Bench Maneuvers

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Benchtime is usually pretty sedentary, right? We sit. We maybe raise or lower our seat to get a better angle on certain tasks (I frequently lower my chair as far as it’ll go when I’m dealing with landing gear alignment fun-time).

Well, last night, I found that wasn’t working.

I’ve been taking my sweet time with Trumpeter’s SBD-5 Dauntless, and last night it was time to mask off the recently-painted walkways so I can get on with the rest of the painting.

Sitting while trying to get my hands into position without bumping the horizontal stabilizers and getting the tape lined up properly just wasn’t working.

So I stood up. That small change – standing, looming over the aircraft – made the taping a total breeze.

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And it got me thinking about the other times I engage in weird bench maneuvers to tackle random tasks:

  • Rigging. I will frequently tackle rigging of all kinds while standing (or sometimes straddling my chair in reverse).
  • Buffing. If I’m using the Dremel and a buffing wheel, I’ll usually wander away from the bench while I do. Those cloth wheels fling shit everywhere.
  • Masking prop tips. I don’t know why, but I do this better on my feet.
  • Fill-and-Dump Intake Painting. This necessitates standing, since I use a vise on the farthest end of my bench to hold the intakes.

What about you? Any weird bench maneuvers or habits you find yourself doing?

Not counting crawling around on the floor, swearing and looking for that tiny little part that you can swear fell right by your fucking foot but now it’s apparently vanished into another dimension…

“It’s the modeler at his bench…”

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Topics tend to come back around in the modeling community. And for the past month or so, it seems like the crosshairs have landed on airbrushes.

Please allow me to contain my boundless enthusiasm.

See…discussions about airbrushes…or any other tool or material (or hell…any kit) will inevitably result in someone wandering in and dropping this gem:

“It’s not the quality of the tool, but the modeler at his bench”

First of all

Fuck. Could these words possibly be rearranged to sound any more pretentious? It sounds like some pablum that a fedora-wearing, Ayn Rand-worshiping college freshman would write.

Quality of the tool, indeed.

Second

As with other modeling catchphrases that make my right eyelid twitch – “it’s just a hobby”, et al – “the modeler at the bench” is an un-argument.

That is to say, it contributes exactly nothing to the discussion.

Third

Here’s why it adds nothing.

YES, a modeler’s talents and experience and so on matter a great deal. Of course they do, and nobody is suggesting otherwise.

You can’t go throw down on a 1/32 Tamiya Corsair, an Iwata Custom Micron and *poof*, suddenly become an amazing modeler.

BUT, this idiotic saying contends that the quality of tools, materials and kits doesn’t play any kind of a role. Which is just staggeringly incorrect.

Here’s the deal. Lots of things matter. And lots of things come together to make a model.

  • A Modeler’s Skill – I would define skill in this instance as the product of 1) raw talent and 2) experience/knowledge.
  • Kit Quality (or “Medium” Quality) – The quality of the kit in question. Yes, there are kits that are objectively better than others.
  • Materials Quality – The paint and glue and pigments and whatever else gets thrown at a build. Yes, there are objectively better materials. Gunze or Tamiya or Mr. Paint are objectively better – in terms of modeling – than craft acrylics. They have better spray properties, they don’t lift if you look at them funny, and so on.
  • Tool Quality – Again, there are objectively better tools, be they sprue cutters or airbrushes or paint brushes.

Are these all equal? Not really. If I were to break them out on a 100 point scale, I’d say:

  • Skills = 55%
  • Kit = 10%
  • Materials = 20%
  • Tools = 15%

Now, these numbers are mostly there to keep the math easy, so no need to get all bent out of shape. We’re just illustrating a point here, after all.

A truly expert modeler coming in with all 55 Skills Points will have a distinct leg up on a modeler with 15 or 20 SP. If a 15 SP modeler had top-of-the-line everything to throw at a project, their upper bound would still be a total of 60 points.

What tools, materials, kits etc do is extend the upper bound.

 

 

Opinion Time

There’s another thing that quality tools, materials and kits do. They make it easier to access and hone skills.

A good pair of sprue cutters gives you cleaner cuts, leaves you spending less time cleaning up parts, and can often mean less chance of breaking delicate parts.

A good airbrush – that feels good in your hand – can let you focus more on applying paint than on getting things dialed in.

Good cement – a solvent welder like Tamiya Extra Thin or MEK – lets you be more precise in your construction, and not as reliant on clamps and rubber bands and other goofy contraptions to hold a part just so.

The modeler matters. Skills matter. But so does the quality of what you’re working with.

