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Best Craft, Art and Building Materials For Miniatures, Models and Displays

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Learn which materials are best for building and finishing miniatures and models, with information on their uses, weaknesses and strengths. The materials in this list have handling, safety, and conservation information included with the descriptions of how they are used to make miniatures or displays.

Polymer Clay Basics

Dollhouse waffles with buter, syrup and blackberries
Lesley Shepherd

Polymer clay, and its cousin metal clay, are a basis for all kinds of miniature projects. Originally developed in the 1930's it has come a long way since the 1970's when it first appeared in European toy shops as a model material. It is now recognized as a wide ranging artistic medium in a variety of colors and strengths, with varied handling properties. View the linked list for various polymer clay types, their strengths and weaknesses.

Tools Made From Polymer Clay

Creating miniature texture stamps from polymer clay
Lesley Shepherd

Polymer Clay will make tools to use when working with polymer clay, or handles or stamps, any number of items useful when finishing miniatures or scenes. This isn't just an art material, or something to model shapes in, it may become your way to create unique tools for your projects.

Two Part RTV Silicone Mold Putty

Two parts of silicone mold putty and a finished mold
Photo ©2007 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to About.com Inc.

Two part silicone mold putty is an easy to use, non toxic material for creating simple but detailed molds. It is the easiest, fastest means of producing a flexible, accurate, reusable mold which can be used with numerous materials to produce multiple miniatures, dollhouse miniatures , parts or replacements. It is easiest to use for simple push molds, but it can be used to create two part molds.

Food Grade forms of this putty are available, and most types will withstand up to 600 degrees Fahrenheit making them useful for metal casting as well as liquid polymer clay, polymer clay, paper, resin, epoxy resin, gelatin, chocolate and sugar molds.

Acrylic Paints - When to Use Them for Models and Miniatures

Tubes, jars and squeeze bottles of acrylic paint
Photo ©2007 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to About.com Inc.

Acrylic paints are widely available in craft stores and very easy to use, but are they always the best paint to use for miniatures? Are there differences between craft, student, and artist quality acrylic paints? What should you consider before you choose acrylic paint for a particular project.

This article contains information to help you choose the right types of acrylic paint for your purpose, and times when acrylic paints are the best choice for your model.

Glues for Various Materials Used for Miniatures and Models

Everyone has their favourite glues, but for particular types of materials, some glues work better than others. This list has information on using glues for particular miniatures, and what glues work best in certain circumstances. Bottom line, use the glue which will bond with your particular materials and have the least acidic effect.

Acrylic Mediums - Additives that Create Texture for Scale Effects

various acrylic mediums added to paint to show the effects of each medium
Photo ©2007 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to About.com Inc.

Often the answer to how to create a particular effect is as close as your art store. Instead of struggling with polymer clay or epoxy resin, try tar gel medium to create the effect of syrups and water splashes with paint. Tire tracks in scenes can be made in heavy acrylic mediums, and many of them can be used much easier than the hobbyist's old standby, silicone caulk, with more stability. This document describes various mediums and their uses for a miniaturist.

Creative Paperclay and Delight Air Dry Clay

Faux stone wall for a dollhouse made from Creative Paperclay
Photo ©2007 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to About.com Inc.

Creative Paperclay® is a useful medium for creating miniature plaster, stucco, pargetting, stone tiles, tiled floors and walls, landscaping rock and stone effects, or small three dimensional miniatures or sculptures. With handling properties very similar to fine clay, this is a safe, easy way to create strong lightweight miniatures which need no curing, other than a protective coat of sealant.

Learn how to apply and use paperclay and understand the best ways to apply it to structures to prevent warping.

Another product I often use from the same company is Delight Air Dry Clay This light, marshmallow-like paste takes detail beautifully and blends with a damp paint brush. I use it for modelling very small scale miniatures and have used it for the items listed below as it's handling properties are ideal for these purposes:

Epoxy Resin to Simulate Water and Liquids

Miniature drinks and tadpoles in a jar made using epoxy resin
Photo ©2007 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to About.com Inc.

Epoxy resin is really a heavy varnish, used most often to gloss coat wood surfaces. It doesn't deserve nearly the reputation of difficulty most miniaturists seem to award it. Measure carefully, mix properly, and you can simulate all kinds of water and liquids provided you limit the depth of the finish you pour.

Although many modellers assume epoxy resin is the only way to mimic water effects for large scale scenes, there are several easier methods which can be more realistic for items like miniature ponds, waterfalls and other purposes. You can see one alternative in the instructions to Make a Miniature Water Feature with Sheet Plastic.

Two Part Epoxy Putty to Modify and Repair Miniatures

Epoxy putty cowboy boots on cast resin 1:12 scale doll legs.
Photo ©2008 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to About.com Inc.

Two part epoxy putty is a material often used to modify and repair miniatures made of plastic, resin, wood, tile, brick, metal and stone. Available in different colors and grains, the two part putty must be mixed (usually 1 to 1) and has a working time that varies from brand to brand. The putty can be smoothed and cleaned up using water before it hardens. After it hardens it can be sanded, machined, sawed and painted. Gaming miniaturists often use epoxy putty to create new master sculptures for later casting in metal, resin or plastic. Model horse enthusiasts and dolls house miniaturists may use it to change the pose or shape of cast resin sculpts.

Make Miniature Garden Gnomes

Should You Use MDF or Baltic Birch Plywood to Build Dolls Houses or Miniatures

medium density fiberboard beside baltic birch plywood
Photo ©2007 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to About.com Inc.
Dolls houses and other miniature scale buildings often come as kits or completed structures made from MDF (medium density fiberboard) or Baltic Birch plywood. There are pros and cons to each material which are discussed here. Both materials give off some gasses, so they should never be left unfinished. Plywood structures are lighter and can be built to be dismantled or added on to at a later date. The decision of which to use is personal, but this article gives you some of the pros and cons of each material.

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