Using Aftermarket Parts
Aftermarket Parts: Are they worth it?
State-of-the-art modeling today involves injection molded plastic kits that, aided by computers and lasers, come from molds that are a quantum leap ahead of the kits of the 1960’s, 70’s and even ‘80’s in terms of accuracy. They may also be multi-media kits that contain resin parts for cockpits or control surfaces, photo-etched sets providing more surface or interior detail, and white metal or pewter parts for landing gear, weapons or other components.
But most kits are just plastic alone, giving rise to the aftermarket industry: resin cockpits, wheel wells, and myriad other parts; photo-etched (PE) flat brass sprues for super detailing, and fleets of aftermarket decals to dazzle a modeler with sheer variety. In the old days, Microscale was the only company producing aftermarket decals, but today they are joined by a legion of others.
So, given the expense of many of these aftermarket goods, which can often cost more than the kit they are dressing up, the question is, are they worth it? Photo-etched sets in particular will try a modeler’s patience, and many are purchased and never used. The answer is, it depends. It depends on the model, and how much work you are willing to put into that particular kit.
Handled properly, resin or PE cockpit sets, for example, can add an extra level of detail to a kit that you really want to make shine. Often, the objective of such sets is to make a kit look more accurate. If sheer accuracy is not important to you, or if it varies in importance depending on the kit, you may not need or get much enjoyment from such a purchase.
Tips on Aftermarket Purchases
1. How patient a modeler are you?
If you have a low frustration threshold, little patience, or if you’ve had more than a few moments where the model isn’t going well and you find yourself fighting the urge to smash it to bits, aftermarket parts may not be for you. Aftermarket parts require one thing above all: patience. Removing small (tiny) metal parts from a sprue, manipulating them and getting them into just the right position to be glued, requires time, a steady hand, and persistence. Patience is the real glue in the equation. Resin can be less demanding overall, but may require more time for sanding and clean-up than you anticipated. Keep this in mind before laying out money for these items.
2. Will you use it?
To start with, given the cost, it’s a good idea to pass on buying an aftermarket product of any kind unless you are sure you’ll use it. Restrict such purchases to add detail to kits you are especially interested in (the only exception to this rule is decals, which are usually relatively inexpensive). If you’ve always had a special place in your heart for the old Monogram P-40 Tigershark, that’s the kit to splurge on.
Newer kits are less likely to need additional detail, but it’s worthwhile to research a kit’s origins and be sure it’s really new. Revell-Germany, which has an excellent reputation in this department, puts out a 1/48 World War I British S.E.5a fighter with a 2002 copyright date. But it’s disappointingly Spartan in its detail. The reason: this kit, and possibly other Revell 1/48 WWI fighters, derives from only slightly retooled molds of the Aurora kit of the same scale, which was first sold back in the 1950’s. On the other hand, one look at Revell-Germany’s 1/48 Ju87 Stuka (produced around the same time as the S.E.5a), and you’ll know you don’t need a thing to dress it up – it’s that detailed, right out of the box. Ask around before buying a kit — modeling sites with discussion forums will root out these nuances and dirty little secrets, and possibly save you money and trouble over time. www.scalemates.com can be an excellent resource in this department.
3. Start out small
To begin, start out with an inexpensive kit, something that, if it turns out poorly, will not have you feeling that you broke the bank for an expensive dog of a model. My first foray with a PE set was with a Monogram Typhoon fighter — $10.00 or less, and easily replaced. As for the aftermarket purchase, avoid the more expensive, all-the-bells-and-whistles sets, at least initially. The complete Verlinden update set for the F-14 Tomcat, chocked full of resin and PE, may cost twice as much as the kit itself, or more. So it may be better to start out with a simple cockpit detail set instead for around $10.00. See how you like that and go from there.
4. Make sure you have appropriate tools
Folding Block, Diamond File, and Tweezers
You may not have a good experience with a PE detail set unless you have what you need to work with it. To begin with, it’s a simple matter to cut individual pieces of brass loose with an X-acto blade, but manipulating or bending small metal pieces afterwards may be more challenging. The same is true for filing off the metal burrs left on the part once it’s separated from the sprue. Troll your local hardware store for a small metal block with hard edges that can be used to bend PE parts. And I recommend Tamiya’s diamond file (it’s relatively inexpensive, despite the name) for filing down those burrs. Finally, a good pair of tweezers for working with small parts is essential.
Only cyanoacrylate glue such as Crazy Glue Gel, Super Glue Gel, or Loc-Tite will get the metal parts to adhere to either plastic or other metal parts. This glue also works well with resin, or epoxy can be used if quick-drying glue is not essential. Again, your local hardware store is a good source for these glues.
Working with resin
When working with resin parts, there are two important things to remember: they are brittle and may shatter if dropped on a hard surface or have any other sharp impact, and the dust from filing resin pieces can damage your lungs. Careful handling will solve the first problem. Wearing a paper painting mask and being meticulous about frequent clean-up of the resin dust left over from sanding and filing will address the second.
Often, photo-etch parts do not react well to brush painting, particularly when using acrylics. It’s best to airbrush them. For best results, I glue them in place first whenever possible, then give them a few coats of the desired paint. You can use a coat of primer, but it may run the risk of obscuring detail. Be aware that there are different types of resin, and some may not bond well with paint unless first getting a coat of primer.