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Operation Tractable

Firefly Construction
I'm sure most of us take a similar approach to starting a build: First looking over the kit instructions and determining up-front those deviations and changes that we want to make. Also, before going any further, I need to explain that while the following description follows the kit instruction sequence, I freely deviate from the recommended assembly steps whenever I feel the need. Hopefully the photos show these deviations if they're compared to the instructions, and my descriptions aren't too confusing because of this.

To start this build, I looked for any "major changes" that I wanted to make. I define "major changes" as having to cut up nicely molded kit parts and take steps beyond the "point of no return." For me, a "major change" is one that if I mess it up, I'm stuck with the results. I often start with these kinds of modifications and try to get them out of the way up-front.

In this case, the only part of the kit that I though would benefit from a major change was the air intake grating located on the hull top between the radiator bulge and the rear of the turret. Tasca provides this part a solid molded affair. My goal was to open it up to allow some depth when looking in this area. Careful study of prototype photos showed that the actual grating was not, as I had thought, a composite part made up of welded bars and straps, but rather a mostly single cast piece. Using this info and measurements of the kit part E32 (Step 14), I drew up some working plans and constructed an assembly jig to replicate it.

The jig took care of alignment of the parts for glue-up, but the real challenge was cutting equally spaced notches in the strips. For this, I "gang glued" a stack of styrene strips together using a small drop of CA on the ends. The notch locations were measured out, and the stack of strips was then notched in my mitre box. The glue-up was just a matter of care to keep excess cement off of the jig. Once the cement had dried, the grate received a cast texture using thinned Squadron Green Putty (as described later). When this had dried, the grate was removed from the jig and trimmed to its final size.

Once I had the scratch-built part, I cut out the kit details that my part would substitute for. By scratch-building my part first, I avoided that "point of no return" (cutting away the kit details) until I was satisfied that I had an acceptable replacement.

After this, my most significant deviation from the kit assembly sequence was to get the basic hull and turret assembled so that I could add or enhance the welds and cast textures. This requires a lot of handling which would most likely break off many of the details, so the details were left off until after the welds. I added or enhanced all of the weld beads on the tank. Most were done using thinned Squadron Green Putty. For the weld beads, I mixed the putty to the consistency of warm honey using a 4:1 ratio of lacquer thinner and Testors Cement. The weld beads are masked on each side using narrow strips of blue painter's tape cut with an X-acto knife on a glass surface. The space between the tape strips is filled with the putty applied with a nylon brush. I then texture this with a wooden tooth pick (cocktail stick) trimmed to a wedge and dipped into lacquer thinner. After texturing, the tape strips are then removed before allowing the putty to dry too long (this could result in chipping along the edges). I then brush over the still semi-soft putty welds with liquid cement. This softens the texture and blends the weld into the model's surface. If I get too much glue on the edges of the welds, after it all dries, I buff the edges of the weld and model surface with 0000 steel-wool. This removes any glue marks. The photos show which welds are done with the green putty and which are done with the epoxy putty.

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