Category Archives: Model Cars

Masking Tape, over a glossy finish, a sticky question.

My experience has been fairly good, using old-school beige masking tape, Scotch “Magic” (flat) transparent tape, 3M blue tape, or the light green 3M high stick tape. I prefer the 3M blue product. Scotch “Magic” tape can do really sharp lines on flat, smooth, surfaces, but it has no ‘stretch’. It won’t go around complex curves, stretch to fill engraved lines, etc. It can be hard to remove too, if you don’t leave an edge up somewhere.

First you need the base glossy paint to be well attached. Clean all the parts on their trees with Luke warm water and dish detergent, hand soap, light scrubbing with a green dish scrubber, light sanding with 600 or finer wet-dry sand paper, your choice. Do what’s worked for you in the past. Lay the paint down lightly and evenly. Keep the model parts warm enough before and after applying paint. Keep the paint warm too.

Having a gloss finish doesn’t require glossy paint. Future floor wax, gloss finish lacquers, gloss acrylic, gloss enamel, what ever’s right, after all the paint colors are in place, gives the thinnest finish.

If you’ve already got the glossy paint down and you’re wondering how to mask over it, there’s still plenty of little details to attend to.

Roughing the area the second color will go on doesn’t hurt- my problem masking is as much about the second coat not sticking on up to the masking line as it is about the first coat pulling off or separating.

Having a clean, fresh, edge with effective adhesive is VERY important. You can get along with the edges of the roll of tape as it comes from the maker IF its fresh and you just unwrapped or opened it. If the roll is a long term resident on your workbench, or the sides/edges are scruffy, its not going to make a clean, tight, line.

I keep my masking tape in a small zip-log bag now, stand it on its ‘tread’ instead of laying it on its ‘sidewall’, in or out of the bag. When I want a really crisp edge, I take a nice length of tape and my sharpest Fiskar scissors and cut the tape, straight, down the middle- this gives two, straight, sharp, edges. If I need a line longer than the length the Fiskar’s blades, I piece it from several pieces of tape, to make the edge, and fill with a second layer. I don’t overlap the joints, I trim the edges to slightly less than 90 degrees and lay the pieces down point-to-point, starting like:

1st color layer…
area for 2nd color.

Smallish filler pieces to cover the little triangular gaps are good. In general I find that small, narrow, pieces of tape are easier to use over curves (or to make curves!) than wide tape. I usually buy 1″ (25mm) and often cut it in half or thirds or quarters before I apply it. Getting a crisp edge is NOT the same as covering a large area- mark out the edges with narrow strips, then use full-width strips (or paper or plastic) to cover bulk areas. Yes, its hard to get long, straight, lines with narrower strips. Its hard to get long straight lines with big, wide, pieces too. Once its stretched out of shape, you’re better off throwing it away, or cutting it to the straight edge you need. Piecing out a long line in scissors-length pieces against a metal straight edge is possibly easier than applying a 2 foot (60cm) piece of tape…

Once the tape is down, burnish the edge, and any seams. Something smooth. slightly soft and gently curved like a Bic pen cap, orangewood stick, etc, is good. Fingertips work.

If you’re worried about stuff running under the tape (via deeply engraved panel lines, rough surface, whatever) dust a light coat of the base color or a clear to seal the edge of the tape. EASY does it, no blobs. Just enough to seal.

Now lay the second color down, in light, thin coats. More tape and a third color, etc, can follow. Using flat paint and not having to sand-down gloss finish for subsequent coats to stick to is clearly an advantage….

Some people like to lay a thick, wet, coat down and then lift off the masking as soon as the second color will stay in place… Ummm, that isn’t easy to do in thin, light, coats… Slicing along the tape edge with a brand-new knife blade is good, if you’re making a ‘straight’ line, a straight edge to slice along may help. Slice LIGHTLY, don’t go through the 1st color, or down into the base material of the model.

PEEL the tape, gently, slowly, pull AWAY from the masked edge. Peeling off the tape is a big part of getting a good masked edge. But like all human activities, it isn’t really true that there’s one and only chance, or that it can’t be fixed if there are problems. Personally, if I think any of the paint might still be wet (uncured) I shelve it and come back in a day or two.

But don’t heat something with masking tape on it, or leave it on the dashboard of the car on a summer day… Overheated tape stickum is a complete BEAR to remove. Ask me how I know…. After a year or two, the old, beige tape, stickum would vulcanize or cure or whatever you call it- become stiff and hard and require sandpaper to remove. The new, gentler, “blue” tapes are far more forgiving.

After the tape is off, there may be a ridge where a taped line was. Fine or extra fine fingernail sanding sticks, wet, are good for working down the ridge without losing the sharp edge. The stiff sanding stick is easier to control than a floppy sheet of sandpaper, and you only want to affect the stuff that’s sticking up.

Another reason to paint flat paint and gloss it later.

For natural metal finish with solid colors as well, I cover everything that will be bare metal and do the paint first, completely, including masking-ridge-sanding and the gloss coat, then tape off ALL the paint and spray Testor’s Metalizer (from rattle cans) over the bare plastic. So everything gets masked once, at least. (The airbrush-able Metalizer works just as well, and you can mix it and tint it, but I choose to use my time on other things.)

NEVER try to save materials when masking. Use fresh tape, use more tape, remove the tape and start over if you don’t like what you see. The tape is cheap, your time is expensive.

That said, don’t make your life harder than it needs to be. If you’re painting the tips of wings and rudder, mask the EDGES of the tips off, then cut some slits in a paper bag, and use the bag to cover all the model, except for the little bits you want to paint. Its not saving stuff, just making your life easier. Wrapping something completely in tape isn’t much fun, and risks overspray on gaps that require a lot of inspection to check.

