“It’s the modeler at his bench…”


Topics tend to come back around in the modeling community. And for the past month or so, it seems like the crosshairs have landed on airbrushes.

Please allow me to contain my boundless enthusiasm.

See…discussions about airbrushes…or any other tool or material (or hell…any kit) will inevitably result in someone wandering in and dropping this gem:

“It’s not the quality of the tool, but the modeler at his bench”

First of all

Fuck. Could these words possibly be rearranged to sound any more pretentious? It sounds like some pablum that a fedora-wearing, Ayn Rand-worshiping college freshman would write.

Quality of the tool, indeed.


As with other modeling catchphrases that make my right eyelid twitch – “it’s just a hobby”, et al – “the modeler at the bench” is an un-argument.

That is to say, it contributes exactly nothing to the discussion.


Here’s why it adds nothing.

YES, a modeler’s talents and experience and so on matter a great deal. Of course they do, and nobody is suggesting otherwise.

You can’t go throw down on a 1/32 Tamiya Corsair, an Iwata Custom Micron and *poof*, suddenly become an amazing modeler.

BUT, this idiotic saying contends that the quality of tools, materials and kits doesn’t play any kind of a role. Which is just staggeringly incorrect.

Here’s the deal. Lots of things matter. And lots of things come together to make a model.

  • A Modeler’s Skill – I would define skill in this instance as the product of 1) raw talent and 2) experience/knowledge.
  • Kit Quality (or “Medium” Quality) – The quality of the kit in question. Yes, there are kits that are objectively better than others.
  • Materials Quality – The paint and glue and pigments and whatever else gets thrown at a build. Yes, there are objectively better materials. Gunze or Tamiya or Mr. Paint are objectively better – in terms of modeling – than craft acrylics. They have better spray properties, they don’t lift if you look at them funny, and so on.
  • Tool Quality – Again, there are objectively better tools, be they sprue cutters or airbrushes or paint brushes.

Are these all equal? Not really. If I were to break them out on a 100 point scale, I’d say:

  • Skills = 55%
  • Kit = 10%
  • Materials = 20%
  • Tools = 15%

Now, these numbers are mostly there to keep the math easy, so no need to get all bent out of shape. We’re just illustrating a point here, after all.

A truly expert modeler coming in with all 55 Skills Points will have a distinct leg up on a modeler with 15 or 20 SP. If a 15 SP modeler had top-of-the-line everything to throw at a project, their upper bound would still be a total of 60 points.

What tools, materials, kits etc do is extend the upper bound.



Opinion Time

There’s another thing that quality tools, materials and kits do. They make it easier to access and hone skills.

A good pair of sprue cutters gives you cleaner cuts, leaves you spending less time cleaning up parts, and can often mean less chance of breaking delicate parts.

A good airbrush – that feels good in your hand – can let you focus more on applying paint than on getting things dialed in.

Good cement – a solvent welder like Tamiya Extra Thin or MEK – lets you be more precise in your construction, and not as reliant on clamps and rubber bands and other goofy contraptions to hold a part just so.

The modeler matters. Skills matter. But so does the quality of what you’re working with.

11 Comments Add yours

  1. I look at it as “removing limits”. Getting the best possible tools rids me of excuses for messing up. The result that is seen, is depending on me and my meagre skills.
    My pet peeve in airbrush discussions is the “the xxxx is the best airbrush. I’ve owned one for xx years, and never needed anything else”. How do they know that they didn’t need anything else, if they never tried them?

  2. Vilius says:

    Just disagree about going 10% for kit.
    Working now on GWH P-61. Fit of 60-70 € kit… Ok can live with other but had to spent a week messing with front and rear canopy gaps. Gluing plastic, sanding, applying puty, sanding etc etc etc. just about the modeller? What the heck! Without propper tools I couldnt fix any of these issues indeed.

  3. You mentioned airbrushes at the beginning… This is about the only topic where I usually HAVE to drop in on a discussion and tell everybody how my 20 euro, no-name airbrush helps me with my builds and how I went the way to a more expensive one just to sell it again and get back to my cheapo just because I got used to handling it so much. So, yeah… “it’s not the tool, it’s the one handling it” does stand true in my eyes, at least in certain situations.

    I’m looking at this from the other end. I cannot stand the kind of “Buy a . It’ll cost you one of your kidneys but it’s really worth it”. I believe that starting out with cheap equipment (which does not always equal bad equipment) helps you a lot with building the “55%” you mention above. I know, it did the trick for me at times where this was just a hobby I was sniffing into and saved me at least a couple of hundreds of my hard-earned money building me as “modeler at the bench”.

    Sorry for the long post! 🙂

  4. gluefingers says:

    It is skill above all else. A pro modeler can take a Chinese knock-off AB and get a great looking final product. But a newbie with a 300$ set-up will not.

    Over the years I have had an assortment of AB’s that I used. For delicate detail work I tend to go with up scale quality brushes. For normal use or large area coverage I go to my “Cheaper” AB’s…

    Ok cheaper tools to start out the hobby with but as you move up in skill buy better quality tools…your projects will reflect it and you will be able to more so hone those finer skilld with proper equipment ….the old adage..”The right tool for the Job” !

