Tools are a critical element of making miniatures. Over the years I have collected quite a few tools and some I use often and others not so much. Some tools I keep to use on bigger stuff (cutting down to size) and I have a smaller tool to use the rest of the time.
The pics I have, show both basic and additional tools, but I will indicate basic tools I recommend for a beginner including some alternatives.
All basic items will be marked with a *.
Let’s start with tools for measuring.
A. *Pencil is better than a pen because it can be erased.
B. *Ruler. I use metal rulers because I use them to cut with. A plastic ruler can be cut by knives and then ruin subsequent cuts. I have used plastic for marking only. I prefer metal rulers that are cork backed which helps to avoid slipping.
C. *Triangle. This one is plastic so I use to mark with and not cutting.
A. *Cutting mat – this one is 18 by 12 inches and is a good basic size.
B. *Metal ruler. A 12 inch ruler is a good basic size. I also have 18 inch and a 24 inch. I only use these longer ones to cut down larger size pieces of foam core board etc.
C. *Craft knife This is a snap blade type – I like it especially for cutting matt board or other thick cardboard as it is has a new blade just by snapping off the end. The end of the knife (red end) is removable. Extend blade one mark then insert in the red cap and bend away from the mark. It will snap off producing a new sharp end. A sharp blade is crucial to good cutting.
A. *Scissors come in all sizes. A basic tool kit needs a good bigger pair for general cutting. What fits in your hand is important so bigger for hand cutting larger or slightly thick items.
B. This pair is ok for basic if you have smaller hands or already have one this size.
C. *Smaller and pointed scissors are crucial for working with items that need finer cutting.
D. These are an excellent alternative to C the smaller pointed pair. The smaller points must be tight so they get in those tight spots.
These are my new favorite. I have another pair in a different color that I have set aside for fabric only. I added a circle of ribbon to the handle to help me remember.
E. Fancy cut scissors. This pair is great for cutting curved shingles for 1:48 scale. I have other styles but limited to ones I am more likely to use for miniatures. The pinking shear (zigzag) style is also good.
Be careful to not go cheap on scissors. They will be harder to cut with.
Smaller Scale Cutting
A. Permanent marker – I use them to mark the ruler for repeat cuts.
B. Pointed craft knife – this could be an alternative to the snap blade knife in a basic tool box, however for smaller scale, this is better for getting in tight spots. I have used even to clean up glue. This uses the shown common number 11 blade as well as others.
I pprefer cutting thin stuff with this one and thicker with the snap blade. However as long as this one is long enough to cut all the way through the material it is great all around knife to have.
C. Smaller cutting mat – it takes less space on my work table since I don’t use the larger one as a place mat protector of the table. I like this one allows more ease to turn as needed for what I am cutting.
Currently my table is my dining room table and I sit at the curve so the smaller is better. At other work tables, I have used the larger cutting matt to work on.
To fit in my smaller tool box, I cut off one end of the smaller size. This makes it is easy to travel with as it fits between the divided boxes in my tool box.
It also works great with the 6 inch ruler.
D. 6 inch ruler – it fits in my smaller tool box and I find it easier to use for those items smaller than 6 inches.
Any time I need a more precise cut, I will turn over the cork backed metal ruler. This allows me to get right next to the ruler without the possibility of tilting the blade left or right.
E. Smaller metal triangle – I find this handy for cutting smaller items.
F. Small 90 degree angle ruler – it works to cut square. I like using it for repeat cuts of strip wood by taping it to my cutting matt. I use the permanent marker to mark, I place the wood on the inside of the right angle and then cut the strip wood with the craft knife. When I am done, I use isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol to remove the mark from the ruler.
A. Sharpening – this special card size metal sanding is what I use to sharpen the pointed craft knife blades. Instead of buying and discarding, I have been resharpening. It is double sided because I added sanding cloth to the back. For more info on what to buy to make one read here.
B. Miter saw – this box is for mitering wood or cutting a joint most often at an angle. It can also be used for straight cuts. The saw goes in the red handle. I have a fine cut and extra fine cut blades. The box has an edge or lip on the bottom to place against the edge of a table so it doesn’t slip.
For cutting wood at right (90 degree) or 45 degree angles and some other media, a miter box is a must have.
C. Easy cutter – it can be used to cut strip wood and molding. It has marks on the plate to guide cutting straight or angles. However caution – it will indent the wood slightly as it cuts.
Another cutting tool is a table saw. I have a small table top one. Mine is a Preac, only available on second hand market. Search for miniature table saw for alternatives. For doing lots of wood cutting and need to be precise for repeat cuts a small table saw is a good investment.