Well, that went on too long, but you’ll have a good time doing multicolor paint and paint + natural metal. You can do the gray wings with polished leading edges, flat aluminum panels, satin finish engine intakes and maybe a titanium bit on the engine pylon.

Take a shot, take some pictures, let us know how it goes for you!


Monogram Fiero chassis, engine, suspension

Jean got me this Fiero kit as my Christmas model kit. Pretty cool. GM could never decide if this was the parts-bin special that had been sold to upper management or the sporty sports car it might have been. It did accomplish one major thing for the American automotive industry- the funny reaction-injection-molded plastic body panels never matched painted steel in quality of appearance, and the steel manufactuerers went to GM and said, how come you did that, and GM said, “You never talk to us about what we want”. And a dialog began.

Now here you can see what I was trying to accomplish: I used 4 or 5 different dark, dark, grays, mostly Polly S black with a touch of Polly S white. The shiny one is Testor’s Acryl “Semi gloss” black mixed 5:50 with Testor’s Acryl flat black, and the results lightened slightly with Testors Acryl Flat White. The basic chassis is the lightest tone I used. My theory is that the “flat black” used on an industrial scale for things like chassis is seldom dead flat OR a deep black.. Its dark enough you’d call it “black” but its not loaded with black pigment like a high quality black artist’s oil paint.

I took the liberty of painting the engine in my own ideas of good colors. I find the metallic silver-blue-green that Pontiac actually used as a corporate paint for engine blocks particularly uninspired. Sorry, Pontiac fans.

Building Plastic Models. How-to, tools to use.

This article presents a “short form” and then repeats the short form with a longer discussion of each point. The goal is to put the basic information needed to build a plastic model into your hands as quickly and easily as I can. Please let me know if you used this guide, what you liked, what could be improved, what you didn’t like. And don’t forget to mention how your model building went!

Minimum Tools:
1) Diagonal cutters or fingernail clippers or kitchen scissors or small pruning clippers…

2) Masking tape, the blue, long-use type…

3) Non-toxic plastic model glue (Testor’s blue label). Like the toxic stuff, it dissolves the plastic to form joints. Very strong when dry.

4) At least a coarse fingernail sanding stick, a piece of sandpaper or an emery board… Coarse

5) A paint stirrer, if you’re using paint.

Optional: 6) A really sharp knife for trimming parts…

7) Some “Future” brand floor wax if you’re using clear parts or decals…

8) A container for water to rinse your brushes, if you’re using paint…

9) A small, fine, flat file and rat-tail round file. The file on a nail clipper will work.

What to do:

1) Wash all the plastic parts in warm water with a little bit of dish detergent. Dry gently.

2) Read the instructions all the way through.

3) Brush 2-3 coats of Future over all clear parts

3.1) If you’re going to use paint, you can put the first, second, etc. coat of paint on the parts while they’re still on the trees. Parts that are glued together will need paint removed where the glue should go, and touch-ups along the seams where trimming, sanding, etc, has removed the paint.

4) Start at the beginning of the instructions, build a subassembly, put it aside for the glue to dry, start the next.

4.1) Fit the parts together dry, without glue. Use tape to hold them in place.

4.2) Use the clippers, knife, sanding stick and file to get each part to fit

4.3) Apply glue lightly, where the parts will touch, back from the edge. Big joints benefit from glue on both pieces.

4.4) Fit the parts together, with many small pieces of tape right across the joints.

4.5) Let the glue dry at least a day. If you can smell glue solvent, its not dry yet.

4.6) After the glue is dry, sand, scrape, file, trim, etc before you continue with the subassembly or before paint.

5) To glue the clear parts, sand or scrape off the Future from where the glue should dissolve the plastic, put the pieces together, tape them in place, ‘wick’ the glue between the parts. Easy does it. You can always make a second pass.

6) Do the final painting of parts when a given subassembly of a given color is together. Not before or after assembly, but during assembly.

7) Most of the work in painting is preparation.

8) Get the piece or subassembly as nice as you can before you start painting.

9) Stir the paint until you are sure it’s completely blended. Then stir one more minute.

10) Don’t expect good paint coverage in 1 coat, use many THIN coats. Sand or scrape off unwanted paint, don’t paint over it.

11) You can mix a lot of colors from red, yellow, blue, black, white and flat aluminum.

12) If the paint seems to dry TOO fast, makes lumps, brush marks, or pull off when you add another coat, add a few DROPS of water, or water mixed with rubbing alcohol, and stir thoroughly.

12.1 ALWAYS clean and dry the top of paint jars, so the lid seals neatly and can be opened easilyl.

13) Future floor wax and the water-based paint don’t react to the non-toxic glue. So you can blot-up extra, especially on the outside.

14) Just let the bare plastic be the basic color when you start with painting. Paint the little bits that should be silver, or black, or other colors that stand out. Paint the interior but not the exterior. Paint the engine but not the body, the wheels and tires (on airplanes) but not the wings.

15) If you really must paint the whole thing, use many thin color coats. If you want shiny paint, you can paint with a flat paint that’s easy to use, followed by several coats of Future to make it shiny. Expect it to take a week. Or more.

16) I use and recomend Polly Scale acrylic paint for models. Also Testor’s Model Master Acryl (water based) and Tamiya water/alcohol based paint. Tamiya’s spray paints are pretty neat too, but they’re NOT water based or non-toxic. I leave anything I spray outdoors or at least in the garage for 24 hours.

17) Check your public and school library for “Fine Scale Modeler” (USA) or your local model builder’s magazine. FSM, and the others, also have web-sites. You can find reviews and advice on how to build, paint, and improve many models onine.

18) Internet Modeler and Hyperscale are other general-modeling sites. Modelling Madness tends more toward military airplanes, Airline Modelers Digest (AMD) and Airliner Cafe are specificly for commercial, passenger, aircraft.

