During the many years that I have been modeling there is always the same question asked especially from newcomers of should I buy the modeling tools or should I make them. The first answer that I would give is are you confident in your ability to do the necessary metal work especially if you are going to make rakes, wire tools and to some extent steels. The other question that I would ask is, where are you situated in the world for buying the raw materials. If you are fortunate to live in the United States as I do then there is virtually an endless supply of companies who can supply the necessary materials to make these tools at a fraction of the price of buying them. The only trade off is, your time and possible the aesthetic look of the tool after you have made it compared to the purchased ones but there again you have the added knowledge of knowing that they are purpose built for your style of modeling.
For this purpose let’s look at modeling steels, these flat spring steel plates are the difference between a rough surface and a smooth surface in the hands of a competent modeler. With this particular tool in its various thicknesses and shapes, it will transform the sketched in model to a finished, smooth ready to go model for paint or Dinoc. As far as the overall look compared to the manufactured steel there is little difference, so for the purpose of making them there is plenty to gain.
To show you an example of the difference in cost, let’s take a steel that is 0.015″ thickness by 2 inches wide by 12 inches long, a relatively soft steel that you could use for a positive shaped or negative shaped surfaces. This steel if you were to purchase it from one of the tool suppliers would cost in the region of $11.00 – $25.00 depending on exchange rates but don’t forget shipping costs. Now this is but one steel so consider if you were also going to purchase a few shaped steels of the same material thickness, in no time you would be looking at $100.00. This material with aviation snips can be cut easily and these tools are available from most Home Depot centers so you don’t even have to have specialize equipment to cut the steel.
The cost of the actual blue finished spring steel from McMaster-Carr for a coil of 50 feet by 2 inches is $76.10, OK this is a considerable length of material but you can buy it in smaller lengths at a less attractive price. A smaller length of 10 feet by 2 inches is $30.89, plenty of material to make your straight and shaped steels and it has cost the price of one or two purchased steels. If you were to consider making most of your steels the cost saving would be enormous but there is still the time factor to take into consideration.
The one disadvantage would be the thickness that you would be able to cut with the aviation snips, at the best 0.020″ thickness before having to use heavy duty shears. The shaped steels would have to be finished on a sanding disc, preferably one for metal, although you could file to shape but the time involved may put pay to making your own. Either way, if you are on a tight budget this may be the best way of saving some hard earned cash.