Author Archive: rapierfighter

Bugatti Type 35B (Monogram) Build #3 – Working With Really Small Details…and Then REALLY Give Myself Something to Do AGAIN

Having broken off the right front section of the frame, fixing that bit took my attention. I needed a section of plastic that was .050″ (1.27mm). To get that thickness, I used a section of .060″ (1.542mm) which I will sand down later and traced the section of frame rail I needed to replace. I had already determined that the part I broke off wouldn’t stay attached when glued (very small surface area for the glue) so I cut the damaged frame section back to an area that offered a greater surface area for the glue to work with, then I traced the profile of the undamaged section of frame to the new styrene:

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Once trimmed, I added a section of .010″ (.254mm) to where the cross brace meets the frame to replace the kerf where the frame rail had been sawed off:

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Then I used scraps of styrene of varying thickness to fill in areas that had gaps. I used the styrene scraps for strength; this time it had to look correct and be structural:

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Then I put the frame into the body to see how well things lined up (fairly well):

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At this point I filed and sanded the profile of the new frame section to fit the profile needed more accurately and to bring the new section down to the needed thickness.

I started working on the seat that I had cut away the thermal blanket section off of. I added a strip of .060″ (1.524mm) to the lower front edge so that I had the material in place to create a more finished look for that section of the seat than the abrupt edge that resulted from removing the front of the seat left:

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A little knife and file work finished that area (not the best photo of the results, unfortunately):

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While looking at reference photos, I noticed that it was not at all uncommon for a partition to be added to the seat, evidently to keep the driver at the controls and out of the mechanic’s lap (before they stopped having mechanics ride with them during a race). I added .060″ (1.524mm) again by slotting the seat and then trimming the addition to shape (and though not evident, I also started adding “compression” to the padding by sanding down the areas where the drivers’ weight would cause the packing material…probably horse hair…in the padding to compress):

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I started adding additional details to the supercharger by adding Grandt Line bolts, 48 gauge wire wrap around the tubing connecting the supercharger body to the over-pressure blow-off port, and running a panel line scribe where the parts of the ducting connecting to the supercharger would show a seam when parts were connected:

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Then I started making the linkage. There are two linkage arms at each end of the blower body. I used .005″ (.127mm) aluminum foil to make the linkage levers. I drilled holes first and then used a straight razor blade to cut the foil around the holes. With the levers slid over the .010″ (.254mm) wire, a drop of superglue fixed them in place:

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After letting the superglue cure overnight, I trimmed the linkage shaft to separate the two arms, added the resultant lever shafts to drilled out styrene rod I’d added to the body of the supercharger, then dropped another .010″ (.254mm) wire across the levers. I glued them in place and then used a nail trimmer to snip the excess aluminum from the levers:

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The remainder of the throttle linkages will be added once the supercharger is added to the engine and then all that installed into the frame.

The race cars had a screen added in front of the radiator. I added a length of .015″ (.381mm) solder to the periphery of the radiator to serve as the screen’s mounting:

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Then I trimmed some stainless steel screen I have to fit over it:

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To my eye, the wires of the screen are too thick. I rummaged through my “stuff” supply and found a sheet of PE screen which was trimmed and fit (more trimming was done later than the photo below shows):


I had intended originally to drill out the ends of the exhaust pipes. Perhaps these type of pipes were used on road cars; they weren’t used (as far as my reference photos show) on racing cars. Luckily I had just enough of the correct diameter brass thin-wall 3/32″ (2.5mm) tubing to replace the solid plastic “pipes.” Even being thin-wall tubing, the thickness of the tubing walls needed to be thinned further. The unmodified tubing is in the center in the below photo. I thinned the walls to about .008″ (.2mm) using a very fine and pointed rat-tail file:

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I drilled out the ends of the mufflers to accept the round tubing:

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Reference photos show the pipes ending under the body of the car instead of extending past it so brackets and hangers had to be made and the tubing shortened. The bracket closest the muffler was made from .015″ (.381mm) styrene and the hanger near the tips made from .015″ (.381mm) for the mount and .010″ (.254mm) for the bracket:

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The shifter, one of the levers hanging out of the cockpit on the right side (the other, taller one, is the parking brake), is a gate shifter (Ferraris frequently use those, if you’re interested) (and Ferraris frequently use those even if you aren’t interested). The kit kind of vaguely attaches the shifter arm to the shifter “linkage” without one, so I had to make one. I used .010″ (.254mm) scrap to do so:

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I also added Grandt Line bolts to where the shifter linkage attaches to the transmission as well as the connecting housing under that section:

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Earlier Bugattis used cable operated brakes instead of hydraulic brakes. Many early cars did, Bugatti was just one of the last hold outs to make the switch to hydraulic brakes (“I build my cars to go, not to stop,” he’s credited with stating). The levers for those cables on the brake backings were molded to the backings and should stand off of them on a shaft. The first step was to carefully cut the levers away from the backing plates:

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More Grandt Line bolt had to be added to the front axle where it mounts to the springs and where the spring brackets mount to the frame. I also added bolts to what I assume are the oscillation dampers (mistakenly called “shock absorbers” in the US…the springs absorb the shocks) which also needed large slots in them filled (I also punched out a small disk from .010″ (.254mm) styrene to replicate the pulley used with the brake cable):

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While I was thinking of brake cables, I built the levers for the rear brakes that the kit didn’t provide:

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The starting crank was molded too thickly and in the wrong position. I cut it off and used 22 gauge wire and a drilled out piece of scrap styrene rod to make a replacement:

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There were what I assume were cooling vents as part of the sump. I started drilling them out and realized that I’d used too large a drill bit so the holes needed to be filled:

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The mounts for the windshield and the holes in the coaming were far too large. I started by filling the holes in the coaming (I’d also filled the mounting holes for the passenger’s windscreen):

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The frames for the folding windscreens were inaccurate and out-of-scale. I annealed a piece of .010″ (.254mm) brass shim stock to drill, cut, and fold to make new mounting brackets for the frames that I trimmed (it turned out that the right brass bracket in the photo below wasn’t tall enough. I ended up using the left brass bracket and making a new on for that side):

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The windscreen frame was drilled to accept .010″ (.254mm) wires that the brackets would mount to (none of my period reference photos show that the angle of the windscreen was set by using large wingnuts so I removed them):

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It was worth the work:


Continuing work in the cockpit, I started making the clutch/brake pedal assembly as the kit’s part was wrong and out-of-scale. I started making the pivot shaft from a paper clip and the brackets for the clutch/brake pedal from drilled out styrene rods. The clutch pedal was made from .010″ (.254mm) shim stock and the brake pedal from .015″ (.381mm) scrap for the brake pedal arm and .010″ (.254mm) scrap for the brake pedal:

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I thought I was just humming right along. I had to go out of town for a week and was looking forward to getting back to work. Got home, unpacked and did all the stuff one must do to get back to where one was before the trip, and then got to the work bench.

The first thing I did was this:

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I broke the fornicating, sodomizing, tip off the OTHER frame rail! (See “Brain Fade” in “What the Hell Does That Mean?”)

Once I was done banging my head on the workbench, I aligned the broken part as EXACTLY as I could manage and then glued it. I’m going to go do something else today while the glue cures completely before I go back to it and see if the glue will actually hold this time (ask someone what the definition of insanity is…the answer is something of a cliche anymore) and, certainly expecting that it will not, I will make another frame rail.

::sighs again::

Bugatti Type 35B (Monogram) Build #2 – With No Particular Build Order, I Wander All Over the Place…and Then REALLY Give Myself Something to Do

One of the things I’ll need to fix is in the cockpit. From what I can tell, when Monogram’s engineers decided to tool up this kit, they’d used an example that had been modified from the original. Perhaps this is heresy (I prefer to think it’s rationality which, not to delve too deeply into religion, might be the same thing), but Ettore had his…quirks. The cockpit of the 35B was/is cramped. And into this cramped space protrudes the transmission right down the center of it. It seems that the transmission got hot. What does cramped have to do with it? There’s no place for the driver or mechanic to go to get away from it. It seems a fairly common, albeit later, work-around to cover the transmission with a thermal blanket in the attempt to moderate how much heat the driver and mechanic were subjected to. Monogram modeled it like this:

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That was cut off and later on I will add some styrene to the lower front of the seat cushion so that it looks less like a plastic edge and more like how a cushion would wrap around the seat frame:

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With the “thermal blanket” blob gone, I need a transmission to fill that space. I decided to use a chunk of Aves AepoxySculpt. The kit had a facsimile transmission molded to the cross members of the frame and for the Type 35, that seems to have been more accurate. Since I’m modeling a Type 35B, the one with the supercharger, the transmission is different. Once the AepoxySculpt cured overnight, I started carving away at it:


At this point I had a major cognitive disconnect. For whatever mistaken “reason,” I convinced myself (rather quickly) that I needed to 3D print this part. (For a more in-depth analysis of that nonsense, you can check this out: Old Dog, New Tricks, and 3D Printing.) I’m a bit embarrassed to say that it took me a couple of weeks to get my head out from where the sun should NEVER shine. I did (to whatever extent that’s possible). As you can see, symmetry required more accuracy:


Symmetry also required that I add putty to a few areas and the really nice thing about that is that this material will bond nicely to itself even if what it’s being added to has already cured. What fueled my excursion to Cranial Suppository Land (this time it was 3D printing…not that I think one needs to have their cranium up there to print 3D parts, it’s just not for me) was the fact that I needed the hollowed out area to fit over the bell housing of the engine. I doubted my ability (rarely a good thing, overall) to thin the sides out sufficiently without causing them to chip and break to uselessness. There was reason for caution, but not the cognitive disconnect I indulged in. Even being cautious, a few places chipped and broke away. One place I could superglue the chipped section back, but most required the addition of more putty. Perseverance won and I got it to fit over what it need to fit over:

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With the transmission slug in place, I checked fit and it’s okay:

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Then my (low wattage, incandescent) light bulb struggled to luminescence and I figured I should probably dry-fit some other things, so I started with the engine/body/firewall/instrument bits to make sure the engine cover(s) fit as well, and to get a general sense of what I’m going to do later on (yes…I know the “thermal blanket” is there…I don’t always present things here in the exact order I do them in…another indication of being crazy):

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Things fit and line up.

With that diversion out of the way, I set about transforming a lump of epoxy putty into a facsimile of a transmission by squaring things up, trying something new by going for bilateral symmetry, adding .005″ (.127mm) styrene, and a couple of sizes of Grandt Line bolts and resin screw heads from Archer Transfers. There is more work to do on the back of it (the square area) but I need the seat done and and the rear axle in position (dry-fit most likely) so I can align the driveshaft and shifter. The gray cylinder on top is the starter motor (yes…in 1927 this car had a functional electric starter) that I turned on the lathe from a section of sprue, and then added .015″ (.381mm) solder as the electrical feed and a strip of lead foil from a wine bottle (the car is French, so that’s appropriate) as the hold-down strap of the starter:

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And for no rational reason, I decided now would be a good time to open the port in the engine cover that the over-pressure vent utilizes:

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In dry-fitting the instrument panel/firewall assembly, I noticed that the firewall didn’t extend to the belly-pan of the body. I thought I’d extended it sufficiently, but I’d only extended it to the bottom of the frame; it’s my assumption that it would go all the way to the belly-pan, otherwise engine fumes would fill the car. That meant I had to add more .040″ (1.016mm) to extend the firewall down further (and at some point later I will need to replace the oil line that flexed once too often and broke):

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I attended to mold seams and depressions of the body with the 3M Acrylic Putty as well as filing down where the filler cap goes for a bit more accuracy (I may take that further later):

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There were also mold parting lines along the lower sides of the engine compartment that I sanded down (the black is from the permanent marker I use to indicate once I have sanded out the previous sandpaper scratches…it fills the scratches and once it’s gone, so are the scratches):

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The frame of the kit is molded with the sides “boxed,” as in, a box (how odd). The car’s frame wasn’t boxed, it was a C-channel, or more like a [ channel. I wanted to represent the [ channel so first I marked where I wanted to remove plastic:

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Then I realized that most of what I’d planned to remove would never be seen so I ignored what would be hidden and started cutting, carving, scraping, and cursing the moron whose I idea it had been to do this tedious task (yes, I used a mirror):


And then I REALLY started cursing when I snapped off the end of right side front of the frame just as I was finishing the task. Clearly I was spending more time patting myself on the back then I was on the task at hand that I hadn’t quite finished yet:


Let this be a lesson to all of you. Save the congratulations until it’s done done.

