Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Using Brass Etch - KV-1s Workbench

Hi folks, I was working on the T-70 a little while ago, glueing little bits of carefully bent brass etch into place and realised that I had never actually talked about how to use the stuff! Fortunately I have a Soviet armour addiction at the moment (can quit any time I like, ok? OK?!) and so the beautiful Hobbyboss KV-1s Ehkranami on my workbench would form a nice test bed for a basic tutorial.

Now most brass etch is things like the above, very, very thin components that can't be made strongly enough in injected plastic. Compare the scale thickness of these components and similar things on the Leman Russ. I will confess that that is not a fair comparison as the Russ has been designed to go together easily and withstand the rigours of rough wargaming handling. The KV-1 here has been designed to be an accurate scale model that can also be used for wargaming. If you're careful. But this is what I am really liking about building my Bolt Action collection, there is the option for some really, really nice scale modelling as well as a nifty wargame. Most projects will never need more than the above, but the scale-modelling bug is contagious and the temptation to take things further is very real. I'll caution you that if you are the sort of modeller who rages at a part that doesn't precisely fit (been there) the next products miiiight not be for you...

The part in question is engine intake grills, you see Hobbyboss have helpfully modelled louvres leading into the darkness of the engine. This is odd though as the kit part that covers them is completely opaque plastic. On the T34-85 kit the grills were fairly straightforward and thus included on the etch sprue from the get go. On this tank (the only KV-1 I'm likely to have so wanted to go large on the modelling) I'd need to replace them with aftermarket etch if I wanted them delicate and lovely.

Hauler (along with Eduard and loads of others) make a bewildering array of enhancement products to make the injection kits more accurate, or a different version, or just more characterful. It's easier to do this in scale modelling than in sci-fi/fantasy modelling as no-one owns the design of a 70 year old tank. Anyone can make a KV-1. Parts for a Stormraven are more tricksy. Anyway, lets get on with tutorial flavour stuff rather than musings. There is nothing, nothing in the world that pings off and gets eaten by the carpet monster like brass etch. It's the combination of stiffness, springiness and extraordinary lightness that allows etch components to seemingly defy gravity with a sad little "ping" noise never to be seen again. To prevent this, simply stick some low-tack masking tape to the back of the etch sprues. That way when you cut through the attachment points it can't go anywhere, delicately remove the parts from the tape with the knife and you are good to go. As you can see from the middle image I do this even with the really, really simple components.

Once you've got the parts cut out they often need to be bent into 3D shape. Handily, this kit needed both square bends and rounded shapes so I could show you a lot. There are some magnificent tools designed to assist with this process and if you are working in 1/35 (54mm to us wargamers) I'd really recommend them as trying to get a straight edge bend on a six inch long bit of etch is beyond tricky. For little 1/48 (28mm-ish) scale you don't necessarily need them (I don't own any). I just use two single edge razor blades. These are really, really useful tools anyway and come in massive boxes for not a lot of money so you can always have a sharp one. Lay one razor across the line where the bend will go. Press down and it clamps the part down. Slide the other razor under the part and line them up. Then lift the underneath one and it will neatly bend the part into a perfect angle. Word of warning, measure twice, bend once, if you need to straighten and re-bend it will snap.

If you've never needed tweezers before you will need them for this. You just cannot do this with fingers along. For this project I needed another three semicircular supports gluing on along the frame. The easiest way to do this is tip a little blob of superglue onto a bit of scrap plastic and then holding the part in the tweezers run the edge to be glued through the blob. This controls how much superglue goes on. Get it in place, let it set, then put a dot of thin superglue on the part and give it a sharp puff of air, this will disrupt surface tension and capillary action will distribute the superglue along the stuck edge. Make sure you run a bit of paper underneath before you put the assembly down again to clean any excess otherwise you'll be shaving it off the table with that razor. Once all the supports were glued I turned my attention to the grills.

If you need to get a nice rounded bend, just find a paintbrush with an appropriate diameter and gently smooth down the part over it. Go for slow, smooth gentle bending, don't do it all in one go as you don't want to get a sharp edge in your nice gentle bend. For this kit, the front edge also needed to be pressed flat to fit (this bit was just impossible to photograph). Keeping most of the grill on the paintbrush, press the edge flat against a flat surface with the razor. Once that was taken care of I also needed to flatten the edges along the length of the guard. I put the grill in place so that the supports would keep it in shape and then flattened the edges with the razor. Glue into place and it's a win.

Once in place the difference is clear. Or it might not be. Frankly, this is one of those things that is just for me rather than because I think dozens of people will go "oooh you can see through these!". Most people will never want to do this, plastic is more than enough. I'm just enjoying myself - thus suspecting a slight masochistic edge to my modelling - and thought I'd share what I knew. If you want better info on this kind of thing then you need to plunge in to the pages of magazines like Model Military International (where I learned) and similar publications. There you will find people who want to make sure that there are the right shape, size and number of rivets on a tank. Products that work like a waterslide transfer to make weld seams. It's a magical world with a lot that we wargamers could learn from. Just take it easy on the delicate brass when making a wargaming model, thin brass antennae, while beautiful, will just get destroyed.

And there he (to Russians, vehicles are "he", even ships whereas to us they're "she", just one of those things) is in all his glory. Hobbyboss have knocked this kit out of the park. Do yourself a favour, zoom in at the fenders under the turret, drink in the detail. Can't wait to paint this fella!

Hope you've enjoyed this, I've shied away from work in progress stuff before as I've focussed on the end result of the painting. Do people like this? Do you want to see more like it? Quite happy to do build logs as well as painting. Thoughts? Stick 'em in the comments, I do read them all.



  1. Oooh. Another nice thing about EB is that if it ends up a little battered then it just looks like weathering.

    1. yup, and even better, if you want, for example, mangled fenders or a dented toolbox or whathaveyou the brass can be bent to look much more like mangled steel than plastic ever could

  2. I'm going to need a bigger tank *googles 1:48 Panzer VI Tiger*