ALWAYS READ THE INSTRUCTIONS
It is a very good idea to read the instruction sheets at least twice before you start building a kit. After all, the person who designed the thing had to put it together to see if it worked, so he should know more about it than you do.
COPY TWO-SIDED INSTRUCTIONS
When you place instruction sheets under the glass on your workbench to keep them clean when assembling a kit, you have a problem if the sheets are printed on both sides. Simply photocopy the reverse side and you can then read all the instructions without having to lift the glass to turn the sheets over.
When you finish assembling a kitset, save the instruction sheet and file it carefully so that you can refer to it again if necessary. Then if you break or lose a part off the model at some time, you will have the part and kit number to be able to send for a replacement.
When making up kitsets, don’t ruin the instruction sheets by getting paint and glue on them as they lie around on your workbench. A small cork notice board fixed to the wall above your workbench to hold the instruction sheets saves endless hassle. On the board, pin up asembly instructions, photos, diagrams and other reference material out of harms way. That way they are always in front of you to follow as you assemble the model.
STORING UNBUILT KITS
Most modellers have unbuilt plastic kitsets which, someday, they will build. Storing these until that day comes can sometimes be a problem. Never store plastic kitsets where they will be subject to extremes of heat and cold or lack of ventilation. Direct sunlight, too, is a problem as this can very quickly fade and warp plastic. The ultra-violet rays in sunlight can also cause the plastic to get very brittle and break easily.
PROTECT CLEAR PLASTIC PARTS
When you purchase a kitset that has clear plastic parts, open the box immediately. Check if the sprues with these clear parts are rattling around in the box with all the other sprues. If so, remove them, wrap them in tissue paper and put them away safely until required. Clear plastic is more brittle than coloured plastic and therefore breaks or scratches more easily.
Do you have trouble making out the part numbers on sprues when making up kitsets? Try dry-brushing some silver paint on the numbers and you will be surprised how visible they become. Dry brushing is basically rubbing most of the paint out of a brush, then stroking the brush over high points on the model.
A stronger bond can be made with epoxy cement by adding a small amount of the dust sanded or filed from the material you are joining. When unlike materials are cemented, add dust from the harder of the two materials. Keep a container of aluminium powder on hand to use in joining various metals together, or to other materials. These particles unitize the joint and add considerable strength.
Before you remove any parts of a kit from the sprue, or start painting, wash them all thoroughly in soapy water to remove any mould release agent. This will help the paint to adhere better to the plastic parts.
When adding glazing to windows in a kitset building, always try to leave this operation until the last so you won’t spoil the “glass”. Windows installed last stay clear and shiny because none of the painting or weathering operation can mar the shininess of the glass. If you do get a little glue on the glass, allow it to dry and then pick it off with the tip of your knife.
Removing flash from kitset parts for painting is always a bit dangerous in more ways than one. The blade of your craft knife can either cut into the plastic where you don’t want it to, or it can slip off the plastic and draw blood on your hand or finger. Try using the back of the blade, or better still, an old very blunt pocket knife. This is much safer and does just as good a job.
Plastic repairs to wagons and similar plastic items can be made easily by dissolving some scrap plastic in solvent and painting the thickish mixture on to the damaged part. When it is dry, it can be filed and sanded down to a neat and clean repair. The mixture can be kept in a bottle for at least six months if tightly corked. A coat of the necessary colour paint and the model is as good as new.
You have silver dust particles all over your models and no, it is not intentional weathering. It is very hard to wash off or ignore. Try dusting the stuff off with a soft brush such as a camera lens brush to remove most of it. For matt models, airbrush matt varnish over it. This will reduce the effect to the point of it almost disappearing. On shiny models, you will need to polish it off with rubbing compound.
If modellers have enough passion about their hobby, they will make time to work on it. Break projects up into small 30-minute tasks that you can do in front of the TV or while supervising homework and so on. In that way you do not isolate yourself from the family. Then, when everyone is in bed, that is the time to disappear to the model room. The trick is not to sleep too much. Why sleep when you can work on your models. Get up early in the mornings as well while everyone else is still in bed. It’s a great way to start the day.
When you buy a kitset that you intend to convert, or do something else with, keep a photocopy or notes of the reference material and final plan in the box with the kit. This will remind you why you bought the kit in the first place when you finally get round to doing something with it in a few years’ time.
A piece of paper or light card stock cemented to the back of scribed or milled wood siding eliminates many problems encountered while cutting window and door openings. Cutting openings too close together, or near the edge of the sheet, often cracks off a strip of wood that wasn’t intended to be removed. The paper backing holds the sheet together, allowing intricate cutting.
