Sunday, November 16, 2008

Airfix "E-Boat"

I have problems sticking to a basic collection, as one may have noticed already, but I do happen to be pretty good at collecting 1/72nd scale torpedo boats. As in all of them, meaning all of the commercially available ones. The newest and arguably the spiffiest is the Revell S-100 Schnellboot, the last and biggest of the torpedo boats the Germans used in World War Two. But not too far down on the spiffy ladder is the old Airfix S-7, rather unhelpfully called an "E-Boat" on the boxtop and requiring reference materials to figure out exactly what kind of Schnellboot it is. Well, it's an S-7, decidedly prewar and almost unarmed compared to the S-100. I bet the guy out ahead of the fairwater on that single MG-34 feels confident...

Anyhow, it's a good kit. I don't know why, but Airfix's 1/72nd scale boat molds just don't seem to degrade over time. The Revell PT-109 is getting pretty ghastly - the figures alone are worthy of the Cryptkeeper's cackle - but the Airfix molds still seem to be in pretty good shape. Did they use better metal? Were they stored in a better environment? Did Airfix just make fewer of them? (Not on my account; I've disposed of three of their "E-Boat" kits over the years, and I do place emphasis on "disposed".)

Anyway, it's a nice kit. It's also relatively easy to paint. After finishing the minimal assembly of the hull and deck and spending several quality evenings sanding out the joints on the lower hull while watching Dr. G Medical Examiner, I spray-painted the whole works flat white. I decided that I would build it as though it were in the first year of the war, that is, very light in color, mast lowered, and no hull numbers. So flat white it was, though I had to take a black felt marker and scribble the word schnellbootweiss on my can of Krylon flat white so I could prove to quibblers that I really HAD painted it the right color.

Then I fixed up a card table by the TV and fetched some craft paint and painted the deck with a dark grey called "Charcoal" to represent the anti-marring coating the Germans used. Charcoal seems to be too dark. Compared to the white hull it's practically flat black. But it's what I had, and I figure once I apply a light grey wash over the ersatz schnellbootweiss it won't look quite so stark. It took about three coats to get good coverage, but that's why they make more than one episode of Dr. G Medical Examiner, isn't it? (I watch a lot of that show, as it turns out.)

It's been fun. And best of all, no grasshoppers.

My workshop is extraordinarily filthy these days. It's full of dust, grasshoppers, spiders, dead leaves, cigarette ashes, hair and God knows what all else. It needs to be thoroughly and vigorously cleaned before I can really contemplate doing much work out there. It needs the leaf blower, but running the leaf blower in the garage is hell on my respiration unless I wear a dust mask, and I seem to be fresh out. Damn!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Lindberg Stagecoach

As I'm getting fairly far along in construction of the Lindberg Concord Stagecoach, I thought I'd post a few thoughts about it.

The most obvious thought is that it's big and eats up a lot of parts. I decided to break it into subassemblies which will be assembled, finished and weathered separately. They are:

1. The chassis and wheels, which are dark yellow with dark metal hardware
2. The body, which is a dark barn red with various detail colors
3. The horses
4. The figures
5. The luggage, including what came in the kit and what I'm scratchbuilding
6. The harnesses themselves (is that a britchen or are you just happy to see me?)

The kit is an odd mix of things. Most of the parts sport pretty good detail, but most of the parts also sport heavy pin marks and fairly impressive sink marks. Not so much flash, but plenty of sink. You'll spend some time filling and sanding all of this, but once that work is done and the parts have a coat of paint on them, they look pretty nice - I was especially pleased with the square nut/round washer detail.

