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So Much Effort, So Little Result

May 2020

Some modellers make one masterpiece at a time, lavishing infinite skill and patience over every tiny detail and finishing their creations with the skill of master craftsmen. Then they spend as much time again giving it the patina that turns their model from a simple plastic scale model to a likeness of the real thing bearing the marks of time and use bestow on things. Some of them then go on to locate their creations in a base that tells a story about a moment in time which creates a relationship between the people it to a location where it was used. The result can be a work of great artistry and beauty.

I am not one of those modellers. I like sticking pieces of plastic (or resin or metal) together and applying paint to the result to make it look something similar to how the original item looked. I might have the skill and patience of master modellers but exercising it does not interest me. When those modellers go to a competition they are inspired to make even better models, I am inspired to make more models. This sets me counter to current trends in modelling which emphasize the finished item as a work of art, is a trend that I am quite happy to look at but not to follow.

Many modellers, I suspect, have two or three kits on the go at the same time. It is necessary to give work to idle hands while glue, filler and paint is drying or while the modeller waits for a necessary component to arrive in the mail. Having more than one model to work on also means that if a modeller feels like sanding and scribing they have a model at that stage in the process or if they feel inclined to putting some decals on their model they can do that too. Most modellers might also have a model or two that they have become bored with that sits at the back of their shelf while they find newer kits more appealing.

Normally I would have five or six models in various stages of preparation, one or two on the verge of completion and another in the early stages of construction. This means that if I don’t want to have to face up to checking for seams and imperfections I can instead do some masking or some decalling. That’s the theory anyhow. This way I can usually count on having completed two or three models to a standard that pleases me every month, one or two of which are worth writing about. But that hasn’t happened this month. Sure, I have a couple of newly completed airliners that are not worth writing about at the moment and a little French fighter that was such an annoying kit that I refuse to mention it again. Then I look around my room and see that there are another ten or so models in various stages of completion, which means I’ve been busy this past month but have yet to see any finished models as a result. Of course there are excuses, or reasons, that none of them have been completed.

So much effort a

First off there are three Revell 1/144 A.320s that are almost completed but need some decals to complete them. Two simply need some decals for the tail markings but the ones that came with the decal sets were too small and I’m waiting for replacements. I attempted to fill the white spaces that should be covered with decals with paint mixed to the right shade but I failed in this process on both occasions, partly because the areas that need filling are not one single shade and new decal sheets will fill the gaps nicely to the right colour intensity. The third one waits because the decals for it I got from my usual source were so brittle that they cracked rather than settling down well, and I’m hopeful that decals from another supplier will take a greater liking to that model. However, during the current crisis mails are annoyingly slow, so those three models sit on the shelf, waiting patiently.

So much effort b

Another three models are three more Revell 1/144 airliners, an A.320 and two A.321s. They have gone through the process of construction and refinement to the stage that they have now entered the painting process. The engine pods are already painted, masked and mounted to the models and the first stage of painting, the metallic leading edges has been completed and allowed to sit for a day or two to set. Next they need careful masking, and have I told you before how much I dislike masking. So it might be a few days before I push those three models on to the next stage.

So much effort c

Next come three models that have all arrived at the verge of the painting stage at the same time. First is a F-Rsin 1/144 resin airliner which, being designed and built before World War II, is in an all metal finish, so that part of the process will not be difficult. I stalled on this one because it occurred to me that while the air intakes and radiators are nicely formed on this kit there were no exhaust pipes. (Such omissions are not unusual from this kit maker but if you want to make the models they offer you have to deal with them.) It took me a couple of evenings to figure out how to overcome this problem and to do something about it, and an evening of drilling holes and bending pieces of wire to replicate exhausts has now made that model almost ready for completion.

So much effort d

Next we have the new KP 1/72 MiG-19S which only arrived here a week ago. I’ve been wanting to make a decent MiG-19 model for many years and here at last is the kit to do it, more or less. However, having reached the painting stage, I now find that I don’t have the stainless steel lacquer paint to replicate the blast panels on the sides of the fuselage which are a prominent feature of all bare metal MiG-19s. That model now needs to wait until I can order the necessary paint and it arrives.

