The Cobler and the Elves

Some of you may remember the old fairy-tale about the Cobler and the elves.  For those that don’t remember (spoiler alert) elves come out at night to finish the work of the Cobler while he sleeps.  Lately that is how anything gets done around my house, at least any of the “geek stuff” that I want to do. I have to wait until the family is asleep and then the elves can get to work.  As you can imagine it doesn’t leave much time before they too get tired and have to go to sleep.

In that time however, I have been very active trying to convert my tanks with glued turrets into turrets with magnets.  I’ve detailed this process several times before so I won’t go over it again now. I’ve been converting essentially one company at a time so that on the off chance I actually get to play a game I can field a complete unit.  So far I have converted GHQ M1A2, M1A1, M60A3, M60A2, Leopard 2A6, Leopard 2A4, Leopard 1A4, Chieftain, Challenger, Challenger II, Merkava Mk IV, Merkava, Magach 3, Magach 6b GAL, Magach 7, M48, and M47 tanks. I have converted CinC M48G2 and Leopard 1A1 tanks as well. As you can see from the gallery I have also experimented with LAV and MRAP vehicles to see how small I could reasonably go. I absolutely love what the magnets can do. Unfortunately, now I have to go back and touch up the paint jobs.

 

I still might try to use magnets on the turrets of my WWII battleships but I haven’t decided yet for sure.

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I’ve Got A Guy…

If you’ve ever lived the life of an Ex-pat far from your home country then you have probably experienced some level of culture shock.  It takes far longer to get even the most mundane tasks accomplished until you can figure out how things work.  Where can you get hobby paint? Or tools?  Or anything you need for that matter.  Often knowledge and wisdom come slowly – mostly through tribal knowledge.  When I lived in Bahrain it was a phenomenon I like to call “I’ve got a guy”.  You need your date palms pruned?  I’ve got a guy.  You need your son driven to rugby practice? I’ve got a guy.  You get the idea.  Well this is another post about decals, specifically 1/2400 scale ship decals.  If you need decals for an aircraft carrier, a modern PRC destroyer, or a U.S. cruiser…  I’ve got a guy.

Actually in this case it is two guys, Tanner and Brad.  Tanner handles the design and Brad does production and sales I believe.  Brad sells these decals through an ebay storefront known as Taskforce2400.  Copyright information on the decals will either say WWII Central, Tanner’s handle, or Taskforce2400.  To date all the decals in both the modern and WWII ranges are specifically sized for 1/2400 scale ships from GHQ.  The picture below offers some idea of the range of modern vessels covered.  The decals are full color which is both a benefit and a problem as will be shown a bit further down.  The selection is not limited to helo decks by the way.  In fact the LHD deck decals are some of the most detailed decals I’ve seen.  My latest LHD is still in progress so the big reveal will have to wait.  Additionally, Brad and Tanner have recently added RN Falklands campaign deck decals for the Type 42, 22, and 21 ships.  I have these on order but they haven’t arrived yet.

An array of modern deck decals for USN, RN, and PLAN ships from Taskforce2400.

An array of modern deck decals for USN, RN, and PLAN ships from Taskforce2400.

If you prefer WWII they offer a wide selection of carrier deck decals as well.  There are many more designs than the two included below including decals for Graf Zeppelin and Aquila.  Some of the decals are offered in slightly different designs which feature different color shading, air recognition symbols, or line markings.  I believe the goal is to be able to model any fleet carrier, light carrier, or escort carrier from the war.

Flight deck decal for GHQ 1/2400 Ark Royal by WWII Central.

Flight deck decal for GHQ 1/2400 Ark Royal by WWII Central.

1/2400 scale flight deck decal for USN CV-5 or CV-6.

1/2400 scale flight deck decal for USN CV-5 or CV-6.

Why is this important?  Well if you game with or collect modern warships you have to deal with aviation capable ships, after all helicopters are everywhere.  Until now there have been very few options.  Paint the lines yourself, find decals, or go without.  I certainly don’t have the talent to paint flight deck lines in this scale so that was a non-starter.  I don’t really want to go without if I can avoid it so that leaves decals.  I’ve tried to make my own decals with some success

1/2400 scale USCG Cutter by Viking Forge.  Decals by the author.

