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Aftermarket Model Kit Parts

Article by Paul Nortness

Previously, I have talked about ways to save money by using alternatives to aftermarket parts for your model kit builds. Today I will discuss the various types of aftermarket sets out there and point out their strengths and weaknesses so you can better choose parts for your next build.

The term "aftermarket" applies to any product that was not included in the kit box used to complete your model. This obviously does not cover tools or supplies. It may be something like a replacement cockpit or a complete conversion kit, or it may be something as mundane as a set of new decals. Aftermarket parts can be used to enhance existing kit parts, or replace poorly detailed parts entirely. Sometimes they are required to build and display a successful model. Whatever the reason you choose to use aftermarket parts, you will have a wide array of selections. Typical aftermarket parts are resin, photo etch, vacuform, white metal and decals.

Aftermarket Resin Parts

Resin parts are made by pouring a chemical mixture into a soft vulcanized rubber mold. The nice thing about resin is it can produce much sharper details than injection molded styrene. The downside with resin is the molds break down with each use leading to short production runs and on occasion, poor castings. To combat this, manufacturers keep a master that they use to create several molds. The other cool thing about resin is it can be reshaped with hot water. If you have a warped part, put it in some hot water and you can easily return it to it's original shape. Resin parts will have a "pour stub", like a sprue on a plastic model. You will need to remove the pour stub with a razor saw and sand it flat. Be very careful not to inhale dust while sanding resin, do it in a well ventilated area and I recommend using a breathing mask. The dust is very bad for you. Resin can be painted with any type of paint, but you must use CA glue with resin.


Aftermarket Photo Etch

One of the most versatile aftermarket products is photo etch. Photo etched parts come in thin sheets of brass. They are used for things like seatbelts, vents, mirrors on canopies, data placards, HUD frames. Even ship modelers use photo etch parts for hand rails, and even tiny 350th scale sailors. Where a resin set would replace the entire cockpit, a photo etch set is used to enhance the kit's existing parts. Photo etch is usually cheaper than resin. The great thing about photo etch is also the worst thing. The parts are very thin, making them a perfect replacement for parts that are too thick in plastic. The downside to being so thin is they are susceptible to bending.


Aftermarket Vacuform

This is a vacuform canopy for a 1:32nd scale A-7E. While canopies are the most common use of vacuform parts, some companies actually create entire kits in vacuform. Vacuform parts are created from sheets of thin plastic. These sheets are heated until they become soft and are then "sucked down" over the form of a mold by use of a vacuum. Vacuform is an excellent way to give the canopy a much more realistic glass appearance because it is so thin. Because it is not injected molded, it is possible to recreate a canopy without the seam lines often associated with clear styrene. The biggest downside is the difficulty to remove a vacuform canopy from the rest of the plastic. It doesn't take much to ruin a canopy by a slip of the hobby knife. Luckily, most companies that sell vacuform canopies often sell them in two packs so you have a spare should you mess one up. Vacuform is also one of the cheaper upgrades you can do.


Aftermarket Landing Gear

White metal is a common replacement for landing gear struts on heavier model kits. In some instances like on the 32nd Academy F/A-18C, metal landing gear is mandatory. Often the styrene plastic landing gear struts sag under the weight of the model after time. I honestly cannot find a downside to using replacement landing gear. I suppose if I did have to give one it would be the price as they can be a bit on the pricey side. But, spending an extra $20.00 is much better than having a model that you spent six months to build to perfection look funny after spending a year on your shelf.


Aftermarket Decals

The most common form of aftermarket is a set of decals. Sometimes you find that the kit decals are too thick or maybe it's an older kit and the decals haven't aged well or maybe you just like the markings from another squadron. Whatever the case, an aftermarket set of decals can really enhance a build. Usually, they will include stencils as well (the little "No Step", etc).


Hopefully, this article has been informative. Just remember, a good modeler does not rely on aftermarket parts to make a good model. Only your skills can do that. Purchasing a $50.00 cockpit set for your new model is not going to suddenly make you a better modeler. Practice, practice, practice.

Have fun and happy modeling!

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