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Clinic - Scratch Building Tips

With any scratch building project there are some basic rules to remember.  I will attempt to cover a few.  There are tons of different ways of doing things and what I am going to cover are things that have worked for me. 

All of the walls of a structure will need to be as square as possible.  For this I use a tray that I purchased from Micro Mark.  This is a helpful tool in that it has a lip all the way around that you can place walls against and use magnets to hold them in place while the glue dries.  I also cut 45 degree angles of wood or styrene and glue them into the corners.  This helps add stability to your building and helps to keep the corners true.  You will also need several clamps (Hemostats, tweezers, or clothespins).  Use the glue of your choice.   If you like white glue get just that.  DO NOT get Elmer’s School Glue.  Since the School Glue is made to be washed out of clothes it will let go in high humidity areas. If you are working with CA glues always keep a bottle of nail polish remover within reach.  Take it from someone who had a leaky tube of Super Glue on his work surface and got his entire forearm glued to the table.  Try to use gap-filling CA.  It is thicker and doesn’t run as easy.  I got a trick from Dave Frary about putting my glue on the bottom of a shot glass.  Find a shot glass that has a small depression in the bottom.  This keeps the glue in a small area and makes cleanup easy.  Several Xacto knives with various blades are also a must.  A pin vise with several different drill bits will also be needed. There are other tools that will come in handy at one time or another.  If is looks like it would work, try it.  You might be amazed at the outcome.  

Try to work in the same light that the model will be displayed in.  This will keep you from investing hours of work only to find out the colors don’t look right.  (See note about leather die later).  If you are going to light the building always paint the interior walls to keep them from glowing.  Have them painted before you begin assembling the building.  Also, when detailing the interior use real glass in the windows.  This can be done with microscope slipcovers.  They are thin but can be clearly seen through.   

When painting the exterior walls I like acrylic paints for wood.  Give the wood a light sanding first, not necessary with styrene of course.  The acrylic’s allow you to dilute them easily (with distilled water – tap water can effect the paint) to create washes.  This is a very handy for weathering effects.  Also coat everything with the famous Alcohol and India Ink stain.    Use the ink and avoid shoe or leather dies.  Some tend to give a purple-ish effect under fluorescent lights.   

When working with strip woods you should always sand them to take the rough edge off.  Lay strip woods on a piece of sandpaper Then fold the sand paper over the strip wood.  Always pull them through the sand paper.  Never push them through it will only break the wood.  When cutting door or window frames always measure and draw the opening on the back side of the piece.  Using a pin vise drill a hole in each corner.  Use the hole as a starting and stopping point for the knife.  This will keep the knife from running away or if the wood should split hopefully it will stop at the ending hole.  Making cuts in wood should be done slowly and never try to cut through the piece in a single pass.  Make several passes cutting a little deeper each time.  With styrene you can make a simple score in the plastic and bend it.  It will break along the scored line.

For the sub roof of a structure I use a piece of wood from Midwest that is meant for making wooden aircraft.  It is a thin sheet of Birch but it is thick enough that doesn’t warp easily.   I have built some roofs with cardstock and they have warped up on me at the edges leaving a pagoda look. 

For the hand cut shingles I cheat.   I learned this trick some time back and it works very well.  Go to your local cigar store and ask them for the cedar sheet from the boxes.  Using an Xacto, cut the sheet into strips about six scale inches.  Next lay them next to each other.  A little space is OK if the building is going to be run down.  Take 1/16 inch vinyl chart tape (white glue won’t stick to the vinyl) and lay it across the strips.  Start about the width of the tape off of the edge.  Place the tape across the strips with about an inch over each side.  With each additional row always leave an open space about the width of the tape.   Once you have done this across the sheet then take a pair of scissors and cut behind each piece of tape.  This should leave a row of shingles that are individual pieces.  Each row should be half covered by the chart tape. 

To glue the shingles on, first draw a few straight lines across the roof to keep you rows even.  Put the glue down on the roof.  Lay the strip of shingles with the chart tape toward the bottom.  With the second and all other rows put glue on the roof and a little on the exposed edge of wood from the previous row of shingles.  Once the glue has dried you can pull up the chart tape by the overhang.   Remember to space the rows so that no seams match from one row to the next.  Look at the shingles on the roof any house.  If they are laid correctly the gap between two shingles should be about in the middle of the shingle on the rows above and below it.

When making wooden storage tanks I use scribed siding and I get it wet.  This helps it to bend without breaking.  I wrap it around the tube and rubber band it in place until the wood dries.  I then glue it in place.  Round tank hoops can be made from small fishing line or small guitar strings.  Flat tank hoops (On larger tanks) can be made from paper and both can be put in place with CA or white glue. 

Small pinking sheers make great stair stringers.  Pinking shears are scissors that make a cut similar to the stripe on Charlie Brown’s shirt.   If you can find a pair that is the right size you can cut styrene to create the sides of each staircase.  Simply glue to either end of the step and you have stairs.  If the stairs a very wide there would also be a stringer in the middle.  If you have ever built a Campbell kit that has stairs in it this is basically the same process.

Look through books at pictures of buildings from the era that you are modeling.  Keep these pictures in mind when you are designing buildings.  You wouldn’t create building for a modern layout without wheelchair ramps but they would be very out of place in the 1950’s.  Common sense goes a long way.

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