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General Model Kits

General model kits comprise all the different model kits available: miniature buildings, cars, airplanes, boats / ships, rockets…etc. Although we have a individual hobby page for each, this page and article covers all of them together.

Below is a terrific introductory article where you can learn the basics and how to get started. You can help grow our learning community by contributing your knowledge to the article. Just click on the edit tab in the wiki article below.

Use the white subtabs above to navigate the other Model Kits resources. We have a Model Kits forum where you can get your questions & doubts answered, a page with Model Kits how-to videos, a page with the best handpicked links to other sites, and a page with the best Model Kits books and products.

Good Luck and Have Fun!
Duncan Davis

 

Introduction


When entering a hobby store, you’re greeted with a vast display of model kits to choose from. Many of these kits involve putting together models that are meant for display only. Common examples of these types include car, ship, and aircraft.




This style of model building is often called static models. One popular model vehicle that doesn’t follow this pattern is the model rocket. By looking at the parts used you can tell there is a significant difference between how the approach to building these models differs.




In the static build the objective involves show casing minor details. In rocketry, the main goal is to display the physics of how a rocket worked. The static models call for the need for extra tools to assemble the pieces of the model together. A model rocket requires that you clearly understand the parts of the rocket to achieve success. The following sections will outline the important parts of each type of model.




The static model


Small gun turrets, detailed paint jobs, and just an overwhelming amount of detail surround this display based model. Whether it is land, sea or air, you’ll find a model based on real and conceptual vehicles.




The parts of these models vary widely. After all, most ships don’t require tires and most cars aren’t sporting a set of wings. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t. Many times builders of static models will combine or alter a model to give an extra level of customization.




This highlights where the enjoyment comes from in static model building. Modelers will enjoy the challenge of the build and the pride in the displaying of it. With such a wide variety to choose from they’re bound to find some vehicle that interests them.




Due to the nature of this type of model it is important to point out that a modeler should equip themselves with certain tools. The following sections will cover these tools and then the steps you should take to succeed at this type of model building.




Tools for static model kits


If you find that you are serious about pursuing modeling, you’re going to need a number of tools to help in the process. These tools are broken up into two major groups. The first is the essential tools of the trade. These tools enable you to get the proper amount of detailing found in professionally built models.




The second group of tools is more for luxury. These tools make the process easier and the outcome better. These tools are also more expensive so only get them if you find your hobby has turned into a passion. It’s recommended that you start with the basic tools before working your way up to the luxury tools.


 



Essential


Assembling a model by hand is only for the youngest and most basic model builder. These sets most likely have a snap together design with no tools required. Those types of models need little to know guidance and their outcome will show a very basic model.




When you’re ready for the ones you want to display, you’ll need a few tools to help accomplish this. The following paragraphs will introduce the tool and describe some of the functionality of the tool.




The first tool is a hobby knife. The knife comes in two parts the blade and the handle. The normal blade type used in model building is a number 11. The average brand for this knife is Exacto knife. The hobby knife is a great tool for removing plastic pieces from the sprues (the plastic frame that holds the pieces. It also is useful in removing the flash (extra plastic that is still attached to your piece) from the pieces. You can also use the knife in a dozen other situations that you might come across in the process of building the model.




Safety glasses are an important part of model building. When you`re cutting pieces tiny shards and debris are likely to fly about causing minor annoyance and/or injury. Since a good degree of eye sight helps in the model building process, it’s wise not to chance blinding yourself. The safety glasses also play a substantial role in protecting your eyes from harsh glues paints and other materials you might need throughout the build.




Sand paper can prove to be invaluable when trying to achieve a high degree of detail. It can be used to sand away excess glue or create a much smoother surface when painting. It’s recommended to get a variety of grits for these purposes. 400 to 1000 are perfectly suitable ranges when selecting the fineness of the grit. Some modelers go as fine as 2000 for their models.




Fine tweezers make an excellent tool in model building. During any detailed model build, you’ll find occasions to handle extremely tiny pieces. These pieces require a fine tool to allow you to grip and place the piece while still being able to see the piece. The fine tweezers are custom designed exactly for this task.




