So, if you’ve read much of my blog, you might have noticed that I have a slight obsession with one weird tool for building: a hobby knife (or Xacto, if you prefer a brand-specific name). And I usually try to include reference to it being dulled, for safety’s sake, because you really don’t need it to be sharp. In my case, I also prefer the tip to be blunted / broken off a little bit. But even dulled, it can still cut, so if you do follow my advice to use one of these, you still need to be careful! I even managed to cut myself with the back of the blade once, so you’ve been warned. (Admittedly, that was the only time I’ve cut myself with it while building, but it was rather amusing that it was the not-sharpened side that I managed to cut myself with).
This wonder-tool (okay, okay, I’ll stop trying to oversell it) originally found itself in my toolkit for a very simple reason: opening the packages. Most people just tear it open across the top, but I was paranoid about tearing up the instructions accidentally. So I got out an old, practically useless from being used so much, cheapo hobby knife. And I used it to pry open (not slice) the top seam of the sleeves. It worked great for that, and I guess is my first argument for the use of them as standard toolkit items. But I found that I started to use it for various other tasks while building, and eventually made an Instagram post about why you should have one in your toolkit. Today, I’m revisiting that post so that I can elaborate on it a little more.
But before we get started, I’m gonna do something I never thought I would need to do. Say that crazy phrase. Don’t try this at home, kids. That’s right. I’m just getting this out of the way. Hobby knives, even dull ones, can still hurt you. And if you are under 18, then I suggest you not follow my advice hereafter without a parents permission and supervision. For you adults, you know the risk, you are responsible for taking the appropriate care when working with sharp tools. But remember, even dulled sharp is sharp. Trust me, I know.
Dealing with Close or Flush Tabs
You know what can be really annoying? Those tabs that, when slotted, end up really close to, or even flush with, another surface. It can be quite frustrating to try folding (or twisting) those tabs. Especially when the tab is on the exterior of the model, and you really don’t want to scratch it all up while trying to jam the tip of the tweezers in the small gap. Well, that’s exactly how I found the first use of my hobby knife outside of opening the packages. You can use it to get the fold started, and then finish with whatever tool you prefer (including twisting, once the tab is folded over far enough.
Unfolding Tabs During Repairs
As mentioned in my previous post about dealing with disasters, I make a lot of mistakes. I have to take a lot of parts off and turn them around. Well, a hobby knife is great for getting under those folded tabs to unfold them, and a lot less scratchy (assuming you are careful). Of course, the tab was in an awkward place when I made this video, so it wasn’t easy this time. Usually it’s a breeze. The hobby knife is also helpful in prying pieces loose after you’ve untwisted tabs.
Angling / Opening Slots
Sometimes it’s a lot easier to slide a tab into a slot if you bend the slot over a little, especially when dealing with domed shapes or ship hulls. Unfortunately, that can sometimes cause the slot to close up a little and make it hard to push the tab through. Sticking a blunted hobby knife in the slow prevents it from collapsing while you bend the slot to the desired angle. I also use blunted tip to open up tabs slots when they are a bit tight to begin with (often with colored models).
Interior Tabs on Cylinders / Cones
Early on in my descent into this hobby, I found that Cylinders and Cones were my mortal enemies. Not only were they hard to shape (until I figured out drill-bits, and methods for doing cones), they were hard to finish. And most of the time, the instructions suggest putting the tabs on the inside! I had no idea how to pull that off, and would just fold them on the outside. Until I figured out that I could use a hobby knife to pivot-fold them on the inside, while pressing it firmly together against a hard surface. Or at least, start the fold, finishing up with pliers to make it extra tightly closed. It’s hard to explain in words, though, so watch these videos instead:
Fine-Tuned Tab Alignment
Alright, so if you’ve built many of the models at all, you know how frustrating it can be to get all the tabs lined up when attaching one piece to another. It’s not always impossible, but when it is, it’s infuriating to get that one (or more) last tabs to go in their slots. I’ve found myself yelling “get in your hole!” at them. Well, as it turns out, hobby knives are good at applying precise levels of force in focused locations. And they also don’t completely obliterate your view of what you’re trying to do.
Dealing with Awkward Folds
Sometimes a tab is in a weird place, where you can’t really fold it over with a pair of tweezers. Most of the time, when that happens, the instructions just tell you to twist it. But let’s say that you prefer not to twist tabs when they are on the exterior of the model, for aesthetic purposes. Well, sometimes you can use, carefully, the blunted tip of a hobby knife to gently bend over or press flat these tabs. However, it is risky, because if you slip, you’re quite likely to scratch something. Either the model, or yourself. Both are to be discouraged.
Okay, so that’s all of the main uses that I included in my original post on Instagram, and I can’t think of any others at the moment. But this tool tends to be the type that keeps on giving, so I may or may not eventually add more to this. Who knows. Thanks for reading, though, and I hope you were either convinced of the merits of having a hobby knife in your tool kit. Or were inspired to use another tool in a similar fashion, maybe.