Tag Archives: modelling

Consideration of your (and others’) health in model building

I thought about writing up a short summary of the potential dangers lurking in our hobby as I’m not sure all of them are widely known. Let’s hope it’s something of use for everyone.

So here it goes.

Well, that’s a no-brainer. We cut with scalpels, saws and other sharp instruments. Common sense (and really sharp blades) are a must. Seriously: don’t try to work with a dull scalpel; it’s more dangerous than a sharp one.

Resin dust
Well, if we’re at the cutting stage… Resin is dangerous. I’m not kidding. It’s toxic when in liquid form (the fumes and the resin itself), so keep this in mind if you DO work with liquid resin, but you can basically eat it once solidified. However, cutting resin with a fine saw, or sanding it releases very fine dust. And this fine dust is a carcinogen -in other words, it’ll increase your chances of developing (mainly) lung cancer. It also stays airborne for a long-long time, giving a chance for everyone sharing the room with you to enjoy the health effects.
You should either wear a mask and work in a fume hood when your are producing resin dust, or, a simpler -and safer- solution is simply to use wet sawing/wet sanding techniques. In practice it means you should be working with resin under running water (or a constantly wetted saw/drill/sandpaper), so that the dust is immediately absorbed. This way you are not endangering yourself or your loved ones. (This is a thing to keep in mind for any activities that create fine dust- even carpentry. If you sand your model, use wet sanding techniques, period.)

Dangerous chemicals: glues, paints and fumes
Well, yeah. A lot of the stuff we use have organic solvents. Adhesives, paints, glues… and organic solvents, such as turpentine, white spirit, benzene (I believe this one is not in any of our stuff, though), toluene, etc. are NOT good for you. At all.
When you use glue, have proper ventilation. You can also use special glues that are less toxic, such as Tamiya’s Limonene. Sometimes you can consider using simple white glue; surprisingly, it can have multiple uses. As a turpentine/white spirit alternative you can get ZestIt, which is a much more gentle alternative. (I’m trying to avoid doing product endorsements, but in these cases I did not find any other alternatives.)
Superglue is a separate issue altogether. It was used to glue wounds together on the field in Vietnam, until the injured could be evacuated to proper medical facilities, so no surprise here that it’s perfectly capable of gluing fingers together. Pulling will only tear the skin off – use debonder, or acetone to release your fingers. The fumes of the glue are not very safe to inhale either, so, again- ventilation. (The fumes are also perfectly capable of “frosting” any clear parts or finished paintwork, so ventilation is also quite important to avoid ruining the model if you add parts after the painting phase.

Painting… there are several types used in modelling, as we know. I will not go into all the different types; there are several detailed explanations online what paints are available for an average modeller. Just a short (and somewhat incorrect) introduction from the point of health and safety. The so-called enamel paints have nasty organic solvents, but have better properties; many people prefer to use these for their work. The solvents used in acrylic ones are less dangerous but you make trade-offs with the durability and coverage. (Personally I don’t use enamels at all.) When you brush any model paints, ventilation is, again, a must.

Solvents are only one side of the equation, though. Airbrushing paint creates small particles of paint in the air… and as we know, small airborne particles are not good for you. When you use your airbrush, it is imperative that you either are in a very, very well ventilated area (such as outside of your house – I sometimes paint on the patio), or, better yet, you use a spray booth. I cannot stress this part enough: if you use an airbrush, get yourself a paint booth. You can either buy one (the price ranges from expensive to very, very, very expensive), or you can make one using stuff you can get from any DIY store.
If you go with the buying option, there are affordable, folding versions available; I can wholeheartedly recommend those. (They save on space, if you don’t live in a mansion.)

If you make one, just get a large plastic box, a brushless fume extractor (this can be important, as organic fumes and electric sparks are not very good together), some HePa filters, and ducting – even with mediocre skills one can build a pretty functional fume hood. I went this way when I was in Florida, but had to leave it behind when I moved across the ocean. It cost about 50 dollars altogether, and took about 3 hours to construct. (Test it with a scented candle or something of that sort: if the smell/scent does not come out of the hood, you’re fine.)

A burned-out Jeep

A long time ago in a childhood far away I purchased an old Tamiya 1/35 Jeep with the intention of building it. Back then I was mostly focused on airplanes, and this was the very definition of impulse-buy… So this model got half-built, then forgotten. Parts got chewed up by the carpet monster, and the hull made it from Sopron to all the way to Florida. (From 1994 to 2006… talk about long gestation.)

There it was used as a test-piece: I used it as a testbed before each airbrush session, so it was painted in all different (and funky) colors. It also got more and more damaged. And then I saw a photo of a model of a burned-out tank, where the burned off rubber rims were replicated using white pigments. I really, really wanted to build something where I can show off some burned rubber. (Talk about buying a coat for a button.)

Then came the idea. While building an M40 SPG I thought I might as well finish the Jeep. There were no real plans; I just wanted to make it look like it was completely burned out. I replaced some parts of the chassis with aluminum foil, which was torn and bent; I took away most of the seat cushions with a rotary tool, and covered the remains with more foil, and essentially, that was it. The Jeep was covered with olive green, and then I just went for it with different rust colors. Black, orange, brown, and red in different shades were added to stimulate the effects of burned and oxidized/rusted metal. I took off the rubber tires of one of the wheels using the rotary tool, and sanded them more-or-less circular. (They did not need to be perfect; things bend.) The other wheels were used to test an interesting product called Rust-it: a colloidal iron mixture which is used as a paint, and then treated with acid to create rust.

Unfortunately I have not taken photos of the original, or any of the steps… it was a spur-of-the-moment thing.

I used a cheap picture frame as a base, and plaster mixed with corral sand (the only sand around Florida) to set the model into. Some more airbrushing made it look like some hard-shelled battlefield somewhere in the Pacific, The story was simple: the Jeep broke the front axle in a shell-hole, and was subsequently damaged by further shelling; one of the explosions set it on fire, and it burned out. There were no causalities; no skeletons or human remains were placed into the diorama. (I’m a pacifist, to be honest; I cannot really explain my fascination with these machines of war.)

Once it was in place, I used some oil filters, some oil paint directly, and a lot of pigments to make soot and dirt. I also used white pigments to finally get my burned rubber down. (Unfortunately this is the one thing you cannot see really.)

My then girlfriend was so taken away with the result, she made me an offer I could not refuse (as in: you will have to give this to me, because it’s awesome), so I’m proud to say, this was the very first model I’ve ever given away.