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Scale Modeling Tips & Tools Monthly, Issue #016-- "In Pursuit of Perfection"
May 15, 2008
April 15, 2008

Your Journey To Perfection

Striving for perfection in a hobby to some may be an oxymoron; first a hobby needs to be fun and perfection (free of flaws and defects) can make a hobby a burden not worth bearing.

If you scratch build structures in N Scale for instance, how many times do you rebuild an outside stairway handrail...I wanted to say before you give up, but that is not my reality.

Even at 69 with eyesight slipping, I persist. After two or three attempts at doing it "freehand", I develop a jig to hold things steady and keep them evenly spaced.

The other and often more important element is taking the time to practice what you are attempting.

Who ever heard of practicing modeling, I’ll get my practice by working on my current project, the famous learn-by-doing model that results in many oops utterances until we reach the point of having to junk a pretty expensive kit.

How do you learn a new technique?

#1 To learn something, we must Isolate, Concentrate, Exaggerate, and Repeat.

--Isolate a particular problem, or new element you want to learn. Focus your practice time on these specifics.

--Concentrate not only on these specifics but each individual modeling technique until you get it.

--Exaggerate by slowing down your moves, to the point you can see every detail. Finishing it is not half as important as seeing everything that goes into your routine. For instance, how you hold a knife or brush, the way you apply masking.

--Repeat---Once you have the details fixed in your mind, repeat the step 10-20 times keeping track of how many you make a mistake and analyze them to correct.

#2 Only Perfect Practice makes perfect

#3 Practice drills are most productive when they are progressive drills.

#4 "Our minds can only absorb what our butts can endure!"

I can honestly say my practice sessions have not always shown a less than an “I’m here to have fun” attitude. They have shown a lack of concentration, consistency and yes even courage.

In our day to day lives, the virtue of courage doesn't receive much attention. Courage is a quality reserved for soldiers, firefighters, and activists. Security is what matters most today. Perhaps you were taught to avoid being too bold or too brave. It's too dangerous. Don't take unnecessary risks. Don't draw attention to yourself in public. Follow family traditions. Don't talk to strangers. Keep an eye out for suspicious people. Stay safe.

As a result, embarking on a $500+ build of a period warship or a $90 N Scale structure kit seem pretty low on the totem pole in terms of gauging success.

It was more fun to think about rigging a plastic model, attempting Ready-To-Fly models and even dabbling (that is the right word) with interior construction of an N Scale building. I had seen the masters complete such projects, yes, practiced, but nothing that would do my modeling any good.

What I lacked was a real solid plan for practicing. It needs to be a plan that is based on growing knowledge; therefore it needs to be flexible. It needs to provide an action strategy and though it needs certain risk to challenge me, it has a have a “Do It Now approach.

I fell back on my old Journalism tools, the three R's Reading, Researching and Writing and game up with a guide:

"Scale Model Practice Today: BYOB (Bring Your Own Brain)”.

This is a brief eBook I wrote about my journey to perfection (I haven’t reached the final stop yet) but I have devised a series of practice plans that make the trip a lot more likely

Once you read and apply it, you will use it over and over and over again... and wonder how you could ever have modeled without it.

No, it won't turn you into a John Allen of model railroading, nor will you likely produce a Carl Goldberg RC model with your first effort or ____________________ (plug in your favorite mentor).. But you will be forever more practiced and you will have goals for your hobby, no matter what your particular bent.

Master and use the irresistible and unstoppable power of Practice Makes Perfect!

Once More Into The Dirt

Notice the picture above it is what common sand looks like on my layout, sort of all blah.

It had two problems for an N Scale layout: individual grains were still bigger than N Scale ballast or some boulders and sand includes mica which offers a bright sparkling shine where there should be no shine.

It was also pretty even in color so I mixed in some coffee grounds so I ended up with dark blotches, still not looking right.

I needed something the color of dried oak leaves so I bagged a bunch of dried leaves and proceeded to hand-grind them getting nowhere fast.

Leave it to my wife to come up with a fantastic solution--a coffee grinder--we've had one for years and that's about how long ago we used it.

