Workbench

GLASS WORKBENCH TOP

One of the most useful items you can have on your workbench is a sheet of plate glass. Smooth the sharp edges with a carborundum sharpening stone or cover them with duct tape. The glass makes a very useful top for your workbench, providing a level and flat working surface. It is also good for cutting on and is ideal as a palette for mixing paint or glue as most glues won’t stick to glass like they stick to wood or cardboard. A quick swipe of the glass with a razor blade or hobby knife soon gets rid of any dried on material and a rub over with a damp cloth soon has the surface ready for the next project. And you can place instruction sheets under the glass to keep them clean while you work.

WORK BENCH SURFACE

Try resurfacing the top of your work bench with white or light coloured linoleum — perhaps left over from a home improvement job or an offcut from the local floor covering shop. It is easy to see small parts on the bright surface while paint and glue spills clean up very easily.

WORKBENCH PLATFORM

The standard 30 inch height of a table or workbench is OK for most projects but is sometimes too low for very careful detailing, especially in the smaller scales. Build yourself a small box with a level surface about 6 inches higher than the benchtop. Use cardboard or scrap plywood shims to determine the best height for your own work. This raised platform will allow you to rest your elbows on the bench for added support when working with small objects. If desired, you can fix a magnifier on a bracket to the side of the box for added closeup work.

PARTS CATCHER

If your work area is a conventional desk, open the middle drawer above your lap while you work. This provides a catch area for those small pieces that occasionally drop to the floor never to be seen again. If you don’t have a desk drawer, place a shallow box lid on your lap. If you wear an apron, attach Velcro to the end of your apron and to the underside of your workbench. Hook the apron to the workbench and you’ve got a parts catcher in your lap. Remember though, don’t jump up to answer the phone while you have the box on your lap or your apron is attached to the bench.

RETRIEVING LOST PARTS

It can be difficult to find a small part that has been dropped, especially on a carpet. Instead of digging through the vacuum cleaner bag, secure a closely woven cloth or old pantyhose over the end of the vacuum cleaner nozzle with a rubber band. Sweep this over the suspected guilty area of the carpet or floor and you’ll quickly find the lost part, held against the cloth.

WORKBENCH ORGANISER

Use various sizes of plastic tube — barrels off dried out felt tip markers, ball point pens, pill bottles and similar round plastic containers — they come in all shapes and sizes and can accommodate brushes, files, knives, in fact most of your workbench tools. Level the base of each tube and angle its top; put longer and flatter tubes in the middle. Hold the tubes together with a rubber band and seat them on a plastic base. Flow liquid cement between the tubes, making sure that they are vertical and touching the base. Use more cement around the base for extra strength and when set, load up all your tools.

PARTS SEARCH

If you have not used the ideas we have printed in this feature before for finding dropped parts on the floor, then try this one. Place a torch on the floor and the elongated shadow cast by the small part makes it easy to spot.

LOW IN FIBRE

Use coffee filters as towels on your workbench. They are sturdier and more absorbent than paper towels and leave no fibres behind. Use them to pat brushes dry or soak up water from decals.

SANDING

To provide more control when sanding large flat areas, glue half a sheet of wet and dry sandpaper to a clean sheet of hardboard or formica. This leaves hands free to hold the part being sanded and water can be used to keep the paper from clogging.

SAFE DISPOSAL OF BLADES

Old snap-off modelling blades are always a problem to dispose of unless wrapped up so you don’t cut yourself when going through, or disposing of, your rubbish. Try using an old tin can with a slot in the lid similar to a children’s money box. Deposit the discarded blades in the can and they are safe from rummaging fingers. The wrapped can is then placed in the rubbish when full — which could take some time.

RECYCLING CONTAINERS

Don’t throw away tin cans, plastic lids or tubs — they are good to use as rotating paint stands and you can never have too many of them. Smaller lids can be used to hold drops of superglue, for mixing small amounts of paint, or soaking small decals.