The figures are also a mixed bunch. The kit comes with six figures, which are cast solid in a grade of fairly brittle styrene. They remind me more of resin figures than plastic figures, which are typically hollow multi-part contraptions. The figures include a driver, a shotgun rider, three passengers (a gussied-up man and woman from town, and someone who appears to be an Army officer) and an outlaw. In its first incarnation the stagecoach was clearly being ambushed by the outlaw, considering that the driver is hauling back on the traces and the horses are in full panic-stop mode. But I guess that didn't pass the sensitivity test, because now there's no mention of the outlaw and the box art shows the drivers offering a friendly greeting to someone I assume is a hitchhiking cowboy. The passengers don't bother me, and maybe I'll make something out of the outlaw. But I really don't care for the driver and shotgunner. The driver looks like Gabby Hayes and the shotgunner looks like he'd be more comfortable with a pool cue than that Winchester rifle. I see these guys as hard-looking men in worn dusters, so there's going to have to be surgery.

The horses are also something of a disappointment. They have too many teeth in their mouths, and I never could get them to fit seamlessly - I just laid on tons of liquid cement, mashed them together with clamps, and figured I'd fix the booboos later. And booboos there are, gaps on the one hand and heavy, heavy parting lines on the other. They're going to require hot knife work on the manes, tails, ears, fetlocks and elsewhere to eradicate the mushy plastic look, but at least their proportions look right (at least to me). They have no under-hoof detail at all, and I'm not sure I feel like carving in all that detail and making all those horseshoes...

The only part of the kit I haven't dabbled with yet are the harnesses. They look complete, but just like harnessing up a real horse, harnessing up the 1/16th scale horses is liable to be a chore. I don't think I like the fairly thick vinyl ribbon Lindberg supplied for the traces and whatnot; I think I'll replace all that with either paper or doubled electrical tape and either make new buckles or salvage the old ones.

On the whole, it's a good kit. It's unique, so we cut it some slack, and the actual chassis and body aren't bad at all. Clutter them up with luggage and cargo and I think they'll do just fine. The horses and figures aren't great, but can probably be salvaged. The harnesses look good in principle. The only real engineering problems with the kit are the sink marks and pin marks, which require a good deal of eradication.

The instructions are long and contain a mixture of diagrams and written instructions. They aren't bad. They're a little busy, and the diagrams could have been larger and more numerous, but at no point did the instructions completely buffalo me. Sometimes it took some dry-fitting and head-scratching to figure out just exactly what the instructions were saying, but not to excess.

The decals aren't bad as far as they go, which isn't far enough. They consist of gold scrollwork for the body panels, and one US Mail sign. What, no Wells-Fargo Overland markings?? You're on your own to represent the stagecoach's commercial affiliation.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Split Personality

I'm often heard to describe myself as a "Rockets, Missiles and Spacecraft Modeler". But if you look at the kits in my unbuilt pile, I appear to be an armor modeler. If you look at the kits I've actually finished, I show a definite weakness for Cold War jet aircraft and close air support aircraft of any epoch. But I go through phases where I am a very dedicated figure painter and pretend that if I simply "think real hard" I'll develop the skills of a Shep Paine or a Bill Horan.

Taint likely, but I try. This 200mm Verlinden Roman bust is pretty typical of my figure work - undershaded, workmanlike, and not likely to win any contests.
What bugs me about it (though it doesn't bug me extensively) is that I've slowly assembled a fairly large population of unassembled 54mm Old West figures, mostly marshals and gunfighters, and I sense with a kind of nonverbal cellular awareness akin to ESP that I'm about to go whole-hog into the Old West... Again... Good thing I finished Herr von Braun's rocket, eh?

Von Braun Finis!

Well, I think I'm finally done with the Von Braun Three-Stage Ferry Rocket. This is as done as it's ever going to get, anyway. Please ignore the dinosaur in the upper right corner; he was cautioned several times about not blocking the shot and there he is...

Anyway, what's relevant? Note the cut-down delta wing and the end caps on the shuttle itself, which I think looks better than the humungo-wing on the original part. Also note that I finally did add instrumentation pods to the tips of the first-stage fins. Two of them are cut-down bits of anonymous 1/72nd scale AIM-7 Sparrows; the other two are cut-down 5-inch "Holy Moses" rockets from a Monogram 1/48th scale P-38 Lightning kit. They're faired into the fins, and the fins are faired into the fuselage itself, with multiple layers of white glue.

