Saturday, June 12, 2010

Chaos Space Marine World Eaters Terminators

Terminators are probably some of the coolest figures in GW's catalog. This represents a few months of work, doing a little bit at a time. I think the results are well worth it.

The technique I used on these involved a base-coat of  Testors Model Master Gold Leaf spraypaint. Some artists use Testors metallics as a base primer to expose flaws in their work, and it works well; both the Gold and Silver spraypaints are quite thin and have very good coverage. The advantage here is that I get a very good gold base (for the trim on the armor), while at the same time providing a basecoat with very good bonding properties to plastic.

Next I hand-painted the red areas using GW Red Gore paint. I applied this a little thicker than normal, in order to get sufficient coverage over the glossy gold paint (too thin and it just beads up), with subsequent coats thinned to 50% paint/water.

The only modification I did was on the unit sergeant. Rather than use a kit provided head, I replaced it with the "fanged" head from the Khorne Berzerkers set, customizing my models slightly and tying it more into my World Eaters Army.

Forgeworld World Eaters Chaos Space Marine Dreadnaught

The Dreadnaught has always been an iconic unit within the Space Marine armies of Warhammer 40,000. Available to both the loyalist Space Marine chapters, as well as the Chaos Space Marines, the latter has been saddled for years with a very dated, all metal dreadnaught model with few options.

Forgeworld, a subsidiary of Games Workshop/Citadel, fills a niche in the colletion, aiming at producing products Games Workshop either doesn't cover, feels is not profitable enough, or provides customized and high end products for the enthusiast.

One important series is its collection of Chaos Dreadnaughts. For the most part these are unique units with their own iconography or imagery, and many are specific to sub-factions within the setting.

As I have finally settled on World Eaters as my Chaos legion of choice, it was only inevitable that I pick up the Forgeworld model, particularly as the UK Pound to US Dollar exchange rate is the most favorable it has been in years. In order to keep initial costs down, I ordered just the body, and will order the arms at a later date. This also gives me more time to consider the exact load-out I should use.

Over the years Forgeworld has been criticized for poor casting quality (or, at least, quality not equal to their price). To be frank, I have yet to get a bad cast from Forgeworld, and this Dreadnaught continues that trend. With only one flake of flash on the leg, the casting of this piece is flawless.

The purpose of this blog is to document the building and painting process of this guy. Although I have come up with some efficient techniques, I'm going to push this up another notch and see what I come up with.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Project: 1/48 Marder IIIM

The Marder series of armored vehicles were a German effort to self-propel their anti-tank artillery. The very first vehicle in the series, the Marder I, mounted a Czech 47mm anti-tank gun on a Panzer I chassis, and would set the stage for the shape these vehicles would take. The Marder II series mounted the captured 76.2mm (rebored for 75mm) Soviet field gun, while the Marder III series mounted the reliable 75mm PAK 40 anti-tank gun. A variety of chassis were used for both the Marder II and III, but mostly consisting of the Panzer II and the Panzer 38(t). The "M" variant was the final form these vehicles would take, with the engine mounted in the middle of the vehicle, and the fighting compartment moved to the rear. This allowed for a much larger fighting compartment and thus better "fightability."

Tamiya's model depicts the Marder IIIM, the final type of this vehicle series. Overall the kit moldings are nothing short of spectacular, with a great amount of detail. More importantly, however, is the hull. Gone are the clunky cast metal hull tubs, and instead this area is depicted in multi-part plastic instead, with a commensurate increase in detail. There are metal weights supplied to give the model "heft," but in my opinion this feature is absolutely useless and adds nothing to the kit (an artifact of the "collectibles" market were "heft" is perceived as having better quality, despite the fact this has no basis in reality).

Also of note is the very nice PAK 40 75mm L/46. This also has loads of detail, and would make a nice basis for towed PAK 40 (which would only need a carriage -- hint to Tamiya). Finally, the kit includes a single figure, which like many Tamiya figures is a bit on the small side. I will most likely assemble it, but depending on final measurements I may or may not actually use it.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Project: M-8 Greyhound Armored Car Progress I

Like any OOB (Out Of the Box) build, construction is fast, especially in 1/48 scale. The entire build time took perhaps 3 hours spread over the course of a few evenings. One of the techniques I have been using is building in "micro-sessions" of perhaps 15min or so spread out over an entire night. I found that when I had longer sessions, I spent an inordinate amount of time staring at the directions or waiting for things to dry. But spending only 15 minutes or so building meant that there was less wasted time.

Here essentially construction is complete. The only details that must be added are the wheels (left off for painting) and the fenders (for the same reason. This vehicle will get a primer coat of Testors Enamel in a spray can, before airbrushing with Polly Scale Olive Drab (my preferred brand for this color).

Although the kit comes with a figure, it looks like it falls short like many Tamiya kit figures in this scale, literally. Many Tamiya figures scale in at around 5'4", making them a little short. While soldiers of this size were not unknown in WWII, it would have been nice to get a figure with a little more height. What I may do is pose him standing in the vehicle while looking off in the distance with his binoculars. This should make his height deficiency less apparent. I'll have to come up with a gunner from somewhere, perhaps aftermarket.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Project: 1/48 M8 Greyhound Armored Car

The M8 Armored Car was the standard of its type used by the US Army during WWII. Developed from a family of different armored car designs, the US Army selected the 6-wheeled vehicle as the best compromise between mobility, weight, and protection. Although there were larger armored cars (with armor approaching that of a medium tank), for the selected role of reconnaisance and cavalry duties, the vehicle was potent enough for the job.

The M8 mounts a 37mm anti-tank cannon, the same as fitted to the M3/M5 Stuart family, and could fire AP, HE, and Cannister rounds. Backing this up was a .30 (7.62mm) M1919 machine gun, and a .50 (12.7mm) M2HB machine gun. Early models had the heavy machine gun mounted on a simple pintle mount at the back of the turret, but later designs replaced this with a ring mount for improved 360o coverage.

Like the SU-122, this kit is another OOB (Out Of the Box) build, and there is not much needed to improve it on the outside. That being said, the interior is very sparse, with only the turret floor and crew seats in the turret (thus lacking things like the ready-rack for the 37mm cannon), and having absolutely no detail in the driver's compartment. This is less of an issue with a vehicle like this, since not much of the interior can be seen anyway, but the turret details are sparse enough as it is, and could have used a few more details in this area.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Project: 1/48 SU-122 Progress I

As I had mentioned in the last installment of this project blog, I intend to build this kit mostly OOB. This consequently means a fast build, so here is the progress so far.