19) In the southern San Francisco Bay Area, The Silicon Valley Scale Modelers club meets every 3rd Friday-of-the-month in the Milpitas Library meeting room. 7:00 to 10:30 pm. The Fremont Hornets meet at 7:30pm, Wally Pond Irvington Community Center, 41885 Blacow Road, Fremont, CA, similar hours. New modelers are always welcome at both clubs.

Look online or ask at your local hobby shop for the club in your neighborhood.

———-========== Long Form ==========———-

1) Diagonal cutters or fingernail clippers or kitchen scissors or small pruning clippers or some other small tool for neatly cutting the parts off the trees. Put the flat (bottom) side of cutters against the part, the stuff you want, and let the connection to the tree get mushed by the diagonal part of the cutters. You can use a sharp knife for this but clippers are easier. If you use a knife, cut against a plastic or wood cutting board or the back of an old phone book or something like that- thick, smooth, something the knife can’t either hurt or cut all the way through.

2) At least a coarse fingernail sanding stick to smooth the clipped edges and any ‘flash’ or wrong-shaped areas on the parts. A medium and a fine stick would be good too- start with the coarse, then the medium, then finish with the fine. The colored ones with white foam inside them are waterproof and you can get better results by using them ‘wet’ with a little water from the sink. Experiment on the part trees to see what you can do with them. A piece of sandpaper- 100 to 300 grit, would work if you can’t get fingernail sanders. “Emery boards”, with beige stuff on wooden or cardboard sticks, are NOT waterproof and will fall apart if you wet them, but they work too. Medium Fine

3) Masking tape to hold the parts in place while the glue dries. I prefer the long-life stuff that’s colored blue- you can leave it on for weeks and it doesn’t get ‘funny’, the way the old beige style does. One roll will last for years. A given model needs maybe a foot, or less. Use lots of little pieces right at the seams to hold parts.

4) Non-toxic plastic model glue. Testor’s make a liquid and a gel ‘glue’ that are flamiable, but not toxic… neat trick that. The tubes and bottles have blue labels, to be different from the red-orange label on their toxic, flamable, glue… I’ve been using the non-toxic for years, it works great. It really melts the plastic, but doesn’t give you a headache. Work in good ventilation anyway- open the window, sit outside, leave parts that are drying somewhere that the fumes can escape easily (garage, on the porch, etc.)

5) A paint stirrer. A piece of solid copper wire, a large, long, shiny nail, a small, clean, screwdriver. Something metal that you can put into the paint, stir with (like a wooden stirring stick for house paint) and rinse off in hot water and/or with a scrubber to get ALL the paint off it.

6) A really sharp knife for trimming parts. You can get along with just clippers and sanding sticks, but a knife will make short work of small trimming jobs. It can also be used to carve away extra glue or melted plastic at joints, or scrape adjacent surfaces to a common plane (or curve). A sharply pointed knife can do many jobs you might expect to require a drill- making holes enlarging holes or openings in parts. A kitchen pairing knife that’s been sharpened will do, as will any other small pocket knife that is sharp, or a box cutter, X-acto knife, scalpel, etc. Single-edge razor blades are more trouble than they are worth for plastic models. A small Xacto knife handle and small package of #11 pointed blades is a part of many modeler’s tool kits.

7) Some “Future” brand floor wax- if you don’t use it in your house, maybe one of your friends or neighbors does. Its like magic, two or three coats over ‘flat’ paint and it looks like the part was dipped in glass. SO shiny! It completely protects clear parts from damage by solvent glue, both non-toxic and toxic kinds. And it cleans up with water. Its also a good undercoat for decals, which work best on a glossy surface, and a top coat to seal them. If you want a dull, flat, finish, a barrier coat of Future followed by Testor’s Dullcote from a rattle can will do the trick.

8) A container for water to rinse your brushes in as soon as you finish using them. A plastic deli container, plastic drink container, etc, anything you can rinse out with HOT water and scrub off extra paint will work. Empty jars are good, coffee cups with broken handles, salsa containers from a resturant. A damp paper towel works almost as well.

9) One or more small, fine, files, 4 to 8 inches long. The most useful are a flat one and a round, tapered, rat-tail. The file from a nail-clipper is a start, a but you’ll soon want more than you can do with it. An inexpensive file assortment will last a lifetime. Use a wire brush to clean the faces if they get clogged with plastic.

What to do:

1) Wash all the plastic parts in warm (not hot, like bath water when you’re done) water with a little bit of dish detergent. Use your fingertips to rub soapy water all over all the parts- they’re cleaner and softer than any sponge or brush. Rinse well, pat dry with a towel and then let the parts air dry completely. This will remove any oil or ‘mold release’ that might be on the plastic and allow paint and glue to work best.

2) Read the instructions all the way through, find all the parts, figure out how they fit together. NEVER apply cement unless you’ve put the parts together FIRST and confirmed that you’ve got the right ones and you know the way to assemble them. Ask me how I know this…. For complex stuff, assemble the parts and tape them together. When you’re ready to glue, take off all the tape, stick it on the edge of something, stick it back on as you glue things together.

3) For the clear parts, you don’t have to wait for the parts to dry- Use the wide, flat brush to paint Future floor wax, maybe with a little tap water on the brush to start, lightly and smoothly over all the clear parts. Don’t make big puddles, just a little, light coat, everywhere. When the parts are covered, prop them up somewhere where any excess can drip off and no dust will fall on them. Alone, inside the box the kit came in, is good. When the first coat is dry, 20-60 minutes, put another light coat on. You want complete coverage. When its time to glue on the clear parts, scrape or sand off the Future where you want the glue to work. The Future will serve as a barrier and keep the rest of the clear parts from being damaged by glue. No finger prints, no white clouds, just shiny, clear, parts.

