Introduction: Kitbashing a Tabletop Model Robot

About: Make it so.

Depending on where you are right now in the world of March 2020, the Coronavirus has impacted just about every country and here in England we are in house lockdown. It can be frustrating being stuck at home but I thought I'd make what I can out of it and do what I do best; make stuff.

I have model kits, paints, limited tools and adhesives among other oddities among my disposal and a craptacular cheepo broken solar robot that's begging for repurpose. Let's kitbash a tabletop figure out of it! This project with supplies in hand takes little more than a couple hours from start to finish.


  • Cutting tools - Plastic cutters, Scalpel, Tweezers
  • Assortment of acrylic paints & brushes
  • Dremel for heavy modifications
  • Assortment of model kit bits and bobs
  • Adhesives - Superglue, Plastic cement, Hot glue gun
  • Model kit decals
  • LED, Wire and Cell Battery

Step 1: The Solarbot Base + References

This is the bot in question. It came from a 6 in 1 solar project kit that I bought for plastic parts. It has a solar panel on top that powers a teeny tiny motor at the bottom that drives the wheels. Even when this did work it was rubbish so I couldn't of cared less after it broke.

I admired its form and I felt it had potential. Its wide chunky body and ufo-like head stand out. My design choice and inspirations came from 50's robots, some post-apocalyptic Fallout bots and a bit of Warhammer 40K and I wanted it to evoke an authoritative and oppressive role

Step 2: Kitbashing

The key here is to sieve through all available model kit parts you consider spares and see what works and what doesn't. I have a fair few kits that I own for the sole purpose of kitbashing and a couple came from charity shops with parts missing, broken or with a destroyed box. If you want some cheap model kits, charity shops and weekend markets are the best source.

My 50's inspirations requires parts from that era, and a lot of the parts (the teal and chrome parts) are from a '58 Chevy model kit.

The back plate is a good starting place, it fills the void and its shape flows with the body. the antenna block is from a Tie fighter and replaces the original hinge. The arm replacements are from a 1:72 Harrier jet Airfix kit.

I gravitated towards the idea that the bot moves via jet-pack so I used exhaust parts and axle pieces to build up the back. A key strength in kitbashing is building layers with an idea of continuity; Don't be afraid to experiment either, often parts look out of place until the paint stage!

I bulked out the front with a 40K space marine piece that seats perfectly over the chest and build up exhaust parts around it.

I liked the idea of a camera on the back so I opened the box that used to house the motor, gutted it, put in place 2 cell battery tabs and soldered wire to power an LED, this runs up the back and sits inside a piece of plastic I got from an air freshener nozzle.

To tie the bottom together, I added a bumper piece at the front that stretches to each end of the box and adds more flow.

Step 3: Painting

Just like that, next is paint.

Apply an acrylic black base to the model that will have subsequent layer built on top. I base painted everything expect the chrome parts.

For a pitted, old metal look, I stippled silver on top of the black. I was intentionally messy and didn't cover every speck of black. This doesn't matter as the idea is to build layers on top of another to achieve depth and coverage.

Next is the first rust layer. I used a tiny bit in my mud brown paint, wiped off almost all excess and dabbed in a random pattern across the surface. This was followed with an orange pass to give the rust more variety.

Now the main colour. I wanted a steel blue look to mine so I mixed blue, black and silver and again, dabbed across the surface, not covering up all of the work underneath. You can re-add rust or silver on top and apply the main colour over and over until you achieve a colour level you like.

Lastly I went over with a chrome silver (much brighter) and speckled and flicked tiny areas to make it look like scratches and bumps with paint chipping off. All of this adds up in a beaten up, battered and torn mean-looking bot that appears to have stood the test of time.

My paint list-

Citadel Abaddon Black - Base
Citadel Bugman's Glow - Base
Citadel Runefang Steel - Layer
Citadel Leadbelcher - Base
Citadel Fire Dragon Bright - Layer
Citadel Macragge Blue - Base
Citadel Agrax Earthshade - Shade

Tamiya Clear Red
Tamiya Chrome SIlver
Tamiya Metallic Grey

Step 4: Decals, LED and Further Tweaks

You may of noticed I added an arm to the right side during painting. A benefit to building like this is you can add or remove bits as you please to suit your narrative. (for those curious, the arm is from a space marine)

If the model was a cake, the decals are the icing; they add another dimensional layer that sells the idea that this bot is 'real'. Most models kits are planes, tanks and ships and all of those have really cool decals like emblems, text, patterns, ranks and so on. Yellow contrasts with blue really well and became my choice of decal.

I trimmed sections of water slide decals I wanted and applied them with a brush. These decals are useable when submerged in a pot of water for a couple minutes and slid off the backing paper.

Decals tend to look 'brand new' but my look is post-apocalyptic and needs to match the aesthetic. Using a scalpel you can chip away the decals without damaging the paint job: be sure they're fully dry first!

The last of the aesthetic work is to apply a watery paint wash over the whole model to simulate age, oil and grime, and helps blend the vivid decals into the model, dulling them into a mustard-like colour. I used Citadel Agrax Earthshade.

The LED is the cherry on top of this metaphorical cake. I used a lens from a model kit at the front and opted for a red LED. I used the same wire and battery combination for this. The effect evokes a hostility to the model.

Step 5: Complete

For tabletop gaming or for display, I repurposed a spare warhammer base that it sits on.

With the materials I had and paint I've had left over from previous model this came out super great and the thing is if I did this again with a different body, I'd have a completely different (but equally awesome) product! So my hope is to see your guys approach and outcomes. Even if it's something you've never done before it's a real fun exercise into customizing and painting models.

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