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 51¢?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Using a lathe demands that you locate the center of your stock. A Center Finder is also useful for locating the center in dowels
Craft Picks are really great for applying glue or putty or mixing small amounts of paint. The flat surface works much better than a round tooth pick.
The Contour Gauge is a great tool for matching edges that have to fit together. It’s especially helpful for organic shapes.
Mechanical Pencils always keep a nice sharp point. I get 3 packs at a Dollar store. At that price, it’s almost not worth re-loading the lead when they run out (but I do anyway). Once they break, you can harvest the spring inside for gun triggers!
I don’t know if there’s a big difference between Wood Glue brands. I’ve used Tite Bond and Elmer’s and both apply smoothly and grip within a minute.
CA Glue is commonly known as “Super Glue”. It comes in various thicknesses: thicker glue for filling gaps and thinner for running down seams. I buy the smallest bottle available as they tend to dry out quickly. Pour some out on a piece of cardboard and apply with a toothpick.
A Buffing Wheel inserted in a drill press, hand drill or dremel tool can remove scratches from sanding. I use it mostly when smoothing acrylic gems.
I use painter’s Blue Tape for masking areas when painting. It makes a nice tight seal and doesn’t peel up any paint it’s covering. At least not yet.
In addition to sanding sponges, I like theses Sanding pads for smoothing round or organic shapes. It’s good for tight areas too.
If you’re doing any work with resins, it’s good to have a Digital Timer to keep track of cure times. I also use it to keep track of how long it’s been since I glued Part A to Part B.
A holdover from when graphic design was done on a drafting table, the Drafting Brush has second life dusting off my table, props and occasionally me.
I use a Hack Saw for cutting anything to big or unwieldy for the bench tools. Great for metal, PVC, wood…anything that won’t yell and run away.
A Coping Saw is used when you need to make tighter turns than the hack saw will allow.
The Jeweler’s Saw is for even tighter turns. Great for sheet metal and tubing. The blade snaps easily so saw carefully and prepare to replace the blade often.
The Razor saw usually comes with a little miter box so it makes trimming styrene and wood a breeze.
A Shop Vacuum is almost essential for cleaning up all your “work residue”. Plus it can be used to power your vacuum table.
Another refugee from my drawing table, I still use a Circle Template for marking parts for cutting or gluing.
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!