The Little World – Flat, Flatter, Flattest

No, I’m not referring to paint finish. Flat should mean flat in any case there. Of course it is also mixed in with matt, matte, eggshell, lustre, and a number of other descriptive words. When in doubt, paint a sample.

I really mean the basic necessity for all scratch or kit builders…a flat surface. Some portion of the big world upon which to erect some portion of the little one. It is closely aligned to the other necessity – a right angle. These sound easy enough to do but practice shows how hard it is to get them.

Model airplane builders need a flat base to act as a measurement basis for the curves of the fuselage and the angle of the wings. They need a flat base for the undercarriage, and a level flat base to set up the aircraft. The vertical stations that might be measured on a plan need to rise from this base at 90 degrees.

The model ship builder needs that level ground to also establish rib positions. Unlike the  full-size counterpart, there’s no need to use gravity to slide the model into the water. so you don’t need to build on a slope.

The model architect absolutely needs a level flat base to raise walls and structures. Even if there isn’t a straight line in the building, the thing has to be vertical. Pisa was a mistake…and Gaudi a greater one…

My solution for my workshop has been to use a commercial whiteboard in a frame laid on top of a standard trestle table. It is a smooth Laminex surface bigger than any of the model foundations I use, supported with a 25mm-thick MDF board captured in a metal frame. Glue does not stick to it and when it is truly horizontal everything erected upon it is true as well.

Currently I use a small modeller’s set square for much of the setups, but will purchase a larger metal square in the future. You cannot have enough precision.

Note: the whiteboard is far larger than most building models but the extra room can be used to set up clamps and jigs to hold building components as they set. As long as I do not need to nail to it, I can build anything.

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The Little World -The New Wonder Ingredient

Every time you pick up a Readers Digest there is another new drug on the market with a wonder ingredient. It used to be that these were found in petrol and bread…until we found out that the stuff we buy all comes out of the same vat. One tap dispenses petrol, one dispenses bread. You want to make sure you’re on the right end of the vat when you’re making a sandwich.

It is the same with the Little World – every now and then we get a special ingredient to work with. Once it was balsa wood. Then it became styrene. Then we saw ABS, cyanoacrylate glue, and acrylic paint come on the market. Each time the magazines went all out to use the new stuff in any way they could…and it took a few years before the bad uses were weeded out.

My new secret ingredient is foamcore board. Paper or cardboard sandwiching a dense plastic foam. I’ve found sheets of it in my local craft and art stores that run to 3mm, 5mm, and 10mm thickness. There are probably more types available if you know where to look. For my purposes the three noted are fine.

It is easy to cut, yet retains a surprising amount of rigidity. I use a sharp Exacto knife for the 3mm stuff, but a small table jigsaw for the two other thicknesses. As you can draw plans on the white outer coating with great precision using an ordinary propelling pencil, and the sheets present little resistance to the sawblade, you get very accurate parts. It is light to handle, as well, and you can steer the sheets through the throat of the saw easily.

Glueing is mostly a matter of using a white PVA glue – you can’t present the foam core with any sort of solvent cement. It just dissolves the foam and puckers in the paper wrapping. You can use balsa cement on the paper surface safely. The part that pleases me most is that you can force regular dressmaker’s pins through the sheets to hold them together while the glue sets. I leave some in for extra support as well.

Any cutting that you do on the sheet leaves a fine ragged edge to the paper, but you can smooth this very quickly with the emery sticks found in manicure sets.

Like any secret ingredient, you can have too much of it in a recipe. Every structure needs some re-enforcement where the foamcore gets thin…wooden strips work very well. MDF board makes a good base.

And one trick I have learned from the German model firm of Graupner – I make full-sized plans on sturdy paper and then transfer them to the foamcore with a pricker wheel or carbon paper. Done well, the transfer can stack a great deal more usable structure on the uncut sheet than just hacking off a part as you need it. The jigsaw cutting is accurate enough to get two good sides from one cut.

 

The Little World – The Thin Coat Revisited

I have bemoaned the price of good-quality modelling paints before here in this column, and extolled the virtue of using 1:1 scale paints from the hardware store as a substitute. This is valid and viable to a certain extent, but the range of spray cans in the local DIY or Bunnings is surprisingly limited. Oh, not if you want to paint wooden decks or bicycles or lawn furnture…perfect for that…but dismal if you want authenticity.

