First Steps. My journey back into model making
I have recently started making model aircraft again for the first time since my childhood.
I thought some people might be interested to read kit reviews and builds from a nearly total newbies point of view, with all the challenges and problems that seem so insoluble when you are starting out, so I do hope you enjoy.
If anyone has any tips, pointers or solutions to any of the problems I encounter on my journey then please feel free to leave them in the comments. I am sure they will prove valuable to both myself and any other “noobs” who read this!
In December last year my wife and I saw some Airfix 1/72nd scale starter kits for sale at our local Aldi. There was not a massive choice with only the ME109 E4, The Tomahawk BII, Focke Wulf 190 A8 and Red Arrows Hawk.
We bought the Me109, Fw 190 and Tomahawk as potential presents for Christmas with my two sons receiving one each and myself bagging the third.
I sat down with my sons to help them make their two kits, the FW190 and Tomahawk and was reminded how much I enjoyed making similar kits when I was a youngster myself. I tried to remember all the mistakes I made as a kid and teach the boys how to do things properly by painting as much as possible before removing parts from sprue, dry fitting and sanding parts etc.
I will confess to putting the finishing touches to the models for the boys and adding the decals.
They came out quite well, although I must confess that both myself and the boys were a little heavy handed with the paint… Thus I was fired up with enthusiasm for the ME109.
This kit became a little bit of a challenge for me. I wanted to make the model to a better standard than the ones I used to make as a child. I have more tools, better hand co-ordination and a lot more patience than back then so hopefully this would not prove too difficult.
I followed the instructions for the first stage, using super glue to assemble the cockpit without any issues. I used a metallic light green paint pen to colour the bulkheads and sides of the cockpit, painting the seat black. I added the decals provided to the bulkhead to represent the control panel and coloured the fine markings on the inside of the fuselage to represent wiring etc.
Sadly at this point the first disaster of the build struck. Whilst endeavouring to remove the joystick from the sprue it snapped in half and when I tried to glue the two halves together things got kind of messy. I replaced the joystick with a small section of copper cable core. This was cut to fit and I decided its natural copper colour made it a quite handsome replacement although it does lack some slight details.
I used Polystyrene cement to fit the cockpit to one side of the fuselage section then painted the components of the propeller and its boss, using metallic light green to paint the central hub of the propeller section and the inside of the boss. The outside was painted matt black as were the propeller blades.
I have fond that one of the best ways to apply both superglue and poly cement is using the plastic stem of a cotton bud, cut diagonally. The hollow centre acts as a reservoir for the glue. In areas where I need to apply delicate amounts I cut the centre of the diagonal to allow it to act like a pen nib.
Using the plastic stem I applied a coating of poly cement to the edges of both sides of the fuselage and the exposed edge of the cockpit. I have found that giving both edges a thin coat of adhesive gives better results than giving one edge a thick coat of glue. I then placed the propeller assembly in place and joined both sides together.
Using my fingers I applied even pressure along the length of the fuselage to ensure that the cement bonded along all coated edges. There are various clamps and clips you can buy that are designed to hold models together whilst poly cement dries but alas I don’t own any yet. Once the glue was dry I gently sanded with 1500grit sandpaper along the seams to remove any excess glue.
Whilst the fuselage was drying I started painting the wings. I did this before joining the top sections to the bottom section but this can be done as easily once they are connected. Sadly I do not yet own an airbrush so am still using paints and brushes. When painting anything I find it best to start with the colour that covers the largest area as the base coat and anything else added on top so gave the wings a base coat of grey and the undersides their first coat of Sky Blue.
As with the kits the boys built I used the paints supplied. In my eagerness to get started I forgot all about thinning acrylic paints which resulted in rather thicker coats of paint than I would have preferred. A beginner’s mistake and one that I have learnt from. I will cover paints and thinning them in another post.
On the fuselage I started with the paint that covered the largest area fuselage first, in this case Sky Blue. I then hit my first problem. How to get a straight line on the fuselage between the light blue undersurfaces and sides and the green and grey splinter camouflage on the top of the fuselage?
Masking tape seemed to be the best solution but domestic masking tape was too strong and when I tried to remove it the paintwork it was protecting came away too. I also tried specialist modelling masking tape and decorators low tack tape with much the same results.
I tried various different methods of masking straight lines on the sides of 1/72nd models and have found that cigarette papers can give very good results with the sticky part of post it notes also giving very good straight line masking. The post it notes will need cutting with a craft knife and a metal straight edge for this, and cigarette papers need to be soaked off with warm water to avoid damaging the paintwork underneath.
On this kit I used cigarette papers to mask any straight lines required on the fuselage and the wings. Where the camouflage curved down over the nose of the airframe I carefully cut a curve into the adhesive part of the cigarette paper with a craft knife.
To ensure both sides were matched I cut both papers at the same time with them lined up one above the other.
