Cat Scratch Fever
by Phil Novak
Sometimes all of us out there in the modeling world feel the need to do something different, something crazy. We need to do something that no one in their right mind would do. Some interpret this as doing “funny” vehicles that were rare and have little reference to work from. My interpretation is a little bit different, and it can be just as challenging.
What I like to do is take a fairly common subject, like one of the German cats, a Tiger or Panther, and cram it with every last after market set that is available, and scratch build every little thing that is not there that’s supposed to be. Now before one begins such a project it is important to know that you need two things: time, as it will take a long while to complete and most of all, reference. With a great amount of reference material it is easy to see what needs to be done, and can provide ways to do it. Often times you will find a piece that was on the real thing, but nobody provides it, or if they do, it doesn’t have the proper shape. Not only does such a project test your ability with after market materials, but also with scratch building and conversion methods.
So I have decided to take on a big project like this, I have a stack of reference materials, a mountain of styrene, resin and photo etch, and now where do I begin? First of all look at what you are trying to do. Sort out your after market and decide where in the course of construction do you want to install them. Mark up your instruction book with notes on what you have a replacement for or what you want to replace. Remember too, that you will want to highlight things that you need to scratchbuild and add, or else you may forget until after painting or weathering, “Hey I wanted to add some bolts here!” Put words of warning such as “Don’t attach until painted” and “Don’t put this on until later” It is also a good idea to go through all of your pieces and decide the quality of them. Sometimes, the kit pieces look better than the after market ones! Once you are done deciding which pieces you are going to use, which ones you need to scratch build, and which ones need to be “tweaked” you are ready to begin
It is my experience that it is best to build the vehicle from the inside out, and from the ground up. Start by putting the hull interior in. Try and work in subassemblies whenever possible. “Subassemblies” are the main components that come together in the end. Examples are, a gun and gun breech, the interior floor with the transmission and seats, an engine, etc. Never glue in the subassemblies until you have painted and weathered them. You will have to use your own judgement on what you want to glue in and what to leave loose. But when in doubt, leave it loose! It always easier to glue it down when your done, then pry the whole model apart trying to get to something so you can paint it. This is another good reason to mark your instruction book, as it prevents blunders such as premature attachment.
While you are doing this whole process, look at what you are doing and ask yourself, am I going to be able to facilitate painting if I glue this on? Am I going to be able to remove that subassembly for painting if I glue this on? Every once in a while, especially with interiors there are little parts that need to be installed that throw a big monkey wrench in to the whole equation. These parts are so tiny that it is hard to paint them separately but if you don’t put them in, they won’t allow for something to be removed for painting. Examples are little boxes on a hull wall. You can’t glue them in or else you can’t take out the hull floor, but they are not big enough to be a separate subassembly. Be careful not to loose these and take your time with them, things like that can make or break an interior.
Now that you are satisfied with the interior assembly, put on the upper hull and make sure that it fits nicely. Remember not to glue it on! If it doesn’t fit, you’re in for some fun, and if it does, then you’re lucky. If it doesn’t, sit down with it and see what is keeping the upper hull from sitting properly. Once you figure it out you will have to find a way to grind it down, move it, or if it can’t be seen on the finished product, remove it. Removing should be a last resort, because usually you will be able to see everything when you crack it open.
When you figure out what the problem is, the next thing is fixing it without damaging too much detail. The best advice is, just play with it until it fits. So once you are satisfied with the fit and assembly, you can go ahead and paint it. If your subject is German, start by spraying the interior with a reddish brown color, such as Tamiya XF-9 Hull Red, or if you are an enamel user, darkened model master rust. Once you have this down spray the interior with XF-2 white with an extremely small amount XF-9 in it. Just enough to give the paint a little tint. If you like enamel, use model master panzer interior buff. Now you may be asking, “why red?” The answer is quite simple: The Germans used a red brown primer before the white coat, which gave it a reddish, creamy white finish. The red primer helps to bring it out a little better then just using the straight reddish white to begin with. So once this is dry go back and do your detail painting. This can get a little sticky because there is no really good reference on interior colors. As a general rule of thumb you can paint things such as the transmission a greenish white, a gray or just leave it the reddish white. The same rules apply to the brake drums. Also I have heard that the floors of German interiors were left primer red, so be careful when painting as to not cover the red in ivory. In allied tanks, a straight white was used, maybe with a little bit of a greenish hue. Modern AFV interiors are mostly a pale green.
Once you are done with the interior you can begin work on the engine or engine compartment. The engine is something that can make or break the model, so take your time when working on it. The engine is the biggest item to detail in the construction process. Since most manufactures don’t bother with wires and tiny bolts, this is where your scratch building skills and eye for detail come in handy.
