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A-model kits

20 Jul

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After a final check has done to ensure the fuselage parts fit together properly, all their joining surfaces have their paint removed to ensure the glue will create a strong bond. The join is started at the vertical tail, which is given a generous application of Testor Liquid Glue (Photo 1). The two parts are worked back and forth a little to ensure all the surfaces will bond, and then left with alligator clips attached to ensure a solid fit. After the fin has cured, the fuselage halves are offered up and pressed almost together. Stronger
Tenex 7R liquid glue is carefully applied by brush (a used ‘pointer’) to the fuselage join (Photo 2); allow the capillary action to travel the cement along the join. Next, the fuselage halves are ‘pressed’ together as the Tenex glue ‘melts’ the plastic. Pressing the parts forces a small amount of cement above the join line (Photo 3); this acts as an excellent filler. As fate would have it, on my Seafire build there was a small gap in the upper cowling in front of the windscreen that required filling. After letting the Tenex 7R cure, the join was sanded smooth and a bead of superglue applied along the entire join line. The gap was then forced closed. Unfortunately, one of the consequences of using superglue and forcing the plastic is that the latter will sometimes fracture, as it did in this case, Photo 4. This required filing and sanding smooth, as did the superglue bead applied to all the seams. The reason for using superglue is that it will almost guarantee that the seam is hidden, while normal fillers may not, since they are more porous then the surrounding plastic.

With the fuselage halves joined and the seam filed and sanded smooth, both the upper and lower cockpit openings were masked. The upper portion was covered with Tamiya tape, while the lower opening required a different approach.

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To both cover the larger opening and protect some of the fragile parts inside, a card mask was made and held in place with Tamiya tape. A gap forward was filled with foam. To protect the tailwheel well, Blu Tack was used (Photo 5) and then the cowling was ready for some paint. Painting was done to ensure that the seams had been filled and sanded smooth and also to better see where engraving was needed.


Using drawings and photographs as a guide, missing or damaged panel lines and other details were engraved using a variety of methods. For straight lines, one of the easiest combinations is to use Dymo tape (sold for making labels) and the back of a No. 11 blade. Secure this stiff tape in place by burnishing it down and then make a series of ‘light’ passes with the blade (Photo 6). The drawback of Dymo tape is that it will not take to curves, so it is limited to flat surfaces. Testor tape allows the creation of a straight guide that can take some curvature (Photo 7).
One of the drawbacks of using the No. 11 is that it does not clean out the grove it just created. One can clean out the panel line with a chiseled wooden tooth pick (Photo 8) or the No. 11 can be used to start the panel line and it can be finished with a dedicated engraving tool.
Photograph 9 the engraving tool is completing a panel line started with a straight edge and the back of a No. 11 blade. Alternatively, the engraving tool can be used from the start along with a steel edge guide; I find that the engraving tool sometimes cuts into a tape edge guide. One can get around this at times by slightly moving the edge back and forth, or by using the non-engraving edge of the blade to create a cut guide. Another thing you may have to deal with when using an engraving tool on a continuous basis is that it will get dull and not produce a nice sharp clean panel line. When this starts to happen it can be re-sharpened with a wetted, fine-grained sharpening stone. Ensure that the tip of the blade is centred during the sharpening process, or it will track off to one side. 1 actually count the number of passes across the stone to make sure the same number is applied to each side. Another useful engraving tool, although quite large, is the Olpha P-Cutter (Photo 10). This works like the engraving tool, but because of the size of its blade it sometimes cannot get into tight areas. The nice thing about this tool is that its blade is replaceable.

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While there are a couple of options for straight panels, how about curved panel lines, like those on the wing fillet of the Seafire? For engraving these I use a French curve, Testor tape and a heavier machine-grade sewing needle in a pin vise (Photo 11). When you have located a section of ‘curve’ on this drafting tool that matches the curve you wish to replicate, trace this onto the Testor tape and cut along the line. 