So much effort e

After that is the little Kora 1/72 Dewoitine 53 which is one of those limited run kits that emerges from eastern Europe to annoy modellers. By the standards of kits from this source this is not so bad and it amazed me by having a cockpit interior that actually fitted inside the fuselage halved snugly, until I tried to install the instrument panel as well. That was discouraging enough to set the model aside for a week or two but the delay also came because the kit offers options for models in either silver or green and silver schemes and I would have liked to make the green and silver one. However, that would have meant painting the model first and then joining the parasol wing to the fuselage, a nail biting task at the best of times and only to be attempted by geniuses when faced with a Kora kit. Eventually I decided that I would have to settle for the all silver model and yesterday went about the process of attaching the wing to the fuselage. All I want to say about that is that during the process I wished that I had more words of profanity in my vocabulary than I currently do because I needed every one of them. When a few days have past my mental equilibrium might have returned sufficient to continue with this model.

Then there is the Fokker 100 kit that sits unopened at the moment. It replaces the previous Revell 1/144 kit that I was in the process of converting to a Fokker 79, which is basically a shortened Fokker 100 with different engines. That kit ended up in my rubbish bin because, when I cut two chunks out of the fuselage of the Fokker 100 kit, I used the Welsh Models conversion kit to judge the amount of plastic to be removed. That process went very smoothly until I decided to prepare some decals for the windows of a Fokker 70, which I usually do by counting the number of windows on a photo of the real thing and creating a decal to match. Upon holding the new decal against the fuselage I discovered that it was still far too long and needed to be shortened further. A ruler and quick research into the length of a Fokker 70 confirmed my discovery. I started cutting more chunks out of the fuselage but then came across the lead weight that I’d carefully glued in the nose, lost patience with the whole thing and disposed of it. I found another kit on ebay at a reasonable price and bought it, and I’ll get around to making a Fokker 70 properly sometime soon, probably.

After that are the tiny Arctic Decals 1/144 resin kits of the deHavilland DH-86 1930s airliners which are necessary for my plans to make all the flagship airliners that Qantas flew, starting with the DH-86. (I bought two kits because I can also make the second one which was ANA’s major airliner until it was replaces by the DC-2, which I’ve already made). This is not a particularly challenging kit to make except that it lacks propellers, which is a challenged, the need to extend the tailplanes to make a DH-86 rather than a DH-86B, and the kit maker tell me that he is planning to release Qantas Empire Airways decals for this kit later in the year, so there’s no rush on that one.

So much effort f

Finally there is the 1/144 VLE Models kit of the Sikorsky S-38 flying boat. This has been haunting me for many years and one of these days I will finish it. Every so often I take the kit as I’ve made it so far out of its box, look at the plans, ponder the whole thing for an hour or two and put it back in its box which goes back on the shelf again. The real problem is the amount of strutting that needs to be done to install the engines between the two wings, I’m beginning to think that I will have to simplify the struts it just to get this project finished and that nobody will notice the difference, given the scale of the thing and the fact that nobody I know, or am likely to know, knows what a Sikorsky S-38 looks like anyhow. In a year or two I might be able to bring myself to do such a terrible thing to this little model and in the meantime it goes back into its box again.

So much effort g

So, that’s what’s holding up my modelling progress at the moment. What’s your excuse?


A refutation of the whig view of modelling history

(August 2005)

            Several thousand years ago, or so it seems, one of the most advanced kit makers of the time released a kit of an obscure British aeroplane.  Of course, Frog had always dabbled in oddities such as the Gloster E28/39 and the Bristol 138, but even by those standards the Westland Wyvern was an odd looking thing.  Of course, I bought one for a few bob and had it together in a few hours.  It was one of the more unusual looking models among all the Spitfires, Mustangs and Me109s that youngsters make. I liked it.

            However, as I grew up the simplicity of Frog’s Westland Wyvern made it less attractive in the midst of all the developments taking place in kit manufacturing.  In particular the cockpit began to look very empty and the mouldings began to look cruder by the year, in comparison with the products of the new Oriental kit makers.  To my mind one of the most annoying problems was that the exhausts of the turboprop engine were represented merely by suggestive lumps and holes on the fuselage side.

            Later I learned how to correct most of the problems with the Wyvern; how the trailing edges could be thinned, how a fairly representative cockpit could be made without too much fuss and that a bit of plastic tubing of the right diameter let into the fuselage sides could improve the look of the jet exhausts.  By that time, however, finding a Frog Westland Wyvern to practice all these new skills on had become the main problem.  While most of the old Frog moulds went to Russia and appeared under the Novo brand, the Wyvern didn’t seem to be among them.

            Then, one day I was in the Victorian Hobby Center and, in a pile of obscure bits and pieces, I found a little cardboard box with a simple drawing of Wyvern on the top.  This was in the days before most eastern European manufacturers had settled down to producing a constant supply of relatively good kits, so the contents of this box was something of a lucky dip.  I might have asked to have a look inside but that didn’t occur to me and so I paid my money and took it.  If I had been lucky the kit might have turned out to be a new high quality product, but it could also have been junk. Instead, it was neither.

