Friday, May 29, 2009

New Life for an Old Classic

Plastic modelling has been around now for over half a century, and one thing that well-cared-for molds have is shelf-life. One thinks of old molds ‘showing their age,’ but that is perhaps more to do with the sheer number of pulls taken from them. If they’re properly stored, in a moisture-free environment, tooled steel should last, and it seems it does.

Lately Revell have been reissueing early kits under the ‘Classics’ label, in limited editions of 5000 pressings. This is probably the same group of molds returned to service about 15 or 20 years ago as the ‘History Makers’ series. Revell’s 1:40th scale armour, originals of which have fetched high prices on the second hand market, seem to be putting in an appearance, and I was recently lucky enough to pick up their Nike Hercules missile for a good price from an eBay trader.

I find myself very impressed: the packaging reproduces the classic artwork, the instructions are Revell-standard, the decals are beautifully printed, and the molds seem to have lost nothing for their fifty years in storage. The model is blown in dark green styrene, and quite a large finished article is packed in a smallish box.

I first saw this model in what looks like a company promotional photo (note the classic packaging, it’s the same painting on a differently shaped box) in a book dated 1961 (below) and have wanted one ever since. I’m really glad to have found this one. It will build as a very nice companion piece to Trumpeter’s 1:35th scale SA-2 Dvina missile, the direct contemporary of the Hercules in the same role. The scales are close enough to display them together without one overshadowing the other.

Like the Dvina, the Hercules was built in huge numbers and served a very long time. The new instruction sheet, dated 2009, states that between service introduction in 1958 (when it replaced the Ajax, becoming America’s second SAM system) and its retirement from domestic service in 1978, 25, 550 units were built. While that may not rival SA-2 production, it is a gigantic investment in a weapon system which, whether conventionally or nuclear-armed, was never fired in anger. Its value as a deterrent, however, must have been considerable, as with a climb envelope of 150, 000 feet and a speed at propulsion burn-out typically around mach 3.65, oncoming bomber formations would be sitting ducks.

I see lots of rivets, as was standard detailing at the time, and I’ll have to research the real missile to see what was actually visible. It strikes me I might sand away the rivets before assembly, possibly redrilling some or all if I can find a fine enough bit, and if photographs show them contrasting with the gloss white finish. I’ll be most interested to see how this old classic builds, and one day perhaps come across other examples to depict at different points in the weapon’s service lifetime, or even create a battery diorama. I hope the re-release sees an enthusiastic response, and that Revell will be encouraged to release more of their early subjects in rejuvenated form. (I would love to build their 1:40th scale Scissors Bridge, the bridge-layer based on the M48 Patton-series MBT chassis.)

Here are some great research links for the Nike Hercules missile:

Ed Thelen's Nike Missile Web Site

Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles, MIM-14

The Nike Missile System, A Concise Historical Overview

Index of Nike-Hercules Photographs

The Nike Site

These are some highlights. Just Google “Nike-Hercules missile,” there’s lots more out there!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Product Review: Bison Decals

In the modern hobby environment new decal manufacturers seem to spring up every time you blink, but that goes to underline the fact that the hobby grew up with those who were born into it, and the modern plastic hobbyist demands accuracy, performance and variety.

Swedish company Bison specialise in armour decals, with a strong emphasis on World War II. Their sheets are compact and economical, providing both vehicle tactical numbers and national insignia for numerous subjects, with a B&W foldout instruction sheet showing placement. Paintscheme diagrams are very small, however, and of limited use: you’re meant to do your research for these subjects, and Bison include the complete list of published works and online resources they used to create the decals. This is really interactive modelling!

My first taste of Bison was sheet 35023, Early Tiger Is on the Eastern Front, featuring complete markings for eight tanks. I built Academy’s Tiger I (Early), kit #1386, and used the markings for 1325 of the LAH at Kursk (two white outline balkenkreutzer and three tactical numbers, one for each side of the turret and one for the stowage bin, facing the rear. My sample was fractionally out of register between the black and white elements of the numbers, but the error factor was so close to the resolving ability of my eyes that it made no difference to me.

The silk-screened waterslide decals, manufactured by Fantasy Printshop in France, are very thin and take around 90 seconds soaking time to free off from their backing paper. They respond well to Microscale chemistry, a few applications of MicroSol really pulling them into surface detail. They go down over a flat finish with absolutely no silvering at all.

