I never make the same mistake twice. I usually do it at least a dozen times. And that’s the reality of building Metal Earth models: mistakes happen. There are very few of my builds that went without a hitch. I bet I could count them on two hands, and that’s considering I’ve build over 250. They aren’t all big, earth-shattering mistakes, but I goof up at least once or twice on almost every build. Including the ones that are supposed to be really easy.
Most of the time, it’s because I got in a rush and didn’t take the time to slow down and read the instructions. Other times, it’s because a part got turned all around while I was having trouble fitting two pieces together. There are also times, where it’s seems that the instructions were written in a place with different laws of physics. And on a few occasions, it was because gravity hates Metal Earth models (i.e. I’m clumsy / unlucky).
But whatever causes the mistake, the oops, the accident… it happens. And it happens to everyone. I may have an excess of it happening, partly due to a shelf full of models collapsing onto another shelf full of models, but that means I’ve ended up with a lot of experience dealing with mistakes and breaks.
Anyways, I’m gonna break this down into different categories of Things Gone Wrong™ (just kidding, I don’t actually have a trademark on that). That way, you can scroll through and scan the headers if you need some advice for something particular. Or you can read the whole thing, if you have a lot of free time. Also, since these are a little more complicated than my usual fare, I’ve attempted to make some narrated videos. I may even come back and update the post with videos for topics that don’t have them already.
Before we dive in, I want to mention one option that you might not know you have. Fascinations, the makers of Metal Earth models, offers replacement parts, free of charge! Yeah, I know, it seems crazy in the greedy world we live in, but they’re cool like that. Of course, I’m rarely patient enough to wait on replacements to ship out, so I just stubbornly attempt to forge ahead with repairs most of the time. I did resort to contacting them once, though. It was when I had dropped a tiny piece and it fell into the abyss behind my desk, never to be seen again. (Trust me, I searched for quite some time!) And even though I hadn’t actually broken it, they were kind enough to replace it for me!
The “G” Word (Rhymes with Blue)
If it’s not part of your toolkit, it probably is going to be soon. And there’s nothing to be ashamed of (despite what some people say). Glue is not a bad thing to have around. You don’t have to have it to build these models, but if you make mistakes often, like I do, then it’s handy to have around. And to be honest, sometimes it helps when you can’t get a connection as tight as you’d like.
Anyways, there are a few options when it comes to glue: super glue, and 5-Second Fix are the primary options. And you can technically use white or clear school glue… but just don’t. It’s not a good solution. It can be done. But only in times of desperation.
The most commonly used glue, of course, is super glue. It comes in several forms and brands, but I usually use Gorilla Glue Gel Brush and Nozzle. But you can use pretty much any form of cyanoacrylate. Just be aware that most forms dry white, even if they are clear when you apply them. So if you do use super glue, you might want to make sure you only use it where it won’t be visible.
Another option I see used a lot is something called 5-Second Fix. There are other brands of it, but that’s the name I know. It’s not really a glue, it’s a UV-cured resin / plastic, but it works like a glue. The best part about this stuff is that it dries clear, and the second best is that it usually fixes in about 5 seconds (full cure takes longer, like most glues). But you get to decide when those 5 seconds are, because it only begins curing (quickly) when you shine the UV light on it. Unfortunately, it’s a little more expensive.
When it comes to applying glue, any glue, I like to use one of two “tools.” My usual go-to is a simple toothpick. They’re cheap and disposable, and have a very fine tip that you can load up with a very small amount of glue and apply in a precise manner. However, there are times that even that is not precise / small enough. In which case I use the metal wire from the inside of a twisty-tie (from sandwich baggies, or whatever). Of course, in those cases, you have to have a super steady hand, which is a stretch for me, but it’s better than trying with a toothpick.
I Broke a Piece Along a Fold
Okay, so bear with me, this was the first repair topic that I tried making a video for. I thought it would be fun to have my daughter sit in with me, while I did it, as it was her model I was helping repair. The idea was that the video would benefit from it by being more natural as I explained what I was doing. Oh the irony. My adorable little Princess Porgie (she demanded a special nickname, since my son had been granted the nickname Little CodeWookiee by fellow builders on Instagram) is quite the character, and provides many diversions (Squirrel!) along the way. And so the video is a little longer than I was hoping. Sorry.
