How to build an Airfix Model
A comprehensive guide to how to pass lockdown in the most "constructive" way possible.
I am old fashioned. I like building kits. I love Lego (there's a tribe for that ), and I also love Airfix. There is something hugely relaxing about assembling and painting these fantastically intricate kits. Admiring the details on wing surfaces, the minutiae of a landing gear, or the beautiful decals. More so for me, Airfix models are a brilliant draw back to my childhood, as a teacher back at school, Mr Blacklock, he taught a variety of subjects in year 5, his room was peppered with airfix models hung from the ceiling. He was an RAF and aviation nut, and I used to love lessons in his room, because should my mind wander (rarely, he was one of those wonderful teachers who'd always have you attention) then it could come to rest of the bevy of model aircraft hanging from the ceiling. If I can find a picture of it, I'll come back and add it in.
Still, rose-tinted memories of Airfix aside, how do you build them? What are the tips and tricks for perfecting you precision pressed, petite planes?
Stage your finished kits to get some brilliant photos like this Supermarine Walrus MK1
Before you start
When beginning your model the first thing you will need is somewhere to put it together – preferably where you won’t be disturbed. Clear a table or work surface and cover it with paper (newspaper tends to be a pain as after a while the print rubs off on your hands and you look like you've been digging for coal with your bare hands). Tape the paper onto the table so there is no chance of it lifting in a draught while you are working, the last thing you want is to glue your Hawker Hurricane to a back issue of the Daily Mail. I've got a model lined up to build this week, and I'll probably take over the garage to do it.
Before starting your model you should always read the instructions carefully. It sounds dull I know, but it gives you a chance to visualise the assembly process, and appreciate which bits you'll need to cut from the sprues first. The instructions will show you all the different stages of the model and you will be able to work out where and when you should paint details such as interiors and pilots. These smaller bits are often best painted while still on the frame as they are easier to handle, you can use the frame to move them around so there's no risk of touching the wet paint and smudging your hard work.
Glue and cement
Glue is probably the trickiest part of an Airfix kit to nail. Generally, less is better. Too much and it'll bubble out of seams and make a mess of the exterior surfaces, it'll get on your fingers, and then you'll be a complete mess, infuriated and have a MK3 Supermarine Spitfire glued to your thumb. And that'll ruin the zen of the process some what.
Don’t cement the first piece until you have familiarised yourself with the content and only cut the pieces from the sprue as and when you need them, this stops bits going walkabout. Prior to the application of glue always fit the pieces together in a ‘dry run’ (meaning put the pieces together before applying the glue). This way if any part needs filing down to smooth the fit you aren't doing this against the clock with some glue on another piece.
When gluing clear parts it's best you use a clear curing glue like Humbrol Clearfix. Clearfix is a liquid adhesive that prevents clear plastic components (cockpit canopies and windshields) from frosting. To apply, just dip a cocktail stick into the solution and then run a thin line across the area that is to be glued. A great many of my early models suffer from very bad frosting on the canopies, a sign of an ammateur.
The coveted Clearfix to avoid crusty clear elements
Do I need to prime the kit?
You can apply a primer to the kit before you paint it, as it helps lay down a clean and adhesive layer for paint to dry to. I haven't used primer before, and it is an optional extra as such, but does provide a better finish, so if you're really pushing for a high quality model, go for it.
If you want more on how to use primer check out this video;
Humbrol is the best for Airfix. Their paints work well on the plastics fo the kit, in both their curing and their final colour. Plus the kits come with paint codes for Humbrol paints so you can get the exact match. Always ensure the areas that need to be bonded are free, as much as possible, of paint as glue doesn’t work well on painted surfaces. There are two types of paint you can use for your kits, acrylic and enamel.
Acrylic paint has a quicker drying time and is water based. Therefore, it is easier to clean, safer for younger modellers and is more suitable for airbrushing.
