Tools and Techniques


April 6, 2016

Look on any ship building forum and you’ll see photos of workshops.  Sometimes it is visible in the background of a build log photo, other times it is a dedicated thread asking members to ‘show me your workspace’.

I’m incredibly jealous of many of the workspaces I see.

As a suburban modeler, I don’t have a dedicated room.  I live in Texas, and we don’t have basements.  I park my cars in the garage…so I can’t work there.  Summers reach 100 degrees – so an outdoor shed is out of the question.

I work in a corner of my home office.

Photo Apr 10, 4 59 29 PM

My workspace.

I’ve got about 10 square feet dedicated to modeling (5′ x 2′).  Here’s how I set that up…

A few years ago, the admiral (wife) treated me to a remodel of my home office.  I got a fancy desk, bookcase, etc.  There’s even art on the walls.  So when I wanted to put in a workshop, it had to ‘mesh’ with the look and feel.  Especially since my office is visible from the kitchen and main hallway of our house.

I went through a few iterations, but this is my current workspace.

It is an Elfa setup, from Container Store.  I’ve got a desktop, supported by legs one side with drawers on the other.  A set of braces mounted to the wall holds up the shelving.  I like the Elfa system because it is modular – I can add/remove pieces as I need.

When I work, I sit on a small rolling stool I bought on Amazon.  Technically, it is a stool for doctor’s offices.  I think it was $45.  It rolls (good), it has an adjustable height (good), and it has a padded seat (great).

I use two self-healing cutting mats on the desktop.  They move around as needed.

The drawers hold tools, supplies, and parts.

Photo Apr 10, 5 00 28 PM

Drawers full of all the various tools and parts.

I’m frequently rearranging the tools to try and optimize what goes where.  Currently…

Top Drawer

Second Drawer

Third Drawer

Fourth Drawer (deep drawer)

Fifth Drawer (deep drawer)

These drawers give me easy access to a bunch of stuff, but I keep the most frequently used items up top on the shelves.

Photo Apr 10, 4 59 56 PM

Shelves let me easily grab commonly used tools, toss scrap wood, and keep clutter off the work surface.

I’ve started using magnets to hold my tweezers on the edge of the shelf.  While rigging the Phantom I needed to be able to reach and grab a specific tweezer quickly.

Up here I’ve got sanding stuff, squares (I happen to be squaring and gluing bulkheads at the moment), and the various pliers.  I’ve got bin dedicated to cutting tools, and a package of spare blades.

Moving up, dividers, saw and miter box, tape, jars and random stuff.

Above all this is a large metal board where I use magnets to mount plans.  I don’t mount the plans I’m currently referring to – I just pick a sheet that can provide some inspiration.

Photo Apr 10, 5 00 09 PM

Plans above the space are just for show and to provide motivation.  The plans I’m currently working with are kept folded nearby so I can lay them out and take measurements.

I’ve got a ton of stuff crammed into a very little area.  You don’t need a dedicated room for building.  (But, man…it would be nice…next house…)

A note on lighting…

When I first started building model planes, the lighting in the room (ceiling fan) worked fine.  As things progressed, I added a ‘swing lamp’ with a magnifying glass.  Now I’ve got a few clip lamps scattered around.  You can never have too much light.

I hooked my lights up to a remote (Amazon, $20), so I can walk in at any time and flip all the clip lights on with one button press.  Or, when I’m told to come to dinner, I can turn them all off easily.

The swing lamp is the main light, but I’ve learned to be careful.  If you don’t have enough other lighting, you’ll be constantly moving the swing lamp around.  This gets dangerous once you have masts installed.  I ripped the top mast off my last model when I was too focused and swung the lamp around.  After that, I added more lighting so I don’t need to move the swing lamp so much.

I do have a little space in the garage.  Right in front of our cars I’ve got a shelving unit that gives me several shelves and small (3′ x 2′) work surface.  I keep all the power tools out there.  They get moved onto the work bench when they are needed, then put back on the shelf.  I also do my airbrushing out there.

So…if you’re lucky enough to have a large, dedicated ‘shop’, consider yourself lucky.  If not, you can still get an awesome workspace in a small corner of a room.

Update: I recently made an addition to my workspace that I’m very pleased with.  I’ve had an issue for a while with keeping wood, plans, and other materials stored neatly.  Wood often comes in long strips (24″ long), and when you are just starting on a kit, you’ve got a lot of wood.  I found it annoying to keep it in the kit box because I was constantly opening/closing/moving the box.

I tried using mailing tubes for a while, but the cat kept knocking them over.

Recently I was spending a lot of time reviewing the plans, and it occurred to me that many industries have to store plans.  Storing plans is lot like storing wood strips – small compartments to hold stuff vertically.

So, I ordered a ‘plan storage cart’ from Amazon.  I think it was like $50.  This little wire cart now holds all my wood stock.  I have the various bundles of wood labeled with tags at the top, so I can find the size I’m looking for without much trouble.


I use a plan storage car to store plans and wood.