USE A DROP CLOTH

A simple inexpensive way to keep a work space clean while hand painting details and small parts is to use a “drop cloth”. The plastic bag liners from dry cereal boxes, or even plastic supermarket bags are ideal. Trim off the ends and the seam, spread the bag out and use masking tape to cover your work station. When finished your paint job, remove and dispose of the “cloth” and put a new one down for next time.

THIRD HAND

Children’s clay such as Play-Doh, works great as a modeller’s “third hand”. Shape it to hold parts for painting or to keep suspended parts in position while glue dries. The clay is easy to remove and leaves little residue.

STORING SANDPAPER

Use one or more common clipboards to hold sheets of sandpaper, wet and dry, fine and course. They can be hung on the wall near your workbench and you can see at a glance which grit you require. Grade the paper from fine on top to coarse on the bottom.

CUTTING PARTS

Occasionally very fine or small parts on kitset sprues break or go ballistic when being cut no matter how careful you are. Try overlaying the part with Blu-Tac or plasticine before commencing to cut.

FLEXIBLE SANDING BLOCKS

To sand a surface perfectly flat, you need to use a rigid sanding block such as a small block of wood. If you just use sandpaper applied by hand, you will get ridges due to the sandpaper having no support between your fingers. If you want to sand a curved surface such as a rounded tank or boiler, then the wooden block is no longer suitable as it will only follow the highest part of the curve. One solution is to purchase flexible fingernail sanding boards from your chemist. These are ideally suited to the task and seem to last a fair while and do not clog. They also tolerate the use of water to speed the sanding process. The only drawback seems to be that they are only produced in one grade. If you want a finer or coarser grade, you can easily make your own version. Buy a long, thin pencil eraser — trapezium shaped — and wrap your preferred grade of sandpaper around it. The sandpaper should not need gluing to the eraser as a small overlap with the ends secured by a small piece of masking tape will enable you to hold the eraser and keep the sandpaper in place.

PREVENTING RULE SLIPS

Most modellers use a metal rule as a straightedge for cutting or scribing plastic, wood card and the like. Very often the rule slips no matter how much pressure is applied and consequently the work is spoiled. Try sticking some self-adhesive foam plastic weather strip on the underside of the rule — the kind used to prevent drafts in windows and doors. This material, when stuck onto small parts, can also be used to prevent them sliding around your workbench while you scribe or cut them.

PARTS CATCHER

When working on small models which have even smaller parts, take one plastic bag sufficiently large enough for your hands with the model to fit inside to work on it. No more crawling around the carpet to find those tiny parts which tend to fly off from time to time.

DUSTING MODELS

Various ideas for dusting models have been tried from soft paint brushes to shaving brushes. However one of the better methods is to use a photographer’s lens-cleaning brush. These are considerably smaller than shaving brushes and have the added advantage of a puffer bulb in one end that helps blow the dust out of the model’s nooks and crannies. If they are gentle enough to use on expensive photo equipment, they must be safe to use on your models.

MAGNETS

A neat and orderly work area is a great help in producing quality models. One way to help keep everything in its place is by using magnetic cupboard door catches as tool holders. They can also be combined with magnet-backed paper bulldog clips to hold plans, instruction sheets, reference material and similar items.

THROWAWAY REAMER

When you drill small holes in plastic it is sometimes difficult to get the bore smooth and the edges clean. Try using a round toothpick as a reamer. As you spin the toothpick, the slight abrasive effect of the wood smooths and rounds the hole. The natural taper of the toothpick puts pressure on the sides of the hole and as the toothpick necks down, a small shoulder forms which removes burrs around the edge as well. Even if the burr doesn’t drop off completely, the toothpick raises it enough above the surface so that it can easily be sliced off with a razor blade. If a rim around the hole is required, use this same method to raise the rim but don’t cut it off.

MORE USES FOR FILM CANISTERS

Don’t throw used film canisters away, the clear ones can be used for storing mini-drill bits and you can see at a glance the one you need.