So we turn to the Humbrol, Tamiya, Pactra, Testors, or Mr Color racks at the hobby shop and more little glass jars. One day I am going to have my own weight in empty little glass jars…as opposed to having my weight in money. But after yesterday I think I am going to stop complaining – you see I finally looked at what I was actually doing with the airbrush.

Up until now I loaded up the medium cup of the brush with whatever thinned paint I was spraying and then did the classic sweep-and-trigger like I did in the Pactra spray can days. I got a good coverage eventually but a great deal of that medium cup went on either side of the work and out through the exhaust fan.

Today I screwed on the small cup – the one with the open top – and shot green for some truck wheels. No big deal, but the small size of the reservoir made me concentrate the spray more over what I was doing and there was minimal overspray. Consistency must have been good because the coats went on with no pooling or streaks. And the amount of paint used was very much less – so economical that the higher per ml cost of the hobby product was no burden.

The joy of being able to go back to the big paint racks is wonderful. I can apportion the cheap greys, whites, and greens for building sides and these can be Bunnings supplies, but I can feel better about spending a bit more on the tiny bits.

Note: Full marks to the people in Hobbytech for their advice re. thinners and paint brands. There is a confusion of systems out there and I made a few bad choices off the rack – the counter staff realised that I was headed for trouble and gently steered me back to get the right combination. This sort of help is always appreciated.

The Little World – It Was Just Sitting There

How many of your good ideas have just been sitting there in the store waiting for your brain to come along and see them? I say your brain, rather than your eyes, because you can look at something for months and years without perceiving it. It is only when the brain stirs that the magic begins.

My latest Ahah! moment was in our local electronics parts store whence I had repaired for plugs, sockets, and pilot lamps. These got, I dawdled through the place marvelling at the rubbish they sold. A spring-powered fly swatter? Disco lights? Don’t need ’em. I mean I’m 69…I can get disco lights by standing up quickly…

But they also sold parts for radio-control model cars and buggies. These were unattractive, but the spare electric motors for them were wonderful. I have to wonder what the operators are doing if they burn them out, but then the large number of spares for suspensions and steering are a clue. They are thrashing the guts out of the stuff.

I won’t be that hard on the electric motor I bought. I’ve no idea what it will power, but at $ 17 for a 6900 rpm 12 volt motor that looks like it could power a bomber, I couldn’t resist.

It was just sitting there calling to me. Hold my beer and stand back.

Taking Back Life – Part Four – From Whom?

The catch line about taking back life begs a question – where did it go and who has it now? I’ve only just started to find out that answer for myself.

It’s one that all the readers can ask themselves – because the answers that they find will all be as different as their own lives.

In my case a great deal of time went out to learning – all the years from 1953 to 1972 were spent in formal education. It was not unpleasant, and paid me handsomely by giving me a profession that I could trade upon. Subsequent years also educated me in a subsidiary art that I could turn to employment after the initial profession petered out. So I was set for earning power.

A great deal of time was spent in travel – this means re-location, socializing, and the discipline that comes from experiencing the solitude of the newcomer.

And a certain amount of time was spent in pure amusement – in my case I found most of it from the construction of scale models. All through my life I have had a chance to try my hand at a number of types of modelling. Most were successful – the only exception being model flying. But even here the act of constructing the failed airplanes was rewarding – training hand and eye to small tasks. Teaching visual proportion. And also teaching patience – very few models were ever dashed to the ground in the workshop. Most of them suffered that fate at the flying field.

So what am I now going to take back in my retirement? Why the pure amusement. I now collect scale models and make scenes and dioramas with them. I then use these in my studio for art and commercial illustration. I have discovered the joys of scratch-building as well as kit assembly. I look daily to solve new problems at the workbench – I haunt hobby shops and toy stores looking for parts. I have even started to exhibit some of the models at fairs and shows.

The real benefit this gives is internal – it brings me back to my roots – the little kid at the kitchen table making models – and stimulates my memory. I’m starting to get back some of the scenes and scents of my youth. Daily life took them away for 50 years and now daily routine can bring them back.