Construction on this kit is essentially done. There were no real hang-ups in the construction process, and it (like most Tamiya kits) went together almost flawlessly. Especially nice were the auxiliary fuel tanks on the hull rear, which had the seams cunningly hidden via the construction process. It still pays to clean up the seams, but this method goes a long way to improving the look of the kit.

Also of note is that the kit possesses adjustable idler mounts. This means that the modeler can adjust track tension to make sure the tracks fit perfectly. While this is a good idea, I still managed to have a gap in the tracks (though I hid it for the most part under a fender). If I adjust the idler back anymore, it will rub against the first road wheel (these tanks had rear-mounted transmissions, and thus were rear wheel drive). In the future, it might be better to simply add a link to the tracks (the kit gives you a few spares) and see how that works.

The kit in the photo has been primed using Testors Enamel Light Gull Gray in the spray can. This will provide a nice, neutral base for further coats of paint. Also because it is an enamel (and using an organic solvent it is slightly "hot," producing a better chemical bond to the plastic) it will better hold the paint for follow-up coats. Also the tracks as can be seen are constructed to be removed, and have been primed black, to give it a good foundation for producing a steel metallic color.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Project: Grenadier Dragon Lords Red Dragon Progress I

Here is the old girl fully assembled with its first coat of primer.

One of the interesting points about this project was the construction sequence. As can be seen in the photo, this dragon has very large wings. And, being molded in lead alloy, they are also consequently heavy. Therefore, it took quite a bit more work to assemble this model than I had initially expected.

As usual I used 5-minute epoxy during the assembly process. Unfortunately, I did not have anything appropriate to prop up the wings while the epoxy cured, so I physically had to sit and hold the wings together while the epoxy cured. I had attempted to time the process, so I wouldn't have to hold them together for the whole 5 minutes, but even after the epoxy's "working time" expired, I had to continue to hold the wings for an extended period of time until the epoxy cured enough on its own. After that, the rest of the assembly process was trivial.

The figure was mounted on a plastic 50mm round base sourced from EM-4. They come in a bag of 5 for £1.50, not bad in this era of eCommerce and cheap shipping from the UK Royal Post. This base roughly coincides with a Large-sized Red Dragon by D&D 3/3.5/Pathfinder rules.

Next up will be the first basecoat. Thanks to the white primer, a coat of Citadel's Blood Red should produce a brilliant red color.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Project: 1/48 SU-122

The SU-122 was designed in response to the use of self-propelled assault guns by the German Army in WWII. Vehicles like the StuG III were designed to provide direct-fire artillery support to infantry troops on the battlefield, and be able to resist anti-tank weapons of the time. Based on the proven T-34 chassis the SU-122 (designation refers to the caliber of cannon used, in this case a 122mm howitzer) was more powerful than its German counterparts, able to throw a much larger shell.

Tamiya has followed up on their T-34 kit with this SU-122, and it's definitely a nice model. After working on a number of complex builds using after-market parts. I intend for this to be an "Out of the Box" build: simple and not encumbered by large numbers of after-market parts (in fact, I'll be building the model unmodified, with perhaps a bit of stowage). Expect some updates soon.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Project: 1/48 ACE ZU-23-2

One of the results of the thawing of the Cold War and liberalization of the economies of Eastern Europe is it allowed a lot of entrepreneurial-ism, which has been nothing but good for model builders. Hailing out of Kiev, Ukraine, ACE models has for several years concentrated on manufacturing small scale (1/72) armor kits and the like. Using limited run plastic injection molding technology, the ACE kits were always for more experienced modelers, and a little on the rough side. That being said, they also manufactured kits not produced anywhere else before or since, mainly concentrating on Eastern European designs, with a smattering of western designs as well.

The ZU-23-2 (kit # 48101) is ACE's first foray into the world of 1/48 scale modeling. I have to say, its a pretty nice kit, and much better than my memories of their older 1/72 scale kits.

The ZU-23-2 was one of the standard Soviet light anti-aircraft cannons, and is still in use today with a number of operators. Firing a 23mm shell, it is designed to be a more potent successor to the ZPU system (which mounted 14.5mm machine guns). Although lacking many of the modern aiming aids such as radar direction, it is simple, easy to use, and useful against both aerial targets (especially helicopters) and ground targets.

As can be seen from the sprue shots (these are taken from ACE's website, by the way), the kit includes 4 sprues, with 2 identical. The quality of the moldings are very good, and while some of the parts still have thick gates to be removed, the quality and finesse of the parts are better than older kits.

I have to admit, one of the reasons I bought this kit was to encourage ACE to do more in this scale. With a grand total of 2 different model kits of modern molding quality currently in plastic (unless you include the old Tamiya/Academy/Arii battery powered carpet crawlers, or the equally dreadful and not especially accurate Kitech/Zhengdefu kits), there's not a lot that can go with this kit, unless you resort to resin. But still, it's a very nice kit, and looks like it will be a fun project.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Project: Grenadier Dragon Lords Red Dragon

Over the course of this blog, I've come to the realization that it's mostly about model building, and not much about minis. So on that note I offer the first project focused on minis. And it is a classic.

Grenadier was one of the older, more venerable figure manufacturers in the realm of fantasy and SF gaming. Although they had a historical line, they are much more well known for the fantasy and licensed properties they produced miniatures for. Although now gone, for many gamers of D&D and AD&D in the late '70s and '80s, Grenadier was an important foundation to any collection (at least here in the US).

Around 1984, Grenadier started the "Dragon of the Month" series, producing a single dragon every month for a year. This included the 5 Chromatic dragons (White, Red, Blue, Green, Black), the 5 Metallic Dragons (Brass, Bronze, Copper, Gold, Silver), the Platinum Dragon, and the Spectral Dragon (aka Tiamat of AD&D fame). Each boxed set came with the dragon in question, as well as a small pedistal with a plastic gem. When complete, the pedestals formed a ring of gems, one for each color. It was a fun and cool accessory, and created a reason to collect them all.

