Grim’s Modelmaking Tips: My top 10 Cheap or Free materials for scratchbuilding

2 Oct

I know this article probably won’t be as useful to some readers here, already well into the scratchbuilding bug like me, but I would hope that some of you that may have little or no experience in this subject will find some or all of it useful in some way. I intend to put up a few of these articles using this cheapo method I have been using for many years.

To me, paying for some modelling supplies is a real pain. I begrudge forking out for anything that impacts on my budget. Call me tight, but this comes from many years ago, when I was really skint, barely scraping a life, paying bills for myself and such, I am very much into making things of all types, and get stircrazy when I get a great idea and can’t carry it out for lack of stuff to make it with. This has lead me to become very inventive in my use of mundane junk from all over the place. Now I can’t abide good stuff I could use to make models or terrain from going to waste . All you expert scratch builders will know how just one cool bit of junk can make you inspired to make a fantastic model, and I thought I would give my top 10 best free (or at least lowest cost) things to collect for your bits box (You might need to get a box to start with to collect up your finds if you don’t have one(or several like me) already!)



I use loads and loads of this stuff to create my models, sure you can go and buy it, but why bother when there are so many good flat bits of card laying around for free! Corrugated card is not so good, so I usually only keep a bit for making the interior structures out of, the bits that you cant see on the models (although it can be useful to create tin roof type effectsand other bits) Cereal boxes are an excellent source for the main structures, walls, ceilings, doors, consoles, in fact anything you could create from a bit of card, its easy to make a 3d box by glueing and folding, but ant three dimensional shape can be made up this way, and you don’t need expensive card from art shops to do it. Look out for dry cat food boxes, that is excellent as its strong and thick, packaging from food boxes is good, as is box card from beer multipacks. Look around and you will find loads of types of free card everywhere, so much you will have to turn a lot of it down! Best tip for storage is to cut it neatly or fold it down into flat pieces, don’t bend it, keep it in nice flat sheets and that way you will be sure that the building your making won’t have wonky walls. Also, you might want to make sure you have a decent ruler, protractor, set square and compass to help keep your cuts straight as well, you can pick up a whole set for under £1.


These can be great for using to base bits of terrain, vehicles or even dioramas, they are ideal as they are perfectly flat on a table, and will not deform and curl from over wetting with glue like card sometimes. They don’t take PVA glue very well for big stuff so use super glue or contact adhesive for jobs like that, stick to using PVA for your basing scatter and flock. Just make sure that these are no use anymore, it’s not a good idea to destroy your wife’s crappy albums, or brothers new album, just so you can do a terrain feature on it!


I’m sure you will have a few different flocks or gravels/sand in order to base your models, but to expand your range of effects, try going for a walk outside and gathering up some different kinds for yourself. Maybe your next door drive has some tiny gravel? or even your own or a family member will give you a few handfuls. There are many different grades of the stuff so try and get a good range of them. A good idea is carrying a few small bags around with you to bag up stuff you find on your travels! Stones and small rocks can be found everywhere too, so there is no need to cast or sculpt them and incur additional cost, then the money you save can be spent on buying paint, glue and more importantly, more miniatures!!

Wooden sticks


Wooden sticks of all types are great for loads of uses, I myself find I tend to use a lot more than I thought I would on my models. lolly sticks should be collected in your box (good if you have kids, as they tend to generate lots during the warm weather!) cocktail sticks, used matches, bamboo bbq kebab sticks, nice dry bits of twigs, thin bits of featherboard, off cuts of laminate flooring for bases to put your terrain on, the twigs that are attatched to grapesmake great twisted trees (dry any green woody types out first before use, in fact make sure all your  wood bits are totally dry before use) A nice walk in the woods or at the park usually turns up a few decent bits to use, keep your eyes open! Bark from some trees is great too, as are chippings and broken bits, they can be added as a scatter to your models to give more depth.

Broken toys


If you have children, or kids in your family, it’s a great idea to keep an eye out for when they destroy something! My four kids destroy stuff every day, but I jump on any dangerous bits that they shouldn’t have. Toys have a load of possibilities for the model maker and ae so varied, I couldn’t begin to describe the possibilities here. If you don’t have kids or the opportunity to get your bits this way, thrift stores, charity shops, garage sales, skips, dustbins, freecycle, carboot sales, jumble sales and junk shops, are great sources to get low cost salvageable bits.