I tried gluing the end back on. These ends are a major source of support for the front axle and I wanted as much strength in the bond as I could get. So of course it snapped off again. There just isn’t enough gluing surface for the strong bond that I need. Well, bugger. Okay, okay…let’s buy another kit just for the sodding frame. Nice idea, were any available. Two hours of searching online and nothing.

That means that I’m going to have to scratch-build the right frame rail from just behind the right front engine mount out. The plastic frame is .050″ (1.27mm) thick so I’m going to bond .040″ (1.016mm) and .010″ (.254mm) to get the required thickness. The reason I’m moving so far back along the frame is for gluing surface. The frame is wider back there. I’m also planning on using two pins for structure.

I hope whatever you celebrate is good for you and yours as I am reminded that anything that drives me to drink, such as snapping a critical part off just at the end of a job, can’t be all bad.

Bugatti Type 35B (Monogram) Build #1 – Parts Layout and Getting Started

Since the first time I saw a photo of one, I thought the Bugatti Type 35 was about the most beautiful race car of the period. The ensuing decades have not changed my opinion. It’s gorgeous. I forget which particular Internet rabbit-hole I had been diving into when I ran across Monogram’s Bugatti Type 35B. It took a little looking to find an acceptably-priced kit (I’m not a collector and don’t give an intercourse if the seal has been violated or not and I’m not going to pay collector prices) but I did and now I have this little gem:

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The box contained these sprues:

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Right after the vinyl tires (gah), the first thing I noticed was all the chrome. (Okay, it’s actually aluminum, which worked to my favor shortly.) That’s got to go. I filled a tub with household chlorine bleach and immersed the chrome sprues for about ten minutes. That stripped the sprues to the bare plastic with zero harm to the styrene:

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These parts are supposed to be aluminum. I have paint for that, though I will be using BareMetal Foil’s “Ultra-Bright Chrome” for the outside of the radiator housing, which seems to have been polished aluminum. That done, I set the de-chromed sprues to the side and started with the third thing that caught my eye. The hood (or bonnet, if you prefer). I want to pose this with the right side hood open and I can’t do that without cutting the hood apart, something I would be totally comfortable doing. Then I realized that even if I did cut the hood apart, I’d still have parts that were not only far too thick, none of the louvers, of which there are plenty, would show up on the inside.

I used to smoke (what…you’re pefect?!). I mention that for two reasons. The first is to remind you that I am far from perfect (or even rational, too often). The second is because the cans of tobacco I smoked (I rolled my own…a better grade of tobacco and much fresher) came sealed with a disk of relatively thick aluminum foil (.004″ or .0039mm). I used another piece of this foil successfully as quilted padding for the inside of my Gemini build (::spits::) and it immediately came to mind. So while watching the idiot box (TV), I folded the foil tightly around the bottom edge of the hood, used scotch tape to hold it in place, and started embossing it:


I used round toothpicks sharpened to a relatively dull chisel tip and just stayed at it until I got here:

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I used a new single-edge razor blade to trim the aluminum from the plastic part (the hair is provided by Her Sacred Majesty, Mistress of All Time and Space, and Unrepentant Spider Bane…the cat):

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Truth be told, this was just a proof-of-concept task. Since it was successful, later I went back and did a tighter job with it. And, in case you’re new to this site, it’s at this point I mention my relative lack-of-sanity. For about five minutes I actually considered cutting out all the openings to all the louvers. I got over it. Paint will do. Reluctantly. With the concept proven, I only had to do it one more time. However, that was the last piece of that aluminum foil I had and it wasn’t large enough to use for the other side. I do, though, have more of the type, it’s just a little bit thinner:

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Being thinner, the aluminum settled down to the surface details tighter. I considered redoing the first side again with this foil, then I realized that the first side, being a bit thicker, would probably stand up to being displayed unsupported better. How much better? Dunno. I can always do another one with the thinner foil later. And speaking of later, later on I considered what color I was going to paint this beauty. Being built as race cars, the inside of the bodywork wasn’t painted. It was bare aluminum. Well, that’s already taken care of!

Turning my attention to the instrument panel, I realized that at best it was wrong. Other parts of this kit suggest to me that the engineers copied a car that had been modified from the original 1927 car and that several things were going to need attention:

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The switch panel above the two small gauges on the left simply wasn’t there in 1927. A clock was (when you see him, ask Ettore why…I haven’t a clue). The area in the center of the instrument panel was actually the back of the distributor and protruded further into the cockpit than the kit has molded. I decided to fix that first by cutting away the depression from the back, trimming down the lip around the resulting hole, and gluing it back in with more protrusion. And of course I didn’t take a photo of it. (Probably before the caffeine hit the remnants of my brain.)

The engine is moderately accurate but could use some detailing. From the left side of the photo below, I added a stub of styrene to the end of the driveshaft so it would meet the transmission. The long styrene tube replicates the tube that carried the ignition wires, which I replicated with .010 (.254mm) solder and the plugs are small stubs of stretched sprue (they’re there, they just can’t be seen easily). The forward engine mounts weren’t quite long enough so both sides were shimmed with .020″ (.508mm) scrap. The styrene tube above it and attached to the back of the engine is the shaft that runs from back of the camshaft to the the distributor and also is where the belt-drive for the tachometer is. The styrene tube lower on the side of the engine is a water pipe. Since there were gaps where it meets the forward support, I filled them with .010″ (.245mm) scraps and 3-M Acrylic Putty. There were gaps all around the bottom of the engine block where they meet the oil pan which were filled with varied thicknesses of scrap styrene and more acrylic putty. On the left side of the engine I added the tall filler tube and cap for the oil and the smaller, towards the front, filler tube and cap for coolant (the part that looks like a turbocharger housing is actually the water pump) using styrene rod for the tubes, and punched out discs and stretched sprue as caps for both fillers:

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The rear of the distributor drive shaft should socket into the distributor on the firewall, so I drilled that out so it would. The right side (of the photo) of the firewall has an oil reservoir and the filler tube and cap were molded to the firewall. For the body of the reservoir, that was okay. I redid the filler tube and cap using scrap styrene rod before using .015″ (.381mm) solder as the oil feed line and standard aluminum foil as the hold-downs for the oil line. The molded-on line on the right side below the oil tank will be removed later (“later” often means with me that I just overlooked it or, more likely, forgot). The left side of the firewall has the pulley and tensioner for the tachometer drive belt. As molded they were unacceptable, and since they will be foremost in the vision of the viewer, they needed to be fixed. I used a tap/die to punch out the discs (.040″ or 1.016mm) for the body of the pulley and the flanges were .010″ (.254mm) and stuck on a Grandt Line nut/bolt of what looked like the correct size. A note about the clear disc. When I have to align a disc to something and using opaque styrene would make that more difficult, I use clear instead. It makes alignment so much easier and once painted nobody can see that it’s clear. I used clear styrene of the same thickness on the part below the pulley, which is the tensioner arm, pivot, and belt bogey along with more Grandt Line nuts/bolts:


When I had the distributor cut away from the instrument panel, I drilled out the eight holes for the spark plug wires using .015″ (.381mm) solder for the wires and added them. Once they were glued in place (superglue), I glued the distributor back in place. On the left bottom side of the cockpit (as viewed from the cockpit), there is an arm for an oil-replenishment pump that the kit didn’t allow for. I carefully scribed a slot for the arm to fit into, then used scrap styrene to make the grips for it (it’s below the instrument panel and to the left). There is also an arm that allows the driver to retard the spark for easier starts, then advance it once the engine is running. I used .005″ (.127mm) copper shim stock to replicate it. I’ll add the oil pump arm once the instrument panel is ready for paint and installation (who knows…maybe I won’t break it off a couple of dozen times) (yeah, right):

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I glued the instrument panel to the firewall and then dry-fit them, the engine, and seat to the frame to see how fit was looking. Not too badly:

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Before I went any further, I wanted to remove the erroneous switches on the left side of the instrument panel and replace it with the “clock”. I used an .010″ (.254mm) ring I’d punched out for a different build without using, and a disc of .005″ (.127mm) as the clock’s face. Once under paint, I’ll use a VERY sharp pencil to draw in the lines and probably very thin sprue as the clock’s hands (the assembly was taped to the cutting mat so that I could stop chasing it all over the place). I will probably treat the other instruments with the paint/pencil regime:

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I started detailing the supercharger next. At the top of the supercharger in the photo immediately below is the manifold for the pressure-relief tube. It was molded solid so I drilled that out. At the bottom of the supercharger is the intake and carburetor, the intake of which also had to be drilled out. Then I started adding more Grandt Line nuts/bolts where these manifolds were attached as well as lightly scribing the separations between the manifolds as well as adding .015″ (.381mm) solder for the fuel line:

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There will be more work on this part, including the throttle linkage (that’s going to be like giving a gnat a Price Albert, assuming gnats had johnsons).

At the top front of the engine head is an elbow fitting where the oil line from the oil reservoir mounts, replicated with small styrene rod scraps:

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On the actual car, the transmission is right there next to people’s legs. I’ve read that it got HOT. The reason I stated earlier that I suspect the engineers had looked at a post-period modified car was because it appears as if a “thermal blanket” was molded in place around where the transmission would go:

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The whole section in front of the seat has to come off. That leaves me with nothing much to put there so I have to scratch-build the transmission. I was off to a roaring great start before I realized I was copying the wrong variant! Well, there’s another addition to my scrap styrene stock… I made a block of Aves AepoxySculpt and started whittling away at it:



At this point I hit my first major snag. The front of this part has to fit over the engine’s bell-housing yet still fit inside the cockpit properly. This epoxy putty is great stuff and has lots of uses…and this ain’t one of them. I have to thin the sides out so much that they’ll become too thin to withstand the forces even a sharp knife produce. They’ll just snap off. I considered using my nifty Buffalo Model #15 electric dental drill but the same limitation applies. I need the sides to be about .020″ (.508mm) thin. If you want to see where that took me, you can click on this link: Old Dog, New Tricks, and 3D Printing

It could be quite some time before I get back to this build, as perhaps you’ll understand after clicking that link and reading what you find there.

Old Dog, New Tricks, and 3D Printing

It seems I’ve been dragged to the Dark Side…3D printing. I’m approaching this new endeavor with all the grace and maturity that I’m known for. In other words, kicking, screaming, snot running from my nose, and my ear wax melting combined with a side-order of bitching VERY LOUDLY at any of my long-suffering friends who’ll sit still long enough (defined…by me, of course…as five seconds). So those of you who think 3D printing is the best thing since chimneys and indoor plumbing are probably wondering why I’m being so mature about it. Glad you asked. (Even though you probably haven’t…you’ve come here so you’re just being subjected to the unasked answer.)