The Dragons of the Month series, by modern standards, is a little primitive in sculpting. There are certainly better, more detailed dragons on the market (including Grenadier's second series: "Dragons of the Month II"), but in my opinion, a lot of the old Grenadier miniatures have a certain charm, and I've taken it upon myself to collect a lot of these old dragons, for use in either D&D or just to simply have.

Here is the dragon before assembly. This model was molded in lead, rather than the pewter alloys a lot of fantasy figures are currently manufactured in. This means the figure is rather heavy but fairly soft and malleable. That being said, epoxy will be used exclusively in the construction of this figure.

Another property of Grenadier's alloys is that they tend to have a fair bit of flash. With lead alloys this is not as much a problem as with pewter, as the alloy files much easier, but nonetheless it will require quite a bit more clean-up compared to many modern figures. Looking at the pedestal, there is quite a bit of flash around it (indeed, all of the figures I've acquired so far have flash issues).

One interesting note: the Grenadier molds are now the property of Mirliton Miniatures of Italy. As far as I know, only one dragon from the orginal Dragon Lords line has been released by them: the Brass. However, most of the Dragon Lords II line is available, though of course without the accessories in the original Grenadier boxes.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Project: 1/48 Panzer III Ausf.M Progress III

The Panzer IIIM is nearing completion. Here not only have I applied the basecoat of paint, but also the camouflage scheme. This was done using the fine tip and needle in my Paasche VLS double action airbrush. With thinned Tamiya Olive Green XF-58 paint (the basecoat was again Tamiya Dark Yellow XF-60). With the needle pulled back only slightly, and with the paint thinned to a skim milk-like consistency, it is possible to get pencil thin lines with some skill and precision. Unfortunately, I think I needed to thin the paint a bit more, as there was a slight bit of splatter, but given these tanks were painted by the crew with whatever skills they were able to bring, neatness was not always the norm either.

The Echelon Fine Decals have been applied, and these are definitely some of the finest on the market. The decals were silk screened, rather than printed via a lithograph process or on a color printer. This means they are not only very rich and dense in colors (such as they are, here only 2 -- black and white), but also a pleasure to work with. They are also very thin, meaning there is less work I need to do to make them look like something other than a decal! I used my standard process for applying these decals: the model was first airbrushed in Future Floor Acrylic Finish (using the coarse tip and needle, and the Future unthinned), then the decals applied with a little Solvaset to make sure they snuggle down onto the model. Afterward, a second coat of Future seals the work.

The suspension components on the tracks have also been painted, again using the fine tip in my airbrush. This can be a tedious process, but the results speak for themselves. I still need to paint the front half of the road wheels and return rollers, but so far I am pleased with how they came out. Interestingly, when highly thinned, Tamiya paints take on a semi-gloss aspect. Not that it really matters all that much...

The next step in this process is to allow the clearcoat to dry thoroughly (usually a process of several days; for Future I use the old technique of waiting until it doesn't smell of Future anymore!), and a dullcoat likely using Polly Scale Acrylic clear flat, with a little Tamiya Flat Base X-21 mixed in (note: it always bears repeating that X-21 is not a clear flat, but a paint additive to make dull paints!).

Friday, March 26, 2010

"The Stash"

One of the curious things about being a hobbyist (such as a model builder or a wargamer) is that over time one tends to collect a "stash" (or in wargaming circles, a lead pile). This is mainly due to the phenomenon of having more money than time to build, coupled with ambition. Thus I thought it would be fun to document my "stash" and see if it grows smaller over time, or larger (far more likely).

The picture above is of an old bookcase stuffed with kits. It has become such that the overflow is now resting on the shade of a lamp! This is all in my basement, where level of clutter is irrelevant to the rest of the family (except perhaps as a fire hazard). This is for the most part the "1/35" stash, as the main constituents are 1/35 scale models. There a a few ship models that managed to get in there somehow. As can be seen my stash has a fairly diverse subject matter, spanning from WWII to modern.

This second picture represents the other half of the stash. Here we have my collection of 1/48 scale models, as well as a couple aircraft kits and some SF stuff. The top shelf is mostly dedicated to wargames figures: in the collection you should be able to see both Warhammer Fantasy/40K items, some historicals, as well as a few figures where the primer is still curing. In the tool trays at the very back are plastic and metal bases, as well as my collection of unfinished 15mm figures. It's a large collection because 15mm is (for the most part) cheap. One thing to note is that the shelves with my model kits are double depth!

I cannot imagine how much money this investment represents, and I would probably be better of not calculating its worth. That being said, it is a hobby, and it brings me a certain measure of happiness. Thankfully I have a big basement (aka "The Man Cave"), and plenty of other corners to stash my stuff.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Project: 1/48 Panzer III Ausf.M Progress II

Made a little progress on the Panzer IIIM project. As can be seen here, the turret is complete in terms of construction. When mounting the main armament to the turret, Hauler fails to provide much of a mounting area, just a blank space behind where the mantlet goes. I can only assume that Hauler intends the builder to simply butt-glue the mantlet to the turret, but this creates unsightly gaps either on the top of the mounting, or below (depending on what elevation you desire). I resolved this by cutting the plastic mounting piece from the kit in half, and then gluing it into the space provided. Although not called out in the conversion's instructions, I assume this is what Hauler intended. Nonetheless, cutting the component along the seam lines means the cannon is super-elevated. Not really much of a problem as I rarely depict models in the act of an actual engagement, but I would have at least liked a choice.

The Panzer IIIM moved the headlights from the hull front to the fenders, as I had mentioned in my previous post. Hauler provides new mounts and headlights, but unfortunately, while removing one of the headlights, it promptly fell on the floor and disappeared! I can rarely get through a project without losing a piece or two, and for this one it was a headlight. Luckily Hauler provides the correct types as a separate set, so I promptly ordered a new set (which has not arrived yet).

The smoke grenade launchers on the side of the turret are also offered as a seperate upgrade kit for people building the Panzer IIIN (Tamiya doesn't provide these), or upgrading the IIIL for a Kursk era machine. Given that, I have some experience with these components, and I while I think Hauler puts out an excellent product, these components are not one of their best efforts in my opinion. The set does give you some variety, providing both loaded and expended launchers. Unfortunately, however, you only get 8 mortars, (you need to use 6), with 4 loaded, and 4 expended mortars. Again, it would have been nice to have a total of 12 mortars to depict a vehicle at full load out, or perhaps one that has already expended all of it's smoke grenades.

