Hobby Basics Part 1: Model Assembly

Welcome to part one of a new series on the hobby side of wargaming, where I will take you through as many of the tips and tricks that I have learned over the years as I possibly can. We are going to start with some pretty basic stuff that I sure would have liked to know when I started out, and gradually build on this foundational knowledge. This is going to be a long ish series (I’m thinking between 10 and 15 parts) and I am pretty excited for it. I hope that it will be valuable, educational, and entertaining. Let’s go!

4 Main Materials

As a general rule, miniatures come in four main materials, and they all have their strengths and weaknesses.

Resin is a material that holds a lot of detail and is pretty easy to work with from a hobby perspective. It cuts and sands easily (be careful, resin dust is VERY VERY VERY BAD FOR YOU), and you can heat it and bend it with boiling water quite easily. Generally comes off the sprue. Privateer Press is the foremost producer of resin models in the gaming industry, although Forgeworld and many other private companies that create miniatures use the medium as well. Resin will have a mold release agent on it when you get it, and would benefit from being washed in some lukewarm water with soap or from a quick vacation in Purple Power.

Plastic is harder than resin, does not bend easily under heat, and is a little harder to cut and sand. It holds detail fantastically well and is usually a sprue based model. Games Workshop, Wyrd, and a few Privateer Press models are Plastic. Plastic does not need special preparation before assembly.

Metal is the heaviest of the mediums, and most metal models are produced by Privateer Press and Corvus Belli at this point. Metal will have mold release agent similar to resin, and will need to be cleaned with soap and warm water or by a quick soak in Purple Power.

Soft Plastic or “Restic” is a soft plastic like material. It holds detail the least well out of all four mediums, does not cut well and is hard to sand. Privateer Press and Reaper use this material the most. I have seen some debate about washing this kind of material, so I typically recommend it to be safe. I don’t like using Purple Power on this kind of material, I’ve noticed that it can cause some blurring of the detail.

Important Tools for the Job

As with most things in life, you get what you pay for here. I recommend taking the middle road between intense austerity and all out spending in most things, and for these it is no exception.

Super Glue: I really like the Gorilla Glue brand of Superglue. It’s reasonably priced, will last you for a hundred or so miniatures, and the bond is strong and sets quickly (if you’ve prepped your models right). The Gel and the Regular varieties are both worthy. The Gel glue is easier to control, but it feels like it doesn’t go as far to me. The Regular glue can be messier, but it stretches farther in terms of number of models you build.

Craft Knife: Get an X-Acto knife with a couple of different blades and you are set.

Clippers: You want a good set of clips for cutting sprues and taking big chunks of resin overcast off of models. Get a pair with a spring in the handle - manually opening them gets real old real quick.

(Optional) Sand Paper or Files: These are used if you are REALLY particular about the way your model looks after you clean the mold lines off.

Modeling Putty: This is a two part epoxy compound that works similarly to clay and cures without heat or any other additives. It is used to fill gaps in models or to sculpt with. I recommend the Privateer Press Aluminum putty for this. Green Stuff tends to cure kind of rubbery which makes it difficult to sand and cut, but the Aluminum Putty cures to a hardness like Resin and is very easy to sand and file.

We will talk more about materials for other parts of the hobby in their appropriate articles, but these should be plenty to get most models assembled.

Tooth Brush: This is to do a quick scrub on your model before assembly (unless it’s plastic!) so that the glue has a better chance of bonding on the first go.

(Optional) Pinning Vise, Bits, and Pins: We are not going to discuss this here, but if you have these I will be doing an article specifically on pinning soon.

Step 1: Prepping Your Model

As mentioned above, you will want to clean most types of model material. This step is technically optional, but it will make everything from building to painting go better, and it is well worth the effort unless you have to assemble a ludicrous amount of models.