4) Start at the beginning of the instructions and build sub-assemblies. If you’re painting, stop when you get all of a given color together- for example, the cockpit of an airplane or engine block of a car. Put it aside for the glue to dry, and go back and build more. Cut out, trim, fit, glue, tape, let it sit, repeat. Test-fit and Clean-up the sub-assemblies before assembling them further.

4.1) Fit all the major parts together dry, without glue, before you apply glue. Use tape to hold the parts in place, see how it all fits, and where adjustments may be needed. This is when you check that all the tires of a vehicle will touch the ground at the same time, that you’ve got enough wieght in the nose of an airplane, etc.

4.2) Use the clippers, knife, sanding stick and file to get each part to fit, and look right. Remove material slowly, its much harder to add! If you think you need to use the knife, try the file first. If you think you need the file, try the sanding stick. Everything should fit with no effort needed to hold it in place, but only just.

4.3) Apply glue lightly, where the parts will touch, some distance back from the edge if you can. Big joints like body or fuselage or wings benefit from light glue on both pieces. Most small parts are fine with glue on just one before joining. I prefer liquid glue because I can apply less of it, but small amounts are still very sticky, as they disolve the plastic.

4.4) Fit the parts together, with many small pieces of tape right across the joints. If parts fit perfectly, you can tape them tightly in place FIRST and then apply the glue, wicking it along the seam, or apply it from the inside or back-side. Many small parts will stay put without tape or other clamping. It may help to prop the sub-assembly against or on top of the kit box, on paint jars, etc. Long, thin, parts, like landing gear, gear shift levers, etc., dry well while hanging straight down. This may be easier to arrange than taping them firmly in place AND correctly aligned.

4.5) Let the glue dry at least a day. If you can smell the glue solvent, its not dry yet. You CAN check alignment and gently manipulate parts that aren’t right- SMALL adjustments of a few degrees are ok, larges ones may need re-gluing. To hold airplane models in place while horizontal stabilizers, rudders, engine pods, antennae and so forth are drying, I slide one wing between a tight bunch of books on a bookshelf. putting the plane vertical. You can check of alignment of parts that should be 90 degrees apart by holding them directly above a CD case or a book or some other stiff, right-angled, object. Sight along the center lines of the parts- surface to surface angles are affected by any taper in the form of the part, so the correct 90 degrees at the center of two surfaces might be 95 degrees from the surface of one to the surface of the other

4.6) After the glue is dry, sand, scrape, file, trim, etc before you continue with the subassembly or before paint.

5) To glue the clear parts, sand or scrape off the Future from where the glue should dissolve the plastic, put the pieces together, tape them in place, ‘wick’ the glue between the parts. Easy does it. You can always make a second pass.

6) Do the final painting of parts when a given subassembly of a given color is together. Not before or after assembly, but during assembly. You can start painting the parts while on the trees, and do most of it there, but not all. Other than Future on the clear parts, the final paint needs to happen when all the stuff that is going to be one color or related colors put together. So, for example, you can start painting the seats, or the engine block or transmission, on the trees, but then assemble and let the glue dry, THEN do the finaly paint. Paint will prevent the glue from melting the plastic, so you need to remove it from the gluing surface but you don’t want to glue things together that will be different colors if you can paint them separately. If you get paint on the parts that the glue should be on, just wipe it off with a paper towel, and when it dries, scrape it off with the edge of a knife blade or sand it gently with the coarse sanding stick. (or fine, etc.) So paint the steering wheel, gear shift, parking brake, etc, now.

7) Stir the paint until you are sure it’s completely blended. EVERY time. Then stir for at least one more minute. This allows you to build up thin coats, all the same color. If you don’t stir completely, they won’t be the same color.

8) DON’T try to paint anything with one coat. For a good gloss, you’ll need at least 2-3 coats of Future. For a good black over white plastic, 2-4 coats, letting them dry in between. FOr a good white over black, it might take 5-7 coats. For red or yellow, put a coat or two of white under it unless you’re painting over clean, white, plastic. If you get a splotch of paint where you don’t want it, don’t try to hide it with another color. Clean it up NOW, using warm-hot water and a paper towel. If something goes really wrong you can always dunk the model pieces under running, hot water and the old finish will disappear. You can scrub with fingers and a dish scrubber, and detergent. If it dries, you can gently sand (with running water and fine sanding stick) or scrape with a knife.

9) You can mix almost any color from red, yellow, blue, white and black and flat aluminum. Mix small amounts on a plastic container lid, wash the stirrer in the sink with warm water and a scrubber between colors, don’t contaminate one jar with paint from onother. Start with equal (one drop) amounts, use simple formulas you can remember and re-create: 1 drop red, 10 drops white for a pink, for example. Put the drops next to each other rather than on top of each other, and use your big brush to pull in the color you want to get the shade you need. Write down the recipe you like on the plans of the model, right next to the assembly you are painting. Orange = Red and Yellow, Purple = Red and Blue, Green = Blue and Yellow. Olive green = Yellow and Black. Brown = equal parts of Red, Yellow, Blues. Metalic gray is a little black and a little flat aluminum. Lighten to taste with white. Transparent red for tail lights is a little red and a little Future floor wax Transparent orange for turn signals and front markers is a little red, a little yellow, a little Future floor wax. Do your mixing in a disposable pastic container, a deli pint or coffee can lid, ice-tray you bought at the junk store, etc. If the paint dries, you can throw it away. Color and black is a “Tone”. Color and white is a “Tint”. Color with black and white is a colored gray.

10) If the paint seems to dry TOO fast, makes lumps or big brush marks, or applying the second coat seems to pull off the first coat, add a few DROPS of water or water mixed with rubbing alcohol, stir thoroughly, try again. NEVER more than 5 drops at a time. Once you put in too much water, its REALLY hard to get it out! (But you can, if you let the paint settle so the color is at the bottom, then take off a few DROPS of the clear liquid using a brush…)

11) To glue on the clear parts, sand or scrape off the Future floor wax from where the glue should disolve the plastic, put the pieces together, tape them in place, then gently apply the glue and let capilary action ‘wick’ the glue into the spaces between the parts. You can use this same technique for any big seam, but it works best when there’s an ‘inside’ or ‘underside’ (that nobody will see) that you can work from. Some of the glue will stay on the surface of the seam. To make your seams more invisible, apply the glue at the back edge of the parts and let it get squeezed out to the front.