Drawbacks -- the decals tend to want to stick wherever they touch, there’s precious little slippage available, no matter if you absolutely puddle them in MicroSet, so be as accurate as you can when placing them. They’re strong enough to withstand repositioning with a fingertip a time or two, which is a good thing as a brush will never move them. The graphics are designed to be proportionally correct on flat surfaces, there is no built-in correction for distortion over 3D detailing where this occurs. And lastly, they have a bright, glossy finish. I overcoated them with two or three applications of Gunze clear flat before trimming them close, but even so they were brighter than surrounding paintwork. This may be a case for airbrushing clearcoats if you’re a stickler for finish.

Bison are available from numerous outlets around the world, a favourite is, whose website features larger, full colour versions of the diagrams (left profiles only).

You can find Bison themselves at:

Their website features the colour profiles and a look at the sheets themselves.

35023 is further reviewed at:

New subjects are coming along regularly, for fans of Axis and Allied armour. For unusual subject matter and excellent quality, this is a range to keep in stock in your decal drawer.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Product Review: Barnes Pinkysil moulding silicon and Barnes Easycast casting resin

Moulding and casting have been around for thousands of years but only in the 20th century and the advent of synthetic resins did they move out of the hands of foundrymen and the most gifted artisans, and into those of hobbyists and enthusiasts for engineering in miniature. The theory of three dimensional reproduction is far from rocket science and some basic arithmetic and a steady hand are all it really takes to generate copies of objects.

My previous experience includes learning the art at the Palaeontology laboratory of Flinders University of South Australia many years ago, where as an after-classes project I reproduced the skull of a Tasmanian devil in fibre-reinforced epoxy, out of plaster-backed two-part skin moulds. That was a complex job which took me weeks at an hour or two per session. More recently, I’ve worked in high-definition Alumilite resin out of Dow HS-III moulds for repetitive components needed for scratchbuild projects. Difficulty in obtaining these supplies in Australia at this time lead me to look for alternatives, and I came across the following excellent supplies.

Barnes Pinkysil is an addition-cure silicon mouldmaking rubber with a mixing ratio of 1:1 by weight. It has a short working time, only six minutes pot-life before it begins to gel, so from adding part B to the part A already in the mixing cup, you’ll be finished making your mould in six minutes or never, less if the weather is against you! It was a hot day when I did my mould-making, so I cooled the chemistry for ten minutes in the fridge, which got me around eight minutes. It also has a rapid demould time, as little as twenty minutes, though leaving it an hour will help ensure maximum mould life -- anywhere up to a hundred pulls, even more, which is excellent value. The rubber catches extremely fine detail and cures to a solid consistency, with 400% elastic distortion at the tear. The colour is of course bubble-gum pink.

Hand in hand goes Barnes Easycast, aptly named as it is truly free of mess and fiddling. No pre-heating the mould, no talcum-powdering the mould to encourage bubbles to move away from the surface, in fact very few bubbles in evidence at all. Mix by volume in a measuring cup, stir with any old thing (a popsicle stick is just fine), and after about forty seconds the exothermic property makes itself felt. When the container is getting warm you know it’s time to stop stirring and pour. You have a nominal pot life of two minutes, I try to have the castings poured in a count of 90 to 100 seconds from commencing stirring, as the mixture gels and changes to white rapidly after that point. Demould the castings in twenty minutes or less, again depending on the heat of the day and the thickness of your castings: thin sections and edges cure last.

The cured resin, snow-white in colour, has a slightly flexible character, not an issue with chunky castings but it might be a problem with thin, fine shapes. The material is then workable with all standard techniques: it can be sanded, ground, sawed, drilled, and accepts all regular paints and primers. One word of caution if bonding separate castings to make a whole structure: superglue bonds Easycast instantly -- no slippage time at all, so if your parts accidentally flop together while you’re still applying the glue, it’s adios muchachos. Ask me how I know... It’s a good job it’s so easy to mix a couple of drams more and pour it into the moulds, you can have replacement parts while you’re thinking about it with other systems.

I took the shot above while making the parts for the Arrowhead project, posted last week. Note another casting curing at the same time. The darker chemistry is the resin, the lighter the catalyst. Below is the pattern, the mould, a pair of fresh castings and a completed structure made from the previous pull.

Pinkysil is not rated a hazardous substance according to national standards, Easycast is. Normal safety precautions apply, hand and eye protection, general cleanliness of the work area, and wash up before eating or drinking. The chemistry is flammable, so appropriate cautions apply with regard to sources of ignition.

