ARTICLES on this page:
♦ IMPROVING TANK MODELS – Tips for simple things that will make your tank models more realistic.
♦ WEATHERING TIRES – Painting tips for making tires (on any vehicle) look aged & weather-worn.
IMPROVING TANK MODELS
This article covers enhancement techniques other than the use of after market add-ons. Tank and other military modeling subjects are increasing in their detail and realism. Today many military subjects come with complete interiors which older versions of the same subject never had. Still many currently produced kits still suffer from flaws that can be easily fixed. Here are three examples of simple things you can do to improve your tank or military vehicle:
1. REPLACE MOLDED DETAILS
Many older military vehicle kits (tanks, trucks, jeeps, etc.) had certain details molded on their exterior surfaces that would be separate parts on more recently produced kits. In particular, field tools (shovels, axes, spanners, pry bars, etc.) were often molded as part of a vehicle’s body. It takes a little work, but removing these details and replacing them with separate parts will add a great deal of realism to your finished model.
A. Start by using the edge of an Xacto blade (#11 works well) to shave / scrape off the major portion (thickness) of the detail you wish to remove. I do not advise trying to slice / cut the part off.
B. Carefully, use rough grit sand paper or a sanding wand (120 grit) to reduce the remains of the detail down to the body / hull of the model. Work slowly & be careful to avoid marring the surface of the model surround the part you are removing.
C. When the detail you’re removing is no longer visible as anything but a faint outline, sand it smooth using fine grit sandpaper or a sanding wand (400grit).
D. If you have a suitable replacement for the detail you just removed in your ‘spare parts’ box, paint it to suit the model you’re going to add it on. If you don’t have a replacement part on hand, there are many ‘auxiliary parts’ kits available. Kits like Testors’ or Italeri’s FIELD TOOL SHOP, or Italeri’s GERMAN TANK ACCESSORIES WW-II (kit #424) can provide a wide range of tools and other accessory parts. Tamiya produces a kit of tank accessory parts for modern day military vehicles.
EXAMPLE: (See photo below). This is the engine deck of an old Monogram M4 Sherman tank. The kit came with the tank’s field tools molded onto the hull. Accurately painting this sort of molded on detail is usually rather difficult. The molded tool details were all shaved & sanded off, then xareplaced with parts from my ‘spares box’. Each tool was carefully painted before being attached to the model. The result is cleaner, crisper, more realistic detailing.
2. REMOVE UNNECESSARY HOLES
For a long while, the ‘big thing’ for tank and military vehicles model kits was to motorize them. This meant providing parts for an interior battery compartment (usually holding 2x “C” batteries) and a gear-box transmission with a small electric motor. To install these parts, the vehicle’s lower hull had openings for the gear-box’s axles, a hole in the underside for a screw to attach the gear-box, and a hole for a switch to turn the motor on/off. Some more recent re-releases of such kits have eliminated the motorizing parts, but still use the original molds for the vehicle’s lower hull – which means the kit still has the unneeded holes in the lower body/hull.
Some modelers would say “But, nobody is going to look under my model, so what if there are holes in it?” But more detail oriented builders (like people who enter International Plastic Modelers Society competitions) find these openings offensive and damaging to the finished model’s realism. I quite agree. However, this ‘extra holes’ problem is easy to fix:
A. Underside Holes – Step-1. Cut one or more pieces of thin (020) sheet styrene. Inside the kit’s lower body/hull part, glue the sheet styrene in place over the holes. This plastic will facilitate covering the holes with filler / model putty (like Tamiya’s new fast drying white putty – item# 87095) by preventing the putty from sinking through the hole you want to cover. Step-2. Turn the model part over & fill each hole with a thin layer of model putty. Let the putty dry, then apply additional layers until the putty sits just above the outside surface of the part (putty shrinks, so you have to apply extra to avoid having a ‘dimple’ in your filler). When the last application of putty/filler has dried, sand it down until it is smooth & flush with the surface of the model part.
B. GEAR-BOX AXLE HOLES – There are two (2) possible ways of fixing this problem. First, check the kit & your spare-parts box & look for axle parts that fit the holes you want to cover. Glue these parts in place & fill any gaps around the edges with putty (sand smooth when dry). If you don’t have an appropriate part, cover the opening from inside the hull with (030) sheet styrene. Be sure the sheet plastic does not interfere with the fit of other parts, such as the upper hull. Find a round piece of plastic that will fit into the drive sprocket or wheel you’ll need to mount over the sheet plastic. Cut two pieces of the round plastic to fit into the wheel + approx. 1/2″ inch more. Carefully examine the kit’s assembly instructions and determine where the axle for the wheel or drive sprocket should go. Mark & drill a pilot hole at the appropriate spot on the styrene filler pieces (both sides). Enlarge the pilot hole just enough to fit the makeshift axle through. Insert the axle through the styrene filler. Be sure the axle is squared off (set at 90-degrees to the bottom of the hull & 90-degrees from the sides of the hull), then glue it in place securely (plastic welder will do a great job here). Using model putty, fill in the recess between the styrene filler and the outer hull surface around the hole you covered up (sand smooth when dry).