            It turned out to be the old Frog mouldings with a little bag of white metal parts to make it into a Wyvern S.4, passable decals and a barely passable A5 size instruction sheet – the text was in English but so badly photocopied you could hardly read it.  It was a lot better than having no Wyvern kit at all and the white metal, although far from perfect, was a worthwhile addition.  To this I later added one of those vacform canopies thet come in sets from the New Zealand Falcon company.

            All I needed now was the time and patience to put the kit together to make a nice little Wyvern.  Time passed and a rapid outpouring of kits of French subjects from eastern Europe distracted me from getting on with the Wyvern.  Some time later Steve put a nicely made little Wyvern on the MoB table that demonstrated there were no serious difficulties with the Frog kit.  Again I was encouraged to get out the kit and have a go, but again there were other distractions and so …

            In the history business you learn the phrase ‘whig history’.  Its source is old and interesting but these days it means, more or less, the kind of history that sees the past as a succession of steps from worse to better so that today we are living in the best of all possible worlds.  These days we have computers, mobile phones, airbrushes, Alcald II, Superscale decals, etc, etc. We’ve never had it so good.  The whig view of history also applies to plastic kits. We started off with primitive Airfix and Frog kits, and a number of now long forgotten but not regretted brands, evolved through the arrival and maturity of Hasegawa and Tamiya, the introduction and maturity of the eastern European kits and now the high quality and relatively inexpensive western European kits produced by Revell and Italeri.  More recently we’ve also had the arrival of Dragon and Trumpeter from China.  Modellers have never had it so good, according to his historical perspective.

            When I was introducing poor undergraduate students to the idea of ‘whig history’ it was necessary to point out that not everything really gets better all the time.  The environment, social cohesion, working conditions, and so on.  Of course, the point of ‘whig history’ is that things are usually getting better for somebody at the same time they are getting worse for others.  The rich get rich and the poor get poorer, for example.  And I’m here to tell you that this kind of thing goes for modellers too.  While things get better for some modellers they get worse for others.  I’m one of the latter.

            Like many modellers I’ve been watching the arrival of Trumpeter with interest.  If nothing else, this Chinese company is not afraid to use lots of plastic and so they have been producing an expanding range of huge kits in big scales.  I see they have a 1:48 Fw200 on the way.  It comes complete with a home extension kit.  They have also been doing bits and pieces in 1:72, memorably their Tupolev Bear that comes with a loan application form.  They also produced a very tidy North American F-107 that seems to have disappeared from shop shelves these days.  So when they said they had a Westland Wyvern on the way the general modelling populace waited expectantly.

            This afternoon I happened to be in Melbourne for a meeting. Having a while to kill I took myself to good ol’ Victorian Hobby Centre to ponder the prices of modern plastic kits.  As I was walking down the aisle to the relatively inexpensive eastern European kits (also usually available from Mr NKR as superior prices) the person who had come into the shop after me struck up a conversation with the person at the counter.

            ‘The New Trumpeter Wyvern hasn’t arrived yet?’ He asked hopefully.

            ‘We’ve just got them in’, came the reply.  ‘They’re down that aisle there.’

            As I heard this I looked at the shelf in front of me and there were a couple of the new Trumpeter Wyverns.  I took them out and handed one to the eager customer who could hardly wait to pay for it and get it home.  There I was with the other one in my hand. What to do? There were none left on the shelves, new arrivals like this tend to sell out quickly and you never know when you will see another one.  I looked at it and thought about the little Frog kit waiting for me at home.  I looked at the price tag of $32.50 and considered the problems that still remained in improving the old kit, including the business with the jet exhaust.  After a moment or two of vacillation I gave into temptation.  The fact that the shop gives model club members a discount would bring the price to under $30, which is starting to be reasonable these days.  It didn’t even occur to have a look inside before I handed over my money. Quelle imbécile!

            A little later I had the opportunity to sit down, open the box and have a look at the contents.  My first impression was that there seemed to be a lot of space in the box (you could fit four Frog kits into the same space) and a cursory inspection of the various mouldings in their plastic bags suggested that this kit is a good example of the Trumpeter house style.  The decal sheet is pretty good too.  So far, so good.  It was only when I began to look at the details and flick through the 16 page instruction manual that the initial sense of enthusiasm began to turn to a kind of stomach churning dread.

This little aeroplane model which has (so the box top tells me) a wing span of only 186.5mm and a length of 179 mm, has 151 parts.  Good grief, the original Frog kit had around 30 parts.  So, if you measure the value of a kit by the number of parts it has, you certainly get value for money with this new Wyvern kit.

