Gundam Tutorials

So You Want To Build A Gundam? Pt. 2: A Basic Build

When I’d initially begun to build Gunpla, a friend suggested that the first time I built one, it should  just be a simple snap up… no painting or weathering. Simply snip the parts out, snap them up, and and just get a basic feel for it.

I was a little skeptical at first, but it did seem like good, simple fun. So I followed his advice. Turns out he was right.

If you’re a new model builder, hopefully this will answer many of your questions about the process.

For the reasonably experienced model builder, snappening up a Gunpla is not difficult at all. At the end of the day – it’s still a plastic model kit. So much of what I’ll cover is very basic. 

So you want to build a Gundam?

This is part 2 of a four part series to introduce new and experienced modelers to the world of Bandai Gunpla kits.

Part 1Getting Started
Part 2 – A Basic Build
Part 3 – Get It Painted (Coming Soon!)
Part 4 – Weather It Up (Coming Soon!)

However, I do think it’s worth the exercise. Here’s why:

  • On your first few kits, you’ll see what the final built look is before you start painting. That can really help with a build plan.
  • Identifying where the visible seams are ahead of time, and coming up with ways to deal with them.
  • If you plan to move your completed build around much, you’ll see where paint might scrape.
  • It’s just fun. 🙂

So with that in mind, I thought this second installment of “So you want to build a Gundam” would cover a simple, basic “snap up” build. This will lead us into Part 3, tackling a more advanced build of this same model.

A Few Things To Note

While Bandai instructions are generally in Japanese, they tend to be very well illustrated, using simple icons that help in understanding how the model is assembled. Pay close attention to these, as well as other visual clues as you build. Parts are generally shown with very deliberate orientation. In some cases, a particular feature of a part may be noted to aid in positioning. Additionally, a specific numerical sequence may be required in terms of what order parts are added.

One thing that can be handy is to make use of phone apps, such as Google’s Translate app. This allows you to point your phone’s camera right at some text, and the Translate app will render it onscreen in English. It’s not always perfect… in fact it can be downright comical how off the app can be. But… it does give enough of a clue to allow understanding.

The general rule of thumb with just about any Bandai kit is “if it doesn’t fit right, you’re doing it wrong.” In several dozen builds from the brand, I’ve found that to be true in every case.

Kits will have a parts map shown at the front of the instructions. These will show you not only what parts might not be used, but also the type of plastic each sprue is made from. While the kits hold together well as snap fit models, if you’ll be sanding seams, it’s a good idea to glue some parts. Most of the modern kits are polystyrene for the most part. However some sprues are ABS, and require a different kind of glue. So be aware of that distinction.

Finally, because this covers a very basic Gunpla build, I’ll make sure it’s friendly to both brand new modelers, and experienced modelers looking to test their toe in the world of Mobile Suit Gundam.

Here you can see the parts map and explanation of the iconography used.

Diving In

The best place to start is of course Step 1. 🙂 

Bandai Gunpla instructions tend to work a section at a time – torso, head, arms, legs, etc. This kit, as most newer Gunpla do, starts with the torso. The instructions label the parts with a letter, which indicates the sprue, and a number, which indicates the part on the sprue. Other symbols are also shown to help guide the builder through the process. (I’ll cover those later.)

 

Parts Removal

To remove the parts from the sprue, you’ll want a good set of “nippers”, or sprue cutters. They’re not just re-labeled wire cutters, but are designed for hobby use. While you can purchase a very expensive pair, I prefer to use the more basic sets. They’re sharp enough to cut through the plastic easily, but not so expensive to demand a refinance of your house. 😉

When making your cut, do so just a bit away from where the sprue attachment point meets the part. This will minimize potential damage to the plastic, and also reduce stress marks – critical if you won’t be painting your Gunpla.

Cut the part so that just a bit of the sprue connection (“nub”) remains.

Clean Those Nubs

Once the initial cut is made, a little bit of cleanup will be needed. How you clean it up will depend on what you plan to do later in the build.

If you plan to paint the model, simply trim away the excess – often referred to as a “nub”, and using a  some sanding sticks, sand away the remains of the nub. The goal is to get to “fingernail smooth”, meaning if you rub your nail along it, no bumps will be felt. Stress marks aren’t a problem here, as paint will cover that up.

Cleanup for a non-painted build may require some additional finesse. Many modelers use a second set of premium nippers that are designed to be extra sharp and precise. These can trim the extra plastic very close, and generally leave little in the way of stress marks. 

My preference is to use a hobby knife to trim very close, a little at a time, and then gently sand it down. 

On lighter colored plastic, stress marks generally don’t show. On darker colored parts, though, it does require work. 

