You’ve seen those photos, brilliantly finished tank models with L&L treads that are assembled before painting, clad perfectly around the wheels at the structural stage. When queried, the builder casually remarks that he “always” completes the model structurally before starting the painting process, and those perfect rubber rims on the roadwheels of said tank he “just paints where they are.” I’m not saying there aren’t masters who can do just that, but for myself I find it impossible, and the very idea reawakens long-subsided memories of childhood disasters with large paintbrushes and small parts.
So, how do you prefer to do it?
When I was a young styrene cadet, I had a strict order of priority in my mind, that building came before painting, and I took poorly to the suggestion in model instructions that small parts should be painted before assembly. It just would not compute at that age, and it took until I was a little older to start to see the sense of it. And older again before I realised that leaving the parts on their trees created the perfect handling system for items that were way too small to manipulate reliably. This means that today, I can have many parts for a model, say aircraft interior parts, landing gear, prop blades and so forth (that’s an Airfix Spitfire XIX happening in the header pic), airbrushed before they ever come off the tree. A little cleanup with file and knife as necessary, use masking solution to protect mating surfaces, and on with the paint – it works like a charm.
It’s probably all too easy to think that the method that works for us is the “only” one, and an eye-opener when we realise how differently other people do the same things. Approaches to L&L tracks is a case in point, with the shaping to the running gear being part of assembly, and the completed track being so fragile that it takes poorly to being removed and painted separately from the rest of the model. This inherent difficulty is one of the factors that has kept me from giving them a genuine go so far; I can get my head around fully articulated tracks (if not afford them) and vinyls I do not find repugnant, but plastic L&Ls do not, as yet, “compute” for me. If I can’t paint the tracks, wheels and hull in separate condition, my technique fails and I visualise paint splattered everywhere as my sausage-fingers, iffy dexterity and failing eyesight try to obtain decent coverage from paints applied with tiny brushes to difficult-to-reach crannies. The very idea of it is enough to make me say no … just no.
But those L&Ls do assemble so well on many models. I’m currently looking at Alan’s Flampanzer II and trying to imagine doing the L&Ls. Can I get them to assemble solidly enough in top and bottom runs to be separated off vertically so that everything can be painted individually, then bring it all together again and close up the tracks seamlessly? The great Tony Greenland would say no, plastic shrinks subtly on contact with cement and if removed they will never fit exactly the same way a second time. So … how?
I always paint and assemble aircraft landing gear off the model and getting a plane up on her feet is one of the last jobs I do during final assembly. I know others who like to get the gear on during painting so she’ll stand up for herself. There is no right or wrong, it’s all about what works for the individual, but surely there are limits to that – elements that are dictated by practicality in miniature engineering as surely as in the full size original?
At the other end of the scale there are also modellers who have found a way to paint the exterior finish before assembly. This I find fully as difficult to get my head around as painting roadwheels after assembly… Surely the penalty of dressing joint lines and then repairing the paintjob over the seams doubles the work? It doubles the number of paint load-ups, at least? Again, techniques are infinite and whatever “computes” for us is the right one.
Maybe it comes down to how creative we are with our engineering – how fiddly we can be, our mental tolerance for whatver the manufacturer thought was a good idea, and our dexterity and ability to think ahead, all very personal attributes that conspire to give us rather different ways of tackling the same problems. To paraphrase Taoism, “there are many different paths to the top of the mountain – but they all lead to a finished model.”