Like many model builders, as I was getting back into it after 30 something years, I quickly realized that almost all my points of reference were out of date, and that my standard of finish and polish was very different from when I was 12. This entailed not just knocking rust off my approach, but reinventing it. I also realized that the pace at which I work means building a stash will quickly become an exercise in nihilistic futility, so I would do better to focus my collecting impulses on tools rather than kits.
And so, I decided to approach tool acquisition with a beginner’s mind, embracing whatever tools seemed to interest and excite modelers who were more skilled than I was. Some of these have turned out to be more useful than others, but in every case I’ve been glad to have been exposed to it. And regardless, I particularly appreciate the higher quality tools I’ve collected: Pferd and Grobet files, Starrett pin vises, or K&E dividers. Those aren’t hobby grade, and there’s just something nice about the feel of them.
Legendary scale model constructionier and dentist, Paul Budzik recommends a particular scalpel handle as an upgrade to the ubiquitous X-Acto for basic cutting tasks: the Bard-Parker #6.
As described, it does fit in your hand better, it is better machined than cheapo scalpels, and is all around lovely. The only thing is that it costs $25-$30. Plus, you literally can’t get it unless you are a medical professional. I’ll address those in turn, but first what’s wrong with an X-Acto?
Nothing. It’s fine. It’s the classic, and to depart from it seems a little snobby. The #1 handle with five #11 blades is about six bucks. The blades are a little more expensive than scalpel blades, but not so much that blade cost would be the determinant factor for most people. But scalpel blades are sharper and a bit more precise than X-Acto blades.
The Bard Parker handle is around $30. It’s a bit nuts compared to an X-Acto handle or even a cheap-o scalpel. But everything about it radiates quality construction. The machining is crisp and precise, completely changing the experience of changing a blade. It’s got a solid feel in your hand that projects confidence. It’s easy to see how it would be expensive to produce. And besides, $30 isn’t really an absurd price tag for a quality tool.
But getting ahold of it, is a different matter. I first tried ordering it on a major surgical supply site. About 30 minutes after the order went through, I received a call from a serious sounding woman. What was my practice’s license? Uh… Was I a medical professional? No. Was I aware that these products were restricted for sale to licensed medical professionals? Nope.
Luckily for us, things are a little faster and looser on Ebay. I bought mine second hand at a discount from someone graduating vet school, but it looks like there’s several sellers now who will sell to whomever.
Will a Bard Parker change the way you engage with the craft? No. But it could make your sessions at the bench a little more pleasant.