How to

/How to

How To: AFV Metal Tracks

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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)
  4. 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)
  5. 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.
  6. Dot a bit of super glue on top of the pin to lock it in place.
  7. 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.


DSC_5475 (1) - Version 2The 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Get an old toothbrush
  4. Use rubber gloves
  5. 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):

  1. Build your tracks as mentioned above. (I tried both individual links vs. track runs. Color consistency is much easier to maintain in runs)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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

DSC_5474 (1)

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.

By | 2016-10-29T19:09:31-05:00 April 9th, 2015|How to|0 Comments

Guest Post: Introduction to figure painting

My friend Bob Bethea has been helping me learn the fine art/madness that is figure painting. I’ve been collecting tips and tricks that I’ve learned, but he recently published an article in our local Austin Scale Modelers Society club newsletter. It was a great read, and a great overview of the instruction he’s been giving me. With permission, I’m republishing here.


Thoughts on Figure painting by Bob Bethea

For your first figure you should choose one that is well sculpted and of a subject that will keep your interest. A good sculpture will make it EASIER to paint, and the affection for the subject will keep you at it until you finish. The average person feels that they should start on a cheap figure and work up to the “good”, expensive ones. That is a total misconception as you cannot make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, as they say.

A good figure has sharp detail, good anatomy, and a face with visible features, all of which make the painting MUCH easier. Some of the best painters cannot make an old Tamiya figure look anything but mediocre. The medium is unimportant. Figures are cast in metal, resin and plastic. The metal and resin figures are generally more detailed and thus more expensive because the process allows more detail to be retained. However, plastic figures can be made very presentable with extra work, such as substituting an aftermarket head (the best of which are from the Hornet Company.

Invest in the best you can buy. You can always strip it and start again, but I recommend keeping your first effort intact. As the years go by you can go back to it when you think you have not improved and prove to yourself that you have.

Figure Preparation

Open the box and make sure all the pieces are there. Then test fit and clean off the seams. Just like any injection molded item there are always seams to address. Some resin figures are drop molded and have very few seams. But remember they have to get it out of the mold, so there will be some seams. I use folded sandpaper to address the curved areas that characterize figures.

  • Glue as many parts together as you can and fill the seams. This keeps you from having to adjust and repaint later during final construction.
  • Seam filling is easy with Tamiya putty thinned with Testor’s liquid cement. You can mix it up in the top of the putty tube with the supplied brush and paint it right onto the figure. It works for resin, metal, and even plastic figures.
  • Wipe off the excess instead of sanding to keep the detail on the figure. When thinned, the putty shrinks some, so several applications may be needed.
  • Drill a hole in the bottom of each of the feet of the figure, and glue in brass or steel rod. This allows you to mount the figure on a temporary base and later onto the permanent base.
  • Don’t be tempted to use the stubs cast onto the bottom of some figures’ feet, as you want a substantial connection with your base, to minimize future accidents.
  • Prime your figure. It shows any errors you have made in construction and allows them to be fixed BEFORE the critical paint job goes on. It also provides a uniform canvas on which to paint, and allows the paint to adhere properly. I use the cheapest primer, Touch –n-Tone
    [Jake’s Note: read my review of this great primer], sold by Advance Auto Parts or even on Amazon. Its light gray, smooth, thin, and sets up in 30 minutes.

Preparing to paint

Attach the figure to the working base via the pins in its feet. I always add white or super glue to insure the attachment. You can easily break it loose when the painting is done to attach it to the permanent base.

For the working base, I use cheap 2″ x 2″ pine stock cut to various lengths and drilled to match the figure. Pine is relatively heavy, but be careful not to use too long a length, especially on metal figures. This places the center of balance too high which may cause an unfortunate fall. If you paint plastic or resin figures, you can get 2×2 balsa blocks, as weight is not as critical.

Reference Material

Most figures come with either a color reference list or photo of the figure painted by an artist, also known as “box art.” Those can be used, but it is also very rewarding to do your own research to insure a period correct depiction of the soldier or historical figure. There are tons of books on every subject and many can be had on loan from fellow modelers. Learning about your subject also lets you focus on providing correct typical groundwork for your base as well.