Now, just because I made a video, it doesn’t mean I’m gonna skip writing up the process. I started this blog (rather than a vlog) because I’m much better at explaining stuff when I have time to think it out and edit it as I go (case in point, I rewrote that sentence halfway through, and the updated it again later). As my friend @AnimateOrange said, some people learn visually, some by hearing, and some by reading (paraphrasing here). This blog is probably more appealing to people who learn by reading, if it’s not obvious. I do try to include visuals as I can, but I’m more comfortable with the written word than the spoken word.
So how do you repair a broken fold / seam? I’ve used a few approaches over the past couple of years, but my favorite approach is one I learned from @iwallod on Instagram. It’s the one I use almost exclusively now. This solution is to use a piece of the scrap metal from a part sheet to brace the two pieces together.
I start by deciding where to brace the broken seam, and how many braces I will need. Most of the time I only need a single brace, because the broken part is small (longer seams tend to be more resilient). I also try to select a good sized area for the glue, so as to get as strong a connection as possible. And I also make sure to avoid covering any slots… for obvious reasons. Don’t ask me how I know that. Oh, and I also try to make sure that the surface I’m adding the brace to is not going to be visible.
Once I’ve selected my bracing locations, I estimate how long a strip of scrap metal I need to cross the seam, but not go past the adjacent surfaces. Using some flush cutters (or generic wire cutters), I clip out a strip of roughly rectangular scrap metal from the parts sheet. Then I add a “crease” to the middle of the strip (or where it will fold) with the cutters. This helps make the fold a sharper angle. Speaking of the angle, when I make the fold, I try to fold it to the final angle that the adjacent surfaces will have. The join I’m making will be rather brittle, and I don’t want to have to adjust the angle post-gluing.
EDIT: A new addition to my approach in this technique is to rough up the surface of the metal where I’m going to be applying the glue. Usually I do this with a hobby knife and just scratch the surface, at an angle, in a cross-hatch pattern. This gives more surface area and nooks and crannies for the glue to gain better purchase on. Just be sure you don’t scratch the outside of the model parts in the process!
The next step is to glue the brace(s) to just one side of the seam. I use super glue most of the time, but you can use whatever you want. I try to set up the part so that the surface I’m going to glue the brace to is level. A second-hand tool can be very helpful for this step. I apply the glue to the bracing strip, and then place it on the first surface of the broken part. I then take a moment to ensure that the other half of the brace is aligned to the correct angle for the other half of the part. Once I’m sure it’s gong to stay that way, I let it dry/cure for at least an hour or two.
Coming back to the process after that, I proceed to gluing the brace to the other half of the broken part. At this point, it’s usually pretty tricky as the halves rarely cooperate with aligning correctly, and staying that way on their own. In that case, I really appreciate the second hand tool, as I can use the alligator clips to keep it in alignment (assuming the part is big enough). Otherwise, I sit down and watch a little TV while holding the parts in place. Or find some other way to keep them aligned. Once I feel like it’s gonna stay aligned, I let the glue cure/dry overnight. Super glue, and most glues, take longer to fully cure than you might think.
And Now I’ve got the part back together. The seam may not be completely closed, and it may not be as pretty as it would be had I not broken the seam. But it’s better than just having a broken model. But I take care with that part going forward, because the joins are brittle. If I need to shape the rest of the part at all, I usually try to keep a tool gripping over the part/brace surface so that I don’t put any stress on the connection.
P.S. If I had been thinking, I would have taken photos while recording this process. Screenshots of the video would make terrible illustrations for this written section. I’ll try to take photos the next time I have to do this (a matter of when, not if), and update this section with them.
I Broke a Tab Off
I would say that 90% of the time this has happened to me, it’s because I twisted, then untwisted, then twisted the same tab again. Probably because I didn’t follow the instructions correctly. More precisely, because I didn’t read the instructions carefully, but it’s the same result, right? Well, however you break a tab off, it can be infuriating.
When this happens, you have a few options on how to resolve this, and they sort of depend on how and where the tab is used. If the tab is an internal tab (won’t be visible when the model is complete), then my go-to solution is just to simply glue it. If it’s an exterior tab, then I try to glue it as inconspicuously as possible. So I guess that’s really just one option, with caveats.
