The Little World – Heating It Up – Cooling It Down

The summer heat has just started in Perth. The modelling shed has climbed to the official pack-it-in temperature of 35ºC…that’s 95º F for the recalcitrants. Not the hottest that it will get, but hot enough to remove the fun from a modelling session.

As you will have seen earlier in this column, I have made myself a portable modelling tray you take inside when this happens – I can sit in the A/C and build plastic models quite happily.

But that hot shed is a valuable asset, if only you know how to manage it. Last night I planned out how it could be programmed. It all depended up timing – I set things up before the temperature rose and then let it work for me:

a. The facade of the new 1:18 building has a number of trim strips that will be held on by PVA glue. If they go on cold and stay cold they are weak. But glued early and then left to cure in the heat, they become like iron.

b. Sub-assemblies for a 1:72 model need paint. One spritz from the airbrush does it, but if it is a cold day you wait forever for drying and the next stage. Today, the coats of acrylic were dry within 10 minutes and the assembly could speed forward.

c. Warping of paper and wooden parts is inevitable when you use PVA glues or water-based paints. But if you paint or glue early and let the parts set in the heat under tension or pressure, you get the finish you want without the distortion. Plus any distortions that have occurred yield to a slight dampening and then pressure in the hot atmosphere. It is like a giant oven of gentle heat. You can straighten strip wood the same way.

d. Paint goes on well in warm conditions. If there is a good finish coat needed, do it about mid-morning and then beetle off before you disturb the air and stir up dust. The hot, fast dry means that you’ll get a hard skin before this can happen.

e. You need not wear heavy clothing in the hot shed. You can get away with shorts and a tee shirt, which means that you are not wearing good pants when you get overspray. You can clean your legs cheaper than you can dryclean trousers.

f. Real heat keeps the faint-hearted off the road. You can go to the hobby shop with less traffic. Mind you, most of the dedicated modellers I know would travel to the place in a hurricane anyway…


The Little World – The Pickle Jar For Scale Modelers

dscf0206Here is a hint for all scale modellers – Polski O’Gorki.

Those of you who do the weekly shopping may recognise the word – it is a form of dill pickle popular in middle Europe and North America. I would be willing to bet it is a form of preserve that is enjoyed wherever in the world that people can find cucumbers, salt, vinegar, and dill.

We used to get the Bick’s brand from Ontario in Canada and I always made sure that we picked up the largest glass jar. The pickles were excellent. The Bick’s seem to have disappeared from the local shelves but now we get Hengstenberg gherkins from Esslingen in Germany. Equally good food and equally large glass jars – and it is the jars that we are concerned with as modellers.

Leaving aside the classical use of glass jars to store nuts and bolts – a workshop thing – I have now found that the jars and their tops are vital to my model painting ventures. I use a lot of the acrylic paints from Tamiya and Mr. Hobby and the little glass jars they come in are too good to waste. When they are empty I seal them up and set them aside for cleaning. This used to be a real chore as I tried to brush all the residue out of the jars under running water – if they had dried out at all, the task was all but impossible.

The turning point came when I started to keep a large pickle jar half full of a water/methylated spirit mixture and got to dropping the freshly emptied Tamiya jars into it straight away. I now seal the pickle jar with the metal top and leave it as the weeks went on. When the jar is full of old paint pots I empty it out in the laundry trough and the long soaking means that the labels come off slickly and the softened contest frequently rinse straight out with minimal brushing.

Okay, I am about to start trying the lacquer-type of paint and will devote the next pickle jar to it with the appropriate solvent inside. It will probably be equally successful.

If we can eat enough pickles between now and April…that may mean putting them on the cornflakes…I will also dedicate one to a spray cleaning catchment jar with a filter top. I’ve seen the commercial jobs and there is no reason that I can’t make one for free.

Civilisation, Captain, But Not As We Know It.


The recent foray to the Plastic Model Exhibition was enough fun to draw money out of my pocket…I bought a vial of tiny nuts and bolts and two diamond files…and it provided a pretty good view into the minds of some of the modellers. The ones that really intrigued me were the ones who had gone past the kits and the hobby shop and who had looked at real life.


The images illustrate this. The second part of the exhibition was given over to models in competition with each other – displayed for prizes. I cannot pretend that I understood the grading system or the categories they were placed in, but I was attracted to the civilian entries more than the military ones. These two vehicles in particular.


There weren’t the sheer numbers that you see at the Super Model Car Sunday  ( Though the SMCS chaps had brought their beach scene along as well to entertain the crowds in the commercial section ) but these chaps have really observed what cars on the street look like. The fact that they are rather dirty streets full of old cars is part of the charm. That’s exactly the sorts of streets we live in.


