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Scale Modeling Tips & Tools Monthly, Issue #054-Summer Doldrums
June 15, 2011
June 15, 2011

...and What To Do About Them

Traditionally this next three months are called the summer doldrums, a time when scale modelers need to change tactics and sometimes even modeling venues to keep their “oar in” so to speak. It is often a lot easier to head for the porch and an ice cold drink.

But let’s not put scale modeling on the shelf completely; it can become a habit too easy to repeat every time the thermometer punches through 80.

Summer is a great time to do the spade work associated with you particular modeling niche.

Road trips are a great way to research your upcoming project(s). can get to modeling examples not easily reached during the winter months and the advent of digital photography makes bringing the scene home with the quick snap from a cell phone.

If your venue is model railroading, what better way to research what it was like to ride behind a steam engine. There are a number of tourist railroads across the country that can provide the experience and give you the flavor of what it was like “back-in-the-day”.

If RC racing is your beat, summer is the best time for a trip to the regional speedway for action pictures on the curve or in the pit.

What about ship modeling. Summer is a great time to visit a harbor and if you time it right, you may just find tall ships basking in the summer sun At anchor.

While you’re behind the wheel, how about driving to a regional convention or meet in your field of interest. They always feature clinics you can learn from, new modeling examples and contests you can join.

Whatever, don’t make this slack time or time when you can’t have anything to do with scale modeling. It is a dangerous precedent.

Scale Modeling Provides
Unique View of History

Scale modeling research, no matter your field of interest can present a wonderful opportunity to learn the history of your subject matter.

Recently, I have taken to modeling lighthouses in a diorama and fortunately there are 20-30 within a day-trip from home. That can give me an up close and personal of today’s automated version of these coastal beacons but it takes a comprehensive history to let you know what life must have been like for the lighthouse keeper.

It is here where you learn the details that bring a diorama to life. For instance, Nubble Light off the coast at York, ME.

One of its interesting features is the trolley system consisting of a crate-shaped bucket suspended from a cable that stretches between the mainland and the island where the lighthouse is located.

It was a convenient way to get small packages and groceries out to the lighthouse station. But in 1967, the keeper at the time, found another use. He put his son into the bucket every morning and sent him on his way to school.

That form of transportation came to an end when the Coast Guard Admiral found out about it.

But what a scene to capture in a diorama.

Tips for Radio Control Drag Racing

 For most people including many scale modelers, the idea of drag racing implies a real rush and stimulation, not to mention danger. RC modelers get to experience the first two without risking the third element.

You can limit the danger your model might experience with a few precautionary preparations.


Drag racing is all about speed. As compared to ordinary radio-controlled car races, the drag racing with RC cars entails much more attention on setting-up the vehicle than having driving skills.

The main issue in drag racing an RC car is to eliminate the forces (aerodynamic) that prevent the car from attaining and maintaining maximum speed. The following things should be given serious concern in order to race your RC car at maximum speed:


Getting and maintaining a good chassis for drag race RC cars is very important. The thing to remember is that there are numerous materials that make up modern RC drag cars today such as graphite and carbon fiber. They differ in how they support the cars and how they "flex" during acceleration. The chassis needs to have flexibility when accelerating is a key to attain the car's maximum speed.

Front end design

Dragsters have distinct front-end designs. They are usually pointed to minimize the drag from the air. The front axles should be set up in a simple way to make them easier to adjust during accidents during race day.

Battery packs

Usually, RC car drag races are determined by the kind of battery pack that the cars are equipped with. Nickel-cadmium batteries are very popular nowadays. The batteries used in cars are usually in 6-cell or 7-cell packs. The two main things that one should look for in battery packs are internal impedance and voltage. These are two main indicators of power and speed. The battery packs used in RC drag racing are perhaps the most powerful in the whole RC racing arena.


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The usual dragsters employ thin front wheels which are most often referred to as "pizza cutters" because they resemble the kitchen apparatus. When it comes to selecting tires, there are two beliefs: smaller is better and the "big wheels rule." As with any other contradicting beliefs, both have advantages and disadvantages. At the end of the day, it's personal taste that really counts in choosing the kinds of tires.


RC drag race cars have been stripped of their excess weight throughout the years. An optimum weight should be achieved to be able to get maximum acceleration.

RC drag racing is a really fun and exhilarating experience. One should try watching races over the weekend to find out.

Columbus Had It Right...
Even In Models Ground Ain't Flat

So many layouts or dioramas you see these days are built on Styrofoam insulation bases making bench work a snap, it is about the right size, easily worked and easily cut.

Resist the temptation of building your layout with a flat yard or switching area, it is not prototypical. Columbus proved the world isn’t flat. Granted, he had bigger things in mind than your little layout, but the principal is still the same. Your layout should have small hills and mini canyons. Even pavement isn’t really flat—many potholes where you live?

Most foam board modelers would be horrified by this technique. Find a particular flat spot on your layout, place your elbow in the middle and lean on it. Yup, you want to break the nice flat surface you painted or provide a major dimple in the flat pink or blue surface you are working with. If space allows you might try a couple of them.

Pick another smaller, flat area. Give it a thumb gouge, the idea is to provide a spot where water might puddle or pond as well as providing small dips and swales in the landscape.

But the world is not only depressed, you will find a variety of bumps, nodules, protrusions and terrain warts in your average backyard, back lot, or back 40.

Start with a conservative spreading of rocks that exceed the size of a freight car door in your scale (kind of a neat place for a hobo or a hunter to sit). 