A. *Emery board – this is a cheap and easy way to sand most miniature items. However I prefer the style shown in B.
B. Emery board with foam in the middle. These type are my preference. I think it is because the grit is finer. These may be for artificial nails. I have some of these as squares in different grits. Some of the long ones are plastic in between which works similarly to how D does.
C. Needle files – these metal files come in a variety of shapes and are great for tight spaces especially with smaller scales. These 3 are basic shapes: round, half round and wedge. Now one can find a bigger set of 12 for around what I paid for my 3. For general use the cheap 12 set is great for me.
D. Sanding block – this tool allows one to have a flat surface to sand against in your hand. I’ve had slightly larger ones as well. I like that I can change out the paper VS being glued on.
Sanding is important to give a piece that finished look. It may not take much but that extra may make the difference in how good it looks.
I do have sandpaper, but I like these tools as they have stiffness to them that helps keep me straight.
E. Sandpaper in different grits – sheets are good to have especially for refilling the holder D. Or as an alternative to using the emery board type tools.
Other ttypes of sand paper are actually fabric. These are typically used for belt sanders. I have purchased a sample set with different grits. The finer ones are what I use the most for finishing up.
Other sanding options
Another ‘sanding’ tool is the smaller scissors. When wood is cut with a saw, it tends to fray a bit, it is quick to use the scissors to snip this off instead of sanding, as the sanding might change the size or shape if not careful.
Another ‘sanding’ tool is a craft knife. Sometimes when sanding plastic, the edges just keep fraying. I use the craft knife to trim and scrape away the fray.
Sanding a painted surface is also done. Finer grit sandpaper is the way to go. I paint two coats and lightly sand in between. Then at the end is another sanding with higher number grit. A cheap alternative is a paper bag. This helps smooth the finish on the paint. I know miniaturists who really like the paper bag, where I just use a finer grit. I have a piece of the fabric sandpaper I’ve used for years.
Now every thing is cut and sanded, it’s time to glue.
Yep there are a lot of glues out there and these are just my basic.
A. *Thin white glue – I use this for paper, fabric and tiny things. It takes longer to dry so I don’t use it all the time. It can make paper bubble, fabric can be stained and just not hold, so using it varies.
B. *Tacky glue – it is thicker and holds better/faster than the thin glue. I use it more with bigger items.
I also use with fabric. It’s better than thin glue because it does not soak in the fabric as easily. I often use it on fabric edges to stop fraying. Although I use it with wallpaper use caution as it sticks almost immediately and doesn’t allow much shifting or adjusting, if any. My wallpaper technique is to apply to the wall, then spread thinly and evenly before aligning the wallpaper. I then press from the center out using a old credit card or piece of wood to smooth paper.
C *Wood glue – working with wood this is better than tacky as it bonds better. Just need to be careful if it squeezes out. On a piece that will be stained the wood glue blocks the stain.
D. *Super glue gel – I consider this basic because it can be used with tacky glue for joining larger wood items to help with holding in place while the tacky dries. The gel type is better for controlling where it goes. It’s a must have for gluing plastic or tiny bits like beads to wood and paper. Use caution when gluing clear plastic. Make sure to allow the glue to out gas as it dries. Do this by turning the piece so the glue is not covered. Otherwise risk having the escaping gases turn the plastic white.
E. E6000 and other similar types of glue are used for non-porous items like glass or ceramic.
F. Stick flat glue (Not pictured) – I don’t use this type of glue because I have not had good success with this type. The advantages of this type of glue is allows one to reposition before it dries. There are several brands in a jar and a glue stick is cheapest alternative. However applying tacky or thin glue may be required along the edges. My issues most likely stem from humidity in my region.
When it comes to gluing odd items try this website This to that.
I prefer using a smaller bottle of glue when working on smaller pieces. This could be the items are small parts of a bigger piece or smaller scale items.
I love these bottles (A and B) because they are easy to squeeze, have a silicone cover, that the cover is attached (so I don’t lose it) and they are refillable. Another plus is less to dry up.
A. Wood glue for wood items
B. Thin white glue for paper and tiny things
C. Tacky glue for most everything else. This one is sold this way but not refillable. I am thinking I will try tacky in a 3rd tip bottle with a silicone cover.
A. *Toothpicks and other wood picks – good, cheap options for applying glue. Also nice for making smaller scale items. What I don’t like is the length and that glue builds up. OK to throw away or trim down the end.
B. Quilling tool – I have a set of two and I use them for glue applications mostly. They help with moving things around. Just wipe glue off each time.
C. Point tool – this was in an old xacto carving kit. It can be used for making holes and scratch marking. I’ve used it as a glue applicator like the quilling tool. I prefer the lighter quilling tool for glue, but it is boss when poking holes its size.
