Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A Lifetime Since My Last Skyhawk

The Airfix 1:72 A-4B Skywawk (A03029) is the first Skyhawk I’ve done since I was a kid – and that one, some 44 years ago, was also an Airfix, the ancient-tool original! I’ve wanted to add those classic Douglas lines to my display case for a long time, and the new Airfix seemed an inexpensive place to start.

This is a nice kit to put together for the most part, but can bite you here and there. Alignment is generally fine but there were gaps at the wingroots and intakes. The former I dressed using white glue and capillary action, which seemed to work quite well, while the latter received traditional filler, though the repair is by no means invisible. The canopy fit is fair but can wander around in terms of seating the windscreen, while the main hood is too deep – it stands high at the rear hinges, as if designed to be displayed in the open position. There are delicate and fiddly parts, the landing gear especially, and I had to take a few days break to let my frustration settle down before resuming the job. The secondary strut on the nose gear snapped on the sprue and was simply omitted, in the interests of sanity.

Paintwork is MM Acryl Gull Gray over Tammy flat white, with Microscale Satin for the lustre. The decals are very good, but large ones grabbed very fast, resulting in the loss of one of the large NAVY titles – I’ll replace it next time I do one of these kits. Areas where multiple markings lie close together are served by single decals, which is a good idea, except that with the grab of these thin, lovely printings I dare not even try them – I cut away the modex numbers from the front insignia and applied them separately. The same would likely work for the rear flank decals – separate the elements and maybe they’ll slip better.

There are a number of omissions in this build – mine, more then the company’s. There is no decal for the “barbershop pole” effect on the arrester hook, and after attempting to cannibalise strip decal, which shattered at the first attempt, I dropped the hook into the receiver without glue so I can come back to it at a later date if the means comes to hand. Likewise the red edges of the gear bay doors are ignored – way too hard to freehand paint and I’ll need strip decals of some sort (reliable ones…) before I try. The intake warning markings are painted freehand around the curve (the sheet provides straight decals for them, which must be some sort of hobby company joke), and masking the correct narrower area for brush painting simply did not work. So it was brushed up to the adjoining panel line, and that was as good as it was going to get.

I’m more or less amazed that the landing gear is actually strong enough to hold the model up, but it seems to be. I had visions of its collapsing once the tanks were on, but superglue seems to have pinned everything up well enough. The Eduard masks for the canopy were their usual breeze to use, and their usual frustration when they pulled up both paint and decals as they came off. There are times I wonder why I bother to use them when the result is so shoddy -- then I imagine trying to hand paint canopy struts and I remember why.

Overall, a good model that looks the part on the shelf, but I’m reminded yet again that 1:72nd scale is a real trial, and I prefer 1:48th – so long as there’s somewhere to put the finished article. While doing this one I had the urge to grab a late-tool F-16 in the larger scale and just do it, but sense prevailed. Until that fabled new display case puts in an appearance, I must restrain my urge to build bigger!

Cheers, Mike

Friday, December 15, 2017

Seasonal Bench-Time: Making an End-of-Year Effort

It’s almost a cliché that pressures of life cut into our hobby time, and my 2017 experience has been probably the most extreme example of this to date. I finished one small kit early in the year, then, despite having a great many underway, found my energy, attention and time drained away to other things. Losing a parent at mid-year was one of life’s milestones and put a great dampener on things as trivial as creative entertainment… Then there was work – teaching the second semester anthropology course for First Years was quite a commitment, and my writing endeavours have certainly taken up time and application – I should finish the year with better than sixty new short stories, in quest of that fabled occupation, professional science fiction writer.

So it’s hardly a surprise that the hobby bench took a back seat this year, and only now, at the end of the year, have I been able to set things aside and make an attempt to finish up a few projects before the fireworks at New Year.

The one that wanted to be finished first was Tamiya’s vintage Brummbar, 35077, from 1976. This kit has long been eclipsed by the Dragon offerings, but, having built one of those a couple of years ago, I can safely say this one is a much easier build, for all its proportional problems. It depicts a first- to early-second series vehicle, and in reality these were delivered with zimmerit, without exception. However, I did not fancy a zimmerit job on this model, I wanted to explore painting techniques on an un-rippled hull, try to push my chipping approach in oils (inspired by some build photos I found on the web of an amazing chipping job performed on this very same kit.)

So, historical inaccuracy aside, I built the model straight from the box (the easy part), and decided on detailing. I grafted in some Dragon bits – the schkurtzen hangers, for instance, finer and more exact than the Tamiya parts, but they simply would not line up anything like accurately, therefore plans to add the Dragon etched skirt plates were also shelved.

As usual with old Tamiya Pz. IV kits, I added some detail inside the fenders in strip and rod styrene. These details were omitted from the kit for reasons of tooling limitations, but are easy enough to add.

