Tips from a Professional (Model) Builder

Chuck Rainey owns a construction company that specializes in residential remodeling projects. So what does he do in his spare time? He builds models and “remodels” those, too. Or maybe it's more accurate to say he refines, redefines, or reimagines them. Any way you say it, he's talented and dedicated.

Rainey has spent hours adding fine layers of sand to the roof of one of Little Building Co.'s (LBC) Guggenheim Museum models that he completed, then installing miniature lights inside the building. In other words, he’s a pretty serious model builder, and when he talks, we take notes. Here are some we jotted down.

Customizing the Guggenheim Model

“The sand I used on the roof tops is all-purpose sand I had laying around. If I were to do it again, I would use a finer, more consistent sand. The sand was applied with spray adhesive, usually two coats, and I used spray lacquer to add depth.”

“When it came time to putting individual components together, I used watered -down white glue and a #1 artist brush for the roof-to-wall transitions. By dabbing a little of the glue in the joints and sprinkling with the sand, the ‘bald spots’ between the roofs and walls filled in nicely. Carefully wiping the excess off with a Q-tip did the trick for finishing.” 

Lighting It Up

“I bought LED Fairy String lights in Warm White, and folded the light wire back on itself four times, wrapping the wire around an X-acto knife handle to make it small enough to fit inside a piece of 3/4"ID x 1" clear, plastic hose. To diffuse the LED lighting, I wrapped the hose with tissue paper. I had to "hog-out" the frame of the gallery to make the hose fit inside. All these little modifications added a fair amount of time to the process, but that's part of the fun.”

Sticky Stuff

“You’ve got to have a lot of control over that glue! I use Gorilla Glue Super Gel, and I use toothpicks when applying the glue."

Rainey highly recommends a quick-release glue, “Unless you want to risk gluing your fingers together; in which case you should be prepared to just give the ‘OK’ sign to people, and know that you’re going to end up buying three of everything until your fingers come apart.”

"The caulking material I used for the Opera House joints is a colored latex caulking that I would use for waterproofing,” Rainey said. 

Sanding Tips for Smooth Sailing

“I do a lot of sanding, because of the way I want it to look. I sand things so they plane really well, then fill in any gaps with toothpaste caulking to ‘dress them up.’”

Rainey said when sanding, he may start with 100 grit to get aggressive, and then move to 320 grit. 

“I’m guessing you could put them together and not do much sanding, but when I was younger, I had a friend who was a yacht builder. He would say, ‘there’s no room for glue in joints,’ and that’s how I feel. Sanding makes for a very fluid construction.”

Our sincere thanks to Chuck Rainey for sharing his time and love of the building (and model building, and model remodeling) process. For more ideas on enhancing the model building experience, see all Model Building Tips here.