Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Poor Man's Hobby Chisels

Greetings my fellow otakus! I'm finally starting to gain momentum with my projects, thanks to a much improved work/life balance - and what better way to celebrate my return than by sharing with you a wallet friendly guide on how to "simulate" one of the most coveted tools of the plamo trade - the modeling chisel!

(Sadly I don't own these..pic borrowed from google images..*sigh*)

click on the Read More link for the rest of this post...(warning: pic heavy)

Employed by the greatest and most heavily invested mecha modelers - the hobby chisel is the pinnacle of modeling paraphernalia. Many have shied away from it, no thanks to its jaw-dropping market price (around $15-$22 per piece ) and inaccessibility. The few brands that make them (BMC, Madworks) use the strongest metals such as tungsten to ensure the carving tip remains sharp throughout its lifespan.

Yet in all its precision and prestige, it is nothing but a chunky, glorified scriber. It is meant to do one thing: carve plastic (or resin).  To what end you might ask? Well...

shunneige puts chisels to good use...
But we're not exactly trying to carve vibranium here...we're working with plastic. Surely there is something else out there that can serve a similar purpose?...

Behold! the humble thrift store screwdriver set steps up to the plate!

6-piece mini screwdriver set from Daiso - Php88.00

Is it up to the challenge? Will the mini flat-head screwdriver be the poor-man's champion? Let's find out!

To test my theory, I first prepared a guide using Dymo tape. No need to get fancy here, I simply cut a rectangular notch out of a strip of dymo tape, then slapped it onto some scrap plastic plate. Waste not want not!

I chose the 6-piece set that came with 4 flat head screwdrivers in increasing widths. A closer look at the tips show they are nowhere near as pretty as actual hobby-grade chisels, but I'm guessing they are sharp enough to score plastic just the same.

First up to bat is the 2.0mm tip. I put the tip down onto the plastic and gently dragged it back and forth, using the dymo tape to keep it straight. I tried my best to keep the length of the tip flat and in full contact with the surface of the plastic.

It wasn't as smooth to drag as I expected, but I'm guessing that's because of the wider surface area having much more friction than a pointy scriber. Still, it shaved off some nice even curls of plastic detritus.

When the ditch was deep enough to keep the tip from sliding sideways, I decided to peel off the dymo tape and continue to score the plastic.

I cleaned it up with some sandpaper. It wasn't quite as nice as I'd hoped it would be. In particular the short end edges weren't as well defined as the longer sides...but I wasn't being as careful as I could have. I tried again with the smaller 1.4mm tip and with a bit more finesse I got better results.

Now to test it on an actual part. This time, I used a metal template to guide the "chisel". The template was taped to one side of the part, with the objective of scoring a rectangular depression into the surface.  I thought it would be a good idea to first scribe around the edge of the shape with a compass needle to help prevent any slipping.

Next, I took my "chisel" and dragged it back and forth against the exposed plastic, keeping the tip as flat as possible. The pre-scribed edges helped the tip stop precisely where they needed to on both ends.

A few minutes of gentle scraping and I was satisfied with the depth of the ditch (about 1/3 of the way down into the thickness of the plastic). I removed the metal guide, cleaned it up with 600 and 1000 grit sand paper and...hey presto!

So there you have it! You can achieve near-hobby-grade chisel results using a bunch of cheapo flat head screwdrivers! They can also be used to improve the definition of existing detail elements by making sharper edges and increasing depth. It might be a good idea to sharpen them up first against a cutlery whetstone , but be careful not to overdo it and end up with a deformed tip. I mean heaven forbid you end up having to replace your dollar store chisel set! o_O

UPDATE 03/28/2016

This post felt a little incomplete because I hadn't shown how to sharpen up the screwdriver and achieve a more chisel-like tip. Thanks to an anonymous comment, I went ahead and tried regular sandpaper, and it worked!

As suggested, I sanded only one side, dragging the tip back and forth against 600 grit sandpaper at about a 30 to 45 degree angle. I then repeated the process on 1000 grit paper to smooth out the finish.

And that's all there is to it! Thrift store screwdrivers are hard enough to carve model plastic, but soft enough that they can still be sanded down with regular sandpaper. No doubt these will dull much faster than their tungsten tipped idols, but a little sandpaper treatment and they should be good to go again! Thanks for the tip anonymous reader!

can't wait to put these to good use!
Head to the tutorial section for more budget friendly tips and tricks, and stay tuned for a well overdue WIP post. Until next time, keep building plamo!

*some pics borrowed from google images, shunneige's blog, and the now defunct mechaskunk store.


  1. I use the exact same method, but never thought of using dymo tape with it.

    This is nice :3

  2. Forgot to mention that it's best to have only one side of the flathead screw drivers sharpened for better control and effect. A 30 to 45 degree angle is ideal.

    1. thanks for the tip! I looking for a finer grit whetstone at the moment, the ones I see at my local hardware look too coarse...

    2. Can't find some finer ones either so I settled with sand paper. Hard times :D

      "thanks for the tip!"
      And thanks for the awesome blog o/

    3. Blog post updated with your suggestion, thanks!

  3. definitely back on track sir! will be applying this knowledge in my upcoming IBO kits this June :D

    1. thanks! don't forget to share your WIPs using your poorman chisels on the facebook page!