1/2400 scale USCG Cutter by Viking Forge. Decals by the author.

But making your own decals is hard and white lettering, marks, or lines don’t work very well unless you have access to an ALPS printer which I don’t.  Even my attempts to find a good used ALPS printer on ebay were totally frustrated.  So most of the time I went without as evidenced by the bare helo deck on the USCG Cutter.  Then in the mid 1990’s another option appeared, SeaBat Replicas.  For a while these were a godsend.  They offered a limited range – only the USN 1/2400 ships offered by GHQ were covered.  But there was one huge advantage SeaBat offered and that was hull numbers for the whole class and usually in three different colors.  The SeaBat decals were white lines on clear film so, unlike Taskforce2400 decals, whatever color you painted your deck would show through.  Here are some of the SeaBat decals still on the sheet.  It is hard to make out the white markings but they’re there.  In 1998 or so these stopped appearing on store shelves so I quickly bought out any remaining stock I could find in hobby shops or on ebay.

1/2400 scale deck markings for Ticonderoga class CG by SeaBat Replicas.

1/2400 scale deck markings for Ticonderoga class CG by SeaBat Replicas.

1/2400 scale model of Spruance DD by CinC, decals by SeaBat Replicas.

1/2400 scale model of Spruance DD by CinC, decals by SeaBat Replicas.

1/2400 scale model of Arleigh Burke DDG by GHQ, decals by SeaBat Replicas.

1/2400 scale model of Arleigh Burke DDG by GHQ, decals by SeaBat Replicas.

1/2400 scale model of Oliver H. Perry FFG by GHQ, decals by SeaBat Replicas.

1/2400 scale model of Oliver H. Perry FFG by GHQ, decals by SeaBat Replicas.

Here are the Taskforce2400 decals for comparison.

1/2400 scale model of Ticonderoga CG by GHQ, decals by Taskforce2400.

1/2400 scale model of Ticonderoga CG by GHQ, decals by Taskforce2400.

1/2400 scale model of Jiangkai II by GHQ, decals by Taskforce2400.

1/2400 scale model of Jiangkai II by GHQ, decals by Taskforce2400.

So here you can see one of the problems of the Taskforce2400 approach.  My old flat black flight decks are not technically correct in terms of  accurate color representation.  Personally these are more game pieces than museum pieces so I don’t worry about it that much.  When you use decals which have the deck color included it can really stand out if it doesn’t match you planned deck color.  The Jiangkai II for example looks kind of wonky because the blue gray deck color referenced from pictures here does not match the gray of the flight deck decal.  The white balance of the photo above is a little off but the deck decal matches nicely with the gray of other photos of Jiangkai IIs just not the pictures I chose to use.  So who is right?  Well it looks kind of silly so I’ll probably have to strip the ship down and repaint to match the decal.  Guess I should have waited to paint the ship until after I had seen the decal. Oh well.

I really like these decals and I love that the range is continually expanding.  If I could have one wish it would be for them to expand their coverage to the Viking Forge line of 1/2400 scale ships as well.  Unfortunately because they can’t print pure white decals I don’t think they’ll be able to make hull numbers anytime soon.  One other note about applying the decals.  If you use the Micro-Sol/Micro-Set approach be aware that the decals will bubble and wrinkle and generally look like an epic fail but will then smooth out very nicely.  Don’t get too anxious and start trying to smooth it out or move it around.  If you can’t resist you stand an excellent change of tearing or stretching the decal.  Good luck and I hope you enjoy.

 

Mini or Micro?

I have been a fan of microarmor (1/285 scale) and micronauts (1/2400 scale) since discovering them in college in the mid 1980’s.  The details and the quality of many of the models, given their small size, was very impressive.  In the past few years however I’ve found something which is even better – for some applications.  The Figurehead range of naval miniatures are smaller (1/6000 scale), less expensive (on a per model basis), and have a larger product range than 1/2400.  I suppose now is a good time to caveat my comments with the fact that I’m speaking about post-WWII models.  I’m just not familiar enough with earlier ranges to judge which ones are most complete.

