Metal tracks are all the rage when building AFVs, so I knew on my latest build (Trumpter Sd. Kfz 7/2, kit # 01527), I knew I had to try them. I bought a pair of the Friulmodel tracks and dove in. I totally ruined a set when I burnished them to turn them black(ish). Well, not ruined as much as made really great burned out/rusted out tracks. Some day, I’ll put them to work on that particular project.
So… I started over, and learned along the way. Here’s some of those learnings, in no particular order, and with what personally works well for me. Your mileage may vary.
After doing cleanup one at a time on the first set, I started a production line for the second step.
- Clean up any burrs or other imperfections. In the Sd. Kfz. 7 set, the imperfections were all basically in the same spot on every link. With a brand new scalpel, cut the imperfections away. Remember that the metal is super soft, and a little pressure on the blade goes a very long way.
- Find the right size drill bit, chuck it up in your pin vise and hollow out both of the two track pin holes on each link. Yes, only some of the pin holes are clogged up, but it’s faster to run through every hole than it is to inspect and decide which ones to drill out. Plus, there have been times when I found that a hole *looked* clean, until I tried to put the wire pin in and it wouldn’t go all the way through. Easier to take 3 seconds to run the drill bit through in your production line than it is having to stop your track building process mid-stream.
- Soak them overnight in standard kitchen vinegar. Use a toothbrush to scrub them down to remove all the gunk, rinse them off, then let them dry. (I’ve read you should absolutely NOT use dishwashing liquid or other cleaners as they leave a coating that the burnishing fluid doesn’t get along with)
- Throw away the thin, coiled silver wire that comes with the track links. Seriously, toss it in the garbage… that’s what it is. Garbage. I used .019″ brass wire instead. The stiffer, straight wire was easier to use on all counts: easier to get into the holes, has more strength to hold the link, doesn’t get eaten away during the blackening process. I cut a bunch of track pins using standard wire cutters. Find a block of wood, measure length of pin you need, put two pieces of tape on the wood block representing the pin length, then just put the cutters down on top of the wire, cut, and viola! Track pins. (Just be sure to put a finger on the newly cut track pin so it doesn’t fly off into the ether)
- Using your non-dominate hand as a holder, put two links together, then use tweezers to pick up and place the pin in the holes to join the two lengths. I started off doing two links at a time, then joining the pair together with other pairs. But I quickly got to using 4 or 5 links at a time. Just keep adding a link to the first pair until you feel like you can’t hold it easily any more. Don’t worry about glue until you have several links ready to go. The advantage of the brass wire over the included wire is that the brass is strong enough to hold together as long as you don’t turn it upside down and let the pin fall out.
- Dot a bit of super glue on top of the pin to lock it in place.
- Repeat 40+ times and you have a metal track!
A few random pointers:
- To make it easier to paint, judge necessary length on the vehicle (you get extra track links), and to more easily fit into the container for the burnishing, make 3 long runs (about 20 links, and at least 1 short run (3 or 5 links).
- You read a lot about how you should push the track pin into the opposite side of the link so that it better connects and helps “lock” the pin in place. In my limited experience, that’s a horrible idea. The tracks are soft enough that this action simply bends the track link out of whack. And getting it back in place is a nightmare. If you use the stiff brass rod/wire, just make sure that there’s a recess on the opposite side that the pin can “sit” in. Problem solved.
- Just because they come in two bags, doesn’t mean there’s a right side/left side. You can “hide” the pin edges (on some types of vehicles) simply by having the pins face in. But this will only be true on one side of the vehicle. The other side will show clearly. So be careful on how much extra pin you leave hanging out.
The metal tracks need some amount of help to look like real metal. Some people paint them, but I prefer to use chemical reactions that cause the metal to natural turn black, or even rust. There used to be a product called Blacken-It that was for this sole purpose. Put metal in, wait, pull it out and it’s blackened. But that product disappeared from the market. Fortunately AK Interactive and AMMO by Mig both make a burnishing fluid that is effectively the exact same product.
Since my Local Hobby Shop (LHS) didn’t have it in stock and I really wanted to finish my tracks this weekend, I posted on Armorama about alternatives I could find without ordering. There were a number of suggestions, but I went with a local club member’s suggestion: Birchwood Casey’s Perma Blue. This is a gun blueing product sold at my local Academy sporting goods. It was $5.99 for 3 oz. I bought two and used both for one run. You can also buy a 32 oz. bottle on Amazon for $35.99!
Power tip: You can also use this brand’s other products for burnishing photoetch, brass rod, etc. too!
