Models of military vehicles, tanks, guns and cars, can often be made to look more realistic by careful detailing, which means sharpening up moulded retail or replacing it with separate parts, plus additional pieces of equipment and stores. Some examples of detailing would be: cutting out vision slots in tank hulls, opening doors, hatches and engine covers by cutting round with a fine-bladed modelling saw or knife, drilling the ends of gun barrels and exhaust pipes, and fitting windscreen wipers.

Moulding requirements can make it difficult or impossible for this type of work to be incorporated in the kit, and may cause minor inaccuracies that can, however, usually be corrected by detailing processes. For instance, the exposed edges of armour plating, doors, mud-guards, etc., are sometimes too thick in the moulding, but can easiliy be reduced, by scraping or sanding, to scale proportions. Substitution for moulding items by grab-handles, rails, radio aerials and so on made from plastic rod, stretched sprue or thin wire can give more authenticity to a model's appearance, as can tow-ropes, chains and winch cables fashioned from nylon thread, twisted fuze wire or real scale chain. More natural looking tarpaulins, scrim nets and other kit can be produced from paper, cloth and surgical gauze, folded, strapped with plastic strip and painted.

On campaign, vehicles suffer a great deal of wear and tear, scars from projectiles, damage to sand shields and bumpers, and worn tyres. The blemishes can be simulated by gently heating and bending plastic parts, or scoring with a heated knife or screwdriver. There may also be some clutter, such as crews' belongings, ammunition crates, fuel containers, tools, improvised armour and liberated material of all kinds. If this is depicted on a model, it should be stowed logically and not obstruct turret movement, hatches or wheels.

When painting, unless a fresh factory finish is desired, colours look better if toned down, with grime, rust and dust added, and muddied running gear; but moderation should be used to avoid an overdone effect. All this work can be done without altering the basic shape of a model; some examples of detailing are seen in the accompanying photographs.

Conversion in model vehicle terms means altering a kit to make a variant of the type supplied. The practice occurs frequently in real life, when vehicles are adapted and modified in the light of service experience to perform more efficiently or to provide for some other role. Once a modeller has acquired some experience of vehicle building, it is usually easy to start converting kits. There is plenty of information available, with scale plans and even full instructions for some particular conversions in books and magazines, such as AIRFIX MAGAZINE, which often has projects of this kind.

Materials for conversion work are plentiful and can be readily obtained from your local model shop and AIRFIX stockist. Such items as polystyrene sheet, strip and rod of various thicknesses and gauges are most suitable for work with plastic kits, but paper, cloth, wire and woods such as balsa and beech are also very useful. There is a good range of plastic extrusions in different sized and shaped angles, tubes and other hollow sections which provide many of the gun, strut and rail details characteristic of military vehicle conversion, in ready-made form.

Conversion is a good way of adding unique models to a collection, and of filling gaps that would otherwise exist. Illustrated are some AIRFIX vehicle conversions. Some military figures are constructed from kit parts whilst others are ready-made one piece items. In both cases, to be convincing, they should be posed in attitudes that could be adopted by real human-beings and animals, and be painted to appear natural.

AIRFIX 'Collectors' and 'Multi-pose' Series permit a tremendous amount of variation in positions and equipment, some parts even being interchangeable between the Series, but care shown in assembly will ensure that figures are not put together in grotesque or anatomically impossible attitudes. Any improbabilities or distortions in one piece figures which may be unavoidable because of moulding requirements, can usually be put right with a little cutting and repositioning.

Detailing of figures is just as important and effective as with vehicles; the addition of straps and buckles, sharpening and emphasis of engraved detail, and provision of missing or inadequate items of dress or equipment, making all the difference between ordinary and really striking models.

Particularly suitable to figure work are the techniques of conversion, to enable poses and orders of dress to be portrayed that vary from those in the kits. An idea of what can be achieved by conversion is conveyed by the pictures of figures made from 'Multi-pose' and 'Collectors' Series parts.

More and more models are today being presented in scenic settings suitable to their period and situation, which add realism and conviction, for just as people, animals, vehicles and so on exist in an environment, so models of them are made more effective by being placed in miniature places. Settings also help to give reasons for models to be painted, dressed, armed or accoutred in certain ways, and can even assist in determining the positioning and the attitudes that pieces are made to assume. In effect they are three-dimensional pictures, and at their best exhibit those aspects of composition, colouring and narrative quality that characterize good paintings.

