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October 17, 2016

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Airfield Models ( for a Model Building Shop

Please read the Safety Page.  It contains important information about protecting yourself.  Many of these chemicals are dangerous.

Any kind of shop needs supplies.  A model-building shop is no exception.  No doubt you've already gathered items from around the house for use in your shop.  This list is fairly extensive but obviously you can get by without a lot of this stuff.

No matter how you look at it supplies are a significant expense that most people do not take into account when they discuss what it costs to build a model.  There are ways to decrease the expense depending on how much convenience you're willing to give up.  The opposite means more convenience usually equals more expense.

Some of the items listed here are toxic and dangerous.  Be sure to read and heed all warnings by the manufacturer and ask for a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) to ensure that you understand the risks of using the chemicals you use.  Manufacturers will supply you with this information at no charge.



Most dedicated thinners are very expensive compared to solvents.  I use thinner only for thinning paint.  For clean up I use the cheaper solvents.  For example, oil based paints (enamels), urethanes and epoxies can be cleaned up with lacquer thinner.

I primarily use four solvents for general purposes in the shop:

  • Denatured Alcohol

    Used for cleaning up epoxy and cleaning brushes and airbrushes after using acrylic paints.  I use a Sharpie marker when laying out cutouts on cowls or trim patterns on film coverings.  Denatured alcohol removes the marks easily.

  • Mineral Spirits

    Used for removing spray glue gunk and thinning hobby enamels for brushing (plastic models).

  • Lacquer Thinner

    More powerful than Mineral Spirits.  I use it to blow through my airbrushes and spray gun before taking them apart for thorough cleaning or before color changes.  I also use it to remove more stubborn glues and residue left behind by mineral spirits.

    Lacquer thinner costs more than Mineral Spirits and evaporates much faster so I use it as a final wipe rather than for the whole job.

  • Brush Cleaner

    Used for its intended purpose.

Although the above solvents are mainstays in my shop, I also keep a few others around that I have occasional use for:

CAUTION!  Ketones such as MEK are considered to be carcinogens (cancer causing).

  • Methyl Ethyl Ketone (MEK)

    Used by some plastic modelers instead of plastic cement.

Also see


Oils and Waxes

Generally, you can get by with just a few types of oil.

  • Automotive Paste Wax

    Use the type made to wax cars.  It is used to wax the tables of my scroll saws, table saw and drill press.  In some cases it is necessary to prevent the tables from rusting.  In all cases, it makes the work slide more smoothly on the table.

    I discovered that 3M Ultra Performance wax for boats does a much better job of preventing rust on my scroll saw table.

  • Grease

    When I joined the service, my tools went into storage for several years.  I knew my scroll saw table was prone to rusting and did not think wax would protect it for very long.  I coated the table with a layer of grease.  It worked.  Some tools, such as my heavy vice, get greased every so often.

    I also use grease on axles to prevent wheels from squealing on my R/C model aircraft.  Take the wheels off, wipe the axle and apply new grease.  Clean the inside of the wheel with a pipe cleaner or Q-Tip. 

  • Marvel Mystery Oil

    Use as an after-run oil that will protect your engine between weekends.  Do not use it for extended storage periods.  See the Engine Maintenance page for more info on after-run oil.

  • Sewing Machine Oil

    A light duty oil that is excellent for lubricating O-rings in airbrushes, hinges on tools such as scissors and pliers or wiping down tools that can rust.

  • Transmission Fluid

    A good rust inhibitor to load into engines when they will be stored for longer periods.

  • WD-40

    Junk.  I don't use it because when I need solvent, I use solvent   When I need oil, I use oil.  It's ok for penetrating places that oil can't be put directly, such as door locks and door hinges.

    I don't buy it because I wouldn't use it for anything.

  • Bee's Wax

    I sometimes use Bee's Wax on thread used in my plastic models to prevent it from collecting dust and to help it stay in position after I have shaped it as I want it.



I suggest that you avoid glass containers in your shop with certain exceptions.   Airbrush jars are almost always glass for two good reasons: No solvents we use affect glass.  Some paints will melt plastic jars.  Just as important, a clear jar allows us to visually determine how much paint is left.

