Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I Feel Like Building A Model… NOT Painting It!

Have you ever had the feeling that one part of your artistic creativity is in conflict with another? There have been occasions when I had a spare hour or two and found myself staring at the projects underway and realising that every single one was at some point which obliged me to set up my airbrush and start pushing various colours through to spot-paint detail parts, which means far more cleaning of the airbrush and its jars, and far more mixing of paint, than actual painting.

There are times when you just want to build. One problem with aircraft, much as I love them, is that you’re pretty much obliged to paint that wretched cockpit first. Struggle with tiny details, drybrush the controls, put on decals perhaps, create instrument lenses with blobs of Clear Parts Cement, and suchlike. And frankly, there are times you don’t want to be bothered with all that, but just get to the engineering of the piece, tidying up the parts and bringing them together just so, then perhaps doctoring the joint lines with whatever technique you prefer.

Perhaps that’s one of the drawcards of armour modelling. Unless you have a perverse desire to open hatches all the time, the inside of a tank is a mystery to the viewer and can be conveniently ignored, which means most of a tank can be built before you need to start painting, and that’s attractive. Building the barrel and turret, mounting suspension swing arms and other lower hull details, dressing the upper hull with hatches, grills, any number of parts that can go on before you need to paint anything… Then join the hull, do some joint work if needed, and you’re into masking the locators for tools and such, masking the mating ring of the turret and all the axles. Oh yes, there’s lots to do before you need put down the first colour. The Academy M981 above falls into this category: I just wanted to enjoy building, and a relatively complex, multi-part armoured vehicle fit the bill to a T. I put it together months ago, and when a slot comes up in my painting schedule it'll finally see it's three-colour camouflage.

Right now I have 20 models in progress, at some stage or other. I could be mottling the camo of that Tamiya Me 262, or I could be prepping for the natural metal finish of that F-84 Thunderjet. But over the last week or so I’ve been wash-and-drybrush detailing three armour kits. The time comes when you have to paint what you’ve built and production line modelling is a way of getting through them. Base colour, camo pattern, fade coat, oil filter weathering, pinwash, drybrush profiling, decals, dust coat…

I’ll get back to aircraft shortly, I have at least seven to finish in the next two months or so, but you know, when the fiddly details have got me at my wits’ end, I’ll take a break from being an artist, and be an engineer again for a few relaxing sessions. One thing I’m certain of: whatever I build on that day, the odds are it’ll have tracks under it!

Hoping you all had a wonderful festive season and that the New Year brings everything you could hope for!

Cheers, Mike/Thunderbolt379

Sunday, December 20, 2009

What’s in a Stash...?

The Immortal Bard certainly did not have plastic modelling in mind when he coined the line so freely paraphrased for the title above, but it makes for an interesting question.

The modeller’s stash... The “styrene ceiling” that has been collecting dust in the attic since you moved into that house not long after you were married (out of sight, out of mind, at least for one’s other half if said half is less than tolerant of the hobby), or the pile of boxes jammed onto the top shelf in the hall closet, or the packing case in the basement. Or the tea chests in the shed. A shed can be a good thing, for more than powertools and a place for sawing timber.

A modeller’s kit stash however represents changing interests and availability over time -- I mean, how long has that collection been amassing for? We buy kits at a far faster rate than we can build them, and many of us pride ourselves on the stature of our collection. The oldest kits in my stash (meaning the date of my acquiring them, not their date of manufacture or reissue) probably date from the late 80s/early 90s, I had quite a few older Hasegawas from the 1980s that I traded off to a dealer about that time, along with an unfinished Revell Cutty Sark dating from about 1975. But even the oldest parts of my stash have probably spent no more than 20 years in my care. So in 20 years, where have trends in the market and variations of interest taken me? A burgeoning interest in armour, the odd ship here and there, a major emphasis on larger scales, dinosaurs when they were in vogue, even a few space and SF subjects. (A few? I’ll build all those AMT Star Trek kits eventually...)

What about the role of eBay? I recently passed the 5th anniversary of my first tremulous venture into online bargain-hunting, and in those five years my stash has grown faster than ever before, with kits I never imagined I would snag for reasons of cost alone. But good quality kits at genuine savings are a daily event on eBay, and gradually many gaps in my collection were filled in. All of what you see here are eBay transactions.

I imagine most modellers go through a ‘flesh-out-the-stash’ phase, when the allure of bargains allays the fear of unwarranted luxury expense coming back to bite one when there are bills to be met. But, sometime down the track, there are indeed those whose tastes and interests change so drastically over the years that they realise the investment their stash represents by offering them for sale, either piecemeal through eBay as a seller, or by moving the whole lot to a trader. Trading in collections was a brisk business before the current economic downturn, and resulted in more great bargains for buyers further down the line, as individual kits moved from Stash A to Stash B and profit accrued for the facilitator. Hopefully things will recover and this system will become profitable again. That’s business, and everybody comes out of it happy. I would certainly never have afforded a great many kits in my stash any other way.

One day I’ll have a dedicated modelling room, like you see in the pages of FSM, with a properly-lit workbench, bookcases for reference materials, drawers and cabinets for every last tool and accessory supply I could need, paint racks for the hundreds of shades I have in stock, and of course a spraybooth and silent compressor, and a permanent photographic area for recording my work in progress. Display cases for the finished product, of course, go without saying. And I would hope that an entire wall in this room would be shelving for my stash, from floor to ceiling, the whole thing brought together in one place rather than in the cardboard cartons it presently occupies: it would look like a well-stocked hobby shop and the great thing is, it’s all already paid for! Here’s one of two small rooms my packaged stash occupies: have I mentioned lately how much I appreciate the support and interest of my better half?

I’m not preening here, I know there are modellers out there with much more extensive stashes than mine, in size, in quality, by any reasonable form of measurement, and the stash is what it’s all about. What interests the modeller, how your interests change over time, and how you dip into that stash as the years go by to build that special item at long last -- these questions are the mystique of having the collection. Some folks ask me why I don’t sell the lot at once if they’re worth money, and ‘do something with it.’ I answer them that I am doing something with it: I’m enjoying being a collector!

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Great Phantom Showdown

I love Phantoms. I’ve always loved them, ever since I was a kid and the F-4 was the real-life big kid on the block. I remember a McDonnell-Douglas add on the back cover of an aviation magazine from the late 1970s that praised the Phantom as “The Warbird of the Free World.” That magazine is still somewhere in my collection, if I ever get a chance to look through the old stash I’ll probably find infinite anecdotes. I also remember reading an article on the development of the F-4, it was probably in an old Aeroplane Monthly or Aviation News, that said the military brass thought the plane they were being offered in 1958 was downright ugly, “a great jagged juggernaut, massive as a WWII bomber, clumsy as a goose with its downswept tails…” That’s a verbatim quote, the words stuck in my memory thirty years ago. I shook my head as a young teen to read that: to me the F-4 was a beautiful aircraft, and I still think so today. Heck, my sister in law was a USAF crew chief and the F-4E was her plane.

