Create a perfect fiberglass finish, part 3

Jul 01, 2012 21 Comments by

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!




Align RC USA, Harbor Freight Tools, How-tos

About the author

Model Airplane News Executive editor. About me: I’m a publishing professional who has a passion for aviation and RC, and I love creating issues, books and a website that help RC pilots to enjoy this sport even more. I admire scale aircraft and enjoy the convenience of flying smaller electrics.

21 Responses to “Create a perfect fiberglass finish, part 3”

  1. Joe B. says:

    Looks great Rick! I have recently finished a C47 (Top Flite kit) using alot of the same techniques you used in your series. I am currently building a Sig Ryan ST-A, and plan to fiberglass the fusealage also. I will try the panel line and rivet trick on it you showed. Thanks for the info!

    Joe B.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I guess you don’t expect people to know the difference between a Hellcat and a Bearcat

  3. Rick Michelena says:

    Dear Anonymous,

    I supplied pictures of both the Hellcat and Bearcat. This Blue Angel represents the second in series of the famed WWII fighters under the command of ADM. Chester Nimitz.. The F6F was the first and then replaced within 6 months by the F8F.

    Rick Michelena

  4. Rick Michelena says:

    Dear Debra,

    Could you please check the website…I have logged on twice, but the pictures beginning with the vertical fin do not fully load and the Hellcat photo is missing.


  5. Larry says:

    From my day of working on the older aircraft, all that paint missing around the rivets, is an indication of loose rivets. Vibration and stress loosens the rivets, which in turn, will brake the bond of the paint around the head of the rivet. The look you accomplish is not very realistic. Do away with 99.8% of them.

  6. Iain says:

    Great Finish Rick, and certainly would look very scale from anything distance except eyeball level.

    @ Larry the idea of a Scale finish like this is to create an effect at a distance, not looking at it as close as some of these photo’s show.

  7. AnonymousGarth Rockey says:

    I guess I’m missing something here, what happened to part 2?

  8. Dick Vogel says:

    How about how to get #1 and #2.
    Liked 3 3, good ideas. Thanks, Dick

    • Debra Cleghorn says:

      Links to the first two articles are in the first paragraph — click on the underlined words. Hope this helps!

  9. Willard L. Lee says:

    Rick, you are a “God Send”!! Thank you so much for your series on “glassing”. I have a BH F4U Corsair that fly great (with Robarts installed), and my flying buddy said “why don’t you fiberglass it”? Well, I’d never glassed anything in my life but I decided to try it. Not knowing anything about glassing, you 3 part article was the “cats meow”. I’ve have copies of ALL 3 PARTS, that will always remain in my building library. It’s stripped, and I’m into the “Spackling” stage. So far so good. This one article alone was worth my subscription, which has been ongoing for some years now. Thanks Rick and thanks MAN.

  10. Rick Michelena says:

    Dear Williard,

    Thank you for the kind words. I’m glad this helped. My desire for passing along this information was to share 30 years of building experience with new builders. As I stated in my open statement of Part I, I do not build to participate in Top Gun. I simply will not expend the time needed to build those master pieces. I build my models to fly and to last. I am an IMAA Experimental Class Inspector, and my passion is Bid Twins. There are no hanger queens in my fleet of18 giant scale warbirds. When I go to the field, I fly at least six times a day. Using this system, I have models that have endured 25 years of the hot south Texas sun with no problems. Thanks again!

  11. Marcus Hannah says:

    Rick, I have an old Royal p-38 kit that I am getting up the courage to start building soon. I really want to spend the time to do it right. Would you use these fiberglass techniques on that model if you were me?

  12. Murray says:

    What about some coverage of the painting process. You said you were going to show that but Part 3 starts with the parts already painted!

    • Debra Cleghorn says:

      Will ask Rick if he can get more details on his next painting project! :-)

    • Terry Solesbee says:

      The preparation is the important part ! the painting is the easy part.Pick your paint, mix it up and spray it on. In your dreams,LOL. Now technique is something that is learned by experience, when it comes to spraying paint . getting the paint to flow right is the tough part. Most paints dry petty fast which is good but harder to get good flow ( no orange peel or dry spray ) and not runs all over . You can also add a lot of unnecessary weight from spraying too much paint trying to get it to flow by being too cautious spraying light coats . Just remember that practice makes perfect! And we all learn by our mistakes. The lightest paint job is produced by using a base color that covers good like in two coats.Then the clear coat sprayed on quick and wet .That’s the part that takes skill.One flow coat .The wing is the easiest because its almost flat however the fuse is harder because of spraying around the tail feathers,that’s tough. Remember practice makes …..better ;-)

  13. Phillip Koury says:

    Good article but one very important part about fiberglassing a model was left out. When building the airplane always use sanding blocks, resist the urge to use the palm of your hand. Sanding blocks keep the surface more uniform reducing the amount of prep work before application of the fiberglass cloth. Your Z poxy method dries faster but I still prefer the Dan Parsons method of brushing the diluted resin on. If you have ever been out in the rain while wearing a T shirt you know how the wet T shirt clings to you. Brushing the diluted resin does the same thing. I use West System resins that I let cure overnight.
    The Blue Angles would never let that Bearcat off the base in that kind of condition, They go to great lengths to hide all the rivets.
    Great article that I hope gets more modelers fired up to fiberglass and paint.

    One last thing…. Do not use the resin to fill the weave, if properly applied there is no need for a second coat of resin, lightly sand and apply a high build primer, sand, spot putty, and paint.

  14. Rick Michelena says:

    Dear Marcus, Murray, and Philip:

    The P-38 would be an excellent project for this type of finish. The reason I do not show photos of me painting is because I am a one man operation. I have no one to shoot pictures. However, the process was covered. Whether you shoot with a gun or a spray can, I allow the colors to dry and then “color sand” them. This ius the benifit of using lacquers. This removes imperfections and gives a smooth surface to draw panel lines onto. As far as the complaints on the rivets, I used to primer my project, and then lay out panel lines with chart tape. I would then spray primer on top the tape, allow to dry, and then sand until the top of the tape until the primer was removed. This builds up a separation between the panels. I also used to burn my rivets into the primer, then sand, and apply paint. Yes, you can see the details up close, but not at a distance. As stated previously, I build my models to look good and last. 95% of the general public likes to see the rivets and panel lines, so the later option makes them more pronounced.

  15. Terry Solesbee says:

    I like the rivet’s to show and lines to show a little more than they should.For models it makes them more eye catching to spectators.Models with out these details look boring.It is so worth the time doing these details.When I pull out my plane at the flying field and see all the detail I put on it , I just think it’s AWESOME !!! and am so glad I took the extra time to do it.The solder iron rivet’s look so good and are really versatile like Rick explained depending on the look you want. Thanks for the great tips Rick.!

  16. Don Cloyd says:

    Great job. Like the rivet technique. I am new to model airplanes after 50 years of other hobbies.
    Wonder if anonymous would send pix of ‘airplanes’ showing difference between F6F and F8F. He probably doesn’t err.. Thanks again

  17. Ken Easley says:

    This is great information and I plan on trying this on my next project. One question that I have is how much weight does this add to the model over other coverings?

  18. Bill Brown says:

    An extremely interesting and well presented tutorial, thanks Rick

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