Modeler’s Tools Source

Dollar Stores: A Great Source for Modeler’s Tools

by MXSavant 04/05/05

Modelers are like any other semi-nerdy bunch of hobbyists; they’re nuts about gadgets and the tools of their trade. I admit it; I’m a gadget junkie. Sometimes it’s more fun to purchase some nifty tool (ostensibly) for modeling than it is to actually use it. But gadgets cost. Tools, while not all that expensive compared to other hobbies (amateur astronomy, for instance), can set you back a few bucks. So when I find a source of inexpensive and useful tools for my modeling bench, I take notice.

Recently I have discovered what the retail phenomenon known as “Dollar Stores” have to offer a gaming model builder or figurine enthusiast. If you haven’t dropped by one of these places where everything in the store is one dollar or less, you should. These places can be a trove of tools – all for a dollar or less. Check your neighborhood for places like “Dollar Store”, “Dollar Tree”, or “Only A Dollar”. The latter is the name of a chain or dollar stores in New England, and is a favorite haunt of ours.

Figure 1

When I was much younger and getting started in models I used to use rubber bands and clothes pins to clamp parts together while the glue dried. And while you can buy clothespins at most dollar stores, I discovered some excellent ratchet clamps faced with firm plastic swiveling jaws, two for a buck (see Figure 1). These are just the right size to grip the two halves of a Carnage riding bull or other moderate sized pieces. You can also find small C-clamps as well as larger spring-loaded clamps that are probably too big or too strong to use on figurine sized models, but might work for heavier jobs involving scenery or large kit-bashes.

Our local dollar store also sells very serviceable tweezers, four to a pack. They have different shaped tips to handle different jobs, and while I would not call them operating table quality, they are more than sufficient for any modeling job. Check the cosmetics area, too. You’ll likely find other tweezers that are slightly better machined, but they are smaller and probably a bit harder to hang on to than these bigger guys. I also found a nice set of six needle files, with plastic handles for a buck. These are wonderful for rough cleaning and removal of flash or mold marks on metal figures. You can also find emery boards or metal or even water stone nail files in the cosmetics’ section, but I would go with the needle files.

Figure 2

A hobby knife is must for any modeler. I didn’t find the usual name brand tools, but you can usually find the so-called “snap-off” knife that is great for moderate-sized work. Dollar stores also include a surprising array of magnification devices, including the cunning example in Figure 2. This thing hangs around your neck and sits against the stomach, allowing you to examine something with both hands free. It’s ostensibly sold for use in things like needlepoint, but there’s no reason why it can’t be used for figure painting.

Many dollar stores also carry hot glue guns. These are not really appropriate for assembling models, but they are great for tacking together Styrofoam for constructing scenery or terrain, or for larger bulk work in kit-bashing.

One thing I haven’t found in most dollar stores is good paints. You can find finger paints or tempera, and sometimes other more specialized pigments for paint fabric or glass, but if you want good acrylics, just go to your local Michaels.

Figure 3

However, there are some other tools for painting available at dollar stores. One can sometimes fine surprisingly usable brushes, both round and flats. I’m not talking about those plastic abominations that come a dozen or so to a pack, but what appear to be natural fiber brushes. I wouldn’t use these for fine detail work, but for painting animals or brushing in uniforms or other larger areas, they would work well. Another surprise was discovered in the dinnerware section. The porcelain egg plate in Figure 3 was obviously not intended as such, but the white enamel and the shallow wells make it an excellent mixing palette for liquid acrylic paints. I’ve also seen small white porcelain quiche dishes that would work as well. Speaking of containers, dollar stores often feature lots of plastic boxes or containers intended for everything from jewelry to leftovers. You can use them for storing parts and figures.

Figure 4

But my favorite discovery lurks in the cosmetics department. Separating plastic parts from the sprue is a tedious task, one I want to get over with as soon as possible. Ordinarily a small pair of diagonal wire cutters are a good choice for this kind of work (something you can also find at a dollar store if you’re lucky) Well, I found an excellent tool for removing pieces: it is an ordinary folding cuticle cutter, but with an angled head (Figure 4). This lets you get in between the piece and the sprue and clip the part away quickly. They also work pretty well for rough cleaning of parts and trimming off the nubs left after removing them from the sprue.

I won’t even try to go into the possibilities for kit bashing one can find in any dollar store. But for tools and gadgets, give your local dollar store a try. Chances are, you’ll find something you can use.