That, however, is a minor complaint compared to the photo-etch mounting brackets.The big problem here is that each smoke grenade is supposed to be angled slightly in order to clear it's neighbor. The photo-etch mounting bracket unfortunately lacks relief-etch fold lines to aid the modeler. This means that without special tools it is very hard to get a good fold, and really a special PE folding device is recommended. I don't have one of these, so I instead scribed the brass to provide a "weak" point to fold at. It wasn't entirely successful, and as a result, the bend is a little more sloppy than I would like. I'm going to have to live with it, but if Hauler happens to be reading, I highly reccomend adding relief-etch fold lines to these components!

The suspension has already been spray-painted black in preparation for further painting. Normally, I weather the tracks and then hand-paint the wheels. This time, however, I think I'll do things a little different and use the fine needle in my airbrush to spray them instead. Hopefully, with enough patience and skill, I can minimize over-spray on the tracks themselves.

Finally, with the suspension components fully assembled, I joined the lower and upper hulls permanently. On the Tamiya kits with metal hulls, this is usually facilitated by a pair of screws. I personally dislike this as again it reduced the number of options one can do with the kit. In the case of the Panzer III series kits, the mounting holes are covered by one of the transmission access hatch and one of the engine access hatches in the rear. Some other kits, however, have the mounting points through crew hatches and such. In many ways this reminds me of the early DML 1/72 scale kits, which similarly had cast metal components and screw together assembly. These compromises were made because the true purpose of the kits were for the collectible, pre-constructed and pre-painted market. This market for whatever reason values weight and metal as equaling quality, despite the fact that metal cannot hold fine detail as well as plastic. Unfortunately, it is one of the things we must live with, as the actual model-building market is of secondary importance.

I'm actually planning on painting the turret in short order, mainly so I can start applying decals. For some people, the decalling stage is a chore; for me, a good set of quality silk-screened decals are a pleasure, and one of my favorite aspects of this project.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Project: 1/48 Panzer III Ausf. M Progress I


Here is the progress on this model so far. I am approximately half-way through the construction phase. The conversion from an Ausf.L to an Ausf.M requires a little bit of modification to the base kit, as well as a brand new turret. The white spots on the front of the hull are where I filled the mounts for the headlights -- the M model moved these to the fenders. Although it cannot be seen in this photo, the rear mounts for the mufflers were also filled as the Ausf. M has a new deep wading muffler. Also not seen here is the rear hull muffler mount. Installation of this component required cutting down the lower rear hull piece just above the idler mounts. 
Also seen here is the right side suspension components, fully assembled. There was a gap of approximately half a link, which I partially hid by stretching the track components, and also hiding under one of the fenders. I have had similar problems with all of Tamiya's Panzer III based kits, so I can only assume this is a flaw in the kit.

When assembling the tracks on kits with hard plastic components, I will often glue them together before painting (if possible) for a stronger assembly. In the past I had tried assembling the tracks after painting, but the bond with super glue never held well (you are, after all, bonding one paint layer to another), and epoxy was both more messy and more time intensive. After the tracks are fully assembled, I remove the entire assembly, complete with wheels, and then paint the components as necessary. This both creates a strong assembly as well as a more neat appearance.

One thing that is always tricky to do -- but very important when working on a conversion -- is coordinating the two sets of instructions, both the kit's and the conversion's. I accidentially jumped ahead and mounted the engine intakes without adding the photo-etch frames (the gray parts on the upper rear hull -- on the real tank these were hinged so that the intakes can be sealed for deep wading). This is going to require me to modify the parts in order to fit them on the kit, requiring extra work. On the other hand, it has to be said that the photo etch parts might interfere with a good bond to the hull, so in the end this mistake might be for the better.

Still to be done is completion of the left side suspension components, completion of the turret (still needs the door stops installed, the barrel contoured, stowage bin latches installed, and the turret hatch installed), and of course the finishing touches on the upper hull (tools, headlights and bow machine gun) then it's off to paint. Discussing with the publisher of the decals, I will paint this vehicle in a scheme of dark yellow for a basecoat, and a splotchy pattern of dark green, similar to many of the tanks serving at Kursk.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Project: 1/48 Panzer III Ausf. M Conversion

By 1943, the Panzer III was starting to show it's obsolescence. Although the 50mm KwK 39 L/60 was still capable of knocking out a T-34, it was outclassed by many of the newer and heavier tanks then coming into service (such as the older KV-1 and the much more effective KV-85, not to mention the JS-II coming into service in the spring of 1944). Nonetheless, the Panzer III continued to serve into 1943 in a frontline role, and till the end of the war in peripheral theaters.

The Ausführung (model) M, produced between 1942 and 1943, was a minor upgrade of the Ausf. L model, equipped with deep wading gear. Only 250 vehicles were produced, with some incomplete chassis being redirected to StuG III manufacture, due to the obsolescence of the model.

Tamiya has produced a very nice kit of the Ausf. L version of the tank, but no such parts exist currently to make an Ausf. M. to the rescue comes Hauler. Long a very firm supporter of the 1/48 scale, Hauler produced two conversion kits for this model: both an "early" variant as well as a "late" variant. I chose the latter as it incorporated some of the features I wanted on my model.

Originally, I had intended to use the skirt armor from Tamiya's Panzer IIIN (many of which were not equipped on vehicles serving in North Africa), but unfortunately, the decal sheet I selected for this project (from Echelon Fine Details) only had markings for an M without skirt armor (in this case, the Regimental Command tank 2.SS-Pz.Rgt "Das Reich") serving in the Battle of  Kursk in 1943 (note: on the Wikipedia article site, another Regimental command tank for "Das Reich" can be seen, this model being a short-barreled Ausf. J variant). So be it: the decal sheet also has markings for an Ausf. L "Das Reich" machine with skirt armor, so that'll go to a future project!

The summary of parts I'm using for this project include: Tamiya's Panzer III Ausf. L kit; Hauler's Panzer IIIM "Late" conversion kit; Hauler's Panzer III stowage bin, and the Echelon Fine Details decal sheet.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Project: 1/48 M4A1 Sherman Progress II

The model is starting to shape up. As can be seen in the photo, tracks have been assembled and applied to the model. There are still a few odds and ends that need to be finished up (such as painting the hull machine gun and final assembly on the aftermarket Verlinden .50 caliber machine gun) and then it is on to weathering.

