Scratch-building: Basics

Scribing, scoring, calipers, protractor scriber

An Itch to Scratch-build

Scratch-building is one of the most fun and challenging aspects of modeling. Yet, it's also one of the most feared for those who just don't know where to start. I thought I would begin with some thoughts and tools that make the job easier. A review of specialty tools can be found on another page.

Of course, to do this you need some styrene. There are 2 main sources for modeling-type styrene: Evergreen and Plastruct. Personally, I prefer Evergreen for their selection and accuracy of the parts. Plastruct parts can be a little rough, but they do offer some neat shapes/structures like ladders and stairs. However, you can also buy signage at a hardware store if you want big, thick, cheap styrene sheets. So, here are a few shapes/suggestions:

  • Sheets - .5 mm to 1mm thick is great
  • Strips - .25 mm, .5mm and 1mm thick in varying widths
  • Channels - these have MANY uses
  • Rods - solid round pieces used for piping
  • Angles - great for structural support
  • There are many others, but these are the most important/used to me.
  • For dealing with the super thin .13mm sheets to create thin panels, see this post on using a paper cutter.

Scoring & Scribing

Essentially, these are the same. Scribing is when you to gently drag a blade across plastic, creating a recessed panel line. Think of all of the panel lines on a Star Destroyer. Scoring is where you scribe a panel line, but then pop the plastic apart along the weakened line. Scoring is much easier and accurate than trying to saw or cut styrene completely through in one pass.

Remember: Drag the scribing tool slowly. Don't apply a lot of pressure. Repeat for deeper lines.

So, what tools do you use for scribing?

  • Tamiya Plastic Scriber II (great option)
    • Has specialized angled blade that digs into the plastic with minimal force
    • Perfect for scoring styrene before snapping it apart
    • It's a rebranding of an Olfa Plastic Cutter
    • May cut deep, so best to use lightly when scribing panel lines
  • Tamiya Fine Engraver (great option)
    • Great for accurate scribing and is my preferred tool for panel lines
    • Different width blades available
    • Creates perfect squared off recessed lines
  • Hasegawa Trytool Scriber
    • Perfect for circles or using curved templates
    • Can easily resharpen tip
  • Dental Pick
    • Decent for some use
    • Easier to do circular/curved shapes
    • Not as good as dedicated options
  • Needle in a pin vise
    • Cheap alternative to the Hasegawa scriber
    • Breaks easily
  • Back of an X-acto knife
    • Perhaps the easiest is to break the tip off an X-acto knife blade, flip it over, and use it to score plastic.
    • Not as accurate as other tools
    • Usually the lines require a lot of cleanup

Straight Edges

Of course, scribing a straight line is impossible without a straight edge. So, you need some options on straight edges and tools to make them.

  • Metal ruler
    • use for straight lines or combine with a square
    • look for one without the cork backing, which doesn't help for this use
  • Zona square
  • Square
  • Brass PE guides
    • I love thick PE guides to make lines. I also have an old Tamiya Scriber blade.
    • I hold these on the model and run the scriber along the edge.
  • Dymo Embossing Tape
    • Great for curved surfaces. Peel, stick, scribe, and remove tape

Now, I also have a homemade Protractor Scriber that I use a lot. It consists of a pine board with a stainless steel protractor mounted on the surface.

  • I always double check 90-degree cuts because the protractor is a little off (the marking point is like .25 mm off, not much, but worth double checking). I use a square to check that.
  • The protractor is not aligned with the would be very hard to get it aligned perfectly.
  • I used washers to push the base of the protractor up a little to create a "lip" to slide styrene sheets against.
  • Still, I can scribe any angle with precision on a hard surface.


Leave a Reply