On the Cheap: tools for customizing

When I first started customizing, I was daunted by the number of tools I felt I needed. I have now, slowly, acquired most of these items, but I made do for a long time with various substitutes. And there are still many tools that I use in my studio every day that can be acquired inexpensively and even free.

Tools for Working With Epoxy – I am always collecting new sculpting tools, because so many things can be used for working with epoxy. All of my sculpting tools were acquired secondhand- at flea markets, thrift stores, or from around the house.

Some of my favorite sculpting tools. All of these were acquired secondhand. The tweezers and scalpel I can recognize, but I have no idea what the other items were originally designed for. But they are great for sculpting ponies.

My strategy (besides constantly trolling thrift stores, which is less of a strategy and more another hobby) is to look at objects with a critical eye and ask, “how can I use that for something else?” (This strategy is also great for finding prop making materials, but that is another topic). My sculpting tools look like random objects and/or junk, but they are all extremely useful now that I’ve shown them their true calling.

Tools for Moving Body Parts – the crafting heat gun (made for embossing, I believe) is a nifty item that does work very nicely for heating up plastic pony parts in order to move them (tails, legs, ears, etc.) But a lower cost, around the house technique is to simply use a candle to heat the desired part. The trick with a candle is to move the horse slowly back and forth over the flame. If you hold it too still or too close, the plastic can melt and bubble, which, trust me, makes for a lot more work in the long run.

Another good use for a candle is for inserting wires into plastic, for example to start sculpting a tail or to repair a leg. You can heat up the horse and the wire and then shove the wire into the body. It melts the plastic in it’s way and usually stays nicely lodged into the horse.

I used the candle and wire technique to elongate this Safari Arabian Foal’s legs.

One more tip about using a candle: always move the largest part that needs to be moved first, such as the neck before the ears. Because larger parts take longer to heat, you will usually end up melting and deforming the smaller parts if you try to heat the large areas second. When you heat up the smaller areas second, the heat won’t be enough to deform the large area you just worked on.

Tools for Amputating Parts – Chopping up a model horse and putting it back together is really, really fun. A dremel tool can be a huge help in this process, but there are other methods. One way, which can be a bit messy but works nicely to take off ugly tails, is to melt the part at the joint (for a tail, at the dock) and then simply twist it off with a pair of pliers. Another great tool is your run-of-the-mill serrated bread knife (get one at Goodwill) which saws nicely through chunks of plastic. Files, both large and small, can also be used to remove or reform body parts.

If you do decide to buy a dremel tool, don’t. That is, buy an off-brand rotary tool. I got a fabulous tool with all the attachments I could want from Harbor Freight Tools for $20. I just bided my time and mangled horses with bread knives until Harbor Freight had a big sale and I had a good coupon. For nearly any larger hobby purchase it really pays to shop around and clip coupons.

Happy hunting!

3 responses to “On the Cheap: tools for customizing

  1. Sculpting tools: The “sticks” in the middle I use, too, and also toothpicks, for finer details. Usually I myself tend to ruin my own sculpting when using too many tools, so I admire those who can and use my own fingers otherwise. *g*

    A breadknife works, too? Hehehe… I am sure going to try that out. So far I have always used my small hobby saw for the same purposes.

    When I started to remake horses, I did a lot of dremeling, too, nowadays I have mostly turned toward filing, too and mainly use the dremel when I need to drill small holes somewhere for wires or such things.

    I have a question concerning the candle- do you really get punctual heat with it? I have so far only used the hotair gun, being too chicken with open fire and flying plastic chips form opened up models and such.


  2. I use my fingers as sculpting tools a lot, but since I customize and collect minis (LB/Schleich and smaller) I always need smaller things to fit into the many spaces my fingers cannot!

    As for the candle… I haven’t had any safety concerns with using on, and I’ve found that I can burn myself just as easily on a heat gun (or on whatever I heated) as with a candle. The flame does work pretty well for heating small areas (ears, mini’s legs) and for heating wires for insertion. The part usually heats up quickly (depending on how aggressively you are getting it near the candle, which can be disastrous as I mentioned). Overall, I would say that a heat gun is a superior items for most customizing projects, but a candle can be useful for someone looking for a cheaper alternative.

  3. Ooh yeah, ok, for the minis I would need tools, too… I always get a headache with the small ones, which is why I lazily *g* specialised with the Traditional sized horses mostly.

    Ooh I agree, the heat gun can hurt you very well, too – I probably wouldn’t have one if I hadn’t inherited it from my Dad when he bought a new one for himself, so I kinda had this from the start. What you say about the ears and wire makes a lot of sense and I will be definitely trying this, too.

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