Layman's Gunpla Guide - General Building Equipment

If you’re checking out this section of the Guide I’m guessing that you’re just getting started with Gunpla, and might not even have built your first model. Well, you’re in luck, because you only need to things to start building: something to cut with and something to sand with.

Must Have:

Hobby Nippers (Flat Edged Cutters)


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Unless you're a 15 year-old me you'll want to do the smart thing and cut - not rip - all your Gunpla pieces from the runners. The easiest and safest way to do so is with a pair of hobby nippers (also known as hobby cutters or side cutters). Ranging from $10 to $80 you should be able to find a pair at any hobby store and many online retailers. You're probably wondering, is the more expensive pair better than the cheaper pair? Well, short answer is, yes. Long answer is that generally, especially when it comes to tools, you get what you pay for. The more expensive sets are the most likely to have durable blades, and sharp blades, to give you a clean cut. Thing is, when you cut plastic, you stress it, warping it ever so slightly, which can result in white deformation marks. The sharper the edge the less likely that will happen. God Hands are the best for reducing stress marks (more on those below), but the best bang for your buck is a good pair of Tamiya nippers. They will last a long time and, with proper technique, won't be far off from what you can get with the God Hands.

If you find yourself at a hardware store looking for cutters it's important to note the difference between hobby cutters and most general use cutters. Hobby cutters have feature a flush, flat edge on one side. This allows you to make a nice clean cut. General purpose cutters feature an angle on both sides. This makes for an easier cut but will still leave nubs on your kit.

 

File/Sand Paper

After cutting pieces from the runner, and removing the nubs, there's still going to be a little bit of plastic left. To remove it, and smooth out the piece, you'll need either a bit of sandpaper or a file.


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There are a thousand different ways to do this. Some people just use pieces of sandpaper, others use sandpaper glued to a popsicle stick, others use specially made sanding sticks like these. Personally I use a fine metal rasp I got from the local hardware store (make sure to use a fine toothed one, a coarse one will leave ridges in the plastic) because it's super durable.

A couple key things to note, first is that sand paper wears out. Eventually you'll wear down their ability to sand properly and you'll have to swap out what you're using. Sand paper glued to a popsicle stick is very prominent for the low cost of the solution (putting the sandpaper on the stick makes for a hard flat surface which is easier to handle). Because I'm lazy I use my metal rasp, it has the risk of taking away more plastic at a bad pass than a proper sanding stick but I have years of experience with them. For small, hard to reach places, a needle file set like this works wonders. 

The second thing I want to mention is make get to know your grits. Your average build isn't going to need something super course, or something super fine. If this is your first time, get yourself a set with various grits, then work up and down from something in the middle as needed. Before you know it the process will be like riding a bike.

 

Nice to Have

After over a decade of building I’ve accumulated all kinds of odds and ends. Below are the most common items I reach for when building. 

God Hand Nippers

God Hand is a brand of nippers specifically designed to make as minimalistic cuts as possible on plastic model kits. Sure, they comparative cost a lot more than the Tamiya ones mentioned above, but their sharp narrow blades are the easiest way to reduce nub marks. With good care they will last you a long time and are absolutely worth the investment. Personally I use my Tamiya cutters to make the first cut, away from the piece, to remove parts from the runner. Then I use my God Hands to make the final cut. There’s a lot less sanding involved.

Why do I make the first cut with the Tamiya? Thin cutters like God Hands don’t do well against thick pieces of plastic. Cutting at the thick end of a sprue runs the risk of warping the edges. Nippers are disposable in the sense that you can’t really sharpen them effectively, so why put undue strain on an edge when it’s unnecessary?

Also, note that you do not want to use God Hands on clear plastic. Clear plastic pieces are harder, hard enough that you can actually chip the blades (which I know from experience).

Hobby Knife

The best way to remove nubs from a kit, bar none, is a hobby knife with a sharp blade. They make quick work and produce the least amount of stress (which leaves marks in the plastic). The downside is that they’re sharp as fuck and you’re likely to make a blood donation to the Gunpla gods before too long. If you’re skilled and safe, they’re great, but if you’re lazy and not safe nippers are the way to go. While you're at it, probably best to get a nice cutting mat too. 

Even if you aren’t using them to remove the nubs you’ll want a good hobby knife in your toolkit. There’s many uses for them, including cutting decals and even applying stickers. I use a wide knifed blade as a pry to get in and separate stuck pieces. X-Acto makes a good starting set which a couple handle sizes and various blade options.

 

Safety Tip: Always try to cut away from yourself. That way, if you slip, you're less likely to cut into yourself. Sometimes, however, you have to cut toward yourself in order to get a nice clean cut. Whichever direction, it's important to hold the piece you're cutting in such away that none of your fleshy bits are along path of your cut. If you're cutting downward be sure to do so with the aid of a proper cutting mat below!

 

Tweezers

Teezers are great for applying stickers and decals. Sometimes they’re great for getting a small part in place too. 

I recommend a pair of sturdy, right angle tweezers. While any pair will do, I find right angles are the best for decals/stickers. You want sturdy ones too because they will last the longest. If you look at some of the inexpensive tweezer sets on Amazon, they’re so thin and flimsy that they will bend out of place with just the smallest amount of pressure.

Screw Driver

I mention this, having not needed to use a screwdriver on Gunpla in a very long time, because Bandai hasn’t included screws in their kits for just as long. In the late 90’s, early 2000’s, you’d see screws on PG and even some MG kits to hold the joints together. These screws absolutely suck, but aren’t too bad if you have the right screwdriver.

You’re going to want to look for a Phillips head screwdriver with a good handle and a head that fills in the drive slots. If you use a head that’s too big, or too small, you run the risk of stripping the screw which is way too easy to do. I do not recommend those small eyeglass screwdrivers, it’s hard to get a grip and often the plastic you’re inserting them is tight. Slipping will strip the screws just as quickly as a poorly sized head.

Project Boxes

This is probably more applicable for folks taking apart and painting kits, but it’s always good to have some project boxes laying around. Let’s say you’re mid build and need to step away for a bit, a nice lidded container will keep all the pieces you’ve already started working on clean and safe from getting lost. They’re also handy for collecting leftover parts from builds for later use. 

While any box will do, I like using plastic tupperware made for storing good. Sturdy, strong lid, and generally stackable. Plus you can get sets of 20 plus for dirt cheap. Here's what I'm currently using.

Large Cutters

Sometimes you need some brute force cutters, something to chop up runners for one reason or another. Any regular ol’ wire cutters will do here.

Glue

I’ve got a whole other section about glues you need to read before you buy any, and while you won’t need glue for 99% of your builds, broken pieces are inevitable. 

 

There’s a handful of specialty tools I have laying around for one thing for another. If you have any questions on what you might need to get something done, feel free to ask!


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