Tools for Customizing


We will begin our step-by-step customizing venture by considering some specialty tools used by customizers. These are (in no particular order):

Rotary Tool – Sometimes referred to as a “Dremel” due to that brand’s popularity, the rotary tool is also available from a few other manufacturers, and most accessories are inter-changeable between the brands (with the exception of internal parts). Rotary tools are not a “necessity” for customizing, but they do come in handy for many things including modifying cars into convertibles and grinding away axle holders. The variable speed models are the most versatile, and probably worth the slight cost difference. A good rotary tool, with assorted attachments, can easily be had for less than $100. Available at Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Sears, and hobby shops nationwide. And don’t overlook garage sales, flea markets and pawn shops where a used rotary tool might be found at a discounted price. You will probably want to invest in several thin cut-off wheels, which are widely used in customizing.

File Assortment – A good set of hobby files can be invaluable. They make removing heavy casting seams a breeze. I bought a set of three (new) at a flea market for about 8 bucks. This assortment includes a round file, a triangular file, and oval shaped file. I also added a larger fine mill-bastard file to my assortment for larger jobs that require a flat surface. These file assortments may also be purchased at hobby shops and, in some cases, your local hardware store.

Jeweler’s Saw – Somewhat similar to a coping saw, the jeweler’s saw is designed for finer cuts. This is often the tool to use when creating opening hoods, trunks, or doors or more fine detail cutting. Available almost exclusively from hobby shops, this is one tool surely worth investing in. Prices range, depending upon brand, between $8-15. Blades are generally available in three different levels of coarseness; fine, medium, and coarse. “Fine” is usually adequate for cutting the [relatively] soft metal of diecast vehicles.

X-Acto Knives – These hobby knives have been around seemingly forever. And with good reason. They have proven invaluable for various hobbies and diecast customizing is no different. You can use them to trim interiors or windows, cut out decals, position stickers, or about a zillion other things. I recommend buying at least two. Often, companies like Harbor Freight Tools offer a “hobby set” of X-Acto knives that will end up costing you much less than purchasing them individually.

Side Cutters – While side cutters aren’t a necessity for customizing, there may be times when they come in handy. For example, I reassemble my cars with brads and use the cutters to snip them down to size. They are available at hardware stores, Sears, Home Depot, etc. Cost is usually $4-10.

Pliers – Pliers are another non-essential customizing tool, but I use mine to move wet paint stands around as well as holding diecast while I’m grinding on it. Grinding creates a lot of friction, which it turn creates heat. Holding a car base with bare fingers while doing any significant grinding may result in an (all too real) burning sensation. You know where pliers may be purchased.

Tweezers – I find tweezers especially helpful when removing masking from a painted body. You may too.

Electric Drill – Some customizers use their rotary tool to drill out the rivets on a car. I prefer to use an electric drill. My personal choice is a variable speed model, which allows a bit more control, but any good drill will do. You can find drills at about a billion outlets, but Wal-Mart may end up being your best buy. Be sure to pick up an assortment of small bits too. Particularly, 5/32nd and 5/64th sizes. Also worth consideration is the fact that sharp bits work much better than dull ones, hence you might want to get the quality set as opposed to the budget set. A good drill and an assortment of bits can be had for $50 or less.

Wire Brushes – Not your standard wire brush, hobby brushes can be had in much smaller, finer, softer versions. I myself use a small brass wire brush for clean up on cars being rinsed of stripper. It helps break loose (and whisk away) leftover paint and such. Flea markets and hobby shops are your best bet for smaller wire brushes.

Paint Brushes – It’s really best to visit your local hobby shop or craft store to purchase a couple of quality, fine line brushes for detail work. If you purchase the less expensive models, don’t be surprised to find bristles shedding occasionally, directly onto your canvas. Buy at least one quality brush. Expect to pay $5-10 for it.

Pen Vise – This tool is simply a hand-held (and hand-operated) drill. It sometimes depends on the method and/or type of material you are drilling, but these little things can be extremely handy. They are especially useful in tapping plastic engines for a set of plug wires, or creating open-back wheels from solid ones. They are, however, much better suited to plastics as opposed to metals. But for tiny, precise holes drilled in plastic, a pen vise may be the way to go. Usually found only at hobby shops or hobby suppliers, these things generally run 5 to 10 bucks.

Small Screwdrivers – Having both a small phillips and a small regular screwdriver or two on hand is often a great idea. The screwdrivers can be used for such things as prying apart axle clamps, separating bodies from bases, unscrewing tiny phillips screws, popping the lid off of your paint cans, etc.. Any good hardware store will have a supply of these little beauties.

Scissors – The uses for a good pair of scissors are endless… hair cuts, paper machete projects, and yes, even customizing. How else are you going to cut out those water-slide decals? Everyone knows where to find scissors and how much they cost. But did you know that there are specialty scissors for cutting out shapes or special corners (like on custom cardbacks)? Yup! Check your local WalMart, Ames, or craft store! Average cost is around 4-10 bucks a pair.

Airbrush – Whether or not you choose to use and airbrush is entirely up to you. Once mastered, no other [paint] finishing technique compares to a quality airbrush job. However, for the part-time or aspiring customizers an airbrush may be an unnecessary expense (airbrush & compressor can easily set you back $250 or so). If you do decide to purchase an airbrush though, you may want to consider the versatility of a dual-action model. Check your hobby shops and craft stores as they frequently have deals on brushes for hobby use. To learn more about the airbrush vs the spray can, please proceed to “Brush vs Can”. Or go to next step, Safety.

You can print a copy of our Quick Reference Tools Checklist posted seperately (without the commentary) in the category called Checklist.

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