You probably know this already, but you should gather the best and most interesting bits of packaging you can find to stick in your bits box. Cartons, vac formed inside packaging, trays, tubs, easter egg platic, cake and biscuits packs are very varied, and can make great science fiction structures and vehicles, as well as other stuff. It’s a good idea to save some with lids to keep some of your bits in too, like any gravels or stones. Be careful you don’t horde too much as you will be swamped quickly by the amount thats available. Try to only keep the best bits unless you really need it.



The myriad of shapes and sizes of these things is just staggering, the uses are countless, the ones with square ribs are good for making star ships and large tanks, smooth ones for domes, fuel tanks and silos, small for tunnels and dwellings, I’m sure you get the idea. Keep a few for storage too, for thinners, paint mixes and dry stuff like flock. Let your imagination go!



No one needs VHS anymore, so its easy to find people willing to get rid of them for free, as is DVD cases also, they can be used to make sturdy buildings, terrain bases, cut with a power tool like a dremel into warbases, or other great shapes.They can be hard to cut, so I would recommend a tool like a multitool. Please don’t try hacking with a snap blade craft knife, as accidents will and can happen in situations like this. These cases aren’t for everyone, but I use them often for terrain bases(nice and flat) and structures.



There are many things that are perfectly good for using that come from old electrical items, gadgets and gizmos. Take some time to take them apart and extract the bits that interest you. Wires are good, resistors, motors, sockets, circuits and all manner of goodies can be lifted from these. Make sure you don’t have stuff plugged in while your taking it apart though! Make sure as well that you have a few tools on hand like a couple of screwdrivers, pliers, wire cutters and a sharp knife to help with the dismantle!



Finally, the last thing on our top 10, are tubes of all kinds, straws being invaluable for use as pipes, industrial structures, conduit points and sockets, posts, large gun barrels, cut down to create tins and containers and so on. They come in loads of sizes and lengths, thin or fat, straight or the bendy variety, all kinds should find a home in your box. Try taking a handful next time you go to a fast food joint, or simply buy a pack on the cheap, sure it will cost, but for less than a quid, they will last for ages. Tubes are easy to find, with postal tubes   good for towers and tunnels, vehicles and futuristic terrain buildings. Toilet roll tubes, carpet tubes, pringles tubs are good also, in fact tubes of any size can be put to good use. Like I keep saying, use a bit of vision and you’ll become inspired to go beyond what you have done before in coming up with new and inventive ways.

I know this is no where near an inexhaustable list of possible free materials, as there are much more stuff that can be repurposed. The best thing about it is that you are actually helping save stuff from going to landfill, so its a great green method thats fun too!

If you liked this article, or have any comments or questions or even would like to write up some tips of your very own for us here to share with us all. Has it inspired you to create a master piece yourself after reading it? let me know!!

Read Another 10 cheap or free model making materials!!



13 Responses to “Grim’s Modelmaking Tips: My top 10 Cheap or Free materials for scratchbuilding”

  1. worldwarshed October 2, 2012 at 10:29 am #

    Reblogged this on World War Shed and commented:
    This is a great article, a man after my own heart. Now, where can I find a bit of mesh for the front of my VBCW Bedford trucks?


  2. Dale Hurtt October 2, 2012 at 2:50 pm #

    Great little article on scratch building materials. Serves as a great reminder of all the things you can do cheaply.


  3. arjun October 2, 2012 at 3:58 pm #

    The shiny surface of CDs actually take modelling cement/glue like Tamiya.

    Here’s something I made using a CD and GW plastic parts.


    • grimace73 October 2, 2012 at 4:08 pm #

      Thanks for your comment, I love the simplicity of the piece, its excellent! It just shows you what can be done with free stuff! Cds are a great bit of free kit, they are sometimes overlooked in favour of expensive plasticard or other craft materials, but I really like the look of stuff done on them, as it means no fiddly cutting to achieve a perfect circle for the job at hand!


  4. elcigaret October 5, 2012 at 11:46 am #

    Thanks for the sensible critique. Me and my neighbor were just preparing to do a little research on this. We got a grab a book from our area library but I think I learned more clear from this post. I’m very glad to see such excellent information being shared freely out there.


  5. thanks for the info I’ll definitely return


    • grimace73 October 9, 2012 at 7:35 pm #

      Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed the article, feel free to come back anytime!


  6. automatic watch March 29, 2013 at 1:17 am #

    Excellent way of telling, and nice article to get
    facts concerning my presentation subject matter, which i am going to deliver in


  7. bluecloud2k2 September 30, 2015 at 3:39 am #

    Reblogged this on cloudcraftsite and commented:
    One of my friends from the DM’s Craft Forums (grinningskull aka Grim) gave me permission to reblog this article. You should definitely head over to his site as he has a ton of great articles and free stuff!

    Liked by 1 person


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