Choosing paints

There are several types of paints that can be used for painting your figure. Acrylics are water based, don’t smell, and dry quickly. They are all the rage right now and any color in the rainbow is available. However, they take getting used to, as their quick drying requires special techniques for blending colors where they meet.

Brands of hobby acrylics include, Andrea, Vallejo and Reaper. Try to avoid the cheap “craft” acrylics as sometimes they do not hold up well over time. I like Reaper for its intense color, cheap price, easy availability and smooth consistency. Other painters have other preferences based on their own experiences, but any brand works equally well.

  • When thinning acrylics, use distilled water to keep from getting the Central Texas ‘salts’ in your paint. Those dissolved salts and minerals will distort the final colors. When thinning oils and enamels, I use white spirit (Walmart’s “PaintThinner”) which dries a little faster and flatter without the gummy buildup of turpentine.

Oil paints are a more traditional medium. They were used originally for canvas art but were transferred to the miniature figure, along with the techniques of highlighting and shadowing, and directed lighting.They dry extremely slow leaving a lot of time to blend between colors but their thinners can smell bad. Their pigments are stronger and more intense. Some painters actually intensify their acrylic paint jobs with a little oil to give the result more kick.

  • Never buy STUDENT colors. Although cheaper, they do not work nearly as well as the ARTIST colors, which have stronger, finer ground pigment. They are relatively expensive but go a LOOONG way. I have some tubes that are 50 years old and still are functional.
  • Blending is different and uses different techniques. Slow drying makes the project longer and sometimes they dry shiny and will need a matting agent. Winsor-Newton and Rembrandt both make great oil paints.

Figures can also be painted well with hobby enamels. It is the artist not the medium that makes for a well painted figure. These are in between acrylics and oils. Like acrylics, they dry relatively fast and are blended similarly. Like oils, they use smelly thinner but can be mixed with oils. It was the medium used by the first figure painters. They are easily available and relatively cheap, but sometimes have poor shelf life. Options include Humbrol and Testor’s.


Whatever medium you choose, you will need a good brush. The erroneous assumption is that the smaller the brush, the better detail it can paint. That is untrue. It is the POINT that determines the detail that can be painted. The super small brushes carry so little paint that they often do not have enough to finish the item you are working on.

I recommend RED SABLE brushes, with hair from the Russian weasel of that name. They keep their point and have enough bulk to actually carry paint to the figure. I would not buy brushes smaller than 00. I have some 0’s 00’s and 1’s for painting small figures and never have needed smaller. 000 and 0000 are too small to hold paint. After every use wash your brushes with soap and water and store them so that the point is not bent. I use Winsor and Newton Series 7 (the Rolls Royce of Brushes), but with good care they last three times as long as the cheap ones. Another option are DaVinci brushes.

Paint palettes

Paint palettes depend on the medium you using. With acrylics, you can use a dish with multiple dents, and keep each paint active (alive) by constantly adding minute drops of water.

You can also use a “wet palette” which keeps the paint alive via osmosis. Start with a plastic sandwich box (Tupperware, etc.) with a lid. Add a sponge and on top of that place palette paper (from Michaels or other art supply stores). Soak the sponge and the water wicks up through the palette paper to keep the paint alive. Cover at night and you can use the paint again tomorrow.

For oils, you can use wax or freezer paper from the grocery store. At night, put it in the freezer and it will last indefinitely.

Getting started

You now have a completely built, primed figure with filled seams, and know what colors you want each part to be, but what do you do now?

You can start anywhere you like. All painters have their own opinion of this. Fellow figure painter, Rick Rutter and I start with the face. If that works, the rest of the figure will work. Another well-known figure painter, Doug Cohen ends with the face as it’s his favorite part and he wants to save the best for last. Henry Nunez paints the uniform because that is what he loves best. He does the face because he has to.

