Learn which materials are best for building and finishing miniatures and models, with information on their uses, weaknesses, and strengths. The materials on this list have handling, safety, and conservation information included with the descriptions of how they are used to make miniatures or displays.
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Polymer Clay Basics
Polymer clay and its cousin metal clay are a basis for all kinds of miniature projects. Originally developed in the 1930s, it has come a long way since the 1970s when it first appeared in European toy shops as a model material. It is now recognized as a wide-ranging artistic medium in a variety of colors and strengths, with varied handling properties.
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Tools Made From Polymer Clay
Polymer Clay makes tools to use when working with polymer clay, handles, or stamps, any of which are useful when finishing miniatures or scenes. This isn't just an art material or something to model shapes in, it may become your way to creating unique tools for your projects.
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Glues for Various Materials Used for Miniatures and Models
Everyone has their favorite glues, but for particular types of materials, some glues work better than others. This list has information on using glues for particular miniatures, and what glues work best in certain circumstances. The list has info on quick grab glues, PVA (white) glues, and silicon glues.
Bottom line, use the glue that will bond with your particular materials and has the least acidic effect. If possible, use glues that can be reversed or removed with little effect on the main materials.
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Two-Part RTV Silicone Mold Putty
Two-part silicone mold putty is an easy-to-use, non-toxic material for creating simple but detailed molds. It is the easiest, fastest means of producing a flexible, accurate, and reusable mold that can be used with numerous materials to produce multiple miniatures, dollhouse miniatures, parts, or replacements. It is easiest to use for simple push molds, but it can be used to create two-part molds.
Food Grade forms of this putty are available, and most types will withstand up to 600 F, making them useful for metal casting as well as liquid polymer clay, polymer clay, paper, resin, epoxy resin, gelatin, chocolate, and sugar molds.Continue to 5 of 19 below.
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Acrylic paints are widely available in craft stores and very easy to use, but are they always the best paint to use for miniatures? You should when to use the right types of acrylic paint for your purpose and times when acrylic paints are the best choice for your model.
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Often the answer to how to create a particular effect is as close as your art store. Instead of struggling with polymer clay or epoxy resin, try tar gel medium to create the effect of syrups and water splashed with paint. Tire tracks in scenes can be made in heavy acrylic mediums, and many of them can be used much easier than the hobbyist's old standby, silicone caulk, with more stability.
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Creative Paperclay and Delight Air Dry Clay
Creative Paperclay® is a useful medium for creating miniature plaster, stucco, pargetting, stone tiles, tiled floors and walls, landscaping rock and stone effects, or small three-dimensional miniatures or sculptures. With handling properties very similar to fine clay, this is a safe, easy way to create strong lightweight miniatures which need no curing, other than a protective coat of sealant.
Another product from the same company is Delight Air Dry Clay This light, marshmallow-like paste takes detail beautifully and blends with a damp paintbrush.
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Epoxy Resin to Simulate Water and Liquids
Epoxy resin is really a heavy varnish, used most often to gloss coat wood surfaces. It doesn't deserve nearly the reputation of difficulty most miniaturists seem to award it. Measure carefully, mix properly, and you can simulate all kinds of water and liquids provided you limit the depth of the finish you pour.
Although many modelers assume epoxy resin is the only way to mimic water effects for large-scale scenes, there are several easier methods which can be more realistic for items such as miniature ponds, waterfalls, and other purposes.Continue to 9 of 19 below.
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Two-Part Epoxy Putty to Modify and Repair Miniatures
Two-part epoxy putty is a material often used to modify and repair miniatures made of plastic, resin, wood, tile, brick, metal, and stone. Available in different colors and grains, the two-part putty must be mixed (usually 1 to 1) and has a working time that varies from brand to brand. The putty can be smoothed and cleaned up using water before it hardens.
After it hardens it can be sanded, machined, sawed, and painted. Gaming miniaturists often use epoxy putty to create new master sculptures for later casting in metal, resin, or plastic. Model horse enthusiasts and dollhouse miniaturists may use it to change the pose or shape of cast resin sculpts.
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MDF or Baltic Birch Plywood
Dollhouses and other miniature scale buildings often come as kits or completed structures made from MDF (medium density fiberboard) or Baltic Birch plywood. There are pros and cons to each material.
Both materials give off some gasses, so they should never be left unfinished. Plywood structures are lighter and can be built to be dismantled or added on to at a later date. The decision of which to use is personal.
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Sources for Scale Wood
Craft wood/scale lumber is available from many big box craft stores but specialty sizes and types of hardwood are also available online. Dollhouse suppliers may sell wood with particular routed finishes for specialized purposes, for miniature handrails, decorative moldings, or as sashes for working windows, for example.
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Luan/Lauan plywood is often the material used for less expensive dollhouse kits. It is an easily worked material but requires more finishing work than some other choices. In kits, this plywood is often die cut and assembled using tab and slot construction methods rather than nails or screws.Continue to 13 of 19 below.
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Gatorfoam/Gator Board for Building
This material is used mostly for indoor and outdoor display support for photos and posters. It makes a great building material for miniaturists, but it isn't the same as the more commonly available foam core board. You should use fine-tooth power tools to cut it, but it's light-weight, ease of building, and smooth water-resistant surface makes it ideal for many miniature applications.
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Book Board, Davey Board, or Binder
Bookbinders and conservators use this sturdy, dense paperboard to make boxes. It is inexpensive, acid neutral, and easy to work with. It is often used to make miniature furniture based on box shapes—bookshelves, store counters, chests of drawers, stoves, and fridges. It also is good for simple room boxes or display boxes, especially if you need them to sit on a shelf or slip behind a glass frame.
Laminate several pieces together if you want a stiff construction.
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Paper Miniatures and Dollhouse Printables
A long tradition of workmanship can also be found in the use of printed miniatures. Computer printers make it easy to use paper and film construction for all kinds of miniature items from paper plates to faux stained glass, buildings, tiny planes, and scale cars are part of this tradition as well.
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Printable Inkjet Fabric Sheets
Printable fabric sheets allow a miniaturist to create scaled fabrics that coordinate with other miniature items or that match period designs. Unlike transfers, these fabric sheets have no plastic coating, and the fabric is fine enough to be used with many miniatures.Continue to 17 of 19 below.
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Repair Your Miniatures
Accidents are known to happen. Make sure you know what you can and can't do to repair miniatures and to keep them in nice condition.
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Aging and Weathering Wood
This simple technique will turn new wood into aged silvered, brown, or blackened wood within minutes of application. This is a great way to make repairs to items that have naturally weathered or to create the look of weathered boards or shingles on miniature buildings.
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Wood Shingle Effects
Wood shingle effects can be created in many scales using wood, wood veneers, paper tags, or paper strips. The shingles can be shaped to particular patterns for siding or used to create rustic or aged roofs.