Airfield Models - Model Building Tools

Hand Tools used for Model Building

May 05, 2015

What's New
Models Gallery
Model Building Safety
Mail & FAQ
Site Map
Site Feedback
Add to Favorites
Tell a Friend
Design and Build Contest
Items For Sale
Search Airfield Models

Back to Model Building Tools


Airfield Models ( Tools

Most of the hand tools you will use have their own dedicated section.  I will just pick up the leftovers here.

There are a lot of quality hand tools on the market and just as many cheaply made tools.

The two primary reasons that hardware gets chewed up are either because the wrong size driver is used or the driver is made from soft steel.  Buy quality tools and you will not regret it.



Wiha drivers of all types are very high quality.You will need a set of Jeweler's screwdrivers.  There are several brands on the market.  Shown at the left are tools made by Wiha that have hardened tips and are excellent quality.

The most common jeweler's screwdrivers are more economical and are sold by Wal-Mart, Radio Shack and a variety of other places.  These are the ones that have black blades, chromed handles and come in the blue plastic box with the clear cover.

They work well but the tips are brittle and will break easily if dropped or too much force is applied.  In other words, do not use them as chisels or pry bars (do not ask me how I know this).

You will need a couple flat blades as well as Phillips tips.  In addition to these you will need a set of small Allen hex keys for various Allen head bolts.  Not strictly necessary but nice to have are Allen drivers.  They will not fully replace the keys but they are easier to use and get the job done faster.

A ball driver allows the drive to engage a fastener at various angles.Ball head drivers are good for hard to reach areas but they shouldn't be used for significant torque loads.  Use a straight driver or a hex key instead to tighten down the hardware after it is driven.

Do not buy the cheap tool steel ball drivers through the hobby manufacturers.  The two brands that I know of that I would not even consider purchasing are by Dubro and Great Planes.  The ball makes very little contact inside the head of a hex driver.  These tools are so soft they will round over quickly and give you fits.  Buy hardened ball drivers.

If you work with Japanese items then it is worth it to purchase a set of Japanese Industrial Standard (JIS) screwdrivers.  These look like Phillips drivers but I am told they are not the same thing.  At first I was skeptical thinking someone was just trying to make another sale.  However, I did find that the JIS drivers fit better into the screws on my Japanese engines and on my helicopter.  In fact, they are a near perfect fit and I am no longer experiencing stripped out Phillips heads (which were not Phillips heads at all I guess).

Which brings me to my next point.  A lot of people have problems with Phillips screw heads getting chewed up I know I did.  It took me a while, but I finally learned that using the largest Phillips driver that fits the screw will prevent most of these problems.  It also helps to use quality hardware rather than some of the soft junk hardware that comes with some kits, ARF's and other accessories.

By the way, you've probably come across a tip or two about magnetizing your screwdrivers.  I used to do that but found that it was a serious pain in the long run.  The screwdrivers were constantly attracting things that I did not want stuck to them as well as small metal shavings etc.

I decided that it was easier to use a tweezer to put a screw in a hard to reach location than forever deal with a tool that had things stuck all over it and I use the same screwdrivers around my computers where magnets are bad news.

While on the subject of magnets, I also used to use one to pick up spilled hardware, T-pins, etc.  I do not do that any more for the exact same reason.  OK, back to the subject of the page...



Pliers, Wrenches and Tweezers

Various pliers and metal-working tools.

There are a variety of pliers that are useful.  A small set of Vice Grip pliers (standard and needle nosed) is a good choice as are normal needle nose pliers, dedicated side cutters, etc.  The three pairs on the right are (top to bottom) needle nose, flat jaw and round jaw.

The flat jaws are good for bending thin sheet metal (photo-etch for plastic models).  The round jaws are good for bending small wire.  I also use them for crimping fittings.

Toward the center of the photo are a small pair of channel lock type pliers.  I do not know what they are called exactly but they are a Craftsman tool and still available.

At the bottom are two pairs of forceps.  These are excellent for working with fuel line or holding small parts for painting.  The four pairs on the left are metal working pliers I bought on a whim and still have not found a use for.

Pliers, wrenches and Vise-Grips are all useful in any shop.

A few more sets of pliers and wrenches.  This pair of needle nose is larger than the pair in the previous photo and is more of an "all-purpose" tool.  The larger Vice Grips come in handy as well.  Vice Grips are your tool of last resort.  They tear up hardware and are a brute force method when nothing else will work such as removing a screw with a head that can't be engaged positively enough with a driver to remove.

The cutters are mostly used to cut zip ties that I use to strap radio wires in with.

The pair second from the right are Z-Bend pliers used for putting Z-bends in 1/16" and smaller music wire.  They are not a necessity but they do make the task much easier and faster.

I do not suggest you use the four-way wrenches marketed for modelers to tighten the propeller on an aircraft engine.  Use a socket set, open end or box wrench or a Crescent wrench.  The four-way wrenches are simply too difficult to tighten down effectively.  On the far right is wrench used for bleeding air from the radiator in my apartment in Germany every other day.

Various styles of tweezers are very useful for model-builders.

There are a variety of styles of tweezers available.  Unfortunately they're almost all low quality stamped metal.  The very best tweezers I've come across are not marketed through the hobby industry.  They are in the make-up section of various stores around town such as grocers and Walmart.

Tweezers have different shaped tips some have a fine point, some are paddle-shaped and others have broad, rounded tips.  Additionally, tweezers have different amounts of "spring" or pressure that need to be applied to close them.

Tweezers requiring light pressure are best for delicate parts because you can tell more easily how much pressure you are using and are less likely to damage the part by applying too much pressure.

Poorly made tweezers are not very delicate and can't pick up fine items like that tiny cat hair that just landed in your wet paint.  Better tweezers are not cut from stamped sheet metal.  They are machined and have finely ground tips.

I've purchased many pairs of tweezers over the years in my quest for quality.  Most of the sets I purchased just didn't work for me but I do have plenty of quality tweezers now and I wouldn't want to give them up.



Cutting Tools used in Model-Building
Clamps and Vises used for Model Building

Comments about this article


Back to Model Building Tools
Airfield Models Home


Copyright 2002-2007 Paul K. Johnson