1:48 1:72 Airbrush Decals Hasegawa Revell Tamiya Tips and Techniques


Why can't a modelling project be a success from start to finish? Why do we always have to make mistakes?!

“After 40 years of building models you would think that I would have everything pretty much down pat and most things that I tackle would be an easy progression, A to Z, but no: if I can foul up a model I will


Being the overwhelmingly brilliant modeller that I am, with skills aplenty and an ego to match (apparently…), the idea that I could ever make a mistake on a model is simply so far fetched, it is beyond my comprehension. When I tackle a kit, construction, painting and finishing are so easy to me that I can almost complete each individual stage in my sleep. Mistakes and cock-ups are for the less able and those that cannot carry out such basic, relaxing tasks. I don’t make mistakes. No sirree.

Except I do. Lots of them. Often and without warning.

After 40 years of building models you would think that I would have everything pretty much down pat and most things that I tackle would be an easy progression, A to Z, but no: if I can foul up a model I will. If I can screw up a paint job I will. If I can almost destroy a perfectly good model by pushing it just that bit further than I should, I will. It’s like a disease for which there is no cure. I cannot tell you the last time that I built a model without at least one mistake. In fact, it’s never happened…

I try and plan for all eventualities, almost before I’ve opened the box. Without exception I have a mental image in my head of how a model will look once it’s finished and I never deviate from that plan. Construction is always planned out so that pitfalls are avoided, the sequence of painting is plotted and I always decide on the exact aircraft I am going to model and in what markings. Because this is such a rigid, OCD-driven set of steps, I never stray too far from the path to completion, only ever taking a detour if I stumble headlong over a hurdle that I haven’t seen in advance, or a mistake that I have to rectify. Other than that, it’s all planned out.

So, knowing that I have everything planned out, how do I still make the kind of mistakes that I will explain later on? I think it’s because I’m a idiot, a fool that cannot focus for more than five minutes without being distracted by the most mundane of interventions, either musical or from online shenanigans. My wife will tell you that I am just clumsy, no step being too low for me to trip up, no door frame too obvious that I won’t bang my head on it, no model so easy that I will not make an error in construction, painting or weathering. She’s stopped handing me anything fragile as she’s worried I will drop it – and I work with fragile objects every day of my life. It’s embarrassing. It must be like living with Frank Spencer, which is disturbingly coincidental…

Two examples of how this works in action can be illustrated by my review build of Tamiya’s 1:72 F-16C and a personal build of an RAF Phantom, both of which occurred several years ago. I tell these stories here in order to protect you from similar pitfalls. You have been warned.

Several years ago I was asked by Marcus Nicholls to build Tamiya’s then, very new, 1:72 F-16C from a white-boxed, pre-release kit. He knew that I liked the scale, so sent over the kit which I gladly accepted and set to work on, a tight deadline being placed upon the project to ensure it was in the next issue of Tamiya Model Magazine International. As everyone knows, this is a stella kit that goes together easily and looks great once complete. Much like their 1:48 F-14, much of it can be built in a modular fashion, painted and then brought together to create a complete miniature of this famous aircraft. It’s about as easy a kit as you get, unless you are a hamfisted idiot with the attention span of a banana, which, as will become immediately apparent, I most certainly am.


So that’s what I did, started the kit, painted the results and ran headlong towards the finish line, confident that not only was I one of the very first modellers on the planet to build this kit, but that it would look great once done. You see, I told you I had a ego…

Everything, and I mean everything, ran on rails until it came to final construction. The model was complete, it was sat on its wheels and so all that remained was to fix the ejector seat in place and then slide the canopy over its mounts, before taking the pictures needed for the article. With the seat in hand, I dipped a Tamiya glue brush into its bottle and then dropped some of the adhesive into the cockpit tub and then fix the seat in place – job done! It was at this point that I noticed I’d accidentally touched the edge of the brush against the cockpit sill and now as I watched in horror, a drop of glue was working its way down the nose and through the paintwork. Time slowed down to the point where it almost seemed to stop. One of the most important builds to have crossed my desk in years, was slowly being destroyed before my very eyes…

I couldn’t believe it. I was less that five minutes away from photographing the model and there in front of me was a partially destroyed finish that I couldn’t hide. Resisting the temptation to smash the model into a thousand pieces (did I mention that this was a pre-release kit?!) I walked out the workshop to calm down and then try and work out how to fix a mistake that was wholly of my own making.

I was so angry with myself, but I had to repair the model – leaving it alone was not an option.

Markings were the first thing to deal with. As this was the only sample in the UK at the time, I couldn’t request another decal sheet, so that meant an aftermarket set had to be ordered to replace the stencils on the nose, which in turn meant that one side would not match the other. Then there was the damage from the glue and the finish that had to be stripped around the offending area, rescribed and then repainted and decalled, two shades of grey having to be perfectly masked to match the shape and demarcation on the other side – and then weathered again to blend it all in. What a mess! It didn’t help that the glue was still drying out and the plastic was too soft to work on. Honestly, I couldn’t have made a worse mistake in a more obvious place (on the model, not in The Shed!). Five minutes had turned into five hours, I needed £10 for new decals and then several days waiting for them to arrive. An article that should have been finished that day, was four days late and now a model that should have been almost perfect, was a compromised build with mismatched decals and a finish that was uneven and less than smooth – as indeed, it still is!