What else? I lost the tube that represented the third stage, so while I was looking for stuff to make the pods from, I kept an eye out for tubular plastic. I used a 500-pound bomb from a Monogram 1/48th scale B-29 Superfortress; all I did was saw the fins off. It's slightly larger than the couplers and gives the third stage an appealingly chubby look.

The original kit decals failed in a weird way that I've never seen before: the ink was water-soluble, so that by the time the carrier had released from the paper and was ready to go onto the model, about seventy percent of the ink had washed off. I ruined enough of the decals finding this out that I threw them all away and grubbed around in my decal collection until I find a sheet from an old AMT 1/200th "Man in Space" set, which donated some of its Saturn V markings to the cause.

The paint is mostly of the hardware store variety. The yellow is "Marigold", while the white is plain old hardware store semigloss white, and the red is hardware store barn red. The black is Tamiya semigloss black lacquer, while the silver is Testors two-part lacquer, a color I believe is called "Plymouth Silver" or something like that. I'd go look, but last time I checked, there was a wasp buzzing around in the garage and knowing the exact paint color isn't worth risking getting stung.

By the way, I like the Testors two-part lacquers a lot. They spray nicely even out of a spray can, they cover well, they have a good semigloss sheen without the gloss sealer, and they are hard and durable once dry. I especially like them on natural metal aircraft models, where they are much tougher than Metalizer and dry much faster than Chrome Silver.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Von Braun Shuttle

Here's an in-progress shot of the shuttle from the 3-Stage Ferry Rocket, with a finger included gratis to show scale. Note the unnatural area of the original delta wing, and the lines I've scribed to show the proposed planform of the new acutely swept wing with end caps. I think most of the engraved detail will end up being filled, though I'm tempted to add aft landing skids in the fashion of the X-15, and will probably scribe in new flaps.

Von Braun 3-Stage Ferry

Time passes. Here's the main fuselage of the Von Braun 3-Stage Ferry Rocket temporarily mounted on the base. It's been through a couple of fill-and-sand cycles (note the red auto body spot filler and the white Squadron putty. I recontoured the small third stage coupler because the original had an odd trumpet-like flare that seemed out of keeping with the general design ethic, so I converted the trumpet flare into a straight conical section with more Squadron putty. This is the kind of work I can do while watching funky horror movies like The Ruin. Notice that I haven't added any external details like conduits or anything yet, as this is work that I cannot do while watching funky horror movies like The Ruin.
Upon thinking matters through, I think I've decided to add combined instrument pods and anti-flutter weights to the fin tips.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

3-Stage Ferry Rocket

Here's an in-process view of the 3-Stage Ferry Rocket. Not much to look at, is it? This is just the first stage, where block-sanding revealed deep and rather objectionable sink marks just above each of the assembly joints. I depleted my aged tube of auto body spot putty filling these low spots and tonight (theoretically) I'll block-sand everything again to see if I got everything.
My betters tell me that superglue and accelerator are the hot setup for this sort of work, and maybe they are, but I like the body putty method. It's slower and messier and smellier, but on the whole it just doesn't seem as ticklish. I've never glued my eye shut with body putty, but I have with superglue. 'Nuff said.
I was going to present a picture of the base, but I changed my mind. I painted it using the Whudigot Method. This is where you stand in front of your shelf of spray paint and mumble "Whudigot that's even close to the right color?" Tamiya Aircraft Grey stands in for concrete grey, and Marigold stands in for OSHA safety yellow. It's close enough.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Glencoe 3-Stage Rocket

A big part of RMS modeling is what is called "factual-futuristic" stuff from the 1960s and 1970s. This category of stuff amounts to boosters or spacecraft that could have been built with existing technology and lacked only the political will. A major purveyor of this sort of stuff, largely in defense of his own career, was Wernher von Braun, who transmitted no end of interesting factual-futuristic designs to the public through such outlets as Collier's magazine and the Walt Disney company.