PLASTIC FOAM TRAYS
Those plastic foam trays that you get your meat and other foodstuffs on from the supermarket, have plenty of uses in the model room. The foam is soft and won’t scratch the finish of a model. By leaving the model on the tray, you can paint and apply decals without worrying about leaving fingerprints on the model. The tray also helps to protect the model’s finish from benchwork dust and debris. The trays are also good to keep partially finished kits, and any sub-assemblies, together while you do something else.
SAVE THE POWDER
When you have done quite a bit of sanding on a particular model, save the powder as it can be used as a natural filler. Fill the seam or crack with the particular glue and strew the styrene powder on it. Then gently push it into the seam or crack with a smooth object. As with normal putty. it shrinks, so a second application could be necessary. You should end up with a filled seam or crack the same colour as the part.
Use super glue and baking soda to fill large gaps in your models. First fill the gap with baking soda (supporting it from underneath with sheet styrene if necessary) then add a drop of super glue. A tiny puff of smoke will usually result — it’s a chemical reaction between the glue and the baking soda, not the model exploding! Sand and finish the filler using your favourite method but don’t wait too long, however, as the fill will slowly continue to harden over two or three days and will eventually be too hard to sand.
CHEAP GAP FILLER
To make this efficient gap filler you will need a small bottle of liquid cement, a small hand-held pencil sharpener and some long lengths of sprue. Using the pencil sharpener, ‘sharpen’ the sprue until you have about a thimble full of shavings. Add them to the jar of glue and let the mixture sit for about 30 minutes. Give it a good shake but do not stir. If the mixture is still a little watery, add more shavings. It should be thick enough to fill small gaps but not so thick that it dries up every couple of days. A proper mixture should last about three months if you put the lid back on every time after use.
Test any cleaning agents on the underside of the bodywork of all plastic or metal model railway equipment before applying to visible surfaces. Paintwork and parts can be destroyed very quickly.
CORRECTION FLUID FILLER
To fill seams and gaps in plastic kits, try using a liquid paper correction pen with a needle tip. You can apply small amounts by squeezing the pen to control the flow. It sands off easily, you can buff it smooth, and it cures quickly. You can also use the pen for forming rivet heads and buttons.
A quick way to eliminate thin flash on plastic figures is to pass the figure through a clean flame such as from a candle. Hold the figure with a pair of tweezers and be careful to draw the figure through at a speed only sufficient to burn off no more than the flash or damage to the figure will result. This method does a much better job than the very tedious scraping with a craft knife or file and is better when it comes to smaller detail where it is difficult to reach with the knife blade or file.
SMALL PARTS RECEPTICLES
When working with small parts in making up a model, use the ready made plastic trays supplied by chocolate and biscuit manufacturers with their products. Most of these packaged chocolates, biscuits, buns and similar small items come individually sitting in shaped depressions in plastic trays. Save these trays and use them in the various steps of making up a model — cleaning, filing, filling, modifying, assembling, painting and detailing. For larger items, use plastic meat trays. This will avoid the frustration of parts being lost or damaged.
Many sub-assemblies in kits lack additional detail such as bolt or rivet heads. There are some excellent punch and die sets on the market but there is an alternative. Various diameters of plastic rod or sprue can be used. To create bolt or rivet heads, hold the rod very near to a candle flame, rotating the rod at the same time. Initially, nothing seems to happen, then all of a sudden, the rod end forms a perfect dome. Whilst that end is cooling, reverse the rod and form the other end. When any end is cool, carefully remove the formed shape with a sharp knife blade. After a little practice you will be able to consistently produce uniform shapes. Vary the rod diameter for different size heads. Do not rely on eyesight for position and alignment on the model, mark out with a pencil and ruler. If both sides are visible, do not forget to have the heads positioned equally on both sides. To apply the heads, use a tiny amount of glue on the end of a toothpick or fine wire and touch in position on the model. Then use a moistened knife blade to pick up and locate the head. When you have applied several, lightly touch a brush of liquid poly to each head to finally glue it into position.
COLOURING CARD KIT EDGES
After cutting out the parts of a cardboard kit, the white edges of the cardboard need touching up so as not to spoil the model when made up. What you need is a set of fine coloured felt pens for this touch up work. Some sets have a large variety of colours. The pens also come in handy for using on other modelling jobs around the layout as well.
ORGANISE YOUR SPARES
Plastic compartment-style organ-isers are perfect for storing kit parts after you have removed them from their trees and cleaned them up. They can also be useful for keeping spare parts, small nuts and bolts, rail joiners, track pins, buffers, and a host of other small modelling items.
What do you do with the sawdust from cutting MDF board? Save it of course and use it for modelling landscapes on your layout. Mix up some cold water paste and add the sawdust to it to make a kind of papier mâché. Form your hills and other landscape features in the usual way — crumpled up newspapers, formers and chicken wire, cardboard straps... — then cover these with some scraps of material which has been well sized. When dry, add the papier mâché mix in thin layers, two is probably sufficient. Again it all needs to dry but it should be hard enough to decorate with paints, grass, trees, or whatever.