Modellers tend to agree that the F-4 is, or was, a special plane. 5257 of them, in 13 major variants, not counting recon subtypes, and the markings of at least 15 services, gives enormous scope for variety, and model companies were not slow to recognise this. Early Phantoms were like any early kits, they left a lot to be desired, but by the late 1980s moulding technology was up to the challenge of creating really well-fitting kits, and the firms had recognised that modellers wanted models that not only looked good, they were as close to accurate as possible. At that point the challenge was on.

Hasegawa and Fujimi, two of the Shizuoka City giants, went at it head to head in the late 1980s and into the 1990s, a direct challenge for the market dollar on the subjects the model building public most wanted. They each delivered F-14 Tomcats by the bushel, they both fielded squadrons of A-4 Skyhawks, and Fujimi offered up all the major marks of A-7 Corsair as well. But it was in the area of the F-4 Phantom II that perhaps their greatest race occurred.

By the early 1990s Hasegawa had released all the major variants in 1:72nd scale, and most of them in 1:48th as well, while Fujimi concentrated mostly on 1:72, with a few forays into larger material. Historically, Hasegawa won the battle, their product was more accurate, their packaging slicker, their decals better quality, and the market was willing to wear the fact their product was also correspondingly more expensive. But that’s not to say Fujimi’s product doesn’t have a lot going for it.

Consider the most basic comparison: both Hasegawa and Fujimi standardised on recessed panel lines in the late 1980s, and all their quality late-tool Phantoms have fine engraved detail throughout. Hasegawa had better cockpits, and arguably better selections of subject matter, with their multitudinous releases of common parts wrapped in different boxes, decals and painting instructions for every one-off special commemorative scheme that came along, as well as a wide range of standard schemes and squadron markings from around the world. But Hasegawa’s philosophy was to break down the parts in a way that yielded maximum utility between variants, which forced decisions such as separate fin cap parts, and a break in the fuselage just behind the intakes to facilitate different nose sections, the area in which most variety between marks was found. Fujimi tooled the fuselage and tail for each major variation complete and provided a varying tray-like part for the underside of the nose, plus separate scabbed-on parts for scanners, intakes and antennas. This means a Fujimi is a simpler build with fewer seams, and that’s attractive.

Hasegawa never got around to retooling the British Phantoms with wider engine bays to accommodate their Rolls-Royce Spey turbofans, but Fujimi did: their F-4K, F-4M, FG.1, FGR.2 and F.3 kits feature generally proper proportions and dimension for the British fleet, and in 1:72nd scale they’re the only game in town if you discount Hasegawa’s old-tool F-4K and M (which featured raised detail throughout), and Matchbox’s old FGR.2, which most serious modellers today will do on account of its way overscale recessed detail.

Various options are included in each brand’s product, deployed flaps, positionable surfaces, openable canopies, and different degrees of detail in wheelwells and afterburners, but the averagely-sighted person would have to look twice to decide which kit a model was built from. Given Fujimi’s essentially complete range of variants and their slightly lower shelf price (often much lower today on eBay, though in the early 1990s Fujimi was a notoriously expensive brand, certainly here in Australia), Hasegawa’s top spot is not universally secure and Fujimi have a great many fans for their late-tool product.

It is said that Fujimi have not released a genuinely new military aircraft product since their “war on Hasegawa” ran out of steam in the 90s, but there are a great many kits out there in circulation that are fun to build and for which there are oceans of aftermarket accessories, certainly piles of great decals, and unless one is peering into cockpits and wheel wells with a magnifying glass the differences cease to be apparent about 18 inches back, so it stands to reason both brands will continue to compete in the marketplace for the Phantom Phanatic’s modelling buck. Given Hasegawa’s agreement with Revell/Revell-Germany, and the lower price for which Revell can rebox Hasegawa’s toolings (hence the Revell items in the pics above), quality Phantoms are probably easier to get hold of than ever before.

I’ll be building 1:72nd scale F-4s from both stables during 2010, and will be retrospectively reviewing and comparing them right here at World in Miniature, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Product Review: Eduard Masks

There are all sorts of tools and supplies in the modelling hobby, and it’s a fair criticism to ask if the modern hobbyist is well-served or merely gadget-dependent. When we need to mask something we use tape, like any tradesman, plus cut paper and card sections for big areas, and we may also use a liquid latex masking medium, an aid brought over from the graphic arts.

I always masked my canopies with tiny slivers of tape, but there are some curved that just don’t want to be masked around. A three dimensional shape needs to be expressed in two dimensions, and that’s a hit or miss proposition unless you’re a spatial dynamics expert. Another trick is to spray the hull color on some clear decal film, cut fine strips and apply the canopy struts as decals, and there’s a lot to be said for that technique. There have been a few ideas over the years, including precut vinyl negative masks which are to be sprayed in the final colour and applied, but Eduard might have hit the best formula with their masking technology.

Eduard Masks are die-cut adhesive shapes matched to the intended kit at very fine resolution, and the principle of their use is dead easy: peel them off their waxed backing paper, stick them on, spray, peel off when done. If engineering firms go by the old “KISS principle,” (which stands for Keep It Simple, Stupid!), then they’ve probably hit the money. If the hundreds of sets in their range are anything to go by, modellers agree.

I’ve used four sets so far and have several more in hand. Though the principle is simple, it takes a fine hand and a keen eye to get them into place precisely. Without magnifying specs I’d have no hope, though that’s more a comment on my vision than the product. The masks seem to be a vinyl or paper material, and their adhesive is quite strong, they won’t move until you want them to, and then they come away without leaving a residue. They can be repositioned, though with care as they will crease and denature if handled roughly. They fully cover smaller panels and outline larger areas, which are then filled in with liquid or tape.

Once located to your satisfaction, spray the cockpit interior colour, then overcoat with the camo or framing colours, and when fully dry tease up a corner with the point of a knife and draw the masks away with tweezers. You might also want to hold the canopy down with a finger as you do so. The adhesive is strong enough to pull a clear part off if attached only with clear parts cement.

Masks are also supplied for other parts of the model, such as wheel rims and formation lights, and some armour sets have been produced to help with the fiendish job of painting the tires of tank wheels. Hopefully we will see this range continue to grow, as their utility is considerable. Can you re-use a set? I’ve not tried yet, but if you peel them off carefully and return them to their original positions on the backing sheet, it might be possible. Two uses would be good, as they do cost a few dollars, a nonreimbursable expense on the cost of doing a model which is far greater than that of the paint one uses, and often comparable to that of a selection of AM decals.

Probably the best tribute I can pay to the product is that when I decide a particular model is on my schedule, I check if Eduard have masks for it and order them up in plenty of time, just as I would order AM decals or resin bits or whatever, and that makes them a tool of choice for this particular finishing operation. I recommend them to any hobbyist with a steady hand and a magnifying glass.

