Best Model Tool Kits

Updated September 2020
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

14 Models Considered
6 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
261 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best model tool kits

Last Updated September 2020

There’s a good chance you could start model making with things you already have in the house. The most basic model tool kit is composed of scissors, tweezers, and an emery board or sandpaper. But like every other job or hobby, having a comprehensive set of the right tools makes the task easier, which means fewer mistakes and more pleasure for the model maker.

And even the best model tool kits are inexpensive. Many of them cost less than the mid-range plastic model kits they’re designed to help you build. You may want to acquire a few additional tools as your hobby develops, but these are also very affordable.

We’ve been looking at the vast range of model tool kits available so we can help you decide which is the best one for your model making. We’ve focused on those for making plastic models, which are far and away the most popular and varied type, but we’ve also looked at a few options for those who make model boats, radio-controlled models, and dioramas. We’ve included several of our favorite kits, too.

Beware of choosing a kit just because it appears to have the most pieces. The total might be inflated by counting every knife blade as an individual “tool,” for example.

Key considerations

A quick word about tool quality before we look at individual tools. Many model tool kits come from countries known for producing goods that are very cheap but not necessarily of the highest quality. For the most part, model-making tools don’t have to work very hard, so it’s not a major issue. However, if you’re paying $20 or less for a complete model tool kit, it’s reasonable to assume that some parts will eventually need replacing. It’s our view that the majority of these kits offer a good value, low-cost starter set. Some tools you’ll probably never use, and some you’ll use often. When one wears out, you can buy a better-quality replacement without having to get a whole new kit.

Kit components

The following covers what we think are the essentials in a model tool kit, but a variety of additional tools may be included that often prove useful, such as small screwdrivers, steel rule, fine hand-twist drill, cleaning cloth and/or dust brush, and graver (a sharp tool used for marking or texturing). The tools should all come in at least a basic plastic box. Although you’re not paying a lot more for these tools, it’s worth thinking about whether the extras are of any use to you. If not, buy a smaller kit.

Clippers or separator (sprue cutter): Plastic parts come on a frame held in place with small tags called sprues. These can be broken off with a finger, but doing so risks damaging the part, so a tool is used. Many model makers like to use a separator, a flat plastic blade (usually yellow). It’s sharp enough to force the pieces apart, but it doesn’t really cut. Others prefer to use small clippers. The separator only has one job, but clippers are more versatile. Model tool kits frequently include both, so it’s a matter of personal preference.

Files or sanding sticks (emery boards): Sometimes the plastic part shears cleanly from the sprue, but most of the time a small nub is left. It may not prevent two parts going together, but it will impact the appearance of the finished model, so a file or sanding stick is used to carefully remove it. Files offer greater precision, are much more durable, and are usually supplied in several different shapes. While most models are usually quite accurately made, manufacturing flaws sometimes happen, and a slender file can also be used to rectify problems, especially when the model includes moving parts.

Tweezers: Small parts can be difficult to pick up with fingers, so kits include tweezers. Tweezers are also useful for guiding pieces into position for gluing. Some model tool kits include several pairs of tweezers of different shapes, giving you increased versatility.

Hobby knife (Exacto) or scalpel: Occasionally pieces need trimming or shaping, so a small craft knife is invaluable. The Exacto-type is what you usually find in a model tool kit. It has a round handle, which is comfortable to hold, and blades that are easy to change. A scalpel is a more precise instrument favored by some, though the blades can break easily.

EXPERT TIP

If you’re working with fine detail, some kind of magnification can make the project a lot easier. Magnifying headsets are popular but can be awkward if you wear glasses. A magnifying lamp is another alternative.


Staff  | BestReviews

Features

Here are a few other tools and accessories you might find in model tool kits or want to buy separately:

Cutting mat: A good cutting mat protects your workbench or table and provides a grippy surface to work on, which is a real benefit when manipulating small parts. It provides an ideal surface for cutting (particularly the self-healing type) and may also have grids or ruled lines to help with alignment or angle setting.

Glue gun: If you’re working with wooden models, you might use traditional white glue or one of the modern alternatives, but they take time to dry. Hot glue from a glue gun can create a permanent bond, or small dabs can be used to tack pieces together while the main glue sets.