Never throw anything away. That is the message seen time and time again in magazine columns on tips for the modeller. Anything you have over from making up a kitset, odds and ends, bits and pieces, all go into your “spares” box for use at a later date. In time you will accumulate quite a collection which will come in handy at some time so be a squirrel and save everything.
Sanding is an activity that is potentially hazardous to modellers, particularly when working with resin. The dust given off when you dry-sand resin is a very fine-grained particulate that may cause problems if inhaled. It is probably best to wet-sand resin or wear a mask. For wet-sanding, you can use a rectangular casserole or baking dish and glue sandpaper to the bottom of it using a rubber cement. Add water and proceed with the part to be sanded. Your efforts will produce a slurry rather than a dangerous dust. Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly after you have had contact with the slurry. A word of warning — check the tips of your fingers and your fingernails as you sand otherwise you may find that you have sanded more than you intended.
PRE-PAINT CORK ROADBED
Here is a useful tip if you are not going to be ready to lay your ballast for a while. Pre-paint the cork roadbed before you lay the track. Use grey acrylic housepaint as it is cheaper than modelling paint in the quantities you will require— a test pot or small can is probably about the quantity you need. Not only does painting the cork grey give a more finished appearance temporarily, but it also seals the cork and prevents warping when you finally get around to ballasting as the watered down PVA glue seeps through.
With portable layouts being moved from one location to another many times, it is inevitable that some damage will occur. Here is one suggestion for patching up brickwork. Cover the section of damage with a piece cut following the brick courses as in the illustration.
Don’t fall into the trap of building every building exactly to the instructions. All you will achieve is a lot of buildings looking much the same. Rearrange the walls or roof, exchange parts with other kits, build a mirror image of what the completed kit is supposed to look like, even a different paint scheme will help.
USE OF AN ACCELERATOR
When filling seams with super glue, add a touch of accelerator to harden the glue. An accelerator forces the immediate cure for all cyanoacrylate glues. Use of an accelerator expands gap filling abilities, permits structural fillet forming and solves tough-to-bond combinations of materials.
REPAIRING CLEAR PLASTIC
To repair marks and scratches on clear plastic such as windows, windscreens or similar, sand the blemished area with wet 400-grit sandpaper, moving the sandpaper in small circles. Then repeat this process with wet 600-grit sandpaper, again in very small circles, pressing quite hard at first but gradually easing up on the pressure. Then use plastic polish, rubbing compound or toothpaste (not the gel type) to polish the area smooth. Keep polishing until the flaw is invisible. Now finish with a coat of ‘Klear’ acrylic floor polish applied with a soft brush.
The advantage of wet sanding is that the water keeps the grit from clogging. With a cleaner grit, the sandpaper works faster. Use only the special wet-or-dry sandpaper that does not come apart when it is wet. For modelling, grit papers from 220 to 600 are generally used. The higher the number, the finer the grit. Sand in a sink and pass the sandpaper and the model under the water from the tap to wash away the slurry from time to time.
BLOW DUST AWAY
Dust is the enemy of all modellers. For your precious kitset models, use a camera lens cleaning blower brush to blow dust away and gently clean the model with the soft bristles.
DON’T WAIT TO SAND
Gap-filling super glue is easy to sand right after it sets. If you wait more than an hour, the glue will become too hard. It can be sanded and polished until it is as smooth as plastic.
When removing scratches from clear plastic,one method suggested rubbing in small circles with wet and dry sandpaper. Better results may be obtained by polishing in straight lines. Polish in one direction with fine wet and dry sandpaper then at 90 degrees to the first with the next finer grade. Alternate directions as you work down to your finest grade of sandpaper. Circular polishing reinforces the small scratches from the previous grade of paper. Polishing in straight lines and alternating directions removes the coarser abrasion marks and replaces them with finer ones. Then finish off using plastic polish, rubbing compound or toothpaste (not the gel type) to polish the area smooth. Keep polishing until the flaw is invisible. Now for the final touch with a coat of ‘Klear’ acrylic floor polish applied with a soft brush.
Many of the models or kits you purchase are of good quality with plenty of detail but there is no reason, if you want to super-detail a model, to borrow ideas from other manufacturers. There are now many small cottage industry manufacturers making detailing items which you can replace on your model to improve it.
Removing flash from kitset parts is always a bit dangerous in more ways than one. The blade of your craft knife can either cut into the plastic where you don’t want it to, or it can slip off the plastic and draw blood on your hand or finger. Try using the back of the blade, or better still, an old very blunt pocket knife. This is much safer and does just as good a job.
