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Beginner Miniature Hobbyist's Essentials: Nerdmire Guide

Updated: Dec 27, 2021

So crafting your own miniature models and terrain sounds like fun? It’s quite an engaging hobby if you have the imagination, time, and most importantly, the right tools to make your little things great!

To get you started, we’ve put together a beginner’s list of tools and materials, along with our recommendations to help you pinch those pennies early on into the hobby.

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1. Utility knife

Besides it being an obviously essential tool that you might just have lying around the house, it’s also a cheap alternative to expensive hot-wire cutters for handling foam and can achieve similar results, just remember to cut in multiple passes rather than applying force to achieve those perfect cuts. If you’re looking for both sharpness and quality, here are a couple of suggestions:

OLFA Utility Knife

Stanley Pocket Knife


2. Exacto knife

So what can this do that your trusty utility knife can’t? An Exacto knife does count as a utility knife, except that it has scalpel-like precision, a pen-like handle, and interchangeable blades. It is a pretty handy tool as its tip is extremely sharp and small enough to scrape flash off your bits and add fine details to your miniatures.

X-Acto #1 Precision Knife

Nicpro 123 PCS Exacto Knife Set


3. Flush/Sprue cutters

Whether you need to cut off plastic or wires, you need at least one of these. What’s the difference you may ask? Flush cutters are more delicate for handling wires, while spruce cutters are generally heavier and add more force when you cut plastic. Just remember not to use sprue cutters on metal!

Tamiya Sharp Pointed Side Cutter

The Army Painter Sprue Cutter


4. Cutting mat

Need to preserve your workbench, and perhaps your instruments too? A self-healing cutting mat is an ideal solution as it also prevents your blades from dulling fast, as well as providing measurement and angle guides for precise alignment to help you achieve perfect cuts.

US Art Supply Self Healing Cutting Mat


5. Sanding sticks (sandpaper)

It’s all in the name and is used for sanding. You may need to smooth out your surfaces, or even make them rougher (for gluing). Definitely needed in your crafting arsenal.

Micro-Mesh Sanding Sticks


6. Superglue (CA glue)

This adhesive is commonly used as it is one of the strongest general use type of glue as it can stick wood, plastics, and metals. It’s available in liquid and gel consistencies and dries to a transparent to cloudy white color. Bear in mind that it may discolor plastics and depending on the type, may not hold well if pulled in opposite directions.

Gorilla Super Glue

Loctite Super Glue


7. Plastic glue/cement

Here is how this works, this is not an adhesive as much as it is a solvent. It works by melting plastics together, and the bond created is much stronger than glue. It is ideal particularly if you plan to put your minis through some rough treatment, like sanding.

Tamiya America, Inc Extra-Thin Cement


8. PVA glue

You might know this as Elmer's, white, or wood glue. It is a semi-weak adhesive but easy to use as it allows you to easily replace items while crafting your terrain if you make a mistake and can spread over large surfaces. It dries to form a clear opaque finish.

Elmer's Washable School Glue

Gorilla Wood Glue

Mod Podge Sealer, Glue and Finish


9. Hot glue gun

Who doesn’t own one of these nowadays? A hot glue gun is a household essential, and for a good reason, as it is a great all-purpose kind of adhesive that can be used over large areas (like when making your miniature terrain). Since the glue is easily removable, it makes it helpful for experimenting as well.

Surebonder Auto Shut Off Hot Glue Gun

Surebonder Mini Glue Gun

AdTech Hot Glue Sticks

AdTechHot Mini Glue Sticks


10. Basing materials and flocking

These are materials needed to craft miniatures bases, dioramas, and terrain. Of course, if you would rather gather some on your own, that's pretty simple: go outside and collect some pebbles, sand, tree bark, there are even some plants that shed tiny leaves in near-perfect for most conventional miniature scales.

The Army Painter Battlefields Essential Series - Field Grass

Woodland Scenics Static Grass, Medium Green

The Army Painter Battlefields, Woodland Tuft Terrain Model Kit for Miniatures

The Army Painter Battlefield Essential Series: Battlefield Rocks for Miniature


11. Paintbrush set

There are many kinds of brushes useful for specific tasks, but beginners should generally start from a basic set of cheap brushes, with many shapes and sizes to experiment with and get used to, before jumping into more expensive professional ones.

As a general rule, it's good to keep to sizes 0 to 3 for painting details on miniature models, but don't rely on what some cheap manufacturers advertise their brush sizes as, as it can vary greatly, and should be chosen by feel (over time you would learn what fits you).

Loew-Cornell 245B Brush Set

BOSOBO Paint Brushes Set

Miniature Paint Brushes Detail Set


12. Brush cleaner

It's a good idea to keep your brush clean with more than just water, brush cleaners and preservers would keep your brush's life span longer, especially if you bought a fancy one and don't want it to lose its tip.

General Pencil Masters Brush Cleaner & Preserver


13. Aerosol primer

Since we know you don’t want to go all-in yet and purchase an expensive airbrush and compressor this early on, the next best thing is aerosol can primers. They provide an even layered base coat for your paint to set on the surface of your miniatures.

Krylon ColorMaster Paint and Primer (White)

Tamiya America Primer (Gray)

Rust-Oleum Spray Paint (Matte White)


14. Paint set

We know as a beginner finding the right paints is a struggle. Luckily, manufacturers hand pick and pack popular paints, and sell them in sets to make starting in the hobby a breeze. Some of them even include extra tools for beginners!

Warhammer 40,000: Paints + Tools Set

Warhammer Age of Sigmar Paints + Tools Set

Vallejo Paints Game Color Intro Set


15. Varnish

Varnishes are paint sealants and come in gloss, matte, or satin finishes. They can keep your paint job safe while handling your miniatures and protect the paint from scratching off.

Another use for them is, if you need to use different types of paints (for example using oil-based weathering effects on a miniature painted with acrylics), the oil-based paint might ruin the layer of acrylic you're painting over, so sealing in the paint with varnish before this stage will prevent that.

Some people also use Mod Podge - usually mixed with paint on a 1:1 ratio - as an alternative to varnish and primer in one go, often on big terrain pieces (see our PVA glue section).

Rust Oleum Spray Paint (Matte Clear)


16. Painting handle

You need painting handles to hold your minis in place for painting or gluing. However, you do not need to buy one. Here are some crafty replacements:

  1. Wooden blocks and dowels

  2. Old pill bottles

  3. Empty paint pots

I’ve even used an old shot glass before. To add weight, fill the bottles with sand or pebbles, and to secure your minis, use blue tack or double-back tape (do not use the foam type since it's harder to scrape off).

Games Workshop Warhammer 40K Citadel Painting Handle


17. Dry palette

If there’s a project that will only take a few hours, or if you plan to use metallic paints since they do not sit well on a wet palette, you need one of these. A good last-minute homemade alternative is using bottle caps and disposable cups!

CENTSTAR Round Paint Tray Palettes


18. Wet palette