Once I had applied the masking paper the first thing I needed to do was apply a thin coat of the colour being protected, making sure that this covered the masked edge. This helps seal the masked area off and ensures that if there is any seepage under the masking paper/tape it matches the protected finish.
Once this was dry I applied a base coat of the grey paint supplied with the kit, above the masking tape, ensuring that there was equal coverage across the edges of the masking paper.
The second disaster struck when I was removing the two 20mm wing mounted cannon barrels from the sprue. Sadly one of them snapped as I separated it from the moulding tag, the freed half pinging across the kitchen and skittering forever out of sight with a sad little rattling noise.
Undeterred I reached for the same coil of wire that had supplied the replacement joystick and having measured against the remaining undamaged cannon barrel, cut two short lengths off to replace both barrels. I now know that replacement cast metal gun barrels etc are available on Ebay but to he honest I don’t think I could have waited for them to arrive. This was, after all, the first kit of my own…
I masked the upper surface of the wings and again blocked off the edges of the cigarette papers with the base colour grey. I also masked off and blocked the top section of the fuselage to allow me to get all the dark green painting out of the way in one hit, leaving the original masking paper along the demarcation line in place. Once the blocking was dry I filled the areas on both wings and fuselage with dark green.
Once the paint was dry I placed the wings and fuselage into a bowl of warm water for about 30 minutes to allow the adhesive on the cigarette papers to loosen, then using a #0 paintbrush, gently removed the papers exposing clean lines on the wings and fuselage. There was one tiny bit of seepage which I touched in with an ultra fine paintbrush.
I then attached the tops of the wings to the bottom section and inserted the copper replacement cannon barrels. I used poly cement to attach these pieces. The flaps were also added at this stage. As this model was always intended as a display model I set the flaps to the extended position. I used a small amount of superglue on the end of the tabs to fix them in place.
I also coloured the engine compartment in at this stage. I did not try to reproduce the appearance of the correct engine, merely to hint at “engineness”, it is after all going to be covered by a cowling and thus invisible.
I painted and added the tailplanes, struts, cowling and undercarriage then joined the wings and fuselage together. I decided to leave any fragile external pieces until the very end to avoid unfortunate accidents such as breaking off the antenna or snapping the tailwheel etc.
Smaller parts such as the undercarriage legs and the tail struts were fixed using superglue. The wings and fuselage etc were bonded with poly cement and any gaps requiring filler were treated with PVA glue, the really thick stuff.
The next step was the one I used to dread as a child and was not particularly looking forward to attempting. Painting the canopy!
The canopy supplied comes in three parts allowing you to have the cockpit open or closed. The canopy is well formed with well defined lines marking the framework.
Sadly at this point yet another minor calamity struck. Whilst removing the front section of the canopy a perfectly circular section of the centre part of the windshield broke off. The shape is so perfect it may well have been a moulding fault. I considered trying to repair it in some way but eventually realised I would only make matters worse so decided to carry on and paint the framework.
I am aware that companies such as Eduard produce very good canopy masks but I was not aware of such things when building this kit and to be honest my model making budget is not large! I used my crocodile clip/magnifying glass gadget thingy to help when painting the canopy framework and it came out ok. I used a fine brush to apply the acrylic and once dry, the back of a Stanley knife to remove any overapplication from the areas to remain transparent. This sort of worked but did leave some scratches so I will have to work out a better way to get overspill off. As this is the first kit I have built in 30 years I was quite happy with it. From a distance it looks fine. I glued the canopy in place with small dabs of polystyrene cement and filled any gaps with PVA.
Once the canopy was in place it was time to apply the decals and then all the smaller more fragile details such as the aileron balances and radio aerial mast etc.
The decals were a delight to apply. I soaked each decal in warm water to remove them from the backing sheet. After 3 or 4 minutes I would use a paintbrush placed on the decal in the water to see if they were ready. The same paintbrush was used to accurately position the decals once they had left the backing paper.
The tailwheel, aileron balances, pitot tube etc were all painted prior to being affixed with superglue. Once that had dried I gave a final touch up of paint to any areas needing it and left it to dry.
Overall I am very happy with the way this model came out. It is the first model I have made in 30 years and it took me a little while to recall some of the tricks of the trade and the value of a good pair of tweezers.
I did not get the splinter cam quite perfect on this model but I am happy with the effect. Still I have learned lots of lessons for next time!
I have been pleasantly surprised by the improvements time has brought to this Airfix kit. When I was younger the Matchbox BF109E was always the better bet as the Airfix kit back then was had shocking build quality and did not always fit together very well.
Some of the fine parts seemed a little too fine and the manner in which some of them are attached to the sprue does defy logic but that aside a good fun budget kit with some great features such as the three part canopy and overall build quality.
1 additional image. Click to enlarge.