By the time the model was “finished” and photographed, I realised I had also forgotten to paint the jack block and prep a Dragon braided-wire tow cable – these details are to follow whenever I get around to them!

The soul of this job was always going to be the painting. I got the project as far as the base colour overall (Tamiya Acrylics XF-60, lightened for scale effect with 25% XF-2, then given a slight lustre with 20% X-22). And there she sat for many months as I struggled with the other things life set before me, never quite feeling up to doing the rotbraun camo overspray, until recently.

I had been away from the hobby so long I made a number of mistakes – the first camo overspray was okay, but the mist coat to pull the finish together was the wrong shade, resulting in too light an effect and the rotbraun developing a pinkish tinge. I then realised I had used NATO brown instead of the WWII shade anyway! Talk about disconnected from the job… So, back up, mix a fresh round of base colour by the numbers, respray and start again, correct camo (XF-64), followed by XF-60 mist to tie it together.

Finally I got to grips with the oils, gave the whole beast a very thin wash of dark brown in enamel thinner (stinks to high heaven, gives me blazing headaches unless I have a wind blowing through the place and use a respirator mask), then switched to unthinned oils to profile all edges in a pale ochre, followed by the rust work – dark brown, red-brown, and the slightest touch of orange. This took about three sessions over some days, and the sheer extent of the work always left some bit needing more. I need to try the old scotchbrite-pad method for extensive areas of random chipping, it would really improve the result and speed things up.

More oils, pin washes around details, then dry pigment work on the muffler, and back to the air brush to spray the road grime coat on the underside and running gear. Here I made a mistake again, taking it too dark/heavy on the roadwheels so there was too much contrast against the drives and idlers. I didn’t spot this mismatch until the running gear was mounted, and with the Tamiya polycap attachment method they absolutely did not intend to come off again, so respraying was out. Instead I darkened the drives and idlers with a black oil wash to create a more even gradient between upper and lower areas and this seemed to suffice as an eleventh-hour save.

Decals are Archer crosses and Dragon numbers. I added a little pigment over them to tone down the brightness of the white, which always seems to work visually. The pioneer tools were sprayed on the sprue, given a dark brown wash to tone back the metallic, then fitted and treated with pigments for rust effects. The jack was sprayed hull colour and weathered appropriately.

The Brummbar had a plate over the muffler, possibly to protect the spare wheels from the heat and soot of the exhaust, but this plate is omitted here – there is  no way to fit the muffler with the plate installed, and the plate will not fit if the muffler goes on first, apparently. It strikes me as an unhappy consequence of driving the original Panzer IV kit’s lower hull engineering beyond its original design intent (either that or this bit was too fiddly for me, a very rare event in an early Tamiya kit!)

Last washes and pigments completed the dirt and rust effect all round, I added a radio antenna from wire, and she was essentially done. A great many unused parts went into storage, on which I will draw for future projects – the ample supply of individual track links will serve on a StuG IV at some point, the crew helmets will find service, the skirt plates also perhaps.

Okay, it’s not super-accurate, but it’s also neither super-difficult nor super-expensive, and it’s a fun model to build. The painting aspect is king here – as an example check out the last photo – the finished Brummbar against a Pz. IV J as far along as the scale-adjusted base colour. This really brings home to what degree the finishing techniques bring a model alive.

There’s a fortnight left in the year and I’m going to try to finish another couple of projects before the calendar turns.

Cheers, Mike Adamson 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Pressed for Time!

We all have patches when we can’t often get to the bench, and this year is shaping up to be a short-production record like 2016. At the end of March I have my first completion (others underway, of course), and I can only say I’ve been especially busy with other concerns since the beginning of last year to excuse my distance from the hobby. That, and being in sore need of a new display case, which is also painfully true.

What to do when you’re craving a build but have only a few hours here and there to give it? Well, armour takes less prep painting than aircraft, so I usually gravitate to a tank. I recently completed that very early Tamiya Pz.II F (35009) from about two years ago (seen with the new build in the bottom photo), it had been awaiting decals as I didn’t fancy the kit sheet and was interested in going with dry prints. I collected a number of sheets but ended up using the much, much better waterslide sheet from a later edition of the same Tamiya kit – and liked the result so much I decided to build that new copy at once and do a project in grey.