This is a classic von Braun factual-futuristic design, the soberly-named "three-stage ferry rocket". It's a big, chunky rocket that in some ways seems like the prototype of the equally chunky Soviet N1, and one wonders if it would have been any more successful than the N1 - the engineer in me looks at that rat's nest of engines, turbopumps, fuel lines and whatnot in the base of the first stage and cringes. Gimme five F-1s instead, thank you very much.

But what a shape! Dig those wings, which were supposed to facilitate lifting re-entry but really serve as visual flying butresses on this Space-Age Cathedral. And those fairings at mid-span on the middle wings, oh, Wernher, what's up with those? They give me chills!

Here's what we, the modeling public, ended up with. It's still Wernher von Braun's rocket, named with due sachlichkeit the "3-stage ferry rocket". But he's been poking and pulling at the design. Where are those graceful, unbelievable middle wings with their fairings? The booster itself has been shortened, giving it a "even more like an N1 than an N1" look, and the swept wings on the shuttlecraft itself have been replaced by delta wings. One presumes that between the first and second designs things like the XF-92 had started flying and delta wings were the rage. But ye gods that's a lot of wing - I can't imagine how many tons of downforce the elevons must exert to keep the nose up during flare, or how much energy such a vast delta wing must dissipate through sheer drag.
The kit is pretty basic. Mine came in a groovy black cardboard box with the parts (except for the tower) sealed in a plastic bag. There must have been some kind of flutzpah at the Glencoe works, for almost none of the parts were still attached to the runners. It's the kind of kit that benefits from a certain amount of attention. I'm sure with a mold this ancient, we should be thankful that the Glencoe people are able to produce any kits at all and we shouldn't snivel about flash or rather unfortunate pin marks here and there. So spend some time with sanding sticks and a knife and fiddle with the fit, and before long you, like I, will have assembled 80% of the model without really meaning to.
But in tinkering with the kit thus, I made up my mind to make several changes.
1. The surface of the kit is unnaturally smooth. Designers don't like to hang needless protuberances on boosters as their passage through Qmax can be problematic, but show me a booster that got all the way through design without a few external conduits, blisters and blivets. Look at a Saturn V; they're a cornucopia of protuberances! I think the Ferry Rocket needs some external detail - external coupler hatches, drain holes, conduits, access panels and the like. So mine's going to have some "stuff" glued on. Mind you, in 1/288th scale it's easy to overdo these things and make a spring-loaded umbilical hatch look like a bank vault door, but it's worth a try.
2. The delta wing bothers me. There are several options, such as cutting it off altogether and grafting on sheet styrene swept wings, or a cranked short-span delta like the shuttle, or - my choice - trim the delta wing back to a radical sweep angle, truncate the wingtips, and put on end caps. If you've ever seen drawings of the proposed X-15A5, you know what I'm talking about.
Critics (of which I abound) complain that doing this sort of work ruins the "collector nature" of the kit. And for all I know that may be true, but you know what? The "collector nature" of old models doesn't matter to me in the slightest.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Building Better Models

Today I'm releasing the first installment in my series of highly professional, superbly researched, and impeccably true public service articles on how to build better scale models - or how to build your first one, should that be the case.

The first step in building a model is getting a model in the first place. The best method is to go to a local hobby shop. Since the Internet has killed the majority of local hobby shops, "local" means a drive of at least a hundred and sixty miles, so pack a lunch and a change of underwear. The hobby shop will be hard to find. One of my favorites lies between a tattoo parlor and a pawn shop; another one is next to an insurance agency that gets so little traffic you can actually see cobweb-encrusted mummies propped up at their desks.

Plan on spending approximately six hours at the hobby shop, because it's important to look at everything, even things that don't interest you at all. If you find a rack of beef jerky, examine the beef jerky carefully - there's no way of knowing what you might learn from it, and maybe someday someone will ask you to make a 1:1 scale model of a strip of peppery, bold beef jerky. It could happen. The general rule of thumb is that you should stay in the hobby shop until the person you brought with you (your spouse, or significant other, or just some random guy you're giving a ride) gets so bored he begins to scream.