The tank represents a vehicle used in France during the summer of 1944 by the 7th Armored Division. As the division first entered combat on 13 August 1944, this would place it in the vicinity of Chartres, Dreux and Melun, later Verdun. Being high summer, and after the heavy rains of the initial Normandy landings, this tank would be most suitable in a dusty weathering scheme, which is what I intend to go with.

For a diorama, I'm thinking something a little more urban. As the division was a central figure in the liberation of Chartres, something with this subject matter might be a good choice. Chartres was heavily damaged in the fighting, so ruined buildings would create an interesting modeling opportunity. Unfortunately I am unable to find many photos of the period for the city so I'm at a loss as to how to proceed. More research is clearly needed...

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Project: 1/1000 Refit Enterprise

The Enterprise has been an iconic image within the Science Fiction genre for decades. There have been many variants of the ship, from toys to model kits, and while all these attempts have been worthy in one form or another, the new Polar Lights (a sub brand of Round 2, specializing in Sci-fi, monster kits and the like, in the tradition of the old Aurora model company) goes into a league of its own. There really hasn't been a good quality mid-scale kit of the refit version of the ship in styrene, with Polar Lights 1/350 scale kit clearly on the large end, while a small scale (1/2500) version  was included in the 3-ship Enterprise set (including the Original version, as well as the -D version from Next Generation). There was of course the old AMT/Ertl 1/537 scale kit, but it was in an odd scale ("box" scale, or scaled to be of sufficient size to fit in a standard sized box), as well as having a lot of questionable details.

Polar Lights had put out a snap-tite kit of the Original series Enterprise, as well as a Klingon D-7, and launched the new 1/1000 scale (a nice compromise between size and detail). Both were received positively, not just because of their quality, but also because of their abandonment of the dreaded box scale. This gave SF modelers the feeling that they were finally a "respected" branch of the hobby (military, naval, and auto modeling branches had abandoned "box" scale sometime in the early '60s). Alas there were road blocks in the way: Polar Lights, which had aquired Ertl/AMT along with their collectable car lines, was aquired by Racing Champions, which had little interest in the injection molded SF kit industry, so the lines were cancelled and all of the classic Trek kits (along with a fair number of classic Star Wars kits as well) languished while RC concentrated on NASCAR collectable toys.

Hope emerged from Round2, aquiring a lot of the classic AMT and PL molds, and now producing kits of their own.

And it was worth the wait.


The new Polar Lights kit has been much anticipated, and not just by me. 1/1000 is close to being a "perfect" scale: big enough to hold good detail, but small enough that you can have an actual collection. 

Comparisons to the old Original fit of the Enterprise that had been released previously is natural. Although the Refit kit is a "snap-tite" kit, there has been no real compromise in detail, and in terms of construction is significantly better than the old kit, but with a similar number of options. Like the original kit, it uses an extensive amount of transparent parts, a nod to those that with to light up their kits. In addition construction is logical and almost effortless. This is the single best kit of the Enterprise on the market today in the "mid-range" scale, and far better than the old AMT kit.

Surface detail remains very good, and a respectable representation can be made from the kit.
 The biggest surprise -- a welcome one -- is the extensive decal sheet. Aimed at aiding modelers in portraying the correct "aztec" pattern of hull paneling, it represents these patterns as conventional water-transfer decals. While not an original method (aftermarket manufacturers have done something similar in the past), this is the first commercal kit to my knowledge that adds this feature. All of this comes on a set of three decal sheets!

If you could buy only one Trek model, this definitely should be it!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Project: 1/48 Jagdpanzer 38(t) "Hetzer" Progress.

Here's the progress on the Hetzer. As can be seen, major assembly is mostly done, and I've applied the first basecoat of Dark Yellow. In the background can be seen one of the camouflage schemes, a pattern often referred to as "Ambush." It consisted of alternating bands of Dark Yellow, Red-brown and Green, with dots of the other two colors on each segment (thus, the dark yellow segments would have dots of red-brown and green). This scheme was factory applied, and while it is very popular among modelers and wargamers, it was also fairly short lived, only applied during the Autumn of 1944, per all of my references.

As can be seen, the tracks and suspension have been fully assembled and "primed" black. I normally do not prime the model (or, if I do -- such as if the plastic is very dissimilar from the final vehicle color -- I usually use a neutral gray tone), tracks require a great deal of weathering. What I will do is paint and weather the tracks, then hand paint the wheels.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Project: KV-1 w/Applique Armor Progress

As can be seen, this model is almost done! Not much more needs to be done, except attach the return rollers above the suspension, paint the machine guns (2, one in the hull seen in the foreground, as well as a second in the rear of the turret), and finally the exhausts. On tanks like the KV-1, the exhausts quickly weathered due to engine heat and the fact that they are constructed of less durable sheet metal. Although there are a lot of different rust effects you can do with paint, I'm planning on picking up a set of Rustall, to get an authentic rust effect on the exhuasts. It will be the first time using this product, and I look forward to it.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Project: 1/48 KV-1 w/Applique Armor

When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, despite the massive successes and battles-of-encirclement that occurred, there were nonetheless a few nasty surprises for them. One of which was the KV-1, a tank (along with the T-34) the Germans had no knowledge of before Operation Barbarossa.

A heavy tank, the KV-1 featured very heavy armor and a 76.2mm cannon in a fully rotating turret. Initial versions, like the T-34, mounted the 76.2mm L/35 L-11 cannon, with poor performance, but was later fitted with the 76.2mm L/40 F-34 cannon of much better performance.

This model depicts the latter, also with the addition of "Applique" supplemental armor around the turret and hull sides. A brutal weapon system, engage-able only through air-power or heavy anti-tank guns (such as the dual-role 88mm FlaK-18 or FlaK-36), this tank as well as its stablemate were ineffectively employed by a Soviet Army that had been gutted by Stalin's purges of the 1930's. Through superior tactics, the Germans managed to cope with this weapon.

Tamiya continues with it's 1/48 line, and like many of the other kits in this range, the KV-1 continues to feature a die-cast hull. This time, it is a bit better than many of the others, with decent detail. However, it still suffers from fixed torsion bars, limiting detail and modeler choices. As usual the tracks are of the "link-n-length" style, and are well molded.