I crammed a load of crunched up leaves into the grinder and gave them a whirl, shaking the grinder every now and then to shift the fragments into the blades.

The result is a lot more convincing in this picture

When finished I ran the contents through a kitchen strainer and what emerged was a fine, multi-colored powder.

The individual particles had the right size and color and provided a good contrast to the sand already glued in place..

For me, ground up dead leaves works fine and has an appropriate appearance for N Scale dirt. The grinder also produces some fine strands (probably leave stalks) that give the appearance of twigs and sticks which is a neat bonus.

Over The Transom Q&A

Every now and then we get questions over the transom about some ticklish modeling endeavors and often have to rely upon researching the issue online. In some cases, I have had similar experiences. In either case I will respond within 24 hours.

For example:

Q. I have painted styrene military miniatures in the past with enamel hobby paint. I want to repaint them. Is there a product that will remove enamel paint?

A. Most hobby paints are not very tough. If you check with your LHS you will find there are paint removers like Easy Lift Off by Poly S.

There are also household cleaners that will remove the paint. Use a plastic container of the cleaner and soak and scrub the part in these successfully harsher chemical nastiness:

Fantastic, Formula 409, unscented Pinesol

Chlorine bleach works on chrome may not be effective on paint.

Easy-Off oven cleaner or Dot3 brake fluid.

In all cases test "remover" on an interior surface and do not wash residue down the drain.

The time to soak varies with harshness of the chemical, from a few minutes to a number of days. You will likely have to scrub the paint off with an old toothbrush, especially from the nooks and crannies. Many cleaners are reported to etch or embrittle plastic, so keep the exposure brief and flush with water afterwards. A downside to the harsher, faster acting chemicals is that they tend to remove putty as well.

One thing you shouldn't to use is standard methyl-ethyl ketone based paint removers - this stuff will dissolve styrene very quickly. Lemon scented Pinesol has also been reported to soften plastic.

Q. Recently I purchased a revival metal & plastic kit. Some of the metal parts require gluing. What type of glue do you recommend? Also, I would like to detail some of the metal & plastic parts. What type of paint do you recommend?

A. When I was getting ready to enter high school, my dad brought me a "promo" car he had gotten from the Chevy dealer. It was die cast metal, but as I remember, it was held together with small screws and the doors snapped into place. No glue was needed. I remember early plastic cars by Revell and Monogram and the color was molded in. As either of these are getting into the realm of antiques, I'd be careful about paints and adhesives and stick to the mildest like PVAs (white glue and wood glue) and I would go to some place like Michael's and pick colors from their $1/bottle lines of water-based Acrylics.

In either case (gluing or painting) I would test first on interior surfaces.


Remember, if you have a modeling question, email it to: Scale Modelers Handbook

Modeling Tips You Can Use

Cutting It Close

It takes a sharp blade to make accurate, quality cuts when working with paper stock. The best blade for the job is the Snap Blade knife. You won't find one easier to keep razor sharp (just clip off the tip). You can open it with one hand, they are light and you won't find a cheaper knife. They normally sell for about a dollar, I found a three-pack in a Dollar Store for a buck.

Waste Not, Want not

Some of my best tools for other people are simply throw-aways.

For instance there is a relatively new fruit tart marketed by Life Savers in a round tin with a snap on cover. If you get one, keep it.

They make fantastic palettes for small dabs of paint which you can inter-mix with your paint brush as you are painting to get just the right color.

The covers of these tins are ideal for globs of wood glue or white glue you are applying with a toothpick and the slots that hold the cover onto the tin make an ideal resting place for the toothpick while you use two hands to hold your gluing project until it sets.

Coral Your Tools

Keep your modeling tools, equipment and jigs where you can easily remember where you put them so you can quickly find them.

No project is fun that requires more time to set up than to do. There are LOTS of storage cabinets with small or large drawers in which you can keep your tools, pieces of wood, plastic and wire, that you commonly use in your creations.

I don't know your set up and there may not be room for a particular work area for your hobby, but if you can arrange for such a thing, no matter how small. do it - and keep it NEAT.

Until Next Month...

Make It Your Best Effort!

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