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How to use Photo Etched parts | Hawkeye's Squawkbox/The Plastic Scale Modeling Hour

Modeling With Photo Etched Parts

So you’ve decided you want to use Photo Etched parts as part of your build? Well you either spent a little extra to get a kit with PE included or you ordered a set from your favorite hobby retailer. Welcome to a whole new realm of detailing possibilities, the rewards they bring as well as the headaches and cussing you’ll probably do as you get your first experience working with it.

Yeah I used a few choice words the first time I tried using PE. Modeling was never so frustrating, but once you learn the basics and practice it will be no different than the other aspects of modeling. You just have to remember there is a learning curve, so start simple.

PE parts that are flat and lay on a flat surface are the easiest to apply…as you venture into compound folds and curves things get progressively harder. First though lets look at a few tools you’ll need to get started.

Tools For Working PE


Here are a few that I commonly use. First a container to store the assembled sub assemblies…loose these small parts and your whole day can be ruined. I found a tin can with a lid then I lined the bottom with a thin wafer of foam. Keeping the parts secure and handy is crucial. Xuron PET Shears and Pliers as well as a pair of Reverse Action Tweezers. A hobby knife, this one being from Excel with a #11 blade installed. As well as a number one handle with a chisel blade, a standard razor blade and let’s not forget a Hold N Fold from The Small Shop.

Read The Instructions!

Before we get any further the most IMPORTANT step to working with PE is reading and comparing the PE and kits instruction sheets. Know what you have to do and when you have to have it done before you need it. In many cases some of the kits parts will need modification before installing PE to them or in lieu of them. Compare instructions and ANNOTATE on the kits instructions where when and how the PE interacts with the parts in each step.

Removal of PE Parts

The PET Shears from Xuron make cutting PE parts from their sprue easy. They also allow one to trim away any excess, especially those sprue tags. To access the part on the sprue I like to start by removing the outer frame. Once I have removed the outer frame I can easily access the part. Be sure to examine the parts around the one you are removing, you want to leave them as protected as possible. Always keep you PE sprue frames laying flat when not handling them to remove parts. A crease or bend can cause you great difficulties later.


CAUTION * WARNING * ADVISORY

A word of caution…wear eye protection as well as foot protection such as slippers or shoes. PE sprues and parts are razor sharp along their edges…I can tell you from experience that a sliver of PE can be painful. I once dropped a piece onto the mat in front of my workbench…I was stocking footed and kept feeling something tugging at my sock. When I looked down my sock was soaked in blood and upon closer inspection I had a piece of PE sprue frame imbedded in my foot. I never felt it enter…it was that sharp!  I treated my wound and checked the mat to find more pieces sticking out of the mat…shoes or slippers are now required protection. PE parts also have a bad habit of flying when being cut (especially when one uses a knife to cut them) they fling skyward and can and given the opportunity go straight for an eye…cutting just like they did to my foot! So use eye protection.

Trimming of PE Parts

Once you have the part separated from the frame, PE pliers and good tweezers come in handy. They let you pick up and hold the parts with damaging them or mistakenly bend them. I use a PE bender such as the Small Shops Hold n Fold. The Hold n Fold has several features that allow you to do many tasks associated with bending and shaping PE parts. The most important I’ve found is its most simple task…holding the parts snugly in place with its assortment of fingers.


My preferred method of trimming and shaping is by either using the PET Shears or a sanding disc in my Dremel tool. By holding the part firmly in either a HD tweezers or PE pliers, I can touch the part to the sanding disc with the ever so slightest of pressure. I have found that using a sanding stick or fine file, I damaged the part by accidently bending it. All that time and effort shot!

NOTE: PE parts are at times very similar in fit as plastic parts they are augmenting or replacing…they don’t necessarily fit as perfect as one would hope. So adjustments must be made.

Folding PE Parts

Parts can be “folded” by either using a razor blade or a chisel blade inserted in a hobby knife handle…I prefer the hobby knife setup because it give me greater control and keeps my fingers away from the part in case of slippage.

Be sure to refer to the instructions as to how the part is suppose to look after all folding occurs. You might have to think the process through to get the part into the right shape and size. It can get difficult so take your time and give it some serious thought. I’ve even cut out piece of paper to represent the part so I can figure the folds before I start on the PE part itself.

Xuron produces some great tools for working with PE.

If you don’t have a PE folding jig like the one pictured here, you can use basic tools you already have. A flat machinist steel ruler can be used to hold down the part while you use a razor blade to fold the PE part. You can also use pliers…such as these el-cheapo duck billed pliers that have been in my modeling tool kit for decades. Modelers seem to collect a pelethora of tools, you probably have something useful in your toolbox.


Attaching PE Parts

There are several methods to attaching PE parts, let me share with you my methods. Since PE is metal, normal modeling adhesives will not bond to them. One has several options to choose from…CA (Super Glue), Epoxy, Future Floor Wax and even Hawkeye’s Hobbies Spray Metal (Clear) aka Decal Sealer.

This is very effective for applying PE that lays flat on flat surfaces or PE that contours tightly to a surface. It also allows more working time with the part to position it before it sets and it can be removed too…something a novice might want to consider…I know that’s how I found out how it worked…I needed a slower curing, thin medium that didn’t affect the surface or leave any residue after it had cured.