I don't have a lot of Soviet tanks, and this is the first KV-1 in my collection. Nonetheless, it should look suitably impressive next to its German contemporaries, such as the early Panzer IIIs or IVs, or the Panzer 38(t)!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Project: 1/48 Jagdpanzer 38(t) "Hetzer"

As the war began to turn against Germany in 1943, a number of new weapon systems were developed by the Germans. One of these was the Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer, a lightweight assault gun/tank destroyer on the proven and reliable Panzer (38(t) chassis (in fact, a pre-war Czech design). It mounted the 75mm L/48 PaK 39 cannon in a limited traverse mounting, supplemented with a remote-control MG-34 machine gun. Although lightly armored for the standards of the day (50mm sloped), it was a rugged, successful design that survived post-war in Swiss service as the G-13.

Tamiya released the Hetzer kit early on, and still remains one of the better kits in the range. While still saddled with the cast metal lower hull, the detail is overall good, and at the time was the only Hetzer you could buy from Tamiya (later they would release a 1/35 scale version). Like most Tamiya 1/48 scale kits, it also has very well rendered "link-n-length) tracks in hard plastic. For some models, this is unneccessary (particularly US tanks which use "live" tracks), but on vehicles such as the ones used by the Germans, there should be a lot of sag, and that is well molded in this kit.

Although this is labeled as a "mid-production" variant, there are already after-market vendors offering conversions to later or earlier variants.

While the Germans manufactured a lot of equipment of questionable efficiency, the Hetzer is not one of them, and remained an effective vehicle throughout the war.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Project: 1/48 Panther Ausf. G Late Progress

Here is the Panther as it stand now. As can be seen major assembly has been completed as well as painting and decaling. Seen in the forground is one of the Friul tracks, and behind it are a few segments I haven't assembled yet. Missing still are the suspension wheels (still need paint) and machine guns.

For this project I also picked up a set of Hauler engine screens. This is an excellent product, well molded and adds quite a bit to the appearance of the model. They're also quite cheap.

Overall construction of this kit -- despite the metal hull -- was very good, and the level of detail is a notch better than some of the other kits. For example, Tamiya often molds things like small grab handles as a solid component. But on this kit, they're often seperate and thus look much better. Despite all this, the lower hull still suffers from fixed torsion bars and a general lack of detail.

I am also very pleased about how the paint job came out. The photo unfortunately doesn't do it justice, in my opinion, with the colors looking a little off (the green in particular). That being said, I plan on using the same technique on another project (a Tamiya Hetzer) in the near future.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Project: 1/48 Panther Ausf.G Late

The Panther has always been one of my favorite tanks from WWII. Modern, powerful, and mobile, it would have been the best medium tank of the war if it wasn't for the reliability issues it had. The very first production models had numerous problems, including a weak fuel line that caused the engine to spontaneously catch fire! While most issues were resolved as the vehicle matured, one that never really was resolved was the fact that the transmission and final drives were designed for a vehicle some 15 tons lighter, and often failed after an average of 150 miles! Still, the strong armor, powerful cannon, and the fact that Germany was moving to a defensive war rather than offensive offset -- at least somewhat -- these issues.

When Tamiya released its Panther series in 1/35 scale a decade and more ago, they were some of the finest kits in 1/35 scale. With the advent of the 1/48 scale line, they shrunk it down to produce this kit.

Like many of Tamiya's 1/48 scale models, the Panther Ausf. G "Spät" kit has a die-cast lower hull. Ostensibly it is to "enhance realism by adding weight," I more strongly suspect this is to cater to the collectible market, which irrationally associates quality with metal (and perhaps so they can claim their collections are not, in fact, toys). The result is that the lower hull again lacks detail due to the limitations of steel molding technology.

One feature of the Panther tank was its use of interleaved road wheels. This helped reduce wear on the tracks and wheels by distributing the weight over a greater area, as well as helping flotation in boggy ground. The downside was that damage to one road wheel often meant that its neighboring wheels had to be removed as well. For the modeller, it makes consruction of the tracks more problematic. I plan on using Friul individual, workable tracks for this project. The Friul tracks are cast metal (pewter this time instead of steel!) and are articulated by means of a wire inserted through all the links. This is in my opinion superior to the "clickable" tracks, as the wire pivots are much more robust. Additionally, the weight of the pewter helps to produce a realistic sag, an area where the weight of metal is indeed superior to that of plastic.

Finally, as the model tank I wish to produce will have the reinforced mantlet armor, as well as crew heater, I plan to hand-paint the camouflage. By the time this specific version of the tank was introduced, the German Army had switched from camouflaging in the field, to factory applied schemes. Thus, the schemes were often with a "hard edge," and hand painting simulates this style very well.

One day, I'd like to revisit this model and produce an early ("frühe") version, with zimmerit anti-magnetic paste.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Project: 1/48 M4A1 Progress

The Tamiya kit as it stands now. Assembly of this model is mostly complete, with just a few bits to finish. As can be seen in the photo, I've started assembly of the tracks, molded in link-and-length assembly. Unfortunately, when painting this model, I forgot to paint the idler and drive sprockets, so assembly of the tracks will have to wait until those get sprayed. Additionally, the M2 .50CAL machine gun provided in the kit is fairly poor, lacking separate grips for the weapon as well as simplified detail. This will get replaced with a Verlinden after-market machine gun. Also, I ordered a Legends after-market stowage set to give the tank that "lived in" look...

Overall assembly is straight forward. Although it cannot be seen well in the photo, I enhanced the cast texture on the hull, transmission cover, and turret by stippling with liquid cement. Also fit of the transmission cover to the hull is not very good, and you can tell Tamiya cut some corners with it. It required a bit of filler on the hull sides to get rid of a pair of unsightly gaps. I suspect this job would've been easier if the lower hull was plastic instead of metal, but for some reason Tamiya decided to mold the lower hulls in die-cast metal, which is inferior in detail to a conventional plastic item. Newer kits no longer have this "feature," but we must suffer through it with the older kits...

Final steps will be track assembly, mounting the machine gun, and weathering.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Project: 1/35 M4A3(75)W Sherman Progress

Here's the M4A3 as it stands now. Most major assembly has been completed, and all that needs to be done is mount the stowage rack and spare track links on the rear hull, as well as the tank commander's hatches. One negative point about this kit is that the loader's hatch is molded close, and requires surgery in order to model it open. So I understand, newer issues of this kit modified the mold so the loader's hatch can be posed open. 