The kit builds in a trice – three sittings, a “one day build” by all reasonable standards, but the finishing techniques were the full monty, all my usual suite of tricks, and I took a couple of weeks over completion. The grey was the same mix as that Pz. III F I did last year, airbrushed in Tamiya acrylics (XF-24 Grey tinted with XF-8 Blue at a ratio of 5:1, plus 30% X-22 Clear Gloss to put a fresh-paint sheen on it. I did not bother with a scale-colour effect as the next step was to spray a 5% solution of XF-23 Grey-Blue to fade the top surface. Over this went an oil wash job, pin-washes around raised detail, streaking of rust in simple dark brown, some condensation streaking in white, some tiny spots of orange for fresh rust, then an ultra-fine brush was used to install paint chips and dirt spots in rust-brown and black. I used the new Tamiya XF-85 Rubber Black for the tires (though I can’t actually tell the difference from XF-69 NATO Black!) The running gear was stencilled into the mixed dunkelgrau, then the running gear and lower hull received a road grime coat of the same mixed shade as the tracks – XF-64 Red-Brown plus black at 2:1. I built up the grime gradually, and must remember to go with a thicker mix over grey in future.

I did not have much luck with the dry prints this time out, the balkenkreutzer were very difficult to align and prone to shattering – maybe the Archers are getting old? Dry prints should have a very long lifespan, so I’m not sure what was wrong. To be fair, the alignment issues were entirely down to myself, and I wasted four decals in the process, and used a kit waterslide for one of them anyway.

Mig pigments finished the effects, with ‘standard rust’ and ‘black smoke’ applied sparingly in a few places. I did my usual trick with the muffler, roughening the surface with a hard brusgh after softening the plastic with liquid cement, followed by shaking on sanding dust over wet glue to create the bubbling effect of severe rust, which looked good under paint and pigments.

The markings I chose for this one are those of 18th Panzer Division, and the grey scheme marks this vehicle as operating before the switch to dunkelgelb ordered in February 1943. She is certainly hard-used and the weather has taken its toll since the last respray. I might accessorise her with some helmets, maybe a flag, one day. She looks pretty good on the shelf and marks my second panzer grey project. I look forward to adding some halftracks to the collection in early war markings too.

Cheers, Mike Adamson

Friday, March 10, 2017

Recently Completed: Fujimi 1:72 A-7A Corsair II

I can’t believe I haven’t touched this blog in six months!!! I guess I’ve been preoccupied with my writing blog “The View from the Keyboard” which I’ve been pursuing as an adjunct to trying to build a career as a science fiction writer – give it a look, I can promise some great reads!

But what about “World in Miniature?” I certainly don’t want to abandon it, and was today amazed to find I failed to post about my last completed build. With writing and teaching last year I only completed four models, the last of which was a classic Fujimi 1:72nd scale Corsair II. The interesting thing about this project was the circuitous route it took from origins to completion.

The kit was bought bagged on eBay, the Testor edition of the A-7D, and I ripped into it with plans for my first four-tone South East Asia camo job since I was a kid. I have the Model Master Acryls for all shades lined up and was ready to do a hard masking job with broad Tamiya tape (while really hoping AML will continue to expand their line of vinyl camouflage masks to take in subjects like this.) Well, she was a bit of a challenge at the build stage, that two-part intake trunk/lower fuselage called for some careful alignment and elbow-grease to reduce the seams, but overall it went well. I read in an online review that the wings of the Fujimi Corsairs fit with such precision you can complete them separately and mount them after painting, and this eased masking considerably so I gave it a whirl. It more or less worked but the alignment of wings to fuselage, compounded relative to the ground by the inexplicably skewed stance of the landing gear, ended up being far from correct – I just don’t look at her from nose-on, if you know what I mean.

But, and here’s the big but, when Testor packed the kit they included the small sprue of Navy parts instead of the specific USAF parts (differences in landing gear and, most visibly, the air refuelling system.) Bang went plans for a –D in camo… The obvious solution was to use the Navy parts, making her indistinguishable from a –A airframe and finish her in Navy markings, which at last gave me the chance to dip into my massive Superscale collection from long ago.

I picked 72-332 CHECK and selected one of the three bicentennial schemes. The Gull Gray was Model Master, the white was Tamiya, plus Microscale clearcoats and decal chemistry, and the markings went on very nicely indeed – pretty good when you think this sheet might be twenty years old. Florey panel wash was trapped between clearcoats too, and I built her with mostly clear pylons, as this unit, VA-305, the “Lobos,” was stateside at Alameda in 1977 as a training and reserve unit, so while Corsairs were rarely seen without the full suite of underwing pylons, they were unlikely to be heavily laden in their role at that time and place.

It was a fun kit, if a challenging one, and I know there are shortcomings, the above-mentioned alignment issues high among them, plus a small antenna on the spine of the Navy bird which I was  not up to adding, and this aircraft should have had a small antiglare panel extending into the white radome area but I was not up to masking it. Hey ho, it takes a specialist to know.

I have many Fujimi Corsairs in the stash and look forward to building a collection, I have a great many decal sheets waiting to be used and my “sluf” shelf should be pretty spectacular in the end. I might build some assembly jigs to solve the alignment problems, and tackle the wings conventionally from now on.

Cheers, Mike Adamson
PS: I won’t leave it six months til next post – I have several projects on the bench so there’s plenty to talk about!