My suggestion is to practice a bit on darker frame parts that won’t be seen to explore what works right for you.

Here you can see my clean up using a hobby knife and sanding stick. The little bit of white mark showing is actually a slip of the hobby knife! Because I’ll eventually paint this Gundam, I’m not to worried about it.

Putting It Together

Bandai does a great job of making sure parts go in the right way. While not every part is set up this way, note how the pegs are set up so that they can only go in one way – a definite help!

“Jon proof” engineering. 😉

Nip It In The Bud

Bandai engineers their kits with very tight tolerances. While it is possible to pull everything apart for later painting, there is a simple trick to make your life much easier – just snip the pegs at a 45 degree angle. This will leave enough to allow for an initial build assessment, but make later disassembly much easier.

If you’re not going to take the kit apart later, there’s no need to cut the pegs.

To make later disassembly easier, I snip the pegs at about a 45 degree angle.

Polycaps

Gunpla also make use of polycaps parts. These are very soft plastic, often used in joints or other areas that need articulation. They can be removed from their sprue as with normal polystyrene parts, but be careful not to split or damage them. I’ve not found a glue yet that can repair them!

Here you can see I added two polycap parts to the torso assembly, along with the chest vents shown above.

Polycap, polycap, oh poly, polycap…. polycap! POP! 😀

Some Instruction Notes

In some places in the instructions, a build sequence is noted. It’s generally best to follow this order. Note the use of the diamond shapes with the numbers 1 and 2 in them. These order indicators can often be spread across multiple steps, so take note of them.

Also, at times there are identical parts used, so a small icon will indicate if an assembly must be done more than once. Notice the “x2” in the white square, meaning you’ll need to build that twice. 

 

 

We Have A Body Part

Going through the torso assembly steps progressed quickly, and I have that portion of the kit finished. I typically set sub-assemblies aside in small craft boxes that have individual compartment sand a snap lid. This keeps things together, and prevents them rattling round the box.

Those Stickers

Moving on to the head, we encounter the famous Bandai stickers. Generally, kits come with two types – foil stickers for eyes, camera ports, gun cameras, and some detail points on the body. Because these are printed so that the color extends beyond the sticker itself, they can be used in many cases, even on a painted build. I use them frequently on a kit’s eyes.

Other stickers, such as stencils and external markings, are not always as friendly for use. While they look good and are nicely printed, there is clear film around the edge. On white parts this generally does not show up. On darker parts, however, the clear edges show very distinctly. 

Additionally, if you later weather your model, the weathering will often “pool” around edge of the sticker. And over time, the stickers may loosen up a bit.

It’s your call – use them or toss them. Bandai and other third party makers do produce waterslide decals, so that is always an option. I generally use the foil stickers for the eyes (they have a nice “shine” to them), and most of the time go without other markings. If I do apply additional markings, I use waterslide decals.

The instructions use an icon specifically to show where stickers are to be placed. If you buy Bandai decals specifically for a particular kit, the numbering on that sheet tends to reflect the numbering on the kit’s sticker sheet. 

Here you can see the foil eyes set in place on the face parts.

Make It Sharp

Some parts that are sharper on the ends have a larger end on it to make it a bit more safe for kids. These can be easily filed or sanded down. Here you can see how I sharpened the ends of the famous V-fin.

Take Care Of The Mold Seams

Some parts will have mold seams on them. These are caused by the separation of the machine dies used to cast the parts. They can be easily cleaned up with a sanding stick, or  the edge of your hobby knife. A few gentle scrapes and a bit of sanding usually does the trick.

This can be especially important on joints, as those edges will be easily visible.

Part Orientation

Here’s an example of Bandai being very deliberate in specifying how parts should be oriented. Note the use of the two “balloons” to indicate how a part should be turned, and the small “rabbit ears” which show where a particular side is. Identifying that section allows you to then know how it must be oriented for assembly.

I actually like to set the parts right on the instructions, to make sure I have everything aligned correctly.

Fast Forwarding In Time

The rest of the build proceeds along the same process outlined above. While the parts and sections will vary, the methods remain the same.

On this build, I made sure to cut down pegs as noted above in areas that later disassembly is required. This is generally across color separations, or areas where the internal frame will need to be painted apart from the external armor.

Some sections can be left as-is, of course, if that own’t hinder later painting.

Dealing With Seam Lines

Bandai’s more modern kits do a really good job of hiding seam lines. In some cases, they are covered over with another part, In others, they have a slight indent on one side that renders a panel line when assembled. However, in a few places, there may be seam lines. (Older kits may have quite a few, so beware.)