TAKE PRECAUTIONS

As with all chemical based materials, care should be exercised when using materials that may be toxic or produce dangerous vapours. Always read the instructions carefully and take sensible precautions such as using protective gloves, goggles and adequate ventilation. You will find that most products come with a warning on the correct usage of these dangerous materials, they are there for a reason so take heed and enjoy your hobby.

GENTLE DUST REMOVER

Try raiding your wife’s makeup drawer for her blush brush. This brush has extra soft bristles and can be used for dusting your models without damaging any of their fine detail. With practice, you can dust off your models quickly and effectively with just a few passes. Of course, blush brushes can be bought at beauty supply departments in chemist shops and department stores if you don’t want to get in the dog house.

WORK BENCH SURFACE

Try resurfacing the top of your work bench with white or light coloured linoleum — perhaps left over from a home improvement job or an offcut from the local floor covering shop. It is easy to see small parts on the bright surface while paint and glue spills clean up very easily.

RECOVERING SMALL PARTS

Nearly every modeller, at some time or another, has been assembling a kit and dropped a small vital part on the carpet for it never to be seen again despite diligent searching. Grab the masking tape, tear off a strip about 8 to 10 inches long and wrap it around your hand sticky side out. Press the tape into the carpet repeatedly, stopping occasionally to check progress. You might be surprised what you recover as well as the missing part.

USEFUL LIGHTBOX

A useful piece of equipment to have in your model workroom is a lightbox. It can be used for trimming decals very precisely, especially where colours are hard to see. Also a number of other modelling applications make it a worthwhile tool such as providing a flat surface to cut strips of masking tape to size and making tracings through normally opaque paper. All you need to make the lightbox as shown is some scraps of customwood, a light bulb and holder, cord, plug and glass. You can make the box to suit the size of the glass which can probably be obtained free from any glass merchant from their scraps box.

SCRAP CARDBOARD

Everything has a use somewhere and scrap cardboard is a great disposable item to keep handy to your workbench. Use it for a cutting surface, mixing epoxy, packing for the cant on track or other structures, there are 101 uses for this material and if it gets too damaged to use, throw it away and get a new piece.

FLORISTS’ WIRE

A very useful item to have around in your model room is some florists’ wire. It comes in various gauges, some being particularly fine, especially for the smaller scales.

WORKBENCH PLATFORM

 

The standard 30 inch height of a table or workbench is OK for most projects but is sometimes too low for very careful detailing, especially in the smaller scales. Build yourself a small box with a level surface about 6 inches higher than the benchtop. Use cardboard or scrap plywood shims to determine the best height for your own work. This raised platform will allow you to rest your elbows on the bench for added support when working with small objects. If desired, you can fix a magnifier on a bracket to the side of the box for added closeup work.

RECYCLING PLASTIC RAZORS

Disposable plastic razors are a significant contribution to the hobby of railway modelling. The protective blade cap can be painted and weathered to be used as a flat car or gondola load from a foundry, roof-top heating ducts and many other items depending on your scale and imagination. The handle can be removed from the head and used as a pre-cast concrete column for over-passes or as a load for an open wagon. And the blade should be discarded very, very carefully. Remember that it is extremely sharp and dangerous.

USING A SHARP CRAFT KNIFE

When using a sharp craft knife to make straight cuts, use the knife against a steel ruler and not a plastic or wooden one or you could end up carving slices off the plastic, the wood or your fingers.

CUTTING PLASTIC

When cutting plastic sheet, use a sharp craft knife and steel rule to score the front of the sheet two or three times. Flex the score line gently and a white line will appear on the back of the sheet showing exactly where to score the line on that side. A couple of score lines on the back and the sheet will snap in exactly the right place.

LOST PARTS

Finding small parts of a kitset that have been dropped on the carpet can be a problem. Tape a piece of pantyhose over the nozzle of your vacuum cleaner and sweep the area where you think you dropped the part. The suction will pick up the part and the pantyhose will stop it from going in the cleaner’s bag.

