Tech Detail: Deconstruction

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Remember: Be careful, cutting and/or sanded plastic can be very sharp!  Use a small file or Dremel to round-over or soften the edges!  
Remember: Be careful, cutting and/or sanded plastic can be very sharp!  Use a small file or Dremel to round-over or soften the edges!  
Good luck, be safe, and check out tomorrow's article, where I make some stuff out of this junk...
Good luck, be safe, and check out the [ Tech Detail Construction article], where I make some stuff out of this junk.

Latest revision as of 20:35, 31 October 2009

Written by JoeMichaels70

"Grind It Down For Tech Detail" has become something of a running joke for me - whether it's how I describe a vehicle's value or worth, or even just an excuse to have tubs and tubs of Rubbermaid containers full of vehicle shells stacked up in my garage - but what does it really mean, and what can a person really do with it?

Well, here's my answer on how to "Grind It Down For Tech Detail." Granted, I have some power tools at my disposal to help me out, but the same things can be done with cheap hand tools from the hardware store -- it would just take a little longer.

My two main tools: a bandsaw and a bench sander:


And the main ingredient, fodder:

And the most important part of the process - Protection. I don't know what it is about plastic, but working with it is much worse than working with wood or other products -- maybe it's the thin or brittle material, maybe it's something else - but it's loud, and it's messy, and sometimes it stinks - open a window and ear plugs and safety glasses or goggles are a must:

Safety first!

So, let's start with the Bandsaw:


And a vehicle shell, in this case - a MOBAT deck:

Tech detail Cutting0.jpg

The piece I'm really interested in (see why in tomorrow's article):

Tech detail Cutting1.jpg

I'm not going to go too far into the use of the bandsaw, how to set it up, etc., but I will show you a quick set in how to get from a shell to a piece:

And after all the cuts through the saw, I wind up with this:

Tech detail Cutting4b.jpg

Then, we move on to the Sander to clean up the part I'm looking for:

Next, I pull together a pile of HAVOC cockpit pieces, noticing that the small screen/controls would make for good details in either playset or custom vehicle installs:

And here's what I wound up with after all the cuts:

Havoc Bits.jpg

And then I clean up the edges a bit on one of them (check back tomorrow to see why):

Sanding 1.jpg

Then I really went to town on a box of shells, pulling out pieces I think may have a use someday, and ditching the rest:


And I greatly reduced the volume that these plastics took up in my garage...

This process works really well for items that fit in the Bandsaw - but not everything wants to play as nice -- here was a piece of fodder than I could only fit in 'so far', but couldn't cut all the way through -- So I went to the hand tools, and used my mini 'Japanese' or 'pull saw' to finish the cut:

Sometimes, I utilize this special 'cut off wheel' for my Dremel, especially for figure work (arms, neckballs, etc.,) -- it's actually a mini saw blade:

Dremel saw.jpg

But I've also run into a situation where I couldn't fit the item in my bandsaw, and was too intricate or painful to use hand tools or my Dremel -- so I break out the big gun -- a grinding blade for my table saw -- Here I am working on cutting off the front from a shelled MCC to turn it into a playset insert (Bat Factory) in a Castle Destro/MARS Playset I'm dreaming up:

Now, even then I couldn't get the height of the blade up high enough to cut all the way through, I was able to cut deep enough to get through the supports -- one good 'snap' and the piece was off:

Not the cleanest break, but my bench sander fixed that right up. I also decided to take some of the extra material off the side of the piece, to showcase more of the stairs, and open up the 'front' of the piece a little more:

Grinding 8.jpg

Moving away from the 'Grinding Down' part, and just more to the 'Tech Detail' part, I tried a new tool in my arsenal: The Nibbler.


This thing looks like, and acts like, some kind of wonky paper punch. But what it does is take out square bites of material, specifically plastic or balsa. It's used by hobbyists/miniaturists for building scale buildings and working with stock styrene. So, I thought, "What the heck, let's cut out a panel of a SHARC?"

The reason I showed that fourth picture (off the back of the package) is that the idea of cutting out internal square holes really intrigues me -- that will work to create bulkheads or other doorways, as well as windows, access ports, custom connections, etc., maybe for another day...

The next tool I want to focus on is called simply 'The Chopper'. It looks like a paper cutter and acts like a guillotine. Again, it's marketed for sheet styrene users, but I've found it useful for cutting up thin plastic for different purposes, especially with it's guides and ability to create identical pieces. Where it falls apart is when you use it to try and cut thick material. Because it uses standard razor blades, which are very thin, when you try to go through too thick of material, the blade will actually bend under the pressure, and you won't get a straight cut. This can be fixed with the sander, but when the parts are very small, it gets hard to do - as well as dangerous.

I bought my Chopper (and Nibbler) from

The final tool I want to highlight in this Deconstruction article is the Scroll Saw. I don't recommend it at all. Now, I may just be doing it 'all wrong', but I have serious trouble trying to get this tool to do a decent job of cutting plastic down to components. I've tried different tooth blades, and even spiral blades. I also admit that I don't have the best saw on the market, but I've gotten to the point where I will not even attempt to use this tool on plastic, even though it shines in cutting round or complex shapes in wood. I assume it's because there's a melting going on during the cutting of the plastic, and when the saw (which moves up and down) comes up, it grabs that plastic 'melt' and draws the piece off the table -- of course, these pictures don't really show this, but I wanted to demonstrate that, if it's all you have, it can be used:

If you are interested in this 'Grinding Down For Tech Detail' part of the hobby, I would recommend investing in some power tools. Yes, this can all be done with hand tools, and it's probably very rewarding... :shifty: But to really make good use of your time, the tools are a good investment. In order of importance and use (speaking for this hobby only) - I would first recommend the Bench Sander. Vehicle shells can be broken down any number of ways, including just breaking them -- but you can really dial in to what you want out of the detail with the bench sander -- and it's fast! The second tool I would recommend is the Band Saw. I would totally take this over any other saw, just from it's multi-purpose abilities. It especially outshines the Scroll saw simply in the fact that the blade only moves in one direction, which actually helps to hold the piece you're cutting to the table. The third item would be a Tablesaw with the Grinding blade -- but that's truly for the die-hards.

Finally, I would just like to mention that I've found it makes good sense to organize your tech detail. I've used a number of different ways, including labeled boxes, clear containers, and even just very specific containers, like my 'spring loaded weapons tech detail' cigar box -

Just dumping all your tech detail back into a big container makes it hard to use, and if you're not going to use it, why make it?

Remember: Be careful, cutting and/or sanded plastic can be very sharp! Use a small file or Dremel to round-over or soften the edges!

Good luck, be safe, and check out the Tech Detail Construction article, where I make some stuff out of this junk.

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