This is the English source text of the article published in the Japanese "Scale Aviation" magazine of December 1998. The article has been previously published on the web at Mark's personal site www.marksindex.com . IPMS Stockholm has a pleasure of re-issuing this excellent material through author's permission (Ed.).
Being primarily a 1/72-scale enthusiast, building a 1/48-scale
model is a rare excitement. The Zero originated as a request from a friend - a chairman of
one of the major investment companies in Sweden - for a second airctaft model to pride his
board meeting table, balancing a Mk.I Spitfire I've built for him earlier.
It was to be an Axis machine and being a Japanese aviation enthusiast, the choice was easy. I picked the Zero Mod.22 for several reasons. The new Hasegawa kit has just been released and only the Mod.22 was available early in autumn of 1995, but it is, in fact, one of my favourite Zeros, combining the long, elegant early-type wing with the more balanced later-type engine cowl. Also, it gave me the opportunity to try a new shade of light-grey camouflage scheme. The research about this new interpretation of the shade of ame-iro, conducted by James F. Lansdale, just became available to me, long before being published. Many Japanese scholars and Mr. Lansdale later assisted Mr. Shigeru Nohara in releasing them in print in the Model Art Special #510 "Camouflage & Markings of the I.J.N. Fighters". The colour is much darker and more greenish than described by many sources before. The historians and enthusiasts still argue about it's accuracy and frequency of use, it is not certain that early Mod.22s were painted this way, but it was tempting to use it for this project.
Although it started out as a request job for a display model for a reasonable price, my ambition grew rapidly and I decided to make it a competition model just the same. After winning two consecutive victories in the 1/48 propeller classes of the Swedish IPMS Nationals - the first with a Nichimo "Akatombo" Ki-9, the second with a silver Otaki K5Y1 - I wanted to prove I could do it the third time - only with a less spectacular, grey monoplane - before I delivered it to my friend's meeting table.
I recognise two ways of modelling. One is to make as accurate replica of the real aeroplane as possible, resulting in a factory-fresh looking model, detailed with the precision of a Swiss watch. The second - which I prefer - is to make an accurate illusion of the real machine, preferably one that has being used for some time. This means I don't care too much if the actual detail is perfectly reproduced, as long as it looks as if it was. Because of the scale effect, sometimes an overambitiously correct detail is in fact less desirable. What matters is the sum of the model, the final presence. It also makes the painting, weathering and treatment of the surfaces of the model extra important.
The shape of the Hasegawa moulds didn't leave much to be desired. The Zero is an unusually beautiful and well-balanced aeroplane, but some of the shapes and curvatures are complex and difficult to represent in a flat drawing. Only a study of the many photographs reveal the actual form. I dry-mounted the kit compared it carefully to all the photos in my books, from all possible angles, and found it fully satisfactory. If the kit is incorrect in scale by a millimetre here or there is of no importance to the model - it just looks like a Zero.
To improve the detail of the model I decided to use the photo-etched brass detail set from Eduard and custom made seat belts, but decided to keep the kit engine and other small parts, only complemented with extra scratch-built details of sprue or copper. I couldn't find a good vacuformed canopy on the market and decided only to replace the sliding part with a custom-made one. As for the markings, there are very few photo references of the early Mod.22s, I therefore settled for the original kit decals.
To begin with, certain parts of the kit had to be prepared to assure the best result. Most important: all the visible metal edges had to be sanded down from the inside to avoid looking like armour plate. It's impossible to correctly reproduce thin metal sheet on a 1/48 scale injection moulded kit for production reasons, but it is well worth all the effort to thin the appropriate parts down for the realistic scale look. This includes all the trailing edges of the flying surfaces, as well as the rear edge of the engine cowl, spent cartridge outlets, vent holes and other small openings - it greatly improves the final effect. I also decided to make the ailerons and rudder slightly off centre - perhaps a questionable choice, it added, however, many hours of extra work.
The most difficult thing to reproduce on a scale model is actually the metal skin surface. On a real WWII aeroplane, the surfaces are seldom perfect and absolutely flat, particularly on the machines being flown for some time, there are slight variations of the curvature, traces of rough service handling, metal fatigue, etc. It's nearly impossible to achieve those effects, but in order to at least come close, I reduced the thickness of the plastic on a number of spots of the wings and fuselage from the inside using a motor tool, leaving only a thin layer of plastic left. The rule of thumb may be to view the part against the light - when it starts to appear transparent, it is time to stop! I then applied rich amount of plastic glue on those spots, which has the effect of softening the material. I could then slightly disturb the surface from the outside, using a soft tool such as a cotton swab or a match. When the glue sets, the plastic becomes hard again, leaving realistic bulges and distortions where desired.
