Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Paper Model Tools and Techniques: Clamps

New York City–based artist Thomas Garbutt has compiled a lifetime’s worth of priceless advice for anyone ready to jump into the world of building Pellerin paper models. In this installment of our ongoing series, Thomas discusses the use of clamps.
A Pressing Matter
by Thomas Garbutt

Assembling paper models can be very satisfying. As with most things in life, however, this activity comes with some frustrating downsides. I discussed glues and other adhesives in a previous essay, but the component I didn’t mention is that glues require time and pressure to set up properly. As such, there are many times when two hands just aren’t enough. Every minute you spend pinching together pieces of paper is a minute you could be using that hand to get on with the next step in completing your model. What to do? The answer is simple: Clamp it!
Clamps are one of those tools paper model builders tend to forget about until it is too late. It’s easy to get so absorbed and focused on gluing two pieces of your model together that you forget to plan how you will hold them until they’re dry. Unless you like sitting using your hands for this job, get yourself some clamps.
When it comes to paper crafts, I am a believer in the ends justifying the means, so when I find something that works, I use it. Office supply stores offer a great variety of small clamps sold alongside paper clips, staples, and other tiny tools for holding paper together. In my experience the best such tools are binder clips—they are great at clamping together two pieces of paper along an edge, and they are usually quite inexpensive. The disadvantage to binder clips is that they don’t have much depth.
For large pieces needing clamping, or any pieces with glue further from the edge, binder clips won’t help. You need to think big! Find a book large enough to cover the entire glued area, open it up to about the middle, and insert your pieces to be glued. To keep any extra glue from sticking to the pages of your book, layer wax paper on either side of your pieces. If you don’t think the weight of the book will be enough to provide sufficient pressure, just set it on the floor and pile on a few more heavy books. This technique works best with hardcover books, as their pages tend to slip less as you close the book or set more weight on top.
Tweezers are terrific for holding really small parts. I have several styles in my paper modeling toolkit, mostly with pointed ends for greater precision. One variety even locks in place when pressed together—very handy indeed! As with much of paper model building, experimentation is key. Look for tweezers on eBay, in health and beauty stores, even in thrift shops. Street fairs sometimes have vendors who sell small tools such as tweezers. Keep your eyes open for any opportunity.
Whenever you use clamps, think about how much pressure they are exerting and whether or not they will leave marks or indentations on your model. Binder clips are especially notorious for this, as their grip is very strong and is focused on a single line of pressure the width of the clip. If you think your model is in danger of being damaged by your clip, you can always cut some small scraps of cardstock or paper from the leftover trimmings of your model sheet, sandwiching them around your glued pieces before applying the clamp. Using stiff pieces of solid cardboard will help spread out the pressure so that you get a more even clamp over a larger area.
The best “clamp” I have found, though, isn’t really a clamp at all. It’s the blue tape used to mask off areas during house painting. I must be clear here that I’m not referring to the traditional off-white masking tape. The glue on it is far too strong and will pull off the printing on your pieces if used as a clamp. Find the blue-colored tape—ScotchBlue Painter’s Tape by 3M is an excellent one—as it has enough holding power and can be removed without lifting off the printed surface.
Blue tape comes in many widths. I’ve found the one-inch width to be the most useful. Cut several pieces first, pulling a length of the tape and cutting it into half-inch strips. Lightly tack them along the edge of your work surface so they are easy to grab when you need them. Apply the glue to the pieces you wish to join, and then press the small strips of tape across the seam as needed. The tape will hold the pieces together until the glue sets. There is one important caveat, however: Make sure no glue is squeezed out of the edge and contacting the tape, as when you peel off the tape you will lift off some of the model’s printing as well.
This is the third installment in Thomas Garbutt’s tools and techniques for paper model building. The first two essays covered glues and adhesives and cutting methods. Our interview with Thomas on his experience working with paper models can be read here.
Browse Castle in the Air’s selection of more than 300 vintage French paper model reproductions

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