My Dumb Projects
Wednesday, June 03, 2009
  My Supplies
I get asked about the materials that I use quite frequently, so I decided to make a list to address those questions

Before I start building, I assemble as much photo reference as I can find. With any luck, I'll find a picture of the prop next to a full body shot of a person so I have reference to scale. Otherwise you have to look for something else to compare it to: a hand, a head, etc. Guns have their own scale as the pistol grip area is relatively the same size on all.

I draw up full size plans in Adobe Illustrator and print them so I have instant size reference while I'm building. Why measure when you can just lay the part on the drawing to compare!

For particularly complex forms or objects with layers, I'll do a virtual rototype in Strata 3D. By working in 3D, I can work out all the depths before building

I used Pepakura, a paper modeling program to generate a pattern for building the Giant Kunai knife blade. Those angles were too much for my mathematically-challenged brain to handle so I let the software do it for me.

MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) is available at any Home Depot or Lowes. It comes in 3/4" , 1/2", 1/4", 1/8" thickness, in sheets of 4' x 8'. MDF sands to a fine powder, has no grain, is easily shaped with dremel, hand tools or even utility knife. You can use any kind of glue on it and with an application of shellac, hardens to resist dents. Watch the cull bin for bargains! Why pay $15 for a piece that you can get for 51ยข?

Basswood is a fine grain wood usually used for carving. It is similar to balsa but much stronger. When turned on a lathe, you can quickly get a super smooth surface.

Poplar is a nice fine grain hardwood, available at any Home Depot/Lowes.

Maple is a super dense hardwood. I use it when something needs extra strength but I can't make it out of metal.

Styrene Plastic
The plastic that's used in model kits. You can buy small sheets at most hobby shops but I buy mine from a plastic supply house in town in big 4' x 8' sheets. Some sign shops carry it too.

I've been getting all my casting materials from a local source. They carry the Polytek line. They are very reasonably priced, behave as advertised and have great tech support.

The other major brand is Smooth-On. I have nothing bad to say about any of their products that I've tried, I don't use them anymore because I don't have a local source.

If you have a Harbor Freight in town, you probably know what a great resource it is. Low priced tools and supplies for the hobbyist.
Stuff I buy regularly:

You can never have too many Clamps. These cheap plastic clamps will eventually break but since they're so cheap, who cares?

Rubber Gloves are essential. At the least it keeps paint off your hands but they can also protect your prop from oils from your hands and protect your skin from the horrible glues and chemicals that we use. The nitrile are more expensive than latex but tougher.

I hate sanding but I LOVE LOVE LOVE Sanding Sponges. They last forever, work nicely on contours and prevent hand fatigue. The ones with the angled edge are nice for getting in all the nooks and crannies.

I also hate cleaning Brushes too. I buy a set of the small kids brushes, the 1/2 horse hair shop brushes and foam brushes every visit. Use it and toss it!

Mix as much 2-Part Epoxy as you need from the two-chambered syringe. Thick glue that stays where you put it and kicks in about three minutes. There's also a version that cures in 30 minutes but I can't hold something that long.

FolkArt Acrylics
are durable, lightfast acrylic paints. Tons of colors, cheap, fast drying, non-toxic, water cleanup. I'm done with the enamel rattle cans!

Future Acrylic Floor Finish is a great top coat that can be applied with airbrush or paintbrush. dries fast and smells good, too! It really makes metallic paint sing!

The Dremel was my first power tool and it still gets used on a daily basis. My PPSh-41 was built almost exclusively with this tool.

A Heat Gun is the Poor Man's Vacuformer. Heat styrene until glossy and then shape over a form.

Use Bondo Body Filler to fill big gaps, let it harden for a few minutes (until rubbery) and trim off excess with a knife. Sand smooth.

Bondo Spot Filler is the same stuff as model putty at a fraction of the price. Fills smaller gaps for a smooth finish.

Besides something to clean your brushes, you can use Lacquer Thinner to glue styrene together, apply it to a seam with brush or ruling pen and the liquid will run along the crack, MELTING the plastic together. Great for laminating plastic sheet into one solid piece. MUCH cheaper than Liquid Plastic Cement.

The Ruling Pen is an old school drafting tool is great for applying thinner to a seam or CA glue to a small area.

I just use cheap plastic Calipers but it does the trick. Great for measuring parts that fit together. An indispensable tool!

By all means, wear a Respirator to protect your lungs from dust (especially MDF), paint and glue fumes.

By no means are these the best materials to use, but it's what I like. If you have something that works better, leave it in the comments!
Thank you for this. I've been reading your blogspot for years and it's nice to know that MY supplies have dovetailed nicely into yours. Now? Time to hit up Lowe's to fill the gaps!
Thank you so much for posting this!
Great list of tools and items and how to use them. I hope, when you get a chance, to talk about your wood lathe and how you got into using that. I see them at harbor freight all the time, but not sure if I should get one.
feel bad about myself, some time ago
I emailed a ton of messages to mike for help with my projecs... if i just waited for this post...
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These are all the dumb things I find myself obsessed with building when I SHOULD be doing something more productive.

As a kid I built lots of plastic model kits, never knowing that one day those skills would actually be of use.

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