Finding small, well-sealed metal cans is difficult.  I often need to mix 2 - 8 ounces of paint and a metal quart can would be a poor choice.

  • Plastic film containers

    Great for small hardware even when using one of those sets of 40 plastic drawers.  In fact, when my household goods were delivered from Army storage everything in the drawers had mixed together to include X-Acto blades, etc.

    Sorting it all out required many hours over a two week period.  If nothing else, when you move, put the stuff in small, cheap Ziploc bags so you do not have to live my nightmare.

    Film containers are also excellent for mixing small quantities of paint in.  They are air-tight enough for the paint to last throughout a project.  I've never used film containers for long term storage so I can't say how long the paint can be stored in one.

  • Freezer bags

    Excellent for storing engines in.  They do not break down from the oil and are heavy duty enough that things like needle valves and prop shafts do not easily puncture holes in the bags.

    I also use them for a variety of items that I do not have better storage for.  For example, I put clothespins in a bag, punch a hole in the bag and hang it from my pegboard.

  • Disposable containers

    Nice for mixing epoxy in or to put parts so they do not get lost.  Ready-made frosting containers, tuna cans, yogurt containers, etc. are excellent.  Ask your family to save them for you.  It is best to mix paints in metal containers because it is possible the paint will melt a plastic container.

  • Bottles

    If you build plastic models or small R/C models, then a nice thing to have is small bottles to mix paint in.  Micro-Mark sells 1/2 oz. and 1 oz. bottles that happen to have the same cap thread as Testor's Model Master paints.  If you have an adapter for your airbrush that fits these bottles they are a nice thing to have around.  They sell them by the half dozen.

Also see



  • Latex and Nitrile Gloves

    I used to think it was ok to immerse my hands in solvents or get paint all over my hands and then wash them in solvent.  I've decided that I used to be really stupid.  Latex gloves don't hold up to solvent at all.  Even mild solvents such as mineral spirits break down latex very quickly.  Stronger solvents eat latex immediately.

    However, I like latex as it gives me the best grip and tactile sensation of any material from which gloves are made.  I use latex when applying paint or when cleaning (degreasing) parts because degreaser also removes skin oils and makes my skin crack.

    You can buy boxes of 100 gloves (one size fits all) at most hardware stores for $9.00 to $15.00.  One size fits all is usually size medium but the box doesn't say what the actual size is.  If you don't mind gloves that you can get on but don't actually fit right and you don't use a lot of them then that's probably the way to go.

    Because I go through a lot of gloves now I wanted to get them more economically so I did a web search and found that I can get a case of gloves (ten boxes of 100 gloves) for about half the price of buying them in the store.  Plus they are the right size.  You can get them powdered or not.  Powdered are easier to get on but a lot of people don't like the way they feel.

    Powdered latex gloves

    Nitrile gloves stand up to solvents long enough for most tasks.  They do swell a bit but as long as they keep the solvents off your skin that's all that counts.  They aren't as rubbery or pliable as latex and I don't care for how they feel but they work.

  • Markers

    Pencils are usually the first choice for marking wood because the marks can be sanded off easily.  Balsa wood is so soft that it is difficult to mark with a pencil without gouging the wood.  Harder grades of balsa take pencil well, but I usually use a fine point Sharpie permanent marker because it makes a clean, easily seen line.

  • Masking Tape

    I go through a lot of masking tape.  I buy cheap tape for general use and for actually masking paint I use electrician's tape.  Masking tape is used for masking things other than paint.  For example, I use it to mask parts that I do not want to sand when I am trying to bring an adjacent area close to the same size.

    Another use for masking tape is to mask the cap strips next to the leading and trailing edge sheeting of the wing.  Once the sheeting is close to its final shape I remove the tape and finish sand.

    I also use masking tape to keep glue from going places I do not want it.  For example when gluing a doubler in the nose of the fuselage I will mask the fuselage sides to prevent glue from getting all over.  Once the doubler has been put in place and excess glue has squeezed out, I will remove the tape.

