Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Courage to Cut and Paste

So I'm wondering if there's anyone else roundabout that builds 1:2400 gaming miniatures. I really enjoy modifying Panzerschiffe models to make them look both more accurate to specific prototypes at particular times (Usually early 1942) and a little bit more presentable. (I like the price of Panzerschiffe, and for gaming minis, they work great, but as a modeler I can't stop myself from fussing.) I thought I might start off by describing one of the more interesting conversions I've done.

Like the other naval powers of the interwar era, Britain's first aircraft carriers began life as other kinds of beasties, and being a fan of carriers, I felt compelled to model not one, not two, but all of Britain's early carriers. Furious, Glorious, and Courageous present special problems. All three were . . . similar? . . . sort of? . . . but owing to their different histories they were all quite distinct from one another by the time WWII rolled around.

Panzerschiffe makes a model that's pretty close to Glorious and Courageous, so I started there. Having
already built Curious and Uproarious, Outrageous was the only of the half sisters remaining. (That would be Furious, Glorious, and Courageous. I love British nicknames. As a Yank I'm convinced we'd sink them in a ton for ton fight, but they beat us silly in the funny wars.)

Here you can see a finished Glorious and the model from which she started.

(It's a little hard to see, but if you look at Glorious you might be able to tell that I've filed the foc'sle down quite a bit, lengthened the deck between the island and the AA mount just aft of it, and added masts and supports for the flight deck. The extra length and girders on the fantail are distinguishing marks, so I really wanted them there.)

I will gladly tout Panzerschiffe as a good buy for the price, particularly for gaming purposes (as they're simple, durable, and they generally look pretty good once you paint them up) but they aren't without flaws. This one had some bubbles that created small voids. (Most of their models are fine, but you'll find both voids and odd spherical flash every now and then.)

No big deal, you just get some putty of your chosen brand and fill 'em right up. Sometimes you might want to sculpt a little detail back in.

I don't get too fussy as these are deceptively small. (The finished model is only about four inches long.)

The next step for me was to reshape the bow.

In the process I managed to damage the AA mounts on the fo'csle, so I opted to just remove them and start over.

Now, all of these ships had been refitted at least once before the outbreak of WWII. All had had the bow openings for the "flying off decks" plated over, for instance. The PSchiffe model was still open behind the foreward AA, and the aft hanger doors weren't depicted, so I decided to remove the aft "bulkhead" and make it the plating to seal up the forward end of the hangar

Most PSchiffe aircraft carriers are two part models, though they come assembled. The deck is usually separate from the hull, which is pretty neat as you can then model an open hangar if you wish. In this case it's also useful, as you can remove the flight deck and carve openings into the model wherever you want. The next photo is a bit fuzzy (I really should have checked those before going on with the project. Oh well, hindsight doesn't need the corrective lenses that the camera apparently did.) but you can see the way the models work once the deck is off.

Once that's done the real fun begins. Before reattaching the flight deck I wanted to add details to the fo'csle in places that will soon be hard to reach, so I replaced the AA suite earlier removed with pieces of stock styrene. Other people have recomende brass rod and piano wire, which come in even smaller sizes, but I find them harder to work with and the styrene is quite adequate for my purposes. I uses several shapes and sizes, all from Plastruct at present: primarily .015" and .02" rod and .04x.08" strip. (They're also labeled as .4mm, .5mm, and 2x4mm for those who prefer metric.) I tend to manufacture tops and additional superstructure elements from the strips. The rod serves for masts and sometimes gun barels. I will sometimes shape either the strip or the rod by crushing it with a pair of pliers to give it some truss like texture for radar antenas and cranes and such.

In this case I used strip to manufacture crude standins for the AA positions and .015" rod for the 4.5" barels. I also used rod to manufacture the beams supporting the leading edge of the flight deck. (In reality they were trusses, but at this scale, who's going to quible?) You can see all of this in the next picture, along with some modifications to the Island and flight deck that I'll describe next.

You might well have noticed the two white extensions from the flight deck. In one of her later refits the RN installed a pair of catapults. (It seems to me from the photographs that the trusses really support the front of these.) These altered the rounded appearance of the flight deck, giving it a somewhat more complicated aspect. To start, I cut two square notches into the flight deck. Then I took two pieces of strip a good bit longer than what I needed. I rounded one end of both and then trimmed them back so all I had was the rounded front edge. I glued these into the notches using a little excess CA cement to fill the gaps, which I later filed down. Now the flight deck was ready to be glued back down with the two beams matched up to the catapult extensions. (This took a good bit of finagling with a pair of tweezers.)

With all of that done it was time to start on the island. From the photos I could find it seemed that a big boxlike extension to the bridge was added sometime in the mid thirties. This was easy enough: I just took two pieces of strip, sandwiched them together, and trimmed and filed them to size. The tripod mast was three sections of .015" rod. I'll usually dril a small hole for the front leg ot a tripod mast or a pole mast so that the rod is actually sunk into the deck just a bit. This gives it a more solid attachment. The trickiest part of tripod masts is the point where the legs come together. Sometimes two legs will meet at a point partway along the third. If they do, some angle cutting is required, but in this case all three attach to the bottom of the lowest platform on the mast. Ergo, no big deal. Cut two more short sections, glue them in place in a tripod configuration, lop them all off with a wire cutter, file them clean, and you're done. The three legs of the tripod even give a fairly good size surface to which you can glue your spotting tops.

Of course Courageous couldn't be quite that simple. The tripod legs end, but a single pole mast extends upwards through several levels of topworks. The easiest way to deal with this was to attach the bottom platform to the top of the tripod and glue a separate pole mast to the top of that. With a pole mast, it's sometimes desirable drill a hole through platforms and affix them to the middle of the mast, which is what i did here with the second platform. The circular top is a piece of large rod filed down appropriately and glued to the top of the resulting structure, which is then glued to the bottom platform all of a piece. I added the spars once all of this had set up properly.

Now we move on to the painting. I confess, I do use a quite unorthodox method to paint my ships. It grew out of the particular stylized way I paint certain science fantasy miniatures which I will not name on this forum. I could go into a lengthy explanation, but I'll save that for a later post and hit the high points here. I first base everyhing in black. After that, I layer lighter colors on top, leaving shadows in the gaps. It's kind of a cheater version of what's called "black lining" in that other science-fantasy world. But everything ends up looking somewhat darker. I've toyed with other techniques for my ships, but I've always ended up coming back to this. As they say, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. So here's what a ship looks like after roughing things in:

You can see four coats layered in together here: the black base coat, the brown for the deck, the medium grey of the superstructure, and the darker grey of the hull itself. After that I add markings and weather everything together with a light grey, finally touching things up one last time by blacking a few things that actually represent open space back out. (Hangar doors, the space under guns, stack openings, and the like.) So the finished product looks a little like this:

Divine transformation. Or at least a pretty solid little gaming model. And it's clearly Courageous and not any other ship. Which makes me happy.

Thank you for your patience. I hope you enjoy this my first effort. In the future I'll talk a bit more about my painting techniques and scratch building Long Island.

The Symphonist