Thursday, 29 May 2014


New, re-tooled 1:72 Spitfire kit is impressive

The Spitfire cockpit interior has been painted and weathered before the fuselage is assembled.

It's exactly 20years since I last built an aircraft kit, but as soon as I opened the box of this re-tooled Spitfire Mk1a, it seemed like only yesterday. I used to fairly knock these kits out in my youth, with some of the models providing memorable experiences of the assembly, painting and mounting of the finished article. Indeed, an Airfix Javelin dominated the top of my bookshelf for years and I can still clearly remember the pride I felt after super-detailing the cockpit interior of an F15. Coincidentally, the last aircraft kit that I built was also a Spitfire, albeit a Tamiya 1:48 scale version (a MkVb I think). I had no airbrush then, my tool kit was very small and I seem to remember building it on a rickety Victorian writing bureau in my student digs near Wigan, with the smell of tube cement and enamel paints stinking out the room.

Anyways, this new Airfix tooling is lightyears ahead of the older kits, with razor sharp relief, hardly any flash and plenty of fine detail, including cockpit interior fittings and a decal for the various dials and switches. Indeed, the cockpit sub-assembly is quite a mini marvel and the only thing I've deemed necessary to add is a set of harnesses cut from masking tape, which will be painted once the glue has set.

Can't wait to start putting the rest of the kit together...

Tuesday, 27 May 2014


0-4-0 kit ready for active service overseas!

After a few weeks of hard - but enjoyable - work, the Mercian Models Barclay 0-4-0 diesel shunter is ready for action. It has been thoroughly run-in and is working smoothly and reliably, with the little Mashima motor being able to comfortably haul a respectable load of 8-10 wagons on the level. As I've said in previous posts, this is a great little kit, offering good value and the bits all fit together snugly. Look out for the full demo, along with an article delving into the history of the fascinating prototypes, in the next issue of Model Rail (MR197, out on June 5th).

I've spent quite a while on the painting and weathering, trying out some new techniques and layering many different shades of the wartime olive drab livery. You may not get the full effect from the photos but, in real life, there is a real depth to the finish, with areas of highlights, shadows and fading effects under the dusty weathering.

Monday, 26 May 2014


Running trials for the completed Mercian Models kit

Almost there: this great little kit is fully painted and the mechanism is up and running, purring along nicely on the rolling road as I type this. Although there's not too much about jackshaft drives that are taxing, I always manage to find them harder than I should - don't ask me why! My kit was missing a few crankpin bushes and washers and the instructions are not entirely explicit on this stage (or I didn't read them properly), so a bit of improvisation was required. After a few hours of head scratching and rooting through the spares box, I came up with a working solution. Maybe this has just gotten me over my mental block on this type of transmission...?

The pickups were a little tricky to install too, without them looking too intrusive on the sparse chassis. But, such things are all part of the joy of loco kit building and there's nothing quite as rewarding as seeing a newly out-shopped locomotive moving under power.

Still to do: fit a footplate crew and small adornments like lamps and maybe a shunter's pole!

Friday, 23 May 2014


Airfix kit finished and installed on a wartime diorama

Here are some pics of the completed Airfix Scammel transporter. Posed with it is a pair of Airfix 1:72 scale US Army figures, as rendered in that horrible greasy, bendy plastic that is a nightmare to paint! Chris Leigh sent me a pack of these last week with a brief of finding a way of finishing them. After messing around with a variety of products, I think I may have found a way, but that is a subject for a forthcoming Q&A in Model Rail magazine soon.

The BSA motorcycle, by the way, is also from Airfix, as included in the excellent new RAF ground vehicle/re-supply set. It's a cracking little model, assembled from three pieces and with a wealth of detail.

Can't wait to get my teeth into my next military-themed kit. In fact, there's an Airfix Spitfire kit on the shelf that might have to be opened sooner rather than later...

Thursday, 22 May 2014


Mercian Models kit receives a wartime finish 

I always enjoy priming a newly built kit as, once the dull grey paint starts to dry, all those hours of hard work start to feel like they've been worth it. All those bits of metal or plastic that have been stuck together suddenly begin to look like a real train. It took a couple of separate applications of primer until I was happy, adding filler here and there to tidy up some gaps and imperfections in the bodywork. Only once I was sure that the surfaces were perfect did the painting continue.

Having enjoyed working with Tamiya paints on my recent foray into Airfix military kits, they were pressed into service again here, following the same pattern of pre-shading the model before the livery coats were applied. A variety of olive green shades were built up with the airbrush, creating highlights and lowlights as well as giving the bodywork a more lived-in appearance. After all, I wanted to portray a locomotive that has not only crossed the English Channel in harsh conditions but also one that has been working hard on newly liberated French soil.

