Wargaming Tradecraft: Hobby Safety


Hobby Safety

In my travels of various forums and tutorials, I've noticed that something greatly lacking are safety instructions. There's a lot of great ideas out there, but also extremely stupid and/or dangerous ones. A big part of the problem here, is the target audience - I started wargaming when I was just a kid and there's plenty of other kids out there these days picking up their first paint brush - and knife. There also seems to be a general disregard for safety - Even though we're just building models, doesn't mean you shouldn't look up an MSDS and proper handling instructions.

This document isn't designed to be the end all, be all of safety instructions for hobbying - it's very important to always be aware of what you're working with and the safe way to use it. These are just some of my own observations and tips to keep yourself healthy while enjoying this hobby.

I urge everyone to read this from start to finish, as things that seem simple may have important notes and enlighten even the most experienced of us. Some of this may seem really obvious, but I've seen/heard some scary suggestions with zero regard for safety. Not everyone's going to follow this, but I feel it's important to be aware of what you're getting into and make that choice yourself.

*UPDATE* I should also mention, I will update this document as a master copy as I find things to change. If you leave comments with suggestions, they may just find themselves worked in with a credit to you.

Things I See Often (examples of why this document is required)

  • Brake Fluid (stripping models)
    • Prolonged exposure can cause your central nervous system to collapse, and I'm sure short term can't be great either. (This stuff is meant to go into cars - not on your skin or inhaled while you clean minis)
  • Glass
    • Can be used for various effects, but it's dangerous to cut / grind it up. You can easily cut yourself on shards, it's hard to clean up all the little bits and pets/children can easily harm themselves. You especially don't want to breathe in the smaller bits.
  • Lead
    • Many old miniatures were actually made out of lead. It'll be a dull grey to pewter's shiny grey/silver. Always wash your hands after working with lead, and don't eat it. (Or let kids/pets get at it)
  • Light Bulbs
    • For the same reason as glass, with an extra warning - Neon lights and the new energy efficient lights contain gasses that are quite bad for you. Don't go out of your way to break these. (I have actually seen people suggest grinding up whole packages of light bulbs for specific uses)
  • Magnets
    • Great for modding, however as earth magnets become increasingly powerful they can start hurting/pinching/crushing body parts.
  • Nail Polish Remover (stripping models)
    • Most contain acetone, which can cause nerve damage, cancer and other terrible things. (Yes, just regular nail polish remover - but it's such a staple of our society, it's easily bought and used on skin all the time)
  • Paint Thinner (stripping models)
    • Defatting of skin, dermatitis, central nervous system collapse.
  • Styrofoam
    • Burning this stuff creates toxic gasses that should only be done in a well ventilated area. The BLUE and PINK stuff is HIGHLY toxic when burnt and should only be used for basing and carving if at all. (Many stores / regulations have begun banning the blue/pink kind completely)

General Tips

NEVER use something from unmarked containers. (Random cleaner X on a shelf in the garage)
There's an increased chance things will go wrong, and if they do, you need to be able to tell emergency response what you were involved with.

Any work with chemicals, fire and anything that creates smells or gasses/smoke should be done outside or in a well ventilated area. You hear this all the time, but fumes really can be dangerous. Great ideas like using fiberglass repair kits to create your own hardened terrain is something completely different if you've even inhaled that stuff. If you feel yourself getting light headed - stop, walk away and get some fresh air. Rubber gloves can even be eaten by what you're working with.

Always clean and dress wounds immediately and appropriately! This will usually mean water, soap, antiseptic and a band aid. (Depending on how serious it is) HOWEVER - this may not always be the case when working with things like chemicals. (At work, I often use an acid called Flux, which has to be cleaned with a skin irritant because water will just spread it out)

"Harmless" side effects like causing dizziness or light-headedness can actually be dangerous in the right conditions, such as falling/slipping and injuring yourself.

Safety Equipment

There aren't many cases where you'll actually need safety equipment

  • Breathing Masks
    • If you're going to work with anything that creates smokes/smells, these can help offset the impact. Even just a thin medical nose/face mask can help.
  • Gloves
    • Rubber gloves can help when working with some chemicals. If you're doing some serious cutting, you could even get work gloves (heavy leather) though these can be clumsy things, which in itself can sometimes be a danger.
  • Safety Glasses
    • Will help avoid spills or projectiles. (They do make types you can comfortably wear over glasses)

Breaks / Stretching / Proper Seating

It is important to remember to get up every so often and move around / stretch. Sitting in one place (probably hunched over) for hours on end in a marathon painting session can be murder on the back and shoulders. Get up, walk around, get a glass of water and stretch. A 5 minute break every half hour will reduce fatigue and you will end up with better results for your work.

Your eyes need breaks too. Move your eyes around every few minutes as staring for prolonged times can cause strain, headaches or migraines.

Your chair should offer good back support, which can act as a reminder that you're sitting slouched over. If you don't feel the support on your back, you're leaning again. There are ergonomic chairs that involve kneeling instead of sitting, but those tend to be bad on your knees.


Proper lighting is very important for minimizing eye strain / headaches. Natural sunlight is the best - it's actually good for you; psychologically and physically. If you use a fluorescent light (which many of us do for its "true white" properties) it is a good idea to have one incandescent light in the room as well to offset the flicker of the fluorescent bulb. (You might not be able to tell, but your eyes can)


Whenever you're working with any sort of chemical, it's very important to know its dangers, which should be clearly marked on the container.
Many things around the house can be dangerous, cleaning supplies especially, and plenty of things found in a garage. With the age of do-it-yourself, it's unwise to assume "If they sell it in public stores, it can't be that bad."
Keep in mind, while the long-term side-effects are usually worst case scenarios or caused by large doses, it doesn't always take much to be affected by them, and/or it is possible to be partially affected.