For the internal broken tabs, the glue can be applied fairly easily (assuming it’s not buried deep inside the model). First, I attach the piece, if it’s not already attached, with any remaining tabs, making sure to align the tab remnants in the slot. It may not be much left, but there’s usually something. Then I apply a tiny dab of glue to the back side of that slot. If you use too much, there’s a chance it will find it’s way through the slot and build up on the outside. I also try to rest or hold the assembly so that the glue has to fight gravity to wick to the exterior. Alternatively, you can use 5-Second Fix, which is faster, and dries clear (so you don’t need to worry about it being visible from the outside). If I feel that the connection needs a little reinforcing, I will apply some additional glue after the first dab dries pretty well.
For external broken tabs, I take one of two approaches: securing the parts with a scrap metal brace or use some sort of clear glue. For the scrap-metal brace, I basically adapt the process described in the section I Broke a Piece Along a Fold, above. Of course, I only do this when I can hide the brace on the inside. For clear gluing, I prefer to use 5-Second Fix, as it creates the most secure join, but in the past I’ve (and I’m somewhat embarrassed to say this) used Elmer’s clear school glue. It’s not a strong hold, but you do what you gotta do.
And if you can’t get either of those solutions to work, or be workable, you can always just request a replacement from Fascinations. I try to do that as little as possible, but it is an option.
I Forgot to Attach a Piece
Man do I feel the fool when I do this. Either I accidentally skipped it, or didn’t notice it, or for some other bone-headed reason missed it. Often, I’ll try to disassemble the model as far back as I need to go. But that has risks, especially if tabs have been twisted (which is why, I prefer to fold tabs, rather than twist). Unfortunately, sometimes you just can’t avoid twisting. And sometimes, untwisting is not an option, because twisting it was near impossible in the first place. Of course, you also risk breaking a tab while untwisting (see previous section, lol). Whatever the reason, if I don’t want to disassemble, this is what I do:
Yup, another walk-through video, with narration! And featuring Princess Porgie as well (same model, same recording time as Broken Folds video). Please forgive her rabbit trails, all that ADHD energy and excitement about being involved in this really got her going. But fret not, if you don’t want to watch the video, I’m gonna give it a quick rundown in words again!
I use a pretty basic approach here, where I just apply the tiniest spots of super glue to the slots (in the air gap itself), and then insert the tabs through the glue. The best way I’ve found to apply that little glue with precision is to use the metal core of a twist-tie. Before I apply the glue, though, I prep the parts, getting them completely ready to join together. I also pre-fold the tabs with a slight inward tilt. This provides a simple mechanical grip to hold the part tightly in place while the super glue cures. So then I apply the glue to the slots, and stick the part on. Hopefully the tab-tilting can allow you to set it aside to dry, but sometimes, you’re just stuck holding it. And of course, with most uses of glue, you can also use 5-Second Fix. In this case, you can use a little more, because it dries clear.
I Attached a Piece Backwards
This. Happens. So. Much. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I just get excited, and I get going to fast. Maybe I don’t pay close enough attention to the instructions. Or Maybe I’m paying attention, but I’m having so much trouble aligning something that it gets turned around or misaligned in all the attempts at getting the stinking pieces to go together! Okay, calm down… breathe… it’s alright. Of course, it doesn’t always end up backwards, it could be sideways, rotated 90 degrees, whatever. I just chose that as the most common example of this problem.
The fact that I do this so often brings me back to something I’ve visited in this post several times: I fold tabs as much as possible, even on interior tabs. So you’ll have to bear with me as I offer unasked for advice: fold, fold, fold! Because when you have to undo some work to fix something, unfolding is a lot easier than twisting. However, sometimes twisting is your only option. In that case, I would advise you to not twist every tab to a full 90 degree. If you’ve got to untwist a tab, you want it to be easy to tell which direction to untwist. Now, on to my advice for carefully detaching attached parts…
First off, let’s talk about unfolding tabs. I included a video (above) that I made a while back as part of my weird Instagram post about my pseudo-love-affair with a hobby knife as a build tool. This video is blessedly short, has no audio, and hopefully illustrates how good a tool it is for unfolding tabs without damaging the model. I’ll often use the Hobby knife to start the unfolding process, and finish it with tweezers (also to avoid scratching). The tweezers give you more leverage to straighten out the tab and allow you to separate the parts.
