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Power Tools used by Model-Builders

January 21, 2009



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Airfield Models (http://www.airfieldmodels.com)Power Tools for Model Builders

There is very little you can do with a power tool that you can't do with hand tools.  That being said, some things are so much work with hand tools that they aren't worth the effort.

I acquired my table saw and drill press in the past few years.  Before that I got along well with only an electric drill and a scroll saw.

Now that I have a few more tools I can build faster and am willing to do things that were too much trouble before.

With the exception of the drill press, having power tools hasn't really improved the accuracy of the parts I make because there's no reason not to take care no matter what kind of tools I have.

 
 

What to Buy First

Power Hand Drills

A drill is the most basic power tool and the first one that should be acquired.  Craftsman cordless drill shown.The first power tool you should probably purchase is an electric drill if you don't have one already.  I like cordless drills, but any drill that can turn up to a 3/8" bit will be fine.

In most cases a smaller drill is easier to control and work with.  You will need a more powerful drill for working on things in your shop, such as building a workbench.  I purchased a larger drill rather than both a small and large drill.  Having both drills would be better though.

A set of general purpose twist drill bits will be a good starting point but I also like brad-point wood bits because they cut much cleaner holes with less tear-out and splintering especially in plywood.

The next tool to buy depends on what you do.  If you are a scratch builder or build from plans, then without a doubt, you should buy a scroll saw.  It is much more useful than a table saw and you'll find yourself using it almost every time you're in your shop.

 
 

Drill Presses

A drill press greatly increases accuracy.  Microlux model shown.If you build from kits, then a better choice may be a drill press.  Personally, I think the scroll saw is still a better choice, but if you pretty much stick to the plans, then you won't have need to fabricate too many parts.

When I first ordered my Microlux drill press I wasn't sure what to expect.  So many tools made for modelers are cheaply made.  It's like the manufacturers don't take us seriously so they churn out junk for us.

I found the Microlux to be a very nicely built unit.  It is solid, accurate and powerful enough for most modeling tasks.  Most importantly the chuck is dead square to the table.  Both my Microlux tools are excellent and I recommend them.

I've gotten along without a larger drill press but there are times it would have been nice to have.  I've never been able to accurately drill holes with a hand drill but the drill press has improved this aspect of my building enormously.

If you have a larger drill press you can probably forego a smaller press altogether.  For R/C work there has not been an instance where I couldn't have used a larger drill press if I could have used one at all.  So that choice is up to you, your pocketbook and your shop space.

 
 

What to Purchase Next

Microlux Tilt Arbor Table Saw.The table saw shown to the left is the Microlux Tilting Arbor table saw sold by MicroMark.  It's the same saw as the Proxxon FKS/E Deluxe Small Scale Table Saw.

It's a smooth running saw and I've loved it since the first time I used it.  If it lasts just a couple more years then it will pay for itself in the money I've saved buying stick wood.  I suspect it will last for quite some time it's a quality unit.

I purchased several blades at the same time that I purchased the saw because I was confident that the blades I chose would be useful.  I was right about that.  The thin, fine blade (I don't remember the exact number of teeth) cuts very cleanly to the point that little or no sanding is required.  However, it will wander on thicker stock due to its flexible nature.

The black fence in front of the saw is the Accurizer II fence sold by Micro-Mark (catalog# 80467).  When I saw it in the catalog, I was concerned may be a useless gadget.  It is actually an excellent device and I recommend it as well.  It allows for very precise control over the width of the cut.  Although it is over $50, I feel it was money well spent.

The only thing I don't like about this saw is that it's difficult to clamp a longer fence to for cutting long sheets of wood.  Using the stock fence or the micro-adjustment fence causes the wood to cut with a large bow because the fence just isn't long enough.  I've managed to find a way to attach a long section of extruded aluminum to the saw, but it is precarious at best.

At some point I'll build some type of support to put behind the saw for longer pieces of stock.  I'll probably just build a mini saw-horse or similar.  By the way, I use the cut-off scraps that are too small for anything else to mix epoxy.

Also see

Disk sanders increase accuracy and reduce time involved in tedious sanding tasks.  Jarmac model shown.A really tedious task is fitting the sticks in a built-up structure.  Many of the pieces have a double-bevel at each end.  If you've ever built up a fuselage from square balsa stock then you've probably discarded a lot of pieces that ended up being too short by the time you got the bevels right.

I bought a disk sander that has greatly simplified this task.  I lay the stock over the plan and mark it with a single-edge razor blade.  Then I cut it slightly oversize.  The disk sander brings it to its final size and the joints fit much better.  This is another tool that I recommend if you can afford it.  I bought the Jarmac unit and am happy with it.  There are units made by other manufacturers as well.  The Jarmac is a small unit perfect for small parts.  A 10" disk sander would be awesome too.

I purchased the Jarmac foot operated speed control at the same time.  I'm not happy with that component.  It works fine, but it is too light and it slides all over the floor.  I invariably kick it further under the table when trying to find it with my foot which means I have to interrupt my work to retrieve it.  A buddy of mine purchased the Dremel speed control which is a heavier unit.  So I might just buy one more thing from Dremel before I boycott them.

This is a small unit and I have been wanting a larger 10" sander as well.  This sander can handle parts about 1" wide and then it starts doing funny things due to significant difference in sanding rate from the center of the disk to perimeter.  In other words, I can't use it to sand the edges of formers, but it's perfect for what I purchased it for fitting sticks.

Also see

 
 

What Else

At this point you're on your own.  If you have purchased some of the tools above and used them, then you'll have a good idea of what tasks you would like to simplify and what tools will accomplish that.

A tool that I have considered from time to time is a Lathe (metal and wood).  I've never done lathe work and don't know much about it.  There are various times when I needed to turn a round part and I either had to find something commercially made or chuck the stock into my drill and do it the po' boy way.  I haven't purchased a lathe because I haven't had enough use for one to justify the expense.  I've heard it said that the lathe is the only $1,000 tool used to make $5 dollar parts.  I have a feeling there's a lot of truth in that.

The actual cost is much more than the cost of the lathe.  I don't know which accessories are really needed, but they aren't cheap.  From what I've seen the basic lathe unit might cost $600 and the accessories could easily double that cost.  Nevertheless, I think a lathe would be useful and fun as well.  When I have a project that requires a lot of lathe work, I'll take another look at them.

The list goes on and on.  I suggest you steer clear of gimmick tools put out by hobby manufacturers, such as power planes and their ilk.  They are generally useless tools and you will regret buying them.  The manufacturers of these pieces of junk promise that you don't need actual skill to become a great model builder.  That is simply not true and anyone who tells you that is lying to you.

 
 

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Copyright 2002 Paul K. Johnson