Eduard Masks are available in hobby shops and through many online outlets, I always order mine from Squadron Mailorder, Carolton, Texas.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Acrylics or Enamels?

It has to be the biggest question in model painting today, beyond choice of brushes or airbrushes, beyond colour selection: which type of paint is best for your project?

There are modellers who have switched entirely to water-based acrylics for all spray work, for the health benefits: nontoxic paints are a major factor and not to be taken lightly. When you’re used to the light, sweet smell of acrylics and their water cleanup, to start spraying solvent-based paints and their spirit cleanup is a rude reminder of just how frequently and casually we poison ourselves with the things we invite into our environment. Got a spray booth with a ducted exhaust fan? Good for you, but most of us make do with an open window and sometimes it’s just not enough.

Like many modellers, I have both types of paint in stock. I first bought acrylics when tackling vinyl subjects in the early 90s, and I must say the Tamiya paints I bought have been extraordinarily long-lived. They’re still good over 15 years later, all they need is a stir. They haven’t made the old, large bottles in many years, possibly because people discovered the paint lasted remarkably well, and for the rate of usage a smaller quantity was just fine.

I have scores of Tamiya shades, plenty of useful colours, and my collection grows gradually. But I also have hundreds of enamels, the ubiquitous Humbrol range and Testor Model Master (which despite being superb quality, with an easy-stir jar and an enormous selection of specialty-matched shades, is getting hard to find in Australia, as Humbrol and Tamiya have grabbed the popularity). I have not brush painted a model in 30 years, but today when I spray enamels I do so outside, which is a nuisance. Acrylics I can use indoors with simple ventilation, which makes them easy and convenient. But what about detail painting by brush?

This is where the real applicability of the paints comes to the fore. Acrylics spray superbly but they don’t brush worth a damn. You can thin them a little and that helps, but the drying rate is like lightning and in one minute a brush is unusable -- clean it and start over. This may be a characteristic of the Tamiya range in particular, they are by far the most available here and I have sampled no others at this time (but I’ve heard others dry even faster…) By comparison, dipping a fine brush in enamel paint provides familiar flow and control, and one can concentrate on the finesse of the task rather than fighting the characteristics of the medium.

The same thing applies when airbrushing, though on a longer timescale. When used to the tip-drying characteristics of enamel, acrylics can bite you: you must keep the job moving when you’re working with the nontoxic paints, and when it’s done be sure you’re finished and clean the AB at once. This tends to lead to wasted paint, as when forgotten bits are noticed you need to mix more, and if using a syphon-bottle AB there is a minimum amount the airbrush will actually pick up from the jar. If working in enamels you have the extra working time to consider the job from all angles, turn the thing around again, look at it in different light, go 30 seconds or more and be sure the paint will still flow normally when you press the trigger.

My own impression is that enamels and acrylics will continue to share the marketplace. Enamals flow on so smoothly they are a joy to use, they are a ‘friendlier’ medium than acrylics, you can polish their finish just like automotive paints (which ironically have all been acrylics for the last 25 years at least), and the range of precision-matched shades is enormous. The major manufacturers must have churned out over a billion bottles and tinlets in the last 40 years, in fact probably far more, Humbrol alone used to produce 25 million tinlets a year in the 1980s, if I remember correctly, and that’s an awful lot of paint in collections out there. I personally have tins that date from that era and the contents still slosh.

But if acrylics were friendlier, dried slower, brushed better, and were available in hundreds more shades, precision-matched to historic sources, I would be using them more often. I have no wish to poison myself, and while the chemistry involved with acrylics is almost certainly not 100% harmless, it’s a significant improvement.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

To Detail or Not to Detail, That is the Question...

I have long fancied scratchbuilding the mighty MBT-70 Main Battle Tank under development as a joint US/German project in the late 1960s. The pre-production prototype batch demonstrated great potential, and a number of its innovations appeared in other tanks on both sides of the Atlantic, but the vehicle itself was too ambitious, too costly and too unreliable. It is a long, low, mean-looking tank with unusual features, such as a driver in a stabilised cockpit in the turret, and a secondary cannon which could be operated from within. I have long pursued research, trying to untangle the differing running gear details of the US and West German versions, and one way I tried to do this was to find Aurora’s old 1:48th scale kit on eBay, to see in three dimensions how the repetitive detailing of the unique hydropneumatic suspension system was handled.

I was somewhere between surprised and disgusted when I discovered that Aurora’s solution to all that complex detail was to ignore it. No suspension detail was offered at all, which makes the kit a somewhat expensive and rather pointless addition to my stash (joining the eBay sell-on pile…) Back to the drawing board on the MBT-70 project, but that absence of detail set me thinking.

What constitutes a necessary detail for a kit?

Knowledgeable folk will tell you that not a single truly accurate and representative F/A-18 model exists in 1:72nd scale, and that is more than likely true of just about every subject, but it must be a matter of degree. Detail appropriate to the scale is a major consideration, as the resolution of detail reproduction will make it clumsy to try to include some details when they become too small. Go to the other end of the spectrum and consider the older kits in which detail in the wheel wells, even the cockpit was considered unnecessary. In the 1970s Airfix’s 1:24th scale ‘superkits’ were something of a benchmark, but while they featured significant cockpit detail (not actually complete, it should be noted), they featured no wheel well detail at all, simply the open interior of the wing with a mechanical pivot for the gimmicky retractable landing gear.

Then there’s the odd notion of including things in the kit that aren’t there on the real thing, in the name of marketability, or having to add a detail and making a genuine mess in the process. I’m thinking of the tile pattern grid Revell added to their 1:72nd scale Space Shuttle back in the 1980s… A truly overscale raised grid to represent the actually recessed micro-fine division between the ceramic tiles of the craft’s hull… I'm sure the 1:72nd scale raised representation was actually larger than the 1:1 scale recessed reality, which goes to show whaqt accuracy counts for compared to the young buyer's expectation that something as important as the thermal tiles must be there, whether it's visible or not. The company engraved the moulds, the same approach as raised panel lines, and just as inaccurate, though compounded by the regularity of the grid over the craft’s surface.

I had that kit, bought it for a great price, but a few years later I sold it on, unopened. Why? I just could not bring myself to build a hypersonic flying machine with a rugose hull texture that would shame a rhinoceros, any more than I could see my way to laboriously removing the entire grid and rescribing it. Had Revell left well alone I might have got up the chutzpah to try scribing the grid (though I’d probably have made a mess and ended up refilling it and trying some sort of paint trick, spraying through a mesh perhaps, which I once saw done to great effect on the 1:144th scale orbiter.) As it stands, though I would love a large scale shuttle, there’s no way I’d tackle the Revell offering, even with my current skill level.

