Model Questions

Working with Styrene Sheets

Styrene sheet (or ‘plastic card’ or ‘plastic stock’ as it is sometimes called) is a very useful product and easy to work with if you follow a few basic tips.

1) Rail Tales sells Evergreen brand plastic stock and sheet which glues together with styrene cement, sometimes called solvent. This is not an adhesive: styrene cement chemically melts the plastic together permanently. It also temporarily softens the plastic so that a little pressure can close small gaps. We do not recommend using adhesives for most applications with styrene sheet: super glues (CAs) are too brittle and white glues and epoxies just stick to the surface and often peel off.

2) Styrene sheet is very difficult to cut all the way through with a knife. The normal process is to score it and snap it. To do this, use a sharp knife to carefully and lightly trace the line you want to ‘cut’, then trace it again with slightly more pressure to mark it. If you are cutting a straight line, use a hard straight edge like a metal ruler as a guide. Once the line is marked, tilt the knife so that is nearly parallel to the surface (roughly 20-30 degree angle from the surface) and score (cut into) the surface with a firm smooth stroke. Two or three cuts all that is necessary. Now start at one end of the cut where it meets the outside edge of the surface and bend the material along the cut, opening the cut up (usually this will be away from you). A rigid surface like a table edge is useful. Thin and medium thickness material will snap cleanly along the cut line. Thick material will bend and then snap when you flex it back towards the cut (towards you).

3) If you have to cut through styrene sheet without being able to snap it or you need a very clean edge, use a razor saw instead of a knife for plastic thicker than about 0.020 inches.

4) Styrene sheet is very, very smooth and will not take paint very well. Washing with detergent will help and may be enough for enamel paints. Washing is also sufficient for spray paint and airbrush work. If the sheets have to be brush painted, they should be primed after washing with a plastic safe spray or brush primer.


How do I pick the right model?

First of all, pick something that interests you. If you aren’t interested in it, you either won’t build it or won’t built it very well.Next, pick something that fits your skills. While each model company has its own rating system (if it has one), Rail Tales uses a 10 point skill system rated as skill 1 through 10. Most manufacturers use a 5 point system but this leads to categories that are too broad. Generally our skill 1 and 2 falls within their skill 1, etc.

Skill 1: snap-together kits that can be put together and taken apart more than once if incorrectly done. Skill 1 kits require no painting and have stickers instead of water slide decals. They generally do not require reading skills to follow the instructions and in fact generally don’t require specifically following the directions (though we recommend you do!). The Zvezda Cars models are Skill 1.

Skill 2: simple snap kits that require painting and may have water-slide decals. Our Pegasus E-Z Snap aircraft are skill level 2. So are the snap versions of the Star Trek models.

Skill 3: simple glue kits that require painting and have water-slide decals. These kits require careful following of directions but have relatively few parts. Most AMT brand and some Revell brand car models and most low cost aircraft models of any brand and many smaller scale armor models are skill 3. Beginners will be able to achieve reasonably pleasing results the first time. For experienced modellers , these kits are ‘relaxing quick builds’.

Skill 4: Snap kits that require careful following of the directions and possibly are very complex but which are still snap together. Most of the Gundam models by Bandai are skill 4. So are most of the Star Wars models. These are actually very sophisticated models.

Skill 5: standard glue kits that require painting and water slide decals to finish. These kits have complex sub-assemblies and need some planning for proper assembly. This is the level of most well designed modestly priced glue kits on the shelf which are produced by major manufacturers.

Skill 6: skill level 5 kits that either don’t fit very well and so require some modifications or which don’t have very good directions or both. These are kits that don’t necessarily have a lot of parts but which do require some experience to get to fit properly. Most of these come from minor manufacturers and are typically of rare or unusual subjects or are re-issued old kits.