It is not necessary for settings to occupy large areas, excellent results are possible in just a few square inches, as can be seen in the illustrations, but the base must be firm and resistant to warping. The actual groundwork can be built up with plaster, self-hardening clays of plasticine, with natural mosses, tiny plants, roots and twigs to represent shrubs, hedges and trees. Tall grass can be simulated with hairs from old paint, paste or shaving brushes, and short grass by model railway matting. Other scenic materials can be found at most good model shops, but the garden, countryside and seashore can provide all sorts of bits and pieces.

Stuka Airfix model

The following steps are illustrated in the photographs to the right (or on the bottom part, in case of mobile display)

Cockpit assembly

In the case of trycicle undercarriaged aircraft it is better to see these balanced on the nosewheel rather than tail sitting. Weight the nose with lead held in position by plasticine. This picture shows an Airfix Hawk kit with the weights distributed under the cockpit floor and in the nose. As many cockpit canopies can be positioned in either the open or closed position extra detailing can be added to the cockpit area such as dials to the instrument panel, thin strips of brown paper simulating the seat harness and side wall panels cut from plasticard.

Filling the gaps

All models need a small amount of body putty to fill tiny cracks where the moulding does not join precisely. Apply body putty with a knife into wing and fuselage joints and along the tailplane joint and give this at least overnight to dry out properly. Rub down the putty with very fine wet and dry paper using sufficient water to lubricate the action. Clean up the wing leading edges by scrapping with a knife blade and also rub down any rivets or panel lines that are over scale by gently Polishing over the surface with an used piece of wet and dry paper that has an even finer cut than that used for cleaning up other parts.

Final assembly of parts

It is often better to paint certain parts of the model such as wheels and bombs before these are added to the model. This work should be done after the main painting has been completed to avoid getting colour into the wrong place or to get into inaccessible places. To paint wheels mount each on a cocktail stick and by holding the brush in one position rotate the wheel.

General painting instructions

Patience is again needed here. Always ensure that one colour has thoroughly dried before adding another. Note that in this picture of the painting of an Airfix Saab Draken the hand is supported by an object sufficiently large to raise it above the level of the area being painted. Attention to detail in this stage will ensure an attractive finished model.


Some models such as civil airlines requiring a long thin fuselage cheat line and those, such as this RAF Jaguar, should have the camouflaged areas masked out so that the edges then painted can be clean and sharp. Masked tape is positioned over the base colour, after this has dried, and then cut out to the required shaped before adding the second colour on top. The cockpit canopy, in this case, has been masked out with a rubber gum solution that can be bought specifically for this purpose from model shops. Masking is essential when airbrushing a model.

Care of brushes

Immediately after using a brush it must be thoroughly cleaned by wiping off all surplus colour with a rag and then washing it in paint remover or white spirit. If paint remover is used, the brush should then be washed in water and shaped before leaving to dry.

Decal application

Use a pair of sharp pointed scissors and cut closely round the markings to avoid the carrier film which will show on the model if this is not done. When applying the decal soak it in water for a few seconds and then remove it until the carrier has softened. Use tweezers to position the marking, slide it carefully out the paper backing and then dab it carefully into position with the tip of a paper handkerchief and the fingers.

Heat stretching sprue

For items such as rigging wires on biplanes and aerials, scrap sprue can be stretched in the heat of a candle flame. Experiment, followed by experience, will enable you to heat the plastic and then carefully pull on each end into the desired thickness required. The amount of heat required and the tension on each end of the sprue can only be ascertained by several attempts if you are not used to this method. Rigging wires and aerials are best located with liquid polystyrene cement.


The art of converting a kit as it comes in the box into another version of the same aircraft can always add to the interest in modelling, providing a greater challenge than merely sticking the parts together. In this illustraton an Airfix Canberra B.2 has been converted into a T.11 by cutting off the original nose and replacing this with a block of balsa wood shaped into the pointed, elongated radar nose of this variant. In the background can be seen some of the tools used in the process.

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