I’m not entirely sure but this beast may have been retooled to switch the grid to recessed, but it would still have been way overscale. Decal company Cutting Edge went a long way to rectifying the whole accuracy problem for Orbiters with decal versions of the heat shield areas, and accurised engines and window painting masks were also produced, way back on 2003. Check them out:


So where should a kit company draw the line between what needs to be there and what needs to not be there? My gut feeling is that if the detail is recessed, recess it, and if the detail is visible at the equivalent scale viewing distance, it should be on the model. That’s a fair yardstick, with plenty of wiggle-room, and I think the best companies are probably working around just such philosophies now. Perhaps that’s called learning from the past, standing on the shoulders of yesterday’s industry and building on not just their experiences but the consequences of their choices. Models certainly look better, right out of the box, now than they ever have before, even if they are not ‘accurate’ in the sense that purists use the term. And yes, the gentle art of ‘rivet-counting’ will be another topic!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Product Look: Skullduggery interactive kits

These are amazing: imagine a kit in which you need to cast the parts before assembling them!

The Skullduggery firm has perfected a system of non-toxic casting media in which kids can learn about a subject while building a display model more or less from scratch: they have fish, butterflies and of course the ever-popular dinosaurs.

When one associates injection plastic and rotation-moulded vinyl with dinosaurs as the medium of choice, or solid-cast resin as the third option, to find open-moulded plaster in use is at first an odd selection, but plaster can copy extremely fine detail and it’s non-toxic for junior use.

The idea is that kids pour pre-mixed casting medium into provided plastic moulds, demould the plaster parts, paint them and assemble them, a somewhat greater involvement than conventional kits offer, prolonging the educational experience without the intricacies of a conventional build-up. The kits even include paint, brushes, glue and mounting magnets, so the finished object is all ready for display.

In a way, this is kit building which incorporates scratchbuilding, and the basic principles of casting are made available to young builders at an age when it’ll become second nature and very probably serve them well in more ambitious projects in the years to come.

There’s only one drawback from the standpoint of the adult builder: though the boxes are beautifully illustrated with photographs of perfectly reassembled museum-display skeletons, the kit actually builds a two-dimensional dinosaur, a ‘panel mount’ in museum terms, in which the bones are seen in profile against a rock matrix. There’s nothing wrong with this and it certainly simplifies things for the younger builder, but it’s not quite the stand-up-and-roar display the box seems to promise.

The products are sold in the livery of the old Collins Eyewitness Guide books, a wonderful range of teaching volumes which assembled information on a plethora of subjects, illustrated with photographs of actual objects and artefacts. I remember their dinosaurs volume being the first I ever read, so it’s rather fitting that I encounter the range through their T. rex.

Here are some useful links – check them out, if you have kids these will provide fun, insight, education and practice for building! You’ll probably find them in Museum shops far and wide, and here in Aus at the Australian Geographic shops



Monday, October 5, 2009

Product Review: Experts’ Choice Custom Decal Papers

Custom decals: there was a time the thought used to turn modellers green with envy, or shuddering with foreboding at the thousand things that might go wrong, but in the age of the digital revolution it’s no longer a big deal. All you need to be is computer savvy, and a bit adventurous.

Unless you have very deep pockets, you will not be making decals equivalent to the silkscreened commercial product, but you can finagle things to get close. The Alps printers that deliver an opaque white ink make commercial image quality possible, and are used by the ‘garage’ firms, but for those of us with shallower bank accounts there are clear and white decal paper stocks from a variety of manufacturers.

I first began experimenting with custom decals for my F-116 SF scratchbuild project a few years ago, and refined the techniques at the electronic level. Basically, designing the decals is as simple – or as complex – as driving the software, so that’s the first hurdle. If you can drive your graphics package well enough to make the designs you need, half the battle is won. The fictional F-116 needed stencil data and I had intended to raid a SuperScale sheet for black data from the F-15E, but it didn’t seem to fit. I needed stencils which told a technical story all over the hull, Caution - APU Exhaust, Do Not Operate if Vent Port Obstructed, Ensure Grounding Provisions, Jacking Point, and so forth, dozens of them, all over the aircraft where maintenance placards would logically be located. I did some experiments in Page Plus Professional V.10 and found that 1- to 2-point lettering was still distinctly legible and a reasonable approximation of the lettering of an aircraft 72 times larger.

The aircraft required colour decals as well, organizational flashes and the triangular national insignia of a service which does not exist. My sister made them in about ten minutes flat, in the same program, and we were ready to rock.

The media I chose was the decal papers from the Experts’ Choice range (a name which tends to engender trust!). I mail ordered their clear decal film for laser printers, item #123 (for the all black data) and their white film for inkjet printers, item #120, for the insignia which featured a white area. Luckily the insignia’s straight-edge shape lent itself to cutting free of the sheet with a razor knife.

The clear film worked remarkably well. I did a number of test shots on paper and when I was happy with the design work I rolled a sheet of decal material. The stencil data was made as easily as that, and was brushed over with MicroScale Liquid Decal Film to seal the toner down. I cut the designs close using small scissors and they went on readily, reacting well to MicroScale DecalSet and DecalSol. Here is a photo of another decal sheet with all-black markings on clear film for a variety of SF scratchbuild projects: the WASP Arrowhead received the top set, which is why they’re missing from the sheet!

The F-116 had a long white text legend down each side of the cockpit and to do this I changed tactics slightly. I had looked at the possibility of using MicroScale white lettering but did not trust my ability to line them up and space them correctly. I settled for a sheet of small white rubdown decals by Letraset, and applied them to the clear decal film. I brushed liquid film over them, cut them out and applied the legends as single units.

If the colour decals had behaved as well as these, my job would have been a lot easier. I was building the model on a deadline at the finish and I did a number of ‘ghosters,’ modelling sessions which run right through the night, at least partially because the colour decals simply would not behave. They would not free off their backing without a very long time soaking in very hot water and a lot of coaxing with soft brushes and solvent. This meant that the majority disintegrated before they were willing to move: it was a good job I made up several sets of decals on the one sheet, I certainly worked through a lot of them to get four insignia and two flashes to take. I spoke to the company and the only suggestion they could come up with was that it was a freak incompatibility between the paper and (both) of my colour printers.

Here’s the finished F-116, showing the black stencil data, white rubdown decals, plus colour insignia and ‘danger’ flashes. The white stripes were done with Microscale Trimfilm.

To be fair, I have seen ‘garage’ decal firms with a high profile and a good reputation put a caveat on their work, drawing the user’s attention to the fact they are not commercially manufactured decals and don’t behave the same way, so it may be more common than many might prefer to admit that custom decals are a hit-or-miss proposal.

The Experts’ Choice packs contain three sheets each of US letter-size paper and, at less than $2 per sheet, are excellent value. If your printers and their inks are fully compatible then you can have all kinds of decaling adventures, creating the markings of your dreams: clear sheets for solid printing to overlie a painted backing of the necessary colour, white sheets where white is a necessary element of a complex design and you are confident you can cleanly cut away every scrap of white surrounding the graphic. You can fudge this by being clever, such as by edging the design with a digital equivalent of the background colour so the trim doesn’t need to be exact for the decal edges to essentially vanish into the surface.