12) Because the Future floor wax (and the water-based paint) don’t react to the glue, you can use a piece of power towel or tissue paper to blot-up extra glue, especially from external parts like door mirrors and other things on the outside of the body.

13) Let the bare plastic color be the body color when you start with paint your kits, don’t try to paint everything to start with. Painting is a lot of work and can be very frustrating. Let yourself enjoy building the kit and get it done. Paint some things with solid colors, enjoy the effect. If you really must paint the body, use many thin brush coats, after thoroughly stirring the paint, followed by several coats of Future, or many, thin, spray can coats… followed by Future. Expect it to take a week to get done.

14) Check your public and school library for “Fine Scale MOdeller” magazine. They also have a web-site and there are hundreds of modelers out on the web. You can probably find reviews of this kit and advice on how to build it. You can certainly find advice on paint.

15) Check your public and school library for “Fine Scale Modeler”, “Model Builder International”, “Modelist Konstructor”, etc, magazines. Many of these also have a web-site. ( Web membership is free, and you don’t have to subscribe to the magazine. You can find reviews and advice on how to build, paint, and improve many models in their forums.

16) Internet Modeler ( and Hyperscale are other general-modeling sites. Modelling Madness ( tends more toward military airplanes, Airline Modelers Digest ( ) and Airliner Cafe ( specificly for commercial, passenger, aircraft. is a page full of links to automotive-related modeling sites. Steel Navy ( is for ship modellers, mostly military ships. focuses on the Imperial Navy of Japan, ending in 1945.

The Silicon Valley Scale Modelers club meets every 3rd Friday in the Milpitas, CA. Library meeting room. The Fremont Hornets meet at 7:30pm, Wally Pond Irvington Community Center, 41885 Blacow Road, Fremont, CA You can find help and advice at either club, and ask questions of other modelers, or just sit and watch. Both are chartered by the IPMS/USA, the International Plastic Modeler’s Society, which formed in the 1960s in the UK. Most of every meeting is “Model Talk”, where each person talks about the model they are working on, or the one they just finished. Its free, and its fun. There are door prizes for those who bring a model to share, done or not. New modelers, their parents and friends are aways welcome at both clubs.

Families of references for the model builder

I’ve started working on my index of Air International again, but on reflection it occurs to me that a simple list of all the potential reference sources and how to start reeling them in on the internet would be of value, so here’s a beginning,  and yes, I’ll list more of Volume 18 of Air Internatonal!

Which Dewey Decimal and/or Library of Congress filing sections this stuff goes in is a separate matter, and there’s also on-line stuff but here’s a start on books, maybe magazines after this: I’ll put in examples after I get the listings going.

ARCO- ARCO did several different series:

ArcoAircam small, paper-bound volumes of color and black-and-white profiles by artists like Richard Ward

– larger, soft and hard-bound books on a single subject, mostly pix and text – Boeing 707, Lockheed Constellation, P-51, B-58, etc.

Aero series A numbered series of soft-bound books on particular subjects

Colors and Markings – Squadron or Kinzey started this series, they’re a bit too exhaustive for me. One I remember specifically was the volume for F-106s. I like F-106s, and I’d be interested in what I construe their “Colors and Markings” to be. In actual fact, the book contained a clear, black and white, photograph of the squadron markings (and variations) for every squadron that operated the F-106, with some of the test, NASA, etc airframes thrown in too. No color at all, just the names of the colors. (Well, F-106 were almost always Air Defense Command glossy gray…) Still, I was hoping for something like the Arco-Aircam profile books, lots of color illustrations, and sadly disappointed. On the other hand, if you have a squadron number and want to see the markings they used on a particular kind of airplane, this would be golden.

Aerofax -A magazine that morphed into paperback books and now covers a wide range. Very scholarly, dry, text, lots of official technical manual drawings and photos. Mostly black and white, a page or four of color and a color cover. Very reliable, thorough, but a little bloodless.

Aero Detail – Japanese productions with photographs of museum examples, contemporary technical drawings, color profies. Some English text, some in Japanese, photo captions are in both. Scott Hards of Hobby Link Japan serves as translator for this range and does a good job. Pictures are from a variety of airframes if there ARE a variety available. These books are the beyond-the-ropes tour you wish you could get….

Aircraft in Profile, Armor in Profile, AFV in Profile, Classic Cars in Profile, Cars in Profile, Warships in Profile, Locomotives in Profile, Small Arms in Profile. – the melting pot of British amateur enthusiasts. Texts can be quite good to pretty poor- I don’t really believe that the P-51 (aka A-36) made no progress in the USA until a bribe was paid by North American to someone, but the photos and color art are always fun. The sun WAS setting on the British Empire while these were being written and the result is a lot more pre-1939 British content than any objective analysis would warrant, but what of that? So there are more between-wars RAF bi-planes than total USSR subjects… even with 260 titles published this was a work of love and devotion, not really a scholarly enterprise. Its all from the heart, and they DO have some airliners and the odd civil subject.

The automotive series are even more oddly focused, or un-focused, but there are some interesting topics, even if the mix is strange. The Ferrari 330 P3/P4 and Porsche 917 are well served, in the more modern series, and a lot of the “Classic” cars at Pebble Beach and so forth can be found.

The Armor series seems to have been aimed at classic WWII subjects, the AFV series was a re-take with something improved, but I’m not clear what. Photos tend to be the official record photo from the proving grounds, the text is too short for all of a general overview, operational history and placing the design and use in context. I never found the text particularly usable, or the range of markings in art and photo worth keeping for reference.

