The Little World – Be It Ever So Humble

We are often told that we must be proud of our humble homes. This is generally written in magazines that then tell us we must renovate said humble homes and the quotes will start at $10,000.  The pictures that we are shown in the ads are generally bare and minimalist. A Shaker would look at them and feel deprived. Corbusier would draw doodles and curlicues on the sideboard. In short – they are selling you the chance to live in nothing at all for a tidy round sum of money.

Hot damn.

I have concluded that this is a load of, and have decided to make my decorating statement upon the Rooseveltian principle; I shall do what I can with what I have, where I am. To that end I have designed my modelling workshop – it is in the heading picture.

You see a combination of fortune and stinginess.

A cabinet that once housed dental instruments – bought at great expense in 1969 and never sold off.

A cheap hanging motor from the local DIY shop

An X-Acto jigsaw that has survived all my married life.

Discarded bookshelves rescued from the verge.

A cardboard office organiser.

Birthday, Christmas, and Father’s Day presents. That’s the good stuff.

A picture of my late father as inspiration.

His bench vice. Probably his only vice.

The drafting table that only gets used for serious projects. Most plans are drawn on a clipboard in builder’s crayon.

The shop teachers of my youth would reel in horror, but then they were the sort of men who hung tools on pegboards. I have tried to follow their example but eventually everything comes tumbling off the wall. Perhaps that happened to their careers as well.

The only thing I am sure of in my modelling shop is that I can do it. I may not do it well, and it may not last, but for a brief period of time there is always something succeeding. It is all I can ask for.

 

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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.

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 – How To Survive A Hobby Shop

We are all in danger at some time in the day. We drive a car, fly in an airplane, eat servo sandwiches, tell our spouse that they are wrong…and for the most part we get away with it. No-one hits us on the road or in the kitchen, we do not get food poisoning, we do not crash. We have learned that the dangers are manageable.

Such is not the case for the hobbyist who goes to the hobby shop. There the dangers are multiplied a thousand-fold…few escape. Wallets and credit cards are seen crashed and burning everywhere you look. Survivors are staggering out of the wrecks with armloads of kits. Painters lie in the aisles overcome by fumes – their partners beside them, overcome by the prices of the paint. It is not a pretty sight.

Shoppers in Bunnings, Home Depot, and Spotlight will also know these distressing sights…with the additional horror in the gardening section of bodies sticking up out of the loam. Whatever can be done to arrest the carnage?

Here is a list of precautions:

a. Do not take more than you can afford to lose. Like the casino, the hobby hell will consume every bit of funding that you can find. Leave your credit and debit cards at home. And don’t go to the counter with a child’s piggy bank and a hammer – it just looks pathetic.

b. Wear dark sunglasses in the shop. Hobby goods are marketed on bright colours – particularly the toy cars and R/C aircraft. If you can’t see them very well you won’t be tempted. You might pick up some dodgy paint choices in the finishing aisle if you’re wearing sunnies but use it up anyway and tell people that it is a special camo scheme.

c. Do not sniff the glues. They are addictive. Likewise, do not sniff the kits. If you have to sniff anything, sniff the owner of the shop. They get little enough love as it is.

d. Learn to make a specific list of what you need and go directly to the place it is stored. Select only as much as you need, pay for it at the counter, and run. Do not browse the cabinets. That way madness lies.

Once you are outside you have proved to yourself that you are strong, moral, and not self-indulgent. Celebrate the fact with a double martini and a glazed doughnut.

e. Never give in to the temptation to stock up on anything. If you add just that extra kit or bag of parts you are starting down the slippery pathway that will lead eventually to an intervention. No-one wants to be the person on television with the garage full of Airfix Spitfires and a sneering relative.

f. Know the signs of addiction before you get there. Is the grocery store refusing to exchange balsa wood strips for bread? Has your bank cut up your credit card, ATM card, cheque book, statement, and half the teatowels in the house? Is the bathtub full of glue? You are in need of treatment. You can get a 1:35th scale treatment kit by Trumpeter for a little under $ 40. Where’s the piggy bank and the hammer?

g. Do not sneak kits into the house. Do not sneak empty boxes up into the attic space. One day the plasterwork on the ceiling will give way and your secret will be out.

h. Do not lie to your spouse. Don’t say that you will be going off to have a night of squalid sex with your lover and then sneak around to the workshop and glue things. The plastic smell and the dried glue on your fingers will give you away, no matter how much you douse yourself in perfume.

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.

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.