It doesn’t always happen to deadlined models either. As an early teenager I was completely captivated by the idea of building an RAF Phantom that had been painted in commemorative ‘Alcock & Brown’ colours that memorialised the first transatlantic flight in 1919. A guy had converted the old 1:48 Revell F-4J for a Scale Models magazine article and then painted his model in those colours – no mean feat given how basic the kit was in the first place, the changes needed to the airframe to replicate a Spey-powered F-4 and then the need to handpaint the markings. Seeing that feature, I knew I just had to build one and though I certainly didn’t have the skill I had a go at the model (without converting it!), failed, repainted the results, failed again, repainted it in SEA colours, hated that, threw it in the bin and then wait until a few years ago to try once more.


Having decided that I would  build my favourite ever Phantom, I grabbed the Hasegawa kit, ordered the decals, then detailed the cockpit, added some seamless intakes before painting the results in a wonderfully smooth, glossy, Light Aircraft Grey finish ready for the decals. And then the problems really began. The finish really was gorgeous, smooth, glossy and blemish-free and I loved it. I was well on my way after 35 years to building this aircraft in miniature.


The decals that arrived were really impressive on the sheet, so I set about applying them, first to the underwing tanks, then the nose, the tailplanes, fuselage and finally the wings. Everything was going well and then those that wrapped around the wings broke. And then broke again and again…

That’s okay, I’ll paint those stripes I thought, delusion being another failing, I’ll just move on to the decals on the other side of the fuselage and then mask and spray the wings, but those decals broke as well, as did those on the nose. The model was ruined. Looking at a model that was now covered in broken decals, there was no option but to strip the finish and try and repaint it – that was November of 2014 and it’s still not painted, still not finished and I still don’t have a model of my favourite Phantom. What an abject failure!


So today I have a stripped model (ah, the wonders of Mr Muscle Oven Cleaner!) a new set of decals and less enthusiasm to have another go at this aircraft in miniature. I’m still planning to finish it, but this time I think I will paint the stripes and then use the decals only for the smaller markings. In fact, I should have done that the first time, but hey, when you have a supposedly easier route ahead, that’s the one to take, isn’t it?

These two models are an example to you all that even those that do this as a living can still be utterly useless at times, so that when you next find one of your builds going south in spectacular fashion, fear not, we’ve all been there and we understand your pain, we really do. I could lie and tell you that these are but two spectacular examples in a sea of success, but no. I could have discussed the Revell 1:72 Halifax that I had to paint twice because I reversed the camouflage colours, the 1:48 Goshawk that I struggled to achieve a perfect gloss white finish on only to discover that it should have been silver(!), or the Academy 1:48 F-4J that was almost destroyed after a coat of Humbrol Klear completely crazed the paintwork, but that would simply be over-egging a particularly unpleasant pudding. So I will leave you with these two examples and move on, shame revealed, sackcloth and ashes worn with pride.

Now, where’s that Phantom..?

I'm formerly the editor in charge of Military In Scale magazine and latterly, Model Airplane International. Editing duties to one side, I'm now a full-time modelmaker with Doolittle Media, working to supply modelling articles and material for a number of their group titles, including MAI and Tamiya Model Magazine International. I'm also an avid fan of Assassin's creed, Coventry City FC and when the mood takes me, a drummer of only passing skill. Here though, you'll find what I do best: build models and occassionally, write about them!


  1. Oh man. I’ve only been doing it 10 years or so and I thought I’d stop making mistakes eventually! I just messed up a canopy on my last kit just a few weeks ago


  2. Kenneth David Hanson

    Great article Spencer! It’s comforting for me to know that even a modeler I hold in such high regard as yourself, has the occasional oops moment. I did the exact same thing recently, to a 1/72 Matchbox T-2C/E Buckeye, as happened to your Tamiya F-16. A minute of shear terror passed as I watched the Extra Thin dissolve part of a console & instrument panel decal. From a distance there was very little noticeable damage, but looking closely I can see it. This one won’t be seeing a contest table anytime soon.


  3. David Robbins Sr

    We are after all human , doomed to make mistakes that make the gods laugh. If anyone, even my wife who is a perfectionist,thinks they are infallible then that is when mistakes happen. As for myself l am the biggest mistake waiting to happen even on my best days so l get used to it. Even l screw up now and then with the model being assigned to a box on the shelve where l might try to redo it again…..maybe


  4. Wow, I think you could have been talking about me there for a moment, Spence! My wife says that scale modelling is a really poor choice of hobby for someone as congenitally clumsy as me. If you want it broken, smashed, dropped, bumped to the floor, crushed, ripped, or otherwise mangled, I’m your man!


  5. Dan Kamikubo

    Navajo rug weavers always leave a stitch out of place intentionally because they believe perfection belongs to gods only.


  6. Dr Malcolm McKay

    Usually my first stuff up is opening the box. All that innocent plastic waiting to be attacked by a raving plastic sadist.


  7. Been feeling a little depressed this week with things going wrong. Knowing I’m not alone is a great comfort, so thank you, better than a couseling session!


  8. Sounds like an AA forum here! I’m glad I’m not the only one that messes up. It’s in our nature to overthink the process and inevitably pay for it.


  9. Ben Matthews

    Spencer, but why?…why on earth dropping glue into the cockpit tub and not just apply under the seat? 😉

    Well, that said, I am catching myself asking questions like these over and over again. But perhaps the most matching passage for me in your article is: “….I never stray too far from the path to completion…” which I way too often do and regret bitterly…why didn’t I leave it as it was? Wasn’t it just good enough? Now it’s even worse and I’ll have to correct it with even greater effort.

    I guess that building scale models is like life, to fall and stand up again (and TRY to learn from mistakes…)


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