Xuron Corp Shears and Tweezers.

The other primary adhesive for PE is CA. You’ll find that you will need a selection of viscosity…thin, medium and thick for your projects involving PE. A word here about how important the proper tool is when handling PE parts and CA. It never fails that a part even with the minutest amount of CA on it rarely will stick to the surface intended…usually it sticks to ones fingers!!! So to solve that problem (yeah its happened to me more than once) I use good, no make that really good tweezers. CA tends to bond to the object with the greatest amount of surface…my fingers. Tweezers with very fine strong prongs allow the greatest amount of control yet offer the least amount of surface area…so in practice the glue stays stuck to the PE and the model part it is being attached to. Remember some of these parts are barely visible to naked eye! Now you understand why we wear Optivisors or cheaters to better see with.

Attaching PE is like any other aspect of modeling…I think I said this before. There is a learning curve and one must reach into their bag of skillsets to master it like they have anything else. Attaching flat parts onto flat surfaces is the easiest part of working with PE. Here is apply a liberal amount of SnJ Spray Metal Clear into the bottom of a wheel well.

Then I place the part, already test fitted to check for fit using the apporpriate tool so it can be handled and not damaged in anyway. PE is fragile! You may find it necessary to clamp parts in place until they cure…this hold true with CA too. Murphy’s Law…what you want to stay in place has a habit of moving when you’re not watching.

Taping parts in place is also a technique to keep them where they belong until the adhesive has cured. Use low tack tape, PE can pull away…remember Murphy’s Law?

Again flat surfaces are easy…curved surfaces such as this tail section require PE parts to contour to them. One way to get a PE part to take on a curved shape is to roll it gently between a round handle and  your workbench. The part will take on a curved shape and start to match the shape needed…repeat as needed.


Well that’s it for this installment. I’m looking forward to spending more time at the work bench as well as here at the computer to bring you more scale modeling tips and techniques. Until next time Happy Modeling!

Jump ahead to Part II and Part III.

Comments

  1. Hey there Gerald- nice article. I use a lot of PE parts and have never tried the future wax as a bonder. Actually, just found out about all the magical uses of Future. When I do the mega-small pe parts, such as bolt head detail, etc. I use a sewing needle to mount it. Just a tiny spot on the tip of the needle (to grab the piece) and it temporarily sticks face-up to the needle, then I touch the back of the part into either CA or white glue and apply. This has seemed to work for me on the small stuff.
    Kevin C.

  2. Hey Gerry,
    Very good piece. I’ve been collecting pe sets for car models for years but never got the ambition to use them. I also just recently picked up a large scale plane kit with pe in it so your tips will definitely come in handy! Thanks for your tutorial!
    Bob Kremer

  3. Thank you thank you,I needed to read this ,been cut , lost parts, used alot of adjectives, I’am glad that i’am not alone. ken

  4. Excellent article Gerald, although I have been usin PE for a while it is always nice to have different new tips to follow. I mostly use Gel CA as it gives me time to position the part and move it before applying pressure or a drop of accelerator to set it, white glue is also a good solution and you can always clean the exces by using a water dampened cotton swab.
    Delfin Becerra
    Caracas.

  5. Thanks for the article! It is amazing how hard it was to find a good article on using PE. Like sprue stretching, it seems that many modelers think using PE is common knowledge. I did just now, with this article’s help, constructed and installed my first PE aircraft seatbelts. Your recommendations on adhesives were great. So, THANKS!

    It was a pain in the a$$, though. Hopefully it’ll get easier.

    an aside: am I the only modeler that thinks the seatbelts from Eduard are almost TOO detailed? I mean, including the pull-tab for the length adjustment might be considered overkill ;)

  6. Hawkeye, like always your tips and such are so imformative, I look forward to the Squawkbox in my mailbox.
    Thanks again,John

  7. Hi Gerald,

    I’ve been doing photo etched for about 15 years now. mainly on 1/350th ships. I’m now doing the SS US with the GMM p/e set. Because I’m now 48 and using reading glasses for the first time, its become a real bear.

    I’d love to hear your advise for attaching ship railings using CA. I use the old fashioned super glue brand, that is very free flowing. The gel is just too thick in this case. I try to use as little as possible but always end up bumping a piece off that has to be re-glued.

    After all these years I still haven’t found the best way to glue railings without getting CA in the fine detail of it, while still adding enough to hold it. I usually use a pin to add the ca, or this spread it on a flat surface and dip the bottom of the rail in it then attach. You have to be quick though..maybe 2-3 seconds before it grabs.

    I cut p/e on a small sheet of glass with a scalpel x-acto blade btw.

  8. Back in the 70’s I used Klear floor wax to detail engines . It stuck all the wires just fine . It dryed out after a few months and it looked like crap . Is this one better ?
    We also used tooth paste as a buffing compound . It’s finer than any thing you can buy at the parts store .
    Go to the local motorcycle shop and buy a tube of Semi-Chrome . It will polish clear plastic windshields . They’ll look great !
    BOB.

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