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Updated September 2022
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Buying guide for Best model tool kits

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. However, 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.

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.

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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

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. The majority of these kits offer a beneficial, low-cost starter set. Some tools you’ll probably never use, and some you’ll use often. When one wears out, you can select a better-quality replacement without having to get a whole new kit.

Kit components

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, choose 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.


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.


Here are a few other tools and accessories you might find in model tool kits or want to get 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.


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, a pen or pencil, or your glasses.


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.


Magnifying headset: Morduedde Lighted Magnifying Glasses
Although you can find cheaper versions, this is one of the most flexible headsets available, 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.

Model tool kit prices

We usually include some guidance on inexpensive, mid-range, and expensive versions of the product in question. However, even most comprehensive plastic model tool kits cost 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.

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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.


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 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. 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 models — 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!
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