering why the following glues aren’t among the top choices. Well, they’re all viable options, but a couple of them take longer to cure, making the time before you can move to your next step longer. They also tend to be more challenging to work with.
This is more commonly referred to as yellow glue or wood glue. This isn’t that different from the PVA, with the exception that it is specifically designed to work well with porous surfaces. It penetrates into the surfaces to create a stronger bond than PVA can.
- This glue tends to be somewhat thick, so if you’re using it, you want to make sure that you quickly wipe off any extra that squeezes out from between the pieces you’re gluing together.
- Some of these wood glues surface set fairly quickly but need some curing time if you’re going to be manipulating those pieces.
- This glue doesn’t dry clear, either. It will typically have a somewhat milky soft yellow or beige tone to it when it’s dried.
If you’re working with two clear pieces of plastic that don’t require a super strong hold, this adhesive could work for you. It dries clear and is easy to apply. This is not the tool to use if you want a secure bond, though.
This is not an adhesive that you can just up open and use. Epoxies require mixing before they can be used. They also take significantly longer to dry than superglues – there are some quick-dry mixes available but using them requires finesse. This type of glue can also rather messy to use so quick cleanup on your pieces is critical.
Tools to Keep Handy When Gluing Your Miniature or Model
When you’re working with adhesives, it’s likely that something is going to drip or ooze where you didn’t want it to. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to have a few things in your work area, so you’re prepared:
- Acetone nail polish remover, Vaseline, a small container, and cotton swabs to help you unstick things that you didn’t intend to stick together. Acetone will take the color out of anything it touches – especially fiber materials – so it isn’t something you’re going to want to spill. Also, remember that hot water is your friend when you’re working with plastics and need to get the CA to dissolve.
- Clamps to hold pieces in place either while they dry or while you apply glue using the capillary approach.
- Dropcloth or mat. Getting glue or paint on the kitchen table isn’t going to go over well, so just keep that from happening by having something else onto which the substances can freely fall.
- Paper towels or hobby rags for quick wipe ups of unintentional glue spot drops.
- Sandpaper to gently scuff your pieces to create a better surface for bonding (unless you’re using a solvent cement – then sanding is unnecessary). You may also want to sand off some rough areas or places where your adhesive has created extra texture you didn’t want.
- A sharp hobby knife or scalpel, so you can trim off rough pieces and scrape off unwanted glue drips you may have missed.
Which Adhesive Works with Which Surface?
There are so many different surfaces you could be working with, and not every glue works well with all surfaces. For example, you’re not going to use wood glue on metal. In this obvious case, the adhesive isn’t going to adhere to the surface.
Let’s look at some of the different materials you may be using and which of the recommended adhesives will work with each.
If you need to glue moss to rocks, create sandscapes, adhere grass to your platform, etc., PVA – white glue will be your best friend because it’s easy to apply and spread.
When you’re working with metal, CA – super glue is your best bet from the three recommended adhesives.
When you’re working with plastics, any of the three adhesives – CA (super glue), PVA (white glue) and solvent cement. CA will give you the best bone, PVA will be less durable and solvent cement may require doing a test first since it literally melts the plastic together.
Plastic to Metal
Once again, because we’re talking about metal being one of the components in this equation, CA – super glue – is your best option.
Because of the challenges of working with epoxy resin adhesives, which would basically create a like material bond, the best glue for working with resin pieces is CA – superglue.
So, you probably see a pattern here. Super glues (Cyanoacrylate or CA) work for almost any surface. That’s part of why they’re so popular with hobbyists.
The thing you need to be aware of when you’re working with super glues is that they are incredibly strong when you want to bond two pieces that can’t be pulled apart.
If, on the other hand, you are working with something that will be twisted or force will be applied in a different direction than strictly pulling the pieces in opposite directions, the CA may not be as effective. In these cases, an epoxy may, in fact, be your best way to go.
Which Comes First – The Adhesive or the Paint?
This ultimately comes down to personal preference and work style.
That said, and it was alluded to earlier in the article, gluing your pieces first is usually in your best interest.
You may wonder why. It may seem counter-intuitive to paint the whole piece when you could manage the smaller pieces first and then assemble.
But there are a couple of reasons to assemble and glue first:
- There are some paints to which your glues won’t adhere as well. It would be frustrating to have painted all of your pieces and then have to sand them clean of all paint, re-prime, and then re-paint.
- There are times when drips happen. Similar to the above example, can you imagine having perfectly painted a piece and ending up with a glob of glue on it that you now need to sand off? Now your paint job is scuffed, and you need to do some repair work that ends up being more work than if you’d just waited to paint, to begin with.
- What if you mistakenly glue two wrong pieces together? Once you finally get them pried back apart, you now have not only adhesive repair to do but paint repair too. That may be enough for some to put that project away for a while. Why put yourself through that unnecessary frustration?
- Some pieces are just tiny! Sometimes it’s easier to handle a single, completed miniature or model than trying to hold, or even clamp, a minuscule piece.
It’s Time to Get Your Project On
Now that we’ve gone through several different adhesive options for your next, or first, project, it’s time to make the decisions about what you want to have on hand.
Whether Cyanoacrylate – CA (super glue) is going to be your go-to with a side of PVA (Elmer’s glue), or if you want to wade into several different options, you’ll be able to face those stocked shelves with more confidence.
There’s no more feeling lost in the adhesive aisle of the hobby store for you!