Paint brushes are a modeler’s best friend. Even when you use airbrushing techniques, you’ll still find that small out of the way parts will need a touch of paint. You can also use these delicate brushes to maintain your models. Perhaps they need a delicate dusting or a small piece needs a touch up to its paint job. Check with your local hobby store to determine if they recommend certain sizes for various jobs.




Pins prove to be ideal for applying a very fine bead of glue. They not only have the ability for amazing precision, but they also give the modeler great visibility on where the glue will be applied. Since the pins are made of metal, they will resist bending or warping like other options you might think of to accomplish this task.




Toothpicks may not be ideal for applying glue like pins, but they do have their uses. Mostly they’re best for stirring your small containers of paint. They also are a good for testing the color and consistency of your paint. It also helps that they’re really cheap.




Glue, without it your models won’t stay together. Check your kit for suggestions on which glues will work best. If no suggestions are given, Testers Glue in the tube will serve for most things. You can also get the advice from the clerk at the hobby store.




Filler, this usually comes in a tube. The large scale equivalent would probably be cocking. Its use here is to smooth out areas between glued parts. Once applied and set, you can use sand paper to smooth the area and get it prepped for painting.




If you aren’t sure if a part fits together, tape makes an excellent tool for helping to figure this out. Tape also makes it easy to cover areas you don’t want painted. Use it similarly to how you’d paint around a window.




Disposable gloves make a nice addition to your modeling tools. Some glue will recommend keeping away from contacting your skin. This will aid in making this possible. Also, gloves will help prevent finger prints when you get to the painting stage of your modeling project.




Finally, paints and thinners are the final essential tools. This will be where the primary amount of customization of your model comes in. It’s recommended that you select the thinner that the paint used recommends. This will insure the most optimum effectiveness and reduce damage to your model.


 



Luxury


As you build more and more models, you might find that certain areas of the process must have an easier method. A lot of times they do. However, it’s really only justifiable if you use the tool more than a hand full of times.




The following tools outlined here are designed to not only make your life easier, but give a more polished model. They may take some time to figure them out. Once you do, it will make a world of difference.




The first two tools are the cutting pliers and razor saw. Both are designed for very precise cutting of small object. This makes pieces held by the toughest sprues a breeze. They can also come in handy if you need to convert a model and need a piece cut.




For those who want a more specific tool, you do have the option of a sprue cutter. This tool is specifically designed for modelers to remove parts. The only draw back is that it has a little less functionality that the cutting pliers and razor saw.




To get more visibility when assembling or painting your model, you can always invest in a desk lamp that has a magnifier. The magnification is not terribly powerful, but it does give you an edge in dealing with very small detail work.




If you find you get tired of gluing and filling, you can move to a more advanced glue. It’s called Cyano-acrylate glue. Many refer to it as C.A. glue. This will not only glue pieces, but it makes excellent filler all in one. It is a very strong product, so it’s recommended to wear safety glasses with it.




When attempting to get a better paint job on a model, it’s recommended to use either a spray can or airbrush. For an airbrush you’ll also need a small air compressor. Due to the application process, you will eliminate streaks left behind by brushes.




Other accessories that can aid in the painting process help the modeler more than the model. Three such pieces of equipment are the paint booth, turntable and hot-glue gun. The paint booth will help ventilate and catch loose paint that shoots from the spray variety paint applicators. It is perfect for those who don’t have the option of building your model outside.




The turntable allows the modeler from touching painted areas. The turning action also means they don’t have to get up from where they are sitting.




The hot-glue gun is used slightly differently. By utilizing the glue on a scrap piece of material, you can use it to position small plastic pieces when painting them. Fortunately, this is probably something you already have and won’t be an additional cost.




Finally, for the most advanced modelers, there’s the dremel motor tool. This is both a cutting and grinding device that makes alterations of plastic pieces possible. It’s recommended that when you begin using this tool, start out with more basic models that are less expensive. This will give you plenty of practice so that when it does matter you’ll have the experience needed for the job.




Preparations for static model kits


Before starting you will want to prepare a few things first. The most important point is deciding where you’re going to build the model. A flat sturdy surface is essential for this task. Many people will choose the dining room table for this very reason. However, the model may take more than one sitting to complete.