Another recommended product is F-720 Dry Air Blanket by Chemlube, an inexpensive way to extend the life of your chemistry. It’s just what is sounds like – a liquefied gas which expresses from the can as 100% moisture free and inert. A two-second squirt into your resin bottles when capping them for the last time at the end of a session ensures zero moisture in the airspace of the containers, therefore nothing to contaminate the resin over time.

Between these products, you can be turning out excellent mouldings the same day you set up your pattern. At a current cost of around Aus twenty-something dollars each for a half-kilo (1 lb) pack, it’s extremely good value, and the small quantity ensures you can use up your supplies within their shelf life. If you’re working with bigger quantities, package sizes increase up to industrial volumes, but the general hobbyist will probably find the small packs more than adequate.

I bought mine from:

Adelaide Moulding and Casting Supplies
735B Marion Rd
Ascot Park, South Australia 5043

Ph: (08) 8277 7278

AMCS offer online discounts, which guarantee your savings against larger quantities of other chemistry coming longer distances from industry-oriented suppliers.

Double thumbs-up, superb products which I’ll be using in future.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Product Review: Promodeller Weathering Wash. The Future of Wash Detailing?

Panel washes have always been a complicated question: you need a liquid with a low surface tension that will flow into minute recesses, carrying a pigment to contrast against underlying paint. The chemistry must be complimentary: how often have you heard a modeller bemoan the latest panel wash formula to have ruined the paintjob?

You can spray acrylics and wash with enamels, and vice versa, you can use barrier clearcoats before and after wash application, and between decal applications, the variations are considerable, from the simplest to the most complex. If, like me, you like to keep finishing operations as simple as possible, reducing the possibility of something going wrong and ruining your work, then the still-new Weathering Washes made by English firm Promodeller come as a true gift.

These solutions are clay-based, a very finely-ground pigment suspended in water with a small amount of detergent added to reduce surface tension and allow the pigments to flow naturally. Think of the way sanded filler debris collects in recessed panel lines, perfectly outlining them -- that’s the principle on which these washes work, and they work perfectly.

Brush them on, either overall with a broad brush, or selectively with a pointed brush, allow to dry, then simply wipe away the excess. On a gloss finish, a dry paper towel is all it takes to remove the excess, leaving the recesses perfectly accented. As finishes grow duller, a softer cloth or paper with a little moisture is needed. On flat finishes you can swab the surface with a moistened Q-tip, rolling it against the direction of motion to lift the dried clay, but be warned, you won’t remove it all from the microscopic roughness of a flat finish. The effect this creates, however, is visually almost identical to post-shading, so it’s not necessarily a bad thing! A little practice and you’ll find the technique that’s best for you.

The important thing to remember is, the clay is readily resoluble, so if you develop an effect you don’t like, it’ll wash away from all but a fully flat finish, no arguments. And clearcoats are really up to your personal taste: The Tamiya Bf 109 E-3 on which I first used the wash has none, simply the satin lustre of the RLM paints, and the wash seems very permanent, after months there is no change in its appearance. (These photos were taken before powder pigment weathering and the rigging of an antenna wire).

Promodeller sell four shades at the moment, Dark Dirt, Light Dirt, Black and Brown. They come in 50mL plastic bottles which will last a long time -- I’m confident I’ll accent dozens of models, both aircraft and armour, from a single purchase. You can check them out at and view a 20-minute instructional video online, extracted from their much-longer DVD presentation. I bought mine from Lucky Model in Hong Kong, one of the biggest mailorder firms in the Asia-Pacific region,

Accenting panel lines, bolt and rivet detail, tight corners and divisions of any sort has, in my humble opinion, never been easier. That doesn’t mean I don’t still use oils suspended in enamel thinner for the capillary-action technique, but that method never was the right one for major panel lines. Now I can brush on the mineral wash and have the main panel divisions of an aircraft done in one sitting.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Recently Completed:WASP Arrowhead SF Conversion

This was a most enjoyable project, a conversion from a standard jet fighter kit to a design that appeared in the 1962 British animated SF series Stingray. This was the "Arrowhead" Interceptor, as used by the World Aquanaut Security Patrol, a global underwater security service armed with the latest hardware (set in 2065, that meant rockets, nukes, ultra-fast submarines, you name it).