Paint jobs on these tanks were pretty standard Olive Drab, like most US Army equipment during WWII. While plain OD is often used as a point in the detriment for modeling US Army equipment in WWII, it can actually weather in interesting ways, something I'd like to really bring out on this kit.

Another modeling point I'd like to explore is stowage. Many period pictures of these vehicles in service showed vehicles loaded down with lots of crew stowage. These vehicles were designed for extended operations in the field, so the crew tended to acquire a lot of equipment to make their home on wheels more livable. Much of the stowage for this vehicle will probably come from the after-market, though I have yet to decide on what exactly that will be.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Project: 1/35 M4A3(75)W Sherman

The M4 Sherman was the standard battle tank of the US Army and Marines in WWII. When it came out it was reasonably powerful and armored, able to tackle German tanks of the era on close to an even footing. Although advances in gun technology on the German side would reflect poorly on the Sherman, it was reliable, available in large numbers, and able to get to where it was going.

The M4A3 was an effort to utilize the US industrial capacity to its fullest extent. It replaced the Wright radial engine with paired Ford truck engines, giving it a boost in horsepower as well as reliability (acceleration was smoother, for example, when compared to the Wright engine which "hesitated" when the accelerator was depressed all the way). The hull was later upgraded as well, eliminating the bulges for the driver and co-driver (thus enhancing protection) as well as containing the cannon stores in "wet" tanks filled with anti-freeze. This effectively reduced the tendency of the Sherman to burn when penetrated, and helped with crew survival.

When Tamiya came out with their M4A3 kit, the market was pretty thin on Shermans. The Tamiya kit was then a big leap forward, providing a reasonably detailed kit of an important tank. Over the years, other Shermans have been released that potentially supplant or exceed the Tamiya kit. But the nice thing about it is that it is available and easy to aquire. Out of the box it can be built into a reasonable replica.

For this project, I'm keeping it fairly simple: no aftermarket parts to speak of and just a few details added that are missing. The biggest detail missing on this kit are the 3 bolts on the bottom of the suspension bogies, an easy fix with some Grandt Line bolts. Other than that, however, I want to keep it simple.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Project: 1/48 M4A1 Sherman

1/48 scale has always been a siren's call for me. In my opinion it is the "perfect" scale: capable of holding similar detail levels as 1/35 scale, with the added advantage of a more compact size. This makes it especially ideal for making dioramas and the like, with a realistic footprint for display purposes in the home.

That being said, 1/48 scale armor models are also not nearly as popular as their larger scale stablemates. The first forays into the scale came from the likes of Aurora, with a handful of 1/48 scale kits (including some very interesting subjects, like the never-realized MBT-70, or the Swedish "S" Tank). A major player stepped into the scale in the 1970's, in the form of Bandai. At the time, Bandai was going head-to-head with Tamiya, both companies virtually inventing their respective scales (Tamiya "invented" 1/35 scale as a "metric" alternative to 1/32). In the end, however, Bandai lost for a number of reasons, and today 1/35 is the king of armor modelling scales.

Things began to change, however, in the new millenia. In the '00s, Tamiya in an effort to reinvent itself, revisited the 1/48 scale, releasing a flood of kits in a short period of time. That flood has now dried to a trickle, but a new kit is released a couple times a year. While 1/48 may never rise to challenge 1/35 scale, it is here, and so far looks like its staying.

The Tamiya kit represents a fairly standard mid-production M4A1 Sherman with a cast hull, with a few options. The modeler can leave off the applique armor and/or use the 3-piece bolted transmission cover, along with the open spoked road wheels for a fairly early vehicle. Or on the other hand the modeler can use the one-piece transmission cover and stamped road wheels along with applique armor for a later version. Of course the Sherman was seen with a number of different features so one can mix and match too. Also included is the narrow M-34 gun mantlet, but the suspension is the later type with the off-set return rollers. Nor is there provisions for modeling direct vision slots in the hull, so a very early M4A1 cannot be modeled. That being said, there's lots of room in the kit and a lot of options.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Project: 1/35 M1 Abrams

One of the unfortunate aspects of modelling now is the tendency of modern equipment to go through upgrades, and the manufacturers of kits to do the same to the molds. While this is understandable -- current equipment often sells better than older equipment -- it does have the negative aspect that a segment of a vehicle's development history is lost.

The Abrams is a chief contender for this unfortunate practice. Back when the tank was relatively new, both Tamiya and Esci released kits of the vehicle.When the real tank was upgraded to M1A1 status, Tamiya modified the molds to reflect the modifications in the new tank (although it is also possible Tamiya just doesn't want to release it again).

Esci on the other hand folded as a company, and many of its molds went into limbo. While Italeri has recently acquired the molds (re-releasing the M60 series tanks -- the best representation of this tank on the market currently), the M1 was not one that was re-released (perhaps so it wouldn't compete with Italeri's already very good M1A1/A2 kit series).

When I came across this kit, I knew I had to jump at the chance to get this kit, model acquisition moratorium or not. While the Esci kit is inferior to the Tamiya kit, the latter is very difficult to find for some reason, and this kit isn't so bad to be unbuildable.

But it is far from perfect. Fit is adequate, but there is a general sense of sparseness in details. The real tank had its fair share of nuts, bolts, and the like, all of which are missing from this kit. The Esci kit was the first to market, so much of this detail may have been missed due to inadequate resources and references (Esci's T-72/74 and BMP series has the same problems). Also the kit represents the weld lines as recessed when in fact they should be raised. Finally, the stowage racks don't fit well (and one was shattered for that matter).

All of these detractions are easy to fix (Grandt Line makes nuts and bolts, weld beads can be reproduced with thin plastic rod, and the stowage rack can be reproduced with brass wire). Finally, I was able to salvage the correct style of tracks from an old Tamiya M1A1 to replace the questionable link-and-length tracks (which unfortunately do not have a curvature for the end connectors molded).

I am definitely looking forward to getting this kit together!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Project: 1/35 M41G Walker Bulldog

The mailwoman just dropped this one off for me.As I purchased it before the model buying moratorium, it still fits within my plans. Plus I got it on sale!

The M41 was the standard light tank of the US Army between Korea and Vietnam, out of service before it could see any action with US troops (though there was some limited testing under combat conditions in Korea). However, it was widely exported to a number of countries in NATO as well as other US allies. Indeed, I recently spotted the vehicle still in service during the Thai coup in 2006!

