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Opinion of Essential Tools Required

Hobby Dreamer

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Hobby Dreamer

Hi Guys,

I was planning to place an order with http://www.micromark.com/ and was wondering what you think are essential tools for the hobby? (Or warn me if micromart is sub par).


While I plan to stick with fixed track its probably better to have tools on hand - better the right tool of good quality than a makeshift (ow, my eye).


I don't know if they can send glues or lubricants internationally, but are there any favorites?




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Depends what you doing.  If you build your own bench work or hobby table you will need power tools.


I find working with Japanese model trains themselves requires relatively few tools.  Many of these you find in any good general hobby shop. Micro Mark has a reputation for good, but somewhat expensive tools. You don't need to pay $17.95 for a sprue cutter.


hobby knife with replaceable blades

cutting mat

long tweezers

sprue cutter

small files


pin vise/drill bit set (a hand drill for drilling holes in plastic kits)  I have this set.



reamer (enlarges holes punched in plastic)  I got mine in a dollar store.



Tamiya sells a good basic tool set.  Sometimes you see these in hobby shops here.



safety goggles


That list along with paint brushes and hobby paint should be enough to build Greenmax kits, or apply stickers to buildings.


Glues and paint you will have to buy locally.  Trying to ship them will only cause you grief in this day and age.

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Any suggestions for a cutting mat, or what price I should expect to pay. I've tried finding one locally but the few I've found seem like a lot of money for a poor product. Ideally I'd want something that can be put away (so it doesn't need to be very big, A4/Letter size would probably do) and that has metric or metric+imperial lines. For the moment I've just got a really thick/still cardboard sheet that's tough enough to stand up to a knife (I'd need a saw to cut all the way through).

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Hobby Dreamer

Thanks Bill...


Some of the tools you mentioned were on my original list!


I won't be building a table for now but hope if Kato/Tomix put out more tram track to maybe devote 6-8' by 2-3' with the possibility of a small "L" of a foot or 2. If I do this I may just build on a door and lay foam and work out some system for wiring within the foam. (The first layout will be for learning skills!)




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Hobby Dreamer

Hi David,


I have a mat that has been OK (I've only cut sprues etc so far) but have read that people often use glass to cut on (for Xtacto knife cutting). One bonus with glass is that you can place a grid underneath, or modelling instructions or coloured paper to make it easier to see what you are cutting.


I'm thinking of putting the glass in a shoe box lid to minimize losing things!



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Any suggestions for a cutting mat, or what price I should expect to pay. I've tried finding one locally but the few I've found seem like a lot of money for a poor product. Ideally I'd want something that can be put away (so it doesn't need to be very big, A4/Letter size would probably do) and that has metric or metric+imperial lines.


I got my first cutting mat when they went on sale at Curry's, an art supply store in Toronto.




I got my second cutting mat from a rotary cutter set my mother had.  She already had cutting mats designed for sewing and didn't need the green cutting mat.

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I would recommend against glass cutting mats. They are very hard, and so very hard on your blade. After only a few cuts, your blade will be dull, which is obviously quite bad. Plus, it is very easy to chip a blade on a glass mat, and I have had a blade chip fly at my eye once! Don't do that.


I use a wooden kitchen cutting board. It's about the size of a sheet of paper, and stores very easily. I sometimes wish it were bigger, though. Anyway, tough as nails, but easy on the blades. I also use it as my soldering work bench, as I can simply place my work directly onto it and solder; so long as you aren't actively trying to start a fire, the board works really well for this purpose. Plus, if you get a little paint or glue on it, as I have, you can just lightly sand it off.


Micro-mark offers very good tools; I've never been disappointed by the ones I've bought from them. But a lot of what they sell can be had for a fraction of the price at Harbor Freight. My tweezers, needle files, multimeter, and digital calipers (very very useful!) all came from there, and haven't let me down yet.


As for lubricant, as per AlpineAustralia's suggestion, I have found Aero lubricants to be the bee's knees. Awesome stuff, and there's enough in a set to last a lifetime. Search for "Aero ACT-4004", which includes a gel lubricant (for running gear), bearing lubricant (for the motor bearings) and a conductive lubricant (for motor brushes and wheel wipers, also good for cleaning track in the Tomix cleaning car!)


