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Glue, Paste, Cement, Putty and the like

And you thought only miniatures could be collected?

Writing about glue and miniature modelling could fill a website of its own, but I'll try to limit myself to this article...

Miniatures often require assembly. The sheer number of situations involved in miniature modeling - casting quality, materials in contact, weight constraints - makes the existence of a one-size-fits-all glue impossible. Cost, ease of use, toxicity, hardening time, cleaning ability, contact strength are most factors to consider. I own a fair variety of different glues mainly because I didn't find the perfect one and always needed something different for what I had in mind. I found most glues proved to be useful in one situation or another, and in fact the trick is to have the one matching your modeling habits. Most glues have their own usages. This guide is by no means exhaustive but covers a number of situations; feel free to experiment at will.

Polystyrene cement
This cement melts plastic in order to create the bond. The process is destructive: parts involved will suffer damage if you separate them or even if they break, although it can be easily repaired with more polystyrene cement. The bond is not very strong and of course happens only on plastic-to-plastic contact. After one minute the parts hold together and hardening is usually complete within one hour. If you are using plastic models, you will need some, but as soon as metal is involved (for example in mixed plastic-metal kits) you will need something else.
Also, the cement has a bad effect on some lacquered paint and is surprisingly fluid: be careful when gluing painted miniatures. Bear in mind that Polystyrene cement is best suited for unpainted plastic. Use in ventilated areas.

Cyanoacrylate glue
This glue is more widely known as super glue.
Taking full strength in less than a minute, this glue is unfortunately mostly useless in miniature modeling (despite being found in Games Workshop stores). The cyanoacrylate bond happens because of the lack of air in the join when you press the parts together. However, you need a perfect surface contact. This never happens in the miniature world, where casting quality is hardly rocket-science. Only plastic kits can come close, but in that case the Polystyrene cement is far better off. Trying to get the perfect alignment for parts imply enless filing with fine-grained files or even sand paper.
If you use cyanoacrylate glue nonetheless, be careful for it glues skin to skin contact - for example, your fingers - surprisingly easily.

Two-part epoxy
Featuring unmatched strength, epoxy glue resists heat, time, water, can be drilled and filed, etc. Materials involved are irrelevant: you can glue metal with plastic if you want to.
Could it be the perfect glue then? Unfortunately not. All those qualities come at a price. Epoxy cures without pressure or heat in five minutes or less but real hardening is slow and progressive (even if "fast" is written everywhere on the packaging) and full strength is reached only after 12 hours. The speed of the cure can be controlled by the amount of 'hardener' used when mixing, the more the hardener, the faster the cure. The mix is very sticky.
Since you won't hold the parts for hours, you are well advised to work one object at a time, and to find a suitable way of holding the parts together with inanimate objects. This requires some planning as it's a bad idea to find a suitable support after gluing. Lay your model carefully because the following morning you may discover that your favorite fighter conversion is brandishing his sword in a very different way. If you hold your models for the required five minutes of cure, you will discover the hard way that after that time the bond is far from being able to hold the parts of its own.
Although epoxy is non-destructive, it's near impossible to clean it off once hard.
Epoxy is not the perfect glue but the closest thing to. I use it for most of my work when single miniatures are involved.

PVA glue
One of the most basic product available, PVA glue is very useful for miniature basing and to produce textured paint. Sometimes it's used for paper work - putting banners on poles - but PVA glue is of little use for anything else.
Textured painting is a mix of paint, sand and paste useful for scenery work. Since scenery work usually imply larger painted surfaces than the average miniature, a good deal of textured paint is often necessary. PVA glue is inexpensive enough to be used in large quantities. Don't waste your money buying Games Workshop packaged PVA glue; do-it-yourself stores sell them by the liter for a fraction of Games Workshop's price.
When dealing with PVA glue and water, it's a good idea to add a (small!) drop of washing-up liquid to break surface tension. It dries in one hour but hardens in no less than 12 hours, becoming somehow transparent. I use PVA glue to flock miniature bases.

Kneadatite Blue-Yellow
Kneadatite Blue Yellow, also known as Green Stuff, is a two-part epoxy putty primarily used for sculpting. When kneaded the product gets warm and green (a mix of yellow and blue, hence its name). It has a gum-like texture and can be sculpted for several hours, curing slowly. After 12 hours cure is complete.
Green Stuff is easily overlooked as a putty, but it can be used as a glue, and a good one at that. Since it's sticky and has some bending strength, it can save you some trouble. I used Green Stuff to attach my Eldar Defender Guardians' arms to their bodies. Putting a very small ball of Green Stuff in their armpits, I could fit the arm afterwards and direct them as I wanted, to have the left arm holding the barrel of the right arm's Shuriken Catapult for example. Since all parts were plastic, ie. small and lightweight, Green Stuff was hard enough and I could try various attitudes.
Green Stuff is not sticky enough to hold heavy parts together.

Quick epoxy putty
This particular putty is related to Green Stuff and is produced by various brands like CarGo's QuickSteel. Once mixed the putty gets warm and then you only have roughly two minutes of flexibility before it hardens, depending on how aggressively it is kneaded. Hardening happens quickly and leaves a sturdy bond wich can be drilled or filed at will after one hour.
It's slightly more sticky than green stuff and can be more used as a glue than as a gap filler.
I often use this putty when I want a "shaped bond" and when the involved parts are not falling in place so I can't wait a whole night holding them. For example, if you have two parts of a Dragon body not matching properly you can attach them with this putty and sculpt some scales with a toothpick. If you haven't finished as the hardening begins, just remove excess matter quickly and do the final touches with Green Stuff. I used it to assemble an Epic Capitol Imperialis and it was the perfect putty for the job.
It's very comfortable to work on it with a Dremel tool once hard.

Contact cement
This unusual glue has to be put on both parts. After 15 minutes of separate curing, the parts can be put in contact and the bond happens within seconds. Involved materials are irrelevant since the glue is non-destructive.
From this destription the contact cement seems very interesting but the truth is less impressive. The bond is weak, at least with the brand I own, not enough for anything on a typical miniature - from weapon-swapping to basic assembly. It becomes weaker as time passes. It can be useful for low-effort joins over a big surface. Since I own a tube, I typically use it to put pennies under miniature bases. It's slightly stronger than paste and hardens quicker. On the plus side, the glue can be removed very easily, you may use it for modeling prototypes before going for some serious glue like epoxy.

And the winner is...

Well, there is no clear winner. You will certainly need three different glues:

  •  PVA glue for basing and flocking your miniatures.
  •  Polystyrene cement for plastic kits.
  •  Epoxy glue for plastic-to-metal or metal-to-metal joins or any odd situation.
    For special projets exotic products are sometimes more appropriate, but you can always rely on the three glues above.

    published on 27 Apr 2004

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