Scratch-building: Tools

Specialty tools, The Chopper, Miter sander, punch sets, Olfa circle cutter

Specialty Tools

One of the biggest problems with scratch-building is finding the right tools for the jobs that you have. Unfortunately, there aren't many "catch-all" tools;  rather there are several specialized tools that each have specific uses. So I think it would be helpful to list the tools I use, what I use them for, and any tips/tricks I've found that might be useful.

  1. The Chopper
    • Now replaced with Modified Chopper (see below). It cuts styrene strips to make duplicates of various pieces.
    • The stop-guides come in 90, 30, 60, and 45-degree angles.
    • Uses regular razor blades that can be changed as needed
    • I like the version 1 for the size. Version 2 has better construction but is smaller. And version 3 is a wider V1.
    • CON - it only works for pieces a few millimeters thick
    • CON - the aluminum horizontal bar will eventually begin to bow up. Northwest Short Line sells replacement bases when this happens.
  2. Miter Sander
    • From Fourmost Products, this sands styrene pieces at almost any angle you need
    • Perfect for getting the "exact" angle you want
    • Also great for shortening pieces/parts
    • When the sandpaper wears down, peel it off and use wood glue to adhere any sandpaper to the block
    • Fourmost also makes an angled block as well
    • Use big black paperclips to create guides
  3. Miter Saw
    • From Fourmost Products, this allows you to saw larger styrene pieces at nearly any angle
    • Comes with its own saw, but will fit any Zona saw
    • Great for anything The Chopper cannot cut
    • Use big black paperclips to create guides
  4. Miter Cut
    • From Fourmost Products, allows cutting styrene at nearly any angle
    • Similar to The Chopper, but with more angles available
    • Uses standard razor blades
    • Use big black paperclips to create guides (see picture)
    • Not a necessity, but I do sometimes find uses
  5. My Modified Chopper
    • Built with a wooden base, stainless ruler, glass square, and parts from The Chopper
    • The glass cutting board prevents thin styrene from simply bending into the groove that happens to the basic Chopper over time.
    • The blade comes down right at the 15cm mark allowing for easy measurements.
  6. Paper cutters
    • Extremely useful for slicing the super-thin .13mm styrene sheets that you cannot score and snap. I only use the .13 mm for making raised-panel greeblies, as the thickness is perfect for smaller scales.
    • Some people also report using it for thin brass sheets as well.

Making circles

Now, at some point during scratch-building, you may need to make dials or circles for your models. This is where you have to specialty tools to form the shape perfectly. I have 2 tools in my inventory to accomplish this:

  1. UMM Punch set
    • punches go from .6 to 3mm
    • can make dials, rivets, bolt-heads, etc.
    • difficult to locate exact point where punch will occur
  2. Olfa compass circle cutter
    • cuts from 1/4 inch to 6 inches
    • use calipers to measure the length from needle tip to blade (this gives you the radius of the circle)
    • comes with a black rubber stop if you don't want the needle pivot marring the surface
    • comes with extra blades

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