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Basic Tools for Working with Miniatures, Scale Models and Dolls' Houses


These basic tools are useful for working with all types of miniatures models and dollhouse miniatures. They make a good set of portable tools to take to club nights and workshops.

Some of these tools may already be in your basic household tool kit and can be used as needed for miniature or dolls house work. Before you buy tools, check magazines, clubs and shops which deal with your miniature hobby and choose sizes which are appropriate for your interest. Many of these tools are used by most miniaturists, regardless of whether they are working on model cars, railways, dollhouses or some other project. Buy them as needed.

Tools From Your Household Supplies

  • Toothpicks
  • pins and needles
  • Craft sticks/frozen treat sticks
  • Paper towels/rags
  • Masking tape
  • Small sharp scissors
  • Water/paint containers (small empty yoghurt cartons etc.)
  • Pen and Notebook

Hobby Knife/X-Acto Knife

Essential for cutting all types of thin materials, thin wood, styrofoam, plasticard , cardboard. Replacement blades come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and are sold separately. The most useful is a straight edge blade #11. Make sure you choose a handle which fits comfortably in your hand. Some are available with retractable blades. Available from hobby shops, craft shops and online.

This article on hobby and carving knives discusses the many types and special blades available, as well as ways to keep them sharp.

Pliers or Hemostats

Fine pliers and hemostats (locking or not) are useful for holding things, bending wire etc. Choose smooth jawed pliers if you can find them, serrated jaws leave marks on plastic, wood and paper which are hard to remove. Available from hobby and craft stores, hardware stores, electronics shops.

Self Healing Cutting Mat

Used as a protective surface to avoid work surface knife cuts. These come in two varieties, it is handy to have both:

  • Gridded green or blue cutting mats - found at hobby shops, art suppliers, craft shops, quilting stores. Choose one in a size you can fit in a take to shows/clubs kit. These have a self healing surface good for craft knives. The surface will close over cuts and not affect the mat. Do not saw or drill items on the mat, this will create holes that won't heal.
  • Kitchen counter cutting mats - thin transparent flexible plastic mats to place on a kitchen counter. These are often found in bargain/dollar stores, hardware stores, kitchen supply stores. They are great as a protective cover for a work surface or table while you work.

Steel Ruler

Used as a straight edge for knife cuts as well as for measuring. Choose one with imperial (inches) and metric (cm) measurements. For a start, get a 12 inch/30cm rule. Later add a smaller 6 inch/15cm. length.

Available from hobby stores, craft stores, art supply and stationery stores. Choose one with a cork base if possible as it will not slide on the surface when you are cutting against it.

Wire Cutters

These are useful for cutting wire and clipping small bits of extra metal and plastic off of moulded pieces in kits. Choose a pair whose edges can cut flush with another surface. These are sometimes referred to as 'nippers'.

Sanding and Polishing Tools For Miniatures

Sanding and polishing are finishing techniques for a range of miniatures. With the correct tools you can remove scratches from clear plastic, or create a high gloss shine on miniature furniture, or painted and repaired models and die casts. This list of Sanding and Polishing Materials for Miniatures describes the various types and grits of sanding materials, and explains how to use them properly to finish your miniatures.

Scale Ruler

Hobby scale rules are useful for judging the size and scale of miniatures. They usually contain a standard measurement rule, with markings for various scale sizes. They are available for dolls house miniatures in several scales, as well as for model vehicles and trains. Special scale rules are also available for architectural miniatures. If you work in several scales, find a ruler which contains the scales you most often use. If you work in a single scale, you can often find a ruler marked only for that scale.

The Fig Rule is a useful pocket or purse size scale ruler for the three dollhouse scales of 1:12, 1:24 and 1:48th.

Needle Files

Needle files are useful for shaping plastic and metal. They are available in inexpensive sets from hobby shops, hardware and craft stores. Try an inexpensive set first, it may be all you need unless you plan to work in exceptionally fine detailed scale with fine metal. Specially shaped needlefiles are available from jewelry suppliers and some rock or mineral shops which sell jewelry supplies.

Set Square

A set square is used to mark out perfect right angles. For miniatures choose a small, six inch (15cm) version engineer's square, available from a hobby or craft store. This is useful for making sure you have alignments correct on furniture and other pieces you assemble, including dollhouses.

Check out this article on the various types of squares available, you may find a particular type will work better for you. Aligning Frames, Joins and Measurements with Accurate Squares

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