Be prepared to spend some time on the engine, making sure that all the wires are attached and all are the right shape and length. Painting can be a little challenging, but take your time and it will come out nicely. The German engine compartment uses the same red brown base coat as used in the crew compartment (No white overcoat). Allied engine compartments were painted with the white. When you go to paint the engine itself, don’t paint it with any metallic colors. Instead use flat black or a dark gray, and then lightly dry brush with aluminum.
By this time you should have everything on the lower hull interior finished. Now build up the running gear and tracks. Tracks are an item that can really bring your model to life. With many different types of track available it can get a little mind-boggling to decide which type is right for you.
In my opinion you can never go wrong with Friulmodel. They are the best link track on the market, completely workable, and quite easy to assemble. Unlike ModelKasten track, the links hold together with incredible strength. Only when installed on the model, do they really come alive, with that realistic sag between the return rollers, or in the case of tigers and panthers, lying perfectly on top of the road wheels. Assembly is, in most cases a snap, but a No. 76 drill bit, a small pair of clippers, and an X-Acto knife are essential. The drill bit is to clean out the holes that the pin is inserted in. I just put the two links that I am assembling together and then run the drill through. Then without separating the links, I push the wire in to for the pivot pin, and finally clip the excess to get the pin flush with the hole. Repeat about 200 more times.
I have heard about some people using music wire for the pins instead of the provided soft aluminum. This prevents the wire from bending when pushing it in the pivot point. Overall this is easily a five star product. ModelKasten Track also works well but it does have an annoying tendency to come apart. Now you may be asking, is there really a big difference between the poly (rubber band) track and the link by link track? The answer is yes, there really is.
Often times the link by link has holes in the track where there are really supposed to be holes, and the poly track doesn’t. At most it has indentations where they would be, if that. The guide horns are never hollow either. The pivot point on the track is also much more noticeable with the link by link track too. Also the “sag” between the return rollers is evident, but don’t get carried away with this. On wartime photographs a noticeable but slight sag between the rollers is present. This is one point in which your reference comes in handy. Use pictures to determine the proper amount of sag.
Most of your resin parts are going to be used in the interior, and most photo etch is going to be used on the exterior. The most common parts are the engine deck screens, fenders, stowage bins, pretty much anything that was sheet metal. The advantage to using this is first the scale thickness of a part. The photo etch is much thinner then any plastic, so thin parts such as fenders look much more in scale. Another plus is the ability to battle damage it. It can be bent, twisted, punched, mangled, torn, and dented much more easily then any plastic.
If you are going to be doing a subject with Zimmerit, there are many ways to do it. The Germans introduced Zimmerit in 1943 to cut the losses of armored vehicles to magnetic mines. It is a cement like substance applied in two coats during the production of the vehicle. Made of Barium Sulfide and a few other materials it was corrugated to cut down on the weight of the already heavy vehicles. It is this corrugation that poses the difficulty of reproduction in 1/35 scale. Fortunately Cavalier Productions have come up with thin resin sheets that you glue on the surface of the plastic to reproduce the unique texture.
To start get a sharp X-Acto number 11 blade and cut the desired section out of the sheet. Now comes the ugly part: you have to file off any surface detail on the model so the sheet will sit properly. Use an emery board for the smaller stuff such as rivets and an X-Acto blade for the big stuff. Carefully test fit on the model to be sure that it is approximately the right shape- don’t worry if it isn’t an exact fit, as they are made larger then necessary in order to cover the whole section. When you are satisfied apply CA glue to the edges of the sheet and put it in place. After the glue has dried take your no. 11 blade and trim off the excess. Finish off using an emery board to file it flush with the edges of the vehicle. Paint as usual.
For the most part I didn’t have a whole lot of trouble getting the stuff on (Its a lot easier then the putty method) and the final result is great. Some of the things that I didn’t like about it was the 19.95 price tag and the tendency for the replacement parts, (such as the rear panel on a Pz.Kpfw. IV) to be warped. For the most part it is very nice and well worth the effort. Every now and then you will have to juxtapose two sheets right next to each other. This will create a line that is not realistic if left alone. To fix it, simply put body putty into the crack and let it dry. Don’t worry about loosing some of the texture, as applying Zimmerit was far from an exact science, and smooth patches were fairly common.
If you are looking for a cheaper way to model Zimmerit on German tanks, try using the putty method. Start off by putting a small dab of putty (squadron’s green stuff will do nicely) on to one side of the model. Then take and old razor saw blade and use the teeth to create the corrugated texture by dragging it across the surface of the model. Also jog the spreader sharply every ¼ of and inch to break up the corrugation. Remember to only work one part at a time and use a screwdriver to texture any unusual areas. That’s pretty much all there is to it but its a lot harder then it sounds. Just practice with it as practice makes perfect.
Some armored vehicles have cast turrets and hulls; therefore, the texture of the armor plate is rough. Kit manufactures don’t get it like it should be. In order to get the desired texture; spray plastic cement on the turret before you add any parts to it. This will soften the plastic and you can texture it with a coarse sponge. Another way is to use a steel brush in a motor tool, and bounce it across the surface LIGHTLY to create a rough appearance.