Custom decals are fun and open a new world of marking options, limited only by your graphics package and your skills (and the luck of the draw when it comes to compatibility, and that’s the only real downside). Otherwise, these are excellent products and highly recommended. You can find them at:


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Immortal Classics: Polar Lights’ Seaview

There are always kits we remember from childhood, or kits we never knew when they were available but heard about long after. Aurora’s Seaview, from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, is one of those for me.

I only heard about it 15 years after the moulds were lost in the neo-legendary Amtrak wreck that destroyed so many of the old classics, when it was featured as the very first instalment in the “Classic Kits” series in FineScale Modeler. I checked around to see if anyone had one and located one at Hobby Bounties in Singapore: if I remember correctly, the price was equivalent to $1000 Australian dollars in the early 1990s, the highest price I personally have ever seen on a classic kit. Needless to say, I didn’t buy it! My memory may be playing tricks, but I remember it being a three-figure sum of some sort.

Imagine my excitement when I heard several years later that Aurora-retool firm Polar Lights, in the course of recreating many of the lost classics, were resurrecting the Seaview!

I determined to have one at once, but it never happened. The kit was ‘new stock’ and thus ‘around’ and there was no urgency to buying it if dollars were tight for other reasons. In the odd way things happen, the retool has itself become a traded commodity and I recently picked one up on eBay for a good price. The precise recreation of the original is amazing, the actual box art and design from 1967, the identical plans with a few extras to denote the 2002 issue.

Here’s a piece of history brought back to life and itself now a thoroughgoing legend in its genre, something few would have ever expected to happen, the remanufacture of a classic. Of course, there are many who would point out that in regenerating a classic product one regenerates all the shortcomings of that product. It’s the 1961 movie version of the sub, not the configuration of the series (which itself varied in detail between the 110 episodes), the detail level is sparse, and at around 13” long she’s not very big. A resin update set was made for it to build the series window configuration and the Flying Sub hangar: the AM guys will always ride to the rescue! There have of course been plenty of much larger versions produced in resin in the last decade and a half, and we now have Moebius’s ultimate kit, injection moulded and nearly 40” long, for which a plethora of after market add-ons have been produced – even including complete radio control and power system to build a sea-going Seaview that will dive in your swimming pool!

Next to that, the old classic pales to insignificance, but you know what? Nobody will build the operational boat, or even the 40-inch display masterpiece, in a weekend, and have at on shelf or desk, beautifully airbrushed and weathered, by Sunday night. And there’s the fun part: there are many small scale submarine kits and this one falls right in to that range as a science fiction classic that has sailed on in the hearts of it’s fans for all 45 years since the series premiered (on September 14, 1964, at 7:30 PM, EDT, on the ABC Network, for those who like their facts - with thanks to those who keep track of such things!) So there’s room for all the versions and all the kits.

I have only one criticism: Polar Lights moulded it in black plastic. Maybe they were being true to the original, but black is very difficult to work with, and I find it rather depressing. It’s a good job she’ll be a quick build, I can get her into some nice grey primer, and relax into painting and weathering thereafter.

I finally have that Seaview I always wanted! The companion piece to the Aurora 1:64th scale Flying Sub that was reissued by Monogram in the late 1990s and which has been part of my stash ever since. And … I guess it’ll tide me over until I can assemble the big bucks to tackle the Moebius masterpiece. So keep watch and I’ll post a review when I build her.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Persnickety on the Details

Should we build in details we can’t see?

When I was a junior I used to take a strange pride in adding details to the interior of models, so that I could say the seats and radios inside that bomber fuselage were present, and maybe even painted some colour which more than likely was not correct. But they were there, as if the model came ever closer to depicting the real thing with such additions. Maybe it does, but surely that principle has been taken a bit far these days.

I’m thinking of the engines in Trumpeter’s jet kits, in which considerable time and effort has been invested, serving to jack up their already high prices that yard further. Not only that, the fuselage does not assemble properly if the engine is not inside, meaning you can’t invest time in finishing the engine and then displaying it alongside the aircraft: finish it realistically or not, it must disappear inside if the model is to be assembled complete, the most-usual state for the aircraft, and that seems a perverse logic.

The built-in option is to display the engine with the tail of the aircraft separated, in maintenance mode, but not every modeller wants to do this, and certainly not with every entry into his or her big-scale jets collection, any more than every modeller wants to fold the wings of carrier planes merely because that feature is engineered into some kits (which don’t build cleanly if you don’t take that option, which is at least as perverse as the engine business…)

But we’re all guilty of this to some degree. I religiously fill and smooth off the holes in the bottom of tank models for the controls of motorized versions, so popular long ago and still made by Trumpeter (I have quite a few of their motor/battery packs in my stash now, and am not quite sure what to do with them!) But there are other details that sometimes get by.

Having a hard time finding a few bench hours, I was recently stalled by the painting stage of various projects and just wanted to do some gluing, so I broached a subject I’d been looking at for a while, Academy’s M981 FISTV, a laser designator vehicle for guided munitions that fought in Desert Storm, based on the M113 A3 chassis. The model assembles from multiple subassemblies which can be tackled as small projects evening by evening, but the first thing I spotted was the raised company logo on the bottom of the hull. I usually scrape and sand this away so I’m comfortable in the knowledge that my tanks don’t say Tamiya on the bottom, or whatever, but it occurred to me that in all my years I’ve never actually picked up one of my tanks and looked under it.

So who cares? Am I enough of a bean counter to be bothered if the logo is there? This time, no. But, perversely, I blanked and filled the holes as well, done carefully with two rounds of filler for a good job. If I can be motivated to do one, why not both?

It seems to be a question of steam – how much enthusiasm is there on the night? I just wanted to get to the swing arm assembly, I would need to carve away the logo with a blade parallel to the belly plates first, and the bone in my head rebelled at that … so this one has an Academy logo on the bottom. But no motor holes – they I could tackle later!

Academy produced a complete engine for their 1:48th scale Sabre which disappears when the fuselage is closed, and there are many tank interior kits which are visible only through hatches, so where should the line be drawn? It’s a very individual thing, I think, and a question we can only answer for ourselves. For myself I have begun to buck at the thought of investing hours and eyesight in cockpit details that are obscured by a canopy which is distortive or simply not clear enough, or trying for details that are at the edges of my own visual resolution, but that’s just me. There are plenty of modellers who set up their vision aids and go to work on minute photoetched bits which will barely be visible, a scale realism they want, to bring their work closer to an accurate replica of the real thing, and this is a skill and a dedication to be applauded.

Where does that leave the modeller’s own sense of persnicketiness? That is probably the ultimate personal aesthetic, and what drives us, in many ways. How we face the challenges of the kit, what compromises we make and how much work we’re willing, or able, to invest in a project in return for what we learn from it and the pleasure of both the build and displaying the model ever after. So long as that equation balances up for each of us, relative to our skills and resources at any particular time, then we’ve been true to our hobby and done our best.