The Little World – Nowt Boot A Trick – Part Four

Light pours from the heavens like liquid gold.

It pours from old-fashioned street lamps like tallow candles, and from mercury-vapour fittings like the cold green smell of death. Sodium lights remind us of sleazy bars and painful treatments for public diseases. Is it any wonder that I drive with my eyes closed?

I mention these sorts of horrid illuminations because I am eventually going to have to provide one or all of them for my street modules. I can remember all of them in Canada and Australia in my childhood and youth, and they contribute no little part to the authenticity and temporality of a model scene.

Doll house makers are favoured with a number of small light fittings for their structures – ornate candelabra and modest side lights – library shades and even fluorescent fixtures. The larger size of the scale makes it easy to get good lighting, as long as you can provide a suitable voltage. But the dollhouse street lamps are big, and for the most part are patterned after Victorian or Edwardian prototypes. Unless one is modelling the older parts of Montreal or Toronto, there is little use for them – and certainly no use for a prairie city in the 1950’s.

Fortunately there are perfectly good grain of wheat bulbs on sale at the electronics stores for a modest sum that can be pressed into making tungsten-filament street lamps for the 50’s. The holders, shades, and brackets will have to be scratch built, but many of them were of fairly utilitarian style anyway. A production line to make a dozen would be wisest – dull work, but best to have a stock of them.

The mercury-vapour light that started to make inroads into the cities about 1960-62 will be another matter. They were green, cold, and a lot brighter than the old lamps. Here I think I am going to have to go to more specialist suppliers to get coloured LED bulbs ( and learn how to wire them up ) for both the mercury and the later sodium lights. Green and orange should be reasonably easy to achieve but again the fitments will need to be even more modern. The heads of a modern street lamp can be very streamlined castings indeed. Even the light poles are frequently octagonal tapers with a preformed swooping shape – this is unlikely to be do-able with a metal tube, and some sort of resin casting may be necessary. Fortunately for most modern lights, there are a variety of DC gel/acid batteries available on an inexpensive basis from Jaycar and other stores. And one can generally find a leftover mains charger from somewhere with whatever weird little voltage is needed.

 

The Highway Or My Way

I live near a highway. Not an interstate or intercity one – one that just feeds along a metro corridor from the airport and rail freight terminals to the seaport – servicing suburbs rich and poor along the way. There is a little commercial activity in one suburb where it grazes an industrial area but very little else for its length – it is even hard to get petrol along the Leach Highway.

It is, however, easy to get stuck.

Stuck behind container trucks feeding from rail to seaport and back again. 2:00 PM is tag-a-truck hour and you can spend the best part of 90 minutes getting from one end to the other. Best is not really the word you are looking for, but WordPress doesn’t want me to use the appropriate ones.

Stuck in lines of tradesmen early in the morning and late in the afternoon. They are patient and kindly drivers, in the same way that fulminate of mercury is a docile chemical.

Stuck in equally long lines of Mercedes, Audi, Jaguar, Lexus, and similar expensive sedans as the managerial suburbs of Leeming and Winthrop empty and fill. As soon as the stream dwindles, the managerial spouses take over in the 4WD SUV versions of the luxury sedans. If anything, they are even more arrogant, entitled, and impatient. I put it down to the MSG and the designer sunglasses…

Stuck at road works. ” Expect Delay ” is an odd phrase – it does not promise anything good, but it wants you to be patient so that you can be annoyed slowly and carefully. I am retired, and rarely have to be anywhere quickly – but what must the effect of ” Expect Delay ” be for the managerial suburbanites…

Stuck at the road junctions. If, worse luck, the firm that you wish to deal with has a shop on the other side of a divider strip, you must travel to the next intersection, go round a block, re-enter the road from the other way, and hopefully catch a break in the traffic. It can be 10 minutes waiting to cross the three lanes of solid vehicles and then another 10 after your shopping trip to get back onto the highway.

We were once promised a diminution of the truck traffic – but that faded at the last state election. The problem is set to become worse in the next 5 years, and there may come a time when I have to give up dealing with the other side of the highway. It will become a land of fable and I will restrict myself to my own little village.

That’s what a motor car will do for you – confine you to your own home…