Enamel paint is hard-wearing and is solvent based. Enamel paint must be thinned and cleaned using Enamel Thinners.
And finally on paint; use paints sparingly, this not only lowers the risk of the paint running, but also prevents it from obscuring important detail. The last thing you want is a giant glob of green obscuring the stunning detail on the fuselage of your MIG-19.
Airbrushing has its own set of rules, so best read the instructions on your airbrushing kit, and make sure you use the correct ratio of thinner to paint for your paints. And always test on a piece of scrap cardboard first, just to get the first bit of mixture through and get it running smooth.
Just look at the detailing on this Messerschmitt Bf109-E 4! Stunning
Decals and Transfers
This, like glueing in clear pieces, is one of the trickiest steps in making your model. Cut the decal out very carefully, keeping as near to the edge of the design as possible, and place in a saucer of warm water for about 45 seconds, just until it starts to lift off. Slide the decal off its backing sheet and into position on the model. Use the tip of a paint brush (avoid fingernails or cocktail sticks as they can tear a decal) to position the decal. Once in position gently dab the decal with a piece of tissue paper to absorb any excess moisture.
You can use a decal fix to lay down a base for your decal, as well as to release it from the base sheet, this helps secure the decal to the model once dry.
To stop your decals from cracking simply apply a coat of a gloss varnish to the area where the decals are to be placed. Once the varnish is dry you can then put the decals in the correct position. Once the decals are in place and dry, you can then coat in either a gloss or a matt varnish depending on the type of finish you're after. If you're aiming for a patina, war torn look sometimes a cracked or matt decal can help add to the effect, but that's up to you.
If you want you can mount your kit on a stand to give it that flying effect. For this you can assemble it with the landing gear up and then attach it to a stand. You will need to carefully drill two holes in the bottom of your model to mount it, so make sure you line up your holes carefully before setting about your carefully assembled kit. Measure twice, drill once, and start with as fine a drill bit as possible, before boring the hole out with wider and wider bits, this will avoid damaging the plane.
Curtiss Tomahawk IIB on a stand with some brilliant aging and dirtying too!
Balancing your model
If you instead decide you'd like your plane to be taxiing across the mantlepiece, then assemble with the landing gear down (duh!). Some models might need balancing, and this can be done with small weights, the sort of thing you can get at a fishing tackle shop. Best avoid the lead ones though.
The instructions will show where a weight is needed to balance your kit.
Assembling tank tracks
If you aren't building an aeroplane you might be building a tank, and that'll involve tank tracks. These notoriously fiddly bits are best stapled together. Seriously. The staples are almost invisible when assembled, and if you want you can paint or use a marker over the top of the staples before stapling to hide them better.
An alternative method is to heat weld them. Heat the head of a flat headed screwdriver and use it like a soldering iron to weld the sections together. Obviously kids, you will need adult supervision here because you'll need an open flame like a lighter or match to heat the screwdriver.
A Cromwell MK.IV
Adding a motor to your models
A 1:24 scale electric motor is available to power your aircraft and spin the prop. To fit the motor to your kit, you will need to cut the 'sleeve' to the required length by using the distance between the 'motor' and the aircraft 'prop'. Allow a minimum of 3mm for the steel shaft and the motor shaft to penetrate the sleeve.
Are there other painting methods?
Yes, dry brushing which is great for highlighting details, and texturing.
Dry brushing is a tricky one to explain, but this video does it justice. Think of it as adding contrast to your model, showing up contours.
And texturing is great as it gives the effect of armoured steel. The model or part of the model will need to be painted before the texturing process can be carried out. First, rub the area that you want to texture with a Scotchbrite pad. Then take an old brush, cut the bristles down to at least half the size, and load the brush with Humbrol Liquid Poly. Dab the area you wish to texture with the end of the brush.
Follow all that and hopefully you'll have a stunning Airfix kit to be proud of. Are you working on any kits at the moment? Or have you finished any during lockdown, I want to see them in the comments section!