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The following hints and tips have come from various Milton Keynes Scale Model Club members and many were included in the first edition of the clubs booklet, 'The Roundabout Way to Modelling'. This is now out of print so they have been included here for your benefit.

I've finally got round to sorting them into alphabetical order for you, so you can find that elusive tip easier.

If you have a special tip to pass on to fellow modellers we would love to hear from you. Just click on the link on the left and email your tip to the webmaster.


Constant handling of your models can be a problem. Try mounting your kit on a simple base, an inexpensive picture frame with the glass removed will make a very attractive base

Bendy Rule

To measure or mark sizes on circular surfaces, cut a strip of styrene sheet, lay alongside your ruler, mark off the digits with fine ballpoint pen and there you are!

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Bottle Holder

Like me, you've probably had the experience of opening a tin of paint, ready to stir it and dilute for your airbrush, and then knocked it over. 

It always happens that that was the last tin of the colour you needed and the shops are shut. You've also just poured it all over the table and onto your trousers, haven't you?

Well, make yourself a simple holder to stop that happening again and also provide a convenient place to keep the important bottles to hand.

All you need is a small flat cardboard box. Mine came wrapped round a picture frame. It is about 10" x 12" (any size will do). The important thing is that it is about 1/2" thick.

On the box lay out the bottles that you use frequently. Mine has spaces for thinners, liquid glue, a few Humbrol tins, a couple of Tamiya and Citadel bottles, my airbrush bottles and paint cups, superglue and space for some toothpicks and varnish or decal setting solutions. The actual contents are up to you. Lay them out so that the things you use most often are to hand.

When you have decided what you want to store, mark out the shapes of them. 

Try to leave a gap of about 1/2" between them so that you will be able to swap them about later.

Cut out the shapes and reassemble the box. You can now swap the paints as you need them. Leave them in the holder while you open and stir them. You will never spill your paint again. 

When the box gets too tatty for use, just find another one. You could also make up several for different sets of paints or tools.

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For making up buildings for dioramas I collect offcuts of card from boxes and cereal packets, etc.. An ideal building material for the carcass of the building is foam mounting board, sold by artists suppliers at about £10 for a large sheet, enough for many models. It has a core of foam and either thin paper of plastic on either face. 

The board is about 5 mm thick, very lightweight and easy to cut with a sharp scalpel. Its thickness is just right for a single thickness brick wall in 1/35th.

To make a stucco effect cut a piece of blotting paper just larger than the wall. Soak it in diluted PVA glue with a 1" paint brush (it should be about the consistency of milk) and place the blotting paper over the wall, wet side down. Go over the other side with more glue. The blotting paper will be very floppy and tear easily. Mould it round door and window frames and tear in places, if it hasn't already, to represent cracks. 

While still wet, go over the surface with a stiff brush, I use a stencil brush, to lift the surface and give a rougher texture. As it dries it will go rock hard and can be filed or drilled. A word of caution, cover both sides of the board or it will warp when it dries, use typing paper on the inside.

Make flights of steps by cutting a long strip to the width of the steps, then cut a length to the longest step. Cut smaller pieces for each step, fixing with PVA.

When dry, use the method above to cover with typing paper to hide the foam edges. If you want a round edge to the steps, glue lengths of sprue or cocktail sticks along the top edge of the step before you cover it with paper.

The foam board can also be used for pavements. Cut paving slabs from cereal packet and glue to the board, leaving small gaps between each. When dry fill the gaps with a wash of diluted plaster, running your finger over the gaps to create a slight depression.

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Cleat Joints

For joints with small gluing area. A cleat can be cut from styrene sheets, laid across the joint, to increase the gluing area.

Cutting Clear Canopies

Pack tissue paper into the canopy, dab with water as you go to create a firm mass. Turn over and cut out. The tissue paper gives your knife some resistance to work against and makes this tricky task easier.


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To apply a decal, the surface must have a smooth glossy surface. Spray or paint a gloss finish onto your model, Johnson Klear floor polish is as good as a gloss varnish, allow to dry thoroughly. Cut the decals away from the sheet only as you need them. 

Decals should be trimmed as close to the printed area as possible. If possible use a decal setting solution such as Microset and Microsol as this allows the decal to conform better to the shape of the model. Apply a small amount of setting solution to the area on which you wish to place the decal and slide the decal from it's backing sheet into position. 

Press the decal into position with a slightly damp cloth, apply some more decal solution onto the decal and allow to dry for at least 24 hours, once dry spray your model with either matt or gloss varnish depending on the type of finish that you require.

