Saturday, July 31, 2010

Polar Lights Klingon D7 Battlecruiser

This the small snap-together (though I glued-it-together) Klingon D7 battlecruiser. I've always liked the design of the ship, jokes about Klingon warships not having toilets notwithstanding, and the little Polar Lights kit is pretty easy to build. Forget the snap-together features; the fit (as is usual with snap-together kits) isn't great and seams yawn like a tired cat. It's best to glue it together, and even then you'll have to spend some time with putty and sanding sticks, but since it has almost no raised detail at all, it's easy to clean up.

The main problems with a ship like the D7 is getting the warp nacelle angles right, and getting the boom to sit straight. One warp nacelle didn't want to lie at what I thought was the right angle (and anyway, it was different than the other one) so I had to strong-arm it, and the boom kind of wanted to angle off to one side, so I held it straight and then filled the resulting seams with super glue and white glue later. (I remember reading somewhere that Klingon warp nacelles were actually called "graph units", but it's also possible that I only think I remember reading that.) The kit supplies a tiny clear red part that pokes up from the underside of the bridge assembly, but the red vanishes when installed and I dotted them with Testors gold instead.

Other than a few issues with seams and alignment, the only real problem was the fit of the torpedo launcher tube in the lower bridge. It doesn't fit very well and cleaning up the seams isn't much fun. If I were do this again, and I will, I'd superglue in a piece of thin-walled brass tubing and sand it flush with the hull, and then poke some gimologized piece of nonsense into the tube to simulate the torpedo launcher itself.

I was at Wal-mart a while back, looking for God knows what. Charcoal briquettes, probably, but who knows. Anyway, I bought a pack of the old Testors square-bottle paints and used them extensively, applying them with a variety of cheesed-out old brushes that I'm too cheap to throw away. (I guess that's the reason.) The gold-colored parts are actually Testors Bronze (as a general rule, anything on the model painted bronze was chrome-plated in the kit originally) and I used a little Tamiya dark grey on the bulbous underside of the bridge section, and a little Tamiya NATO black on the boom buttresses.

The decals are thick and glossy, but are at least sturdy, and the lack of raised surface detail makes them easy to apply. There was a little silvering here and there, but less than I had expected, given the thickness of the decals and their refusal to yield to Micro-Sol. The kit also comes with stylized Romulan bird of prey markings, and a great plenty of spare Klingon letters so you can name your ship whatever you like. I used the basic decals so I wouldn't have to piece together separate letters. (Amusingly, the basic decals look like the stylized letters "TCS", which in my car happens to stand for "Traction Control System", so every time I glance at the D7 I think "Oh, it's the Traction Control Ship.")

Upshot? Well worth the trouble. You can't have too many Klingon ships around the house, and I could see this being an interesting canvas for all sorts of unusual paint schemes.

Emhar Gokstad Viking Ship

And so, the entire population of 9th Century Tromso puts to sea. Was Tromso around in the 9th Century? I honestly don't know, but I wouldn't be surprised.

This is, of course, the Emhar 1/72nd scale Gokstad Viking longship, with the additional Emhar Viking ship crew. It was actually a fun kit to assemble, and I thought it offered good fit and good engraved detail. The figurehead is especially nice, but I didn't capture it close-up in any photographs. I generally find ships fiddly and hard to build, and sailing ships especially so, but as sailing ships go, this one was actually pretty easy. Not a whole lot of rigging and no ratlines, which usually drive me to fits of screaming madness.

But the lack of rigging was offset by the plentitude of crew. I count 34 crewmen (one oarsman had to be deleted because the unusual yard arrangement was in the way), and 34 Vikings is a heap of painting for someone who doesn't consider himself to be a figure painter. I don't know that Vikings were really this colorful - sources appear to disagree, and a whole load of guys wearing brown in a brown ship would have produced a sort of brown hole, if you will, that would capture color and prevent it from escaping.

The Emhar figures are made out of some kind of plastic that is softer and more flexible than styrene, but harder and more poseable than polyethylene. The mold parting lines tedious to clean up, but the poseable nature of the figures made it somewhat easier to match them to the angles of the oars than I had feared. I only broke the arm off one Viking while posing him, and was able to adjust their arms a bit after they were painted without losing too much paint, so on the whole, I think I approve of this new Emhar mystery plastic.

The sail was a very shiny and smooth vacuum-formed thing. I painted it by hand, without too much regard for coverage or straightness of line, theorizing that a real sail would look pretty sad after a few days at sea anyway. To produce a halfway realistic "billow" in the sail I had to drill a small and highly ahistorical hole in the bottom of the sail and tie it to the figurehead with a piece of fishing line, which is painfully obvious in the bottom picture. Eventually I'm going to replace it with something finer and less noticeable, but I have a lot of "eventually" tasks that I never seem to get to.

All in all, yeah, Vikings. It's cool!

PS: The odd board-like oddment is their gangplank, I believe, and I stowed it on the raised oar storage trees even though I'm not sure that would have been actual Viking practice.