WARPED PLASTIC PARTS
Plastic models do not like the sun or heat and tend to warp in hot conditions. To fix this problem, soak the deformed part in hot water for a few minutes to soften it and then remove it and “reverse warp” it — that is, bend it in the opposite direction for a few seconds as it starts to cool. You can then tape it into its correct form and leave it to finish cooling.
TOUCH UP PENS
Felt tip pens are great for touching up the edges of cardboard kitset buildings and other cardboard or structure items you have had to cut leaving a different colour edge. Purchase a large set of fine tip pens and keep them especially for this purpose.
Try to avoid placing items which will cast shadows on the back scene. If this is unavoidable, draw around the shadow, then paint it in as a dark tree or structure of some kind.
SCENE BUT NOT SEEN
When planning for a restricted space, consider which aspects can be ‘off the scene’ and merely suggested by some feature on the layout. The ultimate is a large station on which only the platform ends are modelled and the station is thus ‘suggested’, the rest being hidden, perhaps forming the fiddle yard in reality.
SMALL PARTS STORAGE
Small parts for scratchbuilding such as handrail knobs, wheel bearing cups, track pins and similar small items are usually purchased in larger quantities than needed immediately. A safe place to store them is therefore needed so turn to your refrigerator. The ice-cube trays from domestic refrigerators can be purchased separately and these have small compartments ideal for storing such items. The trays can be stored in a drawer, or perhaps fitted with a lid and the small parts can easily be found when required.
Closing the two halves of kitset tanks and similar round assemblies, is probably the most difficult to achieve to get an even fit without leaving uneven seams to be later filled and sanded. It is important to “dry-fit” these parts before any gluing is attempted. It also helps to lightly sand the edges that will be glued as the slightest moulding irregularity will sometimes impede the fit.
NARROW GAP FILLER
The Liquid Paper brand of white opaque used to blot out typing errors can be thinned with its own thinner and flowed into small cracks on plastic models. It grips the plastic quite well, dries very quickly, and can be sanded with a fine-grit finishing sandpaper. A warning though. The thinner contains toluene, so make sure you have good ventilation when working with it.
FILLING SMALL SEAMS AND JOINS
It is easy to fill minor seams and joins during the assembly of a kit if you are using super glue. About a minute after super gluing the parts together, lightly sand over the seam with medium grit sandpaper. The sanding creates fine plastic dust and forces it into the gap, embedding it into the glue and filling the seam or join space.
MORE USES FOR SPRUE
Have you ever wished you had three hands when assembling or painting a model? Make yourself a jig from scrap sprue by cutting some to the required length, heat to gently bend them into the shape you need to hold the part or model you are working on, and you can weld the plastic pieces together with a little more heat if required. Tape this jig to the workbench or some solid surface, insert the part or model and go to work. An instant jig and best of all it didn’t cost you anything.
FREEZE THOSE PARTS
Sometime you may require to take apart an assembly or a kitset that has been glued with various tube cements. Try putting them in the freezer for a couple of hours and you may find that the parts will pop apart without too much pressure. This does not work for all glues but it is a tip worth trying.
After reading the instructions for building a new kitset, carefully check the frets to see that all the parts are there. But do not cut them all off. After washing, paint them first and only remove them as required.
When sanding the flash or seams on round objects such as telegraph poles, tall chimneys, gun barrels and so on, don’t sand along the seam line, you will just create a flat spot all the way down. Scrape as much flash off as you can and then wrap sandpaper around the object, pushing it through the sandpaper with a twisting motion. This technique will ensure that the round object remains round. Finally, polish with finer grits of sandpaper.
Many modellers now do not build a kit, especially buildings, as the manufacturer intended. Scratchbuilding and super detailing are becoming a norm with parts of one kit being added to parts of another to make a custom-built feature. Most plastics are similar enough to allow them to be joined together with solvent cements. It is a good idea however, to test a few scraps to see how they react to the cement as one manufacturer’s shell may be made from a plastic which dissolves more quickly that the other. It is a good idea to keep more than one kind of solvent on hand because of this.
After making up a kit, save the box art. It is very useful for referring back to at a later date and, anyway, a collection of these box top pictures always make a good display on the walls of your train room.
DISMANTLING OLD KITSETS FOR REMODELLING
If you have an old kit you want to rebuild and need to separate the plastic parts, then you have a problem. There is no such thing as an ungluing agent, but a lot will depend on what glue the kit was put together with in the first place. Some plastic cements actually melt the plastic they come in contact with and the melted edges of these parts are thus welded together. This may not be a complete weld so breaking or cutting the joints may be possible. On some occasions, tube-glued joints are weaker than liquid-glued joints. Models assembled with super glue might be disassembled with a super-glue debonder, but care should be taken as some debonders can damage plastic. Care is the operative word here, but always remember, whatever breaks can be fixed with enough glue, sandpaper, paint and elbow grease and patience.