3. SPONSON GAPS
Most W.W.II tanks had one design feature in common, the “sponson”. This term refers to the upper hull being wider than the lower hull, producing an overhang along the length of the vehicle on both sides. Usually, the overhang was about as wide as the tank’s tracks. In the light tank, M3 Stuart, the extra space afforded by the sponsons was used to fit a forward facing .30cal MG to each side of the hull. In many other tanks the sponsons were simply storage space.
A great number of model tank kits suffer from a glaring problem – the “sponson gap”. The kits’ upper hull overhangs the lower hull, as it should, but is left open. There is no connection between the sides of the upper and lower hull parts, just a gap running the length of the hull just above the top run of the tracks. No real tank is built this way. The gap severely reduces a tank model’s realism. The solution is simple. Cut a piece of sheet styrene to the length and shape of the ‘sponson gap’ you need to fill (one piece for each side). Carefully align the gap filling pieces and glue into place (see photos below).
GAP FILLING PROCEDURE:
A. BEFORE you begin assembling the kit, TEST FIT (no glue!) the upper and lower hull parts
B. Use a heavy rubber-band or two (lengthwise across the hull) to hold the upper & lower hull parts together. Insert a thin piece of cardboard into the gap where the upper hull overhangs the lower hull.
C. Trace the outline of the upper hull onto the piece of cardboard to get the length, width, and shape of the sponson gap.
D. Cut out the cardboard outline of the sponson gap. Use the cut-out as a template. TEST FIT the cardboard template & be sure it’s both long enough & wide enough to accurately fill the sponson gap. Create a new template if this one is too big or too small. Once you have a perfect fit, place your template onto a thin piece of styrene plastic sheet (020 – 030 thick) and trace the shape of the sponson gap.
E. Cut out two (2) plastic sponson gap covers (one for each side of the tank). Test fit each cover. Trim or sand the covers as needed to get a clean fit inside the gap between the upper and lower hull.
F. Attach (glue) the sponson cover in place. In some cases you’ll glue it just inside the upper hull and flush with the bottom edge of the upper hull. IF the particular kit has enough empty space inside, reinforce the sponson cover by gluing a square or rectangular ‘rod’ between the side of the hull and the top of the sponson cover (rod has to be in contact with both surfaces). Depending on the kit it may be possible to attach the gap filler on the outside of the lower hull part; the M4A2 Sherman tank is a good example of this (see bottom 2 photos). A few kits, like Tamiya’s M8 HMC have partial sponson fillers; you can extend these by gluing full length fillers to the outside of the lower hull part (see top photo below).
M8 HMC / Partial sponson covers need extending.
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Most model kits’ instructions (for military or civilian cars or trucks) tell you to paint tires flat black. This is OK, if you’re building your model as a ‘factory new’ vehicle; you can even use semi-gloss black for ‘factory new’ auto tires. However, tires, especially on military vehicles, tend to show the effects of road wear and weather quickly. If you’ve built a particularly well weathered tank or armored car or halftrack (or an old junker sports car), the tires need to match the rest of the vehicle in their weathered appearance.
Here are a couple of simple tricks for weathering tires:
◊ Alternate Paints – Instead of using flat black, use a paint like Badger’s Tire Black (dries to an ashy dark gray) or a flat paint like Tamiya’s German Gray. Airbrush the entire tire (except for the wheel area) flat black. Then, carefully, overspray the tire with your chosen gray color (try to leave the recessed areas in the treads black to give the tire more definition).
◊ Thin Wash Technique – This technique works particularly well for wide tires on bogie wheels (e.g. as on a Sherman tank), but it can be used for any rubber tire. Note: This technique will take more time than applying a regular coat of paint. Start with flat black, but thin it with Isopropyl alcohol to the consistency of a wash. Carefully (avoid runs / drips) brush the black wash onto the tire, being careful to avoid getting it on any wheel surfaces. Let the wash dry (thinned with alcohol the wash should dry in just a few minutes). Apply additional coats of wash until you have an ashy dark coloration. Deliberately, apply the wash unevenly – this will create a more realistic uneven weathering effect with darker areas showing less weathering and ashy gray areas showing the most weathering.
EXAMPLES OF WEATHERED TIRES:
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