Detailing Your Scale Model

Modelling Tricks & Tips

This article was written several years ago by the late Harry Harland, and is still as relevant today as when it was written.

harryI thought it time to make the effort to pass on some tips on detailing your scale subject. Sadly, with the advent of ARTF models, traditional building has suffered greatly and we could become a dying breed, but I`m glad to say that there are a large number of LMA members who still pursue the art of building and turn out some magnificent scale models. This article hopefully will inspire some of our newer members to have a go, because there is a great deal of satisfaction gained by having done it yourself, and fellow modellers may come along a compliment you. Often when I have been demonstrating litho plate detailing, I hear the comment, “I can`t do that”, but once I`ve let them have a go themselves, they suddenly realise it is not too difficult.

First, let me say, I do not have any fancy tools, just simply the basic modelling tools, i.e. scalpels, assorted files, mini screwdrivers, razor saw, vibra saw, pillar drill and the Dremell of course, which does a multitude of talks, and loads of other bits and pieces. I`m often asked the question, “how did you acquire your modelling skills.” The answer is, after being introduced to the hobby at the age of eight, and now fast approaching 77 years of age, I have learnt by asking questions, watching other skilled craftsmen, and not being afraid to have a go. And believe me, I am still learning.

So, let’s get started. I acquired a kit of the Balsa USA ¼ scale Fokker DVII from my friend Mike Ellis, who was selling some bits and pieces off, and started construction around October 2008 and around the middle of 2009 test flights were carried out. As this is about scale detailing, I won`t go into the build, although I carried out some modifications to the kit, such as a three piece upper wing for ease of transport, removable tailplane for adjusting incidences, and a scale stainless steel undercarriage.

Let me say now, this is not a purist scale model, but a reasonable likeness to the full size.
If you are attempting a scale subject, your first requirement is to do some research, and after browsing the web, I came across the website for the French WWI Memorial flight which provided almost two hundred photographs of the build of a full size replica of Ernst Udets aircraft.
I found this invaluable and obtained all the detail I needed, by copying instrument dials etc and scaling them down to suit the model. I must say, when I saw the cockpit it frightened the life out of me with the amount of stuff in there. So it was a challenge.

So let’s have a look at some pictures of the full size replica.

These show the cockpit and armament layout and a couple of items showing one of the instruments and the magneto. After a few hours of careful study, you start to figure out how to reproduce everything. The tubular steel cockpit framework was fabricated from plastic tubing, all instrument dials were copied and scaled on the computer. The instrument bezels were made from an artists material called Fymo, which is like plasticine, and baked in the oven for 15mins which results in a very hard product. The control column from plastic tubing and the handgrips from pine. And so it goes on. I would like to add that all the scale detail , i.e. inst.panel, guns, seat etc are all removable.


This shows the centre section which forms part of the three piece upper wing. They are joined by using the steel blade and box method, which is a very strong and well tried method. The blade housings (of brass) are built into the wing between the main spars and boxed in either side of the spars with 1/16 ply, using epoxy glue. The outer panels are retained by small straps on the lower surface using M3 studs. The centre section is left bolted to the cabane struts and it takes all of a couple of minutes to fit the outer wing panels.

Before starting the near scale u/c, it was necessary to draw up a new plan to plot the angles and spacings for the stainless steel tubing etc., A simple jig using white melamine chipboard was used to plot the geometry then stainless steel axle boxes were made and silver soldered together. Stainless steel tubing was cut to the required length and after a dry fit, were silver soldered, to make a very strong assembly. Much better than the simple piano wire u/c provided in the kit.


This shows the steel tubing and axle box fitted to the part built central u/c wing with a 6mm steel axle. You can also see the bungee pegs alongside the axle.

The u/c is attached to a stainless steel plate secured to a hardwood cross member. M3 caphead stud’s are used to fix the u/c to the fuselage, and is easily removable if maintenance is required.

Another refinement to the model was the fixing of the interplane struts. There is nothing worse than trying to screw in a 6ba stud into each of the retaining points for the interplane struts especially if the weather is cold. Since the full size aircraft used a ball and cup arrangement, I thought I would try a similar method using brass ball and nylon cup, (any model shop stocks them), and this proved to be simplicity itself. It takes a matter of seconds to snap them on and they have proved quite strong in operation. It speeds assembly up.


This picture shows the scale type hinges fabricated from brass tubing and brass sheet before final cutting to length. A brass bush was cyano`d onto 3/8” hardwood dowel let into the aileron l/e. If not lined up properly, they can tend to bind, so be careful

Lets start `tarting` it up

We are now about to start the daunting task of the cockpit, etc.
Now with any scale model, invariably the first place that anyone looks at is the cockpit. If it`s anything decent, you`re half way there. So a careful study and much head scratching is required before any attempt is made. Lets start with the instrument panel. Most WWI aircraft have a pretty basic inst.panel. It`s a totally different ball game with WW2 subjects, and I dread the thought of trying to make one, although now you can pay an arm and a leg and buy – one ready made.


The wooden inst.pnl was made from liteply suitable stained and marked off to receive the various switches and instruments etc. All the instrument dials were copied on the computer from pictures of the replica build as were all the identification labels (these were a bit fiddly). The grease gun in the top right hand corner was made from plastic tube, bits of hand filed brass and a short length of 8BA threaded rod. The knurled filler cap on the grease gun was fashioned from an old pocket watch winder.(we throw nowt away). The various switches were fashioned from brass and blobs of soft solder onto a brass washer. The magneto was from balsa and hardwood dowel. A couple of workshop sessions for that lot.