This is why you should look for certain things when selecting a work space. First, is the surface flat and sturdy? Second, is there adequate lighting? Third, is there proper ventilation of the area? Fourth, is it okay if things spill in this area? With these questions answered you can determine the perfect spot for model building.




Now that you have a work space all picked out, you need to prepare the parts. This includes washing the pieces before assembly. In the model making process, the pieces of your model have to be pulled out of a mold. To do this a mold removal agent is applied to the parts. This agent will prevent other materials from adhering to the surface of the pieces, this includes paint you might try using.




This is why you should wash your pieces first. Take a pan of soapy water and lightly scrub the parts in the sprues with your finger. You can let the parts air dry on a paper towel or other soft clean surface. If beads of water settle on the parts you should use a blow drier to prevent them from spotting the pieces.




You can repeat this process before painting your model. The oils in your fingers can have a distorting effect on your paint job. They may leave finger prints and or cause an uneven coat of paint.


Fix parts that are defective in some way. This includes removing flash from the pieces. You can cut this off with a hobby knife. Fill in sink spots if necessary. Sink spots are typically caused by necessary techniques in the molding process. They show up as depressions in the plastic. Most of the time, these spots are put in out of the way places and don’t need filling. However, if the piece is highly visible you may need to use a filler.




Another fix that some parts need are cosmetic than anything else. For example a part may contain a copyright stamp by the manufacturer. This will be very noticeable if you’re going for an extremely detailed look. You can remove this writing with some rubbing with sand paper.




Read and make notes on your instructions. Many times the instructions will give you a good idea where the tough spots are in your model. You can make note of them and prepare yourself mentally to handle them. It also is good to make notes if you plan to alter the model’s design in certain areas. The instructions also are likely to provide a list of paints to use for an accurate portrayal of the model. With a list of paints in hand, you can have what you need when you need it.




As stated before, a model may take more than one sitting. This means you might want to prepare an area for storing pieces. For decals and small pieces that have been painted, you should use zip-loc bags or similar type container for storage. For pieces still in the sprues you can fit these back in the box. Make sure to separate these pieces with paper towels to prevent scratching of the pieces.




Now that you have all your tools and the prep work out of the way, you can begin building your favorite models.




The functional model


There is no real name for the type of model that a rocket represents. For ease of use we’ll refer to it as a functional model. As stated before, the key feature of this model is how it works.




Occasionally, a rocket will have stickers and/or designs that you can add to the body. These are simple markings that really don’t make much of a difference. There is not even a wide array of specialty tools needed for assembly.




To give a good example of a functional model, you need to look at what it is comprised of. You’ll find that in these types of models each part will perform a specific function. Remember, it is all about the operation and not the look of these models. The following is a breakdown of the parts of a rocket and how its pieces work together.




Parts of the rocket


Instead of a wide array of tools and small parts to glue together, a rocket follows a very basic design. Remember, the functionality of the rocket is more important than the detail that goes into a rocket.




No matter the size, the principles of rocketry hold true. It’s learning how to apply those principles properly that is the trick. The following is a breakdown of a rocket then more specifically its engine. We’ll look at each piece and talk about what purpose it serves. Afterwards, you should get a good sense that a rocket uses no extra parts. It is straight forward in its design and functionality.


 



The Rocket


The top of a rocket should be the nose cone. This piece is responsible for reducing aerodynamic resistance on the rocket. This resistance is referred to as drag or aerodynamic drag. Some people may decorate this piece, but that is not necessary.




The next piece along the body of the rocket is called the payload. This is what houses the cargo of the rocket. In model rockets this is often where the retrieval unit is stored.




The last part of the rocket’s body is called the body tube. This portion of the rocket holds the engine and gives a mounting surface for the fins. Other smaller parts can be found in here. Those pieces will be indicated later.




Moving to the inside of the rocket, you have the engine. This is not like a typical vehicle engine. Rather, it is a propulsion unit that drives the rocket forward. It is located inside the body tube.




Next to the engine you’ll have the thrust ring. This piece keeps the engine from shooting through the rocket itself. Consider it as a type of bracing that the rocket has against the engine. It is also located inside the body tube.