Slow Down, Speed Racer

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Want to step up your modeling game?

Here’s an idea – slow the fuck down.

What’s brought this about?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen a spate of builds that have gone by in the blink of an eye. One of them began with the proud purchase of a rather marginal kit this past weekend, followed by pics of the completed build maybe a day or so ago. So…six days max from cracking the box to completion.

Now, it’s only the most extreme example I’ve seen lately, but it’s far from the only one. There have been kits – large kits, too, not just some five piece 1/72 thing – taken to completion in the span of 10 days, two weeks, that kind of timeframe. They come out the other side littered with shortcomings. Visible gaps in the leading edges of the wings. Shiny tires. Silvered decals. Sloppily brush-painted canopy frames. Weathering that looks like they were dunked in a bucket of dirty water.

“Some people like to build like that”

Well, I don’t. And not everyone does. And even some who do might – gasp – be interested in upping their game.

Crazy, right?

One of the things I found I had when I came back to this hobby that I lacked as a kid was patience. The willingness to take time to get something right. Or at least to get it further along the path to right.

When you race through a build like that, you miss things. You cut corners. You fall back on basic techniques.

And it shows.

The Benefits of Slow

When you go slow, you can focus more on intent.

Just what are you going for? What are you trying to do?

What’s the best way to pull it off?

And is there a better way than that way?

Going fast leads to technique lock. I’m convinced it’s why we see so many aircraft pre-shaded so they look like quilts. Or why every build from certain prolific builders looks more or less the same, even across wildly disparate subjects. Churn them out, and you’re, well, churning them out. It becomes an assembly line.

And for what? Outside of the occasional masochistic group build or article deadline, ours is not a timed hobby.

When you slow down, the build stops being just…boxes to check off. It becomes a journey. An exploration, even.

I’m going through this very thing right now with my 1/32 Dauntless build. I could whip out a tricolor camo scheme in the span of a night or two. But I’m going slow, taking my time, questioning my approaches and, where necessary, doing little side experiments to better understand how certain aspects work so I can incorporate them (or not) later on.

And I’m wholeheartedly convinced it’s making me a better modeler. Because even though I’m elitist, condescending and occasionally dickish, I don’t pretend that I have it all figured out – there’s always more to learn, with every build. If only you slow down enough to learn and apply it.

 

Review: 1/48 Kinetic F/A-18C Hornet

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Welcome to the second entry in the Contributor-Funded Kit Review series! This time out, the subject is Kinetic’s new-tool 1/48 F/A-18C Hornet.

Curious about contributor-funded thing, or want to see past reviews? HIT THE REVIEWS PAGE FOR MORE.

Round Two Go

While there was some early contention in the Round Two voting, with the Hasegawa 1/32 A6M5c Zero and 1/48 Bronco P-40 putting in strong showings, Kinetic’s legacy Hornet soon drew away from the pack, indicating a high degree of interest.

I have to confess – this one interested me as well. I have a fondness for the legacy Hornet, and a new-tool challenger in 1/48 is worth sitting up and taking notice.

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Going into this review, I had two big questions beyond the usual detail/fit/etc:

1 – Is it good enough to overcome the old Hasegawa kits?

2 – Does it live up to the hyped expectations Kinetic has set for it?

If you want to get straight to the answers, hop on down to the final video. I’ve kept it under three minutes for those with short attention spans.

Otherwise, this review proceeds mostly on video. But I’ve added a bit of setup along the way below.

INTRODUCTION

A look at what Kinetic gives us to work with, and some initial thoughts. Overall, the plastic looks quite good, with the exception of the provided stores, which seem like they were ported over from other, older kits.

The instructions look good at first glance, but they aren’t. Treat them as an unreliable source and they’re easy enough to overcome, however.

The decals – they are a thing of beauty. Designed by Fightertown, printed by Cartograf, and showing a lot of effort in creative ways to minimize carrier film.

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The only thing I’d say against them is that all of the schemes are quite recent – the oldest is the Finnish option, which dates from 2006. Everything else is 2009 or newer. Considering that the F/A-18C has been flying for nearly 30 years, it seems an odd choice to limit the options to only the last decade, completely skipping Operation Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom and other actions. Fortunately, there are aftermarket decals galore for the -C model in 1/48 scale.

Part 1 – The Cockpit

It’s a cockpit. It’s a good cockpit at that, and with the way it fits so well into the fuselage, I’d be really hesitant to opt for a resin cockpit unless it was specifically designed as a drop-fit.

