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  • Writer's pictureMido

How to Choose Your First Model

Updated: Oct 18, 2020

Once you have been hooked on modeling, you will get that feeling. Maybe it was a museum you visited recently or it was a movie you just know you need to build one. But what if you haven’t been hooked yet? Where do you start? How do you decide from the thousands of kits available? Start with the basics: genre, paint and glue requirements, scale (that's what we modelers call size), and cost. Let's talk about each in turn.

Variety of scale models
So many choices! Where to start?

For genre, choose a subject you are interested in, or what the modeler-to-be will most enjoy. This is obvious but crucial. If you like ships don’t get a car, or if you like planes avoid the tanks (my collection is all things military). The closest analogy one can make is when shopping for clothes: If you don’t love it in the store, don't buy it.

Once you have a general idea of what genre you are interested in, the next decision is between kits requiring paint and glue or those that snap together. This is going to be highly age dependent. If the modeler is older than eight, chances are a snap together kit will be built in 10 minutes (be sure to pay attention to the posted recommended ages). For parents worried about modeler’s glue being toxic, rest assured that there are non-toxic offerings available. As for paint, while any piece of plastic can be painted or left bare, some of the snap together kits contain parts molded in different colors to ease or eliminate the painting requirement. If you're an older entrant, you may be more comfortable starting with a full paint and glue kit.

Modeler's glue
Commonly available modelers glue. Non-toxic glue is available too (middle).

With the genre and paint and glue requirement decided, it's time to choose the scale. You might be wondering what sizes there are to choose from, and what are those ratios/fractions on the side of the box anyways? 1:24, 1/48, and oh my 1/700! These numbers are the “scale” in “scale modeling”. Simply put, a 1/48 scale plane will be 1 foot long on your desk for every 48 feet long it is in real life. For example, a real P-51D Mustang, a popular plane from WWII, measures approximately 32 feet long and has a 37-foot wingspan will be 8 inches long and have a 9.25 inch wingspan on your desk. Said differently, a 1:1 scale car will need its own parking space.

Scale is important not only for how big the finished model will be, but for its relationship on both the part count and cost. In general, a smaller model will have less detail, fewer parts, and will be cheaper than a larger version.

Once a scale has been chosen you may see that there can be a wide range of prices for a given subject offered by different manufacturers, or even different versions of the same subject offered by the same manufacturer. For your first model, it may be tempting to buy the cheapest option. But remember, this is your first model so it is best to consider why an offering may be priced so competitively and for that I offer a quick detour…

A long time ago the modeling companies designed kits on paper and drafting boards and designed them to be toys; tank tracks moved, propellers spun, gun turrets rotated, and overall accuracy is not to the standard of today. For a first-time modeler, accuracy may not be so important (it takes a while before you start “counting rivets”), but “kit fit” is. Nothing will dissuade the first-time modeler more than getting to “step 4” and realizing the wings don’t align, or that there is excess plastic (we call this “flash”) on all the parts that need to be carefully cut, shaved, or filed away. More time prepping parts and less time assembling parts is not desirable.

Putty, sanding stick, and hobby knife are essential for preparing parts and fixing "kit fit" issues.

Newer kits tend to be more expensive. Many have been designed with computer precision and make use of advancements in molding technologies that did not exist decades ago. In general, they will fit better and have crisper molds which will make your job of assembly easier.

Another thing to consider about newer kits is that they may come with premium parts like “photo-etch”. Photo-etch refer to parts often times found on a brass sheet that are reserved for areas of a model that are difficult to replicate using plastic molds. I would not recommend a model where use of these parts is required. Working with photo-etch parts requires different skills than working with plastic and a different set of tools. They can be challenging, even for the experienced modeler.

Photo etch parts
Photo etch from HobbyBoss's 1/700 USS Iwo Jima (LHD-7)

With a basic understanding of the key choices to make: genre, glue and painting, scale, and cost, it’s time to make that first unforgettable trip to the local hobby shop and hone in on that perfect first model!

Shoot me an email and let me know what you picked up.


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