Tools of the Trade

There are many tools that can be used to build terrain, depending on how complex you want the pieces to be.  Here is a list of the tools I currently use to build terrain.  This list may change over time as I find new techniques that work better than my current ones.

Note:  If you use the links on my site to buy any of this stuff, you’ll help me out.

The Basics:

There are only a few basic tools you need to make decent terrain pieces.  At a minimum, you should have these few items.

1.  Utility Knife (or box cutter)

This tool will likely see the most use out of any other tool.  It is used to cut foam, foamcore, paper, cardboard, and scoring.  I have both small and large blade knives with the snap-off blades.  These types can be found pretty cheap at your local supermarket.  Best bet though if you are going to be doing a lot of cutting is to invest in a comfort ergonomic knife such as the one offered by ACE Front Loading Utility Knife, and if you want to spend a few more bucks, the Alltrade Utility Knife.

2.  Precision Knife

Often called an X-ACTO Knife, these are also workhorses of terrain building used for small curving detail cuts, or even carving.   I stick with the X-acto name, it’s reasonably priced, and it is well-known.

3.  Metal Straight Edge

This is another tool that will be seeing a ton of use.  Be sure to get one with a corked back to prevent sliding when you are working with your razor-sharp knives!

4.  Sandpaper and Block

Sandpaper is great for smoothing rough and sharp edges, and works really well for shaping pieces from “blue foam sheets”.  You shouldn’t need very much if you are just planning to make foam structures.  It’s cheap and can be found at any hardware store or supermarket.

Stuff I like:

Here are some additional tools I like to use when creating terrain, especially when using more advanced techniques!

1.  Razor Saw and Miter Box

This comes in handy for making nice angle cuts for perfect corner joins or when just making small straight cuts.

2.  Pin Vice

These small hand-powered drills are used for making small holes for pins to help strengthen joins in models.

3.  Wire Cutters, Pliers, and Vice

More advanced model techniques involve using wire.  The wire I use can be up to 12 gauge, so a heavy pair of wire cutters will save some wear and tear on your hand.  Twisting wire will be easier with a good pair of pliers or vice-grips.  A vice is invaluable for holding wires when you need to twist them together.

4.  Rotary Tool

These multipurpose tools are used to drill holes, carve, shape, and several other tasks.  I consider this a BIG help, and if you can afford one, go for it!  Make sure when choosing one that it has the add-ons available to increase its versatility.  I currently use a craftsman variable speed tool with the router table attachment.  Other handy utilities include a flex-tool attachment, and a drill-press attachment.

5.  Scroll Saw (or Coping Saw)

This saw is used for cutting out curves in wood and other materials, and for precision small cuts in wood products.  A scroll saw is a heavy investment for the beginning modeler; a coping saw is hand powered and much more affordable.  This tool is used mainly for cutting out your bases for natural terrain features, such as forests, hills, and riverbeds.