Skill 7: glue kits with a lot of parts and numerous complex sub-assemblies. These kits require a lot of planning and a significant amount of time to properly complete. They may include photo-etch brass or resin parts or both that need special care. Skill 7 kits require some experience or a lot of patience and research and usually require some specialized tools and/or materials. They can be built as a first kit but we don’t recommend it. Many of the larger scale Dragon armor models and all the models by Kitty Hawk and Panda models are skill 7.

Skill 8: Skill 7 kits which do not fit well or which have inadequate instructions or both. These kits are a challenge to intermediate builders, though experienced builders with the right tools will not have too much difficulty. ‘Craftsman’ kits or kits made of resin are usually skill 8. Many wood ship model kits are also skill 8.

Skill 9: Professional level kits with hundreds of parts, many sub-assemblies of sub-assemblies, multi-media parts (resin and metal), and the need to very carefully plan the assembly to actually get the model together at all. These kits should only be undertaken by experienced modelers with the proper tools and can take months to finish. The more complex wooden boat models are skill 9.

Skill 10: And then there are those kits that even the experts wonder ‘how do I build this?’. These are are kits which require the builder to overcome mistakes and flaws in the fit of kits with hundreds of parts or which require the builder to fabricate parts. A lot of wooden boat models fall into this category.


What tools do I need to build my model?

That depends on the difficulty level.

For any model, you will need a means of getting the parts detached from the ‘sprue’ or ‘tree’ (that maze of plastic webbing that holds all the parts). The best tool for this is a Sprue Cutter. Next best is a pair of heavy duty toenail cutters. A razor or knife is also acceptable but care must be taken to avoid breaking delicate parts.

For any model, you will need a means of removing the little tab of plastic left after it is removed from the sprue. This is best done with a hobby knife and some sort of file.

For glue models, you will need glue. For most plastic model builders, Testors liquid cement is the most reliable all around tool for the task. This liquid chemically welds the parts together permanently and is fast enough to keep the work moving but not so fast that adjustments can’t be made during assembly. We do not recommend using tube glue for plastic models but if used with care, it is a cheap alternative to liquid cement.

For paint models, you will need paint and paintbrushes.

So the basic tool kit consists of: sprue cutters, a hobby knife with sharp blades, an emery file, plastic cement (for glue models), and paintbrushes (for painting). Kits with clear plastic parts will need clear parts cement or regular white glue.

For more complex and delicate work, filler putty (we recommend Vallejo plastic putty) is used to fill in small gaps. Tenax glue is faster and more precise than Testors cement. Tweezer nose pliers and tweezers are excellent for handling small parts. A cutting mat or cutting board is used to protect surfaces. Decal setting solution makes decal application much easier. Metal parts in the form of photo-etched brass sheets benefit greatly from dedicated photo-etch scissors and will need super-glue to secure. Resin parts will require super-glue or epoxy to secure and often require a razor saw to cut out.

The enhanced tool kit adds: putty, Tenax glue, tweezers and/or tweezer-nose pliers, a cutting mat or cutting board, decal setting solution, and (for metal and resin parts) ‘super-glue’ (CA glue) and photo-etch scissors.

Ultimately, most modelers will want an airbrush for the application of smooth paint surfaces and for the application of specialized finishes. Depending on the kind of stuff you model, you may find a very basic airbrush to be sufficient or you may need an advanced model. This is best discussed with Rail Tales staff but in general automobile models and ships and some armor and aircraft can be painted successfully with an inexpensive external mix airbrush powered by cans of air while some armor and most aircraft really benefit from an internal mix airbrush powered ultimately by an air compressor.

Most complete modellers kits require an airbrush.

Some advanced models require a variety of additional tools particular to the model. There are also a variety of techniques that use additional equipment.

Wood Model Kits require a sharp knife with extra blades, paint brushes for painting, emery paper or files, and usually fast setting wood glue (such as Titebond) and super glue (CA glue). Craftsman type wood kits may require a razor saw. Ship models usually need other tools as well but Rail Tales does not sell wood model kits of ships. Structure models benefit greatly from a small builder’s square and triangle set. Some building kits will need clear parts cement.


How do I build my model? click here


How do I paint my model? click here



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