Sunday, July 27, 2008

Old Skool Rod--Scratch Built Interior Panels

Awhile back I started messing with Super Sculpey polymer clay for scratch building. This week I decided to mess with it some more and came up with an interesting technique for building interior panels from scratch.

Now, I figure this technique isn't a brand new and unique discovery--I am sure dollhouse makers, artists making jewelry out of Sculpey, and about a thousand other people already know about it, but, I stumbled upon it almost purely by accident and don't recall seeing it on any other Sculpey site, at least not yet.

Here's the background. The interior panels are for a 1:25 scale replica of a my dad's old skool Texas hot rod. Back in the 50's Dad made the 1:1 interior panels out of thick cardboard; as a high schooler my dad couldn't afford fancy upholstery work, so he fabricated the interior door panels himself out of whatever he could find.

And as I saw it, to duplicate this home grown look my scale panels had to be built from scratch as well.

The first thing I did was cut the floorboard and side panels out of .010 plastic using a pair of scissors. This was easy enough. I put some Sculpey through a pasta maker and pressed the thin strips onto the plastic. Using a wooden coffee stirring stick I impressed criss-cross lines in it. I thought that all I'd need to do next was fire it (in a toaster oven--that's one thing that makes Scupley so easy to work with: you don't need a kiln.) Presto, instant home-grown interior panels.

However, I couldn't remove the clay in one piece--it stuck to the plastic! Every time I tried to remove it I destroyed the cross-hatch pattern.

So I cut the same interior panel shapes out of thin brass. I figured that way I could leave the Sculpey clay stuck to it and just fire the whole thing; I know from soldering brass that its melting point is far above the 375 degrees F in my toaster oven.

Well here's my first effort--burnt to a crisp! It is interesting to note that the check pattern "puffed up" when it burned, and the result, although black and swollen, still looked like it would take paint and perhaps in the future if I need "puffed" interior finishes this might be a useful path of experimentation.

Ah, that's better. The Sculpey needs to be shaped a bit more but it's fired solid and looks reasonably like the homemade panels in the 1:1 hot rod. It literally only took seconds for the Sculpey to fire--I figure less than a minute. So I had to keep an eye on it so it wouldn't burn.

But the problem (?) was that the Sculpey was still stuck to the brass after firing! I figured this wasn't the end of the world--I would just epoxy the whole thing to the inside of the body--in other words, use Sculpey covered brass instead of plastic for the interior inserts.

So I started to clean up the edges with a 200 grit Dremel sander and a MicroMark sanding stick. To my surprise the Sculpey popped off after I had sanded all the edges! Upon closer examination, some of the clay had wrapped itself around the brass during firing, and the sanding broke this extra clay off. So the Sculpey didn't stick to the brass; it just seemed that way at first.

So now I have the brass inserts, the plastic templates, and a thin and pretty good looking piece of flexible Sculpey to epoxy to whatever I want. I am not done with the interior--not even close, but this is a good step in the right direction.

This brass/Sculpey technique is one I am sure to use in the future....I seem to be able to make whatever thin pieces I want out of Sculpey that conform to the brass shape it's fired on. A thousand and one uses!!!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Texas Old Skool Rod--Z-ing Up the Frame....

As I said last time, the first step to the Texas old-skool rod build was to figure out how to capture the stance and how radically to Z the frame.

Major breakthrough?
After studying the photos of the 1:1 car and doing some mock ups with popsicle sticks it dawned on me: the way the 1:1 car was Z'd was really easy!

As far as I can tell, the lowest tangent of the rear brake drums were on the exact same horizontal plane as the lowest part of the frame.

I figure the unknown mechanic cutting up frames in Texas in the late 40/early 50's didn't have complex jigs to work with or anything automated. He probably was a WWII trained mechanic who could weld anything to anything, and the resulting frame was probably tough as a tank, but as far as anything else involving the Z, it had to be as easy as it could be to build.

So this mechanic (not my dad) must have put the rear axle/differential/brake drum assembly on the floor of his garage, cut the chassis, moved the rest of the frame in front of the rear axle, and welded everything back together. I'm going to do something like that for my 1:25 scale frame.