Decal In Distress

Sometimes when a decal has firmly set it hasn't snuggled down round the detail and looks blank in comparison to the rest of the model. Make a thick pad from a dishcloth or sponge. (Thick enough to protect your fingers, but no bigger than a postage stamp) Pour boiling water into a saucer, dip the pad into the very hot water (it must be very hot) and press down hard over the decal for about 15 sec's. The detail shows up like magic.

Warning; the decal must be firmly fixed in its final position as it can lift. 

On white metal models a hot hair dryer works as well - don't use a hair dryer on plastic unless you want to turn your latest masterpiece into a lump of recycled plastic.

Dry Brushing

To dry brush models you will need a wide soft paint brush about 1/2 inch wide. Take some of your base colour and mix it with white, then place the mix onto some cardboard (an old kit box is ideal). Lightly dip your brush into the mix then wipe the brush backwards and forwards on some clean card until almost no paint remains on the brush (it feels dry).

Then lightly brush across the surface of the model. You will see the details begin to stand out, but do not overdo the process.

Did you know that it is equally effective on figures? After finishing painting your figure, very gently dust over the surface with a lighter tone of the uniform colours. This leaves a fine trace of colour on all raised edges, creases on uniforms and equipment and brings a drab figure to life.

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If you want a flag draped over your model the best and cheapest way is to use thin tissue paper. Cut to size, paint the flag design onto the paper (use waterproof colours), or print it on thin paper on your computer. To drape it, soak it in some water with a little white PVA glue added. Then lay it over the model in the required position, push and pull it to get the right look and leave it to dry

Gap Filling

On some models, when you fit the parts together there is a hairline gap between parts that can be very difficult to fill using normal methods. A well known tip is to use liquid typist correcting fluid (Tippex or similar) Use the tip of a cocktail stick to run a small amount along the seam. It dries very quickly and can be scraped or carefully sanded when dry.

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Grievous Bodily Harm To Figures

When painting 1/35th figures I tend to leave them disassembled until after most of the painting is done. 

However, holding a small arm while trying to paint it can be a problem. 

Drill a 1 mm hole in some part of the figure that will be hidden when the figure is assembled. Then cut the heads off household pins, heat the pin with a candle and plunge the hot end into the hole in the part. That way the heat welds the pin to the part. You can now paint away and push the pin into a piece of polystyrene to hold it while it dries.

When all the parts are painted, the pin can be pulled out with pliers, the end of the part filed flat and then assembled.

With legs, I leave pins in through the soles of the boots or shoes (very painful!) and use these to pin the figure to the final base.

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Lego Turntable

Superglue some Lego wheels to a round biscuit tin lid to make a simple turntable for painting.

Metalised Paint Burnisher

Don't throw that old brush away. Cut the hairs back to form a hard bristle end. Rub this on small parts painted with metalised paint until it shines. Use a larger brush for bigger areas.

Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud.....

Mud can be made by mixing Humbrol Dark Earth No. 29 with some Baking Powder (Bicarbonate of Soda) into a fairly stiff mix. 

Use a stiff, worn out brush, to stipple the mixture onto tyres, tank tracks, edges of roads, etc..

As it dries the baking powder produces bubbles of gas, which gives a rough texture to the finish. Add some static grass to the mix and stipple onto tank tracks for an impression that it has driven over grass. A light dry brush with green paint when it has dried will make it look like fresh grass. You can also add tea leaves, sawdust, sand, etc. to vary the texture.

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For larger figures the netting over helmets can be reproduced using fine linen gauze or curtain netting. Some herbal tea bags are of very fine linen and some of the insert pads for face masks, sold for decorating and paint spraying, have a gauze layer which can be peeled off. 

Paint your helmet and stretch a piece of gauze over and twist tightly around underneath. Run superglue round the rim only. When set, trim off with a blade flush to the edge and paint as required.

Net scarves can be made by cutting 1/2" x 3" wide gauze, folded into a narrow strip. Cover a pencil with kitchen foil and tie the gauze round this, folding into a baby scarf. 

Flood super glue over and leave to set overnight, when the gauze will be rock hard. 

Remove the pencil and cut with a knife to fit the neck of your bloke. 

Another source of material which can be used for camouflage nets is the open weave type of bandage. I have also used a ladies hairnet to good effect... but that's another story.

Paint Stripper

I just found this one on the IPMS (UK) Forum.

No need to bin models when your paintwork goes horribly wrong. Just use FAIREY POWER SPRAY. this is basically a mild oven cleaner type solution for cleaning baking dishes and the like. It is available in most UK super markets and is advertised on TV by Ainsley Harriot.

