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When I first started making models, I just slapped things together as quickly as I could. I have learned a lot of things over the years that have helped me to reduce my mistakes, and enjoy this hobby even more.
The steps to assembling your miniatures are:
- Remove the pieces from the sprue
- Clean up factory blemishes from the model such as mold lines
- Dry fit the pieces before gluing
- Glue your pieces with the correct glue
- Fill gaps
- final clean up and prep for paint
What you will need
- Hobby knife: This will be used to remove mold lines and flash as detailed later in this article
- Side cutters: These are valuable especially if your models are on sprues.
- files: small files are useful for smoothing rough edges and removing posts that you may have missed with the side cutters
- Model-Glue: Something has to hold these things together. When gluing plastic models It is best to use plastic model glue. It will give the strongest bond for plastics. I prefer the Tamiya extra thin kind because it gets in between parts easily, and if you accidentally get some on your mini it is easier to sand it than thick glue or super glue. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work on materials other than plastic. If you are assembling metal or resin models you will need some superglue. I like the superglue army painter makes It is available at most local gaming stores.
- Pin vise: this is a useful tool for securing large pieces that are difficult for glue alone to hold
- Magnets: These are great for creating interchangeable parts on your models (read an article about this HERE)
Decide if you want to build then paint, or paint then build
There are some people who prefer to paint first then assemble the model. the reasoning is that if you paint each piece individually prior to assembling them you have total access to all of the nooks and crannies that otherwise would be covered by arms weapons or other parts of the models. This is particularly true for complex or intricate models.
The major drawback of doing things in this order is that the models are unusable for gameplay until they are fully painted and then assembled. Conversely, if you build your models before you paint them, you are free to use them in games without worrying if you will be able to remember which model is which if parts are missing.
Personally, I make this decision based on two factors.
First: how important is the model to your army. I put more effort into the focal points of my force than I do for the grunts. I want the centerpieces of my army to stand out.
Second: do you want to use this model before you finish painting it? For example, if you have a tournament coming up and a new model that you want to use in your army list drops just early enough to be eligible for it, but you don’t think you will have enough time to finish painting it. Then by all means assemble the new model so that you can include it in your army.
If you want to use the model in a tournament, but it is one that you feel needs to be painted before assembling, then dry fit as many pieces as you can. You can use small amounts of poster tack to hold small pieces together during the tournament. When you get home it will be easy to take apart the model so that you can start or finish painting it.
I personally prefer to do staged assembly. I will assemble as much of the model as I can that will allow me to get the highlights and shadows correct. Then I will use the trick above to hold it together with poster tack to make sure that the highlights are in the right places while still remaining easy to pop off the parts that are getting in the way without too much trouble or effort.
Remove the pieces from the sprue
Models either come on sprues or as separate pieces in packages. The packages can be clear plastic clamshells or cardboard boxes that have bags full of pieces inside.
Many model kits have the pieces that are necessary to build several different configurations. The squad of space marine intercessors that came on the sprues in this picture, for example, can be built with a variety of different heads, weapons and accessories. For these models it helps to decide what configuration you want to use before you remove the pieces from the sprue or bags.
The best tool to remove the model pieces from the sprue is a pair of flush side cutters. This tool will cut very close to the edge of the pieces that you remove from the sprue. A good pair of side cutters will leave very little plastic to clean up afterward. I use the gale-force nine cutters below.
A tip for side cutters
Metal models will dull your cutters. Pick up another inexpensive pair if you are into a game that has lots of both types of miniatures. You will have one that you know will get dull quickly, but it won’t affect your clean cuts on plastic model parts.
Clean up the mold line on the model pieces
When pieces are molded they often have some of the plastic that will go through the edge of the mold and leave lines in the plastic or small pieces of plastic hanging to the side. These are referred to as mold lines and flash.
There are specialized tools available for the removal of flash but I have found that the back edge of your utility knife works just as well. Gently, I can’t stress that word enough, gently pull the back of the utility knife over the area and the plastic or metal edge will come off of the rest of the model. Remember that plastic is a soft material that can be easily damaged.
You can also use a small file to remove the small pieces of plastic that are left where you cut the pieces off from the sprue. You can also use very fine sandpaper or emery boards to remove small blemishes and the final bits of mold lines from the model.
Dry fit the pieces together before gluing
Once the bits have all been cleaned up gently hold them together in the pose that you will use for the model. Make sure that they fit together nicely and that there aren’t large gaps in between pieces. Once you are happy with the way that they fit together without glue it is time to glue them together.
Use modeling glue appropriate for your model
Some people think that super glue is modeling glue. Not true. Although many of us use super glue there are some important things you need to know before you decide.
Model glue will give you more time to get the pieces into place. Super glue cures very quickly. Many times I have used super glue and when I put the pieces together they were stuck almost instantly. No chance to reposition if I got it wrong.
Model glue requires you to hold the piece in place while the glue cures, but you have time to adjust the position of the arm or object you are attaching.
Superglue dries almost instantly when it comes in contact with your skin. My friend Jake hates using super glue because every time he does he loses some skin from his hand by accidentally gluing the model to it. If you feel the need to use superglue be careful not to get it on your hands.
Large pieces might need a little extra strength to hold them in place. Model glue can give added strength to the bond between plastic pieces that are large. But it is ineffective for models not made from plastic.
Some model pieces are large enough that the sheer weight of them is too much of a strain for regular modeling glue.
This would be a good time to use a tool called a pin vice to insert a small metal rod into the pieces of the model, we call that a pin. The pin gives greater support to the pieces. I will post an entire article about this process soon.
Fill small gaps in the model
Many times your models will have small gaps where the pieces didn’t quite fit together perfectly. Sometimes they are in places where nobody will notice. But a lot of the time they are very noticeable. Filling them will help your models to look their best.
Greenstuff is a small two-part putty that is often used to fill gaps in models. It comes in a blue and yellow ribbon. When the two parts are kneaded together they set off a reaction that cures the putty and it becomes hard.
Working with small amounts of green stuff at a time you can fill gaps to make them look much better. You can use any kind of filler but green stuff is readily available at your friendly local game store and once it has hardened it can be sanded smooth with either a file or sandpaper.
Remove small imperfections
Sometimes after you have assembled your miniature, you will find some last imperfections that you missed. You can use your file or fine sandpaper to clean these up.
Be careful with either tool. High-quality tabletop miniatures have a lot of fine detail in them. Overuse of sandpaper can quickly remove the details that attracted you to that model in the first place.
You can also use the back of your modeling knife to remove mold lines, like in the photo below.
Occasionally you will get glue onto your model, if you don’t get it wiped off quickly it will dry and cause a blemish. You can use the back of your knife to remove this excess glue from your model.
The model on the far right had glue on the right pauldron. You can see that I lightly scraped it off with the back of my knife and it will paint up just fine.
Keeping your tools organized
When I got started and didn’t have many tools, I picked up a small fishing tackle organizer that I used to keep my tools organized. Having them in a spot that is a way to find helps me every time I start a new assembly project.
Now that I have many more tools, I have a system of drawers on my work desk that helps me to keep them neat and tidy.