    It’s a good post Doog

  5. The phrase “Quality of the Tool” is really quite funny if you speak British English…

  6. rgkranias says:

    Modelers Lives Matter!

  7. Andrew DeBoer says:

    “Pablum”? Dude. I haven’t heard that word in 20 years. Poppycock? Balderdash?

    While it is true that a more skilled modeler will get a better result than a less-skilled modeler if they start with the same kit and the same tools, that’s true of just about any pursuit. The more skilled you become, however, the more appreciation you have for excellent tools. Find me a master carpenter who uses crappy tools from Harbor Freight, or a great chef whose knives come from the dollar store, or a master mechanic with a toolbox full of Ace Hardware tools…

    I love my Badger airbrushes, but haven’t tried Iwata or Grex, which I would probably also love. The only thing stopping me from trying those others is money!

  8. joseph metchnikoff says:

    One of your stellar articles !!!
    Many times modelers forget how paints were applied “in the field” in wartime.
    While an exchange student in Europe in the late ’80’s in both Eastern and western European countries I did seek out and talked to many who served in the Second World War. I was amazed to learn much camo was applied by very basic airbrushes, paintbrushes, old rags and mops. One of my favorite I have which was given to me is of a German JU-52 transport plane being readied for winter by having watered down white paint applied with mops and rags- I love it!! In the desert the Germans routinely used Italian Paints and BRITISH TOO!!!
    But I digress.
    Tools are important. For the new modeler invest in easily affordable tools. Buy decent kits but if you must Buy that Tamiya $200 kit, buy it and put it away for a future date.
    I started my son on those cheap East block country kits I picked up in my student days for “pennies”.
    The kits were not all bad but my son learned fast and built over 40+ and his skills vastly improved with the better glues like Tamiya Extra Thin. I now have him building my older Tamiya, Hasegawa, and Italieri kits and he gets better all the time. For health reasons I didn’t want him to use enamels so I started him on VALLEJO paints and he is doing very well. I bought him a airbrush from England which cost me all of $30 and he is really improving his AB skills!! Now he has to concentrate on decals.
    He will be 13 years old in November.

  9. Scooter says:

    “It’s not the quality of the tool, but the modeler at his bench”
    Always brings to my mind an old guy, pipe in hand sitting before the fire, having just finished regaling the captive audience, about how it was back in (insert old timey battle name here) and if it weren’t for his superior ability to overcome all obstacles then; Why he wouldn’t be the Master (his minds eye) Modeler
    he is today……….hurmph, what was that question again?

  10. DD says:


    I totally agree that being a happy modeller, producing kits to a standard others appreciate/admire and also make you happy requires a combination of the elements you list but not always in the same percentage breakdown.

    A couple of contrasting examples for you.

    I have a good friend who has all the tools to hand you could possibly imagine, but the thing that makes his (award winning) models so good are the skills he uses, along with tons of patience, to build esoteric or lesser known and appreciated resin models.

    When people see the results he obtains, based on “pigs of kits” that they know personally, they are gob-smacked with what he has achieved.

    I would say in his case, skill is the key factor of success- he could make great models using any type of tool/airbrush in my opinion, his build quality is simply fantastic.


    In contrast, I build mainly mainstream aircraft kits with a twist in that I rarely use the kit decals and suggested colour schemes just to offer something slightly different, in tune with your F14A build I guess.

    My finished results also attract attention from people as they are well finished, particularly the paint schemes and weathering which are really accurate as I have travelled the world photographing aircraft for many years and know what aircraft look like in the field.

    The difference is that I achieve best results using a “dreaded” Aztec Airbrush that I bought second hand in 1984!…

    The reason isn’t to do with budget or cost, I have Harder & Steenbeck and also 2 x Iwata brushes but I have so much control at low pressure using my Aztec it is my brush of choice and dead safe.

    So in my case it’s a combination of a different skill and the tools for the job, but not necessarily the most expensive which throws the percentages in my case a little.

    In your balanced view of how the percentages are broken down, I think each individual is different as they have widely ranging capabilities, often more suitable for a particular type or style of model than another
    (I like NMF which puts the fear of God into many modellers).

    In the last decade, our hobby has developed massively, for the better, new kits from people like Tamiya are simply beautiful, paints are great and spray well first time, airbrushes and compressors are readily affordable, but the only thing you can’t buy is the skill and vision required to produce an accurate and appealing model.

    That’s why, if you took a cross section of 100 modellers, gave each of them a Tamiya Corsair (any scale), exactly the same adhesives, fillers, paints and weathering materials, you would be hard pressed to find two identical models as skill becomes the deciding and critical factor.

    What you are doing on this site is only going to enhance the skills gap of all readers (myself included) and therefore you should be applauded for your commitment.

    Take care and keep at it.


  11. Bob Bailey says:

    Agree with all you say. One thing regrading tools….one of the most critical to my limited modeling success is the…..round toothpick. Incredible little rascal can be used where other tools dare not go.

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