This is a version of the basic info sheet I provide for teaching sessions focusing on metalwork for model-making. It represents a small selection of materials chosen for their availability, versatility and ease of use.
Prices shown are from April 2017 (unless otherwise indicated) and adjusted to include VAT. Full addresses can be found in the ‘Suppliers’ section.
Brass Most commonly available metal for small-scale work, in a variety of strips, tubes and small sheets. Not as pliable as copper but much softer than steel. Brass is by far the most suitable metal for soldering. Can be cut (if thin) by scoring with a scalpel and breaking. It always comes in straight lengths, only wound if very thin wire Obtainable 4D modelshop; good hobby modelshops Price varies, e.g. 1000mm length of 1mm circular rod £1.10, 2mm circular rod £1.40, 1mm square £2.40, 3mm square £4.50, 2mm circular tube £2.90, 1.5mm square tube £10.15 (4D)
Brass sheet can be expensive from some model shops (e.g. the K&S brand packets) and in any case difficult to cut without the right tools if thicker than 0.1mm. Price examples 0.1x250x300mm £5.60, 0.3x200x400mm £7.80 (4D)
Brass shim Also known as ‘sculptor’s shim’ or ‘brass fencing’, 0.1mm brass sheet on a roll. Much cheaper source of sheet brass for small-scale work than the above. Suitable for light soldering and especially etching. Cuts easily by scoring/bending. Obtainable Tiranti Price e.g. 16.5cm x 2.5metre roll £8.17
Solder A soft metal alloy in wire form which melts forming a bond between two pieces of metal. The standard for brass soldering used to be 60%tin 40%lead, but nowadays lead-free solders are encouraged as safer. Other metals need other more expensive types of solder (e.g. Carrs No 179 for aluminium). Silver solder can be used between brass and steel. There are solders with built-in flux .. but I’ve always had better results using a separate flux. Obtainable Maplin; 4D modelshop Price e.g. c.20-100g £2-4
Flux An essential fluid (or sometimes in grease form) which will clean and prevent oxidation of the metal surfaces to be joined. The standard cheaper type is fine for brass, while more expensive for other metals (e.g. Carr’s Grey Flux for aluminium c.£13) Obtainable Maplin; 4D modelshop Price c. £3-£10 per 30-60ml (dependant on type).
Welded wire mesh Available in different gauges though most common has 12x12mm squares. Galvanised iron wire, welded firmly at each intersection. Because the surface is roughened PVA will ‘stick’ to it. Can be bent into shapes but, as a sheet, not as mouldable as impression mesh. Wire snippers needed to cut. Obtainable B&Q; Wilko; Price 600x900mm sheet c.£6, or roll (900mm x 6metres) £26 at B&Q; Wilko ‘Get Gardening’ Cage Mesh (600x1500mm) £3.00; 600x900mm sheet £3.99 from Wickes. Other quantities sometimes available.
Impression mesh Many different types down to extremely fine. Defined by diamond-shaped openings, punched out of continuous sheet making it mouldable. Usually copper or aluminium. Obtainable 4D modelshop; B&Q (some stores have heavier versions); hobby shops Price varies (expensive in craft/hobby shops)
Aluminium wire Because relatively soft, even thick aluminium wire can be bent easily making it ideal for sculpture armatures etc. The best choice for bendable puppet armatures, although always test bending tolerance beforehand. Can be found either in circular or square section, often sold by weight rather than length. Obtainable 4D modelshop; Tiranti (larger gauges); Scientific Wire Company www.scientificwire.com Price e.g. 3mm (1/8inch) square section x 37metres (1kg) at Tiranti £15.08 or round 3.2mm x 1000mm single strip £1.50 (4D)
Florist’s wire Traditionally, short (c. 30cm) lengths of very soft, often dark, bendable wire useful for bunching/bending for tree armatures etc. Obtainable some old-established ironmongers; Hobbycraft
Metal foil Suitable for cladding and embossing. Copper and brass most common in hobby shops. Aluminium baking foil or food containers also useful. Obtainable most hobby shops, supermarkets. Price varies
Lazertran Silk transfer paper A copy paper specially designed for transferring an image onto another surface. Designed for silk but works well on metal (as resist when etching metal). Artwork must be strong black, and copied onto transfer paper using ‘colourprint’ setting on commercial copier (inkjet not sufficient). Image transferred using heat (iron or oven). Obtainable Lazertran.com (info); London Graphic Centre Price e.g. 8x A4 sheets c.£12.84 from Lazertran (2015)
Sodium persulphate Obtainable as a powder which makes a brass etching solution when mixed with water (often known just as ‘PCB etch powder’). The usual recommended mix is 100g powder to 500ml water. 0.1mm brass can take a few hours to etch through. Precautions; rubber gloves advisable, good ventilation, solution will damage fabrics, spent solution must be taken to re-cycling. Obtainable Maplin or discountelectronicsstore.co.uk (as ‘PCB etch powder’) Price e.g 100g £2.26,1kg c.£16 (2015)
Note I included this some while ago as a useful technique partly because sodium persulphate was fairly easy to get hold of from Maplin. They now seem to have discontinued it in favour of another etch solution using ferric chloride (ready-mixed solution £19.99 per litre). This is a much less ‘agreeable’ substance to work with, though it does the same job. The same precautions apply .. perhaps more so .. you will have to study the directions and safety advice thoroughly! I haven’t had much experience with it.