Thursday, November 14, 2013

Recently Completed: Tamiya’s King Tiger (Retool)

From time to time there are kits that you fixate on, or at least keep them tucked away at the back of your mind as one you really, really want to do, and Tamiya’s King Tiger with the Porsche turret, released in 1993 as part of their program of retooling and refining older subjects, was just such a kit for me. I saw the high quality factory job in the commercials of the day and longed to open that box. Unfortunately it was one of those kits which at the time I referred to in an article as “exotic mega-kits at exotic mega-prices.” I had no hope of affording it in those days, and it still sells over the counter in Australia for around the $70 mark. I picked one up on eBay for a lot less several years ago, and held onto it for a long time, savouring the moment I would finally slit the shrinkwrap.

The catalyst was probably buying the old hardback edition of Tony Greenland’s Panzer Modelling Masterclass, a classic of the hobby, and seeing the job he did on this subject. I had the kit, I had a turned barrel for it, I had Tony Greenland’s recommended paints, and I had MiG pigments to substitute for his famous chalk pastel weathering technique, so it was game on.

What can I say that has not already been said? Nothing, I should think, but I can tell you what I feel about the kit. The engineering precision is everything you would expect from Tamiya, the “old master” of armour makers. Not over-thought and painfully finicky, that’s Dragon’s gig; just straightforward building pleasure, and most of the details of the real tank are represented down to a fine level of resolution. Maybe some details are overscale, such as the AA MG mount; the engine deck grills were absent, but Alliance Modelworks’ etched steel set provided a full set of grills that went on without trauma. I wired the headlight with some soft detailing wire, a first for me, and again there were no particular dramas.

Some would say an etched set overall is a necessary upgrade but I have never had either the patience or the “anality” to demand it (or the eyesight, in all probability!) and I was happy with the tools and clamps. Instead of raked putty for the zimmerit, I used Cavalier’s resin set, which was wafer-thin and went on easily, with the exception of the transom piece, which called for the slicing away of most details, a task too radical for me. I pieced it together by removing a few details and adjusting the zimmerit around the rest, flushing it together in multiple tiny pieces and even some raked putty here and there. Same with the gun mantlet, I used Cavalier’s supplied rake tool and created zimmerit in areas indicated as necessary by Tony Greenland’s research but not supplied in the Cavalier set. Cavlier provide a cast resin mantlet to go with the Tamiya gun, but I was using an Eduard turned barrel which was designed to go with the kit mantlet, not Cavalier’s, thus some modifications were needed.

The real thrust of the project was the camouflage scheme. I followed Tony Greenland’s research for a King Tiger in the French campaign of late 1944, possibly surviving as late as the Bulge in December though this is my speculation only. Tiger 334 was finished in the green, brown and yellow stripe scheme found at the time, though without the windblown “leaves” of the “Ambush” scheme. This called for what is probably my best fineline airbrushing to date, using high pressure and low flow to replicate the almost floral writhings of the stripe edges. Then I used the standard approach of fade-and-shade coats to tie everything together, oil pin wash and rust streaking, and pigments to finish off with as dust and dirt. The running gear uses pencil graphite worked extensively into the rims of the resilient steel wheels, and the vinyl tracks are perfectly acceptable behind the skirt armour, as their lack of proper sag is simply not visible.

I was very happy with the result. It was challenging in some ways, a breeze in others, and I was able to get to grips with the painting and weathering without being caught up in too extensive a build job. It looks proud on the shelf, squat, powerful, menacing, just as a King Tiger should.

This is one of those kits deemed “good in its day” by those for whom refinement out of the box is everything, but I’m more than satisfied with the texture and look of the finished article, and have no plans to update in the foreseeable future. I would recommend the basic kit to anyone with a few tanks under their belt, and if building without the extra bells and whistles I’m sure a beginner could return a pleasing result too.

Thankyou, Tamiya, for building pleasure which did not let down the years of anticipation I had for this project!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Masking – A Dying Art?

That may sound like a strange title at first glance: every modeller masks at some point in a project if paint is going to be applied, so how can the art die? The thought crossed my mind that the hobby is so well supplied these days, with every possible labour saving device, substance, gadget and fitting, that many of the arts our forebears took for granted have gone the way of the dodo.

Fifty years ago serious modellers rescribed their kits to get recessed panel lines, because they knew perfectly well that raised lines were an artefact of the tooling process and real aircraft had recesses between their skin panels… Kit makers took another twenty years to catch up with that reality and figure out how to produce kits with engraved detail – some companies have still not quite got the hang of it. Similarly, the flood of etched parts means that fabricating tank engine grilles from wire or vinyl mesh, and making frames from plastic strip, with rod slivers for bolt heads, has been consigned to the realm of scratch building. The craze for aftermarket seat harnesses has eclipsed any attempt to make them for oneself.