D. Syd’s tool – I am new to using these. It is good for glue application. It is a combo of B and G.
E. Micro glue applicator – these were designed for applying Cyanoacrylate. I’ve tried them for other things and decided better to save for that glue.
F. Glue holder – this is from a contact lens. But pill packaging is good too. The purpose is to put glue in for dipping the toothpick or other applicator in.
G. Cut up credit card / hotel key – can be used several ways. Put glue on it like F. Scrape away excess glue in corners or angles. Use as a squeegee to smooth paper.
TWEEZERS – must have a least one good pair.
A. *Straight tweezers – must have a pair of good sharp tweezers when working with miniatures. Our hands sometimes can’t pick up or reach the spot and tweezers do the job.
B. Curved pair for getting around something. I have been using these a lot lately. They are a great alternative to A. The tips are finer than my straight pair.
C. Reverse tweezers – I do not like these much. You have to squeeze them open instead of closed. Personal preference, maybe. I have concerns with marring the piece I have holding, but try them to decide for yourself.
D. Sliding lock tweezers – good when needing to hold something without squeezing the tweezers. These aren’t for tight holds but in general will keep it in place.
Notice I have both medium and larger tweezers. The 6 inch ones will work most of the time but may need at least one longer pair occasionally.
Other than paint, we must have brushes to paint.
A. Paint pot with snap in place lid – these little pots are perfect to mix a small amount of paint to keep for a while. If I mix a color and need it for later, this is better way to go than mixing on a palette and then having to remix later.
B. *Cup for water – this is a really small cup. It makes me change my water more often. This little guy is also great for travel. It helps me to not leave brushes in (to ruin) as I can’t rinse the next one. For bigger paint jobs when using bigger brushes, then a bigger cup is great.
Do not leave a brush sitting in water. It will ruin the brush because of the bristles getting bent and possibly the coating of handle will be damaged.
Always clean the brush well and even wash them out with soap fully later. I like to dry the brush I’ve just rinsed and check my rag for any color change. If yes, then I didn’t rinse it well enough.
C – F *Brushes in several sizes from very small 20/0 to bigger. Using the right size makes it easier to do different tasks. For a basic tool box, I recommend a larger 1/2″ to 1″ flat for covering larger areas, 1/4″ or 1/8″ flat for covering smaller areas or frames, thin wood, etc and then two small detail brushes – round and liner in a 10/0 or smaller if you can stand it. I have liners and spotters in 20/0 and 30/0. I love them for those extra thin stripes or spots.
G. Cleaning rag or paper towels (Not pictured) Lately I use cut up t-shirts. Paper towels cut a roll in half using my snap blade knife (because it makes a long blade and can get to the core). I find the half size perforations handy, but typically will tear it in the middle. So if I bought the half sheet perforated style and then cut it in half might be even better.
H. Another brush to have is big fluffy power makeup brush (not pictured) to dust my precious minis as they do sometimes succumb to that if they are not covered. I use smaller ones as well to get in right spaces.
*Only one of these is needed in basic toolbox. I have not indicated which since there are so many options available.
A. Plastic 6 cup palette – this is a purchased item. I don’t use anymore because I typically paint one color at a time. This is a good solution for holding paint while painting.
B. Contact lenses container and plastic pill containers. Both of these are excellent alternatives to the purchased palette if not available to you. I prefer these and so far have not run out of them. They are recycled.
C. Lids and caps (not pictured) – another excellent alternative for holding paint that is also recycling.
Tape and adhesive
During the process of making and collecting miniatures, there will be an occasion for tape and other adhesives.
A. Permanent clear tape – I keep this handy for taping tiny things like bead to a plastic bag, keeping wrapping paper or plastic closed along with other general usage.
B. *Blue tape – it does come in other colors which indicates either a different brand or different tackiness. The purpose is to mask off or cover something before painting. I use it to hold things together temporarily when gluing for example. I have also when spray painting. I tear or cut off two or three pieces long enough that would double width of tape. If tape is one inch, then two inches long. Then I pull off a long piece of tape say 10-12 inches. Lay this sticky side up and use the shorter pieces to tape it in place. My item to spray paint is placed on the sticky part. I’ve also done this just to hand paint details on multiple items.
C. Mini-hold or museum wax – this product is used for holding an item in place temporarily. I use it mostly for displaying items like in my Swaps Mall. I prefer it to blue tack because it is less likely to leave behind a sticky stain. The mini-hold has left a mark or residue on stained wood but
D. Temporary clear tape (not pictured) – I use this type of tape similar to the blue tape (or as an alternative) including for spray painting light weight things. However what I use it most for is holding flat items like printed rugs or pictures in my photo album like storage solution.
If you have suggestions for tool additions or any questions about my tools, post a comment and I will reply.
Comments always welcome.