When it comes to untwisting, I have two important pieces of advice: (1) be gentle, and (2) make sure you untwist the right way. Twisting weakens the metal a lot more than folding, and leads to broken tabs much more frequently (at least for me). And twisting the tab the wrong way will make it near impossible to separate the parts. It can be really hard to tell which way you twisted a tab sometimes, but a magnifier (or a cell phone camera) can sometimes help. After untwisting, I like to try to grip the full height of the tab with tweezers or pliers and squish it as flat as possible, so the part will release as easily as possible. But sometimes there’s still just the little tiniest bit of twist holding the parts together. In that case, you can start at one end of the edge where the two parts mean and try to gently [and carefully] wedge a [dull] hobby knife into the gap to work the part free.
However you separate the parts, I suggest that you take a moment to flatten the tabs out after separation. All the way up to the base of the tab. No matter how good you are, there will still be a little deformation after the separation, and flattening it (as much as possible) will make re-attaching the parts easier. And make sure to not re-attach it in the same, exact, incorrect orientation. Don’t be like me! You’ll feel very foolish. Oh, and when re-inserting a tab that has been twisted, it will probably take a little extra oomph to seat the tab fully.
I Scratched the Paint
Oh man, that feeling when your grip slips and…! Scratches stink. And they happen to everyone at some point or another. And scratches are just that much more accentuated when they happen on multi-colored models. But fear not! There’s actually a pretty easy way to cover your sins, and I learned it from… well, several sources, on both Instagram and reddit. I wish I could remember who, so I could give them all credit. Anyways that simple solution is: Sharpies (or other permanent markers). You would be surprised at how closely most colors used by Metal Earth match up to a sharpie color, or are close enough that it’s less distracting than having the underlying metal coloring exposed.
As far as technique goes, I try to do a couple of things to make the repair as unnoticeable as possible. First-off, I keep my own set of colored Sharpies set aside, where no children can use them. I want to keep the tips nice and pointy, and kids tend to mash the tip of a sharpie into a more rounded shape. Secondly, I tap or dab the ink on, rather than stroke. With the smoothness of the metal, drawing the sharpie across the surface can cause it to streak, leaving some parts with more ink than others. Tapping (lightly) also allows me to focus the application of the ink more precisely and carefully.
A side-note here: this technique can also be used to “hide” some of the more unsightly folded tabs on the surface of colored models. I’m talking about when you end up having to fold a tab silver-side out, and it sticks out like a sore thumb against the backdrop of the colored surface you folded it against. A few dabs with a Sharpie can almost make it disappear. It makes a surprising difference. Oh, and I also picked up a set of metallic Sharpies (silver, gold, and bronze) for when a colored tab ends up folded onto a silver or gold surface. I don’t use the bronze much.
As for models that are not multi-colored / printed color, I don’t have a magic solution for scratches. When the scratch is actually in the metal, not the paint on top of the model, you best option is to spin it. Call it battle damage, or weathering, or something like that. But know that you’re not the only one who’s done that. Welcome to the family.
Bent Up in Package
So this is a sad truth of these models: sometimes they come pre-damaged. Whether it’s something that happened in shipping, in the mail, or for some other reason, sometimes you have to start from a sheet of parts that’s been good and banged up. Maybe it’s just a corner of the sheet that’s been curled forward a little. Or maybe its a several bends, back and forth, as if the model has be partially crumpled. It happens from time to time, especially if you purchase it online. But all is not lost!
When I encounter this problem at the beginning of a build, my first go to tool is a C-size battery. I try to straighten out the parts sheet with my hands to a loosely flat shape. Then I lay it, engraved-side down, on a hard, flat and smooth surface. I then roll the battery across the top of it several times. I rotate the sheet an repeat the rolling, pressing down pretty firmly each time. Sometimes leave the sheet slightly bowed, so I’ll flip it over, and roll it gentle a few times on the other side.
This usually takes care of all the damage (unless the fold was really sharp, or something got scratched), and gets it to a workable state. It won’t be perfect, but in all likelihood, you’ll be the only one to see it (because you know it’s there). I have had a few times where I had to progress from this to used a hobby knife to straighten out some thinner pieces. One of them was with the “wheel spokes” in the London Eye model. It took a good bit of patience, and handful of cursing, but I got it to something passable in the end.
I Lost a Piece!
First thing first, check if there’s an extra piece on the sheet. And, I guess, this advice should really preface several of these sections, but I’m putting it in here, so… here it is. If there isn’t an extra piece, then my further advice may be too late.
