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Miniature Painting Basics 1: Assembly

The world of miniatures painting can be very daunting to enter, but it really isn’t! In this series, we will be discuss what you need to get started in your new hobby.

There will also be helpful hyperlinks directing you to some recommended products to help you get started faster!


While some model kits are already assembled (and even painted) when they come out of the box, most model kits start out in sprues that you need to cut out and assemble. Let’s start with the essential steps to model assembly and the tools you need for them.

Before everything else…

Most modern model kits are quite complex and thus come with an assembly guide or manual. Only ignore this if you are a veteran modeller who has assembled the same kit a bajillion times. Otherwise, always try to follow the manual if you can ESPECIALLY IF IT’S YOUR FIRST TIME.

Chairman Mao has spoken. Read the Fething Manual.

Clippity-clip off the sprue!

A good set of hobby clippers is absolutely essential for any modeller, old or new. The clippers are used to remove the miniatures themselves from the sprue. While any set of clippers will work, having a set of good quality clippers will minimize any cleanup work you may have to do later and will keep your miniature from being damaged. A good set of clippers will serve you well for years to come! Also, for the love of all that is holy, please DO NOT use a pair of scissors for this step! Miniatures aren’t cheap and many a mini or model kit has been mangled by someone trying to use scissors to remove them from the sprue!

There are quite a few decent brands for clippers but I do recommend the Army Painter clippers to start with. The Citadel clippers are quite pricey but dang can they cut smooth. I’m using an old generic set from Japan for this demo because I can’t find my other clippers.

These Imperial Guardsmen are part of a Heavy Weapons Team and start life as grey plastic on a sprue.

Carefully cut the pieces out of the sprue, making sure not to cut too near the actual piece. Leaving a small nub is ok as we will be cleaning this up in the next step.

All pieces of the this loyal Guardsman have been cut out of the sprue and are ready for cleaning!

Cleaning the parts

The second item every modeller should have in his arsenal is a decent hobby knife. Hobby knives come in different brands such as x-acto, army painter and citadel and all of them work fine. Do note that your knife will dull in time and that some brands come with spare blades to begin with while some sell the blades separately. I’ve used Citadel, X-acto and Army Painter knives and have found no noticeable difference in performance though Citadel and Army Painter come with extra blades and the Army Painter and some X-Acto knives come with lids. Choose whichever one fits in your hand best!

Be very careful during the cleaning step as hobby knives are VERY sharp. If needed, do ask an adult for assistance!

Remember those nubs from earlier? That’s what the hobby knife is for!

If the nub proves tough to remove (or if you are new at this) it is often advisable to cut AWAY from your body to avoid injury.

After removing the nub, you will often find these mold lines on your plastic. These are leftovers from the injection molding process and are perfectly normal. Simple scrape the back of your knife against these little buggers to get rid of them.

Put it all together!

The last absolute essential in your quest of assembly is simply gluing the model together!

Yes, this is where it all comes together.

In the world of hobbies, we mainly use two types of glue: Plastic Glue and Super Glue.

Plastic Glue melts the plastic together and creates a bond that is stronger than most marriages. Do not use Plastic Glue if you want to take stuff apart later! It also wont work on surfaces that have already been primed or painted or on metal or resin figures.

Super Glue, on the other hand, can be used in every step of the process but does not form as strong a bond as plastic glue and can lead to your model falling apart if, gods forbid, it is dropped on the floor. I suggest using super glue for gluing models onto their bases, gluing parts that need to go on after painting and for models made of metal or resin. It is also important to note that plastic glue takes a bit of a while to dry while super glue is much, much faster!

While both Citadel and Tamiya carry plastic glue, Tamiya bottles usually come with a brush lid and can therefore expose you to some nasty, nasty fumes as you use it. The Citadel bottle comes with this nifty little metal tube that lets you squirt instead of brush while releasing the minimum amount of fumes so I suggest on using the Citadel plastic glue whenever you can to save your poor lungs. As for Super Glue, go for any trusted brand from your local hardware or bookstore such as Mighty Bond. but I’m partial to Loctite for their nice nozzle bottles.

Painters often leave the arms, or other bits, off models or assemble them in parts in order to make them easier to paint later. This method is called “sub-assembly”.

Another example of sub-assembly. This model was assembled without the arms for ease of painting, but the arms were then lost by the modeller. Please make sure to remember where you kept your parts.

The noble Guardsman is now assembled and ready for battle!

Advanced Tools

Once you get the hang of assembly, there are some additional tools that might be useful on your journey.

When you do the sub-assembly method, you often want to see how the model looks like once it’s been assembled. To that end, you use sticky tac. Sticky Tac comes in a variety of brands such as Elmer’s or Faber Castel, but I dont really find much difference between them aside from color. Keep away from anything oil-based unless you want a sticky mess.

The Guardsman from above isnt really fully glued together! His arms are held on by sticky tac so I can remove them and have an easier time painting the model later.

Sometimes there will be nubs that are hard to remove with a knife without damaging the rest of the model. That’s where the file set comes in! You can use either a regular file like the ones from the Army Painter Tool Set on anything from metal models to plastic, but wont really work on resin. While these are usually flat, there are some rounded or even curved file sets out there. Diamond files, such as the Games Workshop file set , are even finer hobby files that work like very fine grit sandpaper. These are very, very effective on plastic but may be damaged by excessive use on metal figures. As a final tip, try to use your diamond files while wet to retain their quality!

Greenstuff, or two-part putty, can be used to either sculpt details unto your model or, more commonly, used to fill in gaps that some larger models might have (particularly with vehicles and tanks). There are many brands available but the Citadel and Reaper stuff are very good options. Simply mix the blue and yellow parts together and start filling! It takes a variable amount of time for the greenstuff to harden depending on brand and humidity, but I like to leave it overnight to cure.

And, at last, we come to my very favorite of the bunch. Affectionately known (mostly by me) as the Magic Stick, this unprepossessing implement is the absolute final word on removing those pesky mouldlines. You just scrape any edge of the metal bit on the lines to make them disappear! I too was a skeptic once, but have been converted into a true believer (as has anyone else who has used the Stick). Rumour has it that it also works on blackheads, but you didnt hear that from me.

And there we go!

You now have all the skills and basic equipment you need to assemble your first set of miniatures! Again, we have scattered certain links to recommended products to help you get started as quickly as possible, or you could check out this nifty set by Army Painter that has all the tools you need to get started!

Join us again for the next part of this series where we discuss the process of actually painting your newly assembled minis!