Monday, February 22, 2010

It Ain't What You Do; It's How You Do It

Scootin' Right Along
But we're still sanding a little bit at the moment. There was this flash of inspiration, you see. If I had a chance to do things over I'd probably think something along the lines of "that would fix the seam in a hurry, all right, but it's way too coarse for plastic". Mostly I do my preliminary sanding with 600 grit wet or dry, then 1800g, then 2400g, then maybe, if the part needs it, with the really fine grades of polishing paper. Mostly I do that. Last Friday afternoon I decided to save some time and go to a heavier grit to start with. There's no doubt those big scratches will come out of the A-4, but they didn't clean up in time to provide a photograph of the progress for this installment. (Don't laugh at me like that---we've all done it!) Bottom line is that we're pretty much treading water with the Scooter at the moment. Patience is a virtue.

School Days at The Old School
So, today we don't have a jet to mess with. It ain't no thang, ya'll; let's just do something else instead. And, just to make it interesting, let's do something a lot of folks think is difficult to accomplish. Let's talk about a way, but just one, to rig a biplane. (It also works for antenna wire and similar, so don't run off and leave us just because you don't normally build bipes. There's no telling when or for what reason you may need this technique!)
Any of you who know anything at all about me are aware that I started doing this whole airplane thing back in the 60s which was, coincidentally, also when I started rigging biplanes. Revell had just started issuing all those spiffy little Great War kits in 1/72nd, and the lure was too great to pass up. Initial attempts at rigging are probably pretty universal in our hobby, except that Way Back Then there weren't many choices of materials available to us, although there actually were a couple of options even then. You could, for example, rig with sewing thread. It came in different colors, and in different weights. That was the Good News. It was also hairy unless you ran it through beeswax or similar before you used it, diameter was anything but consistent, and attachment could best be defined as problematical, even Way Back Then. The thread didn't care much for humitity, either.

Some folks used monofilament fishing line (and still do, I think) for their rigging instead of thread. It was a tremendous improvement, to be sure, because it was of consistent diameter and looked a whole lot better. It was a bear to attach to anything, though, because it wasn't possible to buy cyanoacrylate on the open market in the 60s, and nothing else available to us (Way Back Then, remember?) would hold the stuff on the model, leaving us with the alternative of drilling lots of holes and running the monofilament through them. Some folks mastered the technique, but I wasn't one of them, although I learned a lot from the experience and added some colorful metaphors to my vocabulary in the process.

Then I discovered the miracle of stretched sprue. All of a sudden life in the biplane lane got a whole lot better. You could pick a color of plastic (kits came in all sorts of colors Way Back Then; shades of gray had yet to become standardized in the realm of plastic modeling), clip your sprue, stretch it, and attach it to the model with white glue. (I did, and still do, use Elmer's, but any decent white glue will work.) In what amounted to one fell swoop you could control the color and diameter of your rigging, attach it with a common, easy-to-find and easy-to-use adhesive, and easily repair it when the inevitable occured and you stuck a finger through a wing bay. That was 40+ years ago, and I still use the stuff to this day, except for when I rig a bipe that in one of the large scales such as 1/32nd. For that I use wire, but that's a ramble for another day. Today it's sprue, remember?

So, what is stretched sprue, and how do you use it? The "what" part is easy: It's those plastic runner thingies that all your parts are attached to when you open the kit. The "stretched" part ought to be fairly obvious too, because you heat the sprue over a low-intensity flame and then stretch it. Then you cut it to length, attach it with (all together now, gang!) White Glue and then, after said glue dries, you tension the rigging and it's done until you stick a finger through it and have to do it over. Too easy!