In Detail & Scale – Bert Kinzey’s very impressive if slightly stiff series of books on US subjects (Note ampersand in title). The model kit reviews are sometimes singularly humorless, but the quality of the photographs Mr. Kinzey and his authors turn up is VERY good.

Naval Fighters – Steve Ginter’s slightly less formal take on US Navy subjects, with more photos but messier layouts, plenty of manual pages reproduced, lots of informal photos.

Air Force Legends – Ginter Books stretched out to cover USAF subjects, particularly the unusual and underserverd B-51s and F 103s, etc.

Aeroguide With large, clear, black and white photos of modern RAF/RN subjects, this can be thought of as a condensed version of Detail and Scale without the extensive internal detail or text. One or two pages of black and white profile drawings, a good photo or two of the ejection seat, the rest is a walk around.

Aeroguide Classics

Aerofax Extra

Aerofax Minigraph

Air Age Publishing

Aircraft Monograph

Arco Aircam


Airliner Tech

Warbird Tech

Air Racer Tech

A J Press

Apogee Books

Windsock International

Aircraft Archive

Ballentine History Of A Violent Century – WWI and WWII battles, armies, weapons, commanders. Very high contrast photo reproduction mixed in the text, generally good text, no color. Trade-paper size, inexpensive, mass-market books from specialist authors.

Berliner, Don

Gunston, Bill

Braybrook, Roy,

Chant, Chris

Ellis, Chris,

Zaloniga, Steve

Green, William, Swanborough, Gordon

Presidio Press



Crowood Press

Squadron/Signal In Action

Camouflage and Markings – Dulcimus Press


Famous Aircraft Of The World (FAOW)



Concord Publications

Schiffer Books

Doubleday Books

Hanover House


Maru Mechanic

Macmillian Publishing

Monogram Books


Munson, Kennith

Ward, Richard

Wanatabe, Ruyuku

Naval Institute Press

Cross and Cockade

SAM Publications


Tanks In Detail




More later!

Buying a plastic model kit for a kid

Wow, this is a really loaded issue. What’s a sensible “first model” for a kid who starts at age 4, like I did, or age 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14… Get it wrong and your gift will be uninteresting because its too simple, or uninteresting because too daunting (or requiring too many skills). Revell, Revell Germany and Testors in the USA are all promoting “easy” kits for beginners. Hasegawa once had a line of small, cheap, easy kits, and Heller had a separate “Cadet” range to this very end. With minor exceptions, the entire Matchbox model kit product line that was created in the 1970s and 80s was aimed at beginners.

Here are some postulates I think cover the decision space:

The younger the child-

the fewer pieces needed;

the lower likelihood of paint being needed;

the GREATER the need for good kit engineering and easy fitting of parts;

the GREATER the likelihood that the existence of the object depicted will be a surprise!

the GREATER importance of “play value”- moving pieces, tough construction that doesn’t break. lack of thin bits that might injure or break

So you want a high quality kit that makes a good toy when completed. The old Monogram 1/48 (aka ‘ 1/4″ scale ‘ – ie 1/4″ = 1’) airplanes; Car kits with hoods that open and engines inside, ships and boats that float (!!!). In the old days, smaller model tanks with molded rubber tracks and motors inside had pretty good play value. Lack of ‘drivability’ limits the play value of today’s scale model military vehicles.

The younger child will view building anything as aspirational, and will have all their attention consumed by cutting a dozen or two dozen pieces off the runners, matching them to the instructions, trimming and generally getting the pieces to fit, gluing it together and applying the decals with a glass of water and their fingers. They will need a Helper for the first 1-5-10 kits they build.

Tool kit:
Parent, grandparent, qualified sibling or friend, or other helper. REQUIRED.
Fingernail clippers will do for cutters and a file.
Moderate-tack/long release masking tape to hold the pieces together while the glue dries. 3M’s line of blue masking tapes are perfect.
Future floor wax. (aka Johnson’s Kleer)

Clip out the parts as needed, not all at once. The nail clipper and file is fine get the parts ready to assemble.
Fingernail sanding sticks are a nice luxury, as are diagonal cutters and a real file or two, but the whole job can be done with clippers.
Coat the clear parts with Future floor wax inside and out and non-toxic tube glue or the liquid equivalent (Testor’s blue label) can be used to firmly attach the clear stuff without messing it up. Liquid non-toxic cement is flammable but not poisonous… that’s a neat trick!

The older the child:

The more they’ll enjoy assembling larger numbers of parts.

The more likely they’ll want to paint some or all of the pieces; (HOWEVER, for a first model, not having to paint the whole things is real advantage, at any age)

The more likely they’ll have aethestic and or knowledge-based opinions about what kit to build.

50 to 100 pieces are fine for a first model for a teenager; (13 and above)

Buy a car kit molded in more than one color- white body, black and silver engine and fiddly stuff. Vinyl tires are supplied black and don’t need to be painted. In airplanes and ships, pick something appropriate to the gray or white the kit will be molded in. In the old days, kits came in white, silver, olive drab, light blue, red, yellow, orange, black, etc . Monogram and Airfix were particularly adept at this, and the late, lamented, Aurora. Lots of US car kits were molded in white because the builder would have the least trouble paint it any color they liked

Some prefer the good guys, some prefer the bad guys. Pointy planes or biplanes with the pilot sitting out in the breeze. Some kits will be an education, something they’d never seen before, but in the area they care about, they’ll know what they want.

So, OK, what do I recommend??

If you really want moving features, go for Legos. Harry Potter, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Technic’s, Mars Mission, Underwater, sports, cars, trucks, airplanes, real Mars Rovers, Space Shuttles, cars and motorcycles, whatever. I find there is less play value in the Bionicles because mostly what they do is pose and shoot something and the relatively large pieces limit possiblities. Consider them as aimed at the under 8 crowd. Anything with hinges and the like make good basis for toys.