It's best to buy a kit that doesn't interest you at all. If you wanted an airplane, you should buy The Visible Man instead. If you wanted The Visible Man, you should buy a tank. The main goal is to avoid producing any kind of enthusiasm or excitement, and nothing prevents enthusiasm quite like building something you don't like. Be sure to look at the 1/700th scale battleships, which are so full of small parts they can test the patience of Job, and the Airfix soft-plastic figures are good because they're almost completely impossible to work with.

We’ll assume that you really wanted to build a model of an airplane, which really means that you bought a model of a sports car instead. You earn style points if it’s imported and expensive. You’ll know you’ve got a good model kit on your hands when the guy who runs the store raises his eyebrows and says “Wow, I don’t sell many of those.”

No model can be built without "the stuff". You'll need glue, so make sure to buy six different sorts. Model builders often refer to glue as cement, so you'll want to buy several kinds of cement as well just to be on the safe side. The longer the health-and-safety warning on the side of the bottle, the better the glue is likely to work. Most models list somewhere on the outside of the box a list of paint colors you'll need to build the kit properly. These lists always refer to paints by item number, but the item numbers refer to a line of paint only available in Outer Mongolia and portions of Madagascar, and there's no way of knowing what color "A194" is. When in doubt, assume that every color is "Deck Tan". Once you've got enough Deck Tan to finish your model, you'll need tools. The general rule of thumb is that you need tools sharp enough to lop off your thumbs. You should plan on spending eight times more money on tools than on the model itself. The nature of the tools doesn't matter. Buy a pipe wrench if that's what interests you; what matters is how much money you spend, not what you get for the money.

Now take the model and the bags of "the stuff" home and have a gander. Peel off the plastic and savor the first heady inhalation of polymer-rich air that comes out of the box, redolent of carcinogens and industrial toxins. Now open all the plastic bags that hold the parts, and experiment with getting the now-empty bags to stick to the cat by static electricity. The cat, fatally attracted to boxes, will attempt to curl up inside the upside-down box top, but if you keep sticking the bags to him, he'll eventually get pissed off and go lay out a hairball on your shoes.

It's important to lose things. I especially recommend losing the instructions, the decals, or the clear parts. Bonus points are scored for losing all three. It's best if you lose the instructions in such a way that you find them 30 seconds after finishing the kit incorrectly, or if you find the decals just moments after decorating your jet airplane with scrapbook stickers. If you can't lose the instructions, the decals or the clear parts, try to convince some small but critical part to fly off the sprues and get lost behind the headboard and the wall. The part should be small enough to be impossible to find, but important enough that the model can only barely be finished without it, and even then only by using cramming a piece of wood into the void and covering it with whole rivers of super glue.

Soon it's time to start. First rub the runners on the cat to ensure that every part of the model sports at least 30 cat hairs. While handling the parts, be sure to eat plenty of microwave popcorn and fried zucchini strips, and be sure to rub the oil all over everything, thus producing a filmy paste of cat hair, grease, salt and butter substitute on everything. Now using a pair of scissors or a butter knife, cut all the parts off the runners - since you've already lost the instructions, the part numbers are irrelevant, aren't they?

So there you have it: a box of loose parts. All you have to do is stick them together in the right sequence. You can use the picture on the box top as a guide, or you can proceed on a more creative and intuitive approach, simply gluing things together at random until all the parts are used up. Critics will complain that your Corvette model should have four wheels or that the seats should be right-side up and facing forward, but ignore them. It's your model, after all! Be sure to use plenty of glue. If a little glue is good, a shitload of glue is great. If it begins to ooze, smear it around with your fingers and wipe the excess off on your shirt, on your lips, or on the outsides of your nostrils. After an hour or so of this, your brain will begin to malfunction as volatile chemicals in the glue clog the neurotransmitter receptor sites in your synaptic gaps. This is normal, expected and desirable, and the fanged blocks of cheese that you think are coming out of the wall and attacking you aren't really there.