I would, however, recommend a resin ejection seat, and seeing what aftermarket companies decide to do about the not-great rear deck.

Part 2 – The Internals

The main gear bay is an amazing example of going beyond drop-fit to press-fit. It’s a bit janky getting it into the fuselage, but once you do, it locates almost magnetically.

I wish I could say the same about the intakes. They’re very definitely, uh, “inspired” by the 1/32 Academy Hornets, which is better than cribbing the 1/48 Hasegawa I guess, but leads to a dicey fit between the intake faces and the intake trunks.

I would wait – and hope – that someone comes along and does a set of seamless intakes for this kit. They would be rather welcome.

As for the intake faces – fortunately there’s no need to worry overmuch about alignment on the outside – as pics of the real thing show there is no panel line of any kind anywhere near them.

Part 3 – The Nose

Another tricky subassembly is the nose.

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It’s a dicey bit of engineering – as the fit demonstrates. There may be a better way, though, which is discussed in the video.

Part 4 – Wings and Fuselage

The stuff dreams are made of. Kinetic really nails this aspect of the build.

Part 5 – Control Surfaces

Up or down, Kinetic handles these nicely. Just be sure, if you’re folding the wings, to fold them at the proper angles. I’d even go so far as to suggest adding the control surfaces FIRST to help mitigate any interference.

Part 6 – Landing Gear

Ugh.

Part 7 – Pylons

From ugh back to great. The pylons build up easily and fit nicely. Hard to go wrong here.

Part 8 – Tails & Canopy

The fit of the windscreen leaves things to be desired – but this relates back to the nose.

Part 9 – Ordnance

The ordnance, as mentioned higher up, is a mixed bag. The Sidewinders are worth keeping, but if you can swing it, go resin for the other explodey things.

Quick Review: 1/32 Special Hobby Hawker Tempest V

Around the time Alaric was leading his Visigoths toward Rome, Special Hobby began work on their 1/32 Hawker Tempest.

Okay, maybe not that long ago. But this kit has been in development for years.

Now that it’s out, I told my usual aversion to short run kits to STFU and snagged one. In part because I’m a glutton for punishment and/or stashing. And in part because I really like the Tempest.

I haven’t intended to touch it, but so far the conversation out there about the kit has been…frustrating. There’s been plenty of ejaculatory praise given to its surface detail – I’ve even seen comments to the effect of “Tamiya has some catching up to do”.

Please. The surface detail is good – really good for a short run kit – but let’s not get carried away.

Anyway. There’s been this sort of weird non-evaluation evaluation going on. The detail is great! Yay! It only includes one type of spinner! Boo! And that’s about it.

As is sadly usual, nobody seems to be talking about the kit as, well, a kit. About how it’s engineered. About how it fits.

So I couldn’t resist.

I won’t bore you with a bunch of pictures of sprues. Suffice to say, the Tempest looks great in pieces. Unlike Fly’s Hurricane and other shorties, the crisp detail extends beyond the exterior surfaces. Control consoles, gear bays, cockpit framing, they all look rather good. And the surface detail is definitely the best I’ve ever seen from Special Hobby.

HOLY FUCK LOCATION AIDS

If you expect a short run kit to have much in the way of location aids, you’re usually going to be in for a bad time. So imagine my surprise when I turned the nose parts around and saw this:
And inside the main fuselage, this:
There are locator pins and location ridges throughout. And while there is some flash here and there, some mold seams, they’re on a level you might expect from one of the second-tier mainstream kitmakers like Kinetic or Kitty Hawk.

Fit Test

Being both curious and impatient, I did a quick removal and cleanup of the main components – wings, fuselage, spinner, stabs, rudder – and jammed them together with some tape to hold things in place.
The result?
As you can see, some small gaps remain, but they’re really small and some of them will almost certainly turn invisible during a proper cleanup and build. For the others, we’re talking relatively minor amounts of putty.
The wing-to-fuselage join is particularly impressive. I know a small gap is visible above, but it’s significantly smaller than what I’ve encountered on kits from Hasegawa and Trumpeter in the past.
Engineering-wise, everything appears to be solid. The cockpit is slightly concerning – getting the tube frames and front and rear bulkheads aligned could be a minor challenge, but the fuselage’s location ridges should allow it to serve as a jig. There’s no fancy bullshit to complicate things really anywhere. This unfortunately means no Sabre engine, no lowered flaps, no exposed gun bays, but I’ll take a clean, well-fitting build any day. And Eduard will be releasing flaps in August if one is so inclined.
The only frustrating bit is probably the separate leading edge bits at the wingroots. But these mean we will be getting two kits I never thought we’d be seeing in 1/32 scale – a post-war Tempest VI, and the Centaurus-engined Tempest II.
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Quick Verdict