After spending something like $10 and waiting 7 weeks to get my stock 32 frame from "Replicas and Minitures of Maryland" it took a lot of courage to chop it up so I could Z the frame. But I did. I am not sure exactly how the 1:1 frame was welded back together as no pictures exist of just the frame. So I am going to guess some sort of gussets were welded to each side as a first step.

Then the rear was welded back in place using the gussets to hold things together. I am using Devcon 5 minute epoxy, which sticks to resin "like glue". Alignment is key! Even on a model!

The 1:1 mechanic had to wait for the metal to cool down; I have to wait for things to dry. In the meantime I stole the chrome suspension parts out of Revell's most excellent "'29 Ford Pickup" # 85-2085. This is left over from last month's 25 T build--I used the engine out of the 29 Ford, but not the suspension. Since there is almost no chrome on the 1:1 car these are going into a container of bleach to get rid of the chrome finish.

To reproduce the "welds" on the Z'd frame I am using Tamiya light-curing putty. It's not cheap--$15USD for a small tube--but it dries fast when left in the sun and can be really easily sanded and filed down without pitting or breaking off.

OK, the rear end is now glued and dried, and I've attached the rear axle from the 29 Ford. My dad tells me that the leaf spring arrangement from the 29 Ford is the pretty much same sort of rear spring arrangement on the 1:1 car. We're not quite sure about the rear shocks, so they're not on yet.

The front is from the same 29 Ford Pickup Revell kit. The bleach softened the plastic and some of the bits that would have made the front end "steerable" broke off, so, it's going to have fixed front wheels. Not the end of the world.

So here's the frame so far. The front shocks came out of AMT's 29 Model A kit #6572--left over from another earlier kit bash. The stalks that shocks mount to were scratchbuilt from parts box left over bits. The stock tie rods were cut up and attached to the sides of the frame instead of meeting under the engine block; this is the same as on the 1:1 car.

I have ordered some engine parts (manifold, heads) and am waiting for those before I start building the engine. In the meantime I am going to have to scratchbuild the interior as the one that came with the resin body is way too "kustom". I am a bit nervous about pulling this off....we'll see how I do next time.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Texas Old Skool Hot Rod--Introduction

Before I go into this next project, a confession: I come from a family of car nuts. My dad and my brothers are really into cars. Some kids had a basketball hoop in their back yards growing up--my family had a hydraulic car lift (really!)

Cars. Where would the Lamms be without them? Back in the 60's and 70's if my dad wasn't out fixing some crazy car (with my brothers' and my help, whether we liked it or not), he was having us wash a car (with no soap--just water and a shami--sure as shootin', can't wreck that paint!) and if there were spots on the windshield, you can bet we'd be out there doing it over again....

If we weren't washing a car, we were out with dad buying a car. If we weren't out buying a car, we were at the junkyard getting parts. You get the idea.

My dad is a successful automotive historian, book publisher, and non-fiction writer--now pretty much retired, but still as sharp as ever, and always ready for anything related to cars. And my kid brother, who followed in my dad's footsteps professionally, is an accomplished journalist, car magazine editor, and race promoter (and may be even more of a fanatic about the automobile then Dad, which is a bit hard to believe!)

I managed to shun the car culture most of my life, saying I don't like to drive (which I don't. My brothers are tease me about what a crappy driver I am, and they're right, I admit I am a "distracted" driver). My disinterest in cars was omnipresent until the model car hobby (inexplicably) bit me. Perhaps it's a latent trait that is passed down the Y chromosome, finally expressing itself after 35 odd years of being hidden away. I can't say for sure.

So on with the build: I've now built 3 open-wheel scale hot rods: a 29 Model A, a 32 highboy, and a 25 T....and it was all to develop the skills needed for the project I just started in earnest--I call it the Texas Old Skool Hot Rod project.

Here's a pretty good picture of the 1:1 hot rod:

This is a yearbook photo of my dad, age 17 or so, in La Feria Texas, when he was in high school. I saw this picture and flipped--besides being a really cool picture of the old man when he was a youngster, his car is the real deal. I mean the real McCoy sort of real deal. I think most "Rat Rodders" would give their front teeth for a hot rod like this; the stance, the homemade look, the wire wheels, the cool windshield, everything about it smacks of how hot rods really ought to look. According to me, anyway.