Because that advice is this: save all your spare parts. When you finish a build, you will often have some parts left over. And when I started, I just tossed those, along with the scrap-metal frame. But now I keep both spare parts and scrap-metal frame. I keep the frame for when I might need to construct a brace (or for other, more… creative endeavors), but I keep the spare parts for just this purpose (and for other, more… creative endeavors, as well).
In fact, after filming the two videos with Princess Porgie, we realized that she had accidentally lost one of the pieces to her Minnie Mouse model. She was devistated. However, I pulled out my bag of spare parts and was able to find a part that matched closely enough (suprisingly, just an extra tab slot!) that we were able to use it. Of course, I’ve got a ton of seemingly useless parts in that bag, but you never know when they are going to come in handy. Especially if you get hooked by the “mod” bug, and start creating your own customized versions of Metal Earth models (… creative endeavors, indeed!).
It’s Beyond Recovery
Okay, so sometimes a mistake or accident can leave a model beyond recovery. And trust me, this has happened to me. And it sucks. But, if you’ll stick with me here, it might not be a total loss. It might just be an opportunity to explore your creative side. Really.
The first model that really went bad for me was one I actually completed all the way. But I didn’t complete it well. That model was the classic TIE Fighter model, and the “wings” were just not attached well. It turned out that it was partly due to it being a knockoff model, and the quality was poor (I didn’t intend to buy a knockoff, but I hadn’t learned to be careful when buying models on eBay… avoid items from China!). Anyways, the whole thing turned out super janky and wobbly. It just looked awful. It was embarassing. Until I figured out a way to turn it around.
I took it out in my yard. And I shot it with a BB-gun. And then I tried to scorch it with a lighter. That didn’t work too well, so I buried it in a pile of leaves and lit the whole thing on fire. Did you know that superglue loses it’s gluey nature when burned? Yeah, that’s right. It was superglued and still wobbly. Well, after I burned it, it fell apart. So I reassembled it and glued it back together. Which might give you a clue that I wasn’t just getting my anger out.
Next, I picked up a little puck of floral foam. I shaped the top of it into a gentle curve, cut some slots into the top, matching the wing-span of the TIE fighter. Then I painted the bottom black, and the top tan. I then coated the top with some spray adhesive and “dusted” the top with sand. I repeated this a few times to get a good layer of sand, and then inserted the wing panels into the slots, with the whole thing at an angle. I then applied a narrow strip of clear school glue along the edges where the wing panels met the foam. Another dusting of sand. Sprinkle sand over the whole thing and see where it collects on the model. Brush sand off, apply thin glue in those spots, apply sand. put some sand in the cockpit. And you have a TIE fighter that has crashed in the Desert! Failure redeemed!
And that’s not the only time I went that route. I recovered my first build of the TNG Enterprise that balanced horrifically by pulling the Saucer Section off and recreating the crash scene from Star Trek: Generations. And I’ve got another build, the Sydney Opera House, where several key pieces split in half, and no glue strip would hold up to the stress in the place of breakage… I’ve got that set aside, waiting to be turned into a disaster-movie set piece when I get the hankering to do it. I’ve only had one model that I haven’t reinvented from the point of no return, and that was a BB-8 model that got stepped on. I couldn’t come up with anything creative to do with it.
So yeah, take that unfixable accident and maybe you can turn it into the motivation to create a unique mod[ified take] on the model. Or maybe request some replacement parts. Or throw it away, if you feel like it. But keep an open mind! You might just have a diamond in the rough.
I’ve taken to concluding my posts with some sort of interactive element. Some question or way to invite you to be involved. This isn’t some sort of strategy to get more action on this blog (though I guess that’s not a bad thing, really). No, it’s because I know that I don’t have all the answers. I’m constantly learning from other builders on Instagram and reddit and other platforms. So why not here? And if here, then it’s already shared with others, right?
Anyways! What I’m getting at is this: These are just the repair strategies I’ve learned to use. I know that other builders have all developed their own strategies and techniques, and I’d love to learn them. So if you’ve got an alternative solution to one of the above scenarios, please comment below. Or if you’ve encountered a scenario that doesn’t fit into the categories above, let us know (whether you have a solution to it or not)!
P.S. If you were traumatized by the damage shown in the header photo for this post, please know that I was able to repair those models. They were casualties of a shelf collapse (two of many), and while it was very upsetting, it did teach me a lot about repairing models. Here’s the “after repairs” photos: