MISCELLANEOUS PAINTING AND BUILDING TIPS

These are miscellaneous tips that I have picked up along the way.  They aren't in any particular order and as I run across new ones I just add them to the end of this page.  If you have a tip that you would like to add, please feel free to send me An Email and I'll be glad to include it.  Credit will go to you, of course.

PATIENCE!

Probably one of the most overlooked aspect of building models is the need for patience.  When I built models as a kid I was of one of the throw-it-together-and-move-on-to-the-next-one brigade.  As I've gotten older I have come to realize that the number one requirement for building a good model is patience.  This is a requirement that overrides abilities and knowledge because no matter how good you are or how much you know if you don't exhibit the patience to do a model properly you are just wasting your time.

I've seen posts on forums and news groups where someone makes a comment like, "I spent two whole weeks on this model" or "I spent an entire hour sanding that wing joint".  How about This Tamiya F-4 built by Pierre Greutert that took over three YEARS to complete?  A high-quality build doesn't come quickly and it doesn't come by cutting corners.  I don't have the patience to build something like the F-4 mentioned above, but I still admire those who do because it ALWAYS shows in the final product.


DETAILS

As the old saying goes, "The Devil Is In The Details".  One of the things I have noticed when looking at other people's models is the detail that they put into one, or the lack of detail that they omit.  Take a close look at some other people's models.  Take note of how even the smallest parts have been cleaned of flash, sanded, and properly painted.  Alternatively, take note of how small parts are left painted the same color as the fuselage (or body or hull!) and not detailed.  If two models are built identically and one person goes to the effort of detailing the smallest parts while the other doesn't, which is going to be the better model?

Take your time.  Each part should be treated the same.  It doesn't matter if it's a wing half, a large body section, the hull of a tank or ship, or just a tiny little detail part glued in some out of the way place.  If something is visible decide whether it needs to be painted a different color or not.  Take the time to clean the flash off of it, to paint it properly, and to glue it in place properly.  These are the things that define the difference between a mediocre model and a show stopper.


USE THE NET!

This is the "Information Age".  If you dig long enough and hard enough you can find absolutely anything you need on the internet.  This is one of the greatest sources of reference material available to today's modelers, and one that we would have loved to have many years ago.  Use the internet to find pictures of your models.

In many cases the manufacturers are still around and many of them have links to historic products and eras.  A good example is Vought Aircraft.  Their website has an area called Vought Heritage and on it you can find photos and engineering drawings of many of their aircraft (including the famous F-4U Corsair!).  If you don't find what you need there is an email link that can be used to contact them with questions.  In many cases the questions are answered by the people who actually built the machines.


USE THE FORUMS!

Internet forums are a great place to get information.  This can range from simple questions about model building techniques to specific questions such as the color of the extended fuses on a MK-82 500 pound bomb.  Most of the forums are frequented by people who are highly experienced in model building and very familiar with specific subjects.

One word of advice ... read the forum FAQ for the forum you are on!  Most forums have rules that every user is expected to abide by, and it doesn't matter if it is your first day on the forum or not.   Read and abide by the rules or don't be surprised when you don't get much help or don't enjoy your time there.

One common rule that I see on almost every forum is to search before you post!  Before you ask a question such as "What Airbrush Is Best For Me" or "How Do I Thin Acrylic Paint" SEARCH THE FORUM!   Certain questions are asked time and time and time again, and people get very tired of answering the same questions simply because someone was to lazy to see if someone had already asked the same question.  One forum I frequent had the same question posted five times on the same day by five different people.  All these people had to do was to look at the post list in front of them and they would have seen the answer to their question.  Admittedly they worded the question slightly different, but in each case the answer to it was EXACTLY the same.  If you post questions that are asked frequently you are going to find yourself not getting responses to them. 

My Modeling Links Page has a list of about 30 forums and discussion groups that cover virtually every subject imaginable.  There should be one that suits your modeling preferences.  If you have another one to add, please feel free to Send Me An Email


FUTURE FLOOR POLISH

Most modelers are familiar with Future, but if you are not familiar, it is one of the handiest things in the modeler's tool box.  It can be used for a gloss finish over any kind of paint, it can be used as a clear coat before decaling to give a gloss finish to prevent silvering of the decals, and it can be used before weathering so that the wash will have a gloss finish to work on.  For all of the details about what Future can do, check out Matt Swan's The Complete Future.  There is no point in my repeating all of his work here, he says it better than I can.


USING TAMIYA XF-21 FLAT BASE

Tamiya XF-21 "Flat Base" is NOT intended to be used as a paint!  I've seen numerous posts on forums where someone has used it alone and gotten nothing but a white, chalky finish for their efforts.  This result is not surprising since XF-21 is not a clear flat finish.

XF-21 is a Flat BASE.  It's intended use is to be mixed with glossy paints to give them a flat finish.  It was never intended to be sprayed alone, and must be mixed with something or it will make a mess out of a paint job.  I use it a lot with Future Floor Polish (see the section above) to give it a flat finish.  For a completely dead-flat finish mix about 4 parts Future to 1 part XF-21.  For a semi-gloss or "Satin" finish mix about 6 parts Future to 1 part XF-21.  As always you should try this on some scrap to determine the ratio that works best for you.

My Trumpeter F-105G was finished using Model Master and Tamiya acrylics, a gloss coat of Future was then applied prior to the decals and panel line washing, and then 2 coats of Future mixed with XF-21 at a 4:1 ratio were applied for the final flat coat.


ALCLAD II LAQUER

Alclad II Laquers are very cool metallic paints.  The simulated metal finish that can be achieved using this paint is just beautuful.   I haven't used it very much, more for detail items than a real paint job, but I do plan to finish the F-86F I'm building with it.  Matt Swan has a great article on using Alclad II on his website entitled The Secret Life Of Alclad II

The only real problem I've run into using it so far is that like many metallic paints it just doesn't want to go through my airbrush very well.  The reason is that, also like most metallic paints, the pigment is quite large and takes a good-sized opening to pass through the airbrush nozzle.  I came up with a very easy method for making it work pretty well though; just turn the pressure way down.  Alclad recommends spraying at 12-15 psi.  At that pressure, because the paint is so thin, the nozzle on an airbrush is barely opened.   I tried turning the pressure down to around 5 psi (I'm not real sure because it was so low the gauge wasn't registering much at all) which allowed me to pull the needle back much further while retaining the same volume of paint flow, thus opening the nozzle up more without blasting paint everywhere.  This helped a great deal, and I think I'm ready to tackle that F-86 now!


EJECTOR MARK REPAIR

Matt Swan's site has an excellent page on a technique for filling seams using masking tape for "Fences" at This Link.  One of the problems that we frequently run into building models is that of those pesky round marks left by the ejector pins of the molding process.

Swany's technique works quite well for repairing these areas, but getting masking tape to go around a round dimple is sometimes tedious and involves lots of short pieces of tape.  A method I've found that works quite well for most ejector pin marks is to just use a plain old hole punch commonly used for punching holes in paper to punch a hole in a piece of masking tape.  The holes are usually a little larger than the ejector pin marks, but it's a lot easier than putting down a bunch of short tape "Chords".


ONLY YOU CAN PREVENT OVERSPRAY!

Overspray is a fact of life any time you are spraying paint.  You cannot prevent it and it will always be present.  You can, however, minimize the amount of overspray and control what it does.

Overspray is atomized paint that doesn't stay where it is sprayed.  Imagine what happens if you spray water from a hose on your car when you are washing it.  When the water hits it bounces and splatters everywhere.  Overspray is similar to this, just not as pronounced because air doesn't have the mass to bounce like water does.  When the air from your airbrush or spray can hits the surface of the model it bounces and carries the atomized paint along with it.  As it quickly loses velocity it settles back down to the surface.  In extreme cases you will see a dried mist of paint on the surface of your model.  In minor cases you may not even notice it.  You can minimize the amount of overspray by reducing the volume of paint sprayed or the pressure at which it is sprayed.

When preparing your model for spraying take precautions to prevent overspray from getting on areas that you did not intend to paint.  Notice the direction that you plan to spray and see what is beyond the intended area.  That is the area that the oversprray is likely to settle on.  Cover that area so that the overspray will not cause damage.  I keep some strips of a plastic trash bag at my bench.  When I'm spraying I use them to wrap or cover the areas that might get overspray on them.  The plastic is reusable so stick them in a corner until they are needed again.


PAINT DRYING BOX

A common problem for modelers is that of dust, lint, hair, or fuzz settling on a freshly painted surface while it is drying.  You can help get some of the crud out of the air temporarily by spraying the vicinity with a bottle of water just prior to painting (just make sure all the water has settled before you start to paint!).

A lot of airborne trash tends to settle on the surface while the paint is drying however.  This can be helped very simply.  Take a box larger than the parts you are painting.  I use a shoebox for small parts and the box from a large 1/32 scale model for large parts.  Cut large holes in the box, in the sides, the top, etc. and then tape pieces of coffee filter over the inside of the holes.  The filters will allow air to circulate but prevent hair and dust from getting in.


PLAN YOUR WORK

This one is important, and should probably be closer to the top of this list.  It is also an area where knowing your subject is a big help.

Kit instructions are written so that the parts are placed on the model in, usually, some sort of logical order.  The instructions frequently do not take into consideration the issues that exist in the real world.  Adding parts in a nice, orderly manner is fine but in the real world it doesn't always work out that way.  As an example, assume that you are building an airplane and the instructions tell you to add a bunch of antennae to the top of the model.  What do you suspect is going to happen to those antennae when you flip the model over on its back to work on the bottom?  Obviously they are going to get broken off.  Another example; while building a car the instructions tell you to install the windshield early in the build.  What are you going to do when it comes time to paint the body?  Obviously you are going to have to mask the windshield when it would normally have been easier to leave it off until later.

This logic extends past the assembly stages as well.  Plan your painting sequence as well as the assembly.  Another example: Lets say you have to spray paint a part that is flat on one side yet has some flanges on the other side.  Which side do you paint first?  does it even matter?  Sometimes yes, sometimes no.  Think about it in this way: If you spray the flat side first and then flip it over (after the paint dries, obviously!) to paint the other side, when you paint the second side the part is going to be sitting on the flat area that you painted first.  If, however, you spray the flanged side first and then spray the flat side, when painting the flat side the part is only sitting on the flanges.  This helps protect the paint on the flat side because it was done last.

An alternative to this logic is to think about how the part will be seen.  If one side is going to be more visible than the other, for example if one side is visible from the top and the other side only visible from the bottom, I tend to spray the less visible side first.  That way when I spray the most visible side any scratches or flaws that might be cause are more likely to be on the side that is less visible.

Think about your decal placement.  Probably not an issue on smaller models, but on the larger ones you have to hold them somewhat tightly when picking them up and moving them around.  If a decal is where you normally pick the model up it will probably get torn sooner or later.  Also think ahead while placing your decals.  Make sure you leave enough room between adjacent decals to work without ruining one that is already in place.  I usually skip one when decals are close together and come back to it once the first one placed has had time to dry.

Plan your work.  Look through the instructions when you start a kit and take notice of what gets added and when.  Where possible, construct large sections without the details that are liable to get broken off during assembly and save them until later.  Likewise, decide what sections can be assembled and then painted together.  It is usually best to build large sections, fill the seams, and make all necessary adjustments than it is to paint the parts individually and then paint everything again after it is assembled and sanded.  Think about what you are doing and think ahead to what will happen.

There are no cut-and-dried rules for building a model.  What works best for any given situation varies from one model to the next and from one person to the next.  Planning ahead will always save you a lot of trouble in the end though.


CAST METAL PARTS

Cast metal parts are commonly used for landing gear in larger aircraft models.  They also show up in several other places where more strength than styrene can provide is necessary.  The biggest problem with them is getting the finish smooth so that it doesn't look like rough metal.  Below is an explanation of how I handle metal parts.  As always, you should try it first on something that is not important.  This method works great for me, but that doesn't mean it will work well for you.

In the photo to the left, the landing gear on the left was done using the method described here while the one on the right is straight from the box.  It took about an hour to do this piece and the bulk of that was filing the flash from the part.

The picture is a link to a larger image of the pieces.  Click the image to view the larger image and you can easily see the difference between the two pieces.  The piece on the right still shows a lot of roughness from the casting whereas the one on the left is very smooth and ready for a coat of paint.  The large photo shows the pieces quite a bit larger than they are in real life.  The pieces are only about 1½" long, so the small picture is actually closer to real-life size.

Here are the steps I use for cast metal parts such as this:

  1. Use a small file to file off all of the flash where the mold sections were joined.  Also clean up areas where the casting is very rough or where there is some extra material.  Get everything as clean as you can, but don't worry if you leave some minor file marks or pits in the surface.  Obviously you need to be careful and clean things up properly, but minor marks will go away in a couple of steps.
     
  2. Use a cone-shaped brass brush in a Dremel tool to slightly polish the surface.  You don't have to get everything mirror-smooth but smooth out the worst of your file marks and get any tarnish off the surface.  This is important: WEAR EYE PROTECTION!  Those brass bristles have a tendency to detach from the brush at high speed and they will penetrate any skin parts that happen to be in their way.
     
  3. Now this is the trick part.  Once everything is relatively clean, get a can of Krylon PRIMER (not "Gloss Enamel", not Rustoleum, but Krylon PRIMER).  If it doesn't have the word "Primer" right underneath the word "Krylon" on the can it isn't the same thing I use, and I have no idea if other brands or types will work as well.  One of the features of this paint, according to Krylon, is that it "Smooths uneven surfaces" and for cleaning up these parts this is exactly what you want it to do.  Here Is A Link to a page on Krylon's web site that shows the paint I use.  If I remember right I got mine at K-Mart but any large department store should carry it as well.
     
  4. Do not decant the paint from the can and airbrush it, spray it straight from the can.  This paint is generally too thick for models when sprayed straight from the can, and this is about the only time I use it, but for this procedure it works great.
     
  5. Mist on a very light coat.  Don't spray a heavy coat or any detail will completely disappear; this paint is quite thick so be careful not to over do it!  Let it dry for about 15 minutes and then mist on another light coat.  Repeat until the part has a nice even coat of primer on it and virtually all of the file marks and casting roughness will be filled by the primer.
     

STRIPPING PAINT

No matter how careful you are or how good you think you are sooner or later you will need to strip some paint from a model.  There are many ways to do this and most of the best are discussed on This Page on the Bonediggers web site.

Personally I prefer Castrol Super Clean.  I've tried it on acrylic, enamel, and laquer and it usually removes them all quickly and easily.  I just soak the parts to be stripped in a little tray of it for an hour or so, brush with an old toothbrush, and then wash under running water.  If there are still some remnants of paint a little more soaking will normally get rid of it.

Castrol Super Clean is not nearly as caustic as either brake fluid or oven cleaner.  I recommend that you take precautions to prevent prolonged contact with your skin, but other than that it isn't bad at all.  It is also reuseable.  I just dump the remainder back in the bottle and use it again the next time.


GLUES FOR ALL OCCASIONS

There are numerous types of glues available for modelers and each has its own pros and cons:

  • Plain Old Normal Tube Glue - This stuff was great in the 1950's but this is 50 years later and glues have come a long way.  I haven't used this stuff for many years because there are glues now that do a much better job.  It doesn't stick very well, it takes a long time to dry, and it is just plain messy.  I don't like it, and I don't use it at all.
     
  • Cyanoacrylate ("Super Glue") or "CA" - These glues are the modeler's friend.  They will stick virtually anything to virtually anything else, and they will do it quickly.  There are many brands, types, and viscosities of CA.  Some work quite well others are junk.  I personally stick with the Zap CA because I know that it works well.  I avoid the general purpose CA's available at hardware stores because I have never had good luck with them.

    I usually keep two viscosities on hand, regular Zap CA which is a thin glue that will easily wick into gaps between parts and glue them solidly.  I also use Zap-A-Gap which is a relatively thick CA, but not as thick as some of the "Gels".  It is excellent for gluing parts that have a minor gap between them because it will cure and fill the gap.  It is also great for actually filling gaps and seams.  Fill the gap and when the glue dries sand it down and the seam is gone.

    A word of caution: Be Careful!  These types of glue will happily bond your fingers to whatever they happen to be touching.  I've stuck more parts to my fingers than I could ever count, and lost several fingerprints in the process of getting them loose again.

    Another word of caution: Use care with using these types of glue on clear parts.  They will create a white haze that is virtually impossible to get off.  If you do use CA on clear parts I highly recommend that you first dip the parts in Future Floor Polish and let it cure.  This will usually prevent the haze from forming and if it does another coat of Future will usually get rid of it.
     

  • "Welding" Glues - There are several brands of "Welding" glues on the market now.  The most popular appear to be Tenax 7R, Ambroid Pro-Weld, and Tamiya Extra Thin.  They all behave pretty much the same way.  In general they actually melt the plastic at the joint and when the glue evaporates the plastic solidifies and creates a very strong joint.

    These glues are NOT used like most other glues.  The parts to be joined must already be in position.  You can't put the glue on the parts and then put the parts together, they must already be together and then you put the glue on the joint between the parts.

    These glues are great for taking care of seams because they seldom leave any.  Since they actually melt the plastic together the seam virtually disappears.  A trick that has worked very well for me (my thanks to whoever told me about it) is to squeeze the parts together slightly after applying the glue.  This will cause a bead of molten plastic to ooze out and once it has cured all you have to do is lightly sand it off and there is zero seam to deal with.

    A word of caution: Be Careful!  These glues are so thin they will travel everywhere.  If you are holding the parts and some gets under your finger it will leave a very nice etched fingerprint in the plastic.  The only way to fix it is to fill it in (if necessary) and sand it down.  Note that Mr. Surfacer works quite well for this purpose (ask me how I know!).
     

  • 2-Part Epoxy - These glues create a very strong joint, and like CA glues they will usually stick anything to anything.  They are kind of messy to use and also somewhat heavy (a big deal for flying models) but for resin and photoetch they are great.  The joint is stronger than that of most CA glues, but the mixture is quite viscous and if the joint will be visible they might not be the best choice.  I use them quite a bit in places where I need the strongest possible glued joint but won't be visible.
     
  • White Glue - Plain old Elmer's White Glue also has it's place in the modeler's toolbox.  It doesn't create a very strong joint but it does dry clear and doesn't fog clear parts.  This is good for two things: Gluing clear parts such as canopies and windows, and temporarily gluing parts for painting.  A couple of tiny drops of white glue will hold parts such as panel doors in place for painting but will allow them to be popped off afterwards.  DO NOT use too much or the parts will be difficult to get off and DO NOT use this method on painted areas or the paint will probably pull off.

    Another good use for white glue is seam filling.  White glue is water-based and can be thinned with plain old tap water.  After thinning it will flow down into seams very well and any excess can be wiped off with a Q-Tip moistened with water.  It will frequently be necessary to use multiple applications for large seams since as the water evaporates and the glue cures it tends to shrink quite a bit.  I use this method a lot along canopy and windscreen seams.  After the glue has dried I paint over it with the appropriate color paint and it seals the joint between windscreen and fuselage very well.

I frequently see posts on forums about whether or not pant or chrome should be removed prior to gluing.  Here are the facts, and they are very simple, decide for yourself.  If there is paint or chrome on a glued joint then you aren't gluing a part to another part you are gluing paint (or chrome) to more paint (or chrome) so the joint is only going to be as strong as the adhesion of the paint or chrome.  If you decide scraping the paint off is too much trouble, that's your choice but don't be surprised when the jpint pops apart and takes a hunk of paint with it.  Sure it's a little more work, but so what?  Are you in that much of a hurry?  You spend a good bit of time building a model, why cut a corner here that can come back to haunt you later.


SILLY PUTTY

The old "Silly Putty" that many of us played with as a kid has a lot of uses for modelers.  Many people use it for masking but I haven't had good luck with that.  I primarily use it for holding parts for painting, and it does work great for that.  Take a little dab of Silly Putty and put it on your painting surface, then stick the part on it.  It doesn't stick to most surfaces, and holds round parts great.

One word of warning!  Silly Putty and some (most?) laquer paints do not mix well!  The thinner in laquers will dissolve Silly Putty into a gooey mess.  I made that mistake and had goo all over the parts I was painting.  It rolls off easily but leaves a greasy residue behind.



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