6 Tips to Choose the Right Custom Builder

Not all customs and custom built models are the same. I have commissioned pieces and have made numerous pieces for others and it does not have to be tricky. So how does a person go about finding a good builder?

If readers are like me, I go to a toy show or website  and see some really awesome work, get all turned on and start firing off PMs and email asking “Can you build it? How much? In diecast? What is your name? And get it done by Friday?” This is not necessarily a bad thing but we custom buyers can be a bit impulsive when we see some builders really kick butt work.

TIP #1 Before hitting the send button, I ask myself, do I really want that model or am all turned on at the amazing work. Often I am in total admiration at the skill and talent of the builder. I can be a bit impulsive anyway and have to remind myself that my goal is to buy model X and go buy model X, then admire really nice work at the show on on the web. Most builders I know, myself included, are happy to give out a quote and share what ever information we have. As a buyer though, it is wise to have a plan so we do not end up with expensive pieces that do not fit a display or post pone what we wanted to buy in the first place.

TIP #2 If am serious about a custom model that is not available, like a truck I drove years ago for example, I like to see what the builder is already making. A look around my Rockin H Shop or Facebook page it is quick to see my main interest is end dump trucks, service trucks, combine trailers, and other assorted custom harvesting models. That is what I love doing. I treat others very similarly. Unless I know the builders reputation for doing all things very well I really like working with people who are passionate about what they make. Those pieces tend to be the best because the builder loves creating them. True, they cost more, but the end product is worth it.

TIP#3 It is good practice to ask how long it takes to get a custom and ask that question in a couple different ways to see what answers are given. Many builders are moonlighting for the pure enjoyment of creating and supporting their model habit working a few hours a week on models. It would not be terribly uncommon for a builder to promise 60 days and the piece arrives six months later. Good deadlines are a reasonable request, especially if friendship is involved. Nothing like expecting a cool piece from a buddy only to say eight or nine months later, “he still hasn’t delivered”. Even if no money changes hands it ticks me off. Do keep in mind the second sentence of this tip if the builder says “I cannot get to it for four months”.

TIP #4 Regarding money, custom pieces cost more. A lot more. As a buyer I am paying not only for one of kind but art. If I ask for a custom T800 Kenworth flattop, drop visor, chrome everywhere, coffee maker and paint with gold flake fading to white front to back and logos on the door… I expect it will cost about $250++++. There is no way around the cost of customs. Aaaaand quite frankly I have received what I paid for. Not to say there are not some people doing awesome for less, but it seems like they do not stay around long. Or, they are so far behind they never get to you. The pros and really good amateurs will cost more but are pretty reliable and deliver when promised. As for payment, each builder seems to have a different policy. Some are pay at the end, others are half up front and half at the end. Others are all up front. Ask when payment is due. My policy is half up front, half upon approval via pictures on the web. I also include progress pics so buyers can tell me if I am on the right track. Plus it is fun to show off how the project is coming together.

TIP #5 Another great way to get the model I want at a price I can live with is to come to the table with every detail I can think of for the builder. I have fallen into the this experience where a person will ask for a 379 triaxle Pete. I quote a price, take a down payment and go to work…I think. By the time I am done with add ons the piece goes from say $120 to $220. Each time a builder spends time adding parts and detail the cost goes up. First there is the cost of the parts, then there is the time find the parts, order them, and assemble them. None of that is free nor should it be. The point is, most builders want to do an accurate and detailed job the first time. It makes the whole experience better for both parties if as many details as possible are lined out ahead of time. Pictures, pictures, pictures are very important as well as  accurate measurements. Also, an accessories list is a great way to ensure buyers get what they want and know up front what the cost will be. Do not be alarmed if some detail comes up after work has started. Contact your builder and tell them you forgot that the exhaust should be on the driver side not the passenger or whatever it is you came up with. I myself do not get bothered by small changes here and there. Big changes I should have known in advance such as paint color can be a big deal and costly.

Tip#6 Ask about a return policy for one of the following reasons: “I received my model broken, now what?”. Broken items through the mail cannot always be helped. Insurance can be bought but that does not fix the kick butt model, merely makes the wallet feel good. And, there is the hassle of collecting the insurance etc etc. My own informal policy is to help my customer fix it with more parts I send. Or, send it back and I’ll fix it for you. The second question: “it’s not what I really wanted”, I’ll take the model back give a full refund. That situation has not come up yet…… But that is due to posting pictures of the model during the build process so the customer can see what is going on as it happens. It is easy to correct the course as the model evolves. The point is ASK! There are some builders out there that once you get your model it is yours however you receive it.

Follow these six tips and buyers will have a great experience working with a custom builder. There is nothing like receiving a model of that truck that dad drove or that machine we daydreamed about and it exceeds our expectations. It so cool to see that special model on the shelf or layout and relive the memories of the real machines. That is very cool. Most custom builders are out to create one of kind pieces for their customers out of the sheer joy of creating and making permanent pieces of our memories. Following these tips will ensure the creative process of builders and the ideas of customers become AWESOME!

If you like what you have read, share it. If you have thought or idea to add to this work, please post it in the comment box. I am grateful you chose to spend time at Rockin H.

Thanks So Much,





  1. George Dunaway on June 5, 2013 at 8:37 pm

    Hey Eric, I could have not explained it any better. All my builds are from pictures sent from owner/oper, wives wanting a surprise for there husband. The only problem I have now is, some potentionall customers do not understand when I tell them I am not taking orders at this time, but then I have guys telling me, put me on the list so they do not loose there spot in line.

  2. Jason on June 5, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    e post. If I may add a couple things. Communication is everything for example I’ve had a minor issue where someone wanted product by a company that came in two different colors. The buyer did not specify so I painted it the old company colors, and the buyer wanted it in new colors. oops. Not a big issue and I fixed it but still it was a delay and some stress that didn’t need to happen.

    Second if you like a custom builders work but he doesn’t make what you want sometimes they will work with you if you do some of the leg work. For example I was asked to make something I had not made before and had no access to the real thing. I simply asked the customer to take the pics and measurements and then I’d build him and sell the item at a discounted rate because this gives me a new model to build and him what he wants. It’s a win win.

    Lastly as a builder I always try and stress that these are models and not toys. They are delicate and must be treated with care. I had someone buy a very expensive disc and despite me telling him that he let his child play with it. Well guess what happened, and guess who got chewed out because the scratch built toy was not as durable as the junk ertl crap?

  3. Grant on June 12, 2013 at 12:09 am

    i would like to find a builder for a custom 1/64 drying setup do you know anyone that builds them. thanks so much

    • Eric Haselhorst on June 12, 2013 at 6:52 pm

      Grant, thanks for the question. I do not know of anyone off hand. I would recommend you try Toy Tractor Times and see who might be available there. Good luck!