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This ‘guide’ is then burnished into location and the panel carefully engraved by making several light passes with the sharpened sewing needle (Photo 12). To clean the newly engraved line use can be made of the chisel-ended wooden tooth pick. In addition to being used for curved sections, there is nothing wrong with using the sewing needle for all engraving; it’s a matter of personal choice.
Moving on from straight and curved panel lines, the modeller typically needs to create access ports and minor panels. If the panel is square or rectangular, then any of the above systems will work. However, for small panels or round shapes, use can be made of any of a number of metal engraving guides. They come in a variety of sizes and probably offer just about any configuration, either on their own or in combination. The tricks here are to make sure that the guide is in the correct location before committing the cutting edge to styrene and to ensure that it will not move during the engraving process. Using plans and photographs as reference and marking ahead of time will help prevent the former. A combination of double-sided tape on the back of the template, with tape on the exterior breaching both the guide and the model surface, usually prevents the latter. In Photograph 13 one of the round access ports is being scribed on the upper cowling using the appropriate sized circle and the sewing needle in the pin vise. Take your time with such a process and make several light passes.
Sometimes you will find that the area where a small access pory? needs to be added is not conducive to engraving. A viable alternative is to use a punch and die set and something locally called Plumber’s Tape (Photo 14). This is actually thin aluminum with an adhesive backing that works well, but must be burnished into place. Owing to the tape’s thinness, a card backing is used when punching the disc to ensure that is does not rip or twist in the guide.
Another finish, that requires a different approach, is the application of rivet detail. Perhaps the easiest method of producing this is to use a pounce wheel (available at most fabric stores) with properly spaced teeth for the rivet pattern. As before for engraving lines, use a steel edge secured with tape as a guide as you lightly run the wheel back and forth. Be careful not to raise the wheel off the plastic until the pattern is properly embossed, since it is difficult to place the wheel back into the rivet locations in order to finish them off. In Photograph 15 one can see the described method being used. There is a dedicated rivet system available for making rivets, but as of preparing this article I had not had the chance to see or use it.
You may well think that these are all the skills you will need for engraving, but there are times when you will have to make your own engraving tool. In this project, the prominent Dzus fasteners found around the nose area of the Seafire are missing from the Hobbycraft moulds. To replicate these, their size was taken from a Hasegawa kit and the nearest diameter in brass tubing was found. A wooden dowel had a receiving hole for this tubing drilled into it and a short section of tube was secured into this recess with five-minute epoxy. It was left to cure overnight. The next day the tube was sharpened by filing and sanding and a slow turning motion in the plastic produced something that looked more like a Dzus fastener than not. To help ensure the actual configuration of these fastners on the real thing is followed, detail photographs were used as a guide and the fastener heads counted and their position and number transferred to tape and used as a placement guide for the process (Photo 16).
A final note about engraving is that you must appreciate that some tools, or combinations of tools, work differently on different plastics. For instance, years of trial and error have shown that Airfix plastic is great to engrave, while true (that is British manufactured) Matchbox kits are best engraved with the P-Cutter.

Final details

With the engraving completed, only a couple of card details needed to be added to my Seafire’s fuselage. Located on the rear of the side cowling cover is a raised dome-shaped detail and near this is a reinforcement plate that carries the forward sling spigot (a round attachment point) and the RATOG (rocket-assisted take-off gear) jettison release lever (a raised rectangular box), as can be seen in Photograph 17. These details were replicated with 0.010-in plastic card (Photo 18) and the Waldron punch and die set. The final external detail added was the rear catapult spool (Photo 19), which was made from card using a punch and die set to create two different diameter pieces which were then layered (Photo 20).


One of the most common filler types is typified by any of the numerous brands that are packaged in a tube. 

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On this side of the Atlantic (west), Squadron’s Green or White (smoother and finer grained than Green) is still widely used and the method for its application is similar to that for all brands. First, protect the surrounding detail on the model using tape as a mask (Photo 21) and only use enough filler to fill the gap. Once the tape is in place the filler is applied using a suitable applicator. In Photograph 22 one can see that Squadron filler has been applied with a spatula blade to the flat, straight seam, while the circle was dealt with using a sculpting tool that can force filler into tight spots. One of the things to keep in mind about most (perhaps all) tube fillers is that they shrink somewhat while curing. Thus additional applications may be required until a void is filled. In addition, these are not the best media for building up details.
As has already been discussed, superglue is an excellent filler and is also recommended as a sealer for tube fillers so that the latter’s porous nature does not allow it to show up after painting. Normally a section of brass wire is used as the superglue applicator, since it can be bent to reach into tight areas. If a little more glue is required, then I use a piece of stiff wire drilled into a wooden dowel.

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Another useful applicator is the disposable brush. These are great for applying a thin coat of glue to cover scratches, but are also good for building up basic shapes that can then be filed and sanded into their final form. Normally I place a small amount of glue in a metal bottle cap and then the applicator is loaded and the glue applied. Use the low viscosity of thinner superglue to your advantage, allowing it to run into a join.
Five-minute epoxy can be used as an adhesive or filler. In either case, mix an equal amount of the resin and hardener together. The most common place that 1 use epoxy as a filler is around canopies and I’ll describe this procedure more thoroughly in a later article.
Another widely used filler is Milliput. This comes in three colours that reflect the coarseness of its grains, with white being the finest. Milliput works best on small seams and it is simply a matter of applying the required amount, and then removing the excess with a moistened cotton bud (Photo 23). In this photograph one can see that the entire flap has been given a thin coat of Milliput, with the excess carefully removed from the left half and the bud nicely filling in the hinge joint and engraved rivet heads.
The final ‘normal’ filler is actually any of the range of thick liquids offered by Tamiya and Gunze. In either case, apply a small amount to a seam and shortly after wards use an acetone-free nail polish remover to remove the excess. In Photograph 24 one can see a small panel line that has had the Tamiya product applied. The excess on the lower part has been removed with the appropriate nail polish remover.
If you have no filler or superglue then you can always make your own. Just cut up the sprue into small sections, put it into a glass container with some liquid cement and in a day or so you will have a filler that works fine. A toothpick is an excellent applicator for this (Photo 25).

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