It won’t do for me. Now.
I’ve previously adopted a relaxed approach to health ‘n’ safety when it comes to modelling and mini painting.
During my adventures in model making over the years, there have been plenty of near scrapes with hot soldering irons, glued fingers and errant power tools. Only the other day a transformer fell off my workbench leaving me nursing a particularly nasty bruise on my foot. And I’m sure everyone has cut themselves at least once with a scalpel or craft knife but I put these down to part of the fun of modelling.
And then there was that incident with the rotary tool sanding disc that shattered sending pieces flying inches past my head. That was admittedly a bit troubling but it’s only happened once…
TLDR: Spray paint – airbrush or rattle can – and other model-making activities can be dangerous for your health. Dust masks and the like don’t cut it for small particles and paint fumes. For the best respirator for miniature painting and modelling work, offering the best protection, comfort and robustness, is the 3m 7503 Reusable Half-Mask with the 5935 Particulate Filter.
Just recently however I developed a sore throat after painting and glueing and it set my mind to wondering.
At the, we were deep in the Covid pandemic and given a sore throat is a symptom I took the test but this came back negative.
Paint and model-making particle sizes
Reading up on Covid-19, however, started me thinking about particle sizes. Was I underestimating the risk of airbrushing, spray paints and other materials I routinely use in my loft man-cave? Should I be using a face mask for miniature modelling?
This article on the particle sizes of various substances includes a chart comparing the various sizes of air-born particles and gave me some pointers.
Paint particles come in at .1 to 5 microns. Ash, which I use for ground cover on models and dioramas, comes in at between 1 and 100 microns. And the dust from clay, which I work with a lot when making buildings, comes in at less than 1μm.
This was a bit meaningless. I don’t know about you but when the conversation is about objects millionths of a metre in size I can’t really comprehend it, I thought Z scale was small 🙂 But reading that “particles less than 10 micrometres in diameter can get deep into your lungs and some may even get into your bloodstream was concerning.
Worse, according to the EPA “particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter pose the greatest risk to health”. The risks of breathing in all those paint particles when I was painting and spraying started to become more tangible.
The dangers of paint particles
Further reading was uncomfortable. Effects on the body of breathing such particles apparently include:
- irregular heartbeat,
- aggravated asthma,
- decreased lung function,
- increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing.
That final point caused a sharp intake of breath…
I was also more than a bit concerned about the first symptom. I’ve had an irregular heartbeat for as long as I can remember and attributed it to ‘just one of those things’ but I’ve also been making and painting models for as long as I can remember.
An uncomfortable possibility dawned.
The odd cut finger is something I can tolerate for now but damage to my heart and lungs is something I couldn’t countenance.
I do have a spray booth with an extractor fan that connects to an external vent for airbrushing. This reduces the amount of spray mist and fumes around but not all of it and I don’t use it all the time. Something else was needed.
I looked into respirators and face masks.
After a few days of research, I’d learned more about mask ratings and the levels of protection than I wanted but also understood the Filtering Face Piece mask protection rating (known as P1, P2 or P3) and the now often talked about Covid-combating-N95 grade of mask.
Requirements for model-making
Given the particle size of the paints and model-making materials working with something better than the standard dust mask or cheap masks now so common is required.
I’m no expert but for the particle sizes present and their concentrations when spray painting, a rating of P3 seemed appropriate.
It also needs to be easy to wear and fit when wearing my head visor.
I occasionally spend long periods hunched over plastic figures or landscapes applying different layers of colour so it needs to be comfortable and adjustable to reduce strain.
Finally, it’ll be surrounded by other tools; so needs to be tough and able to survive chance encounters with knives, soldering irons, drills and the like.
The mask that meets these needs
The filter has a P3 rating giving the protection wanted while the mask itself is comfortable to wear, provides a good seal and doesn’t cause any discomfort or breathing difficulties in use.
It’s also rugged and has already had a couple of knocks and scrapes with a scalpel.
It now hangs above my paint station ready for whenever I pick up a spray can or airbrush and can be regularly seen on my face (much to the enjoyment of my boys, apparently I sound like Darth Vader with it on).
Sadly, it can’t solve any damage inflicted by my childhood model painting but my sore throat will hopefully ease in the coming days and it’ll keep me out of ER, for respiratory problems at least.
Full disclosure: The reviews I share here come from hands-on experience establised over many decades of making and building models and model railways. I personally test each product, often for weeks or months, before writing about it. For this review, I purchased the product myself at the regular price, and the seller had no idea it would end up featured here. No special treatment or behind-the-scenes deals – just honest feedback on my experiences of using this product.
Footnote: This article has undergone review and fact-checking to ensure its accuracy. It has also been edited for clarity and to ensure the information is up to date and reviews the latest models as of November 2023. Your insights are crucial—should you spot any inaccuracies or have suggestions, please contact me. I welcome your questions, feedback, or personal stories. Please get in contact in a comment below or via my contact page
Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of modelrailwayengineer.com. He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.
Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.
When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.