I know that being 71 doesn’t strike those of you who are over that age as being all that old. That’s not how it feels from behind blue eyes (mine…when they’re not purple, which is the combination of blue and red). I feel old. Also, none of my immediate family, Father, Mother, or Sister made it this far. Father…three days short of his 50th birthday. Mother…60. Sister…54. My genetic inheritance isn’t especially long lived (with the occasional exception of the odd one out on both sides who just won’t die much before 90…I’m hoping to fall into that category but that’s not something one can count on). So I (like every one of you reading this as well as those who have no idea “this” exists at all) have no idea when They’re going to take our timecard out of the rack. I certainly know that each day we wake up is one day closer to our final blink. So given my genetic inheritance, I have less than no idea when The Day arrives when I turn in my timecard. All that said…

Okay, so I spent a few hours realizing that filament printers produce too coarse a product for me. Resin printers, however, seem to be the ticket. Well, hell…that was the easy part. The difficult part is waiting until I’ve paid off the chimney repair (caught it before it collapsed, which it was about to), the plumbing (I could write a post on those lovely events…and please note the plurality of that statement), impending maintenance costs of the car I drive as infrequently as possible, and of course the increasing costs of anything with a price tag. At the rate that’s going, I could afford one sometime around late spring or early summer (I’m looking at Elegoo’s Mars 2). Like I said…that’s the easy part. Here comes the difficult part and part of my reason for resisting 3D printing as long as I have.

All the software necessary to produce a file that can be printed that I have to learn. At present, and who knows what else is going to be needed that I don’t know about, I have three different programs that the file has to go through to be usable:

                Blender: This is where the object is designed

                Meshmixer: This is where the Blender file gets tweaked so it’s possible to print

                Chitubox: Where the file is tweaked and produced in printable form

Any of you who use, have used, or tried to use Blender know it’s a profoundly complex program that can do amazing things. You also know WHAT A STONE BITCH IT IS TO LEARN. Whereas I’m not a Luddite, I can see them from where I sit…and it’s close.

So why, after all this carping and bitching, am I even considering spending (but hopefully no wasting…I used my 20s for that) the time with it. What I’m working on now has shown me that to get what I want, let me emphasize that, to get what I want, it seems to be necessary.

I read a post from Joe, the person who runs Tiger Model Designs, about a modeler claiming his 3D printed model was scratch-built. I concur with his point in that no…it’s not. The computer and the printer did the work, the modeler did the design. Okay, yeah, sure. I can hear y’all saying, “Hey! Welcome to the 21st Century!” (Or maybe y’all aren’t saying that, it’s always possible it’s the voices in my head.) (And I’m certainly glad I’ve elevated ignoring advice to an Olympic-grade artform…and so are the people I haven’t…well, never mind that part.)

I have to learn to use (to a functional extent, anyway) all three programs just to print out a part that’s this tiny:


And while I’m in the kicking-and-screaming mode, let’s do the math to make this whole endeavor even more palatable…

If I could buy that part it might cost me $5. The model itself cost me about $40. Thankfully the software(s) required to print it were all free, but the printer costs about $450 before shipping.

For a $5 part.

Yeah, yeah…you’re right. Once I have the Infernal Device, I’m sure I’ll find other uses for it and there are models in the cache I intend on building that might also benefit from adding another skill to my set of them. But I don’t know that. (What I am doing is finding reasons NOT to go to the Dark Side…and I seem to be failing with that.)

For years I’ve been playing around with SketchUp in its various versions. For something like 15+ years. I already taught myself how to use that software! This is the design (for my present build, the transmission for the 1/24 Bugatti Type 35B) I did with SketchUp:

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From start to finish, it took me about nine hours. I was able to use a version of SketchUp that claimed to be able to produce the .stl file of that that the printer requires. I even believed it. (Naïve at my age…go figure.) Then I loaded it into Meshmixer. After more time diddling with it than the design took to produce I discovered that no…the “.stl” file SketchUp produced is NOT printable. That’s why I’m going down the Blender hole.

Blender. NOT INTUITIVE FOR BEGINNERS. I have already spent more time watching the tutorial YouTube video on how to use the fornicating program than I wanted to (and taking copious notes in Word so that “ctrl-f” will enable me to find what I’m looking for in these copious notes). I’m about 20 minutes into a video that’s almost an hour-and-a-half long. It’s the first video. There’s a second one for more advanced stuff that’s even longer. And while I’m watching and taking notes, how much actual building is going on?

Zero. None. Nothing.

Time, that commodity I’m running out of, passes. I really hope I can learn all these new tricks before I do, too.

Major Edit

No relation to Captain Obvious. That said…

I’m shelving the entire notion of 3D printing of any sort. I took that little lump of cured epoxy putty that was vaguely similar to the transmission I want for the 1927 Bugatti Type 35B I’m doing and made the sodding transmission. (You’ll see how it turned out in my next post in a couple of weeks.) Jeez…for all the fluff ‘n’ cluck I went through about 3D printing, wringing my hands over 3D printing, trying to learn the first (of three) suites of software to 3D print, I decided to get both my Big Boy Panties ™ and my training bra out of the laundry. I put the BBP on and nestled my man boobs into the training bra (less to nestle after losing 20 pounds…so far, I ain’t done yet) and just did what a modeler is supposed to do. Buy what they want and make what they can’t buy to get the results they want.

Bloody, buggering, hell…

M3 Lee (MiniArt) #3 – Small Parts Get Added and My Tolerance is Reached and This Build Gets Benched for Now

The next item added to the engine is the ignition wiring loom. The kit didn’t make provisions for adding the ignition wires so I had to. The first part of that is getting the loom nestled into place and then using a fine Sharpie to mark where the wiring would break out of the loom (as an aside, most permanent marker marks can be removed with denatured alcohol unless the surface is porous):

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Then I used .035″ (.890mm) styrene rod as the break out points:

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The wiring loom was painted and the major engine parts glued in place. While the paint was drying (Tamiya TS-6 Matt Black) (no relation to Jack Black, thankfully…he annoys me), I drilled out sockets in the break outs .010″ (.254mm) to accept copper wires. I added lead foil to the exhaust manifolds to replicate the mounting brackets. Wear, chips, and basic color were added with a Prismacolor Argent (silver) #PC949 pencil (this is quickly becoming my go-to tool for subtle wear and precision chipping):

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Before I could begin painting the engine bay, I wanted to see where the light would fall and where the shadows would be. Since much of that space is filled by the engine (go figure), I dry-fit the engine into its place. With it in there, I very lightly delineated where the light would “pool” using very light touches of a white pencil:

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It was while I was trying to dry-fit the hull parts to act as light blocks that I noticed they didn’t fit correctly. In order for the fit to be less off, I had to break loose the right side of the hull and reposition it slightly. In the photo below, almost centered under the square opening for the pistol port you can see the light color where the panel had originally be glued. It took three clamps to get things to stay in position long enough for the glue to set up:

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Yeah…three clamps:

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While that sat, I decided to start assembling the parts for the sponson-mounted 75mm main gun. Though the barrel was slide-molded, the bore wasn’t centered well:

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I chucked the barrel into my lathe and carefully worked the outside of the muzzle so it was less obviously off center:

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Not thrilling but it’s about the best I can get. (Reminds me of my love-life.) (OLD memories, unfortunately.)

There were more “not thrilling” observations about to be made. Once I removed all the clamps and started checking fit on hull panels is when I realized that they’re not fitting well at all. Is it possible that I made a mistake when I glued up the sides of the lower hull? It’s always possible I made a mistake. (More reminders of my love-life.) (Actually, of my life in general.) In going over the hull closely, I can see no place(s) where I did (which doesn’t mean I didn’t, just that right now I can’t see them). But for whatever reason, not fitting is not fitting…and not remotely pleasing.

I sat there for several hours spread over several days before I finally realized that I didn’t want to fiddle with this thing’s fit right now. I am NOT good at trying to do what I do not want to do and since this thing is styrene, there is a limit to how much rough handling it can withstand (visions of hammers danced through my mind…big, steel, hammers).

Right. Everything got bagged, stuffed back into the box, and put back on the shelf. I don’t always bail out on a build but when I do, I always bail out for a reason. I have a temper and no temper is a “good one.” I reached this point doing the P-51 build, set it aside, came back several years later, and ended up with a nice build. I intend on the same thing happening with the M3 Lee. Later.

The Monsters

I encountered the phrase I used for this post’s title a year or so ago and when I discovered what it referred to, I thought, “My, how incredibly polite!” A Monster is one of those kits from the long-ago 60s and 70s.

Standards were so much different back then. It was a rare kit I couldn’t complete in one sitting (sure do wish I had a dollar for each glue fingerprint I left on them!). If I remember correctly (saying I remember anything at all, regardless of accuracy, is rather like trying to carry water in a colander), the first kit I built was back in the early to mid 50s (when I was something like four or five). It was a Grumman Panther F9F molded in dark blue, the pilot was part of each fuselage half; there was no cockpit. I don’t remember how many times I glued myself to it. It was easy to see where the decals went, that place was outlined by raised lines! But that glue-bomb started me on the builder path.

Standards were SO much different back then. When I decided that maybe painting the “model” would hide fingerprints forever embedded into the plastic by glue (Testors tube type), I bought nylon brushes and (also Testors) paint that came in square bottles. (My painting skill was substantially less than my gluing skill.) (And yes, it is possible to have something in the physical world that has a value of less than zero.) But accuracy? Does not compute. Fit? I thought that was something someone had which didn’t figure into things. They were build-them-yourself toys. The best ones had the most working features. Canopies that slid, landing gear that went up and down, you get the picture… They were played with until they broke (fix something?! You can do that?) and then out came the BB gun.

Model display was never an issue back then. Sweeping up plastic fragments didn’t require display space.

Life took me as it has taken so many others (all?) down unintended paths, and one of the major lessons from those paths was that “Time” really is a four-letter word! Puberty hit me, books took me many amazing places, then I got my driver’s license, then I learned how to drive, and then Vietnam loomed in everyone’s mind, and (amazingly) I found myself in my late 30s. (“Found” is relative, of course.) I had an itch to make something. Being more broke than I was dumb, I fell back on my childhood favorite, assembling models. I assembled Tamiya’s venerable M3 Lee. I used rattle-cans (Testors, of course) and ended up with something that didn’t look half bad (and no glue-immortalized fingerprints). The decals looked like crap, of course, because I didn’t know to use the clear gloss trick. And here’s when The Hook got jammed down into my gills.

“What’s behind those big side doors?”

And that all led to here. The Monsters.

IF there is a golden age of modeling, it has to be now. So many kits of SO MANY things, aftermarket bits (regardless of what your take on them is), ACCESS TO ONLINE REFERENCES. Not having to buy a $35 book to build a less inaccurate $20 model? Worldwide access to everything a modeler could want!

I dove back in after my brief involvement in the late 80s. Oh my freakin’ GAWD! CAD/CAM dies!! Fit that fit. Accuracy, more advanced finishes, you know the list. You probably use them daily. I loved (and continue to love) the fit of the new kits (even the ones that have reputations, usually deserved, for fit problems, because those STILL offer a universe-sized better fit than those Monsters), and all the tools!

And then I remembered how fondly I recalled some kits from my yout’. I was surprised to discover I could still get my hands on some of them! Maybe it really is Evilbay, but eBay (and my checkbook) has done me solid service enabling me to revisit a dimly recalled series of events through glasses a lot more red than mere rose-colored. Yep…this far off the map, there do indeed be Monsters.