PPS: I painted and am in the process of weathering the overlapped shields that the kit supplied. I may or may not install them. The instructions say that the shields were only overlapped along the wales when the oars were shipped, but I've seen models (by better modelers than me) that show them both ways. We'll see.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


The Polar Lights Enterprise, such as it is. It isn't finished - some of the small parts haven't been added and I haven't finished painting the deflector dish assembly, or done any striping on the nacelle caps. I include this picture mainly to show the color I picked for the model, Luftwaffe RLM 65 light blue out of a Tamiya lacquer spray can. By Jove, I think I like it. I still think it's a little too dark, but it captures the blueness of the original as seen on my old TV. Astern of the Enterprise is the Klingon D7, painted entirely with Testors enamels in the funky old square bottles. It isn't done either; I haven't applied the decals. Maybe tonight.

Here's why the Star Trek models aren't finished. I started building a Cousteau Calypso about a hundred years ago, before I got sick. Then it sat for about two years, untouched. When I finally started working on it again, I found that a major superstructure part had gone missing and the plastic had become very brittle and difficult to work with. It was so bad that I bought the Revell reissue of the kit, now called the Neptun "Ocean Exploration Ship", and combined the two. The hull, decks and superstructure parts are mostly the new issue; the small parts and decals are from the old Calypso. The new issue parts are much easier to work with (that is, they weren't so brittle they broke into a thousand fragments at the slightest touch) but the molds are apparently wearing out because some of the parts, especially the life raft canisters, were misshapen to the point of being useless.

I managed to save the old Calypso decal sheet by cleaning it with cotton swabs and overcoating it with Micro-Scale decal film. It took many applications of solvent to get the decals to lie flat, but they eventually did, even the tiny "Cousteau Society" lettering on the helicopter tail boom. The kit is mostly out of the box. About all I did was drill out the portholes and windows, and subsequently fill them with gooey white glue (my Micro Krystal Kleer had solidified) after painting. I also used a punch and die set to replace the malformed portholes on the "observation dome" in the bow, and I added some rigging and some signal flags that spell out the name of a friend of mine. Partially, anyway; I only had one "E" on the printed flag sheet so the signal flags spell out "PRUDENC". It's also carrying more mini-submarines than it normally would, but I thought it looked better with more stuff rather than less. One of these days I'll get around to building the second shark cage (the first is on the foredeck).

In the background can be seen the Calypso's escort, a 1/72nd scale S-100 schnellboot.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Star Trek Colors

I'm slowly recovering from shingles - probably more slowly than most people do because my bone marrow has been completely killed twice this year. The worst problem from a modeling point of view with my shingles is that my eyesight still isn't very good. Better than it was, but I still find intense close-range work (like painting figures) uncomfortable and, frankly, unrewarding.

But over the Independence Day holiday I watched a minor marathon of Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes on BBC America. This compelled me to dig out a couple of newish Polar Lights Star Trek models from my collection, and I've found them pleasant to tinker with - they don't require much in the way of intense focus or concentration, or at least not yet, and I can work on them inside, out of the 115 degree heat in the garage, where my main workbench resides.

One of them is a Klingon D7 battlecruiser from The Old Show; the other is an Enterprise, also from The Old Show, which comes with a breathtakingly large and complete decal sheet. They're snap-together kits, and you know what that means: low parts count, simplified surface detail, thick plastic, and a tendency toward poor fit. It means a lot of gluing, clamping, filling, sanding, regluing popped seams, resanding, refilling and so forth, but I happen to enjoy that. (If scribing panel lines is one of my least-favorite modeling tasks, filling and sanding is one of my favorite.)

I also got to use up most of the scrap sprues; I cut them to random lengths and glued them inside the Enterprise to reinforce the mortises that the warp nacelle pylons fit into, a joint that looked pretty rickety to me in the basic kit.

I'm almost at the point of painting, and now I have to confront the issue of color. I've already decided that I'm doing to paint the D7 my way. Decades ago I built a D7 and painted it with a combination of blues and greys that really appealed to me, and that's how I'm going to do it again (and in Klingon markings, naturally. I've never liked the Romulans). Besides, I have my own vision of what Deep Space Fleet ships look like, and it doesn't seem to mesh with the Trek authorities.

But the Enterprise is a slightly different matter. For one thing, it's fairly iconic, and wild ahistorical paint schemes look strange. For another, it's important to me that models of the Enterprise look like the Enterprise. So what color is the damn thing? According to Internet sources, it is best matched with a greenish-grey color that WalMart calls "Concrete". Others insist on white. But on my TV, and on the TV that plays in my head, the Enterprise was always light blue. The preserved studio models aren't light blue, but the ship as it appeared on my clunky old TV was light blue.

So I've made my decision: I'm going to paint it RLM 65 light blue and see how it looks. I suspect RLM 65 will be too dark and I'll end up repainting it RLM 76 or even Model Master "Duck Egg Blue" (I painted an Enterprise-D once in an Aztec scheme of light gull grey and duck egg blue, and I thought it turned out very nicely). But that's my plan, at least for now. I just have to finish all the sanding and filling first.