Once you are finished with the surface texturing you can begin adding hull details. Use your photo etch to detail the tool brackets. Remember to look for small fittings from your reference and add them to your model. Grandt line bolts and wing nuts come in very handy, as well as evergreen plastic strips. A product that I find useful is something that really has nothing to do with our hobby. I happen to also be a guitarist, and one day after changing strings, I realized that the treble strings from an electric guitar are excellent for modeling.
The .016 (G) is the most useful, for antennas and electrical wiring. The other gauges, .009, and .011 are also useful, but don’t come into play as much as the .016. If you are going to go buy a pack of strings, DO NOT buy acoustic strings. They are of heavier gauge then electric strings, and are also stiffer. Also the ever so useful G-string will be wound, and therefore useless. I suggest using Ernie Ball Super Slinky strings. Make sure you get SUPER Slinky. Regular Slinky, Power Slinky, Extra Slinky and Skinny Top Heavy Bottom are all different gauges.
For the most part detailing the exterior is mainly a matter of picking apart the smallest details from your photographs. Things to look for are headlight lenses, and MV lens will have a headlight looking perfectly, Wiring heading to the lamp is often missing so a little wire is necessary to set it straight.
Watch for where the real thing had little chains that kept small fittings from being lost. These are often missing. If you are building a half-track or assault gun, you’re pretty much ready to bring your kit to the paint booth at this point. However if your building something with a turret, you still have that to worry about, which is mostly going to be detailing the gun and sighting systems.
Now that your hull is complete it is time to move on to the turret, The biggest part is going to be the gun and that is where I usually start. Start by working around the mantlet. Add the breech block and work back to the spent shell basket and then add the recuperator housing and work forward to the barrel and muzzle brake.
Barrels can be a big problem if you use the kit barrel. Most come in two halves, and the seam is very pesky to get rid of. I usually use an aluminum barrel, just to save time. If you want to use the kit barrel, add a liberal amount of cement in the two halves and then squeeze them together until you get a bead of melted plastic on the seam. Let it dry overnight, and then sand the melted plastic off, and that will solve most of the seam problems. If you still have a seam, use some thinned body putty to fill it in. Sand to a smooth shape. There is a lot to look for on the inside of a gun breech. Electric wires for electric firing systems, Firing pins, coaxial machine guns, levers to open the breech, recoil tracks, etc.
Again I cannot stress enough to look at your reference. It is as important as your instructions. The rest of the turret interior is not as detailed as the hull, but is still packed with equipment. Watch for wires for different systems and boxes and clasps. Sometimes you have to piece together the detail from a number of different pictures. The hardest part of finishing the turret interior is mating it with the hull. Most tanks have a turret basket that goes down into the hull giving the crew a place to sit. Getting this to line up perfectly with the hull so that it sits right is critical. Tweak it that it keeps its real shape and dimensions, but so that it also fits.
Once you have gotten that to fit, you are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The turret exterior is usually not that hard to finish. Look for wires that connect to smoke dischargers and sighting vanes on the turret roof. Also remember that if you have wires on the inside going to something outside, you have to get them connected. If something is bolted to the inside, there are usually bolt heads on the outside. Once you have finished detailing the outside of the turret you are ready to paint your kit. Be careful not to knock off any of your hard earned detailing! (Wespe by David Clarke)
David Clarke, whose words and commentary follow constructed the Panther Ausf. G that is seen in some of the photographs.
For virtually every armor model I build I include Friul track and Aber photo-etch detail sets. If the vehicle calls for zimmerit, such as the Panther, I usually start applying that before assembly, simply because it’s easier to reach parts if they aren’t already glued. In some areas, like the glacis plate, I dry-fit the parts first, marking off where edges overlap to ensure parts will fit once the zimmerit is complete. I generally leave wheels on the sprue to paint and weather, and then install them when everything else is complete. It’s easy to do this on a Panther or Tiger, but not on a Sherman.
I break assembly down into major sub-assemblies – turret, hull, interior on open topped vehicles, and texture, add weld marks, or apply photo-etch per side. I consistently build from the bottom up, and then finish; super detail from the top down. I find it’s just easier to keep etched parts on longer if you don’t touch them too much. I can always hold the lower hull if I need to do fine work without disturbing fragile parts. I’ve rediscovered the absolute necessity of soldering large joints on photo etch pieces. For example, the side skirt rail and details will not stay together, regardless of how much super glue you use.
For references I used Panzers in Saumur #2, which has some excellent black and white artists renditions, Achtung Panzer # 4, Sturm and Drang #5, Squadron’s and Osprey’s books on the panther, and back issues of Military Modeling with relevant articles. Unless I’m really psyched on a single vehicle, I generally build a generic version that encompasses details and camouflage suggestive of a particular theater or unit.