“Rivet-counters,” however, are a whole other matter, and a whole other post!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Kit Review: Tamiya F-51D Korean War #61044

It may seem odd to review a kit released nearly 13 years ago, but there’s always room for a retrospective. For many years Hasegawa’s P-51D was the standard, and it remains a very good and entirely competitive kit, but Tamiya’s builds somewhat easier and is superbly detailed. The Hasegawa cockpit is slightly better, but unless you have the canopy open you really can’t tell what’s in the pit anyway.

The 81-part kit features optional parts for the Inglewood or Dallas canopies, Hamilton-Standard or Aeroproducts propellers (blades and spinner cones), and features 6 5” HVARs and a choice of 2 500lb bombs or 2 75-US gallon droptanks for the wing racks. The kit comes with decals for three aircraft of Korean vintage, the famous FF-943 (“Was that too fast?”) of the 12th FBS, 18th FBG; the CO’s aircraft of the 18th FBG; and “Buckeye Blitz” of the 36th FBS, 8th FBW.

The clear parts are crystal clear and barely-distorting, while the overall fit of the model is outstanding. I needed only a little filler on the underside seam where the fuselage halves trap the cockpit/radiator assembly. The cockpit is quite adequately detailed for the scale, and while no harness is included, not even as a decal (as with Tamiya’s Corsair), there is a gunsight glass and the canopy frame brace. The propeller seats back onto a stub which engages a poly cap trapped between the hub parts, which means the prop can be mounted in the final assembly round, after all major handling is done, minimising the chances of breakage.

Tamiya must use very high-pressure injection moulding, as the sprue attachment points are as small as technically possible. They are also located in carefully-considered locations where the inevitable inconsistencies where the sprue is cut and filed back show as little as possible.

Alignment and fit are of a very high standard and the kit pretty much builds itself, certainly for any experienced modeller it should be a breeze. There were no problem areas to speak of. The decals were thin and opaque and reacted well to setting solutions, but were not particularly ‘sticky’: three small stencils simply disappeared during subsequent handling, underlining the desirability of clearcoats.

I finished the model in Humbrol enamels, mixing #11 Silver Fox 7:3 with #56 Flat Aluminium to create a weathered metal look evocative of the beating the aircraft took from the severe weather conditions in Korea. The yellow accents were sprayed in a mix of Tamiya Acrylics (XF-3 Yellow, warmed with XF-7 Red and brightened with X-22 Clear Gloss). The prop blades, anti-glare panel and rudder trim tab were sprayed XF-1 Flat Black. The cockpit and gear bay interiors were sprayed Interior Green, mixed 1:1 from Tamiya XF-3 and XF-5 Green. The overall recessed panel lines were accented with ProModeller Dark Dirt panel wash, and the natural metal finish was varied with graphite, burnished into the paint with a stiff brush, and masked (with the greatest care!) with Tamiya tape. MiG pigments were used to add dust to the gear bays and underside, plus gun carbon and exhaust staining.

This was a very enjoyable build, the model looks proud in the display case, and I’m sure I’ll be building many more, working through my decal stash to collect the elegant Mustang in many of her historically famous schemes.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Big Models for the Big Boys

No, I don’t mean radio control. I don’t mean those two-stroke motors that seem to be revving at ear-splitting volume in hobby shops every time you go in to find that bottle of paint you need, and I don’t mean the endless shock absorbers, steering gear and offroad tyres that seem to take forever for shop staff to sort out for the people permanently in line ahead, hogging the counter... I’ve nothing against RC, really -- but that’s another post!

No, I mean BIG MODELS. That Dragon or Trumpeter 1:35 Leopold railway gun. Italeri’s new 1:35th scale German Schenllboot. Andrea’s gigantic 1:32nd scale U-boat. Revell’s old B-1 bomber in 1:48th scale. Monogram’s classic 1:72nd scale B-36. Airfix’s 1:24th scale Harrier. Heller’s 1:100th scale sailing ships. And so on...

Is it the mystique of the very large that attracts us? Is it the possibility of acres of minute detail? Is it the childlike thought of having a bigger one than the next modeller? Or is it that some subjects just can’t be done justice to any smaller? The state of modern tooling suggests 1:48th scale is a good benchmark for realism, incorporating a fair detail resolution against the real thing and a general simplicity of construction, so demanding bigger is not necessarily the answer (though consider the detail found on Tamiya’s F-4s in 1:32nd scale... Bigger sometimes is just plain better).

There’s the status aspect. Bigger models are more expensive, and modellers at both an advanced skill level and approaching the rollover time of life are a major part of the target demograph that can actually afford them. (“Do we have to go on that cruise next winter, Martha? I had a hankering for Trumpeter’s 1:16th scale King Tiger...” After which the hobbyist probably slept on the couch.)

But what about really big: those limited-edition monsters that sometimes appear. Of course, I’m thinking about the 80cm K(E), the Dora, the biggest gun ever fired in anger. It first appeared at European toy fairs about four years ago, a 1:35th scale kit initially researched and designed by Heller IIRC, but after the demise of the company it was taken over (if I’m understanding correctly) by an independent firm, and moulded in a limited edition of 1000 copies, in China. As a $1000 kit, that’s a million dollars turnover in one property, though it has been permanently discounted to US$700 for the last two years or so. At the present exchange rate, that’s nearly a grand in Australian money. It would take a seriously dedicated hobbyist to square away the funds for that (though to be fair, the cost is still significantly lower than Tamiya’s RC tanks and trucks. In England there is a hobby finance company that loans out funds against them as if you were buying basic transport to get to work.) That brings to mind Tamiya’s RC Tiger 1 and the costs involved, over $1500 Australian some years ago. I remember casting an eye on it longingly and my sister saying “you’ll look ridiculous driving to work in that on Monday.” The implication being you could buy a car for that price.

But does larger scale really mean more detail? It means a different feel, that’s for sure. Compare tanks in 1:72nd, 1:35th and 1:16th scales. Between the first two scales there is a wealth of difference, and it takes a surgeon’s hands to make a 72 -- they don’t call it Braille Scale for nothing -- really look the part. It can be done, there are brilliant mini-masterpieces out there, and better kits than ever before to work with. But 35 seems to be the charm, the perfect balance point at which the techniques that come naturally to hand find their best and simplest expression. Academy have those big 25th scale Panthers and Jagdpanthers, and Tamiya have just reissued their 1:25th scale Tiger and Chieftain, for the first time in something like thirty years (SF modellers will be rubbing their hands as the latter has been fetching US$60 on eBay and is needed for some studio replicas). The AM guys must have thrown prayers of thanks skyward when these kits were re-released, the accessory sets are already hitting the market… 1:16th scale is a new situation completely, in which the delicacy of touch one evolves for 35th generates effects that are almost invisible at a normal viewing distance: one must learn to weather with a broader brush, a heavier hand.