Here is my addition to the list of good tools to have:


  • Jeweler's screwdrivers. Great for all those tiny screws you will encounter in your models. Radioshack makes an inexpensive and reasonably durable set.
  • Cross-locking tweezers (like this one, but don't pay nearly so much for it!) These things come in handy for, e.g., holding tiny parts together while glue dries, or providing a large handle to manipulate a small part.
  • Sharp-tipped tweezers. Skip the standard tool outlets, and head for the makeup department of your favorite discount store. Look for "Tweezerman" brand—these are made to amazing quality, and will last a lifetime. Buy a small pair with the sharpest point available
  • Jewler's saw. Xacto is fine; get the finest-tooth blades available.
  • Hobby vise. This one is both cheap and awesome. These are good for holding larger, sturdier pieces of work very still. I use this mostly for holding work to solder, but is also great for holding the metal frames of locos for modification. Includes rubber pads to avoid marking anything up.
  • Jeweler's bib. Will probably have to make your own. Here is a good reference.

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the tools mentioned below are all good to have. i would also include the following:


a good pair of small needle nose pliers, flat end pliers, and cutter. finding good ones of these are a must. unfortunately you can never really tell which ones in the catalogs will really work best for you until you have them. you can spend from $5 to $25 for them depending on which brand. the best i have found were actually only $7 but work better than the $20odd pairs i have! unfortunately i got them at an electronics shop way back and have never found them for sale again anywhere!


micromark generally sells good quality stuff and at about a decent retail price. some small sales now and then. for some its the easiest place to find the stuff in one place. some of the things you can find just as good stuff cheaper elsewhere if you hunt.


one thing thats a great investment is a lighted magnifying glass on a lamp arm. small cheap ones for like $20 or so have a single bulb or larger ones with a circular florescent light are more like $50, but worth it to fiddle with smaller parts or just swing over your work area. small led or ikea desk lamps also are great to plunk around your work area to give good light from several directions thats easily changed by plopping them where convenient.


the small blue plastic clamps are also helpful to hold stuff together while glue sets. usually find them a bit cheaper at the train shows. also check out your local train show as most usually have a tool dealer or two with some interesting stuff usually fairly cheap and you can assess the quality and how well it will work for your purposes well there.


a self healing cutting mat is the best way to go for cutting on. glass only works for a few situations that you wont be doing (like cutting negatives). you can get 8x10 ones for less than $10 usually. cheaper ones will wear out a bit faster, but they can take quite a beating. i have a slew of them from 3"x3" up to 48"x36" (for cutting large sheets of chipboard) ive picked up over the years so there is always one handy in the size i need at the time. check your local craft stores if they have coupon discounts as they usually carry these as well. the ones meant for the fabric disc cutters do not work well for xacto knife blades.


lots of xacto knife handles. i find these like pencils and matte knives, they disappear wen you need them. im always trying to saturate the house and workshop with them, but the seem to drop into micro black holes! one of the local art supply stores went under a couple of months back and sold out down to 80% off so i was able to grab a big hand full of them really cheap and i hope to now reach a saturation point!


Have fun!



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Lots of people have already mentioned what I'd consider my core modeling tool set:


cutting mat, & board for soldering

Jewelers screwdrivers

Small needle-nose pliers

Xacto knife

Sprue cutters

Small file set

Pin vise and bit set


And I'd add to that a #0 phillips and 1/8" square screwdriver, as I've seen models that were more appropriately worked on with those than with Jeweler's screwdrivers (which are for precision, not brute force, and sometimes force is what you need).


But here are a few others I wouldn't be without:


Hemostats (for clamping while soldering). I generally find the curved-tip ones more useful, but I have several of both.  The nice thing is that not only do they clamp, they're also heavy enough to provide a heat-sink to avoid damaging other things if, like me, you're not the best solderer in the world. They're not really good for clamping plastic (too strong, and the rough jaws would damage it).


