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Building Model Kits for Beginners

Most model kit builders—whether engineers, architects, salesman, filmmakers or hobbyist—today use scale modeling. A scale model is a copy of an object (say a car, house or pirate ship) “scaled down” to a miniature representation of the larger (or real) object. Amateur model kit builders can use a number of materials, such as die-cast, molds, woods, plastics and foams. On the same token, hobbyists assemble the models for anything from railroads, fantasy games and ships to remote control vehicles, military vehicles and rockets. These same hobbyists often are artists who use an array of materials (random or store-bought) to finish their scale model.

If you are a newbie to building model kits, you should first start off with some of the simpler models. After getting a few under your belt, you’ll be ready to move on to harder or more technical models and molds. Even if your first few models don’t go well, don’t give up. Finish what you’ve started and move on. It’s amazing how fast you can learn how much glue to use here, how much paint goes there, what foam fits nicely here and so forth. Additionally, buy model kits that interest you—such as muscle cars, military vehicles or commercial airplanes—as you’ll be more motivated to finish.

The first course of action to building model kits is to think what you’ll need. You’ll need a large table than can remain messy. Additionally, you’ll need to cut (not break) the separate parts from the plastic moldings holding them together. Next, you should read the instructions and organize the pieces into appropriate piles—tires here, wings there, et cetera. Keep all your tools in one place and when you’re finished, be sure to clean them.

When you start to glue and paint, use as little as possible for each. If something doesn’t stay attached later, you can fix it. If you do make a mistake, you can always use sand paper to polish away extra grime, grease or glue. Likewise, you can use isopropyl rubbing alcohol to clean the model before you start painting.

As the hobby grows on you, you may want to invest in an airbrush painting system. Until then, however, simple aerosol cans—properly shaken and evenly coated—will work just fine. You may have to use acrylic, petroleum or water-based paints for different projects.
Once you’ve got the model this far, your next step involves detailing and applying decals to the model—much easier if you buy the kit! If you wish to paint on details, it may be wise to get pictures off the Internet to see the real thing (if you’re doing a replica of a ’66 Mustang or Cessna 500, for example).

If you will add decals—say flames or racing stripes—then make sure the paint is dry. Let the paint dry for at least 24-36 hours. Use rubbing alcohol on a Q-tip to clean the area before you apply the decal to remove any finger oil. Once you’ve stuck the decal to the model, be sure to gently rub any air-bubbles out by using a rounded object end. A thin spray of glossy paint can make the edges of the decal disappear and mesh nicely with the paint to boot. Be sure that when you spray paint (glossy coat or color coat) that you follow through past the model. This technique decreases the chance for splotches. Whether you did a perfect job or not, be proud of your model kit and move on to the next. You’ll be surprised how quickly improvement comes. With a lot of time and a little energy and attention to detail, your model can look like the real thing in just a few days.

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