You can see the flash here, big chunks of resin that should be gone

For Resin and Metal, you can skip this step by putting the pieces into a jar/tupperware of Purple Power or Simple Green and letting it sit for 20 minutes whilst you go do something else. If you do not have any, no worries! You can just use soap and gently warm water and your tooth brush. Give everything a good scrub, and then let it dry.

If you have big chunks of flash from the casting process, use your clips to get the bulk of the material out of the way and then use your knife to refine it down with scraping.

Once that is done, carefully look over all of the pieces of your model for mold lines. Mold lines are formed when the mold that the model is cast in did not quite line up perfectly and leakage into the divide between the mold happens, or the details don’t quite line up because the molds were mismatched. Most models have at least a couple of these, as even a perfectly lined up mold can have leakage.

These often lie on the sides of the torso, on the top or bottom of the arm, on the sides of the legs, and on the skinny side of weapons. You don’t technically have to remove the mold lines, but it makes painting absolutely miserable if you do not, and your model will not look as good.

To remove the mold lines, you can either cut them with your knife if they are quite large, or, if not large or if cut down already, you can turn the blade perpendicular to the model and scrape along the lines to remove them without cutting into the main body. A combination of these methods is almost always required. Be patient, put on a film or an audio book, and don’t get frustrated with it.

Step 2: Assembling Your Model

When building a model, I like to have an idea about the best way to start so that I can always hold onto something solid while the model dries. Most models have a body section, and this is where you should start and add pieces on.

Before even opening my glue bottle (be sure you close this every time you use it! Super Glue hardens when it comes in contact with water vapor, and there’s water in the air), I dry fit or test fit the piece I am about to glue. If the connection point needs to be trimmed down, you want to know that now before there is glue everywhere.

A good trick for making connections stronger is using your knife to gently score both of the points that are going to be glued. This gives the glue more surface area to bond to, and also makes it dig into the model a bit more which creates a more solid bond.

Once you are happy with all of your pieces dry fitting together - and don’t worry if there are some gaps, sometimes you cannot avoid that - it is time to break out the glue and start assembling. You do NOT need much glue if you have prepped your model properly. A drop is usually plenty if you spread it around (I use the side of the glue spout to do this). Make sure that you have a thin, even layer of glue on one of the parts of your model - do not apply glue to both sides - and then press the two pieces together. You should only have to hold them together for about 10-30 seconds in most cases.

For the spots that there are gaps in the model, a really good trick is to incorporate modeling putty into your assembly. What you do is mix up a little bit of the putty, put a dab of glue on both parts of the model, and then sandwich a dab of the putty between the two pieces of the model. Push quite firmly to squeeze out all the putty you can, and then hold for about 30 seconds. Once the glue has dried, use your craft knife to trim the excess putty out of the gap and smooth down with the blade - boom, no more gap!

Note: I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS FOR HEAVY PIECES. Modeling putty cannot support a large amount of weight when it is uncured. If you can get some solid model to model contact or if you have already pinned a heavy piece, this can still work but otherwise I do not recommend it.

Fill your gaps or you will regret it later!

Part 3: Gap Filling

Sometimes, you cannot avoid the gaps in the model. When this happens, there is a simple fix - modeling putty. Mix up a small amount of the putty. Usually, wetting your fingers is advised when you go to do this as modeling putty is sticky. I like to stick the resulting bit on my thumbnail so I do not lose it.

Pull off a little bit of the putty from your main mixed blob, and, using enough water to keep it from sticking, roll yourself a snake that’s a little bit thicker than the gap. Use a paperclip or other small object to push the putty snake into the gap until it is all the way in. Trim the excess (if there is any) or put more in (if there is not enough), and then smooth down with your finger (remember, keep your fingers wet!). If you need to extend a muscle or some other detail, you can shape it a bit with your paperclip and fingers.


I hope you found this informative and useful. The next article will cover basing, and will hopefully be out sometime in the next week or two (making hobby articles takes a LOT longer than writing regular content). Please feel free to share this with friends, even those from other game systems!

As always, thanks for reading, and see you next time.