But if someone really wants a B-24D in 1/48 scale, where’s the kit for it? Right. Monogram, mid 70s. Right. Fit, mid 70s. And these are the less toothsome of said monsters. But where else can I get that kit? Right. Monogram it is. And for that time, those 1/48 kits Monogram did of the B-17s, B-25s, C-47s, and so on, were not bad kits. That was the standard of the day, a standard that I suspect was because the dies were not cut with the computer precision of a computer. All those dies were cut by people. Yeah…the fuselage really had to be that thick because “that thick” wasn’t “that thick” back then. There was even thicker. So the Monogram kits didn’t look like monsters (and aren’t those the most dangerous monsters? The ones that don’t look like monsters?).

I have a few fairly well built recent kits. If I did that B-24D to the potential of the kit, I wouldn’t be at all happy with it. I certainly would not be comfortable displaying it next to modern kits. And that’s when the hook stuck in my gills thirty-some-odd years back tugged hard.

“Okay, so I fix it. All of it.”

Right. That’s why I spent 975 hours on the Testors SR-71. I had to fix all of it…and there was a lot to fix.

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A Monster, is what it was. I think a good definition for Monster is the kit that is, out of the box, only good as a BB gun target. Anything more than that, as in, a decent replica of the Real Thing, requires a lot of time and a lot of work. It’s daunting to even consider!

A banquet is pretty daunting to consider, too. “You want me to eat how much?!” Well, one bite at a time ain’t all that hard.

We all pretty much establish our building order. When I do an aircraft I usually start in the cockpit. However, in Life, when I have a multi-staged task, and the Blackbird was definitely a multi-staged task, I start with the most difficult aspect first if possible. The beginning of a project is when my enthusiasm is highest (a scary thing, I’m told) and frustration free. With the Blackbird, that was the nose landing gear bay and landing gear. It all had to be scratch-built. (Other options have since presented themselves commercially.) When looking at reference photos, I was again daunted. And again, I reminded myself (talk about the blind leading the blind) of a banquet and started taking small bites at it.

This kit is a Monster. There were two and a half years (I’m not a fast builder. All I can do quickly anymore is gain weight) of small bites, and there were a couple of large bites for added frisson. Eventually I achieved what I wanted and wasn’t displeased with the overall results. And it was a MONSTER that consumed hundreds of hours and two and a half years.

The worst monster was the Gemini capsule. So much so that if you’re interested, go check the after-action report on it. I ain’t gonna talk about it.

There’s something else that Monsters are good at. Teaching you to build. The engineers who created this kit won’t be there to help you…they weren’t there to help you, that’s what makes a Monster. You have to identify the problem (easy to do, as it’s a main trait of Monsters…problems). The obvious next step is to figure out (teach yourself) how to fix the problem. (Do that enough times and you could end up being pretty good at this hobby.) Often the problem isn’t that difficult to fix when looked at. This part sticks out here, that part shouldn’t be hollow, and a lip is missing from that edge. So you take it off, fill it in, and add it. Under paint, nobody will know. Don’t let that thing scare you. If you so totally screw it up, toss it and start another one. Having solved a problem often leads us to the next one, which gets dealt with in the same manner. When I started the Blackbird, I SUCKED at scribing panel lines. The kit was all raised lines and its overall length is just over 27″ (685.8mm). That’s a lot of panel lines and most of them had to be rescribed frequently due to sanding or other work. I no longer suck at scribing panel lines.

And that is the real reason to build a Monster. (That, and the hook still stuck in my gills.)

MiniArt #35321 Continental R975 Radial Tank Engine Review

MiniArt R975


Once upon a time, if a modeler wanted to add an engine to an M4, M4A1, M18, etc., the only aftermarket set I could find was produced by Tank Workshop (TWS). As with all things, time brings changes. TWS is up for sale (last I checked, dunno if it’s been sold) and isn’t (or wasn’t) answering emails regarding acquiring any of their items. So that source for the Continental R975 has dried up.

During my build of MiniArt’s #35206 M3 Lee Early Production (with full interior, including an engine and engine bay), the engine parts impressed me. I thought it would be a grand idea if MiniArt produced a stand-alone kit of just the engine. Then it occurred to me to check their website and check…and YES THEY DO! It was released in 2019.

I have a few more Shermans in queue and there are Tamiya’s #35190 Early Production M4, and a couple of M4A1s (both Asuka). I haven’t tossed the coin yet to see which of the three I’ll add an engine to, but thanks to MiniArt, now I can! (And yes…one of their R975s are on the way). The R975 kit #35321 has the same sprue layout as the engine provided for the M3Lee kit. I’m reviewing the M3’s engine as it’s the same as the R975 kit.

The engine parts are on four frets. The parts are nicely (and as you’ll see shortly, almost too nicely) molded showing excellent and comprehensive detail. The reason I say “almost too nicely” is because the kit also supplies oil, fuel, and an air-bleed line and they are very finely molded, AKA very thin. As they were packaged in the kit, insufficient care was taken to keep almost every of those very thin lines from breaking (all the parts were packed in the same cellophane bag). If you get this engine kit, before you remove any of these parts from their sprues, check closely to see if any of them have broken. It’s so much easier to glue the broken lines back together while they’re still on sprues, if only because gluing them on the sprues maintains their alignment(s). Hopefully MiniArt will package these fragile parts better in the stand-alone kit than they did in the M3 kit. DON’T use nippers to remove them from the sprues or you will break them. I used a very thin razor saw (RB Products) to remove the parts from the sprues.

The engine set supplies any part I could think of, mostly, including the wiring loom ring (if you want to add spark plug wires, you’ll need to add the stubs where they emerge from the wiring loom ring as they are not molded on. I used .025″ (.635mm) styrene rod to replicate them and to mount the individual plug wires, I drilled out the ends of the stubs using a .016″ (a hair larger than .381mm) so that I could use .010″ (.254mm) solder as the individual plug wires. They also supply both early (for M3s) and later (for M4s) air intake trunks and exhaust manifolds.

Fit is good but requires patience to add a few parts. When adding the rocker arm covers, one part (Dn3) has a line that connects it to the adjacent rocker arm cover (Dn2). Glue the Dn2 part in place first! The line that connects the rocker arm covers is very thin and seeks any opportunity to break off. By gluing Dn2 in place first, when you add Dn3, you will not only have support on both ends of that line, it lessens (and of course never removes) the chances to snag it on an errant finger and snapping it off. You will need to diddle these rocker arm parts a bit once they’re glued on to achieve a good fit:

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The paint call-out would have you paint the crankcase gray. Don’t bother. Once the shroud, clutch,  front engine mount (the crossbar), and fan are in place, it’s impossible notice it no matter what color you  paint it:

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Overall, the fit is very good. Yes, you’ll need to diddle the rocker arm covers for a better fit, but it’s not difficult to do.

The exhaust manifolds require care to mount correctly. DRY FIT FREQUENTLY so that you have them aligned correctly and attached where they should be. On the actual engine, the manifolds have what look like sheet metal brackets that support the manifolds once in place and the kit doesn’t supply them or attempt to replicate them. I used lead foil to replicate them.

There are a few other parts you need to add if you’re after a really detailed engine. You’ll need to add the end of the throttle linkage to the carburetor (a small piece of wire, nothing involved as most of the throttle linkage lives under the engine and can’t be seen) and a fuel line to the fuel pump (again, I resorted to .010″ (.254mm) solder for that).

As of this writing, I haven’t completed the engine. Before I can add the generators, carburetor, and fuel pump, I have to add the rear engine mount. I’ve dry-fitted the remaining parts I have to add and the “very  good fit” continues with them. (You can go to “Behind the Scenes” to see how final assembly and installation into theM3 works out.) (Later…once I’ve gotten to it.)

I am very pleased with how this engine went together and even more pleased at the accurate representation of the R975 engine. Yes…there are some bits you could add. I mentioned the stubs on the ignition wire loom. There are also the throttle linkage to add and the fuel line where it attaches to the fuel pump. The linkage can easily be done with a short piece of straight wire as most of the throttle linkage lives under the engine and can’t be seen. The fuel line I did using .010″ (.254mm) solder after drilling out a hole in the fuel pump to socket it into. Doing both aren’t particularly difficult.

All said, it builds into a nice engine without too much difficulty and the results are definitely worth the effort, time, and cost. If you want to build a track that used the Continental engine, this is the answer. Heartily recommended!

M3 Lee (MiniArt) Build #2 – Whereupon I Get Back to the Workbench, Engine Parts Get Painted and Some Assembled

I had to go out of town at the beginning of June so I’d spent some dedicated time at the bench so that I would be ready to get back to work when I got back. Yeah, well, that didn’t exactly happen. What exactly happened was that I got back okay, and then did nothing worth noting for the rest of June, all of July and August, and just a wee bit in September (which is what comprises this post).

I picked up a couple of sets of Master-Model’s M1919A .30 caliber (7.62mm) barrels (two per set) part number GM-35-004, which are the earlier two-piece conical muzzle version. Whenever I do armor models that have machine gun barrels hanging out in the breeze, I use Master-Model’s product. They’re fantastic. As usual, I used Birchwood Casey’s Brass Blackening compound to darken them. I let them soak in the solution for an hour or so and took them out. They’re covered in something that looks like soot, but once that soot is buffed off, one ends up with these:

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Having already assembled some of the lower hull and interior, I hit the assembly with Tamiya’s XF-1 Flat Black. This is my pre-shading coat. Then I added the sides of the hull, the differential cover (there’s a gap where the gear covers meet the differential covers that should not be there, as the parts were cast as a single unit, so I used the white acrylic putty to close those gaps) and final drive covers (one on each side where the sprocket wheels attaches), and the bulkhead between the crew compartment and the engine bay (I also added a number of parts that will also be done in preshaded white). In my last post I warned that parts Db3 (of which there are two) should be added later than the directions call for. Parts Db3 are easily seen in the following photo because the replacements for the kit parts that snapped off and vanished are the only white parts (I used styrene rod) in the photo (I don’t count the acrylic putty as a “part”):


Some of the interior parts that were preshaded were then painted. The breech blocks were painted Humbrol Steel #27003, and everything else was painted Tamiya XF-62 Olive Drab (3 parts) and scale-color-corrected with Tamiya XF-2 Flat White (1 part). The radio is in the upper left, below that are .30 caliber (7.62mm) ammunition cans, a 5 gallon (18.93L) gas can and its handle, the auxiliary power unit (APU) at the bottom left, the 75mm cannon and the 37mm cannon to the right:


Next up I started cleaning up the parts (some very small and very delicate parts) for the engine. As I performed that task, I started dry-fitting things check for fit (pretty good) and then decided that I might as well start putting some of the engine assembly together:

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A suggestion when you (if you) start building either this kit or use MiniArt’s engine set for something else. Small and delicate parts can be (frequently) a tedious hassle. In assembling the rocker arm covers, I realized that one method of construction was (relatively) easy and would help support the DELICATE section that connects one rocker arm cover to the next. Part Dn2 should be added before part Dn3. This way having Dn2 already in position not only keeps the small section of Dn3 that connects the two parts supported, assembling in this order will help reduce the chance that this small section will be caught by an errant finger and sent flying, thereby ensuring that one spends a stupid amount of time trying to find such a small part (yes…speaking from experience) (and yes, the photo of the plastic part and the printed instruction don’t match…I flipped the part over, took the photo, and am just too sodding lazy to re-shoot the photo):

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Once I had all the rocker arm covers glued in place, I dry-fit the engine parts on one side to see just how much could be seen once all the parts were glued on. Short answer, very few:

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So once the parts are painted, using Tamiya’s rattle can lacquer AS-6 Matt Black, no details need be added (this is the side of the engine closest to the bulkhead between the engine bay and the crew compartment), and dry-brushing edges (or, more likely, using a silver colored pencil to do that) will be minimal and limited to the sections of the cooling fan and shroud at the top. The crankcase, which is the conical shape in the center of the engine, is supposed to be gray. As you can see, I could paint it paisley and NObody would see it anyway, so it stays black:

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I had considered using Tamiya XF-1 Flat black for the engine cylinders and heads and cooling fan but so little will be seen once this is placed into the engine bay that there’s no point to doing that. (I also like the AS-6 Matt Black because it’s more satin than matt and certainly more scale (to my eye) than the semi-gloss which appears to me to be far too shiny.