Unfortunately I wasn’t able to speak to the modellers who had completed these cars so I wasn’t able to find out how the detailed graffiti was put on the VW van. It looks too complex to be decals but too fine to be airbrush…unless the person doing it is absolute master of the instrument.


In the case of the plumbing van, the airbrushing is a little more obvious, but I like the motley effect of the replacement doors. I also applaud the modeller for making a choice to do a working vehicle – few of the models seen on the plastic shelf and darn few of the die-casts are actual working vehicles. I know I am always looking for 1:18 trucks and they are so far pretty scarce. I’ve located a 4WD that is useful and there’s a Chinese commercial van on the eBay but that is about it. I want a tray-top!

Brothers And Sisters, Let Us Spray


Spray copy

I am not too proud to admit that I am not too proud. I take pride in that admission…

I think it is the effect of this afternoon’s spray painting. I have been on a journey of discovery and adjust now scrubbing the evidence off my hands. But the fumes are still circulating.

First discovery: Like inkjet printers that can clog up if you do not print weekly, airbrushes can also get into difficulty. Apparently I did not wash through the spray channels sufficiently on my new birthday airbrush, and found it plugged solid.

Fortunately I had a cleaning kit that a friend gave me and enough solvent to break the blockage down and sweep it away. I must be extra careful to rinse in the future.

Second discovery: Old paint is not good paint. My Tamiya white acrylic paint could be mixed and coaxed back into life, but it lead to a rather zombie-like first coat. It sort of lurched out of the gun. Sanding and more topcoats improved it in the end. Moral? When it gets to the last two drops, clean out the glass jar and save it for future custom colours.

Third discovery: When you are dealing with 1:12 scale and larger, commercial spray cans from the local hardware warehouse are a good resource. You need to pick and choose, but with proper selection and a not-too-exotic palette, you can get a great deal of painting done cheaper than you can with 10 ml Tamiya jars. Plus the fan is large and you can get more even coverage.

Fourth discovery: Even after making a mistake and deciding to re-do a day’s work. you can still economise in material by taking apart the defective project. I changed horses in mid-stream a day ago and decided to do things differently. Resigned to the loss of a sheet of foam-core board and a metre of expensive strip wood, I was delighted to find that I could snap apart the original parts, sand down the glue fields, and reuse the materials in a new design. Very little waste.

Fifth discovery: No workshop that is busy making things ever has enough space to set things out to let them dry, set, or cool down. You spend half your time juggling things.

All this aside, the project of the miniature theatre flats and furniture is going well. The internet is a wonderful source of information about actual practice and you can adopt their methods in some cases to give the same result on the tabletop as they get on a wooden stage. The next obstacle will be to design coherent sets for a production with some eye-appeal for the miniature audience. I think I need a stage designer’s eye for this, but don’t have it. I will just have to ape what I see others have done in real life and hope for the best.



I Support Postjudice


Yesterday was an eye-opener in the workshop.

It was paint day for my newest project Wednesday and I had started out well by purchasing a good tin of undercoat and carefully applying it to the completed woodwork. As the project involves MDF there is no point in trying to stain it to look like good quality timber – it just needs to look like well-painted wood.

The undercoat went on as expected and sanded off nicely. Then today it was time for the colour coat – the tin was duly shaken and the brand new brush dipped in…and the first stroke along the wood told me I was in trouble. Paint is supposed to flow and unite with itself as well as with the substrate – that’s what forms a coat of colour. This stuff looked like cheap chocolate syrup spread out, but there was no cohesion. I looked carefully to see if I had got the wrong type of paint…but it was from the same manufacturer as the undercoat and was the recommended finish. The shop temperature was fine and there was no contamination…

The problem was  – it was lousy cheap paint. I wiped it off and scrubbed the surface to stop it from setting.

I hammered the top back on the tin and headed for the hardware store. The closest I could match it with was a couple of cans of Dulux spray paint. I didn’t even bother asking for a refund on the cheap tin of syrup, though I did warn the kid on the counter as I handed it to him that it was dodgy, and to beware of selling more to other people.

At home I turned on the radio, started shaking the rattle tins to a South American samba beat, and in 3 1/2 minutes was spraying. Perfect coverage. A half hour later the second coat could go on and the results when I take the masking tape off today should be great.

Postjudice? The exercise of judgement after the fact rather than before it. I was prejudiced against spray painting before as I had always brush painted wood. Now I will reverse that feeling and consider it as a very good idea when the next project is underway.