There's still much to do before the painting stage is complete, then the chassis can be assembled and the mechanism put through its paces. So, I'd better get back to work...!                                           

Tuesday, 20 May 2014


Handy tools for forming scenery and prototypes

The handheld Thermocut 12/E is great for working in situ when forming model railway scenery from expanded polystyrene, foam or styrofoam. The wire can be bent to shape and the temperature is controllable.

The latest issue of Model Rail (MR196) includes a review of some brilliant hot-cutting tools from Proxxon. Unfortunately, the production gremlins took it upon themselves to replace the contact details for the tool suppliers. Therefore, the review is reproduced below, with the correct address and phone number!

The use of expanded polystyrene or styrofoam for the construction of model landscapes and structures offers great benefits, not least in terms of economy and weight. Whether recycling unwanted packaging or employing off-the-shelf foam scenic products, cutting and shaping these materials accurately can be a messy and difficult business.

This pair of Proxxon Thermocut tools has been under test for the past few months and each has proved reliable and highly effective. Firstly, the 230/E is based around a 390x280mm table with a 140mm cutting capacity, allowing large pieces of foam to be handled easily. The locking fence helps to create accurate cuts at almost any angle and intricate shapes can be formed with ease. The wire ‘blade’ is fed from a long spool that is simple to set up and tension. There’s plenty of wire supplied, although if the tool is used carefully it will seldom break. Spare spools are also available separately.

Perfect for the construction of scenic or structural formers, the 230/E’s powerful transformer keeps the wire cutting safely and effectively. A dial temperature control is provided to tailor the heat to different sizes of material and an LED indicator is a welcome visual reminder that the tool is switched on. In use, the enhanced accuracy of this tool has been a great help when building layout prototypes and building formers with sheets of Styrofoam.

The handheld Thermocut 12/E is a highly portable device, requiring an additional 12V/2.0A mains adaptor such as the Proxxon NG2/S. This compact and tough adaptor can also power a number of other 12V tools in the Proxxon range, such as soldering irons and mini drills.

The 12/E has proven an invaluable aid for scenic construction, especially when working away from the workbench. Indeed, being able to shape foam in situ is a real boon, without the debris and mess of using a knife or saw. The large and adjustable ‘throat’ of the tool allows it to deal with a range of shapes, as does the ability to shape the wire ‘blade’ to the desired profile.

A trigger switches the heat on or off and a small dial adjusts the power output to cope with different materials (from 150-350oC), with the blade reaching working temperature in just one second. A handful of spare blades are provided and packs of replacements are also available separately.

Both of these high quality tools have proven highly effective and should offer many years of good service. 

Available from Brimarc Tools & Machinery stockists. 
For your local dealer, telephone 03332 406 967

The benchtop Thermocut 230/E is perfect for those who work with foam to create model buildings and scenery. It greatly speeds up the process, aiding accuracy at the same time, with complex shapes and angles easy to form. Anyone who has worked with styrofoam will tell you of the manifold benefits of this cheap, lightweight material and this tool certainly makes the task easier. Indeed, the basic form of a building can be cut in a couple of minutes. 

Monday, 19 May 2014


Assembly complete, camo colours applied

I've been having great fun painting up my Airfix Scammel Tank Transporter. The last time I attempted applying camouflage to a model must have been in my teens, so it has proved an interesting test of my airbrushing skills. Starting with the brown shades, applied over the pre-shaded body, a mix of Flat Earth (XF52) and Flat Brown (XF10) was misted over the whole vehicle in light coats. The contrasting shades of brown created areas of high- and low-lights. The same process then followed with Olive Drab (XF62) and Khaki Drab (XF51) for the green 'camo' stripes.

Tamiya paints have been ideal for this work, being easy to work with. I've also made good use of a pair of new airbrushes: an Iwata Revolution BR and a Custom Micron CM-C+. I usually avoid acrylics for such close-up work, as they tend to clog up the ultra-fine nozzles after a few minutes, but Tamiya paints have proved much more forgiving.

I've also been trialling some 'filter' coats. These are heavily diluted mixes of a chosen colour, sprayed over the whole model. In this case, I've applied brown and olive drab filter coats and they have been surprisingly effective, serving to blend everything together. Sprayed after adding the glazing (using Glue 'n' Glaze liquid medium), the filter coats also take away the shiny sheen of the 'windows' without making them look too dirty.

Having read about these various finishing techniques for the past few years in military and aviation modelling magazines, it's been a boon to finally get around to trying them for myself. Indeed, it has given me the impetus and confidence to see about transferring them to railway subjects...

Wednesday, 14 May 2014


Painting begins in earnest

After priming and refining some minor imperfections, the painting process has begun. Before the European style camouflage is applied, however, I've given all of the sub-assemblies a pre-shading coat of a very dark black/grey. Due to the small scale of the model, it's not easy to get the dark paint into all of the various recesses, so the trickier areas have simply been given an overall undercoat of the dark paint, which will add greater depth to the finish.

