A fiberglass finish not only looks scale, it’s wear-resistant and a great way to protect your model. In his first two articles, Rick Michelena detailed the steps to prep and fiberglass his warbird. In this third and final installment, he adds paint and details, including rivets, panel lines and even navigation lights.
After spraying the wing and fuselage, allow it to dry in preparation for the next step. Before applying any graphics, perform one simple step called “color-sanding.” With a solution of water, some ammonia, and #600 auto-body paper, wet- sand the entire painted surface. This is important because it removes any dirt and orange peel from the painted surface. However, please be careful. You do not want to sand through the paint.
It should be noted that some modelers actually sand through the paint in order to “weather” their project. Since my airplane will replicate the “Blue Angels” Bearcat flown after World War II, so I wanted the nicest finish I could possibly have.
Here the fuselage has been painted and color-sanded. I have applied the vinyl graphics made by my local sign shop. However, we are not ready to spray the final clear coat.
These are the simple tools I will use to draw “panel lines” on this project.
A silver Sharpie is all I need to get started.
Using three views, I draw panel lines on the Bearcat.
These panel lines will provide the foundation for the next step.
This soldering iron tip will produce rivets in the painted surface. It was made using an old soldering iron, a wheel collar, and a piece of 3/32-inch brass tube attached to the soldering tip. I sharpened the inside of the tube with an X-Acto knife by spinning it on the inside of the tube. While wearing a leather work glove, I then burn the rivets onto both sides of the panel lines. I do this free-hand and simply get into a rhythm.
The finished panel lines and rivets look like this on the vertical fin.
The camera’s flashbulb is changing the color of the finish. I assure you that the paint will match the Blue Angels’ colors used on the Bearcat in 1947. After all the rivets are finished, sand the tops of the rivets with #600 paper in order to level the rivets and “subdue” the panel lines. They will appear much more scale.
Finally, tack rag every paintable surface and apply the clear coat. This is the most important part of your final finish. I use products that are available in my area. However, all auto paint stores will carry these items that include clear coat, catalyst, reducer, strainers, tack rags, mixing cups, and an HVLP (hi-volume, low-pressure) spray gun. I purchased the gun separately at Harbor Freight.
The cowl looks like this after spraying the clear coat. The lines and rivets are very subtle due to the sanding they received earlier.
Many years ago, I discovered a great use for the little colored beads with a chrome finish on the back side. They come in small bags at Hobby Lobby. While they come in many colors, I am only interested in the red, green, and white beads.
I use these beads as ”Nav-lights” on my models. In the sun, they pick up sunlight and will glow. Some modelers have even told me I have left the aircraft lights on. The green goes on the right wing tip.
The red goes on the left wing tip.
This is my finished project. These finishing methods may be used for all types of models. I extensively build warbirds. Therefore, here is my F6F Hellcat built from an Iron Bay kit.
Remember that if you are willing to expend some energy, you can produce excellent-looking models. My techniques work for me. Please feel free to adapt any tips presented here to your own personal ways of construction. In the end, this hobby is all about flying.
Using these techniques will make your models stand apart from all the rest at your local field. Good luck!