Traditionally, plastic model builders use solvent-based glue (cement) for assembly. These glues form strong bonds and are the most common type of glue used in this hobby. However, they come with some downsides such as slow drying times.
That’s why some model builders try to turn to super glue when working with plastic models.
It is perfectly fine to use super glue to build plastic models, although most model builders only use this type of glue for very specific tasks. However, if you can work around the unique properties of cyanoacrylate glue, there’s nothing stopping you from building the whole model with it.
There are both advantages and disadvantages to using super glue and I will get into that a bit further down.
Advantages of using super glue
For anyone who’s ever built a model kit, super glue is a miracle product. Here are the most important pros of using super glue:
- Fast-drying – Super glue dries almost instantly, so you can finish your model much faster than with traditional plastic cement
- Does not cause the dreaded “ghost seam lines” – Cyanoacrylate glues don’t dissolve plastic, so you don’t have to worry about unsightly seam lines when using them
- Can be used as a filler – Super glue can also be used for filling small gaps and imperfections
- Readily available – There’s no need to order super glue in specialized hobby shops like plastic cement because it is available in most grocery stores
Disadvantages of using super glue
Although super glue has a lot of advantages, there are also some drawbacks to using it on your model kits. These include:
- Fast-drying – Yes, fast drying is not always beneficial – with super glue it can be very difficult to properly align the model’s parts before the glue sets
- May cause “fogging” of clear parts – When super glue sets in the vicinity of a clear part, it may leave a white residue that can ruin the look of your model
- Brittleness – Super glue creates a bond that is brittle and prone to cracking when put under strain
- Short shelf life – When opened, super glue will start to degrade quickly and will eventually set in the tube
- Tends to glue everything you don’t want it to – Super glue is notorious for its ability to stick like a magnet to everything you don’t want it on – you know, fingers glued together and fun stuff like that
These are the most common disadvantages of using super glue on model kits. It’s up to you to decide if the pros outweigh the cons and whether or not it is the right choice for you.
Some of these disadvantages are not true for all types of super glue, so some research or experimentation is required. For example, there are super glues, that won’t fog clear parts (most will) and there are super glues with longer working times (eg. Loctite 60 Second Universal Glue)
Best way to apply super glue to model parts
The best way to use super glue is by being careful not to get it onto your fingers or other places where you don’t want the glue.
The easiest way to achieve that is to use a thin applicator. There’s no need to buy any special tools. A toothpick is an excellent choice because it’s cheap and you can throw it away when you’re done.
A needle, be it a sewing needle or an old airbrush needle, is also a great choice for more precise applications. Once the tip of the needle gets clogged with glue, you just burn off the buildup with a lighter and you are good to go. Breathing the fumes is not recommended though.
How to remove super glue from a plastic model?
We’ve all been there. Super glue running wild and sticking to places it shouldn’t. It may seem like it’s difficult to remove, but it’s not.
The easiest way of removing CA glue is to use a CA debonder. This is a specialized solvent that is specifically made to dissolve CA glue. It works by slowly dissolving the glue so that you can remove it.
I prefer to use cotton buds dipped in debonder for the removal process.
One thing to keep in mind is that debonders are not made equal and some are much more aggressive than others and may eat away at plastic parts. So make sure to test it on a piece of scrap plastic first before applying it to your model.
Oh, and debonders will certainly remove paint, so don’t use them on a model that’s already been painted.
Super glue as a filler
As mentioned, super glue is also a good substitute for putty and fillers. It can be used to fill in small gaps or scratches.
The simple way to do this is to just apply the super glue directly into the gap you want to fill. Depending on the filling job, you may use a thin or thicker glue.
Although this method does work, there’s a small problem associated with it. When fully cured, the super glue is much harder than the surrounding plastic which makes sanding it difficult.
One way to rectify this is to mix in a little bit of talcum powder with the glue. This will give the glue a bit of a body and will make it easier to sand it down. Some modelers prefer baking soda instead of talcum.
How to store super glue so that it lasts longer?
As soon as you open a tube of super glue, the inevitable process of curing starts. If you’ve got any experience with CA glues, I am sure you had your fair share of rock-hard tubes that wouldn’t squeeze a single drop of glue.
But is there a way to slow down the process? Yes, there is.
CA glues cure when exposed to moisture, even in the air. To keep your super glue tube from curing too quickly, store it in a sealed container (a resealable plastic bag may work too) with a desiccant such as silica gel.
This way, the adhesive will remain usable much longer than if it was stored without any protection from moisture.
Cooler temperatures also help to slow down the curing process. So you can try to store your super glue in the refrigerator or an otherwise cool and dry place.
Don’t forget it’s best to put a blob of glue on a piece of aluminum foil or another non-absorbent surface and then transfer the glue from there with your applicator of choice. This helps minimize the contact with moisture in the air and thus keeps your super glue tube fresh longer.