The trick in dealing with these is based on the placement, and how you’d like to deal with them. In general, I take two approaches, depending on the situation.

Sand Them Over

In some cases, it may be simple enough to simply glue the parts together, using a plastic welding type cement. Tamiya Extra Thin is my favorite. Some glue is applied to the join, the parts are then squeezed together tightly, which causes a small bead of plastic to “bubble up”. Once dry, this can be sanded down easily, leaving a smooth join.

In a few cases, additional modeling putty may be needed. However, if the gap is fairly large – check your construction. Remember the “if it doesn’t fit, it must be your fault” notion? Double check the assembly – it may resolve the problem.

If this process can be done before joining to other parts, that is really easy. However, if two parts must be joined around others – such as leg armor over frame parts, I generally will paint the frame first, add the armor, glue and sand it, then mask off the frame areas and paint the armor.

If You Can’t Beat Them, Join Them

Sometimes the payout of a kit might make gluing or later painting a bit of a difficulty. So I’ll often assemble the unpainted parts as noted above, and then turn the seam into a panel line. Using a scribing tool, such as a Tamiya Scriber, I’ll widen and “enhance” the seam line. For a more organic look, I’ll even grab a small chisel and cut in small recesses to suggest panel access hatches. Doing this allows parts to be painted off the frame, and then when assembled, they look as though they’re meant to be there.

Two Examples

The only panel lines that will really need addressing on this kit as along the back of the lower leg, and across the top of the head.

The top of the head can be tricky. Because of the tight spaces, sanding it down can be difficult. And due to the way the face plate slips in, the head will need to be assembled first. (Barring some surgical gymnastics.)

Here are two approaches I’d recommend:

  • Paint the full face mask section, and assemble the head, minus the V-fin.
  • Add glue to the seam. Once dry, sand it down.
  • Using masking tape or poster putty, mask off the face plate and paint the head. 

Alternately,

  • Temporarily assemble the forward and back halves of the head
  • Rescribe the seam line to represent a panel line
  • Optionally, add in some chiseled cut outs to sell the notion that it is meant to be there

The leg can be handled a bit easier. Because the leg frame part slides into the lower leg, it’s simple enough to simply glue these together, sand them down, paint them, and later add the frame parts. The polycap that the foot joins to can be painted by hand later, or simply left alone.

Of course, you could choose to make this a panel line too, which could add to the visual detail and interest.

If You’re Not Painting The Model

You may decide to simply snap up your Gundam and not paint it at all. There’s nothing wrong with doing that – they’re great fun to build right out of the box. And leaving the seam lines as they are is fine too – it’s your model! However, if you’d like to minimize their visual appearance, it’s easy enough to do.

You could use the glue methods, outlined above, or even make them panel lines by scribing  them a bit.

But, you can also just work with the bare plastic.

Start with a medium grit sanding stick – maybe 400 grit or so – and sand across the seam line. You’ll want to do this using wet sanding. Just dip the end of the sanding stick in water. This reduces the dust floating around, and makes for a smoother finish.

After the initial sanding, proceed on to higher grades – 600, 800, etc. I have found that going to about 1200 grit works fine for me, but of course you can go as far as you like.

While this won’t remove the seam as gluing would, the combination of smoothing the surface down, and tiny bits of plastic dust lodging itself in the gap will greatly minimize the seam. This works particularly well on lighter plastic. On darker plastic, you may opt to try the scribing method.

Wrapping It All Up

I finished the basic snap-up build of this wonderful kit in just a few hours. While certainly not as fancy looking as a painted and weathered kit, I had a lot of fun in the process. And I don’t care how old you are, or how far you may think you’re above doing so – I dare you not to play with your newly built Gundam just a bit. 🙂 Gunpla can be posed in many ways, and in this unpainted state, there is no worry about paint scrapes or weathering being removed. Pose away!

And I’ll admit it… though I’m waiting on the birth of my first grandchild this fall, I’m already planning the builds we’ll be enjoying in a few years. This is a great activity to do with your kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews, or anyone else. 

In Part 3 of this series, I’ll cover using this same model to get it painted and reassembled, ready for weathering. Part 4 will then cover weathering and final details.

Build a Gunpla can be great fun. For new modelers, they’re a great “gateway drug” into the hobby. At the same time, for an experienced modeler not familiar with the genre, a mobile suit build can be a refreshing change from the typical historical kits. Certainly for me it was a watershed moment, as I not only discovered the simple enjoyment of a stompy robot, but that little kit produced what for me was a seismic shift of focus for my entire hobby. While you may not end up there, I think anyone can enjoy these kits.

Grab a Gundam, snap it up, and have some fun!

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