Discovered kHED modelling program that is super simple to use. It lacks rigging/bones but is very easy to make static prop models and has a much nicer UV editor and navigation than milkshape. It also exports UV layouts with vertex normal colors which is super useful for texturing. Lastly makes your QC and exports MDL right out of the program (just put studiomdl.exe in the base directory).
Still working away at the big model export tutorial (3ds/milkshape/blender) but I keep on finding new quirks with the blender exporter. This is gonna be a long one.