RECYCLING BIN SUPPORT

Save those plastic soft drink, milk, fruit juice and water containers. They can be fashioned into painting or work supports for your modelling venture. Cut them to the desired height, profile, shape or pattern, or notch them to accommodate any particular project. You may need to add a little weight to the bottom to prevent everything tipping over.

MATCHBOX DRAWER SET

Do you need an inexpensive means to store small screws and detail parts? Used matchboxes are a good solution. Glue a bundle of them together to form a chest of drawers and split pins make good knobs for pulling the drawers open.

SPARES BOX

Most plastic model kits usually have some parts left over, especially is the kit can be built in a number of versions. If you build a few kits, then over time, you will accumulate quite a collection of spare parts. Store them for later use. Purchase a plastic box which is divided into compartments inside and you will have a perfect place to store these spare parts.. It is worth spending a little time labelling these so you know exactly what you have

SAVE ON PAPER TOWELS

Very seldom do you need the full width of a paper towel when using one for some modelling purpose. Cut the paper towell roll in half and only use half a roll at a time. Half sheets are just right for cleaning paint brushes, paint spills, cleaning your fingers and similar small jobs. Slide a full length cardboard tube through the half roll and mount it as usual on your dispenser or make one by using a piece of dowel and a couple of brackets. Fix it over your workbench in a handy position.

SPRING SOURCE

When you next have a puncture in your car tyre, ask the garage serviceman for some old tyre valves. They contain a stainless steel spring which has many uses on the model railway layout — buffer springs, locomotive springing, point switching, and all manner of situations requiring return springing.

GLASS WORKBENCH TOP

One of the most useful items you can have on your workbench is a sheet of plate glass. Smooth the sharp edges with a carborundum sharpening stone or cover them with duct tape. The glass makes a very useful top for your workbench, providing a level and flat working surface. It is also good for cutting on and is ideal as a palette for mixing paint or glue as most glues won’t stick to glass like they stick to wood or cardboard. A quick swipe of the glass with a razor blade or hobby knife soon gets rid of any dried on material and a rub over with a damp cloth soon has the surface ready for the next project. And you can place instruction sheets under the glass to keep them clean while you work.

BOOT SALE BOOTY

Do not neglect the humble car boot sale. People who have retired, or who are selling up their home, often sell items they no longer require, or that they have hoarded for years, at ridiculously cheap prices. There are often good bargains to be had.

SCALE MEASURER

You are out browsing around a car boot sale, a flea market, a fair and see some figures or models that would look great on your layout but don’t know what scale they are. Easy, you have a scale ruler in your pocket! But nine times out of ten you won’t, so what do you always carry in your wallet or pocket to give you that vital measurement? Answer: driving licence, credit card, business card, pen, keys…. Make sure that you know the measurements of these items that correspond with the height of figures or other items in the scale in which you model.

SANDING TRAY

Another use for those supermarket plastic meat trays is to fix a sheet of wet-and-dry sandpaper to the bottom of one with double sided sticky tape. Cover the sandpaper with water and start sanding. The raised lip around the sides will prevent the water and sanding sludge going all over your workbench as you sand.

LEGO JIGS

Have you ever wished you had a jig to hold a model at an odd angle for painting, decalling or weathering? Lego plastic building blocks are the answer. Keep a small container of these blocks handy to your workbench and you can custom build a jig to hold the model at almost any angle you require for as long as you need.

STORAGE OF LENGTHY MATERIAL

Sooner or later you will gather up lengths of strip wood, balsa, copper and plastic pipe, aluminium rod, rail, and other lengthy items. Where to store it becomes a problem. Save those postal tubes and cardboard rolls from paper towels and fix them under a shelf or workbench. Now sort the items and place them in the tubes with a note above indicating the nature and size of the contents. A great timesaver when looking for that special piece for a project.