And that’s it for this update. Perhaps my sloth will now subside and next month’s post will be chock full of Modeling Glory ™ and clever repartee.


M3 Lee (MiniArt) Build #1 – Parts Layout and Getting Started

I’ve been wanting to build a model of the M3 Lee since I saw the Bogart movie, “Sahara,” when I was a kid (like thousands of others, no doubt). I had intended on using the Academy kit because it had an interior, but dealing with other Academy kits made me think that I was going to have to do some updating and changing to get the interior details a little less soft than I’ve found Academy’s kits to offer. To my delighted surprise, I found this gem:

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Not only does it come with an interior, it also has an engine and engine bay! I hadn’t even considered doing the engine on an M3 but now…

I was favorably impressed upon opening the box. The parts (LOTS OF THEM) are molded in gray styrene and are all packaged in one of what feels like a cellophane bag. The packaging leaves a bit to be desired, cramming everything into one bag (except for clear parts and decals, which are in one little bag with the clear parts fret and the PE parts which are packaged in a cardboard packet which protects them nicely). Opening the bag shows that some very small parts, some from the tracks, one that looks like a small engine part, had already broken off the frets. I fished them out of the bag and put them in a small container figuring that eventually I’d go looking for a part, not find it on the sprue and know I didn’t remove it, which would then send me to the little container (I wouldn’t have to wait all that long).

If you look at the back pages of the instructions, there are paint/decal diagrams for three Russian M3s, two captured Wehrmacht M3s, two US M3s , and one Canadian tank. When you look at the decals, you’ll see there are early US markings included:

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I prefer to get the tedious and/or odious tasks out of the way first. When it comes to individual track links, that’s generally the tedious task I start with.

::clears throat meaningfully::

I don’t know who engineered these tracks to go together this way. The copyright date of the kit is 2019 so this is a recent, current, MODERN, kit. Simple, effective, ways have been figured out how to assemble 79 track shoes and two track guides per shoe years ago. MiniArt decided to ignore all that.

Tracks. Lots of parts for tracks. The body of each link is molded in halves and the end connectors have the pins molded to them which in turn fit inside each link. I know many people don’t like individual track links, I’m one who does like them. What I don’t like at all was how MiniArt engineered the tracks to assemble. HATE IT. Instead, I’m using tracks from Panda. I used a set of Panda’s tracks on my M4A3 75 ( W ) Sherman which were easy to assemble… Since the M4 Sherman was based on the M3 Lee, I expected that these tracks will fit, assuming that MiniArt nailed the scale.  The Panda tracks that arrived are just as nice as the ones I used on my M4A3 build. They also fit the kit’s drive sprocket as if they were made specifically made for them. Panda doesn’t offer the T48 tracks, which were reversible once one side had worn down too far. What they do offer are the T51 tracks, which were thicker on the outside and not reversible. Yes, if you look closely at the tracks and know the difference, it’s evident. Otherwise they’re indistinguishable from the T48 track shoes. Yes, there are a total of 162 track shoes and since there are two track links per shoe, that comes out to 324 links. And yes, there’s a lot of tedious work to cut each shoe and each link from the fret and then remove the sprue attachment points, two per shoe and link. However, unlike MiniArt’s tracks, once the minimal seams and all sprue attachment points are cleaned up, they go together easily and (unlike Bronco’s tracks) they stay together. I modified the inner edges of the rubber blocks that will wrap around the sprocket and idler wheels by filing the edges round so that they would wrap around the sprocket and idler wheels tighter (the same as I did with the Sherman M4A3):


Each bogie has its own fret which contains all the parts to assemble one complete bogie. Road wheels are on separate frets.

The engine seems to be quite complete and superbly detailed. I won’t know how all the parts fit (and there are a lot of engine parts) until assembly time. The engine seems to be a kit of its own and I hope it’s available as a separate kit. [It is, kit #35321!] At present, the only other R975 engine available is Tank Workshop’s resin AM set and“available” is a relative term. The business is up for sale and the owner has stopped answering emails so “available” doesn’t mean much at this point (unfortunate…I liked his line of products and customer service). Just looking at MiniArt’s engine shows me that it’s a MUCH better representation. Comparing the two isn’t fair to TWS’s effort. A modern corporation had better produce something better than a cottage-industry offering! From my initial inspection, it would be a shame (bordering on criminal) to build this model in such a manner as to hide the engine; this thing begs to be displayed…and I will build it in such a manner that it can be. It appears to be sufficiently detailed that if someone wanted to hang the engine from a chain outside the tank, it wouldn’t require much more than the base, a hoist, and chain.

Looking over the other frets (and there are a lot of them, too…this thing has a high parts count!), I’m generally impressed with details molded onto the parts and for provisions for detailing parts that would be too difficult to mold as one part. (Protectoscopes are too often rudimentarily detailed in other kits, not so this time!)

And while speaking of frets right after the engine parts, a bit of a warning. If you’re doing this kit, be prepared to have most of the very fine lines supplied with the engine set break. No…I’m not talking about breaking them during the process of removing them from the fret. I’m talking about them breaking off the fret in the bag before you get to them…or even open the bag. ALL the frets are packed in one large bag (that feels more like cellophane than plastic) and boxes get tossed around during shipping. Of eight very delicate lines (probably oil lines), which were very nicely done, seven of them had broken. I found one of the parts inside the cellophane bag when I (carefully) removed the frets from it. It was in the bag totally broken off of the part it should have stayed attached to, as were a few other parts as yet unidentified whose location(s) I have yet to find. The rest of the broken engine lines were at least still attached which simplified gluing…just align the broken ends and a light touch with the glue brush does it.

If the fit is decent, this kit could build into a very impressive rendition of an early M3, once the errant belly hatch is closed over; early Lees didn’t have them (MiniArt provides a plug for the hatch hole):

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The Academy kit (also in my stash) suffers in comparison.

Construction begins by assembling the lower hull bottom and all the pieces that comprise the interior. My initial intention was to follow the kit’s directions, as I’ve never done a MiniArt kit before. That notion didn’t last past step one (page 6), when I started assembling the interior parts. Most of the interior is painted white as usual. There are details that get painted other colors. Without even being very conscious of it (probably in the morning…all I’m conscious of is the location of caffeine and the state of my bladder in the morning) I just departed from the instructions. The interior of this tank seems to have been full of stuff. I wanted to get as much of the interior that gets painted white assembled as I could. I’m not certain at this point how much of that I can do (well, I can do it, it’s just the order of assembly that’s uncertain).

Speaking of directions, before I go any further, a warning.

Attach parts Db3 (there are two) AFTER you’re completely done adding the interior parts. Otherwise you will get the repeated opportunity to break them off, crawl around on your workspace floor looking for them, and then reattaching them. A LOT.

Having that warning out of the way, the first thing I started with was the transmission. Then I did the raised floor sections that go on either side of the transmission, the control levers, the driveshaft cover, and glued the escape hatch plug in:

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Then I attached the rear of the hull bottom to the front of the hull bottom. Once I made sure that the bottom was level and straight, I set the assembly aside overnight so that I had a solid assembly to start populating with lots of delicate parts. The following day I finished puttying the hatch plug to invisibility, added the driveshaft cover, then used the driveshaft cover to help me align the transmission/differential assembly:

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Be careful when assembling, particularly when attaching the transmission/differential housing to the front edge of the hull bottom. Actually, be careful when attaching the transmission to the differential housing! The vertical face of the transmission should be perpendicular to the underside of the differential housing and that can be a little difficult to see. When that assembly is attached to the lower hull bottom, the underside of the differential housing (one of several parts with a nicely rough surface texture) should extend straight out from the hull bottom.

Also be very careful when detaching and cleaning up attachment points for the many control rods that comprise the driver’s position. I snapped pretty much all of them and I was careful (clearly just not enough…it appears that my razor saw is going to get a workout!). The steering levers can also be a bit of a pain. I broke one, fixed it, and when adding them realized that I should have glued them to their attachment points much later in the construction sequence (like just when their subassemblies were being glued to the floor). I had to snap one off so that both levers were installed at the same angle (thankfully, the raised floor sections in the driver’s position hid the minor surgery).

Also difficult to see is the exact attachment point of part C17. There is a ridge on top of the driveshaft cover. The shorter side of C17 should attach with that ridge inside C17. Sometimes the exact placement of a part can be difficult to ascertain; look at later images because they will often be quite helpful about where parts earlier in the recommended sequence go. (Thankfully MiniArt’s directions will show all the previously installed parts and their locations, unlike some manufacturers who shall remain unnamed [Bronco]. Oops…that just slipped out. I’m so embarrassed.) In the following photos, the driver’s seat is just set in place for illustration:

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Things inside needed to be painted, detailed, etc., before the outside(s) go together. I’m at that point where getting things ready to paint is what’s driving the build. There is, of course, flat white. There is also OD Green, steel, leather, flat black (both for pre-shading and coloring parts), and rubber black. (And while all that goes together and ultimately gets painted, I really like the details provided by the kit, particularly the 75mm breech!):

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The turret basket on the right in the above photo is for the top turret and was comprised of three pieces. Since what’s driving the build at this point is getting things ready to paint for the interior, I wanted to do that as well.

And there are more interior parts…


M3 Lee – A Brief Overview

The M3 Lee is the tank that it seems history has, if not forgotten, not been much interested in. Given its place in history, its descendant, the M4 Sherman, gets all the press. That’s a pity because without the M3 Lee, the M4 would not have been the tank it was…for better (mostly) or worse (yeah…that profile).

It’s not a new observation to state that the US was not at all prepared to fight WWII at the start of 1940. During the interwar years from the end of the Great War (subsequently termed WWI) and the start of WWII, the world’s economic state after the Great Depression meant that funding for another Continental war (or much else) wasn’t available. The state of America’s military had not advanced a great deal from WWI, particularly in armor. This state was not only technically but doctrinairely as well. Congress did not allocate funds to develop anything called “tanks.” The way military procurement worked around that was to term its armor as “combat cars.” Armored, tracked, and armed vehicles are not “cars,” they’re tanks, to my way of thinking but it’s obvious that Congress was clueless back then as well as today. The M1 and M2 series of tanks weren’t very good tanks, and they were very small tanks, but that’s what the US Army had so that’s what they worked with (as the war seemed more immanent, to train against medium tanks it was cheaper and easier to paint a big “M” on the side of the “combat cars” and treat them as if they were medium tanks).