If you want models to play with, Revell’s tugboat is pacific in nature, floats well in a bathtub, can be painted in bright colors or left plain. The PT boat and flat-bottomed ships all float pretty well. The round-bottom Essex-class (or “Battle Of Midway”) aircraft carriers need to be carefully balasted. Lindberg or someone has a fishing boat which might once have been Aurora’s Soviet Spy Trawler…. Some big cargo vessels are out there too.

Any smaller airplane can be a fun toy in the bathtub or pool, if balanced more or less correctly (1/3 back from the leading edge of the wing). But ships are better.

Probably my fondest memories of moving parts models are

1) Revell’s 1/72 F-111A/B. Swing wings that move in and out. VERY fiddly landing gear that fold up and retract OR come out and and support the model. Crew escape capsule that can be removed from the model. Radome comes off and a somewhat generic radar dish is inside on the front of the fuselage.

Monogram (now Revell-Monogram)’s 1/48 scale
TBM Avenger,
SBD Dauntless,

Both have folding landing gear and a deploy-able tail-hook. Both have a pilot in the front and a gunner in the back, with a gun that moves. Both originally dropped their main weapons- the TBM dropped a torpedo when you flicked open the bomb-bay doors. The SBD dropped a bomb with the little displacing gear to keep it away from the propeller, operated by a tab that stuck out the bottom of the fuselage.
In the 1970s or 80s the bomb in the SBD was changed so it didn’t come off anymore. Since the torpedo just fell out when you open the doors, it may still work.

If you prefer a more peaceful working feature, paint your TBM in bright colors- white or silver with yellow, red trim,, with a big number on the tail, the wing tips and the engine cowling. Wad up a piece of very thin silk, red or pink, about the size and shape of a old school basketball player’s sock, and let it represent the “water” dropped by air-tankers fighting a forest fire.

The big differences between the kits are that the TBM has wings which might fold if you’re pretty good and follow instructions closely, and the SBD has 5 dive brake panels which opperate simultaniously. Sweet!

Tamiya’s early 1/12 cars- with a motor in the motor and a gearbox in the gear box and a suspension that works. I built the Matra MS-80 and it had two AA cells where the driver’s legs should have been. The steering wheel turned the front wheels, the suspension went up and down, the motor drove the back wheels through driveshafts with real universal joints… and the tires were hollow and smelled like real tires. AND the compltete engine and transmission could be removed from the rolling chassis.

Monogram’s (Now Revell-Monogram’s) other US Navy and other WWII planes with moving parts are: (all 1/48) F4F Wildcat,
F6F Hellcat,
F4U Corsair,
SB2C Helldiver,
Messerschmidt 109,
Mitsubishi Zero,
P-51 Mustang,
Supermarine Spitfire
Hawker Hurricane.

All but the Wildcat have landing gear that fold up, most of the Navy subjects have folding wings. The TBM and SB2C have opening weapons bay doors, the SBD, SB2C and TBM all dropped weapons originally, but that feature was disabled in the 1970s or 80s. (boo!) The SBD has opening dive flaps that all work together (5 panels) and are way cool. Later 1/48 models, the de Havilland Mosquito, TBD Devastator, bombers and jets had more details and less moving parts. An age had ended.

Lindberg’s Me-262 WWII German jet had folding landing gear and opening hatches over the cannons in the nose. They had a number of less detailed 1/48 jets with moving parts, along with a B-17, He-111, Mitsubishi BETTY and B-58 Hustler in somewhat odd scales with moving landing gear, etc. The B-58’s folding mechanism is fun to play with and you can detach the underslug bomb and fuel tank, and open the hatches for the 3 cockpits. But WWIII atom bombs have less play value that you might have expected. Monogram made a near-1/72 B-66 with a single bomb, no doubt nuclear, and it suffered in comparison to the 1/48 Navy planes.

Monogram’s 1/32 P-51D Mustang, available in colored plastic or as the Visible Mustang with a clear skin, went two better with retracting landing gear where turning a wheel made all threee legs and wheels move, and the doors open and shut. There was also a fiddly deal to hang a bomb under each wing and release them separately. The canopy also slid back, and in the ‘visible’ version, besides a motor to drive the landing gear (in the base) there was a motor in the plastic engine to turn the propeller. How cool is that?? But its hard to build, hard to make work and harder to keep working. Legos are more fun. Sigh.

Revell’s B-24 Liberator, 1/72 scale, had movable flaps and retractable landing gear, along with the usual moving turrets. Airfix’s B-17 main gear could fold-up. Revell’s 1/72 B-17 had bomb-bay doors that opened.

Tamiya made a small number of 1/25 tank kits (Tiger, T-34, others?) that had operating suspensions and separate track links- super cool to drive around on wrinkled bed covers, but very complicated and expensive

Any car kit with rolling wheels has good play value- the Revell Snap Together kits in 1/24th scale are very nicely detailed and roll well when completed. The recent Hasegawa and Tamiya car kits have soft plastic retainers that trap a pin (The pin is on the wheel for Tamiya, on the hub for Hasegawa) so they can theoretically roll, but in practice, are simply movable. They can be removed to admire all the fiddly brake and suspension bits though…

For older kids, detail and scale accuracy are more important that moving parts. Seeing how its built is as interesting as Brrrrrraaaaaawwwwww play. Here’s where Tamiya’s Formula 1 and Sports Car models really shine- the ones with opening engine covers and so forth are just packed with bits and pieces, and they tend to come in a tree of body color parts, a tree of silver parts and a tree of black parts, along with rubber-like tires. No paint required!