In the end, perhaps it is personal choice, as with every aspect of the hobby. The lifetime 1:72nd scale aircraft builder will fit a lot more of them into a display case than the ship modeller who builds at 1:96th, the armour modeller who prefers Braille Scale will have far more space and funds than the 1:35th scale builder, but these are practical matters, and the aesthetic of the thing probably ultimately commands the decision. We like what we like, and that’s the end of it. There’s a certain undeniable fascination to palm-top Panzers, but part of me has a hard time taking them seriously.

Of course, it could be simpler... It could be that we start out affording small models and fill shelves with them, and they gradually get bigger as we get older, in proportion to the thickness of our glasses. By the time we retire our eyesight is so shot we have to build the big ones: we have no choice, we just can’t see the teensy ones anymore!

Okay, extracting tongue from cheek... Normal service resumes next post!

Have some links:

Dora ref: http://www.anticsonline.co.uk/673_1_2515675.html

Airfix Harrier: http://www.cybermodeler.com/hobby/kits/airfix/kit_airfix_18003.shtml

I have the Harrier in my stash and would have photographed those huge parts but it's in a carton on the bottom and I didn't fancy excavating down to find it...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Where would we be without superglue?

When I was a kid the standard household tube glue in England was called Bostik, and if I remember correctly my earliest Airfix kits (bagged, Series 1, chosen from the front window of the newsagent at the end of the street -- ah, what a memory!) were assembled with this stuff. It was stinky, it was stringy, and it blobbed, but it was all there was!

When I came to Australia with my family in 1971 the model glue of choice here was Britfix, I think there was a ‘77’ on that name but it’s too long ago to be sure. It was stinky, it was stringy, and it blobbed, in fact in every meaningful way it was Bostik in a different tube, so while it left something to be desired, it was familiar. These were the days when parts had to be left for ages to dry, clamped and rubber-banded, even overnight, and one would cautiously remove the bands to see if things had actually set or if the model would fall apart when moved. This, despite Britfix actually being rated a ‘welding’ glue, i.e., solvent-based. Landing gear was fragile beyond words and the glues available took a mature touch to get them to cooperate ... little wonder all my fighter planes as a kid were built gear-up.

I was 12 when I first encountered Testors Liquid Cement, and I thought Christmas had come. A strong cement (note, the word ‘glue’ had abruptly become old-fashioned), which applied neatly with that handy brush built into the bottle cap (praise be to the engineer who thought of something truly practical!), and which dried essentially invisible. And it had grip! The first model I tackled with it was Monogram’s 1:72 B-52, ambitious for an early teen if I say so myself.

Things remained static for many years, then. ‘Superglue’ was a mysterious and dangerous substance around which the words ‘skin graft’ floated. I remember being with my dad when he bought a tube one day (mid-70s, I guess) and the retailer cautioning him about it sticking fingers together, that it was indestructible and a skin graft would be required if this dreaded accident occurred. The truth was a closely guarded secret in marketing terms, I only heard the facts recently. I thought it was miraculous back in the 90s when I bought some PicApart, a simple water-based solvent that dissolves cyanoacrylate, but of course the chemists who invented the stuff (in the 1960s, I heard, as a battlefield surgical tool for sticking wounds together when there was no time for stitches!) had always known its strengths and weaknesses. Acetone is the principle solvent, which is why it’s a fair bet so many macho hobby guys who build powerful, filthy tanks, rusted to perfection and draped with the battle flags of fascists and communists, have a bottle of nail polish remover hidden somewhere in their workshops. Probably behind the bottle of brake fluid they use to strip old paint, but that’s another post!

At first I resisted using superglue, it seemed too strong, liable to melt plastic or lock up parts in the wrong order. Meah... It you want severe, try Revell Contacta Professional, in the precision applicator, I’ve never seen plastic disintegrate like it before or since. (Except that fine component in a Hobbycraft kit that dissolved before my eyes under the assault of old fashioned Testors Liquid Cement, but that’s another post too...) I think I began to use superglue after reading Paul Boyer’s Basic Techniques/Advanced Results series of articles in FSM in the early 90s, and realised that a precise parts-fit coupled with superglue in the seam created a rock-solid joint which could be dressed with a knife blade and sand paper and -- wallah! -- the seam was invisible.

This was the holy grail of finishing skills at the time, how to defeat the appearance of the model being a model. I developed that skill in the decade following until it was easy as breathing. When my brother in law came down from the States many years ago he looked at my models and the first thing he said was ‘I can’t see how it went together... How did you do that?’ (I rarely preen, but that was an occasion.) The model I think was Horizon’s 1:30th scale vinyl T. rex, a model which took ingenuity and a swag of different techniques as I had never built a vinyl before … and never seen gaps like those either. Superglue to the rescue (and shims, putty and plasticine). Another kudo...

What would we do without superglue? Joints would all need putty again, unless the fit was precise enough to be closed up firm with liquid cement alone (old kits and limited-run subjects would be a lot less popular). Rubber bands and clamps would be in demand. “Allow to dry overnight” would reappear in instructions, and kitchen tables would be commandeered with stacks of books and paint bottles carefully balancing models in the dark hours while landing gear dried (shhh, tiptoe past in case it moves!), then there would be a giddy experimental moment the next day when the set was tried out and the hobbyist held his or her breath to see if that carefully finished fighter’s landing gear would collapse under it.

Nostalgia, with a certain jaundiced outlook -- and maybe superglue isn’t solely responsible for remedying these ills, I’m sure a competent builder could put a quality modern kit together with the tube glue still rated safe for junior modellers, and come up with a perfectly good result. But a touch of the cya sure makes things easier!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Shopping Smart/Modelling on a Budget

Back at the time of Desert Storm there was speculation that the rocketing price of crude would drive up the base price of styrene and make the hobby more expensive, but those fears did not seem to emerge, at least not clearly from the background chatter of multiple other variables all conspiring to make it more expensive to build models. After all, everything is more expensive, that’s inflation, why should the hobby be any different? Hobbies are luxury pass-times for those with disposable income, after all.

But how many of us are in a position to dispose of the kind of chunks of income the hobby field seems to have no qualms about asking these days? There are companies that play shamelessly to the highest end of the market -- Trumpeter, for instance, by the ambitiousness of their projects and their catering to big-scale enthusiasts, not for their detail and research accuracy, and after 15 years in the game they still come second to the engineering quality and design acumen of Tamiya, Hasegawa and Revell Germany. There are less-ambitious companies working in more traditional scales, though, and their prices remain stingers: Airfix’s new Hawker Nimrod, long-awaited and eagerly-anticipated, hit the shelves in Australia at $99.99. That’s a big no-can-do, pard, for a lot of builders. That’s possibly why the new fancy releases are sitting there on the shelf at my LHS, and the bulk of the stock has barely changed in three years. Also possibly a big reason the shop changed hands and is now concentrating on R/C and railroading instead.