Doctrine also affected the design of these tanks. Nobody was aware of the impending Blitzkrieg (nor was the US aware of Pervitin, which certainly added the “blitz” to the krieg) and the US did not see tanks as a separate tactical branch, subordinating armor to the infantry as it had been during WWI (and in fact had been developed for as evidenced by its trench-busting genesis). According to prevailing doctrine in the 30s, armor was to support infantry (a concept that reversed itself by the end of WWII when infantry supported tanks, particularly with the US Marines in the Pacific Theater).

Even in that role, US armor of the 30s was inadequate. Infantry tanks are best illustrated by Germany’s PzKpfw VI, the Tiger tank. It was heavily armored and mounted the largest gun (until the M26 Pershing, which used a 90mm gun of questionable effectiveness), and Britain’s Matilda. The Matilda’s armor was difficult for Panzer IIIs and short-barreled Panzer IVs to penetrate (everyone had problems with the Tiger’s 88) (even the Wehrmacht, but of a different sort).

Cruiser tanks were intended to operate independently of infantry as mechanized cavalry. Cavalry’s role was to exploit breaches of the enemy’s lines and raise havoc and mayhem behind the enemy’s lines, emphasizing speed and maneuverability over thick armor. Cruiser tanks weren’t expected to withstand incoming fire while moving at a walking (or running, if I’m the infantry) pace. They were less armored than infantry tanks, which allowed them to be faster and more maneuverable.

America didn’t have an infantry tank. (I haven’t seen any evidence that the US Army intended on having infantry tanks.) They had “combat cars,” and when it was decided that something larger than the M1/M2 series of “combat cars” and light tanks, respectively, was needed, Ordinance came up with the M2 Medium. It was armed by one 37mm anti-tank gun in a turret (which was a creditable anti-tank gun in the early to mid-30s and useless against armor by 1941) and machine guns every place they would fit. The M2 Medium also used the vertical volute suspension system and live tracks. What the M1/M2 combat cars/light tanks and M2 all had in common was an aircraft radial engine for motive power. The M1/M2 used a Continental R670 engine rated at 250 hp, the M2A1 Medium used a Continental R975 E2 engine rated at 400 hp. Using an engine originally designed for aircraft, the radial, resulted in a trait shared by both the M3 and M4 tanks. A high profile.

When WWII started, and particularly in the North African campaign, the first US tanks to be committed to action were M3 Stuart light tanks, armed with the 37mm anti-tank gun used in the M2 Medium. (By that time, as an anti-tank gun, the 37mm was useless…armor thickness had passed it by, unless the opponent was Japanese armor.)

The M4 medium tank was in planning stages and problems were encountered with producing a turret large enough for the 69” (175cm) turret ring that could handle the recoil of the new 75mm medium velocity gun. Rather than wait, because who knew how much time would be needed to solve those problems, it was decided to design a better M2 Medium using as many of its parts for the new tank as possible.

The M3 Lee was the result (once again, named by the Brits, probably because there were already enough different types of vehicles running around with an M3 nomenclature, because evidently no one was aware that there were many numbers that could be used, not just “3”). It used the same engine as the M2A1, the Continental R975, as well as the same suspension and track design. The most obvious difference was the 75mm main gun mounted in the right sponson (with limited traverse due to the mount). There was also a small turret on top with the obsolete 37mm gun as well as the Ordinance tradition of adding machine guns any place they would fit. There was a small cupola on top of the small turret with a .30 caliber (7.62mm) M1919A4 machine gun, another .30 caliber (7.62mm) coaxially mounted next to the 37mm, as well as two semi-fixed (adjustable in azimuth only…traverse was adjusted by turning the entire tank) .30 caliber (7.62mm) M1919A4 machine guns in a fixed mount in the bow to the left of the driver. The M3 Medium was a stopgap measure to get something in the field that could toss big enough rocks at the German tanks to discommode them (which it certainly did, leading to the PzKpfw IV being upgunned with a long-barreled, high velocity, 75mm gun). Having a turret on top of the already tall hull combined with its main gun being mounted in the right sponson meant that the M3 Lee couldn’t take advantage of hull-down defilade (fancy word for “hide behind a hill with just the gun poking over it”). Much of the tank was exposed when using terrain as a defensive barrier…meaning that the terrain didn’t provide much defense.

However, 6258 of these stopgap tanks were produced in several different variants. As useful as the M3 Lee, and the later M3 Grant with the larger 37mm turret used by the British, was, its real utility was as a test and development chassis for the impending M4 Medium tank.

With the exception of Ford’s GAA engine used in the M4A3 series of Shermans, every engine used in the Sherman had been installed in an M3 Medium first and bugs and problems were resolved there. Welded armor, which required a different type of steel than riveted armor, was first tested on the M3A2 Medium (12 produced). The M3A3 tested the GM 6-71 diesel engines (322 built). The M3A4 tested the Chrysler A57 Multibank engine (with a stretched hull to accommodate the longer engine, which was the same modification to the M4A4), as well as removing the side doors from the upper hull (109 built).

In addition to engine tests that were incorporated into the M4 Medium line, the M3 Medium was also the initial platform for the M7 (See? Other numbers than 3!) Priest (105mm howitzer Gun Motor Carriage) that saw widespread use (over 4000 encompassing three variants), M12 (155mm Gun Motor Carriage), M31 series of tank recovery vehicles (TRV), and the M33 (developed from the M31TRV with the turret and crane removed) as a Prime Mover tractor for artillery.

It seems that history has treated the M3 Medium more dismissively than it deserved. No, it certainly wasn’t a great tank with thin armor, a high profile, and a main gun with limited traverse due to its mounting in the sponson. But it was what Ordinance could get into the field quickly. It was mechanically reliable and served as one of the evolutionary steps (perhaps even the foundation) that led to the M4 Sherman tanks. At the time of its introduction to combat its 75mm gun was more than adequate (as well as for the first M4/M4A1 Sherman) against the Panzer III and IV.

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M3 Lee

FT17 (Meng) After-Action Report

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Total building time 108 hours

Begin date February 17, 2021 – May 21, 2021



Kit #TS-011 – French Light Tank (Riveted Turret) FT17

E.T. Model

Photo-Etch set #E35-199 French FT-17 Light Tank (Cast Turret)

My opinion

This is my first Meng kit and on the basis of this one, I would try another kit from this manufacturer.

I think they took a shortcut (what a surprise for a corporation!) with this kit. From what I can tell, it’s their TS-008 kit only without the sprues containing the engine parts…and unfortunately some interior parts. If it’s your intention to build this kit with all the hatches closed then the missing parts don’t matter. If you want to model open hatches then you’ll have to flesh out the commander/gunner’s position by doing something for the mine rack and ammo rack, as well as the rear bulkhead of the fighting compartment.

Had the missing interior parts been supplied, this would have been an OOB build. I think I was fortunate in finding the AM PE set that I did, even if it’s for the cast turret variant. What I needed was the mine rack and ammunition rack. There were a few more parts that were nice to have in PE, though I didn’t use everything I could have. PE is very good for some things and not so good for other things.

If you build by following the provided instructions then you shouldn’t have the problems I encountered, which were largely self-inflicted. Figure out a better way than I did to align the sides of the turret and don’t out clever yourself with the gun the way I did. From what I can tell, fit was good and things went together well (unless you out clever yourself, too.)

At 108 hours, it’s the quickest build I’ve done since I started keeping track of time (in 1991). I’m pleased with a model of the first type of tank the US Army used in combat. This model is marked as a tank from the 2nd Platoon, 1st Company, 344th Tank Battalion, 304th Tank Brigade of the US Army (American Expeditionary Forces) as deployed at Verdun, October 1918.

FT17 (Meng) 1/35 Scale

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FT-17 (Meng) Build #4 – The Exterior Gets Paint & Things Really Start Going Together…and Done

Good news. I had absolutely no problem adding dirt and some wear after the hull had been assembled.

The next task was to get the hull ready for paint. Small hull, few openings, easy job:

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Masking the suspension was a little finicky but nothing serious. What was too annoying to mask could be touched up later, as most of those parts would be hidden by the tracks:

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Hull and turret parts were pre-shaded with Tamiya XF-1 Flat Black. The tracks were painted with my custom mix for “gunmetal”, Tamiya X-18 (5 parts) and XF-20 Medium Gray (4 parts):

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For the overall base coat I used Tamiya XF-57 Buff:

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To replicate wear of the tracks’ surface, I used a cotton swab dipped in acrylic thinner to “wear” the surface so that shiny steel showed through. Then I mounted the tracks onto the suspensions, gluing each track shoe to the adjacent shoes as well as to the wheels of the suspension:

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With the base coat down, I copied the camouflage pattern using a soft touch with a standard pencil to define the two added color blocks. I used Tamiya XF-58 Olive Green and XF-64 Red Brown. In adding the camouflage, I departed from my usual method of airbrushing it. The first combat use of tanks was at the Somme, September 15, 1916. I have no way to know whether or not the camouflage paint was added at the factory. I decided to assume it was done in the field. In 1916, power tools of any sort were not as portable as over a century of technological advances have made them. I know compressors were in use (isn’t that what an internal combustion, or Otto-cycle, engine is essentially?), I just don’t know as they were portable (which I rather doubt). I do know that a bucket and a brush are portable, so I made the red and green paint obviously applied by brushes (by brushing the colors on):

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Then the suspensions were glued to the hull as was the unditching skid:

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Then all the other small external bits like the engine vent, tools, and hatches were glued in place (and I got a little ahead of myself by adding wear at this point…usually I wait until the decals are on) (oops):

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One thing that just looked incorrect to me was the angle of the driver’s upper hatch. It wasn’t open enough to clear the clam-shell hatches. I worked it loose and raised it until it would just clear the hatches. And then I added decals.

The markings are for a tank of the  2nd Platoon, 1st Company, 344th Tank Battalion, 304th Tank Brigade, US Army, Verdun, October 1918. The decals came with the kit and are another set of wonderful decals from Cartograph. There were only six decals. They went on easily, snuggled down well (I used Walther’s Solvaset because there were rivets and depressions where the turret decals went. Then decals handled the Solvaset without any problems and the carrier film vanished without an overcoat of clear flat.) (More decal heresy.)

Wear, scrapes, and nicks were applied using Humbrol Steel #27003. Then the decals were toned down using pastels, which also added dirt and smudges. I considered adding mud to the tracks (and tank) but the coin came up tails so I didn’t.

And like that, it’s done:

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FT-17 (Meng) Build #3 – The Interior Gets Paint & Things Start Going Together

As sometimes happens, while I was cruising around the ‘Net looking for better photos than the ones I had, I actually found a better photo! One of my epigrams is that solutions create new problems. The solution of finding a better interior photo created the problem of discovering that though I did the best I could making the mines from the photo I had, it was NOwhere near accurate enough. That meant I had eleven useless little resin buttons I’d thought were mines. That meant I had to do the whole mold/casting process again (the old master is on the right):

While I was waiting for resin to cure, I attended to something that had occurred to me. These mines go into a rack. I doubt they just floated there, that meant each aperture in that rack had to have a sleeve inside it to hold the mine in place. I checked my styrene tubing stash and didn’t see anything I thought would work. Then I checked my metals scrap box and found a short section of .25” (6.35mm) thin-wall copper tube. To make matters easier in terms of thin slices taken off the tube and the cuts perpendicular to the tube’s length, I used my lathe to cut off three sleeves (ultimately I only used two). Once cut and the ends cleaned up, they were superglued into the rack. This way the empty mine locations look like they’d actually hold a mine:

Once the (fresh, because I tossed the stale) resin cured, I demolded the new mines and cleaned them up. While I was removing pour stubs, I realized that once again bubbles were in the castings. As before, I used cast-off resin to make plugs and superglued the plugs into the squared off holes. Just as before, once the plugs were taken down, I added the handles that I’d popped off the inaccurate mines, added .010” (.254mm) gluing discs, and then stuck them to scrap cardboard with double-sided tape so that the airbrush didn’t launch them into cat-toy land. I used a mix of Tamiya X-18 Semi-Gloss Black (3 parts) and XF-2 White (1 part) to paint them.