It is in this light that it struck me that masking, an integral part of painting, is also a declining art. There are literally thousands of die-cut adhesive mask sets out there, from Eduard and other manufacturers, and I have become very used to using them – where would we be without them for those complex World War II “glass house” canopies? And yet… I applied Eduard’s set for Fujimi’s Stuka and I was not terribly impressed by the fit. It was far better than trying to cut tape and mask all those panes individually, but it was not as accurate as the old way would have been. Eventually I called the job done after fiddling with tape fragments to even up the lines created by the ill-fitting commercial masks, but I’m aware once again that 1:72nd scale is pushing the boundaries of what is both possible, and acceptable to both today’s sharpened sensibilities and heightened expectations.

Is there a place for old fashioned masking in today’s do-it-now mentality? Sometimes there’s no choice, either there’s no set available for your subject matter in the scale you need, or you can’t afford it, or you haven’t got time for it to arrive… That sounds like a self-evident thing and I’m sure we’ve all been in the same situation. I remember doing Hobbycraft’s Avia S-199 and checking to see if I could make Eduard’s set for the Bf 109 K fit – it didn’t really, so I masked the old way, grumbling a bit as I did so. But just today I found myself masking the canopy for a Fujimi Phantom, for which there seems to be no commercial set, and it struck me that far from resenting the necessity, I actually enjoyed the process.

I outlined the areas with fine strips, filled in the large ones with tape and the small or fiddly ones with Humbrol Maskol solution. It was not particularly difficult, if time-consuming, and nothing I’ve not done before. The result was at least as accurate as a commercial set, and probably more so. I do feel it would become tedious to mask every model this way, and I have no plans to stop using die-cut sets, but I guess my point is that the old way is a useful skill that still has a strong role to play.

And, in the end, there is also a certain satisfaction that comes from saying you licked the problem without need of a third party (except the guys who make tape, knives, scissors and so on…), and it encourages the thought that it may be desirable to be less reliant on the aftermarket industry to satisfy our every whim. Just now and then, we should at least try to make the odd detail from scratch: it’s what craftsmen do.

Or used to…

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Recently Completed: Hasegawa 1:72 F-16CJ (Block 50) Fighting Falcon

I don’t often build 1:72nd scale any more, partially to do with eyesight and dexterity issues, but perhaps mostly because of a certain dissatisfaction with the result I can get at this scale. I had the same trouble half my life ago, doing my very best and not being really happy with the result, and moving up a notch seemed to largely fix the issues by changing the ratio of minimum detail resolution to the overall product.

Nevertheless, from time to time, when I fancy a simple or quick build, I’ll still open a 1:72 – good quality, of course – and see what I can do with my current skill set. The issue of resolution is still there, and I’m probably well above the standard I was not happy with long ago, but the same sort of dissatisfaction still creeps in.

In the box, Hasegawa’s F-16 series, tooled in the 1990s and updated thereafter, is a sweet kit, with plenty of options. To model the later variant there are numerous extra parts, intake, exhaust, landing gear, weapons (yes, there’s a full suite in the box, a change from Hasegawa’s usual marketing strategy), no less than three pilot figures with separate right arms, plus decals for two choices. The instructions are Hasegawa standard, but pack a lot of information into a small space, and at times they could do with scrap-views to clarify how small parts locate and align (sometimes I referred to Academy’s plans for where stencil data was supposed to go).

Construction was straightforward, needing a little filler here and there. The limitations of turning out new variants from old moulds account for a few problems, while scale itself accounts for others. The seat looks nothing like an ACES II and I ordered up True Details’ resin version – only to find the resin had more holes than an Aero bar. In the end I chose to use the kit seat, which might not have looked like an ACES II but neither did it look like a cinder block. Tape harness was the only addition.

Main construction was generally good, though some seams were persnickety. And the F-16 is simply a difficult shape, with difficult details. The intake throat, with its internal support vane, needing to be painted inside before assembly, is tricky. The landing gear is imprecise and finicky, and how it can end up with the main wheels off-true when the struts are fixed in alignment by double locator holes I simply don’t know. The warload I painted and decaled first and set aside to be added last, a good move as it broke down the job into manageable lots.

I used Model Master Acryls for the four main shades of grey, plus Tamiya white, gunmetal, silver etc. Some parts of the paintjob I simplified in the name of sanity, the intake has a medium grey swatch above it that would be difficult to mask at 1:48th scale, and I did not even attempt it, nor did I try painting the darker shade across the white of the intake lip.

The decals looked great on the sheet but they silvered somewhat against a sealed finish and reacted very badly to Microscale chemistry, wrinkling up and staying that way. I can also say the coloured stripes around the missiles are among the least cooperative, most frustrating decals I have ever had to use.

Given the complex contours the kit captures so pleasingly, I was surprised to find that the simple underwing pylons were shapes rather different from the underside of the wing to which they attach. Not in many years have I prayed for superglue to do its thing, after all refinements to technique, forward thinking and skill have done theirs, and I am less inclined to blame the scale than the company. In an age of CAD-CAM, this sort of mismatch should not be so pronounced.