Now add the paper mache. Mix up a batch which will provide you with enough to spread over the target area and cover it to the depth of an eighth of an inch. Don’t worry about smoothing it, you are trying to create blobs and swells with no apparent pattern. Try not to cover the rocks you just dropped. If it looks to smooth add a few swells.

Before this coating dries, this is a time to add “landscape junk”, occasional twigs to represent logs, a few more rocks (smaller than a freight car tire) in a hit-or-miss array, a plank or two that look well aged. Remember, you are trying for the WOW! Effect, not the “oh yuh, there’s another one”.

Get out your sand bag (usually the finest sifting of your dried yard covering). Before spreading, thoroughly soak the area you are working on with water from a mist sprayer. Keep the sprayer handy. Now spread random blankets across the patch you are working .

Mix a dark and light “grass”--I use Woodland Scenics Fine Turf Green Grass and Burnt Grass in a cup saucer. Grab your handiest pincher (thumb and forefinger) so you actually spread your grass in clumps to result in random bare spots..

Speaking of pinches, we need some dark earth. My preference is dried coffee grounds (after they have performed their primary function). To make my supply I move it from the filter and spread it on a flat oven-proof tray covered with aluminum foil. I heat at 300 degrees for an hour or two. Once it cools, I pick up the edges of the foil and drain the powder into a baggie (you can never have too many baggies in your hobby room).

I use baggies for all three sizes of sand and stone, and my coffee grounds. They also serve as weights when I am working on structures.

Now, using the coffee grounds as dark earth patches, with your 0-2-0 drag bucket, deposit sprinkles of your dark earth on the grass, the patch should look mostly green.

Like the looks? Grab your spray bottle again and this time, mist from a high level to the point where you soak the surface you have been working on.

The final step is to secure the whole thing. I mix a white glue 50-50 with water and apply it with an eye dropper. You can also drip it on a drop at a time, but you will find the eye dropper more precise..

Let the patch rest for 10-15 minutes. Use the mister again to apply more water. The object of this final application is to spread the white glue droppings.

Now size up your work. Is it ready for prime time viewing?

If you are not entirely happy with the look, grab a spatula, scrape it all of and try it again.

Software Major Help To My Scratch Building

I use it almost as often as I do my Xacto, rely on it almost as much as the correct adhesive and plan with it more than I do a pencil

Model Builder by Evan Designs is my software of choice when it comes to modeling almost any structure or structure part. With this software, I can import a building part, say a storefront and resize it to the scale I'm working in for further design.I can build all four walls with different features for each.

I use Model Builder to create smaller, secondary buildings for scenes which need a sub building like a restaurant adjacent to a fish cannery.

It works great for adding things like burning fires to elaborate on the interior of say a smoke house be inserting the flames in a photo into a doorway in the building wall as designed in Model Builder.

Another use I have enjoyed is adding different roof textures to Model Builder, scaling them to the correct size and adding them to a kit model as an alternative roofing.

A use that is a little more tricky is adding the duplicate and alignment features of Model Builder to layout say 24 to 48 windows of a factory wall on a solid wall brick or wood.

To keep things in scale, I scan a copy of the brick wall material into a file on my computer. I then import this into Model Builder, carefully overlaying the scanned material over the closest brick style from the template.

Once I get this right, I expand the wall to size that I can duplicate and assemble to full size. I hide the joints with downspouts, pilasters or ivy.

The tricky part is cutting out each of windows to allow for glazing with an appropriate material, clear styrene or the like.

Build Your Own Weathering Station

They measure 7.5 inches tall and about 1.25" in diameter. They are just what I was looking for. I found them at AC Moore. In their regular life they are sand art bottles used in wedding unity ceremonies. Selling as a unity set, they run $125 for a set of two with vase.

Mine were a buck apiece with the vase an extra $2. I have $5 in the whole rig. I use two for Alcohnol-India Ink mixes (one light, one dark and the third is the vinegar/steel wool.

Slicker than snot on a doorknob I take a handful of sticks, dunk them in the tubes for 10-15 seconds, pull them out and dunk the other ends Let dry and repeat depending on the amount of weathering desired.

Your Help and Ideas Needed
To Expand SMH Idea Base

Making daily decisions involving for the past 45 months has led to the creation of over 425 pages of articles on the various facets of scale modeling, this monthly e-zine and a host of modeling questions answered.

As we get ready to embark on our third year, I am hoping to open the site up to input from other scale modelers. You may have noticed the Navigation Bar has been sub-divided into the major hobbies covered.

Each of these sections now has one or two pages that invite participation with questions, tips and pictures regarding your various modeling endeavors.

We want to hear from you as do the other 25,000 modelers who log onto this site monthly.

As I get ready to roll into my 71st year, I can’t believe how much I have learned about hobby activities In the past two years. I have heard from other modelers with similar experiences.

To help me develop and maintain my website your comments on its content are essential. You can send me your comments by visiting the “Voice Your Opinion” feature at the top of the Navigation stack in the left column on each page.

It was never my intention to make this website a one way street as my knowledge is no where deep enough for me to be termed an “Authority”. I hunger for your feedback, comments, ideas, tutorials, plans, pictures and even your negative comments if considered constructive.

The Internet and that includes work best when they are interactive and that is collaboration only you can provide. It has been a pleasure serving as your guide for these past two years and by no means am I throwing in the towel, for I honestly believe the building and maintaining of this website are instrumental in keeping my mind active.

I want to open up this site in the fast lane. That is your part of the two-way street.

Its In Your Best Interest

If you have been giving some thought to launching your own home business in 2010, it is worth your time to take a look at what I found:

Steps To Success

Until Next Month

Make It Your Best Effort!

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