At some point you'll end up confronting the small, missing, and critical part. Any small but critical part can be replaced with a length of bamboo skewer and nobody will ever know the difference. Simply break it off at about the right length and glue it in there. Use two or three chunks if it seems righteous.

Now it's time to paint the model. Open your can of Deck Tan paint, but don't stir it. We want the paint to go on in smooth, even layers, and only calm, well-adjusted paint will do that. Stirring the paint just agitates it and makes it ill-behaved. Grab your paint brush and paint everything Deck Tan. The paint probably won't cover well, so apply lots of it. Don't be afraid to pour the paint over the model if necessary, and while the paint is still sticky, eat crackers over it. Long, smooth strokes are better than short, choppy strokes. You may find it convenient to use a roller or a Wagner Power Painter, but be sure to securely attach the model to the ground with a tent peg before hitting it with the Wagner as the impact of the paint can send the model flying into the next yard.

As the paint dries, your common sense will present objections like "I don't remember tires being Deck Tan" or "I don't think the engine should be Deck Tan." Ignore these pointless snivels. If the Flying Spaghetti Monster didn't intend us to paint everything Deck Tan, He wouldn't have given us Deck Tan with his noodly appendage. Besides, it's now 10:34 PM and it's too late to drive back to the hobby shop and buy a can of Battleship Grey, and the only other paint you have in the house is that scanty quarter-of-an-inch of sage green in the bottom of the Behr can that's currently holding up the half-broken drain trap under the sink. Best to leave that sleeping dog lie.

It will take seventeen days for the thick layer of Deck Tan paint and cracker crumbs to dry. Leave the model in a dry, cool, well-ventilated spot where plenty of lint and cat hair can drift down onto it. Periodically test the paint's progress by attempting to press thumbprints into the roof, hood and door panels. When you can no longer impress deep, indelible thumbprints into the paint, it's safe to handle. Now is the time to detail paint the model. Since you've lost the instructions, you won't know what details need to be painted. And since the cats have long since clawed the model box top into tattered wreckage, you can’t rely on the box art. Instead of relying on the instructions or research materials, simply eye the model and ask "If I were this model, which of my various parts would want to be detail-painted?"

Detail parts should be painted either Burgundy or Deck Tan. The advantage of Burgundy is that it presents a vivid contrast to the Deck Tan main coat. The advantage of Deck Tan details is that no touch-up painting is ever required. Another advantage of Deck Tan details is that one can paint with a stick or a Q-tip without anyone knowing the difference.

In our next issue:

Decals: The Finishing Touch, or the Curse of Mephistopheles?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Workbench Views

An overall view of a part of my workbench. It's a delirium of stagecoach parts, scantily-clad women and toothpicks.

Part of my collection of spray paint, craft paint, useless decals, MEK, and complete crap.

Marshal Dillon would flip: here we have a desperado with an unnaturally stubby pistol apparently gunning down horses, a bottle of Micro-Sol, and a pickle jar full of mineral spirits gone a lovely amber shade.

Academy 1/144th B-47E Stratojet on the simulated Distressed Benchtop. Note the bowl of Lloyd's, for those times when only barbecue will fuel a late-night modeling session.

Academy 1/144th B-58A Hustler on the same Simulated Distressed workbench. Note that technically speaking it isn't done - the canopies are not yet installed - but other than that, I'm done.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Academy 1/144th B-47E and B-58A

I just finished this pair of small-scale SAC nuclear bombers today. I picked them mostly because they looked like they would be fairly easy to assemble and paint, which is mostly true. The kits are pretty good, with restrained recessed panel lines and even, in the case of the B-58, a hint of interior detail, visible only if you pose the clamshell canopies open, which I did.

The decals were pretty well printed and reasonably tough, but they didn't stick worth beans unless Micro-Sol was applied, in which case they stuck too well! Not up to Academy's usual standards, were the decals, but I only fatally ruined one, a black wing walk stripe on the Hustler.