As for How You Use It, please consider the following simple, easy, and logical (bet you didn't think I could pull off that "logical" one, did you?) steps. Think about what you've read for a minute and then go try it for yourself. Nothing could be easier, so without further ado:
  1. Safety First! You'll be using a low-intensity flame for this procedure, along with a hot soldering iron, so think ahead and make sure your work space is cleared of anything flamable. Cap off your paints and thinners, get any paper or card products away from your work area, ditto any fabric (particularly rags that might have paint or thinner in them), and move anything you could knock over with your hands or tools. Make sure your work area is ventilated too; if you accidentally set the sprue on fire it's generally not a big deal, at least if you cleaned your work area when we told you to, but styrene fumes are toxic. Think ahead, and remember: You're responsible for your own safety here, so take the appropriate precautions and THINK before you start.
  2. Get a heat source. I use my dad's old (from WW2) Zippo lighter. Back in those previously mentioned Old Days a lot of folks tried to use candles, but candles don't produce consistent heat. Use a lighter.
  3. Clip a piece of straight sprue from a kit. Silver, gray, and clear are good choices, but you could also use green or olive (if you have a kit molded in that color) if you're trying to simulate flying wires of that hue. Be sure to cut the sprue piece long enough that you can grip it from both ends without burning yourself on hot plastic. That goes back to that Safety First thing, and I'm not responsible if you hurt yourself, folks, so be careful! Use sprue of a decent quality, preferably from a mainstream kit made by someone such as Tamiya, Hasegawa, or Eduard. There is a difference in the plastic they use, and you'll notice it when your end result is of inconsistent diameter because you used plastic of a lesser quality from some other kit.
  4. Now for the One Hard Part (but not really) of this entire operation. Ignite (a fancy word for "light") the heat source and hold the sprue over it until it starts to sag. If it catches fire, pull it away from the flame and blow it out. All you want to do here is get the stuff in a semi-molten state so you can stretch it; a limited goal of sorts, and Mr. Fire is not our friend in this particular aspect of the hobby. When the sprue sags, pull it away from the heat source and quickly but gently pull it apart. When you've stretched it, hold it by one end and let the other end hang free. This will insure that your brand new rigging material doesn't curl up and make things difficult for you later on. Extinguish your flame if you haven't already done that.
  5. The plastic filament that resulted from what you just did will be thicker at the ends than in the middle, but you should end up with several feet of usable rigging material when you're done.
  6. Take a pair of draftsman's dividers and measure the distance to be rigged. (I usually do this part by guess and by golly and accept that sometimes I'll get to do a line twice. Go with what you know.)
  7. Cut the rigging to length, with just a little bit left over. Dip one end in a tiny puddle of white glue and attach it to the appropriate place on the model, then carefully swing the other end to, where else but The Other End, and attach it. If trimming to length is necessary use a really fine pair of manicure scissors, snip off just what needs to be removed, then use the tip of a toothpick (trimmed to a fine point) or similar to put a spot of white glue where the line's going to end up. Let it dry (but you can keep working too--just don't mess up what you've already done).
  8. Once you've rigged the model you're probably going to notice a line or two that's sagging a little bit. That's pretty much inevitable, so go get your soldering iron (preferably a pencil iron with a really tiny point), let it heat up to temp, then pass it close to the cured rigging. Your loose rigging will sag just a bit, then magically tighten up right before your astonished eyes. Please note that if you aren't careful with that iron parts of your model may conceivably melt before your astonished eyes as well, thus making a good point for the practice of Situational Awareness. Pay attention to what you're doing, ya'll! Don't melt that model!
  9. Sooner or later you'll break one of those sprue lines, even though the stuff is a lot sturdier than you might think. When that happens, pull the remains of the line off the model, then use a damp toothpick or the tip of a new #11 blade and remove the tiny spot of the dried glue. Re-rig as required.

Pretty easy, huh? There are other ways to do it, of course, and one of this days I'm going to invite a master such as John Seaman to explain his methods to you, but this is how I've done it pretty much forever. It's simple, and it works.

What's That Thing You Rigged?

Today's object of affection is an Eduard Albatros DV in 1/48th scale. This particular kit was one of Eduard's ProfiPak offerings and came with photoetched parts, a few of which ended up on the completed model. The markings are also from an Eduard kit, but I honestly don't remember which one; it might not have been the same one that had the PE in it. While this isn't a kit review by any means, you should know that the Eduard DV and DVa kits are getting a little bit long in the tooth now, but still make up into excellent models, although there's a major issue with the undercarriage and the way it makes the airplane sit---sure wish either Eduard or some aftermarket company would address that particular issue for us---and they're easy to build, making them a good introduction to biplane modeling too. Build time on the one you see before you, including the rigging, was about 20 hours.

The markings are, as previously mentioned, from one of Eduard's many boxings of this venerable kit and represent a machine from Jasta 12. Most of the paint colors were mixed from enamels in the ModelMaster range, and in that regard please note that the colors on the upper surfaces of the wings have fairly sharp demarcations. Weathering is absolutely minimal.

What's That Thing The Thing You Rigged is On?

As it happens, that's actually a base for a different Great War project that hasn't been started quite yet. The wooden part is a cutting board, obtained from the Friendly Neighborhood Giant Discount Store of your choice. The dirt is actually dirt, gathered years ago for just such silliness and sifted to get a consistently fine texture, while the green stuff is a blend of several shades of Woodland Scenics grass; you can find that stuff at any hobby shop that sells model trains. The ground cover was bound to the board with a watered-down application of artist's polymer gloss medium.

And Finally

I'm told that it's possible that you may be receiving an e-mail telling you when this site has been updated, at least if you decided to register as a follower. That updated thing may be a nuisance for you, because I often go back into these pieces to edit them after the fact, because I don't ever catch everything on the first pass and I want what you're reading to be as good as I can get it. The problem lies in that updated e-mail part of the evolution, because you may be getting an e-mail every time I catch and correct a spelling or point of grammar. If that really is happening I apologize, and promise I'll try to get the editing done before any given piece is posted. I'll try. I can't guarantee the results, though, 'cause like I mentioned a whole bunch of times before, I'm still learning! Anyway, we're all bozos on this bus, right? (The Congress of Wonders said that way back in 1969 or so and it's still valid, I think...)

Until next time,


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