Sunday, May 3, 2009

I ought to build some more kits!

I'm still making progress on the Campbell station. This weekend's project was adding the corbels or roof brackets that support the fascia, and making the lath screen above the operator's bay. See the attached pictures.

Most of the structures I've built over the last few years have been scratchbuilt. I had an idea or picture of the building I wanted, and I used only generic parts - window castings, plastic shaped to look like clapboard siding, stripwood, and wood sheet -- to try to reproduce that building. By scratchbuilding, I get to build exactly the building I want. As I've complained elsewhere, many commercial building kits don't look like they belong in California or the small Santa Clara Valley towns I model. I also get to think about the design of buildings and fitting each to the space I have, giving me a bit more of a challenge and more work to build the model.

Now, most model kits aren't that much of a challenge. There's plastic kits that could be assembled by "shaking the box". There's also wood structure kits that give you a set of rough plans and a box of the same parts you'd use when scratchbuilding, and turn you loose to build the model neatly with none of the fun of designing the building. Kits like that have kept me scratchbuilding (though I'll occasionally use such a kit for raw materials or as a starting point for other work).

Building the triangular roof supports, though, reminded me of what a good kit can provide. I'd gotten e-mail a couple weeks ago about a craftsman house model I have on a shelf layout; the sender wanted to buy the kit, but couldn't find it. (That's not surprising; the manufacturer only built those kits for maybe a year, and disappeared soon after. It's not surprising the kit would be hard to find 15 years later. The kit is the Timberline Scale Models "354 Juniper Street" kit for those who care.) I couldn't help the sender with the kit, but I did find the old instructions and sent off a copy.

Looking at those instructions reminded me how a kit can be useful when it teaches me skills. The kit instructions have you build the roof supports from stripwood using a technique I'd never seen before. First, you cut the diagonal piece from a template. Next, you use a credit card to square off a pair of long pieces of stripwood, and glue the diagonal piece in place between the two. Finally, you cut the glued piece off the longer pieces, and you're done!

It's a neat technique, and I'd forgotten about it til I photocopied the instructions. The brackets came together perfectly, and you can see them applied to the model in the original photo. I learned other techniques from that kit - using white glue and gesso to simulate stucco, using multiple contrasting colors on windows and window frames, adding rafter ends to super-detail a model, etc. It's a good example of why kits are useful, even for folks like me who think they know what they're doing. Supposedly, Fine Scale Miniatures kits were also good places to learn model techniques because of the details about weathering.

I'm also grateful to whichever kit taught me to use double-stick tape to hold down parts. I used that trick to build the lathwork strips hanging above the operator's bay. In that case, I laid out the strips on top of the tape (pressing my finger to the tape to remove some of its stickiness.) I then glued the cross-boards across all the strips, and glued some more on areas that would be cut away after the glue dried to hold everything together. After 20 or so minutes, I pulled the assembly off the tape, cut the whole piece to fit in the roof gable, then painted and installed the lathwork. I always have double-stick tape in my desk drawer for modeling - it's an essential now. It's a much nicer technique than the old-fashioned glue-on-wax paper approach.

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