Figurehead also seems to offer the most complete line of vessels for a full Falkland Islands campaign.  The only other line that comes close is SeaWulf, but I don’t think theirs is as complete and for 1/2400 scale the quality isn’t as high as GHQ, CinC, or Viking Forge/SeaBattle.  Don’t get me wrong I like the SeaWulf line because they offer ships no one else does like the Leander class frigates and all the variants of that class but they are gaming quality not collector’s quality pieces.

With a new affinity for 1/6000 scale I’ve launched on a naval expansion program that will provide a significant increase in capability and diversity of my navies.  In truth the original attraction to this scale was the breadth of models available.  GHQ makes some fantastic models but they have a very narrow selection in modern naval miniatures.  They are trying to correct that now but with eight major product lines spanning five scales, modern naval is almost the red-headed step-child.  As an example, the announcement for the 2014-2015 product year had four modern naval vessels out of forty-seven new models.  About 8.5% of their new model production.  The WWI and WWII lines each will be getting four new models as well so overall naval enthusiasts will be getting about 25.5% of GHQ’s attention next year.  Just think what wonderful models could be made if a company of GHQ quality focused only on naval units, but I guess its the sales revenues of all the other things that allow them to expand as they have in the first place.

Back on point, it was the breadth of models available that attracted me in the first place.  For several years now I have been working on a scenario supplement for the Harpoon ruleset published by Clash of Arms Games.  My supplement is devoted to aircraft carriers and naval aviation.  I have more than a dozen scenarios from 1962 to 2013 researched and written, some large, some small, some historical, some ‘might-have-been’ and so on.  If you follow my blog then you know real life often interrupts my projects and the Harpoon supplement is no exception.  At this point I’m not sure CoA will ever speak to me again much less publish my work.  Maybe I’ll have to go into micro publishing and do it myself…  I digress.  Some of the scenarios I’ve written that take place in the 1960’s have no miniatures in 1/2400 scale, only Figurehead makes appropriate ships.  Naturally I want to someday be able to play my scenarios on the table top and Figurehead, for the moment at least, is the only solution.

All of this got me thinking about the hobby and scales and names and things.  While GHQ has trademarked certain names like Micronauts, is “micro” really appropriate anymore when there is something even smaller?  A similar situation exists with Micro Armor, also a GHQ registered trademark.  With 1/600 scale tanks and vehicles on the market should the smaller version become ‘micro’ and the 1/285 range become ‘mini’?  Or maybe the 1/6000 ships and 1/600 tanks should be called ‘nano’.  There may be a marketing downside to that however.  The word ‘nano’ makes it sound impossibly small.  I doubt GHQ will give up their trademarks so the point is moot.

Of Flight Stands and Rare Earth Magnets

In my continuing quest to clear the decks of all the old, lingering, unfinished projects I’m going to show you how I make flight stands for 1/285 scale aircraft.  In the past I have used flight stands from various manufacturers and each has it own unique limitations.  Of those commercially available my least favorite are the AC Bases from CinC.

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The one pictured here is the medium base but the others are similar.  These stands feature a criss-cross pewter base and a pewter support.  These pieces are not strong enough to stand up to more than static display of your miniatures.  Even careful transportation and gaming use will cause these to bend and unfortunately your aircraft will crash.

The next rung up the ladder of quality is the Aircraft Stand (catalog # AC40) from GHQ.

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These stands have a thin steel wire which is inserted into a criss-cross pewter base.  Much like the product from CinC, in my experience the pewter support legs are not strong enough to stand up to gaming and transporting.  Additionally, the tolerances of the hole where the wire inserts into the base makes getting the wire to sit vertically is a challenge.  Large or heavy models will also tend to distort the hole in the pewter base over time.  On the plus side the thin steel wire is both strong and unobtrusive on the gaming table.  The miniatures look less like models on sticks than with the CinC option.

My favorite bases are the Flight Bases from Ral Partha although these can be a challenge to find.  These stands use a hexagonal pewter base and a thin steel wire as the support.  One of the cons of these stands is the hexagonal base can be too small for large heavy models making them prone to tipping.  The examples I have date from 2000 so there may be newer products available.  Here is what they look like in the package.