It would be fun to try to recreate this in 1:1 scale, and I haven't given up on that idea, but, for now I will attempt to capture a very small bit of history by trying to make a scale replica of it and giving it to my dad as a gift. Even if it comes out only OK, he'll treasure it I'm sure, and it will be fun working together with him on the technical details.

A few months ago I sat down with my dad and started to take extensive notes on the Texas old skool hot rod. Even though he built it over 5 decades ago he has an amazing memory of its construction. For instance, the windshield came off a speedboat, and the dash off a 40 Ford. The interior seat covers were plaid and the inner door panels some sort of home made green checkerboard stuff, made from cardboard.

He can't remember everything though. The body is a 31 Model A roadster, and the frame/suspension/radiator shell from a 32, but he couldn't remember if the frame was "Z'd" or not. From some careful analysis of his photos, zooming in with Photoshop over and over, etc., I figure the frame had to be Z'd to give the hot rod its stance. So I am going to start with a stock frame, or the closest thing I can find, and try to reproduce how I figure the Z must have been done.

He didn't have pictures of every angle of the car, but when we looked over photos of other cars on the internet he'd say "oh yes, that's just like the rear end on my old hot rod." So I have that to go on as well.

I ended up discovering that getting plastic stock 32 frames and 31 Model A bodies isn't easy. In fact, I cleaned out Ebay of every plastic 32 and Model A 1:25 kit I could find, trying to get this or that part for this build, but to no avail--opening the box, more often than not, I found that part didn't work since it was too far from "stock". Fortunately: like so many other hobbies there is a lively "after market" scale auto culture on the internet, and that's where I ultimately found the major components for this build. I ended up buying the nearly stock 1:25 32 resin frame from "Replicas and Minitures of Maryland" and the body from "Jimi Flintstone's Resins". I am going to have to scratch build a lot of parts that I can't find elsewhere, which is going to take a lot of time.

I figure the first thing I need to do is try to Z the frame (resin--I have never worked with this material before, so that alone is going to be a challenge), do a rough mounting of the body, try to get the suspension and wheels in place, and see if I can nail the stance. If I can do this, it will go a long way to getting the overall build looking right--this entire project is going to push my modest modeling skills to the limit, and I'm not entirely sure at this point I can pull it off! Stay tuned!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

25 T Kitbash--Finished!

I am stuck doing Microsoft updates for all the systems at work but the good news is I can remotely log in and push the updates out from the computer at my workbench. So while the gears are turning at work, I had time to finish up the 25-T. Beats going in on the weekend any day....

So here it is. The AMT "Parts Pack" chrome frame was built box stock, and it was a pain to build. As I mentioned in an earlier post a lot of parts for the frame didn't line up, and in that it's all chrome made just building it stock hard enough.

I didn't lower the front end, or even replace the straight front axle with a drop axle, which would have made the build less "high boy" looking. But I am still happy with the stance, even if it's not as low as what I originally had in mind.

I was dreading the wheels and tires part of this build for good reason. The Parts Pack frame doesn't leave a lot of options for ways to attach the wheels and tires. So I had to improvise. The rear tires came off of AMT/ERTL's Domininos Pizza March 88C #6751 CART racer. Now, it might seem strange to pay $16 just for 2 tires, but, these are really cool tires; besides, the turbo Cosworth V-8 out of this 80's era Indy car (when Indy cars didn't all look the same) is sure to show up on other projects. I had to do some major mods--grinding, drilling, sanding--to the wheel inserts to get them mated to the rear axle, but, that's what epoxy is for, and it came out OK. The Goodyear logos are Shabo transfer lettering--easy to apply and looks a lot better than paint or a decal I think.

Also, there were huge mold seams on the rear tires, and it took me a good 15 minutes each tire to sand them smooth, but, what else do I have to do while Microsoft uploads are going on?

