Most modeling genres have a lot in common, and by and large the tools and techniques translate. Whether you’re building a tank or a car or a ship or an airplane or an AT-AT, you’re still going to have to glue stuff and sand stuff and prime stuff.
But each genre also tends to have a few idiosyncrasies that set it completely apart from the others. Aircraft have their canopies and ordnance. Ships have those damn railings. And with armor…the tracks.
Tracks are just…different from anything else in the modeling experience. And within armor, there are several different types of tracks to contend with. If you build armor regularly, you’re doubtless aware of them, but if you’re just coming back to the hobby, or thinking about it, or pondering maybe wandering away from aircraft to build a target or two, I thought it’d be helpful to put together a little primer on the general types of tracks you’re likely to encounter, and some of their strengths and weaknesses.
Rubber bands refer to any flexible, single-length track. Once upon a time, these were made of vinyl, and a bear to glue or get to hold paint. These days, you’ll still encounter vinyl tracks, but more often they’ve been engineered to have similarish glue- and paint-taking properties to good old styrene.
Rubber bands are generally frowned upon…but I think they have their uses.
For tracks which have a lot of sag along the upper run – like a lot of World War II German and Soviet armor – rubber bands are horrendous. But when you’re dealing with something like an M4 Sherman, which had live tracks held under constant tension, rubber bands can be a real time-saver and look just fine on the finished product.
Rubber bands are also extremely useful when your subject has side skirts that effectively obscure the upper run of the track. For this reason I think they’re still very well suited to modern armor.
Where do rubber bands fall down? Well, apart from the aforementioned “saggy” tracks, they can also be problematic on kits with functioning suspensions, since the tension in the tracks will tend to pull the fore and aft roadwheels up. This is a common problem with, say, Tasca Shermans, and necessitates gluing those bogeys in place.
Link-and-length tracks are made out of styrene, and basically represent the upper and lower runs of track with single pieces. The upper run often undulates over the return rollers to represent sag in the tracks. The bits that curve around the idler and drive sprocket are comprised of individual links…hence link-and-length.
Personally, these are probably my least favorite type of track. I’ve never used them and don’t see a situation where I ever would, since they have to kind of be assembled around the running gear.
Here is a look at how these type of tracks work:
Individual links…or “Indy Links” as they’re often shorthanded to, are exactly what they sound like. Individual track links. There are various kinds of individual link tracks, however, so I’m going to break them up.
Indy Links – Static
Static indy links are individual links of track that have to be glued together to create a run of track. These often have to be individually removed from sprue trees and cleaned up, though some, like Dragon’s Smart Tracks, come loose.
These tracks are typically laid out flat, and then brushed with a weak solvent glue like Testors Liquid Cement. When they’re glued but still pliable, they’re then fitted around the running gear.
With static indy links, it’s possible to recreate sag very easily. The downside is that you basically have to fit them and the running gear onto the tank all at once, since once they’ve cured, they won’t wrap around or over anything.
Indy Links – Workable
Workable indy links hinge just like real tank tracks, creating in my opinion the most realistic looking tracks you can use. Functionality is usually imparted by the way the track is assembled, with the hinge left free to rotate. This make it easy to paint the track off the tank and then install it at a later time. It also simplifies adding sag as necessary.
There are a few different types of workable tracks…
Clip-Togethers – These are the rare indy links that clip together and hold snug, while still allowing movement. The best of these I’ve ever encountered are those that come with Trumpeter’s 1/16 T-34. They’re made of a harder plastic, and assemble so fast you’ll be dizzy. Sadly this kind of track is rare.
“Missionary” – These tracks assemble in such a way that two links are lined up, and then a third piece glued on top, creating a movable hinge. These are fussy, but sometimes necessary depending on the track type.
“Male” – Male links have pins protruding from each link, and two links are joined together by placing an end connector spanning them. A good example can be found in most modern Russian tanks such as the T-80 and T-90.
“Female” – Female links have holes rather than pins. To join these, you bring two links together and then insert a track pin that joins them together. This is how metal Friul tracks work. Or most of them. It’s much rarer in plastic tracks, but not unheard of. Panda’s 1/16 Pz.38(t) uses female workable links, with the added difficulty of track pins on two sides!
Of this whole lot, I’d have to say that “female” style workable tracks are definitely my favorite. They usually involve quite a bit of work (and sometimes expense), but they hold together the best and look killer when all is said and done.