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In the past I used one stand per aircraft but today’s project will allow me to make a number of flight stands that will be interchangeable with all the aircraft in my collection.  I could accomplish this by not gluing the aircraft to the existing bases but where is the fun in that?  So, break out the tools its time to get to work!

In concept the new bases will have a support which will have a rare earth magnet glued to the end.  For the uninitiated the rare earth magnets are those tiny but powerful magnets that can be very difficult to separate.  The magnets on the end of the flight base will couple with a magnet on the belly of the miniature holding it in place while gaming but allowing you to separate them for storage and use fewer bases overall – at least that’s the plan.

To start with I decided to use nails of the same diameter of my magnets to act as the support for the aircraft stand.  Any steel nails will work fine I choose these in two lengths to represent helicopters and fast movers flying slightly higher.

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In order to accept a magnet on the end the pointed tip of the nail has to be removed.  My Dremel tool with cutoff wheel made short work of the nails.  Wear safety glasses!  Here’s the nail after tip removal.

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The next step is to prepare the base to accept the nail.  As mentioned above the Ral Partha bases are made to accept thin steel wire so the base has to be drilled out to the diameter of the nail.

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Most machine made nails are not quite perfectly flush where the shaft and nailhead meet for this reason the underside of the pewter base needs a slight countersink drilled out to accommodate the nail head.  Alternatively, you could machine down the shaft of the nail but since pewter is softer than steel I stick with reworking the base.  Here is the slight counter sink drilled out on this base.Image

Apply glue to the shaft of the nail at the nailhead juncture and slide it in place in the base.  Set aside to dry.  I prefer to use gel style CA or crazy glue.  The gel style has a slightly longer set time which allows me to correct placement errors.  It also works quite well as a gap filler.

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Once the glue on the nail/base has set the rare earth magnets can be attached to the tip of the nail.  Again, I use gel style CA glue for this.  Set aside to cure.

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Tip: Glue one magnet to the tip of the nail but keep a second magnet attached to the first to make sure the polarity is aligned. Mark the top surface of the second magnet a a reference mark.  This marked surface will be glued to the belly of the model.  If you drop the second magnet while attempting to glue it to the aircraft the mark will tell you which side to glue to the aircraft.

Here is the Egyptian MiG-21 that will be my test case.  I’ll have to remove a bit of the belly fairing on this model to attach the magnet.  Take the second magnet from the flight stand that was prepared earlier and glue the side with the reference mark to the belly of the aircraft.  If this model wasn’t already painted I would have drilled a hole in the belly of the aircraft to recess the magnet.  I didn’t do that here because I didn’t want to scratch the paint or decals.

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And here it is with magnet glued in place.

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And a couple views of the MiG on its stand.  The MiG-21 in these pictures is from Raiden Miniatures.  The decals are from I-94 Enterprises.

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All that remains is to paint the stand.  I managed to make eight of these in a little over an hour not including the time taken up by photography.  With this type of flight stand you’ll only have to make as many stands as you expect to have on the game table at one time.  Just make sure all the magnets that are glued to the aircraft have the correct polarity alignment with the magnets on the stands.

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Of course the PRC is not the only China…

  Keeping the focus on the Pacific I have decided to revive a long dormant kitbashing project and in the process feature some models of the other Chinese navy.  The Republic of China (ROC) Navy has a long standing tradition of buying U.S. surplus warships so in 2005 when the first pair of Kidd class DDGs were commissioned into the ROC Navy, as the Kee Lung class, I resolved to have my own as well.  There are no quality castings of the Kidd class in 1/2400 scale.  Superior Models makes one I know but I think most of their models are poorly scaled.  The only remaining option is to kitbash one, or in this case four of them.

  With any kitbash project I started with a Google image search to determine what are the major features that differentiate the Kidd class from her sisters in the Spruance class.  Before I continue I should mention that my basic philosophy of modeling in this scale is that close enough is good enough.  What I mean is I consider myself primarily a wargamer and I want a representational model on the table I don’t feel the need for hyper detailing and I’m not bothered if minor details are not technically correct.  From three feet away does it look like a Kidd class DDG? If so, great let’s play!  So the end result is there will be technical differences between the Kidd and Spruance classes that aren’t accounted for in my conversion.  Here is a picture of one of the Kidd DDGs in ROC service which I used as my baseline for the conversion.