  • Mixing cups

    One ounce clear plastic mixing cups come in bags of 50 or 100.  You can usually buy them at your local pharmacy for a reasonable price.  Some mail-order places sell them as well.

  • Pipettes

    Small plastic bulbs with a tube that can be used for dispensing paints, solvents and oils by the drop.  One hobby manufacturer sells them 10 for almost $5.  The last time I bought some in an art store (about a year ago) they were about $0.15 a piece.

    It used to be that I cleaned my pipettes with solvent and pipe cleaners.  It was tedious and the solvent probably cost more than the pipette.  I did some searching and found various places that sell them.  I bought 500 for about $50.00 including shipping which comes to $0.10 a piece.  Now I just throw them out.

    Disposable Pipettes

    Disposable Pipettes


  • Popsicle sticks

    Good for mixing and spreading epoxy.  Scraps of balsa work just as well and you might as well use them if you've got them.  Save the popsicle sticks for when you run out of scrap balsa you can not use for anything else.  You can get boxes of 1,000 popsicle sticks from a craft store such as Ben Franklin for a fraction of what the hobby industry charges.

  • Rubbbber Bands

    These are the most unappreciated tools we use.  The simple rubber band has a lot of properties that are very useful to us.

    For example, when stretched around something it can create very even tension or selective unequal tension.  What that means is that you can lift the rubber band from an area and pull it or loosen it to created localized pressure.

    R/Cers think there are two sizes of rubber bands: #64 and others.  If you fly RC and have had a few rubber-band-on wings, then you know that one size doesn't fit all.

    Believe it or not, there are some things to know about rubber bands.  They aren't all created equal, and like anything else, you want to be sure you're getting decent quality for your money.

    Do not buy rubber bands from big office supply stores or Wal-Mart.  They carry the cheapest rubber bands made - less than 60% natural latex rubber content.  These are the kind that when you stretch them you can actually feel them permanently give - sort of like when you stretch pull on a garbage bag and it stretches before breaking.

    The best rubber bands made are about 90% latex rubber and are excellent.  I don't know if 100% latex rubber bands are manufactured by anyone.

    In the past season I've needed a different specific size rubber band on about five different occasions.  I looked for a size chart online and found a place that sells real sample packs.  Each size is in it's own box listing the contents.  They carry several different sample sets and they were six bucks a piece last time I checked.  I was told all their rubber bands are 90% latex rubber (compared to 60% and below for rubber bands at Wal-Mart and national office supply chains).

    I went ahead and ordered all four sets and am extremely pleased with what I got.  I now have a rubber band for every occasion and best of all, I know what sizes I actually use and can order the right size when I need more instead of going to Wal-Mart and buying a bag of cheap rubber bands just to get one that's close enough.

  • Solder

    Solder comes in several types but basically can be broken down into rosin or acid types.  Rosin type solder is used for electrical solder joints because the rosin will not attack the metal wiring or other components.

    If you use soldering acid, then you must clean up the part after it has cooled or the acid will cause the metal to corrode.  Because it is difficult to clean the inside of piece of stranded wire, it should never be used for electrical joints.

    I usually use electrical solder for everything including landing gear (joint is wrapped with wire) and have never had a solder joint fail.  If you are soldering a high-stress joint that is critical to your model then you may want to consider silver solder.

  • Teflon Tape

    Use it for sealing threads on all fittings attached to your air-compressor or to the air hose.

  • Toothpicks

    I use them for applying small amounts of glue and removing excess glue that squeezes out of joints.  They are also used to pin flat hinges in place so the hinges do not pull out of the structure.  Try to find toothpicks that are actually round.  Most "round" toothpicks are actually square.

  • Waxed Paper, Cling Wrap and Polyethylene Drop Cloth Material

    Used to cover plans to prevent the structure you are building from being glued to them.  Waxed paper is also used as a release material in various parts of construction.  For example, if you are building a removable part in place on the structure then using waxed paper or cling film (Saran wrap) will all the parts to be separated after they are built.

  • Zip Ties

    Zip ties are very useful items to have around the shop.  An assortment of very small to very large are good for wrapping wires, attaching things to other things, etc.



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