Howard enjoys building Metal Earth models and figuring out how to make them easier.
More Complicated Than They Look
Why would we want tips and tricks for building Metal Earth models? After all, the packaging indicates that "parts can be easily clipped from the metal sheets," and that "tweezers make an ideal tool for bending or twisting the connection tabs." What could be simpler?
It turns out that building these kits is a bit more involved than that. Tweezers are just the beginning.
As you go through these kits, you'll likely run into a bunch of problem spots. These models are enjoyable and quite nice to look at. It would be a shame to give up in frustration when having a few good tools, and knowing good techniques will make it so much easier.
We'll take a look at:
- Helpful tools
- How to remove the pieces
- How to prep for the build
- Building techniques
- Post-build tips
Tools for Metal Earth Models
I'll go through the tools with a little commentary. There will be more on using specific tools in the other sections. First, there are a few basics that I recommend you start with.
- Tweezers: The package is right about these. Tweezers are indispensable throughout the build. I like having two, one with a straight edge and one with a slanted edge. If you only want one, the slanted edge is more versatile.
- Needle Nose Pliers: Another multi-purpose tool to use throughout the build.
- Flush Cutters: These will cut an edge perfectly even.
Now for some more tools that aren't strictly necessary—but are handy to have.
Handy to Have
- Flat head screwdriver
- Pocket knife
- Dowel rods, bolts, or pens
- Various sized marbles or ball bearings
- Disposable, close-fitting gloves
How to Remove the Pieces
There are a few ways to do this. I'll order them from what I consider most effective to least effective.
- Using flush cutters: Using these to snip the pieces out is the cleanest way to do it. You need ones with a pointy tip because there isn't much room to get the blades over the connection points. Snipping the connection tabs at 90 degrees to the sheet works great. There's no need to angle them down the way you'd cut a piece of paper. This way, no pressure is put on the pieces or the rest of the sheet, which means no warping or bending.
- Regular scissors with a pointy tip: These aren't as sharp and don't cut as perfectly, but they work reasonably well. If you already have suitable scissors and don't want to buy the flush cutters, you can get by.
- By hand: As a last resort, or for your first model, the pieces can be bent and twisted out. To minimize warping, handle the sheet gently. Find the connection point that's touching the weakest part of the piece. Break this one first by trying to bend it up and down. Once you can get some movement from the piece it's easier to detach the other connectors. If you're going to twist a piece out, make sure it's solid enough to take it. That's why we remove the connector at the most delicate point first.
Here's an example from the Beach Buggy kit of what can happen when you twist a piece out at a weak point. I ended up warping the windshield frame and couldn't fully straighten it out again. This is a really easy model to start with as there aren't many pieces and they're not too small.
One point of caution: When removing the pieces make sure you're cutting the connection point and not a connector tab. If you're not familiar with these, the two pieces on the left of the picture have 2 tabs on each long side. You need those to insert into the openings of other pieces to join them. The connection points that get cut are tiny triangles. I haven't made the mistake of cutting the wrong part, but I can see how it could easily happen if someone was rushing.
How to Prepare for the Build
There are some options for arranging our pieces before we start the model. There's no right or wrong here; whatever works best for you is fine. You could:
- Cut out all the pieces and place them as they were in the metal sheet. This is fairly convenient for locating the piece you need next on the instruction sheet.
- Cut out all the pieces and put them in numbered order. This adds to the prep time but makes it really easy to find what you need later.
- Cut out the few pieces that you need now. Leave the rest attached until you complete the current step. This has you going back and forth between steps and tools, but it ensures you won't lose any pieces if you have to take a break.
- The Youtuber in the following video, Little Katie, arranges the pieces on magnetic sheets. You can see how she does this from the beginning to 0:48 seconds.
- Holding and aligning the pieces: When they're big enough, you can hold them with your hands and line up the tabs fairly easily. With the tiny ones, it can get tricky. I've done my share of dropping a piece and endlessly pushing the tab right next to the opening but not quite in it. Holding the small pieces with tweezers or pliers can give you more control over them.
- Keeping pressure on pieces: The pieces don't always stay flush while you're securing the tabs in place. Sometimes they can be squeezed tightly enough with one hand while pressing the tab with the other. The gloves can be handy here if you have to press against an edge. Other times you'll need to hold the pieces with one hand and also press it against something else like the arm of your chair or your leg.
- Bending tabs: Tweezers are great for starting the bend. Just press the pieces firmly together, clamp the tweezers onto the tab, and bend it to the side as far as it can go. To finish it flat, you can use the side of the tweezers, a flat head screwdriver, or a pocket knife.
- Twisting tabs: Tweezers are all you need for this. Just squeeze them very firmly and twist. I like twisting the same direction every time just in case I need to twist it a little more or reverse it if it's a mistake.
- Rounding pieces: Doing the initial rounding with dowel rods, bolts, pens and markers, or anything cylindrical you have around works best. After that, you can make small adjustments with the tweezers. Other pieces need to be made convex while keeping the base flat. Marbles or ball bearings work well here.
- Backwards pieces: Sometimes it can be a little confusing as to which side of a piece gets joined. Pay special attention if the instructions show the model opened up, or from a different perspective. I made this mistake with the landing wheel on the Boeing 747. I attached it to the wrong side. The tabs were twisted on so I couldn't remove it properly. I had to break it off. The picture shows where the wheel would have been.
- Touch-up: When you're done it's good to look the whole thing over for symmetry and straightness (or the right curve). Any of the tools might be used on this step. It depends on what needs adjusting.
- Polishing: You can put a thin chamois or micro fiber cloth over the tip of a pen, pencil, nail or anything else narrow enough and go over the surface of your Metal Earth model. You can also use a Q-tip, either dry or with some rubbing alcohol.
Of course, the best way to figure out Metal Earth models is to go ahead and start building. Fortunately, these models are fairly forgiving. Even with some mistakes, they still look nice. Enjoy!