I painted them "AMC Sterling Silver" from the Testors two-part lacquer collection, paint really intended for model cars, but the silver works pretty well for polished aluminum too. It's a hair too sparkly and ends up looking a bit grainy, but under regular room lights it looks good, and it dries quickly and it's tough. I've yet to damage it with handling, and that's an excellent quality for models that I basically built while sitting in bed and resting my chest.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Collection Anxiety

In my not entirely casual reading of model magazines, it often seems to me that to be considered a world-class modeler, you have to specialize. That is, you have to have a defined "collection" that on the one hand allows you to hone techniques specific to that collection, and on the other hand which comes to be more of an oeuvre than a mere collection. I'm reminded of guys like Paul Boyer, who does US combat aircraft in 1/72nd scale, or Bob Steinbrunn, who did breathtaking 1/48th scale WWII aircraft, or Tony Greenland, whose 1/35th scale German WWII armor is astonishing.

At least once a week I issue what amounts to a personal press release about how I'm going to adhere in the future to some sort of collection rule. From here on out, nothing but spacecraft! From here on out, nothing but figures! From here on out, nothing but small-scale armor! I occasionally refer to these pronouncements at fatwas, but since I know they won't stick and I'll violate them just as soon as I possibly can, well, why risk blasphemy?

I just don't seem to have any modeling self-discipline at all. My model collection currently includes aircraft in scales from 1/32nd to 1/200th, warhips from 1/2400th to 1/72nd, figures from 9mm to 200mm, dinosaurs, spacecraft in paper, styrene and resin, small-scale armor, large-scale armor, 1/24th scale cars and trucks... The point isn't that I'm a wonderfully eclectic modeler who refuses to be bound by convention. No, the point really is that in modeling terms, I'm no better than a magpie, easily attracted by shiny objects and prone to collecting things that don't do much to advance my primary mission.

But what is my primary mission? When pressed for a short answer to the question "What sort of modeler am I" (and who among us hasn't been confronted by a knife-wielding thug in a dark alley who demands to know what sort of modeler we are?) I usually describe myself as an RMS modeler - that's "rockets, missiles and spacecraft".

RMS has strange rules, among them the fact that a nuclear-armed missile is as legitimate as a deep space probe. But never mind; we accept that missiles are just spacecraft of a different sort, and we get on with it. But the agony of being an RMS modeler is that the glory days of RMS modeling are long since over with. All those great kits from the Olden Days exist now as nothing more than fond memories, though every now and then Revell or Glencoe dusts off a mold and reissues something Decidedly Cool. To keep busy in RMS modeling, you've either got to dip into the world of spendy garage resin kits (which I have) and paper (which I also have done, at least until my Epson printer developed cyan constipation and the screaming black squirts, and all because I had the nerve to try to print out the planet Mars.)

RMS in the end is kind of frustrating. The only kits available in hobby shops are various iterations of the Space Shuttle, and they cloy after a while. How many Columbia memorial kits can you really do before the Flying Spaghetti Monster says "Enough already"? Every now and then a reissue will provoke a flurry of activity on my bench. But unless you're prepared to pay big bucks for imported resin or build paper models, RMS just isn't active enough to keep a relatively productive magpie busy. And there's no way of knowing exactly what shiny objects will take the bored magpie's eye. One month it was 1/72nd scale torpedo boats. Another time it was HO-scale model railroad buildings. 25mm Dungeons & Dragons figures keep making comebacks, like Rocky without the theme music and or the heavy scent of Ben-Gay. Dinosaurs! I've gone through a couple of dinosaur phases, and a third one is starting, based on the observation that there are now five unbuilt dinosaur kits in The Pile.

But even so, there are certain types of modeling that I simply don't do. Some of them are just too much work, like sailing ships, customized car models, and superdetailed anythings. Others simply aren't shiny enough. I figure over the years I've built an entire geschwader of Me-109s, and enough Spitfires and Mustangs to give the Allies command of the skies, and I just don't need more. And I also refuse to subscribe to the Esoteric German Tank Of The Month Club, and I personally find aircraft carriers unrewarding.