Another vital piece of furniture is the pilots seat. This was made from litho-plate covered in simulated leather cloth, glued to a liteply base. The cushion was also made from the simulated leather cloth padded with a piece of sponge, and the upholstery buttons from thick plasticard punched out with a piece of brass tube. Trouble is, when the pilots in place, you can`t see it. Was it a waste of time?

I was surprised when I saw the control column, as there is a fixed hand grip for the right hand for controlling pitch and roll, while the left grips are I think for the regulation of engine management. Perhaps someone can put me right on that. However, it wasn’t too difficult to make, using plastic tube and a bit of pine to fashion the handgrips. I don`t know how many I dropped and lost on the workshop floor.

Now we are getting somewhere. With the inst.pnl fitted, the two largest instruments were added. The main body of the instruments consisted of a balsa core, with the inst.dial glued on and glazed with some thin clear acetate, and then plasticard wrapped round to finish of the housing. By the way, keep some of the clear acetate wrapping you get on your smellies at Christmas. It comes in handy. You can also see the rear of the Spandau guns, which are mounted on a liteply base and retained with four small woodscrews allowing easy removal.

This picture shows some of the external detail, i.e. the Spandua guns, Aldis type sight, and other fittings. Lets start with the guns, which are a dominant feature. I must say I cheated a little here. I scratch built all the scale detail for this model, apart from the guns. I managed to obtain a gun kit from Balsa USA, which on examination contained several bits of balsa, dowel and 1/64th ply which all had to be shaped and turned to build the guns. The cooling jacket was laser cut and this was a big help I must admit, after a bit of work, they produced an excellent reproduction.

The gunmetal finish was obtained by mixing a little aluminium and black paint together. The gun sight was quite a simple affair, once again using plastic tube, with the upright mounting tubes from brass and the clamp fittings from thin gauge brass strip, the lower part of the clamp being soft soldered onto the mounting tube. 10BA nuts and bolts were used to fasten the clamps. The red eye – piece was from a piece of dolls house fitted carpet coloured with red ink. A coat of gun-metal paint gave the finishing touch. Lenses for the sight were cut from clear acetate sheet using a suitable diameter piece of brass tube placed in the pillar drill to cut them out, then implanted them into the sight. Next, the ammo belt guide chutes were moulded out of thick gauge acetate sheet after making a wooden plug, and painted aluminium. You can also see small wing nut fasteners along the fuselage upper panel. Over 40 of these were turned out of 1/8th dia hardwood. A short length of dowel was placed in the chuck of the dremel (which was clamped in the vice) then a Stanley knife blade, and a small file were used to turn the fastener to shape. Again, several were dropped and lost on the workshop floor and never found. Tedious but worth it.

Light at the end of the tunnel. This view shows the upper exterior detail almost finished. The cartridge case ejector chutes are now fitted after being moulded from acetate sheet, and the small windscreen attached using Mick Reeves small woodscrews. Forward of the screen is the fuel gauge fitted into a litho-plate housing and also fixed using tiny woodscrews.


Another shot forward of the cockpit showing hinged access panels made from litho-plate, and the fuel tank filler cap (there is also an oil tank filler cap on theopposite side) made from Fymo (mentioned earlier in the article.) Rubber bullets(from an old Williams Bros kit) were fitted into the ammo chutes.


An essential part of the detail on any WWI aircraft model is the dummy engine. The kit plan provides a basic outline, together with some bits of block balsa and dowel. But truthfully, it needs a bit of work to make it something like. After making a base plate to mount the cylinders, the rocker cover were shaped from balsa with the addition of some 6BA retaining nuts and bolts. Next came the rocker arms. A dozen of these were needed, and to cut everyone out separately and get them accurate seemed a bit tedious. So after a giving the brain a bit of stimulation, I hit on the idea of rolling a piece of plasticine flat to about ¼ in thick, and after cutting a single rocker arm out of a piece of 1/8th aluminium, made several impressions in the plasticine and filled them carefully with car body filler. After leaving to cure for the allotted period of time, then dressing them off, I ended up with a dozen identical arms. Next, the addition of the rocker springs, and a few more 6BA nuts and bolts here and there, produced a respectable looking dummy engine. The exhaust, moulded from ABS plastic, was included in the kit, and added the final touch. The rust finish was achieved using Humbrol rust enamel onto of a silver base coat and dabbed with a piece of sponge to get the required effect.


The finished product. Another addition to the detail were the flare cartridges mounted on the left side of the cockpit. Again from plastic tube.


I almost forgot. The radiator filler was fashioned from brass tube and a piece of sheet brass, soft soldered together, with the filler cap made from Fymo.

The finished model was covered in lozenge linen fabric from Glen Torrence in America. Solartex for the upper wing, and paints were from Phil Clark of Fighter Aces. Pictures were taken during test flights at our Teesside field around the middle of 2009, with a total of 12 flights to date.

I hope this article may inspire some of you to have a go. Nothing is impossible, because if I can do it, I`m sure you can.

Harry Harland. No1670

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