Beginners guide to everything! Pt.1

Well, almost everything! There are countless features/articles/tips on the Internet about how to build, paint and weather aircraft kits. Most of these articles are very good, but they all tend to be specific about the particular point in question and often they seem aimed at the more experienced modeller. To this end I have decided to write this article that will hopefully bring all these tips together and will be aimed more at the beginner. For many readers there will be a lot of egg sucking to be had, but you may find out something anyway. I will be covering – :
  • Choosing a kit
  • Tools
  • Building
  • Adding further details (basic)
  • Painting (including airbrushing)
  • Applying decals
  • Panel lines
  • Dry brushing
  • Exhausts stains
  • Pre/Post shading
  • Using Klear/Future
  • Using Alclad
  • Using Blu-tac
  • Masking
It is not my intention to tell people how they should model, rather this is my way of doing it, is therefore neither right nor wrong – it just works for me.

Throughout the article I will indicate particularly important tips with a *Tip*

Choosing a kit
For people new to modelling of any sort, there are certain companies you will very quickly get to know, some for the right reasons and some for the wrong ones! Those that are coming into aircraft modelling from other genres will have heard of most of the companies and, in general, their quality of kits is fairly standard across all their genres.

For the beginner in aircraft modelling I would suggest that you start with 1:72 scale aircraft as they are usually a lot cheaper than 1:48, so should you totally mess one up there’s not a lot lost (time or money). I started out on the old Airfix 1:72 and most of them were poor in quality and even worse once I had ‘built’ them, but it allowed me to quickly improve my skills. In this scale, Tamiya and Hasegawa (often shortened to Tamigawa) are probably top of the tree with regards quality, detail and engineering. However, these tend to be very expensive by comparison to the others, so it is well worth looking at the cheaper kits from the likes of Academy and Revell. Indeed, some of these kits are outstanding and the Revell ones, in particular, are very cheap at around £4 each for a P-51/Spitfire/Fw190 etc. For this article I am going to build the Academy P-51D and the Revell Bf109G-10. In most cases I will detail the build of the P-51D as the Bf109G-10 (and most single seat WWII aircraft) are similar to build. I will draw attention to the Bf109G-10 when a new technique is described such as using Blu-tac.

After Market Extra’s
Traditionally, most kits were built out-of-the-box (OOB) with no additional after-market parts, and in most cases you can still produce superb results that way. However, more and more modellers are turning to resin and etched parts to give finer detail on their kits. Often these extra’s can cost as much or more than the kit itself and, while they do undoubtedly increase the level of detail, I would not recommend them for beginners. Two items that can be used quite simply are decal sheets and (in my opinion) the most important after-market item – etched seatbelts. Decal sheets cost around £5-8 but you can usually get 3 or 4 aircraft out of them. As both of the kits I will be building have moulded on seatbelts, I will break with my usual tradition and not bother with etched belts. I will however be using a decal sheet with the P-51D because the sheet supplied with the Academy kit is poorly printed and badly out of register (The colours within the decal do not line up. Imagine the red centre on an RAF roundel not being central within the blue – this is called ‘out of register’). The decal sheet is P-51D Mustang aces by Superscale (72851). The Revell kit does not feature the Swastika so I will also use a pair from an Xtradecal set.

Tools and Equipment
The basics that you pretty much have to have are –

  • Side-cutters/snips – for removing the parts from the sprue.
  • A knife - I use a Swann & Morton scalpel - but these are VERY sharp so take care. Youngsters amongst you would be better advised to get one of the ‘snap blade’ type hobby knifes.
  • Files – I use the 3 coloured nail buffers on most modern kits, as coarse files are really not needed.
  • Brushes – Ranging from 5/O (very small) to 4 (fairly large).
  • Glues – I almost exclusively use Humbrol liquid cement but also a little superglue for any etched parts.
  • Pegs and tape – for holding parts together or holding parts when painting.
  • Paints and varnish – I use a combination of Humbrol and Tamiya for the interior/detail colours and Xtracolor/Xtracrylix for the camouflage.
  • Toothpicks and cotton wool buds.
Additional items that can aid the finished project or simplify some tasks –

  • Gunze Sangyo Mr Surfacer – available in 500, 1000 and 1200 grades with 500 being the thickest. I use this applied with a cocktail stick along the major join seams such as the fuselage halves and wing leading/trailing edges. Not always needed - particularly with Tamigawa.
  • Johnsons Future/Klear floor polish – more on this later.
  • Microset and Microsol – Decal solutions that aid the bedding down of the decal. Again, more on these later.
  • An airbrush – Single action airbrushes such as the Badger 350 are not that expensive (about £40) but, if you are getting into modelling in the long run, it is well worth going for a dual action airbrush – I use a Badger 150 and it retails at around £130 with three heads. However for the purpose of this article I will be using the cheaper 350 with a standard (medium) head.
  • A supply of air for the airbrush. Cheap options include using a car tyre or using cans of pressurised air. Of the two the cans are better, but in the long run they work out very expensive. If using cans or the car tyre it is advisable to have a moisture trap fitted between the air supply and the airbrush to catch droplets of water that could spell disaster for you paintjob. Unfortunately these are quite expensive at about £30 for the Badger one. With the cost of the trap and cans, it seems quite sensible to consider an airbrush compressor with built in moisture trap and adjustable pressure valve. Again, expensive - but they are at least 1 zillion times better than using a car tyre or compressed air can. Revell, Shesto and Testors amongst others make these and they cost from around £100 up to £300.
  • Good quality oil paint – I use Winsor & Newton’s Raw Umber on all my panel lines.
  • Pastels/weathering powders – useful for smoke stains.
  • Very fine fishing line – used for the radio antenna.
This concludes Part 1, next up – Building and painting the cockpit and building the kit!
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About Lee (Dirk-Danger)

Hi, I started making models when I was about 7 and then stopped when I joined the RAF in 1991. I was stationed at RAF Wattisham and then Brize Norton. I left the RAF in 1999 to work at Manchester airport. About 3 years ago I took up modelling again and started taking it more seriously. I now run an ...