Something is always driving a build and I’m at the point where getting the interior parts all painted is in the driver’s seat. That starts with painting all the parts Tamiya’s XF-1 Flat Black to pre-shade things:

While I let the black dry, I mounted the gun to the front plate of the turret and then added wear, then I added lead foil to replicate the leather straps on the inside of the turret’s rear doors as well as the PE striker plate:

I misted several light coats of Tamiya XF-2 Flat White over the interior parts, laying down more white where light would hit more directly, making things look more white than white things in shadow (hence the term, “pre-shading”). After letting the white sit overnight, I added the mines and ammo to their respective racks. Then I painted the fire extinguisher copper and the gauge faces dirty white. The steering controls, shifter, and foot pedals were painted with Tamiya’s X-18 Semi-Gloss Black. The leather pad and seat back were painted a “leather” color using Tamiya XF-64 Red Brown and XF-49 Khaki evenly, one part of each color. The floor was painted Tamiya XF-62 Olive Drab. Before adding the raised and textured floor to the base floor, I used a silver-colored pencil to replicate wear on the floor, pedals, and lever controls:

 The gun was glued to the front of the turret, the turret top glued down then I started assembling the lower hull and interior:

I did something less than a perfect job aligning the individual plates of the turret’s sides which left gaps. I used Vallejo’s Acrylic Putty, #70.401, to fill in those gaps between the plates that comprise the turret. It took a few applications in a few very small areas (as well as a couple of judicious uses of the 3M white acrylic putty) but eventually I closed all the gaps:

A quick word about puttying things around details you want to keep. Whenever possible, cover the details with masking tape. When that’s either not possible or more hassle than you want to deal with, instead of sanding the putty smooth, use the edge of a sharp knife (on this turret, I used a scalpel) and scrape the putty away. It’s easier to keep the detail from being lost than sanding permits. (I also used the scalpel to place the putty as well.)

One thing that turned into a moderate ass pain was the armor plates around the driver’s position. (And as a side note, this place is the easiest “tell” between the FT-17 and the licensed copy the US Army fielded, the M1917. On the latter, the sides on either side of the driver’s position do not pinch towards the upper hatch opening the way the FT-17’s does.) Each part has to be in place to allow the other plates to align properly. The problem comes when one realizes that the other plates have to be in place to allow each part to align. (A problem compounded by only having two hands.) It took me longer than I’d anticipated and judging from the styrene I had to add to make things “fit,” as well as some sections I had to remove and reshape, somewhere along the line I have something out of alignment (too late to fix whatever that is now…). The two sides to the upper opening for the driver are supposed to be vertical and they obviously are not:

No, I’m not pleased with how that opening turned out. I also spent quite some time to get them to where they will remain.

So again, getting things under paint is what’s driving this build presently. I attached the forward mounts for the suspension (MORE operational parts ridiculousness. Okay…make the weight bearing parts from metal. Makes sense. But another operational set of springs?! [There’s also an operational spring in each suspension assembly.] I hope the engineers responsible for this sober up [or perhaps simply grow up] before they start work on their next project):

It was at this point that I realized that I can finish assembling the tracks onto the suspension before mounting the suspension assemblies to the hull! That will make things SO much easier! I tried dry-fitting the suspension assemblies to see how workable the notion of finishing them before attaching them could be.


It’s one thing to know this is a small tank. It’s something else to pose a 1/35 scale figure (the same scale as this tank is) to get an idea of HOW SMALL A TANK THIS IS:


And just as I’m about to post this, I finally figured out what’s been nagging me the past couple of days. I forgot to wear and stain the interior. Well, at least it’s easier to get into where I need to in order to add what I forgot to add. Swabs and brushes can reach where I need them to.


FT-17 (Meng) Build #2 – PE Parts Arrive and Time is Consumed With Small Parts

After much waiting for the PE parts to arrive, they finally did. Some of the PE replaces kit parts (actually, all of the PE replaces kit parts, I’m just not going to use all of it to replace kit parts) and there is about 16 ¾” (42.54cm) of chain that was supplied with the PE frets. (I’m not exactly certain where it goes but it’ll go someplace interesting.) What it enabled me to do was to have the dimension that I needed to turn acrylic rod on the lathe to (what I hope is) the proper dimension for a mine:

The rack will hold a dozen mines. rather than waste acrylic rod and frustrate myself to incontinence (always a possibility) trying to machine a dozen identical parts, I decided to make a mold…well…twelve molds, and cast the mines using resin. (Though I have a lathe, I’m not a machinist. Perhaps a real machinist could crank out a dozen of these things…that ability is beyond my skill set. Making one acceptable part and then pulling molds from it is within my skill set.) The mines are small. In order to make molds, I will need a master first. I started with .25″ (6.35mm) acrylic rod and turned the master until it would just fit inside the openings of the mine rack:

Using silicone molding rubber to make a dozen SMALL molds would be very time consuming as well as a waste of a relatively expensive material. However, I do have this stuff:

It’s a solid at room temperature (assuming one doesn’t have their room on Venus), but if heated in a microwave, becomes liquid at about the viscosity of honey. Not as time consuming OR expensive a process, I just had to do it a dozen times. I mounted the master inside the lid of an empty paint jar, heated the mold making stuff, and poured it into the cap and covered the master. I went through the process a dozen times. (Just be VERY CAREFUL to not overheat the molding material…the plastic cup it comes in can and will melt.) (Don’t ask.):

Once I had twelve molds, the resin was mixed, molds filled, and the whole messy assemblage placed into my pressure pot for six hours.

Evidently the resin was a bit too old. Yes…it worked as I’d intended. But instead of curing in six hours, I needed to let it sit overnight. It still hadn’t cured totally but it had gone far enough down that path to demold the parts without deforming them. Letting them sit overnight again resulted in them being properly hardened. One of the mines was unusable (don’t know what happened…if I did it’s possible it wouldn’t have happened), three others had LARGE bubbles in the resin. I used cut off pour stubs from other mines to fill the bubbles after I’d opened the bubbles up and squared them off:

Having eleven mines to use, I cut the PE mine rack from its fret and folded it. To make assembling the mine rack and mines to the inner hull easier, I used a section of scrap 0.010” (.254mm) styrene to make a backing plate for the rack, then I used more 0.010” (.254mm) styrene and punched out discs to glue to the back of the resin mines. The backing plate will be glued to the mine rack and with the styrene discs glued to the back of the mines, I can use styrene cement to glue the mines into the racks, allowing me time to be certain things are properly aligned:

Of course, painting all that will be interesting.

With the mine problems solved, I needed to assemble the ammunition rack. Here’s where things got a bit odd. If I’d assembled the ammo rack as the PE manufacturer suggested, I can’t see how it would function as an ammo rack. As directed, there wasn’t enough room between the shelves to load/unload the ammo as the rounds would be too long. Instead I only used two of the three (or four…the illustration cannot be correct!) rack shelves:

Each rack shelf would hold 26 rounds. I want to model this tank as if it’s just come back to friendly lines after being Out There, so I made 17 rounds, leaving empty spaces for rounds that had been “shot”. I used .035” (.89mm) styrene rod as the rounds. I used the assembled (such as it was) rack to determine how long the rounds had to be, then used 220 grit sandpaper to taper the tips of the rounds to replicate the projectiles:

Once all 17 were done, I stuck them flat side down onto double sided tape and painted them using Tamiya XF-6 Copper (six parts) and XF-2 Flat White (one part). Once the paint dried, I mixed Tamiya XF-25 Light Sea Gray (three parts) and Tamiya X-18 Semi-Gloss Black (one part) and painted the projectile section of the rounds (after the paint cured, I popped the shells off the tape and touched up the bases):

Painting the insides of the two racks and the items racked is going to be even more interesting.

The PE parts offered nice alternatives frequently to the plastic parts of the kit (which is their function, yes?) and are sometimes better than the PE parts that came with the kit (sometimes, not always). On the outer sides of the suspension frames there are oval Renault logos. The AM PE parts replace the molded-on details with something finer, so I carved off the molded details and replaced them with the PE details. I also added the strengthening plates to the lower front corners of the suspension frames (these PE parts were provided by the kit):

The AM PE set provided grab handles for the mines. Those were folded and glued into place:

This little brass bit of origami will end up being the support linkage for the driver’s upper hatch. I had such fun getting it together (and then STAY together) that I’m not going to trim any of the hinge pins until the last POSSIBLE second:

The AM PE offered better interior bits than had been molded on, so I carved away the molded on bits and replaced them with PE. I also glued the backing plate of the mine rack into position (that’s the large white part). Thinking about using plastic glued to PE parts away from and off the model to ease installation later on appeals to me. I’ll be using scrap styrene glued to the back of the PE ammo rack and then using styrene cement to attach the rack to the inner hull side. This gives me more time to position parts before the adhesive sets up:

The AM PE set also offered a PE replacement for the unditching skid that mounts on the rear. I briefly considered using those PE parts but I liked the kit’s parts better so I assembled them:

My next challenge will be to figure out how (or even if) to preshade the interior paint and with the mines and ammunition painted prior to installation. I’m thinking that I’ll paint the interior parts (and yes…there are more of them to come) before I assemble the hull.

FT-17 (Meng) Build #1 – Parts Layout, Assembling Tracks, and Marking Time Awaiting Parts

Once upon a not-so-long-ago time, I had a notion to do a model of each tank that the US Army deployed. (I may still have that notion…check back and see if I live long enough.) (At 70, that’s a factor.) The first tank deployed was the Renault FT-17, not the M2 or M3 Light Tanks or Combat Cars.

Meng makes two kits of the FT-17 in 1/35 scale. #TS-M008 (has an engine for the engine compartment) and #TS-011 (no engine). Since I didn’t want to model it with the engine compartment open, I’m building the TS-011 kit.

Here’s what the kit offers:

Since this has individual track links, I started by assembling them. I was going to do that with my new traditional method, assemble track links while having my tea and waiting for my brain to start functioning. They were so easy to assemble that rather than do ten a day, the second day I just finished them all; the instructions state there’s only 32 links per side. They were cleanly molded with only a few instances of flash. There is a nipple in the center of each link that needed to be sanded flat and a circular depression around the nipple that needed to be filled (the white dots you’ll see in the photo):

If I have a choice, I prefer to start with the most annoying and/or difficult tasks first while my enthusiasm for a given project is at its greatest. In this case, perusal of the instructions indicated that the suspension was going to be that job this time. LOTS of little wheels and other metal bits:

Painting them is going to be so interesting.

When Meng decided to release a FT-17 kit without its engine, evidently they didn’t include the frets that had the engine parts. Logical. Unfortunately, it seems as if in so doing, Meng didn’t provide significant interior details, either. There’s no bulkhead between the crew compartment and the engine compartment. There are no ammunition racks on one side of the commander/gunner position. There are also no (what appear to me to be) mine racks on the other side.

