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