Just spray on and leave for a a few minutes if paint is relatively fresh. Older paint may need an hour or so. Then simply wash under the tap while scrubbing with an old toothbrush. I have seen it strip 6 year old XTRACOLOUR with ease.

It doesn't touch filler or super glue and seems to work particularly well with clear parts!

It will strip acrylic and enamels alike and is a lot less fuss than model strip or MR MUSCLE.

I stripped a AM Mustang of 2 coats of XTRACOLOUR and two coats of Halfords in 20 minutes. Right back to the plastic like it was never painted!!

Its around £2.50 and comes in a green trigger bottle.

One word of caution wear gloves it is a little caustic.

Sean Walsh

Thanks Sean, hope you don't mind me lifting your tip.

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Paint Thinner

Save money on expensive acrylic paint thinner, if you use Tamiya paint use a 50/50 mix of ordinary tap water and paint or an alternative is to use car windscreen wash solution from a car or DIY shop. The blue colour does not affect the colour of the paint and the detergent in it helps the paint flow and in cleaning up afterwards.

Those of you, like me, who like to use Isopropyl Alcohol as a thinner will be saddened to learn that the EEC has now banned its sale by chemists.


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Paintbrush & Tool Holders

Do you keep your brushes in an old jam jar and can never find that extra fine point one when you need it? I had that problem until I applied a little lateral thought. I had been using some Polystyrene Foam to build up some groundwork for a diorama. I had held it together with some cocktail sticks. Having a large chunk left over I thought, "why not use it to store my brushes?"

My current piece is about 6" x 3" x 2" and holds about 40 brushes. 

Just stick the handles into the foam and they will always be on hand. I have arranged them with the smallest at the front and the large ones at the back. Easy, now I never loose a brush.

I applied the same principle, but this time using an off-cut of chipboard to hold my drills and Minicraft tools by drilling holes in rows along the wood.

Now I have a tidy desk to work on, with all my tools and paints, etc.. neatly to hand. 

Parts Holders

When painting or holding parts while they are glued, I often find that I need about 10 hands. A good small clamp can be made from a wooden spring type clothes peg by cutting the ends off at 45 degrees. With care you can cut them to a point. The wood doesn't mark plastic and you can get about 3 dozen for a couple of pounds on the market.

When painting small parts like guns, etc.. I leave a small part of the sprue attached. Clamp the sprue in a peg and paint or airbrush the part. It can stay in the peg until it is dry. I then cut off the sprue and touch up the small area left.

Another way to hold small parts, especially when airbrushing, is to get some lengths of batten or plastic strip about 1" x 12". On one side stick a length of double sided tape. Small parts can then be stuck down and held in place while sprayed. When dry lift them off and repeat the process for the other side, if needed. When next required strip off the old tape and lay another piece.


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Prime Finish

Before painting White Metal or resin, give it a spray of car primer - this gives a matt finish 'tooth' for the paint to adhere to. Without it the enamels or acrylics will rub off as you handle the model. 

Acrylic car primers are also very good for plastics as they allow you to see where minor blemishes occur where repairs or conversions have been done. 

If you choose dark grey primer, it will show up marks on white plastic models that were invisible before. It also gives a much deeper undercoat for metallic paints to adhere to. I often find that when sprayed directly onto light coloured plastics, metallic paints look 'weak' and unrealistic. A quick squirt of grey primer first sorts it out.

Raised Panel Lines 

This one was discovered by accident by a club member (aren't all good ideas). 

Some older kits Monogram, etc.. are very good but have raised panel lines. Removing them and re-scribing can be very tricky, especially on curved surfaces. If you like a weathered effect, leave them alone until after painting. 

Before decalling rub the model overall with very fine old wet & dry in the direction of the airflow. The panels, riveting, etc. will show through the paint and, if the plastic is dark olive or dark grey so much the better. 

You can reveal the detail as much as you wish. If you overdo it you can always touch up the paint work, it's up to you. 

If a panel goes through a decal, cut the decal in a like manner and leave a slight gap when applying.

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Reusable Palettes

Use a ceramic tile or polished edged glass to mix paints with brush, wipe off clean after use or scrape clean with old knife blade if hard.

Purchase a pad of tracing paper, use both sides of each sheet by folding over. Throw away when fully used.

Another trick is to cover a tile or piece of card with some kitchen foil. It can be thrown away when used and costs pence. Alternatively, put the tile or card in a plastic sandwich bag before using it.

Putting your palette into a large plastic bag between sessions stops the paint drying out so quickly and also stops dust and stray hairs, etc. sticking to it.