I recommend the face first, as that is the part the viewer will look at first. That is how we rec- ognize other full sized humans and people carry that over to small scale humans. Get it right and the rest falls into line. Get it wrong and you can still strip and paint it without ruining a perfect uniform.

  • As the eyes are the ‘window to the soul’, so to speak, I paint them in acrylics so that they cannot be messed up when I paint the skin with oils. You can use thinner to wipe them out should paint spill over into them.
  • The most important aspect of painting eyes is symmetry. They must be the same size and track the same. On some 54mm and 1/35 figures the eyes are little more than slits and a dab of putty may be needed to enhance them.
  • The whites should not be white. They should be painted a very light flesh color to avoid that ’Popeye’ look. Eyes are also more of a wedge than oval in shape and the iris is barely in contact with the lower eyelid but partially covered by the upper lid.
  • A trick employed by Shep Paine is to paint a vertical band of dark blue or brown the same distance from the nose. Then paint a smaller band of black down the center for the pupil. Then cut the top of each eye band with a dark brown (upper eye lash). Next, cut the bottom inside of each eye band with a lighter brown (lower eye lash). Then you can clean them up with flesh colors. Too dark a line for the lower eye lash can look like mascara.
  • Painting the eyes it is best to start with the most difficult first and match the easier one to it. If you’re right- handed the left eye is the tough one. Let them dry over night when your satisfied with the results.
  • Always do the feet and headgear last as they get the most handling during the process and you don’t want to keep painting the same item over and over.


Shadows and highlights will be discussed at a later time, but suffice to say, that they are the difference between a toy soldier and a great figure. The human body is scaled down, so the light hitting it needs to be accentuated. The convention is to assume a light directly from overhead (Zenithal Lighting) and accentuate the results of that with tones of paint.

One way to understand the process is to take a figure and spray black paint upwards onto the figure from underneath then spray white paint from above the figure onto its head, shoulders and other parts. Stand back and observe. The black sections are where the shadows go, and the white are where the highlights are painted.

Keep at it

Remember this is a hobby. Strive to get better. Pick the minds of the great modelers that you respect, either online in print or in person.

Practice and more practice will improve your painting. Always buy the best and avoid the bad. It takes time and patience to get better. Observe the work of others at shows, and sit down and paint with a good painter.

Recommended reading

  • Building And Painting Scale Figures by Shep Paine; Kalmbach Publishing
  • How To Build Dioramas (Chapter Five) by Shep Paine; Kalmbach Publishing
  • Painting Miniatures by Danilo Cartacci: Auriga Publishing
  • Fallschrimjagers by Jamie Ortiz; Osprey Publishing


By | 2016-10-29T19:09:34-05:00 July 23rd, 2014|Guest Post, How to|1 Comment
Read More

Great tip: sharp masking tape edges

I found this cool tip when browsing Facebook yesterday. Anyone tried this trick?

If you have trouble with paint creeping under masking tape, here is a simple fix. After applying your masking tape, spray the edge of the tape with the color already on the model.This will seal the edge, and any paint that creeps under the tape is the paint that is already there. After the base color dries, spray over the joint with the new color. Remove the tape as soon as the new color is dry to the touch- don’t wait for it to cure. This will give you SHARP edges without touch ups!

By | 2014-07-21T13:39:51-05:00 July 22nd, 2014|How to|0 Comments

Replacing AFV width indicators

If you’ve built just about any German WWII AFV, you will know the pain of snapping off the width indicators on each fender. I seem to do it multiple times throughout the build process, even if I wait until the very. last. step. of the build process.

I do it so much, I apparently don’t even notice when I knock them off. This weekend, I looked down at my Sd. Kfz. 7/2 and noticed one of them missing. I searched high and low and couldn’t find it. Then as I was checking inside the kit box, I knocked the other one off. I headed to the web to search my sources for turned brass replacements. Voyager makes them, but I’d be waiting a week to get them.