What else could go wrong? Very little, but when a canopy is designed with an open option, it never fits quite right when closed, and given the poor seat and decal instruments closed was always the better (and simpler) option. I used Eduard’s mask set, and the canopy outlines were reasonably good, but the wheel hub masks did not fit very well. Perhaps painting the tyres first and using the negative masks would work better, but here and there the manual touch-ups after spraying were so poor (such as one side of the nose wheel) you would be forgiven for thinking no masks were used at all.

The finished aircraft looks like an F-16 and is impressive from a distance, but the landing gear and warload are painfully fragile. This is a kit for the seasoned 1:72nd scale builder or for the hobbyist with plenty of time to invest and a knack for getting small parts to cooperate. Despite my acknowledged AMS, a time came when I just had to say enough is enough, I want this project off my bench.

It’s my first F-16 since I was about 13 years old, and superior in every meaningful way to that vintage Revell outing, but my next Falcon will be in 1:48th scale, probably Academy’s offering, which will hopefully be large enough for glue to hold and error factors to be small.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Product Review: AFV Club T-34 500mm Width Cast Links

First of all, apologies for the apparent abandonment of this blog since last year – it was not intended but an overseas trip immediately followed by moving house, then teaching at the university and a lot of other stuff ended up in time prioritisation that saw lots of things go by the wayside and hobby allocations down in general… But nothing lasts forever, and there’ll always be time for something. Lately it’s been research and prep work for major projects to come, and I had gotten out of the way of building to the extent that diving back into a project that was already fairly advanced was off-putting and I needed to start something from scratch.

I pulled Tamiya’s old Su-85 off the shelf, one of those easy-build, old-tool kits I’m so fond of, and had a great time reacquainting myself with the basic skills, the cut, file and glue skills that get us into the head-space to get more creative, and as I studied the model I decided I would add a few AM bits and pieces. The object was always to try out either the hairspray technique or a chipping fluid to do a winter camo effect, and I might invest in a turned barrel. But when researching aftermarket goodies for this kit I read about AFV Club’s indie track links for T-34s, and my interest was thoroughly aroused by the reviews. Here was a link set that was workable and simply clicked together, I’m assuming somewhat like Dragon’s “Magic Tracks,” and I found a set on offer in Hong Kong for half the price of elsewhere…

Those who have read this blog before will remember my aversion to indie tracks, my loathing of repetitive fiddling and their uncooperative nature that could reduce a professional to tears, so you’ll appreciate how good this product is when I say it has been pretty much a breeze, as far as I’ve got.

The set contains four sealed plastic packs, three of horned links on sprues (five sprues of six links each, for a total of 90 horned links) and a pack of non-horned inter-links on sprues of two. The totals allow spares, so if you spoil a few links, as is more than likely, it’s no disaster. The plastic is good quality, the detail sharply moulded, and the sprue-gates clean up quickly with a file. Connection is by a pin and socket arrangement on the outer edges of the links, they click-fit and are strong enough to remain one piece so long as no strain is placed on the assembly. They are definitely “for looking at,” as the saying used to go, but certainly look the part.

Cleaning up after detaching from the sprues was by far the most time consuming factor. I would have invested an hour, an hour and a half perhaps, in assembling one track, a run of 34 of each type of link, matching the counted number of horned links on the Tamiya track and visible in profile pictures.

I went on to complete the second run and then set the project aside pending time and materials to pursue completion. Other things have demanded priority on the bench too, so I’ll be revisiting this subject at a later date. So far as assembling the tracks go, I can thoroughly recommend this product to anyone with as big an aversion to indie links as myself.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Product Review: Eureka XXL Replacement Tow Cables

Tow cables – most armoured vehicles carry them, those tough bowden-cable connectors used by engineers’ tractors to pull armour out of the mud. They’re not the easiest things for companies to tool out in plastic, and many solutions have been tried, including “heat and bend to shape” or Tamiya’s infamous string option. There has to be a better way, and braided picture hanging wire has often been used, yet the degree of twist is not to scale.

Polish firm Eureka XXL came to the rescue several years ago with their hand-made replacements, and it would be hard to imagine what more you could want. Typically, the end shackles are moulded in resin, while the cable itself is soft copper made just like the real thing, fine strands twisted around a heavier core wire. The copper is soft enough to bend readily, and to length-trim with a knife.

Using them is a breeze. Spray the end pieces on their resin pour block, crack them away (you don’t even need to saw or cut them free), prepaint the copper with your favourite metallic/rust effects, then superglue into one connector. Lay the cable on the vehicle, arrange with as much sag as you like, mark the correct length for the other end and trim with a knife; glue on the other end and glue to the model. But for final rust, dust and dirt effects, you’re done and the cable looks absolutely convincing because it is what it is supposed to be, spiral-braided metal.

Eureka have a huge range, and lots more for the armour fan than just cables. Check them out at:

It’s been three months since my last post, during which a few models have been finished, a trip to the UK happened (including a sci-fi modelfest visit, expect a report before long!) and a house-move-from-hell which has nonetheless resulted in a better mancave than before, including a proper display case for the first time. Sorry about my lack of blogging, normal service will hopefully be resuming at this time…