Now get ready to dive in. Carve out enough uninterrupted time to focus entirely on doing this to completion. Once you start, you can’t stop until you’re done. And read this list of instructions entirely, prepare all your materials first. This isn’t hard, but if you forget something, or have to read these instructions half way through, you’re going to be irritated with yourself when you don’t get the results you wanted. The get setup:
- Find a container that will fit ALL of your tracks laying flat and can cover the tracks completely. Fill it with water and a fair amount of baking soda. Mix well.
- Find a shallow, flat bottomed container that can fit your track runs lengthwise, without having them lay on top of each other. Fill it up with the burnishing liquid. Make sure you put in enough to cover the tracks completely.
- Get an old toothbrush
- Use rubber gloves
- Ventilate the room
Here’s the process (and make sure to verify all of this on test pieces and by looking at your burnishing fluid’s instructions):
- Build your tracks as mentioned above. (I tried both individual links vs. track runs. Color consistency is much easier to maintain in runs)
- Lay them flat, side by side in the container of burnishing fluid. I STRONGLY recommend that you put ALL tracks in the SAME batch of burnishing fluid. This helps to ensure both sides of the track come out looking the same.
- Give it a minute or two to start working. Watch closely… it’s like cooking bacon. If you don’t want it burned, you have to take it out of the skillet when it still looks under cooked.
- Scrub both sides of each track run with a (clean) toothbrush to get the burnishing fluid into the crevices. This also helps to eliminate the build up of any chemical reaction gunk, which can cause dots of discoloration in the overall blackening.
- Take the tracks out of the solution and verify they are looking like you want. Scrub again with the toothbrush. Blow the bulk of the water off with a hair dryer to determine roughly what the final color looks like (wet things always look darker than dry things). If you need more darkening, toss them ALL back in the fluid.
- When you’re done with the blackening, take out ALL the tracks and toss them in the baking soda + water bath. This should stop the chemical reaction. I let them soak for a couple hours just to be sure. But I’m sure what he requirement is on timing here.
- Personally, I chose to take one more soak in white vinegar to get them cleaned of all the chem reaction gunk. Then I washed with water and set aside to dry.
Remember to be careful handling the tracks after the chemical process. Especially if you’ve used the included coiled wire. That stuff is so thin, too much time in the burnishing fluid will eat it away.
Once you’ve blackened, cleaned, and dried, throw a wash over them all to even out the colors and add some extra pop. I use the AK Interactive enamel Track Wash.
Placing on the vehicle
Unweathered vehicle showing tracks
Honestly, I don’t know the right way to place these things! I’m going to have to update this section as I work on the next few sets. Here’s a few things I learned though:
- Trying to put heavy tracks on a model with only two hands is tough. Really tough. Especially if a ton of slack isn’t
- Look at your model before you start trying to place and make SURE you know where to place your hands so you don’t knock the small bits off as your brain starts to focus in on just the tracks.
- Before you start the blackening process, make sure to figure out exactly how many links you really need to have in a total run. it’s a pain to have to try to remove links after they’re already glued in place.
- I had a struggle trying to get the tracks pulled tight enough to connect the two ends while also trying to line up a pin. Even if you don’t choose to use the brass rod for the rest of the links, this is a perfect place to do so, since the stiff rod is vastly easier to place. I used a tiny tiny blob of Blue tack to hold the pin in place so that I could use my hands to pull the track together. Then using my thumb, while still holding the two ends of the track, I could push the pin all the way through the tracks.
So… is it all worth it?
This has been a lot of work to finish this up. My biggest mistake, honestly, was assuming I needed to add metal tracks before I started building the kit, and making modifications to replace the driver wheel that then required the Fruil tracks. Had I done a better job of looking at the kit tracks, I don’t think I would have spent the time and money to replace them. They’re really nicely molded, and on a vehicle that doesn’t have that much “track sag”, I would have been just fine with the plastic ones. The multiple piece, individual links Trumpeter produced are impressive. Plus, with the rear sides lowered, and with the diorama/mud oriented weathering I have in mind, there’s not much to actually see with these tracks.
That’s not to say I’m against metal tracks. Not at all. I wish I had a set for the AFV Club Sd. Kfz. 11 I’m working on that only came with the rubber band style tracks. Or if I was working on a vehicle that had more noticeable sag, I’d put Fruils on in a heartbeat.
There is also something extremely beautiful about the rusty look, and the metallic detailing that metal can give you. That’s not impossible to recreate in plastic, but it’s a lot harder. And still may not be quite as “natural” as the metal.
So my advice is simple: Think through whether you *really* need the metal tracks before you go to the effort and expense. But if you have the right conditions, you’ll be happy with the effort at the end of the process.
What did I miss?
I’m sure I missed something… please be sure to add extra tips and tricks in the comments!
I found some really great track pin cutters and blogged about it. Be sure to check these cutters out.