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  So the major differences between the two classes are; of course the Mk26 twin launcher instead of the ASROC launcher forward and BPMDS/Sea Sparrow launcher aft, the associated fire control radars on the superstructure, the small housing on top of the bridge supporting the forward fire control radar, and the larger housing aft of the main mast supporting the aft fire control radar.  Any other differences don’t matter at this scale in my opinion.

  Armed with the baseline of changes that need to be incorporated the next step is to identify the proper hull for conversion.  There are a couple of candidates here.  The first option is to use the excellent Spruance model offered by GHQ.

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  It is a beautiful model with plenty of detail.  In fact, the model in the picture is not what you get when you order one.  Most of the aerials in the photo are super details added by the modeler.  The challenges in using this model as the base hull are the cost, at $9.95 a piece it isn’t cheap, and the fact that it is the VLS version which just means more work removing the VLS system to make room for the Mk26 launcher.

  The next option, really two options, are from CinC models.  They produce two versions of the Spruance class, one is the VLS version shown here.

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  The other is the basic configuration shown here.

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    While CinC miniatures are not as detailed as those offered by GHQ the casts are every bit as clean and crisp which makes them excellent candidates for kitbashing projects.  The CinC ships retail at $7 a piece, almost 30% less than GHQ. The other factor influencing my decision at the time was the fact that I happened to have a surplus of CinC Spruance models on hand.  

  In 2006 I started the conversion with four CinC models that had seen better wargaming days and were a little banged up.  The picture below is where the project was left the last time I worked on it in 2006.  The small housing above the bridge for the forward fire control radar and the large housing aft for that fire control radar were constructed using Evergreen Plactic stock and Squadron modeling putty.  Then I got stuck trying to figure out how to make the fire control radars.  I spent hours hand carving two radars out of Evergreen plastic stock for two of the ships.  Result was less than stellar and I shelved the project.  The two radars can almost bee seen on the two closest ships.

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  I think I have a solution for that problem but more on that later.  The next step is to remove the existing launchers from the decks fore and aft.

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  Here’s where I add that I should have stripped the paint off the models before I began the conversion back in 2006.  The next step is to add a thin piece of plastic stock for the missile magazine doors.  I elected to use one larger piece which would be cut down to shape in subsequent steps because it just seemed easier to work with a larger piece until it was securely attached to the hull.  And for those of you with model building experience you already know what happened to me.  The CA glue I used adhered to the paint but not the hull so half of the pieces came off, in whole or in part, during the following steps making it much more work in the final analysis.

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  In the next photo I have drilled the hole for the Mk26 launcher pedestal and started trimming the magazine doors down to a more appropriate size.

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  The next step is to glue the pedestals for the twin launcher in place.  I used oversized pieces to account for variances in the depths of the hole that were drilled earlier. 

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  Here is the final step for today.  The pedestals have been trimmed.  I special ordered extra twin launchers from CinC – they come from their model of the cruiser Virginia – and glued them in place.  You can see that the 5in guns have been damaged in the process which will have to be repaired.  Unfortunately, the original owner of these particular ships cut out the supporting flash of the original cast to make it look more realistic.  Realistsic? Yes. Sturdy enough for table top gaming? No.

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  So what comes next?  Well as I mentioned I need to find a source for the fire control radars and I think I have.  Here is an excellent GHQ model of USS California CGN-35.  On the forward super structure there are three examples of the radars I’m looking for.  It seems like a terrible waste but I think I’ll have to special order o few of these superstructure pieces and them cut them off.  Three of these will give me one more than I need for this project.  Maybe I can use the leftover bits to start my own metal casting projects…

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  While I wait for those parts to arrive I will share a sneak peak at the next ROC Navy projects.  I have a couple of excess Knox class and Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates which will undergo conversion for ROC service.  Initial research indicates the major difference will be the addition of box launchers for indigenous ROC anti-ship missiles.

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  More to come…