Game & Anime

An Easy Beginner’s Guide to Gunpla – Part ① Tools & Prep Work

You’re a Gundam fan with Gunpla dreams, and it’s time to get started. Let’s take a look at how exactly Gunpla models are put together!

Choosing the Right Gunpla

As we start constructing a brand new Gunpla model, our first steps today will be all the preparation that comes before everything comes together, from getting your Gunpla kit to readying all the necessary tools. As discussed in the last Mame Kakao column, Gunpla models come in a variety of scales (sizes), but today we’ll choose a size that’s massively popular and easy for beginner model-makers to start with. Let’s take a look at what it’s like to build a 1:144 scale Gunpla!

To star in this particular article, our choice today is the 1/144 Gundam Aerial, which was released on October 1, 2022. Since it’s one of Bandai’s newer products, the kit is packed with the latest in Gunpla technology. (Plus, this particular Gundam is also at the heart of the latest Gundam anime, “Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury.”)

▲ The 1/144 Gundam Aerial

The Tools Required for Good Gunpla

In previous articles, we’ve gone over the convenience of Bandai’s new EG (Entry Grade) models, which can be made without any tools at all, but this time we’re taking a look at a more traditional kit that requires the use of some basic plastic model tools. Here are a few of the most popular tools used for building Gunpla models.

① Nippers (Wire Cutters)

Variously called nippers, wire cutters, or some kind of pliers, this is the most important tool used when building a Gunpla model. If you don’t have a pair of nippers, your model-building dreams are going nowhere. This practical tool is most often used to nip all the different pieces and parts of the model from a larger frame called a runner. There’s a wide range of nippers on the market, including some super-high-grade luxury models that can cut through runners like butter, but if you’re getting started you’ll be just fine with any of the many basic, entry-level options available.

▲The author’s own well-used nippers.

② A Hobby Knife

When you use your nippers to cut a Gunpla part off of the runners, you’ll usually be left with a little piece called a “gate” still attached. If you put together your Gunpla model with all those little “gates” left as they are, your finished product will look pretty sloppy. So gate cleanup is a standard part of Gunpla building, and to remove all those excess bits of plastic and leave a clean edge, the best tool is a hobby knife, also known as an exacto knife or utility knife. In Japan, it’s called a “design knife”!

These handy little blades are useful throughout the model-making process, not just for removing gates, but also when you’re doing other fine detail work like cutting out and attaching decals. You won’t regret having one at hand throughout the process.

▲The author’s own dependable hobby knife.

③ Sanding Tools

Sanding tools are needed to shave down and smooth out the plastic parts during the Gunpla construction process, especially when cleaning up the last traces of gates, or removing the plastic seams that are sometimes left by the manufacturing molds (called “parting lines”). The most common grits are #400, #600, and #1000, going from course to extremely fine, and they’re usually used in order to remove bumps and dips, and leave your Gunpla with a smooth surface. There are a number of options when it comes to sanding tools, including metal files, standard sandpaper, and spongey sanding pads – generally you want to have metal files in addition to either paper or sponge sanders.

▲The author’s own selection of sanding tools.

④ Tweezers

Gunpla kits come with lots of little parts that need to be carefully fit together, and small decals to add precise detail, which means a good pair of tweezers can quickly become a prized possession for any Gunpla enthusiast. If you’ve got extremely nimble hands, you might not need them, but for most people all those tiny pieces can be extremely hard to pick up and manipulate with just the use of your fingers. If you don’t have especially dextrous fingers, a good pair of tweezers will definitely come in handy.

▲The author’s own sturdy tweezers.

⑤ Other Useful Tools

・A Cutting Mat
Helpful when using a hobby knife, so you don’t accidentally scratch the table.

Use it to glue any parts you might have accidentally broken or damaged.

・A Parts Separator/Opener
Accidentally snapped two of the wrong parts together? Use a purpose-built parts separator to easily pull them back apart.

・A Desktop Vacuum
Building Gunpla models can create a lot of little bits of plastic and other trash, but a little vacuum cleaner makes cleaning a breeze.

All Prepped and Ready to Go

As long as you’ve got the basic tools mentioned above, you’ll have everything you need to get started on your Gunpla kit! There are plenty of other tools around, but when it comes to simply assembling the parts of a Gunpla model, this is all that’s really required. Check back soon for part two, when we actually put the pieces together, with a Gunpla construction walkthrough!


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