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Create a perfect fiberglass finish, part 3

Create a perfect fiberglass finish, part 3

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!




Updated: November 19, 2015 — 12:00 PM


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

  3. 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. 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. 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.

    1. Rick, as you know, I’ve used many of the same methods you have demonstrated. The drawn panel lines are much easier than using chart tape beneath the primer, sanding over the tape and then pulling the tape leaving a depressed panel line. I’ve always burned my rivets in the primer, which allows the paint to then get into the rivets. To me that is a more realistic recreation of the rivets. You can then highlight some of the rivets by wiping silver paint over the rivet and immediately wiping it off, leaving residue in the burned rivet circle. Can do the same thing with some graphite if you want a dirty weathered look. Great looking airplanes, Rick, and I know you fly the hell out of them.
      Regards, Krum

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

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

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

    2. In the very first paragraph click on “prep” and ” fiberglass” for earlier discussions.

  9. 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. 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. Enjoyed the article. Someone needs to do an article on just the various paint materials available as well as the equipment required to be safe. Fuel proof finishes for instance…butyrate dope, epoxy, automotive, etc. The guys flying electric have more less expensive alternatives as the effect of nitro fuel isn’t problem. Most construction articles give little print to this part of the build. Thanks again for your article. I enjoy the “how to’s” as opposed to some giant plane being flown in Germany!

  12. Great job in finishing the Bearcat, congrats.

  13. I read that if I you burn the rivets while primered you get a more realistic look after the paint . But I. Still love the look ! Thanks for sharing !

  14. Your last picture is a F8F Bearcat not a F6FHellcat.

  15. what did you use for the bezel (the larger circle) for the nav lights?

  16. Plane looks great w ell done
    Just remember for left and right
    Red port wine left as told by my late dad who was a pilot WW 11

  17. Very nice sir. Thank you for sharing your knowledge .

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