Short run kits are usually synonymous with “this is going to be a bitch to build”.
With the Tempest, Special Hobby has smashed the usual expectations of what a limited run kit can be.
If I were completely unaware of this kit’s development, and someone put the sprues in front of me and told me it was an upcoming Trumpeter release, I’d have zero problem believing them.
And not one of Trumpeter’s shitberg releases, but one of their good ones like the Dauntless or Me 262.
Now – I’m not going to do the whole HIGHLY RECOMMENDED thing. Not until I’ve built it.
But if you’ve been squeamish on this kit because of its short run origins, I would personally consider those fears allayed. This is not only the best Tempest in 1/32 scale (not a hard title to claim), but it’s a legitimately solid kit that can stand toe to toe with mainstream kits in terms of detail, engineering and fit.

1/32 Trumpeter SBD-5 Dauntless – Part 1

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When The Weathering Magazine’s aircraft-focused spinoff, Weathering Aircraft, reached out to me about doing a build for an upcoming publication, the request was pretty wide open. World War II, with a focus on painting a camoflage scheme.

After a few false starts, I decided to tackle a late-war SBD-5 Dauntless. The Douglas SBD Dauntless is one of the unsung workhorses of the war. Slated for replacement before the first bombs even fell at Pearl Harbor, it proved instrumental in turning the tide in the Pacific, and was ultimately responsible for sinking more Japanese ships than any other aircraft.

The SBD-3, which distinguished itself at Coral Sea, Midway and Guadalcanal, gets the lion’s share of the attention, but the -5 was the most produced variant, and did a lot of the dirty work later in the war. It also wore the tricolor camoflage that I personally find more interesting than the bluegray over light gray of the early war dive bombers.

It’s been nearly six years since I built my last Dauntless – Accurate Miniatures’ SBD-3 (my second build after coming back to the hobby). My memories of that kit have dimmed, but I clearly recall the frustration with the cockpit, which built up in a sort of top/bottom sandwich with the cockpit floor loading up and into the fuselage. This made test-fitting next to impossible and ultimately caused some issues getting everything installed, with some elements hanging down trying to occupy the same space as those loading up.

The wingroots, too, were a challenge on that kit. But it was my second kit back to the hobby, so just as likely my own incompetence.

Trumpeter’s side-load approach to the cockpit clears away the problems the AccuMini kit ran into, though the initial test-fit shows that the wingroots are still an issue.

More on that later. Continue reading

Contributor-Funded Kit Reviews – Round 2 Winner

Voting’s wrapped on Round 2, and the winner is…

Kinetic’s new-tool 1/48 F/A-18C Hornet!

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Ultimately, this round came down to the Hornet and the Bronco P-40C, with Hasegawa’s 1/32 A6M5c and Kinetic’s Super Etendard running a distant race for third.

The Hornet held off the P-40C, though, winning 159 votes to 127 and 33% of the total vote.

A Hornet We Can Believe In?

Honestly, I’m excited the Hornet won. For two reasons.

First, I love that Kinetic is putting the effort into a new-tool 1/48 Hornet. Hasegawa’s been sitting on its laurels on many fronts, and the Hornet is very much one of them.

Second, I’m eager to put Kinetic’s “this time!” claims to the test. It seems that, with every kit going back to at least the Mirage IIIE, Kinetic’s been in this mode of promising that [insert kit coming out soon] is going to be on a whole new level from what they’ve offered in the past. And inevitably, when said kit is released the consensus seems to be “good, but…”

At this point, it’s kinda starting to seem like the kitmaker who cried wolf.

That’s not to say I’m coming in anti-Kinetic. In my experience their kits have some very good elements…and some that could use some work. They’re like a sports team that has all the right elements, but can’t seem to bring them all together at the same time.

Has Kinetic done it this time? Is their F/A-18C going to dethrone Hasegawa’s a kick off a new age of 1/48 Hornet glory? We shall see.

As to the Rest…

So, what kits will carry over to Round 3?

The following all managed to get more than 30 votes, so they live to fight another day:

  • 1/48 Kinetic Super Etendard
  • 1/48 Eduard Messerschmitt Bf 109G-6 Late Series
  • 1/32 Hasegawa A6M5c Zero
  • 1/48 Bronco P-40C Tomahawk

Stunningly, armor kits were completely blown out this time around. The winning armor kit was the AFV Club Husky III, with a whopping 8 VOTES.