Master the art of card kit construction with these quick, easy, proven tips.
Whether you’re a seasoned model builder or just starting out, paper card kits from Metcalfe, Superquick and others offer a low-cost alternative to usual plastic or resin models on a model railway while kits from Marcle Models etc are fun and interesting projects for scale model makers. (If you’re struggling to decide which type of model to use for your layout, see my guide to the the best type of model railway building)
So grab a cuppa and read on for three proven tips to improve your card kit construction.
Cut with care
A sharp blade is crucial for clean cuts and accurate pieces.
The parts of many card kits will pop out with a press of the fingers but some may still need a knife to separate them cleanly (never pull pieces, the card might tear).
If, you do get a knife or scalpel, use one with changeable blades (I recommend the Swann and Morton scalpel, it’s one of my most used tools). While the blade may seem sharp, they dull quickly which can lead to rough, untidy, edges that diminish your creations. Changing the blade regularly will give better cleaner, tidier, edges that will look better.
And when cutting, take your time. Double check you are cutting the right piece in the right place and hold the card firmly so it doesn’t slip as you pull the blade through it. (I don’t want to think about the number of kits I’ve ruined because the paper or card moved as I’m cutting them or I realised too late I’d sliced the paper in the wrong place!).
> An extra tip I recommend is to use masking tape to hold the card to the worksurface when cutting instead of holding it with your fingers.
Follow the instructions with the kit and only use it where directed.
On a related subject, scoring, you may see advice that suggests using a knife to cut halfway through the card to score it and make it easier to bend. Don’t.
It’s way too easy to press too hard and cut all the way through a fold line. Instead, use something that will indent the card or paper but not cut it. The tip of an empty ball-point pen can work well as can pointy (but not sharp) clay sculpting tools.
Doing so will prevent removing tabs you then need for gluing. Speaking of which…
> Think you know about model railways, take this model railway quiz and see how your knowledge compares.
Glue with precision
Too much glue can make a mess and slow down the drying process, and too little glue may result in the card peeling apart.
And glue with too much water content can result in the fibres of the paper or card separating, with the sheets disintegrating.
PVA, white glue or UHU are popular glues for card kits but the best glue for card kits is widely considered to be Roket Card Glue.
Roket Card Glue comes with a handy fine nozzle applicator but a toothpick can be a helpful tool to spread the glue evenly and control the amount used.
Use a small amount of glue, spread it evenly, and let it dry completely before moving on to the next step. (Roket Card Glue sets very quickly compared to normal PVA and you have very little time to position parts once they are pushed together so make sure you do a test dry-fit assembly first).
For easier application, I apply the glue to the inside walls where the tabs will meet rather than to the tab itself.
Use a ruler or straight edge
A ruler or straight edge is an essential tool for making precise cuts and folds in paper card model building. A ruler will help you create clean lines and ensure that your pieces fit together properly.
Talking of folds… where the inner material of the card is exposed and at a fold — at corners for example — colouring the exposed inner card with a pen or pencil of the same colour as the printed surface makes a massive difference. Otherwise you’re left with grey corners that really spoil the look of the finished model.
Along with Roket Card Glue and a good knife, I’d also recommend a set of precision tweezers – such as these. Getting small pieces of card in place, particularly small components that you forget to fit before assembly and need then need to slide inside a structure later, is much easier with these.
Follow these tips and you’ll be well on your way to creating amazing models that you’ll be proud to have on your model railway. Remember, the key to success is taking time, using the right tools, and being precise with your cuts and glue. So, grab your cuppa, relax, and get building!
> A final, personal, note: I spend a huge amount of time testing, photographing, writing and researching techniques for these articles and pay for all the running costs of MRE out of my own pocket. If you found this article useful you can support me by making a donation on my fund-raising page. Thanks and happy modelling, Andy.
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.