Rotary tool: A tool like a Dremel can take an enormous range of bits for drilling, cutting, and sanding, making it ideal for model makers of all kinds. It can also be fit into an upright jig, turning it into a tiny drill press.

Soldering iron: If you’re working on a radio-controlled vehicle, any kind of model that needs wiring, or a diorama that has realistic illumination, a soldering iron is invaluable. And while professional tools can be expensive, those suitable for model makers need not be.

Apron: You’re going to get glue and probably paint on your hands, and you’ll then likely wipe your hands on your chest or your jeans! An apron protects your clothes and includes useful pockets for tools, pen or pencil, or your glasses.

Airbrush: Beginners usually paint their finished model by hand, and a very good finish can be achieved that way. However, an airbrush can be tuned to provide lots of different paint effects. Airbrushes are popular with enthusiastic modelers looking for really professional results.

EXPERT TIP

The plastic boxes supplied with many model tool kits aren’t usually great quality, and everything is thrown in together. A divided container, perhaps a small fishing tackle box or craft storage box, offers better organization.


Staff  | BestReviews

Accessories

Magnifying headset: Morduedde Lighted Magnifying Glasses
Although you can buy cheaper versions, this is one of the most flexible headsets on the market, with interchangeable lenses for multiple different magnifications and an auxiliary lens for fine detail. Maximum magnification is 13x, there’s lots of adjustment for comfort, and a removable LED lamp helps illuminate your work.

Magnifying lamp: Brightech Lightview Pro Flex Magnifying Lam
Headsets aren’t always suitable if you wear glasses, so this highly portable, battery-operated, clip-on lamp is ideal. The ultra-bright LEDs last up to 20,000 hours. They surround a 3-inch lens that provides excellent clarity but remains compact enough to not get in the way. The 13.5-inch gooseneck is easy to bend to the perfect position.

EXPERT TIP

Sometimes you don’t want to put a model down on the worktable, particularly when you’re painting it. Wire clothes hangers are easy to bend into shape to make a supportive stand.


Staff  | BestReviews

Model tool kit prices

We usually include some guidance on inexpensive, mid-range, and expensive versions of the product in question. However, even the most comprehensive of the plastic model tool kits we looked at costs less than $40, and most are around half that, so price isn’t really an issue. If you’re building wooden, metal or radio-controlled models, you’ll have more specific requirements, but you’re unlikely to find a model tool kit designed specifically for those. It’s more a case of building a collection of individual items.

Carbon steel is often suggested as a feature in tools, but all steel contains carbon, so it’s nothing special. However, stainless or high-carbon steel can offer improved durability, hardness, and sharpness.

FAQ

Q. Are there any common modeling tools that I’ll need to add to a kit?
A.
That’s a very difficult question because it depends on what modeling you do and how your hobby progresses. Few include scissors, but how often does a modeler need them? Few kits we looked at cost over $20, and most offer a comprehensive set for the beginner. From there, you can add individual tools as the need arises. Experienced modelers also modify and adapt tools to suit specific tasks.
 

Q. Do model tool kits include brushes for painting?
A.
We haven’t found any, and, perhaps surprisingly, paint and brushes are seldom sold together. There’s a good choice of artist brush sets and fine-detail brushes for miniaturists, but most sets of paint only include a single brush, which won’t last long. As for model paints, again, you have numerous options in both enamels and water-based acrylics. Some focus on specific types of model — an army soldier set or an aircraft set, for example.
 

Q. Are there any safety precautions I need to take when making models
A.
Basic common sense should cover most eventualities:

  • Be careful if kids are around. You’re usually working with small parts (which could present a choking hazard), and some tools are very sharp, so you need to be careful if there are kids around.
  • Don’t leave children unattended. If you’re helping your children make models, supervise them at all times.
  • Work in a well-ventilated area. Some glues, paints, and varnishes produce unpleasant fumes.
  • Don’t work if you’re tired. That’s when accidents happen. Quit for the day when you’re tired, or you might end up ruining your model, too!
Other Products We Considered
The BestReviews editorial team researches hundreds of products based on consumer reviews, brand quality, and value. We then choose a shorter list for in-depth research and testing before finalizing our top picks. These are the products we considered that ultimately didn't make our top 5.
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