Further Tips For Beginners to Plastic Model Making Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Further Tips For Beginners to Plastic Model Making

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A model biplane complete with rigging.

If you've read the h2g2 Entry A Beginner's Guide to Making Plastic Models and are ready to try a few more things with your models, then you'll probably find the following handy hints and tips a boon to your model making. This Entry will give some ideas for developing your skills as a model maker, and hopefully get you trying out a few different things to bring further detail and fun into your kits. Many model kits are highly detailed, but some maybe not as much as you'd like. You may want your model to be an exact replica, right down to the seatbelts or the weathered, and combat-tired look of a fighting machine. So, let's start at the former...

Seatbelts et al

Model kits sometimes come with these included in the moulding, and it's a simple matter of painting them. But many small kits, such as 1:72nd-scale aircraft or armoured vehicles, don't come with these little accessories. So what's the easiest way to make some seatbelts? Take some masking tape and paint it an appropriate colour (leather-brown, or black). Score, then cut the painted tape to the correct length and thickness of a seatbelt, paint some metal 'buckles' on, and simply stick your seatbelts into place. Job's a good 'un.

Masking tape also has many other excellent uses in modelling, including using it for the purpose it was created for- masking. This is especially useful in painting aircraft cockpit frames or windscreens. Cut the masking tape to cover the parts of the transparency you don't want covered in paint, stick on, and then paint the colour you wish. Let the paint dry and then remove the tape, and you have nice, straight, painted lines.


Wires on kits are often integral to making the final model look finished, such as radio antenna, or the rigging of biplanes. One technique is to pick up some monofilament fishing line and cut it to size. Unfortunately, the colour of fishing line can be inappropriate, but some varieties can be boiled with a dark fabric dye so that they take on a dark grey appearance. You can also buy lengths of plastic or even thin gauge1 metal wire to add these details to your kit, or if you don't have the money or time to buy these alternatives, you can make use of the leftover sprues from your kit to produce 'wire' of your very own! The following process is for adults only:

Take a tea-light candle and ensure you have a steady flame. Grab a length of spare sprue from your kit, and simply hold it over the flame, rolling it gently in your fingers. Over a short period of time the plastic will begin to soften, and just before it reaches melting point you will be able to slowly stretch it out. This stretching will produce thin strands of plastic 'wire'. With practice, you can make various thicknesses and lengths for all manner of uses in your kits, even producing different calibre guns or extra pipes and so forth.

Fixing a Hole

Sometimes when making your model, you may find there are some holes that need filling. They might be part of the moulding where an aircraft 'drop-tank' or extra machine gun mounting or spare tyre could be fitted, but for your modelling purposes you don't want the hole there. Or there could be a rather large hole to fill due to the age of the kit or heat warping - which can prevent parts from fitting together flush. Enter the wonders of modelling putty! Simply fill that hole with some putty before painting. Leave the putty to dry, then, using either some fine sandpaper or nail file, sand back any excess putty to leave a smooth finish. You can then paint over your hole, and not worry about the sun shining where it shouldn't...

At some point you may find the need to cover up even larger holes, where filling with putty is just not an option. This is where either some thin cardboard or plastic sheet can help out. Measure up the gap you want to fill, or make a template of the area, then cut the card or plastic sheet to shape. Fit where needed, and voilĂ ! This method can be used for making brand new sections of your model if the kit version is damaged, or inappropriate.

The Illusion of Weight

As you may notice in many model kits that have wheels, the wheels are perfectly round. Now, if you look at any piece of heavy machinery that has wheels, due to its weight the wheels bulge a little. They are not perfect circles. So to give your model kit the illusion of weight you can 'bulge' the wheels, too. Again, the following process is for adults only:

The bulging of wheels needs a heated surface, so either an electric oven hob or a household iron are best. Get yourself some greaseproof paper and lay it over the hob/iron. Set the hob/iron to a low heat. Now this takes practice, so you may like to get hold of some spare plastic wheels from your kits before attempting this on your own pride and joy. The process is to simply evenly press the round plastic wheels against the surface of the iron (paper between, so you don't get sticky melted plastic all over the oven/iron) so as to produce a slight 'bulge' to either side of the wheel, and a flat bottom. Don't be disappointed if your first few attempts are dismal failures, it's tricky to get it right. But if you want that extra bit of accuracy to your completed kit, it's definitely worthwhile.

Further Weighty Issues

Some kits, particularly aircraft, require a centre of gravity that quite simply won't work. An aircraft with a tripod system of landing gear, such as many Second World War aircraft had, will usually sit quite happily on a shelf. But what happens when the tripod is reversed, and the tail of the aircraft needs to stick up in the air? Your finished kit will look quite foolish if its bum sits on the shelf and its nose points jauntily into the air. A simple problem to rectify, as long as you do it sooner, rather than later. Get yourself some small weights, the sort used on fishing lines are perfect. With some Blu Tak you can put the heavy weight into the nose of your kit before you glue it together. When completed, all the weight will be in the nose and it will sit correctly on the shelf. If you forget, the simple solution is to use that self same Blu Tak and stick the model to the shelf...

Real Metal Finishes

You may want to give your model the appearance of real metal, but painting it all over with metallic paint will just give it the appearance of a model painted all over with metallic paint. So why not cover it with real metal? Although a trifle fiddly, you can apply aluminium or baking foil to give the look of real metal panelling. Cut the foil to size, apply a thin coat of adhesive to the model, then rub on with a forefinger in a rag. Gentle rubbing will help highlight the detail on the model. But gentle is the keyword. Too rough, and the foil will tear, and you're back at square one. Once all the foil is in place, apply a thin coat of varnish; then you can either paint on minor details or add transfers as appropriate. There are metal-coloured and backed tapes, or even special metal foils made for models, Bare-Metal Foil being one which has a self-adhesive backing, which you may prefer to try.


Making a model kit look old and worn can be a tricky business. But there's a nice technique known as 'drybrushing' that can bring that extra something to your kit. Get an old brush and cut the bristles, so that the head is quite small and hard. Now find yourself a good metallic paint: 'steel' or 'gunmetal' or 'aluminium' are recommended. Dip your newly cut-off brush into the paint, then grab a rag and dry your brush so that there is a little paint left on it. Now you gently brush where you want details picked out. If your model has good details, such as rivets or embossed features, these will stand out as bare metal, something that happens in reality to painted areas of vehicles that get high usage (such as steps, walkways or handles).

If you like, you can use the same approach to add other sorts of real-life wear and tear, such as oil smudges (use black paint) or even mud! You can make good mud by mixing various earthy colours and then drybrushing areas that may collect mud and dirt. You can even go one step further and push in some modelling putty to tyres or tank tracks. Simply put some putty on a firm surface, add your selected colour of mud to the putty, then 'drive' your model wheels or tracks over the putty. This will give an especially nice effect of muckiness and dried caked-on dirt to the finished model.

Drybrushing can look pretty poor if it's overdone or applied with a heavy hand though, so an alternative is to give your model (or the area of the model you want to look worn) an undercoat of aluminium or metal paint and then overpaint with the appropriate colour. When the paint is dry, you can tease-off the top colour with the sharp point of a modeller's knife to reveal the 'alloy' finish underneath, just like a real scratch. For area wear like walkways on wing roots, the application of a worn piece of very fine sandpaper can be quite effective also, but again the secret of course is not to overdo it.

And Finally...

For those of you who try out the above and want to go one step further, the next stage in model making is to put your highly detailed, weathered, and beautifully accurate model into a diorama - perhaps even recreating a moment from history. Or you could make something up yourself, after all, that's the fun of model making!

1The thickness.

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