After several failed attempts at different techniques, I turned to the forums. By far, the best suggestion was the “dip a rod in paint” method. Basically, you take a rod, dip it in thick paint, then repeat until the ball is big enough to meet you needs. Here’s a few tips I learned:

  • Use the right paint – I tried Vallejo and Lifecolor first. Then I broke out a tin of Humbrol enamel and suddenly it worked.
  • The first dip won’t pick up hardly anything. That’s OK – it’s all about establishing a base. The subsequent dips will start to round out the ball.
  • From the first dip, establish how bit you’re going to want the ball. When you dip a second, third, fourth times, make sure to dip to the same exact depth to get a true globe. Otherwise, the ball will start to look more like a teardrop.
  • Wait at least a minute or two between dips. Otherwise, there’s no surface tension being created by dried (or at least drying) paint.
  • DO NOT use a hair dryer or even your pursed lips to blow air on them to speed up drying! It’ll break the perfectly round shape.
  • Obviously, you have to hold the rod upside down, with the ball hanging down. This keeps the round shape. Thanks, gravity!
  • Make sure to plan for what you do when you have the size you want. You need to let it dry fully and that’ll take a while. I used a part of mounted tweezers, and I was ready and tested before I started the process. Don’t experiment while you’re holding a drying width indicator… too easy to bump and destroy your hard work.

One of the commenters in the forum thread suggested using plastic rod, since it’s bendable and will help avoid just snapping straight off like kit plastic or metal rod. Good tip! It works!



By | 2016-10-29T19:09:34-05:00 June 24th, 2014|How to|0 Comments

Effectively making photoetched pressed louvres

You know that incredible feeling when you finally figure out a technique that has eaten up too many expensive parts? No matter how many forum posts you read, no matter how many YouTube videos you ready, you simply can’t get the hang of the technique.

Then you do.

Blessed day, you do it.

Yesterday was one of those day.

I love superdetailing with photoetch add-on sets. I’m getting better about not losing every third PE part to the carpet void. But one thing I could never, ever figure out is those damn pressed louvres. You know the ones… the vertical sides of many softskin engine compartments. They are molded shut on plastic parts, but are open (and thin) in real life. A perfect PE replacement option.

The problem, however, is that getting the pressed louvres to realistically pop out of the flat PE, all while ensuring the full panel stays flat after said popping. The instructions, shown below, suggest that you use a ball point pin on top of a firm surface to “press” them out on one side. But that never really worked for me in a consistent, smooth look. The louvres didn’t really pop, and the whole panel would curl up like mad. Remember, these pressed louvres are punched out of a sheet of thick metal. So flat and consistent!


Screen Shot 2014-06-23 at 9.17.22 PM


But this weekend, I finally figured out the right combination of tools and technique to get it right. Finally. Here’s how I did it:

  • Throw aside the ball point pen! I used a retractable Ultra Fine Sharpie instead. It’s a vastly smaller and vastly softer tip than a traditional ball point pen.
  • I used a firm piece of thin foam on top of the hard desk surface. Just enough flex to allow the louvres to flex, but not enough to contribute to overall panel curling.
  • Leave the parts on the PE sprue. Everything little thing you can do to keep it from rolling up is the goal. Next time, I may clamp either side to a firm block first, with the same thin foam between block and PE part.
  • There was a touch of panel bend, so I used my long jawed Tamiya PE pliers to gently coax the edges back into form.

This worked for me! Check out the results:


By | 2016-10-29T19:09:34-05:00 June 24th, 2014|How to|0 Comments

Painting German Oak Leaf Camo

I’ve been struggling to figure out the process of painting the German WWII Oak Leaf camo pattern on some figures. If you are too, check out this great tutorial.

(Note: The image above isn’t mine… it’s from the author of the tutorial. Impressive, eh??)

By | 2016-10-29T19:09:34-05:00 April 14th, 2014|How to|0 Comments

Mechanical Dog: How to…. Aligned holes

Mechanical Dog: How to… Aligned holes

(From time to time, I will post quick hit “how to” content I find around the Web. These techniques are meant to showcase talented modelers, as well as showcasing helpful tips and tricks)

By | 2016-10-29T19:09:35-05:00 August 27th, 2013|How to|0 Comments
Toggle Sliding Bar Area