How to build your first etched brass kit
Many modellers consider those proficient at building brass kits as modelling experts. This isn't really the case because etched kit assembly is similar to putting cardboard models together - the big difference is that the glue is solder and you apply it hot.
There are techniques to learn and practice will help, but unlike a card kit, you can always re-melt your solder, clean it off and try again.
Don’t pick an expensive locomotive kit for your first attempt. You might aspire to build an LNER Garratt or Fell Diesel, but these are models to work your way up to. A garden shed on the other hand, how tough can that be? Plus, you can add foliage over areas you aren't happy with – not a trick you can use on a locomotive.
Roxey's kit is an ideal beginner’s model. You do all the basic etched kit jobs – releasing parts from a fret, folding them, aligning parts using tabs and slots and then soldering. There are some etched kits designed for glue assembly, but this isn't one of them. Soldering is easier and quicker for this model. Here we show you how.
Essential Tools for Soldering
Soldering Iron: For structural soldering, you need at least a 25W and there are lots of suitable tools on offer. For this model, we used the standard 3mm-wide bit, but smaller tips are available for fiddlier work. These slip over the end of the heating element. The other essential in this picture is the soldering iron stand. As well as giving you somewhere to put the iron when you're not holding it, the damp sponge in the base keeps the bit clean as long as you remember to wipe it regularly while working.
1. Solder: We’re using a normal cored electric solder, a 60:40 tin/lead mix. There lots of different temperature solders available and they all have their uses, but this is fine for your first kit. Lead-free solder is also available, but you need a high silver content for it to flow properly so the price tends to be high.
2: Flux: Without getting into the chemistry, flux lubricates the soldering process by improving the flow of the solder. Yet again, there are lots of different types of flux but for most work I tend to use a general-purpose paste type and plenty of it.
3: A cheap paintbrush: To apply flux to the joint. Don't use anything good as once you've used it for flux, you can't clean it up for paint.
4: Fibreglass pencil: For cleaning the metal before soldering and removing excess solder. The bristles will fill up with flux so don’t use the same tool for locomotive wheel cleaning, get another for that. Fatter fibreglass sticks are also available for the same job.
5: Ceramic plate: While not essential, a heat resistant flat surface is important. For years I used bits of wood and while they work, the surface gets burnt, soaks up flux and generally becomes a bit unpleasant. This plate came from a jewellery supplier but many model railway tool sellers stock them too.
6: Flat-faced pliers: For bending metal along half-etched fold lines. Those with serrated faces for grip can damage the thin metal.
What's the difference between electrical and structural soldering?
In a word, technique. With electrical soldering, you heat up the joint and apply the solder. That's why the solder has a flux core, it makes the solder flow. We need more solder for a structural joint so have to carry it on the tip of the soldering iron. While doing this, the flux in the cored solder will boil away, hence we need to add flux to the joint and bring the molten metal to it.
As you can see, it's amazing how you can transform an etched brass kit into an impressive, unique building. For even more kit building articles, of various levels of difficulty, click here.
Want some houses to go with your shed? Our guide on how to build and detail a card kit is worth a read. Or if you’re interested in building some roads and pavements, our handy guide is filled with tips and advice to help you model your scene.