The fronts are from Revell's Thames Panel Truck #7609. Each front is delivered in 2 sections--inner and outer "skinny"--and getting rid of the seam was (well, as far as I can tell) impossible. I sanded to the point where the tread was disappearing and gave up. As you've heard me say before: I have to live with it.

The wheels are resin, but I don't remember exactly what supplier--I had them sitting around so I shot 'em with Alclad II and stuck them on here.

The firewall is scratch built--the one from the "Switchers" T kit was pretty bad. I also put some bling on the firewall, on the more "bare" side of the engine, since things looked a little barren on the right side of the engine compartment.

I had a really bad time with the instrument panel. This is a set of photoetched guages from Model Car Garage. The instructions say to put a paint blob on the dash and then drop the dials and photo etch over the blob. Bad idea for me; I didn't paint the blob in the right place. So I had some dials, and a big blob next to them. Fortunately I had covered the 40 Ford dash with Future acrylic clear, so the "mistaken blob" could be polished off. The steering wheel is out of a Vette Kit (don't remember which one). I just couldn't use the Jed Clampet style steering wheel that was included....

The windshield is out of the 25 T "Switchers" kit; I just cut it in half and put the glass in. Without this mod it stood way, way too tall to look good.

The hardest thing about open wheel rods like this is making everything come out straight and even I think. The rear axles were a real nightmare--they kept splitting under the weight of the build. Next time I am going to glue some sort of support styrene widget inside the axle to strengthen it. In the meantime what you see above is about as good as I could get it.

Overall in spite of the litany of issues I talk about in this post, believe it or not, this was a fun build and I'm a bit sorry it's done. But it's on to other th ings--my next build is going to be at least 50% resin so we'll see how that goes. Gotta keep trying new things!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

25 Model T Kitbash--Paint it Up, Scotty

I had so much fun using Alclad's "Prismatic" paints on the last build that I just had to try it again. I thought and thought and thought about how I wanted to paint his build--two tone? Candy? Flames? But in the end I decided to do something pretty crazy with solid colors.

It's hard to represent the true effect of Prismatic paint using still photos....the paint turns bright red/copper when viewed from one angle and a sort of yellow-green when viewed from another. The amount of light makes a difference too--the red looks almost brown in lower light and bright fiery red in bright light. A dramatic effect, not something I'd want to use on every build but something fun and different to try once.

The body was primed with Duplicolor primer/sealer and then painted with 1 mist coat and 3 color coats of Duplicolor Enamel/Acrylic black. Then after 24 hours of drying time (the Duplicolor label said to wait 7 days but I just couldn't wait that long--impatient I know) I hit it with 2 coats of the Alclad #202 Prismatic Maple.

The paint is very heavily flaked, but for a show car/rod that seems OK to me. Getting the 40 Ford dash in there was quite a task, as was the photoetched dials and whatnot, but I'll go over that in a later post.

One thing about Alclad II--it ain't cheap. A small bottle is about $8 and the thinner was fairly expensive too. I understand that Alclad II is handmade, a guy-in-his-garage type operation, and some teenager who works for Mr. Alclad sticks the label on every bottle by hand, so I can see why it costs a bit more than some other paints.

Anyway the Alclad was applied with my trusty single-action Badger 200 and a cheap Testors compressor that a friend is loaning me....I read somewhere that Alclad goes on better with a gravity fed airbrush rather than one that draws the paint out of a bottle and I agree with this, having tried applying Alclad with both--the gravity cup method seems to work better, giving a smoother and more even finish, but I can't say why.

I continue to experiment with Future Floor polish. It looks good over lacquer and so I used it here. I brushed it on--after some trial and error I have concluded brushing looks better (well, shinier, anyway) than spraying Future with an airbrush, and it certainly is easier to apply via a paintbrush. But the best thing about future, well two best things: it seems to cover absolutely anything I have tried without crazing, and for 5 bucks you get a ton of it--it's really cheap compared to other clearcoats!

I haven't polished anything yet and may not polish this one at all, as I am afraid of rubbing off the "Future". Don't want to rub off the future!

Right now I'm bleaching the firewall which I am probably going to paint red to match the engine block. Maybe by next week I will have the wheels/tires done and maybe even the bling and finishes.