Manufacturers are also supposed to make Material Safety Data Sheets available. (With "lay terms") Thanks to the internet, it can be a quick job to search for a chemical and "MSDS". The MSDS will usually tell you everything you need to know - from what it should look like, dangers (health, fire, flash point, etc), side effects (inhaled, contact with eyes/skin, ingestion, injection, short/long term) to cleanup. (Skin, eyes, fire, etc) If a chemical doesn't look like its MSDS description, it may be contaminated or old, and shouldn't be used.
Example MSDS for a chemical I use to age metals: http://www.sculpt.com/technotes/MSDS/JAX/MSDS_GreenPatina.pdf

Never EVER mix chemicals. You don't know what could happen, and if you're following someone's instructions, THEY probably don't know the risks either.
Really, it shouldn't be necessary to mix chemicals, as they don't mix like paint. That is to say, Yellow + Blue do not equal Green in the chemical world - things react differently.

If you spill chemicals, your first reaction is to clean them up. Paper towels will absorb liquids which will then come in contact with your hand as you hold the towel.
If you get a chemical on yourself, water isn't always good. There are many chemicals where water will just spread them out and damage more of your body. An MSDS will tell you how to clean up spills - sometimes this will involve other chemicals. (A "skin irritant" side effect from a cleaner is probably better than whatever the primary effect of the spilt chemical is)

Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS)

Material Safety Data Sheets


Be careful when working with strong glues like super glue, ABS and epoxies. If you get some on you, DO NOT cut, shave, file or tear it off. Water will thin the glue and spread it, covering more of you. I suggest a paper towel to soak up what's left, and then try washing the area. It'll eventually wear off. If you need it removed sooner than later, or get it somewhere like your eyes, see a doctor. Strong glue will usually have an MSDS (see: Chemicals) available for more information.

Strong glues also usually create strong fumes. You probably won't go outside every time you have to super glue something, but close the container when you're done with it.

A good way to start out here is to look for "gel" super glue. It's not as strong, but it's much easier to work with because it won't run all over the place.

DO NOT mix glues such as plastic or super glue with other household items. Strong chemical based glues can react to other substances in dangerous ways.

Sharp Things

You'll probably end up working with knives often, and a key thing to remember is always cut away from yourself. No, you probably won't commit seppuku, but fingers and hands can get some pretty nasty gashes, and these things are your hobbying livelihood. Try to always put anything sharp back in a regular spot, so you're aware of where things are. A knife set will come with a bunch of blades, and usually a safe way to store them. (Like magnets inside a case)

If you're working with glass, mirror shards, needles, etc... Store them in a container that seals shut securely.

To clean up things like broken glass, damp a few layers of paper towels, and pat down a wide area. (Glass can really get around when broken) Change the paper towels often so you're not just spreading the glass around. Patting an area with tape (sticky side out) is also a good way to clean up. To visually check if you've got everything, you need to get down to floor level and look for sparkles in the light. (A flashlight or laser pointer can assist in forcing some glimmers)


Some of the best bitz you'll find can come out of old electronic gizmos and gadgets. You should be careful dismantling them: always unplug everything first, and avoid them if you don't know what you're doing.

Large (and some small-medium) equipment like TVs, stereos, monitors, etc, contain parts that can hold dangerous and deadly charges for many years after they've been unplugged. (Capacitors are in almost everything, and even cheap equipment may have high voltage versions - they're like batteries that release their whole charge instantly) A stray touch in the wrong place by you or a tool can literally send you across a room, and isn't just seen in movies.

Old equipment may also contain many parts that used "PCB"'s (toxic chemicals, banned from use today) as well as lead. Always wash your hands well after working with lead and avoid taking apart electronics you've already removed from something larger.

Mechanical Failure

You'll find great bits by taking things apart and chopping things up. Be aware and take appropriate precautions that there can be springs under a lot of tension, rough edges on metal parts that can cut, and lots of force involved when cutting things. I cut a small nail once with my wire cutters, and it had enough force to shoot through the bulb in my desk lamp. That's powerful enough to go through an eye.

Fire / Heat Safety

Fire has a number of uses when hobbying - usually, you're just after heat, and don't want to set anything on fire. If you need an open flame, a candle in a stand is the best thing to use, rather than something you have to hold, like a lighter. This allows both your hands to be free.

Always have water nearby to put out any fire that might get out of control. Be aware of the chance of lighting something on fire, and it's best to keep it away from chemicals. If you're heating tools to carve, induction can cause your handle to heat up too. When using fire in hobbying, this will often create smoke, and should be used outdoors and/or in a well ventilated area. When refilling fuels, always follow all instructions and be aware of how to deal with spills.

When doing rudimentary welds with solder, you may use or see liquid or bubbling from the solder, (usually brown, sometimes clear or off-clear) which is an acid named Flux. You don't want to get this stuff on you, and should have flux remover handy in case you do. (Flux remover is a skin irritant, but better than the alternatives)

Children / Pets

If you've got children and/or pets, it's extremely important to be aware of all the dangerous things you're working with. A hobby desk can be a minefield in these cases. Anything that could harm living things should be in locked containers / drawers / etc.

Thanks to the following for their contributions:

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