I started with just wood carving tools, clay carving tools (that I use for milliput), paint brushes, acrylic paints, some spray paints, and your basic set of simple tools like screw drivers and such. You will eventually need a rotary tool like a dremel, a set of rotary tool tips, a respirator, and you may opt for an airbrush. Blue painters tape is also very useful for masking. Good luck, have fun.
Oh, almost forgot sand paper. You will need sandpaper.
All that stuff above, plus a hacksaw. A small 6" hacksaw and a regular size one are great and underrated.
If you can afford a few power tools, I recommend a 4.5" angle grinder. You will save yourself a TON of time in cutting and grinding metal and you can get cheap ones (although like with everything else, you often get what you pay for).
I'm just starting to get my tool set together for my first build. I'm planning to use polystyrene for my building material, so my current shopping list is:
- polystyrene sheets, tubes, etc. (plastruct or evergreen)
- good metal ruler and set square
- pencils for marking
- X-acto knife or similar for scoring/cutting
- As Noeland said, sandpaper (emery boards are good as well)
- Glues/Adhesives plastic weld and cyano acrylates (i.e. krazyglue)
- masking tape/painters tape
- flush cutters (aka nippers, sprue cutters)
I think that is the basics. Other items that may make your work easier would be:
- mitre box (for cutting angles)
- pin vise for drilling small holes
- compass/protractor for figuring out curves
...and so on...you could go nuts with this stuff
As others have said, Dremel tool could be useful. Not sure about for polystyrene, if your not careful it could generate enough heat to melt the styrene.
Of course once you build your model you'll want to paint, so primers, spray paints and possibly airbrush systems. I'm really interested in trying airbrush myself so I may go that route, but not until I've built something worth painting.
Don't forget graph paper and pencils so you can make a plan before you start.
I'd say a bluray player to get high-def reference material of screen-used props ;-). Books are good too, but you are onlu 100% sure about screen-used props, if you actually see them in the movie. I have the "from Star Wars to Indiana Jones" book, but quite some props in there are b-props or production made but not screen-used at all. So I only trust high-def screencaps as referenece material...
If you use Pepakura for build stuff you need a printer, good paper (not so simple) and a pair of scissor/cutter/x-acto. You must try (and find) your type of glue. Other tools change if you use fiberglass, foam, cardboard, metal or wood.
It really depends on what you plan on working with first, after that you just pick up what you need over time. It isn't so much a tool as a material, but looking back I wish I had had a tube of epoxy putty on hand for some of my earlier projects. It is great for minor gap filling and varying degrees of sculpting/shaping. Small files are nice to have, given all the sanding and finishing you will pretty much inevitably end up doing. And stir sticks, especially if you end up in the casting end of things. The perfect starting "kit" is all personal taste, so my best suggestion would be to decide on your first project and pick up what is relevant to that. As you get to know what build methods work best for you and what you need to achieve your desire product, you can expand your arsenal appropriately.
I second that it is totally a matter of what you chose to work on. Every material/process has its own kit, but almost nothing is mandatory; they are instead those tools that generations of people have found to make the work go more smoothly. Take leatherwork; you can literally do basic leatherwork with a sharp knife. Maybe add a small file and a blunt nail. You can even make your own veg dyes. But even a simple wallet is a trial of patience without a handful of more specialized tools.
And many props can be achieved from a multitude of directions. Take your basic gun-from-a-game. If EVA foam is your gig, or pepakura, then either will give good results. Or if you prefer to carve then foam, wood, sintra -- all will work. Or sculpt from clay. Or 3d model it and have it printed. Some people get excellent results with nothing but recycled cardboard and a hobby knife. Point being, pick props that suit the methods you think you'd like to adopt, then adapt those methods -- and add to them -- when tackling the next prop along the line.
I come from a theater background myself where my first instinct is to find a soft material and start shaping it. Other people from the same background have the instinct to find a shape that is as close as possible (soda bottles, random hardware, whatever) and adapt that. But I'm slowly working my way crabwise to realizing the whole thing in 3d and then using various digital fabrication tools as part of the build process.
Which adds another wrinkle on to the "What tools do I need to start?" question. Because this new age of micro-fabrication and maker spaces has opened up new workspaces. There is really nothing like having your own shop, and one way or another you really do want to have some hand tools so you can tinker around over a long lunch or into the wee hours the night before a cosplay convention. But you can access a lot of incredible tools, plus the classes on how to use them and the network and support of other enthusiasts, by checking out tool rental libraries, maker spaces, Techshop, and fabrication services like Shapeways and Ponoko.
But with all that said...
Yeah, I love tools. I love owning my own, and I love my techshop membership. I've spent decades learning tools, collecting tools, finding the tools that are most comfortable to me. But the most important "tools" are not the ones you buy at the hardware store. They are your mental toolset. And there is a core set there which is appropriate for every prop, just like being able to swing an X-acto blade is a critical skill almost no matter what materials you are going to work with. The core mental skills are being able to visualize in 3d space. Being able to estimate and prioritize. Being able to observe, and to characterize what you observe so you can re-create it.
Learning how to do research, how to create and communicate with drawings and diagrams, how to problem-solve on paper, how to plan and budget a project; these are very good tools to have.
I agree with the suggestion above but it depends on the project you have selected to build.
A Dremal is a great tool, I have worn out about six of them as I use it so much.
To start making props you can start with some basic tools and add more specialist ones to your kit as you get more confident with your skills.
There is always some new tool I am wanting to add to my workshop even after doing this for forty odd years.
Sheet Styrene is a great material to start with, it comes in different thicknesses and can be heat formed. I like to use auto paint thinners as a glue on styrene as it melts the surface and thus welds the plastic together, when dry the plastic cannot be broken apart. Auto paints on styrene will also give a great bond having the thinners in it also.
The important thing is to just go and create something, it may not be that great at first but the more you do, the better a builder you become
Like they say, depends on what you want to make, and what materials you want to use. That said, for me it would be: Dremel & bits/tools, files, razor saw, hack saw, ruler, calipers, compass, sandpapers, primers, paints, safety glasses, clamps, rubber bands, masking tape, respirator and dust masks, X-Actos and different blades, hot glue gun, eventually a heat gun. Plus lots of references (pics and patterns/blueprints where available), a computer and an internet connection, printer, DVD (or better yet, Blu-Ray) player and discs.
For what I do, besides various glues (Elmers, superglue, epoxy, wood glue), and spot putty (I usually use automotive red spot putty) I also find Plumber's Epoxy Putty and Minwax Wood Hardener occasionally priceless. Menard's has a Plumber's Epoxy Putty in their plumbing section, but there's a better one (I forget the brand name) in their paint and glue section. It cures quickly (5 minutes or so), and gets very hard. It can be used for attaching pieces, and for creating shapes to join other shapes. Be prepared to file and sand, then spot putty and sand... Apoxy Sculpt is another great epoxy putty. More expensive, but you have a much longer work time; you can actually sculpt it, and need less spot putty and sanding. Minwax Wood Hardener is great for taking wood, MDF and cardboard and making it hard and waterproof(ish). Really handy when working on some of the thicker cardboards like chipboard (super thick cardboard). You do not want to use that stuff without good ventilation.