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 Ausf├╝hrung (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...