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Rusting Away

Use the same technique, but this time use Humbrol Rust No. 113 to give a worn rusty feel to exhausts, etc.. 

For a lighter rust, paint the item with Humbrol 113 and then sprinkle it with Baking Powder. Let it dry and then dry brush with dark brown or black.

Scratch Cutter

A scratch cutter is a purpose made tool to house used knife blades to scratch shapes into plastic or wood etc.. It is best made from hard wood with wing nut to secure blades. Cutters can be ground into shapes to form mouldings. The blade is run back and forth until it cuts no more. Ideal for forming rebates etc..

Seat Belts

Colour paint charts can be used for cutting out and using for seat belts (emulsion paint ones are good). The edges will show white but can be touched in with a suitable paint. If darker it will look like the grubbiness that seat belts get with use - don't they? Fix with PVA

Stretched Sprue

Take a length of spare sprue. Hold over a candle flame turning to create even heat. When pliable take away from flame and stretch. Hold fast for a moment until cool. With practice different thickness' can be achieved. Uses are endless.

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Superglue Applicators

How do you apply just the smallest drop of superglue to a joint without flooding the area? I got some barbecue sticks (a larger version of cocktail sticks about 6" long). Cutting one in half I drilled a small hole in the end and superglued a sewing needle into the end. 

Using this you can put a small drop of superglue into a suitable container; I use a foil jam tart case. Dip the needle end into the glue and apply to exactly the right spot. Some friends told me that they put the needle in the wrong way and then cut off halfway along the eye, so that you have a small groove at the end. This, they say, holds a small drop better, but I can't get on with it. Just shows that what works for one modeller isn't right for everyone.

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Toy Boxes

I expect that most models end up as loft insulation as there is nowhere in the house to show them and, anyway, your partner won't have your "toys" cluttering the house.

The problem is always to find a suitable box to store them in. Some time ago I had a flash of inspiration and decided that by building a model and then finding a box to fit was doing things the wrong way round. 

What I now do is use the boxes that office copier paper comes in for my smaller models. I make up bases, or get a friendly member of the club to make them for me, to fit in the box. 

The box can be cut down in height easily. With a bit of care, one side can be opened out to make a flap to get the model in, or out, easily. The lid holds everything firmly in place.

For larger models I use archive storage boxes which are available from Office World, or similar stationers. 


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Tubing & Wire

Some Cotton wool bud handles are hollow. They make good strong tubing for undercarriages and will not snap like kit plastic.

Dried grasses are also hollow and cut into short lengths make super gun barrels and are very strong when only 4 to 5 mm long. Painted with 2 or 3 coats look very realistic.

Garden Centres have stocks of copper wire in the dried flower section in different sizes and straight floral wire is very useful too. You can also get a wide range of tinned copper wire and various sizes of flexible wire from an electronics store such as Maplin. They are also good for small tools for the model maker, often much cheaper than from a model shop.

Whilst in the Garden Centre look out for dried flowers that can be used in dioramas, but they have to be in scale or they look silly. Dried asparagus grass is very effective if cut into small pieces as long grass on 1/35 models and can be used in large scale figures for the same effect. Clumps make effective bushes in 1/35.

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Wheels & Tyres

Never paint tyres Matt Black. Real rubber, unless polished, is a dark grey. I mix my own by adding white to Tamiya matt black. This mix is also very good for black uniforms as it allows an even darker grey (black with a dash of white) to be used as a shadow colour. If you use black for the uniform you can't show the shadows. 

Leave the wheels off your model until it is finished - flatten tyres by running them over a file, dry fit to check that the model sits flat.

On cars and aircraft after painting hubs, if silver, seal with Johnson's Klear floor polish. 

Hold the wheel while painting by using a cocktail stick. Run very thin black paint round the junction of rim and tyre. It will run on its own if thin enough, leaving about 0.5 mm of paint - turn over and paint the other side when dry (not before as the paint runs off the wheel, losing the effect. Now paint dark grey, unthinned, rotating the wheel on the cocktail stick, up to the edge of the black, but not over, just leaving the black showing.

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White Metal Tips

When cleaning off the moulding residue from White metal or Resin it is common to use dilute washing up liquid. Instead, try using white vinegar, it is acid based and makes a better job of getting rid of the grease. 

White metal will burnish to a very high polish. After the final clean up with the finest wet & dry - rub vigorously for 5 minutes or so with clean, cartridge paper, no polish needed.

On curved surfaces use the point of, say, a pair of chrome tweezers, burnishing till a high polish is achieved. This is great for rear view mirrors.

Last updated 20 January 2008




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August 2008, Milton Keynes Scale Model Club