So what am I to do? Shamble along with no coherence and order in my collection and building habits, or go to some expensive spa in the hills of New Hampshire and take the Collection Cure? Eh, well, as much as I'd like to see New Hampshire someday, I think I'll settle for a messy collection.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


It's been a long time since I worked on a model. In fact, this week is the first sustained model work I've done in a long time. Why the break?

For one thing, sometimes I just do that. I once spent about four years without so much as touching a model, and I didn't really miss it. It's not uncommon for me to take a month or two or three off. Not common, but not uncommon. It seems that I develop a sort of ennui over what I'm working on - oh great, another Me-109, can it get any more novel and exciting than that? - and I just quit. Then after a while, some fanciful thing will catch my eye and I'll find myself back in my chair. The four-year layoff was ended by, of all things, the Airfix Hs-123 biplane ground attack plane (I find the Hs-123 and Hs-129 inordinately interesting). This latest hiatus was ended by a Monogram F-101 Voodoo, mostly because the idea of adding a Genie-armed airplane to my collection tickled my fancy.

For another thing, open-heart surgery affected how well I could sit in my hunched-forward workshop posture. For a long time I couldn't abide sitting that way at all, and it's hard to do detail painting or sand out filler when you're leaning back on a pile of pillows in bed. Modeling isn't much fun when you know that you can only sit at the workbench for five minutes. Five minutes! Cripes, some days it takes me five minutes to find a knife! These days I'm able to sit at the workbench for usefully long periods of time without whimpering, but it's taken a long, long time to get to this point.

Quitting smoking affected my enjoyment of pretty much everything, including modeling. It was no fun to sit at the workbench, where I used to chain-smoke relentlessly, and think about how bad I wanted a cigarette. But since it's been almost a year since I quit, the urgency of the desire to smoke is tapering off and I can sometimes slip into a frame of mind where I just don't think about cigarettes - so long as nobody smokes around me.

So here I am. I can sit longer, and I can sit longer without fixating on cigarettes. So I'm slowly coming back to modeling, though it'll be a little while yet before I break out the airbrush again.

Hobbycraft 1/32nd Sopwith Camel

No photographs today; my camera battery is dead and photos will have to come later. Besides, I didn't think this model came out all that well. The kit actually wasn't bad. The main knock I had was that the struts didn't seem to meet the wings at the right fore-aft angles, but it's possible I screwed that up myself, seeing as how I generally make a hash of biplanes anyway.

What's most interesting about it is that I started it over a year ago and then lost interest in it and left it sitting in an open box in my garage for a long time. This is usually the kiss of death for a model - if the squirrels or roadrunners don't make off with some of the parts, and if it isn't so heavily colonized by black widow spiders I just throw it away, then the decals decompose in a crazed patchwork of cracks.

But when I finally got back to it, I found that not only was it still complete, but the decals even worked! They were a bit crispy and I managed to break one of them, but I was able to shove it back together and I was frankly astonished at the toughness of the Hobbycraft decals.

As I said, biplanes aren't my bread and butter. In fact, I almost never build biplanes, though I do have a fatal weakness for the Revell Sopwith Triplane. I know going in that any biplane I build is not going to turn out too well, so I often adopt a six-footer outlook going in. No rigging, brush-painted, perfunctory interior, no particular sweat over the precise shades of paint meant to represent P.C. 10 or clear doped linen, that sort of thing. The last biplane I really sweated over was a 1/72nd scale Re-8, which turned out pretty well before it fell upside-down to the ground and came apart in a ball of stretched-sprue rigging.

So I did my Sopwith Camel as a six-footer, and it'll do. The machine guns were relatively undetailed, and the interior seemed sparse given the scale, and the decals weren't particularly crisply printed, but it came out all right, especially for having sat out in the open for a year.