In the past couple of years, I've become a big fan of Tamiya acrylics, especially for this sort of work. Regular acrylics, such as Railmatch, Lifecolor or Vallejo, while excellent in many ways, do tend to clog a fine airbrush unless flushed out every few minutes. As Tamiya's acrylics contain a  much higher volume of alcohol, they behave a bit more like oil-based paints, making them much easier to work with, while still drying rapidly. They're not cheap or so freely available as some other brands, but they're well worth trying out. They smell though! And, you must use the right sort of thinners (I use Tamiya's own brand).

Monday, 12 May 2014


Ancient Airfix kit dusted off and assembled

With the Airfix brand name and 1961 date emblazoned on the underside of the floor moulding, this kit has been in my stash since the late 1990s. As with many Airfix kits of 1960s origin, the standard of the moulding tools is still impressive, even by 21st Century standards. Despite plenty of flash around the edges of all parts, some diligent cleaning up before assembly is rewarded by a realistic model.

Representing a Scammel diesel transporter unit, hundreds of these powerful machines were built during WW2. Apparently, they were very reliable and were designed to move a battle tank over long distances at a top speed of... wait for it... 16mph! Judging by the size of the wheels, they could cope with uneven terrain and the real things operated across North Africa and, after the Allied invasions, in Italy and Northern Europe. Weighing in at around 30tons, it could comfortably haul a tank up to 80tons, making for a hefty gross load - no wonder the top speed was so low.

It's a while since I last built anything like this and it has proved a welcome diversion from the usual railway-themed projects. Mind you, it has been a slow job - as I mentioned, the parts take a lot of cleaning up before they can be glued together. So far, I must have spent about 10hours just getting to this stage. A few areas need some filler and further tidying up before the various sub-assemblies can be primed. I'm certainly looking forward to the painting and weathering stages.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014


Another series of airbrushing classes done and dusted

It's that time of year again, where I pack up all my airbrushing equipment and head down to the South Coast to run my three days of training courses in conjunction with The Airbrush Company. The classes went very well and, as ever, were a pleasure to teach and it was nice to see some familiar faces returning from previous courses. It was also nice to spend a little time walking along the coast in the sunshine. There's nothing quite like being beside the sea...

Just recently, I can't think of the sea without the soundtrack of 'From the sea to the land beyond' running through my head. If you haven't seen the film (a collection of clips from the British Film Institute, directed by Penny Woolcock and with music by British Sea Power - see a preview of it HERE), it's well worth a watch. I've always found ships and the sea equally romantic and terrifying and the film captures this perfectly, as well as looking at British life over the past century - always with the sea as a backdrop.

Anyway, I've gone off on a tangent here. I just wanted to thank everyone who came to my classes and for the folks of the Airbrush Co. who, as always, looked after me. I'll be back in Sussex again in September, hopefully the sun will be shining again!

Friday, 2 May 2014


War Department loco kit nears completion

Hats off to Jaymes and Duncan who correctly guessed the identity of this mystery loco, currently under construction in the Dent workshops. I'm genuinely impressed with how they worked it out from the previous posts - well done chaps!

Jaymes is marginally ahead on points for also guessing the brand of the kit - Mercian Models. This is the first kit from this stable that I've had the pleasure of working on, and it has proved an enjoyable experience. Everything fits where it's meant to, with no surprises or complications. Another welcome feature is the ability to buy a complete kit package, including wheels, motor and gearbox. Indeed, the only extra materials that I've employed so far is a few strips of PCB board to mount the wiper pickups on, which are also provided, along with wires (paint and transfers will have to be sourced). There are a number of alternative parts to suit different prototypes, so choosing a specific subject and finding a number of reference images is recommended. Having said that, I've decided not to represent one specific loco, aiming simply to show readers how to get the best from the kit.

Look out for the full demo build, along with a full profile of the prototypes in Model Rail magazine, issue 197, out in early June.

Mercian Models offers the Barclay WD 0-4-0 as a complete kit package, or just the loco parts only if you prefer sourcing your own wheels, motor and gears.

Thursday, 1 May 2014


Mystery loco starting to take shape

As mentioned the other day, I'm currently assembling a metal locomotive kit for an upcoming issue of Model Rail magazine (issue 197) and wondered if anyone can make a guess as to the prototype? The kit is coming together slowly but surely, with the frames completed and the bodyshell formed. The bonnet was quite tricky to shape correctly as it has a distinctive curved profile - being formed of nickel silver, it's not as easy to roll as brass. 

Here's a tip, though - try annealing the metal by heating it up over a flame for a few minutes. It'll turn a funny colour but, once left to cool naturally, the metal will be slightly more pliable. I covered stuff like this in great detail in my latest book: Kit Building for Railway Modellers Volume 2, out now from bookstores, Amazon or direct from the publishers, Crowood.

So, any guesses on the prototype? Another clue: it's linked to an important anniversary this year...