The sliding part of the canopy was made using the kit part as a mould. I mounted it on a pencil with a bit of clay and fastened it vertically in a vise. I then heated a sheet of clear plastic over a bread toaster and, when it became soft enough, rapidly forced it over the pencil. After a few seconds I could begin cutting out my new canopy and trim and sand it down to the right size. This method is quite tricky to master, it requires good quality clear plastic and a very soft, slow kind of heat - never an open fire. It usually also results in many attempts before the satisfactory result, but when successful, it's a good and simple alternative to real vacuforming.
Most of the cockpit interior was completed and painted in sub-assemblies, to be inserted later. I used most of the parts provided in the Eduard set, complemented with copper wire and plastic card, and took extra care for making the optical sight look realistic adding real glas plates made of thin clear acetate sheet. I added some extra wiring and detail to the engine and wheel wells, but didn't over-do it, as little would be visible on the finished model.
The model could now be assembled, without the engine cowl, canopy, gear and all other details. All the joints and gaps had to be adjusted, filled and sanded in the usual way, using the fine-grade of 600 sandpaper. I then applied a thin coat of metalizer paint, which revealed all the faults of the surface preparations I may have missed earlier, and that could now be corrected (such "priming" may also be very useful for some weathering effects later, although it was not used in that way on this model).
The painting was the most important part of this project. For the final
job I used mixes of acrylic paints. I seldom use a colour right out of the can. Instead, I
mix the proper shade using FS colour chips or other references, using just a few basic
paints - it's quite easy to learn how to achieve the desired tone, it's cheaper, and makes
a modeller independent from the shades decided by the brand.
I sprayed the model with several very thin layers of a mixture of the proper colour, gloss clear and thinner, in the proportions of 40-10-50, adding a little white for each layer, and making sure to allow the model to dry completely between the layers.
The rest of the paint process is my own invention. Instead of applying a clear topcoat at this stage, I polish the model with a good brand of liquid household silver polish (brass or copper polish won't do). I apply a thin layer of polish with a cloth, let it dry for a few minutes, and begin to polish with another, clean, soft cloth. The process requires that the model is strong and, of course, no small parts can de attached until the very end. It gives the model a very realistic, smooth, high gloss surface, resembling a racer aeroplane - impossible to achieve using only airbrushing techniques. Particularly, the smoothness achieved by polishing is far superior to even the best gloss paints. At this stage, careful wet sanding using high-grade 1200 sandpaper can highlight the model's future weathering. The whole process usually takes more than a week, providing for the paint layers to dry properly.
After applying the decals, using the usual decal solutions, I painted the model with a protective coat of gloss clear lacquer and the "silver"-polishing procedure was repeated once more. Finally, several layers of extremely thin, 5-95 mixture of matt clear lacquer and thinner is used to tone-down the high glossy appearance of the aircraft to desired look.
I never use dry brushing techniques on aeroplanes, except for some interior areas. The weathering is achieved by wash, using thin solutions of grey artist oil paint and kerosene, applied with a soft brush (using artist turpentine would make the wash glossy). Because of the acrylic paints used underneath, the excessive wash can be easily removed with a cloth without affecting the underlying surfaces.
Last of the painting process, traces of exhaust burn, gun powder stains or mud can be added with the airbrush.
To paint canopies I usually cover them with a thick layer of Microscale
Super Mask, tinted with some clear blue paint for better detection, and when almost dry,
cut away the areas to be painted with a brand new surgical scalpel. This, again, is a
tricky technique. One unfortunate cut can spoil a canopy or, in the best case, add a few
hours of extra polishing, but the results are very good.
Because of the techniques described, I seldom care much about the brand of the acrylic paints and often mix Gunze, Tamiya or Aeromaster paints. For metal finishes I use Gunze Mr. Metal and Testors Metalizer paints. Some of the shades and qualities of Testors are superior to anything else. These techniques also make the airbrushing skills less important.
After the assembly of the engine cowl, propeller, landing gear and all other small parts, painted and prepared separately, I added the antenna, made of 0.01mm fishing line, and painted it with a small brush using dark iron metalizer.
The project was finished a few weeks before the 1996 Swedish IPMS
Nationals. I succeeded in winning the 1/48 propeller class again, and the
"bulges" on the wing almost fooled one of the judges to believe it was the
The model is now owned by Mr. Sven Hagströmer and is placed in the office of the Investment AB Öresund, Stockholm, Sweden.
The idea behind the the polishing technique described is as follows: A painted surface is not perfectly smooth. When enlarged, it is grainy and resembles sandpaper. The rougher the surface, the flatter is the paint finish. Although the paints used by modellers may be considerably finer in "resolution" that the paints used fifty years ago at aircraft plants and in field, its surface is far from 1/48 or 1/72 in scale. It's harder to fool the human eye than the mind - I believe it's the lack of the scale effect of the painted surfaces that often makes models look unnatural and "plastic", in spite of all the efforts of weathering and clear coating a modeller might do. The mechanical "scaling" of the surface will solve this problem.
©MTW / Scale Aviation Vol.5, 1998