While the wargaming community has a split opinion on whether or not painting models is fun, very few people enjoy the tedious task of prepping models. Unfortunately, ignoring a mold line or other casting limitation distracts the viewer from an otherwise great paint job. In pursuit of making preparation as easy as possible, I tried a group of sanding products from Alpha Abrasives and their sub-brand Flex-I-File.
Prior to this purchase, I had been using the hobby standards; a hobby knife, various grits of sand paper scraps, metal files and nail files. These tools are the baseline that I’ll be comparing these new tools to.
Flex-I-File: The first of these products is the companies staple product, consisting of a U-shaped piece of aluminum with a pin on each end. Bands of various grits can be placed on the pins which hold them taut.Of the products that I tried, I found this one to be the most novel on miniature applications. While it could be useful sanding between legs or in areas too tight to squeeze other tools into, it seems to be more of a luxury item for very specific instances rather than something that would change the way you prep models. Still, like any specialized tool when you really need it, it can be nice to have.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Flex-Pads: The idea of these is simple enough; they’re nice emery boards made specifically for modeling. The sandpaper again comes in a variety of grits, while the boards themselves are made with a slight cushion in them. Upon purchase, I was the most skeptical about these, but they came in a combo pack with the Flex-I-File so I gave them a shot. I’m glad I did, because they are my favorite product here. The high quality grit makes them perform predictably, while the cushion distributes the force evenly. I found that the course grit knocked down sprue marks quickly, the medium took care of mold lines, and the fine fixed any scratches left by the other two. I’ve already found that I prefer these over the hobby knife for prep in all but the most intricate spaces (e.g. corrugated hoses, fingers).
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Sanding Sticks: (blue) These are thin cushioned strips much like the Flex-Pads. The ends curve to (in theory) reach tough areas. Each side has a different grit. The problem I encountered was that they are thin and fat, making them hard to get into tight areas. They can be easily bent which may come in handy, but also means light pressure must be used when using one handed. In a way this seems to be a good partner tool to the Flex-I-File because they both shine at one another’s shortcomings. Much like the Flex-I-File tool though, you can often find other tools to get the job done. On the bright side, they are relatively inexpensive.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Sanding Needles: (grey and white) Unlike the sanding sticks, these are made of a hard plastic. Like the other products, different colors denote different grits. One end is sharp like a pencil while the other is at a flat, roughly 45 degree angle. The needle end is fantastic, making gun barrel cleanup a breeze. I even found it was precise enough for use on corrugated hose mold lines. The one foreseeable drawback is that since the wear is so heavily focused on the tip, they may not last a long time. The wedge end is slightly less useful, but works well for inorganic crevices.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Conclusion: Despite some of the weak ratings, I found that the combination of these products prep work faster, easier, and most of all, gave me better results than my old tools. If you don’t mind a few imperfections on a model, they may not be worth the investment to you, but if you strive for display quality results these items will be solid purchases.