            Where do all these extra parts go?  First there’s the cockpit of about 24 pieces, main undercarriage wheels of four pieces each and a veritable cornucopia of bombs, rockets, torpedoes and drop tanks.  There are also two rocket packs to help the laden aeroplane take off (with all those underwing stores it’s no wonder) that takes up another 14 pieces each.  There’s airbrake assemblies of three parts each, those little transparent bits that go on the wingtips and for other navigation lights and a 14 part propeller assembly.  To top it off, you get folded wings with separate center section, outer wing panels and wingtips, with the folding mechanisms too.  When you go on the internet to read reviews of this kit they will no doubt say this kit is fabulous.  That, however, depends on your perspective.

            My trouble is this.  All I wanted was an accurate and relatively easy-to-assemble kit that took care of some of the problems of the Frog kit.  What I got was enough tiny bits of plastic to enable me to win the ‘out of the box’ trophy at almost any competition around the world.  For me 151 pieces of plastic is unnecessary and unwanted so, while this kit will be a step forward for most modellers, it is a step back for me.  For example, this Trumpeter kit will have to be extremely accurate for me to be able to make it with the wings unfolded.  Trying to get everything square and true is likely to be a horrendous task so that what should have been simple is now a source of unnecessary angst.  Four part main wheels is simply rococo embellishment, and even with the cockpit open most people won’t be able to see most of the wonderful but unnecessary detail.  To make this possible the cockpit canopy naturally comes in two parts, while I prefer a closed canopy – you know how difficult it can be to get the two tiny clear parts to line up accurately without smearing glue everywhere.  To add insult to injury, this kit more or less replicates the same fault the old Frog kit with the jet exhaust stuck on the side of the fuselage, so the same surgery will be necessary on the new kit as it was for the old.

            Following my realization of the terrible implications of the problems involved in making the Trumpeter Wyvern I sat for a while looking at this jigsaw of tiny plastic pieces, wondering what to do.  With luck the old Frog wings can replace the Trumpeter wings to take care of that problem.  The old Frog wheels will probably make life easier than struggling with the Trumpeter four part ones.  Hopefully the Falcon vacform canopy would replace the Trumpeter two part canopy without too many fit problems.  As for all the underwing ordnance; I can’t use it all, the white metal rockets that come with the old Frog kit are pretty good and, anyhow, I usually like to leave armament off to show off the lines of the aeroplane.  After a deal of unhappiness and deep thought on the problems of making a nice little simple model from this kit, I think that maybe it could be done with a combination of Frog and Trumpeter parts.  But it wouldn’t be easy.  And so a kit that many will regard as a masterpiece of the mould makers art is, to me, unnecessarily complicated and a retrograde step in the progress of kit making.  What I wanted was a simple solution to a complex problem and what I got was a complex solution to a simple problem.

            Then it came to me.  There’s a simple solution.  I’ll just make up the old Frog kit.  I’ll take this new Trumpeter kit to the next MoB meeting where you can buy it from me.  That way I’ll be happy and filled with a sense of relief.  I don’t know about you, though.


(August 2004)

            Now, where was I?  The last time I ran out of time to get a model finished before the next meeting I was reduced to writing about my tool box.  This time other work has kept me from finishing a lovely little avions Francaise so it is time to go back to my tool box for inspiration.  As I recall it, last time I got as far as writing about tooth picks which was really only the beginning of the tools in my box.  I didn’t know that it was possible to write so much about little splinters of wood and how they could be used in modelling.  With any luck we might get as far as toothpicks again. we may not.

            Between then and now I’ve upgraded from the little box I had to the rather larger cavernous container I now have.  The previous box wasn’t bad but it was just a touch too small for all the stuff that I need as a modeller so when I saw a whopper in the now extinct ‘Plastic Unlimited’ shop, I bought it.  This one has quite enough space for all the stuff I need to use and at the moment there is even a little bit of spare space that l have yet to fill.  In time I’ll think of more things to add.

            Using a tool box like this accomplishes several things.  It puts all my tools in one place so I can carry them around if I want to.  It means that there is a place for everything and everything goes in its place to make modelling easier by forcing me to be tidy.  Thirdly, it stops stuff from getting dusty from sitting around out in the open, as used to happen before I thought of getting everything into one box.  After six or seven years of using a box to contain all my modelling tools I don’t see how modellers can work any other way, but that’s like most things to do with modelling, everyone develops their own techniques and ways of doing things to suit their own temperaments and abilities.