The original studio models were based on Aurora's Northrop N-156 kit, but I chose to use the more available (and better) Hawk kit of the F-5A (now released by Testor), a contemporary of the original. It took a lot of work and many months to complete. rseaerch involved studying the eight shots in which the plane appears in one episode of the show, studying any stills I could find, then rebuilding with care.

I rescribed all the panel lines, performed plastic surgery to swap the order of wings and tail, scratchbuilt a cockpit and added a Hasegawa pilot and True details seat (I used a McDonnell ESCAPAC seat, as the seat used in the F-5A doesn't seem to be available.) The Arrowhead looks clumsy with her gear down, so I did a flight-configuration build, my first model on a stand in thirty years. I raided my scrap box for an old Airfix stand from the early 70s, and floated off the B-17 decal with MicroSet. The lateral tanks were not featured in the Hawk kit, so I found the correct kind of tank in Fujimi's early 1980s F-5A (not as good as Hawk's), and molded it off. These are resin copies. The paintjob is a variety of enamels and acrylics, and the white markings are all painted.

I used some kit decals and the rest were custom-made using clear film and a laser printer. The wing checks were done that way, and all the stencl data. The scribed panel lines were accented with ProModeller Weathering Wash, and panel differentiation was done with graphite. It was a learning process, all models are, and I know I could have done better, having missed the odd procedural cue (doing things in the wrong order can be the kiss of death), but all in all she came out pretty good.

My Arrowhead appeared in Modelling the 21st Century Vol. 2, recently published by Happy Medium Press in the UK. Follow that link to see their amazing collection of publications for the science fiction hobby world.

Cheers, more soon,


Sunday, May 17, 2009

All Things Come...

How many times have you heard it said that a modeller laboriously finished a conversion or a complex detailing job, only to discover a few months later that one of the AM guys is bringing out a set that would have made all that scratchbuilding unnecessary, or worse yet, that a good quality kit of the subject is about to burst upon the market?

Sometimes providence smiles and the goods come out before the project is finished, and that just happened to me. I was building Tamiya’s 1:48th scale F4U-1D with an eye to doing the rare multi-tone disruptive camo scheme of El Salvador, 1969, and I should have been done months ago except that real life got in the way (and I ran afoul of the wing fold mechanism and still haven’t lined up the right wing outer panel satisfactorily -- and maybe this was all actually for some higher cosmic purpose...)

I had meant to scrape by with national insignia from the old Hobbycraft kit of the same subject -- okay, they were the wrong shade of blue, but they were the only ones around. Then I suddenly thought about stencil data, and whether it would have been reapplied in Spanish when the aicraft went to Latin America. I checked with Aztec Decals in Mexico and while they have Spanish Corsair data they don’t sell it separately, as they do their Spanish Mustang data, but it turns out the very aircraft I was intending to build, FAS-219, is featured on a forthcoming sheet, due for release in May 2009.

Here's the instruction sheet, courtesy of the great folks at Aztec:

Weellll... Now there’s a spot of serendipity. If the wings had fit better and life had not so gotten in the way I’d probably have finished this animal by now, and suddenly been kicking myself that I’d been so quick out of the traps, and considering floating off the old decals and replacing them with the new, high quality ones.
Now there’s no need -- just work out the wing engineering, put on that scheme of soft-edge greens, tan and grey, work up the yellow ID bands and apply the Aztecs -- perfect job (knock on wood, but I’m pretty confident!)

Check out Aztec's fantastic range at

I was amazed by their variety, their exotic subjects, and the extremely high quality of both their in-depth research and their manufacture, and the great thing is you can order right off the website. I look forward to reviewing the application of Aztec decals in the not too distant future.

Starting as I Mean to Go On

After no less than two false starts, World in Miniature is finally out of the gate, and this time it'll be an ongoing concern.

As the header and intro text say, this blog is a place for the reflections of a modeller who has been 41 years in the hobby, and who, though far from a master, has accumulated enough techniques to get by in most situations. It should be a place for looking back, for looking forward, for celebrating the fun of this hobby and for promoting the good stuff we enjoy the best.

I hope to post regularly with thoughts, comments and conjectures, essays and progress pics of various projects, reviews of kits, tools and supplies, and the accessories that are so important these days (where would we be without out die-cut adhesive masks, our bottomless supply of alternate markings options, precision-matched paints and fiddly photoetched doodads too small to see without a magnifying glass?)

So welcome aboard, and I hope you'll be reading along as this blog matures like a good wine (or a vintage kit that just fetched a good price at auction!)