Moving towards the nose, you’ll have the wadding. This is a protective material that keeps the engine from burning the retrieval unit. As seen later, the retrieval unit is very often flammable so requires this protection.




This brings us to the retrieval unit. There are a wide variety of types of retrieval units. They could involve gliding wings, helicopter style propellers, streamers, etc. The most commonly known retrieval unit is a small parachute. Most of these units will be deployed when the rocket splits in half.




To accomplish this, an ejection charge is used. This provides the proper deployment of the retrieval device. This is actually part of the engine.




Connecting the retrieval unit to the rocket are the shroud lines. These lines are typically packed in with the retrieval unit.




Since a sudden deployment of a retrieval unit would most likely destroy a rocket, there needs to be something that absorbs the shock of the impact. For this purpose, there is the shock chord. The shock chord connects the cone to the body and anchors the shroud lines.




The rocket will also have a small tube called a launch lug. This serves to guide the rocket at launch. It works by fitting over a launch rod. The launch rod is not part of the rocket. The rod is approximately thirty six inches long and can be used to point the rocket in a direction. The launch lug provides this important guidance that the rocket needs.




Finally, there are the fins. Once the rocket reaches proper speed and wind resistance, these are the only thing that keep its trajectory. The proper speed is roughly thirty miles an hour. This speed needs to be attained before the rocket the end of the launch rod. If not, the fins may not have enough influence over the rocket to guide it. This is why they don’t recommend modifying a rocket kit since all the specifics have been worked out. Tampering with the rocket may result in an unexpected result.


 



The engine


The engine or motor of a rocket is the most important element of a rocket. It provides the thrust needed to achieve launch which is the main goal behind building one of these kits. Because of this fact, extra details about the engine are presented here.




The ejection charge as stated before releases the retrieval unit through the proper apogee. The apogee is the opening designed to open to release or eject something specifically. In this case, it will release the retrieval device like a parachute.




Since the ejection charge is a substance rather than a piece or part, it requires a container to hold it. This container is called a retainer cap in a rocket. Its only function is to hold the charge while it waits to be ignited.




Because you don’t want the retrieval device to deploy as the rocket launches, an element is needed to prevent immediate ignition of the ejection element. This element is called the delay element. Not only does it act like a time delay fuse, but it also provides a smoke trail for your eyes to follow.




Now we move onto the propellant. This is the chemical compound that will provide thrust to your engine. When it burns it creates a gas exhaust that takes up more room than the space it’s in. Therefore, it must find a way out. This force that seeks release gives the rocket its thrust.




Thrust alone will launch the rocket a short ways up. In order to intensify the thrust model rockets come with a ceramic disk with a hole in it. This piece is called the nozzle. By forcing escaping exhaust gasses through a much smaller hole, the speed at which the gas escapes needs to increase. Remember, it still needs to displace the same volume of material. Therefore, you have a chain reaction.




To better understand how this works, let’s use the example of a water hose. When you turn it on water begins pouring out. Consider the water thrust provided by the propellant. Now put your hand over the end of the hose. As you can tell, you can’t really stop the water from coming out. So it tries to escape through any small opening your hand might provide. Since the same amount of water needs to come out the end result is stronger streams of water. This is how a nozzle works.




The last part of the rocket’s engine is the mechanism used to ignite the propellant. Since it’s very dangerous to use hand held ignition devices igniter wires are provided for this purpose. This will allow remote launching of your rocket.




What you need


The real task before you is to decide which model type suits you best. To do this you might want to find a hobby store that specializes in models. There you can either browse and find what interests you or ask for advice from the sales associate.




Once you select your favorite you can have limitless fun. In every model category there is a progression of more and more advanced options. This means, the hobby doesn’t have to stop with just one build. This type of hobby can form a collection.




Conclusion


With the wide variety of different types of vehicle models it’s hard to choose just one. Fortunately, you don’t have to. If cars and planes interest you, there is no reason you can’t build models of different vehicles.




Model building also has models whose difficulty scales as much as its size. That way, every member of your family can have their own model that suits them. It is a truly unique hobby that promotes the mind. And when everything is done, you have something to show for it. Not many hobbies can boast something like that.