The Smells of Our Hobby

Feeling a bit whimsical at the moment, I suppose. Let’s talk about smells. Our hobby is not the smelliest of hobbies, but there are a number of smells that I do associate with it. We use a lot of different materials, solvents, paints and chemicals, so it’s hardly a surprise that there’s a real olfactory element at play here. As an aside, I very much enjoy the blog, Scent of a Gamer, but I am disappointed that this discussion is not a regular part of that site. False advertising, surely?

That disappointment aside, I’m going explore some of the most prominent smells that I am exposed to in my hobby. Depending on what products you use, your experience may be quite different and I encourage you to share your own experiences in the comments.

Burnt Wood

Let’s start with some of the beautiful MDF terrain pieces that several companies produce. it’s created by using a laser to cut into small sheets of MDF. it is a matter of burning away that which you don’t want to create patterns and shapes.

As a big fan of MDF terrain, I’m well used to opening up lovely packages of flat-packed buildings only to be greeted by an almost overpowering smell of burnt wood. Of the various smells in our hobby, with the possible exception of the final one I will be discussing, this is the one that I find most offensive. I find it very difficult to put my buildings together with this acrid odor wafting in my face. Those few buildings that also use cardboard (greyboard) for texture are even worse! The smell is even more intense from this than it is from the MDF! What I find particularly frustrating is the fact that this is a smell that sticks. After a few hours of putting together terrain pieces, my hands will reek of the stuff, and a single wash will never quite get rid of it. I then find myself dragging this smell around with me for a short time.

We suffer for that which we love.

The good news is that it does clear up. Once the various pieces are built, leaving them in an airy place (say, the garage) for a few days does seem to shift the smell.

I’m not sure why I find it so difficult to deal with, but smoky smells always get to me. My eyes tend to water when around a firepit or near cigarettes, and I really don’t like smoked foods, be they cheese, fish, meat or tofu.


Another smell that comes with miniature gaming is that of glue. Many glues do not have too strong a smell. I mean, PVA glue has a slight whiff, but the defining thing about that glue for me is the feeling of spreading it on one’s hand, letting it dry, and then peeling it off. We’ve all done it.

No, the glue that is so defined by its smell is our poly cement or plastic glue. It’s a corrosive that melts plastic in order to bind two pieces together.

When you sit down and start sticking your various bits of plastic together, the smell of the average plastic glue can hit your cilia like an oncoming truck. I find it sharp, irritating and slightly fruity. It certainly attacks my eyes and sinuses with gusto. It’s a smell, however, that I am accustomed to. With Games Workshop switching to exclusively using plastic for new miniatures (with the obvious exception of Forgeworld miniatures) it’s plastic glue that we are consistently using more and more.


I generally have a bottle or two of whisky on or near my desk, but this is not the alcohol to which I refer. No, I am speaking of isopropyl alcohol, a chemical that I have found myself using a lot more in the last couple of years.

I have used it for a couple of different things. First, I picked it up to strip some old Skaven miniatures that I had intended to paint up last year. Spoilers: I did not paint many of them. Then, I also started using it to help remove 3D prints from the print bed.

This chemical produces some pretty serious fumes as it evaporates. The smell is recognisably alcoholic, smelling like a combination of ethanol or acetone. I do make a point of wearing a mask with this one, because I have felt lightheaded whilst using it.


Spray primer is such a crucial tool to our hobby. Not only does it prepare our plastic, metal or resin miniatures to take paint, but it can also form the base of that colour scheme (if you’re using a coloured spray) or sets a tone in terms of warmth or brightness. It’s also, I find, quite satisfying.

There’s not a huge amount to say on this one. The smell is that same smell of solvent that probably comes from the propellant that is used in the spraycan. As with the isopropyl alcohol, it can lead to light-headedness if you don’t mask up and use it somewhere with decent ventilation.

Actually, there’s another good reason for wearing a mask, beyond that of the fumes. I mean, think about it, you are filling the air with paint particles. Ever sneezed after breathing in black, blue or red spray? It’s colourful, I’ll give you that. I’m pretty sure it’s no so healthy, though. The only other time my snot changes colour like that is after visiting London and heavily using the Underground for a few days.

Brush Cleaner

So, there’s this little beige pot that sits on my desk. It sees use most times that I find myself painting. I was recommended it a few years ago, and I picked it up at a local store. it’s lasted me a good while and I’m not even nearly at the point where I need to think about replacing it. It’s a tub of “The Masters” Brush Cleaner and Preserver.

I’ll be honest, though this may come across as odd… In a given day, particularly when I’ve been working from home, I will often, without thinking, pick up and open this pot to take a wee sniff. It’s not even a conscious thing, but I’ve noticed myself doing it. It’s soap, ultimately. There is a slightly soapy smell to this, but the overpowering part of the smell is what smells like a buttery, lemony odor. It’s not unlike a lemon drizzle cake, actually.

In Summary

Oh, I’m sure there are many more smelly parts of our hobby. Paint has a pretty distinctive smell, or a range of smells by different types. I quite like the smell of Citadel’s Contrast Paints. Actually, I love the smell of Vallejo’s acrylic earth textures. Taking a whiff just now, I’m not sure how to describe it, but there’s a wee bit of fruitiness in there mong the general acrylic smell.

I’m sure some people, less kind than myself, might also pick up on the smells of gamers. That’s a cliche that’s stuck around like – wait for it – a bad smell over the years. Clearly, I’m a funny guy. No, let’s not go there, friends. Let’s stay whimsical, and let’s stay positive!


  1. Love your article! And I have to say the blog’s name was inspired by my wife’s collective name for the hobby stores she would refuse to enter. Though these days the local stores are much brighter and more welcoming than the shuttered dungeons of years past.

    On other scents, when I do my spray undercoating, I go outside and then leave models in the garage for 1-2 days for the smell to dissipate. While the spray paint dries quickly, I find it still gives of a smell (outgasses?) for 24-48 hours, so I leave them out of the house.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Scents of hobby. I mostly use my airbrush for priming these days and you can really smell the difference with the Surface Primer vs, just standard acrylic paints! Also, I love the smell of epoxy – both the wife and I use this for our hobbies!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I haven’t really noticed the different smell of paints. I do like the smell of Tamiya glue after it ‘ages’. It smells horrible initially, but after a couple weeks, it smells kinda nice. Though still a very chemical smell. Yea, it’s weird.

    I hate the burnt mdf smell. It’s pretty gross, and I don’t mind most smoke smells. It’s even put me off of buying anymore mdf products. I tried leaving it open in the garage, but unless you’re going to spray paint it (which is another whole mess and smell), the burnt smell will linger a long while.

    One other smell that you didn’t cover, resin minis. I had one set that smelled something like diesel. I tried all kinds of things. Leaving it in garage, in garage sealed with baking soda, washing, etc. I figured maybe when I primed them, that would do it, nope. I’ve left them in a storage container with a charcoal odor absorber for months and months, and that’s finally started to take the smell away. Crazy.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Paints are a funny one. My paints that are left out on the desk don’t smell at all *as far as I can tell*…. but the paints I don’t use as often that are kept stored in airtight plastic containers…. when those are opened. Whoa!


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