The M41 was selected as the primary light tank by the newly constituted Federal Republic of Germany's Army, where it served alongside US M47 and M48 tanks, retiring in 1969.

When AFV Club announced this kit a few years ago, it was pretty exciting for me. Although by itself the M41 is an interesting tank, in West German livery it becomes that much more interesting. With the big German crosses on the side, as well as vehicle numbers and registration codes, it's probably the most colorful "stock" version of the tank as well, and allows me to add something fairly unique to my Cold War collection.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Project: 1/35 ASU-57 Progress

I've had this model for some time, but haven't made much progress on it in over a year. As can be seen in the previous post on this subject, the Eduard photo-etch set is very extensive, and will require a lot of work to bring it about. The picture below shows a few pieces already in place, as well as basic construction on the hull. The metal pieces are the photo-etch parts, the gray pieces are the kit plastic, and finally all the white bits is where filler was required. Pretty much every joint required filler, the fit was so bad. Furthermore, as can be seen in the photo, the upper hull has been modified to accept the better detailed Eduard parts.

Still yet to be acquired are the turned brass return rollers from Modelpoint, as well as a supply of ammo for the 57mm cannon.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Project: 1/35 ASU-57

The ASU-57 was the Soviet Union's first post-war attempt at an airborne tank. Less a tank and more an assault gun, it mounted a 57mm cannon, which by the standards of the day (early '50s) was already obsolete as a tank-killing armament. Still, a tank is a tank, and in an airborne operation, the ability of the vehicle to toss HE shells or kill light armored vehicles must have been appreciated. Lightly armored, it had an open topped crew compartment, making it very vulnerable to indirect fire and airburst weapons (not to mention "fightability" in an NBC environment).

When the Cold War finally ended, and there was a thawing of relations between the former Warsaw Pact states and the West, we started to get a trickle of kits from the former Soviet Union as well as Eastern Europe. A lot of times this showed the abysmal nature of manufacturing in these countries, with most kits being toy-like or otherwise poorly molded or detailed. Still, in those early days, for many subjects they were the only game in town, and welcomed if you wanted a kit of an unusual or rarely seen subject.

Over time, Eastern Europe benefited from contact with the West, and kits steadily improved. While modern kits from this region are still not up to the level of kits coming out of Japan, China, Italy and the like, they can still put out decent quality kits at an affordable price.

The AER kit originates from Moldova, and was a post-Cold War product. While many kits benefited from modern molding and construction practices, the AER kit is not one of those. Just about ever component of this kit is either poorly molded, poorly detailed, or both. Still, if you want an ASU-57 in your collection, it's really the only game in town, and I'm not even sure the manufacturer exists anymore (I got mine off ebay). Along with this kit you MUST also get the Eduard photo-etch set, which adds considerably to the level of detail of the kit (fortunately the Eduard set is very cheap according to the manufacturer's website). Along with this it is reccommended you use the cannon barrel from Modelpoint (if you look closely at the pictures on the Eduard site, you can see the massive sink marks in the barrel; while trying to fix this problem, my barrel shattered, so I must get the Modelpoint piece to complete the model!). They also make a set of return rollers too, which should be useful. All these latter goodies are available from Modelpoint's US website.

While we're at it, the shells should be replaced as well, since the kit ones are barely detailed blobs. There are no shells on the market for the Ch-51 cannon, though this was a development of the WWII era ZiS-2, and used much of the same ammunition. Modelpoint comes to the rescue again with a full range of 57mm ZiS-2 ammo.

This kit is going to be a real challenge to build. But when done will be a pretty unique subject. Now if only there was an affordable ASU-85...

This kit is a big challenge

Friday, January 1, 2010

Project: 1/35 T-64B Progress III

Here's how the T-64B as it stands now. Most construction of the turret components has been completed, with the only remaining components needed are wire grab-handles on the turret sides, wiring for the smoke grenades, commanders hatch (to be added after painting and decaling, so I can get everywhere), NSVT machine gun (to be painted and weathered separately), and a little bit I have no idea how it goes (instructions not very helpful) so it will require some research on my part to see how it goes.

Construction of the turret was pretty smooth. That being said, I did make a mistake. The sight for the AT-8 "Songster" anti-tank missiles has a plate on the bottom of it. I had assumed this was the way the mount worked, but unfortunately it was an artifact of casting. I didn't have sufficient photo references to catch it, and I realized this after gluing it on, so there is no way I can get it off again. Well, live and learn...

Unfortunately, the kit was missing the cannon breach. However, as I constructed it, I realized my initial idea of showing the vehicle on a road march wouldn't work. The 125mm main cannon is at a fixed elevation, which is too low and will interfere with the driver if I model him with the driver's hatch open. This required me to scale back the number of figures I was to use on it. Since the driver's hatch must be modeled closed, the tank is likely no longer on a road march, but perhaps on an alert readying for action.

With this scenario in mind, I could no longer have the gunner's hatch open with a figure; unlike western tanks, Soviet tanks from the T-64 on have an autoloader and 3-man crew. In a situation where combat is possible, the job of the gunner is to man the cannon. Thus, I closed his hatch, and the lack of a breech isn't as significant.

The more I look at the tracks on the kit, the more unsure I am that I want to use them. There are three options available: Miniarm makes a set of workable tracks as see here. While from all appearances (and experience with other track sets they make), they're very nicely detailed and cast. The problem? If you notice how the tracks go over and around the drive sprockets, you'll notice there is a gap between the end connectors and the sprocket teeth, particularly at the top. The real tracks were at least 3 pieces, with separate pivoting end connectors. The Miniarm tracks typically cast them as a single link with end connectors already attached. Thus the tracks do not articulate correctly.

The second option is from a company called MasterClub and can be seen (top of page) here. Again, while nice, they have the same limitations as the Miniarm set.

The last option is the set of tracks from Skif itself, as seen here. The advantages are that the tracks are cheap, if a little tricky to use. Fortunately there is a review of them here, and the word is, not good. So I'm faced with a conundrum: either use the kit supplied tracks (which for some reason have lightening holes on every other link), spend big bucks for the Miniarm set and live with the detail issues, or save (lots) of money and wrestle the bear useing Skif's set. Not a lot of great choices here. In the end I might just slap some mud on the tracks and call it a day. We'll see...