"reading glasses" (the kind you buy off a rack at a book store or drugstore), these are very useful as magnifying glasses for close-in work (I have a couple of them in different diopters) and with plastic lenses they double as safety glasses unless you're working with power tools. Always have something in front of your eyes when modeling or working on a model. Tiny springs and parts, or blobs of glue or paint, can go flying at any time.


A razor saw (Zona is a good brand) and miter box.


Wire strippers for fine to heavy-gauge wire (track feeders and DCC wiring, etc).


Sanding wand (or similar). Usually just a bit of sandpaper held on a finger is all you need, but these can be good when you want to square-up the edge of a cut area.


A metal ruler (and if you work in U.S. units, get a dual-scale one that also does metric). I have two, a small (~15 cm) one with a cork back that tends to stay where it's put (which I found in a craft store), and an all-metal 30cm one that I use for both models and light carpentry measurements. Actually I have a lot more than two, but the others are big ones I use for layout carpentry. Although I linked to a Micro-mark one, you can probably get something just as good, and much cheaper, in a home-supply or craft store.


If you're scratchbuilding, you'll need some kind of square for getting a precise 90-degree corner when scribing plastic with the xacto knife (for large sheets that don't fit in the miter box, or really small stuff that is easier cut with a knife).

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I second the metal ruler! Thanks for the reminder, KenS. Worth the coin to get one designed for drafting work. Doubles as a straightedge for straight cuts!


Wire strippers are good to have around too. For the fine wires that are used in DCC decoders, I cannot recommend this model enough:


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Few others out of my tool kit, but bear in mind I work as an electronics engineer.

Set of metric allen keys,sockets(hex drivers), have a set of miniature torx bits, Flat nose, round nose and std pliers all not serrated. Set of dental/locksmith picks great for holding those tiny soft components or cleaning loctite out of screw heads, assorted tweezers, Dremel with cutting wheels, micro drills (can be used for cutting rail), decent temp controlled soldering iron, I also have a resistance soldering machine for brass or nickel silver kits.

Self healing cutting mat, some of those miniature clothes pegs you see if craft shops(great for holding small bits while they at sticking together), good quality portable multimeter- I use a Fluke digital but that is work supplied. small pinvise for when the dremel won't get in gaps.

Side cutters, end cutters etc.Metal 6" and 12" metric/imperial rulers.3"Toolmakers square, Scriber.£ 70 .00 wire strippers

Stanley knife, couple of scalpels with different blades(watch the fingers with these) and the two most important items, a packet of band-aid and a tube of superglue release.


Th at sums up what I have at my disposal (portable wise) also have an ultrasonic cleasner for those really dirty parts.

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All good suggestions, but one item hasn't been mentioned so far - an Olfa "P-cutter". There are two models available, the P-450 and the larger P-800. I have one of each, and find them indispensible for cutting and scribing styrene, ABS etc. Unlike an Exacto blade, which raises a ridge of plastic on either side of the cut, the Olfa tool scores a neat vee-shaped groove in the sheet, which can then be snapped easily and requires minimal clean-up.




Here's an article that suggests a modification to the P-450 blade to increase it's usefulness.







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Hobby Dreamer

Thanks a lot guys!


I'm going to place an order on the weekend. What's amazing is that I mentioned cutting on glass because I have 2 hobby magazines that state this but I did not think about the impact on blades!


I really like that scoring tool!  All I had in mind originally was the pin vise and a few other odds such as a sprue cutter.




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Mark, I'd never heard of those before, but seeing as how I really hate the way my X-Acto cuts sheet styrene, I'm very keen on trying one of these scoring tools out now! Thank you!

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I have one of these, which looks to be a slightly larger version of the same tool. It's sold alongside the plexiglass and lexan sheets. I've only used it a little, on 1/8" plexiglass, but it seems to work fairly well.  I hadn't thought of applying it to sheet styrene, but it ought to work on that.


On plexiglass you need to score the same line several times to get a deep groove before snapping the sheet against a straight edge.

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interesting, i never thought of using those oscillating tools for carving foam! ill have to try that. btw you can find inexpensive versions of these for $20 on sale, not as solid as a rigid, but if you are just carving up foam...


thanks ease



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