Here are a pair of the old Revell 1/72 scale Hawker Hurricanes, the second or third kit I built as a kid, that I experimentally put together with just touches of paint here and there, and decals (the black one) ; and one with NO paint (the light gray one). I put decals on the light gray one but they all fell off!, so I used some white glue on the decals for the black one…

A pair of 1960s Revell Hawker Hurricanes

If you click here you can see the kit parts and a couple of steps during construction, including when everything is taped together and glue is drying.
More later, happy modeling!

Remove Future Floor Wax from clear model parts with Windex…

I goofed up my second coat of Future on the clear windows part of a Heller/Airfix 1/43 Mitsubishi WRC racer… So I popped it into a deli half-pint container with warm water and a little dish soap and a week later the formerly clear Future (Johnson’s “Kleer” in some places) had turned a milky white but was still firmly attached. I poured out the water onto the front lawn (we’re rationing water now…) and poured some Windex brand glass cleaner with ammonia into the deli dish… by the time I had finished putting the cap on the Windex bottle, the milky stuff was completely gone and the clear part looked new. A quick rinse in luke-warm water and a polish with a soft dish towel and I oculd try again. I put down one coat of straight Future using my 1/2″ (13mm) laquer brush and 5 minutes later it looked great.

With luck I can paint the black surrounds on it tonight and then glue the body, clear parts and chassis all together.

The really, really, neat thing about using Future on clear parts of plastic models is that it forms an innert barrier to any and all kinds of glue. You have to sand through it to use plastic glule to attach the clear part to something else. But glue fumes and ‘wicking’ aren’t an issue- you can glue the clear part in place using liquid or tube non-toxic glue, I’d expect the orange-red package toxic version of Testor’s glue would work just fine too.

Discoveries in the land o’ compulsive research…

So I brought two wrapped presents within the cost and content guidelines to my local ( IPMS chapter, the Silicon Valley Scale Modelers, for the Christmas Gift Exchange. When all the shouting and after-game trading were done, I went home with a Tamiya 1994 Ford Mustang GT Convertible able and the Minicraft boxing of the Hasegawa 1/72 Grumman F11F-1 Tiger. Nice. My son Benjamin encouraged me on the Mustang, and I might not have chosen a curb-side Mustang kit, but one car and one airplane was just about right. I also had a challenge- at the end of the exchange someone proposed a “90 day wonder” contest for the kits acquired that day, at the March meeting. 90 days to build ’em, or not. Put up or shut up. Sounded good to me.

Seems to me that there are at least two kinds of model builders- those who dig the thing and want something the right shape, but aren’t as much into into making replicas of a particular, real, item at a particular point in time, and those who want to make a replica of a particular example of the general item, perhaps down to an exact date and time of day. Very often the obsessive particularist will get the whole story on the item they are modeling- where the real one was made, how it got where it went to, who used it and what happened to them. Photographs and memoirs are poured over to identify fiddly bits which might be one way or might be another. People building replicas of things they or their friends owned, used or served on or with are usually in this camp, but not always.

Whereas, the item-but-not-a-specific-replica modeler might immerse themselves in the whys and wherefores and the whole story (Dearborn and San Jose both build Mustangs in the 1960s, and each used their own series of-/family of- colors for body primers…) but instead of building the image of <whatever> at 10:30am, the second Monday in July, 1971, they build the one they want, (a metallic purple Mustang with a green interior) or something generally representative, “this is yellow because I found a can of yellow paint under the sink…”

As a gross (!) generalization, ship and airplane modelers tend to build replicas of specific, real, prototypes (as do many model railroaders, from whom we get the adjective, “Prototypical”), captured at a specific place and time. Many ship modelers can tell you not only how the specific ship in the class they modeled differs from others, but also which re-fits the model is between or after (This is how the Cutty Sark appeared on her fifth voyage, returning from Asia, after rounding Cape Horn… this is how the Tyrrell P-34 six wheeler appeared at Monaco in 1976… this is how the 617 squadron Lancasters appeared in March, 1944… etc.)

Car, military figure and vehicle fans and flying model airplane builders tend to build precise and accurate models in terms of shape but are somewhat more expressive in how they present them- custom paint jobs, their own version of camouflage schemes, a vehicle from the years x-y but painted and marked as if it were from another era. A model hot rod will faithfully replicate a Ford flat head with Holly carburetors and aftermarket heads, and the firewall of the model will be enhanced to look just like the real thing, with a pearlescent blue lacquer finash that represents the builder’s idea of the perfect color… or a flying A-10A Warthog (used in both US-Iraq wars) will fly in a green and tan over light-blue scheme somewhat akin to USAAF and RAF western desert markings from 1942, or a BMW coupe will be converted into a pickup-style two seater, like an El Camino or a Subaru Brat.

Both approaches are scholarly, both require the same craft and skill, but the points are different. Kinda like fiction and non-fiction writing: The products are different even though each can look like the other and both are more similar than different.

So in this case, I came down firmly in both camps. My F11F-1 (long nose) was build in the form the Blue Angels flew them, and my Mustang was build using the colors the factory used for body and interior, but I put saddle brown front and back seats and center console into an otherwise black interior, and used the rest-of-world side-marker lights behind the front wheels AND amber colored turn signals in back, instead of red.

I reproduced the color of the baked epoxy primer on the underside of the Mustang, but I also painted the brake calipers a bright blue to match the more-oir-less correct factory-ish metalis blue I panted on the body.

By contrast, the Tiger wound up with blue wheels and main gear legs. and blue landing gear doors, inside and out, but white in the gear wells because that’s my best reading of the available photos, and a new source, my third F11F book and (sixth reference for this project) agrees. Unfortunately, it also shows that that Martin Baker Mk 5 rocket ejection seat I put together seems never to have been deployed foir any F11… All that lovely detailing and  aren’t applicable. I’m not sure if I’m going to leave it or make another seat for it.