Plastic kits are too expensive. If they were half the price I’d buy a lot more. If they were half the price the shop would sell a lot more, which would be better than selling hardly any, but here we see the distributor-mechanism. Kits have an infinite shelf-life. They’re not date-sensitive, they have no use-by, they don’t get sent back and pulped... They sometimes gain value with age. If the distributor owns the stock, it never will go out on special. Mark-downs are virtually unknown here. The price is the price and if the customer can’t afford it, the stock gathers dust until the shop closes -- but the kits go back to the distributor. Last year a local toystore chain gave up carrying kits for the same reasons, and held a distributors’ sale at the warehouse. I looked in but the mark-downs were simply not enough to tempt me to buy, but I noticed a retiree leaving with a Tamiya 1:350th scale Enterprise he’d paid about $200 for. Ah, rollover…

So where do I find the kits to keep my stash ever-expanding?

Simple. eBay.

I joined eBay about five years ago and in that time 95% of all my kit purchases have been through that medium. In the header pic (some ready-use items, not the actual stash) of the 69 items on those shelves, 57 came via eBay. The other 12 are through Squadron Mailorder in Carolton, Texas, who had my order every month in the years before eBay was born. I cleared a huge collection of Superscale decals in the days they regularly cycled through the range at 99c. But the days of specials like that are always numbered, and eBay gives you the chance to wander amongst the wares of the world, almost like an ancient marketplace. You can find retailers in places like Hong Kong, Beijing and Seoul that offer the big brands at serious savings (though lately they are almost all hiking their profits by cheating the purchaser on the postage -- there’s no diplomatic way to say it, it’s cheating pure and simple, and to be fair there are plenty in the West who do the same).

The best bargains are most often at auction: resellers who buy up old collections and kick off the bidding at just a couple of dollars. It takes a modicum of skill to play the auction game, but you can learn it easily enough, and you need to be aware of only two things.

1) If the kit is on general release then you’re trying to beat the price at which you could buy it locally: be aware of that price and know what you’re willing to spend, all-up, for the item in the condition offered. If the bidding runs beyond that point, don’t be pig-headed, just let it go. If it’s an old classic then be guided by your instincts, only you know what you’re willing to pay for a collectable.

2) Postage -- it’s no use getting a great bargain on the item and finding out the postage takes all the cream away from the deal. You might as well have bought it locally, paid the extra and taken it home with you rather than waiting weeks (months even) and hoping at doesn’t go missing.

The US really messed things up when they did away with surface mail a few years back, it must have hurt US trade at many levels. It took the greatest bargain and made it ho-hum, what else can you call it when the postage to mail a kit to Australia is double what you won it for? And it’s a cynical act of big government in any case, to support an airline system failing due to fuel price increases. Well, when airmail is the only option, we learn to optimise that too.

You do that by having a friend in the country of origin who will accept eBay purchases for you, then will combine them in the most compact shipping carton possible (remember, it’s not just by weight that they charge, it’s by linear dimensions too). A friend -- who will charge you actual shipping costs, not mark up the postage by many dollars to shore up his or her own fortunes as a seller. That way you lose on the domestic postage to get the item to reception point, and save on the international shipping of several items in one unit.

You have to ‘box clever’ as my late Dad used to say. The hobby, though better-served and bigger than ever before, has suffered from the global recession, runaway inflation and national debt, and more than ever it’s a rich man’s pass-time. I could spend thousands setting up the workshop of my dreams, but until that many dollars are both earned and not required for other things, I’ll make do with the one I have, which is not bad: it has most of the tools I want, most of the paints, and is supported by a healthy stash of subject matter assembled by careful collecting. We may not ‘haggle’ in today’s Western marketplace, but you can still find a way to get what you want without paying top whack.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Final Review: 1:48 Hasegawa Bf 109 K-4

With the K-4 finally done (okay, maybe there are one or two details I missed – I blush, I forgot the wingtip formation lights, so she’ll be coming out of the display case for a quick spot of red and green…) I can finish my work in progress articles with a roundup of this kit’s qualities.

Hasegawa’s kit #09063 (JT63) is quite the gem. It has many unused parts from other variants, different cockpit sidewalls, the droptanks and underwing gunpods of G-series bomber-destroyers, three different tail wheel struts, three different instrument panels. You need to keep a careful eye on the instructions to make sure you select the right parts for the variant you’re building.

Marking options are supplied for two aircraft, Yellow 4, “Ingeborg,” of II/JG 3, March 1945, and a second contemporary airframe. Markings include a full suite of stencil data, even including the Werk numbers which may or may not have been carried on the tail of Yellow 4, depending on the sources you consult.

I was originally a little put out with the engineering of the cockpit, but from that point onward the model literally fell together. The propeller attachment could have been smarter, trying to accurately align the fuselage halves while trapping an un-glued rotation piece in a channel at the front end was quite impossible for my dexterity and I settled for gluing it in place as a fixed stub, thus creating a non-turning finished prop. Parts alignment was superb for the most part, my only criticism is a tiny fore-and-aft mismatch on fuselage right and left detailing, which is only really visible where the aft fuselage segments are delineated on the underside. The flaps were marred by a long sink mark on the upper surfaces, which was only visible in certain lighting, virtually guaranteeing the parts were mounted before the problem was noticed. Similarly, the leading edge slats can be mounted open or closed, and while the deployed configuration adds visual interest the separate parts come with the usual penalty for assembling them closed: they don’t fit as well into their bays as the slats of the real plane would.

But these are minor quibbles, really. The surface detailing is accurate for a K-4, the hatches and access panels are in the right places, the Erla Haube looks convincing, and with a few extra details scratched together (the radiator pitch rods, battery bay hatch and flap ribs which I covered in my first post on this kit) it builds into a visually convincing model. I could have added hydraulic lines from fine wire but I was out of time and application on the project, that’s something for future builds.

Another detail which I had meant to use was Quickboost’s exhausts, beautifully cast with open throats and midline weld seams, however they did not provide the locator slot for the glare shields of the late-series 109s, moulded as separate kit parts, and I didn’t fancy scratching this detail at so late a stage. The resin AMs ended up in the drawer against a future build.

The decals went down actually quite nicely, reacting well with Microscale chemistry, though the spiralschnauze tried to curl up on the paper and was broken into pieces to be applied, and the big open crosses silvered somewhat. The 60 or so decals make a visually ‘busy’ aircraft, even if the real “Ingeborg” may not have carried a full suite of stencils (references and reconstructions do not, as you would expect, always agree.)

Promodeller panel wash and MiG pigments created the worn appearance, the carbon stains and dust that denote a service aircraft being hard-flown, and EZ Line provided the radio antenna. Without going to the extent of AM cockpit and wheels, opening the canopy etc, this model makes a sweet display piece that really captures, the gutsy, brutish yet still graceful lines of the ever-more powerful ultimate Messerschmitt 109. I would recommend this kit to anyone with a few builds under his or her belt: while the multi-tone camouflage will be a challenge and the many decals will certainly occupy more than a couple of evenings, the basic soundness of the kit engineering will foster an attractive finished product if approached with care, forethought, and above all, patience.