            I started using a tool box when we were living in Perth and we spent a lot of the year living outdoors in the lovely weather.  Every time I wanted sit outside and amuse myself by working on a model I had to gather up the tools I’d need and take them out with me.  After having done this for five or six years it occurred to me that it was a cumbersome way to do things so I looked around for some way to make modelling easier and somehow came across the idea of a fishing tackle box – the kind of thing that has lots of little compartments and fold our trays to hold all the little bits and pieces that anglers use.  I bought a small cheap one to test the concept and after a few months bought a bigger one that I used for many years.

            My new box, like the previous one, has three trays that folded out on each side with a selection of little bits of plastic that allowed me to make up the petitions to suit myself.  So when I got the new box I spent some time figuring out how all the different bits and pieces would best fit in the trays by fitting the partitions in various ways.  After experimentation I figured out the best ways to arrange them so that the files, paint brushes, drills, tooth picks and so on and so on fitted together.  The additional space allowed me to include some general purpose paint in this box, the kinds of colours that get used on most models such as black. white. silver, red, yellow and French interior blue-gray.

            Then I made up partitions for the bottom of the box.  In the previous box things had just sort of rattled around and it all ended up in chaos so this time I decided to make it so everything there had a place and things like glass jars holding fluids for cleaning brushes weren’t in danger of clanging into each other and breaking.  This project took me the best half of an afternoon, using thick while card glued together with good old aquadhere.  The first stage was to cut a piece of cardboard that fitted snugly into the bottom of the box and then built up the side walls and then a series of partitions for the various bits in pieces.  In the center were spaces for the bottles of kerosene, water and ‘Future’, little bottles or tubes of super glue and so on.  In truth. everything turned out better than l had expected although. as I’ve used the box more, some bits and pieces have moved around so that the various tools or materials have found their right places. This is part of the natural process in which the tools and materials that get used most gradually find their way to the parts of the box that are easiest to reach so it is easy to tell which are my favourite tools just by where they are located in the box.

            There are really two classes of tools in my tool box, those that get used all the time and those that only get used occasionally but l wouldn’t be without for those special occasions.  Those are the ones I have to rummage around a bit to find whereas the ones I use all the time I can pick up with barely a glance.

            So, let’s begin with those tools in the latter category, the little set of modelling knives, all arranged so the blades point in the same direction so I’m not in danger of stabbing myself every time I reach in for one.  There are two knives with snap-off blades, both of which I’ve had for far longer than I can remember.  The best one is the first knife of its kind that I ever saw, probably in the late 1960s, that is so old it has a metal body rather the more modem plastic ones and most of the paint has been worn from it over the years of constant use.  The other is a fairly old plastic one that doesn’t take up much room and seems to fit my had just nicely when it comes to some kinds of trimming.  It’s so old that the little snap-off bit in the handle no longer sticks in place so I have to fish it out to snap off a bit of blade.  There are also two blade dispensers which shows that I’m forgetful when it comes to stocking up.

            Then there are two of the craft knives of the kind that you can fit all kinds of blades into and you just tighten them up to claps them tightly in place.  In theory I should be able to use a wide range of blade shapes but somehow I only seem to use the ones with the sharp points that you buy in most model shops in little plastic tubes. I have two of them, one with a thin handle that I’ve also had for ages and a more modern thicker handle that I bought in Stanbridges (in Perth) which I expected to be better to use because it was bigger but somehow I still prefer the old one.  As a result it has a dull old blade that I use for jobs such as cutting off slabs of two part epoxy putty and that kind of thing.  I recall having been instructed at one time that the snap-off blade knives were not recommended for modelling because they aren’t as stable as the other ones but I prefer them for all kinds of things, particularly because you get much more use out of the blades than you do with the other blades.  (Some time back Wayne suggested sharpening blades on the bottom of a mug but that never worked for me and I have a little blade sharpening stone that I use,  although I find that only new blades are really sharp enough for things like masking canopies.)

            Above the knives are the tooth picks, two segments of ordinary cheap flat toothpicks and one of the fancier round toothpicks.  I’ve only taken to using the fancy round one recently and really only for painting wheels because it is easy to twirl then around between thumb and forefinger smoothly to paint the dark grey of the tyre.  I used the others for years for wheels and never got the smooth round shape on tyres that I wanted, now I have little trouble.  It did occur to me that you could mount them in the chuck of some kind of drill and set it running at a fairly slow speed to get an even rounder shape, but I haven’t tried that yet.

            There are so many uses for the old flat toothpicks that I could fill up a page or two writing about them all but I’ve already been there so I’ll rnove on to writing about some other tools next time …