I actually considered buying another kit, the TS-008 kit with engine and missing interior parts. While thrashing about on the ‘Net, I found a firm in Australia that makes a PE update set that happens to include the ammunition and mine racks. Of course, there’s no mines OR ammunition included with the set. I’m guessing that I’ll have more than a few days to decide if I want to add the ammo and mines, and if so, just how the intercourse I’m going to. But in the meantime, I decided to make the bulkhead. That started with taping the sides of the hull and floor together so that I can fit .020″ (.508mm) styrene to make the basic bulkhead:

There is a protrusion on the bulkhead with details. One of the details is the crank used to start the engine. The other detail I have no idea what it is and I haven’t found any reference photos that will tell me (my suspicion is that it’s part of the transmission), but since it’s there and visible, I make the attempt to include it. First, let’s start with the bulge itself. After laying out the design on the .020″ (.508mm) that will become the bulkhead, I used .080″ (2.032mm) and .040″ (1.016mm) scrap styrene and bonded them together:

After spending the night clamped into a vise, I squared all the sides and then transferred the measurements on the bulkhead to the laminated plastic and started cutting (double-sided tape applied to a welding mask shield enable me to cut just the plastic and not my precious, if scarred, fingertips):

The starting crank was made from various scrap bits of styrene (because who throws anything out?!) and then drilled the depression for the Mystery Part using a 3/16″ (4.76mm) bit, then checked it all for fit and alignment:

My first attempt to make the Mystery Part was to use 3/16″ (4.76mm) styrene tube, fill it with Apoxie Sculpt epoxy putty, and then I would turn the end down on the lathe once the putty cured (an overnight process):

Almost a nice idea but the putty didn’t adhere to the inside of the styrene tube. The next attempt used clear acrylic rod in the lathe and that worked well enough:

Test fitting it does what I wanted it to do (and here’s hoping what I wanted it to do was correct) so I superglued it into place:

Dry-fitting again showed me that it’s what I wanted (with the same caveat as before):

Since I’m waiting for parts to come from Australia, and I don’t expect them to arrive quickly, I started working on other things. That started with the gun assembly, assembling parts and adding putty where needed:

While the putty cured, I started assembling the turret:

There were some small gaps between the panels that were puttied, then I test fit the top and realized that I’ll be adding more putty when that gets added later after painting the interior:

I wanted to assemble the muffler next. Before I did that, I decided to thin the exhaust tip to something a little more scale:

I assembled most of the upper hull. The open slot in front of the rectangular part sticking up wasn’t assembled because another part that goes there is supplied on the PE fret that’s coming from the other side of the planet. I want to see which one looks better before committing to it:

This is where liking something sort of slopped over onto something it should not have. I liked how the exhaust tip turned out so much that I decided that I would treat the bore of the cannon the same…without checking references before I did so:

Sure…it looks good. But once I finally checked references, that good look is also wrong. It’s a thick-barreled cannon. ::sighs:: Okay, so I filled it with styrene rod:

Then I drilled the bore back to where I should have left it. Well, almost, anyway. Sodding thing was off center. Filled the hole, glued more rod, and it was off center in the other direction. Of course the THIRD attempt was off in another direction and the small, frail, piece of plastic that should have been left alone to begin with told me that it was no longer interested in playing my stupid game. Fine. So I cut it off and made a new one on the lathe from acrylic rod:

At this point the gun barrel looks better than it has since before I “improved” it:

Belaboring the point, the FT-17 was a very small tank. It was so small that to traverse the turret, there were two leather handles the commander/gunner grabbed and then he pushed with his feet to rotate the turret. Instead of fins, there should be leather straps instead. I carved away what had been molded on and replaced both of them (one on each side of the turret) with lead foil (it’s the yellow part left of upper center in the photo):

I added the “mushroom cap” hatch to the turret top and removed molded-on location marks on the inside faces of the turret’s doors to add more lead foil “straps” later:

I mixed a batch of my home-brewed “gunmetal” paint (5 parts Tamiya X-18 Semi Gloss Black and 4 parts Tamiya XF-20 Medium Gray) and painted the gun and all the suspension wheels:

It’s likely I’ll probably diddle around some more while I’m waiting for the PE parts to arrive, but essentially, the build is on hold until they arrive.



Renault FT-17 – A Brief Overview

When I used to hear, “WWI tanks,” I would think of the British rhomboid-shaped tanks. They were, to my way of thinking, fairly task specific. After the outbreak of hostilities, in short order both sides had dug into trenches that stretched for ridiculous distances. Between the two trench lines was “no man’s land,” an area of shell holes, barbed wire, and little cover. People would go over the side (up the trench walls and onto no man’s land) and charge the other trenches. Barbed wire restricted access, forcing attacking forces into choke points where machine guns would pile bodies high. When the attackers had enough, they’d make for their own lines. Less came back than went out…and this went on for years.

The Brits came up with a solution. They developed a mobile armored strong point that could lead attacking troops across no man’s land, offer some cover during the crossing, and then straddle the trenches and open fire. If you look at the placement of the armaments on the British tanks, that explains their placement:

British Mk I

They were large and since they were intended to support infantry, they didn’t move faster than a walking pace. They were also complicated for the time and as new technology frequently is, they were also mechanically unreliable. The Brits’ code name for the new project was “tank,” implying that it was a water storage device.

The French had a different idea (what a surprise). Designed in 1917 and the project overseen by Louis Renault, their machine was much smaller and from what I can tell, much more mechanically reliable. What was also interesting about the FT-17 is that it seems to have become the first tank with the layout that has come to be almost universally adopted (Israeli armor excepted). The engine was in the back, the crew (driver and commander/loader/gunner; there were only two) in the front, and the armament in a fully traversing turret. The armament during WWI was either a Hotchkiss machine gun or a small 37mm cannon.


As you can see, it wasn’t a very large machine.

During WWI, the US Army was ill prepared or equipped for the European war. As with the aircraft the American Expeditionary Forces used, its armor was also equipped from external sources. The US built a licensed version of Renault’s tank, being slightly larger and a little modified version of the FT-17 and named it the M1917. As far as I can ascertain, no M1917s saw combat. The AEF used the FT-17 with the riveted turret and was armed with the 37mm cannon.

During the 1920s, M1917s were deployed with the Marines in China and, oddly enough, some FT-17s were used by the French in the opening months of WWII, even though obsolete. The Germans used captured FT-17s for basic sentry duties and the cast version of the FT-17 turrets were also used on fixed fortifications.

P-38F (Tamiya) After-action Report

P-38F-5-LO Lightning Serial Number 42-12652 Nose 33 (White 33)

Total time building 117.25 hours (that’s about 4.89 24 hour days, 2.93 work weeks).

Begin date November 27, 2020, end date February 15, 2021.



P-38F/G Kit #61120 1/48 scale


P-38 Lightning Seats #48223

P-38 Lightning Wheels (Block Tread) #48219


P-38 Early Lightning Armament #48114

EZ Line

Fine black

My Opinion

This kit is so good that I can see at some point I’m going to end up hating it. It’s so well engineered that other kits are definitely going to suffer in comparison. I’m not talking about 20–50-year-old kits, I’m talking about other modern kits that also (at least theoretically) enjoy what’s possible with CAD/CAM. Tamiya’s engineers have raised the bar with fit and the speed and ease with which a nicely done model can go from box to cat-magnet.

It’s still a commercial kit, however. One place that needs fixing if you want a shot at winning your class at a contest is the propeller and engine controls. They’re inaccurate and out-of-scale. They’re also a bitch to fix. The pilot’s seat is merely adequate without a harness and all that Tamiya’s provided for the harness is a decal. Not acceptable, which is why I used Ultracast’s P-38 seat (harness is molded with it).

If you want to model an early P-38F, you might want to consider using Ultracast’s wheels/tires with the rectangular-block tread; diamond treads, as provided with the kit, were used later.

There are air intakes inside the main landing gear bays that I’ve not seen any references showing. I modified mine by removing what’s probably the air filter assembly. Speaking of air intakes, the intercooler vents near the upper wing tips are incorrectly molded rectangular. One side (towards the leading edge of the wing tip) should be rounded.

There is a prominent antenna mast under the nose where earlier variants of the Lightning had their pitot tubes mounted. The F/G models should have the mast there as the pitot tube is under the wing, so you’ll need to make one. This kit is so well engineered I don’t understand why the antenna mast under the nose was left out.

Due to the kit’s engineering, adding engines and/or the gun bay will NOT be easy.

And there it is. This kit only (all terms being relative…I’m not a fast builder) took 177.25 hours. Filler was needed in a couple of minuscule areas and that was it. It’s not that I skimped on detail this time, it’s that this is what can happen when the builder isn’t fighting fit problems. It was such a pleasure to build that I’m sorry it’s done. HEARTILY RECOMMENDED!

P-38F (Tamiya) 1/48 Scale

P-38F (Tamiya) Build #3 – Painting, Decals, Final Assembly, and Done

With most of the assembly done, the painting starts (generally) with light colored paint first and working darker. The underside was painted with Tamiya XF-25 Light Sea Grey and 25% Tamiya XF-2 Flat White for scale color correction. The top was done with Tamiya XF-62 Olive Drab, also with 25% Tamiya XF-2 Flat White for scale color correction. The main landing gear doors were just dry-fit in place so that I could mask the landing gear bays:

This particular aircraft, “White 33,” on December 31, 1942 collided with a Ki-43 Oscar which damaged the right wing tip (tore it mostly off) and right aileron. Here’s where imagination kicks in… White 33 was stationed at the 14 Mile Drome located at Papua, New Guinea. That’s a really long supply chain from Lockheed’s plant in California to get spare parts, things like wing tips and ailerons. However, being at war, some aircraft, though they made it back to base, had been damaged enough where they ended up being worth more as parts (White 33’s ultimate wartime fate). So my imagination decided to model this aircraft after repairs were done using parts salvaged from the boneyard. To indicate that, the right wingtip and aileron are painted slightly different shades than the rest of the aircraft.

My first attempt was just wrong:


Glaringly wrong. My second attempt was a little less obvious (the splotches are where clear gloss and decals were done):

The locations for decals were all hit with Tamiya’s X-22 Clear (gloss), all 139 places. Just the application of decals took 16.5 hours over four days (small decals, diddling them into position). The decals I was most concerned with screwing up were the shark’s teeth decals. Each set of teeth were two parts, plus the eyes, plus the brow. The surfaces that the eye decals had to conform to were a more severe curve and the process of getting MicroSol decal solvent to get them to conform to the surface caused them to tear and wrinkle (and one of the lower sets of teeth also wrinkled, as evident in the upper photo below):

Once the decal solvent had completely evaporated and the ink of the decal was firm, the wrinkles were (mostly) dealt with using 2000 grit sandpaper to lightly sand most of the wrinkles out. Where the decals tore, an application of Tamiya XF-2 Flat White fixed those. And decals, decals, decals:

And then I screwed up. For whatever reason, the clear flat I’d been using started blowing chunks. Since the result wasn’t useful at all, I tried using a cotton swab lightly moistened with denatured alcohol, to remove them. You can see how well that didn’t work:

Since I had the denatured alcohol handy…:

Which leads to repainting things:

And finally, they were all on:

Even fresh off the assembly line, these things didn’t look that clean and the finish wasn’t that uniform. Time to add wear and staining. All of where the OD has worn away to show aluminum underneath it was done with a silver pencil (turns out the undercoat of aluminum was a waste of time and paint).

I added the antenna wires to the vertical stabilizers and ran them forward to the canopy, then added .015″ (.381mm) solder for the brake lines on the main landing gear. One section of the brake lines was painted Tamiya XF-85 Rubber Black to replicate the rubber section of the brake line. Then the landing gear and gear doors were added as well as the extended boarding ladder, and just like that, it was done: