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Model Kit Weathing Guide
Article by Paul Nortness
Let's face it; we live in a dirty world. All the vehicles we use to get around are going to get dirty, whether it is your 1969 Chevy Camaro or a big multi-million dollar jet fighter. Weathering can be as subtle as the discoloration from a super-heated exhaust pipe on a motorcycle or as prominent as faded paint on a plane.
A good weathering job will make your model kit stand out and jump off the shelf. I will talk about some tools you can use for weathering as well as some techniques you can use to make your next build one of a kind.
Before you begin, it is very important to research the subject of your build. Study pictures of the subject carefully. For example, if you are modeling an F-4 Phantom, study photographs and see how the exhaust discolors the natural metal around the tail, look for common areas where an oil leak may happen, high traffic areas where paint might chip or be worn off, etc. These clues will help you greatly when it comes time to create your masterpiece in plastic.
Worn And Chipped Paint
Worn or chipped paint is an excellent way form of weathering. For this process, take a toothpick and sand the ends to remove the points and add various angles. The toothpick should then be dipped into CA glue and wet sanded with 2000 grit sandpaper. Once you have made your tool, you can dip it in silver enamel paint. Wipe excess paint off into a paper towel much like you would if dry brushing. Then, just rub your toothpick along the surface you wish to add the effect to. I like to do this in front of rudder pedals to give the appearance of paint worn off from the pilot's boots or on the canopy sills. The technique also works well for access ladders.
Weathering And Panel Lines
For general weathering and panel lines, I like to use a "sludge" made with pastel chalk, water and dish soap. Using the edge of a hobby knife, shave the pastel stick into a fine powder. This is best done by holding the pastel upright and dragging the edge of the blade down the stick. Once you have a good amount, let's go make some sludge! I add in some of the pastel chalk powder and twice as much water. Then, a few drops of dish soap to break up the surface tension. Then, using a cheap paint brush I will brush the sludge over the panel lines. Let that sit on the model for about an hour or so and let it dry. Now, slightly moisten a paper towel and begin wiping the dried chalk sludge. This will remove the black on the surface, but leave behind a nice crisp dark panel line. If you accidently remove some of the line, that's OK...just repeat the process over and over until you are satisfied.
The great thing is, it can just be washed away with water. I have also used craft paints such as Apple Barrel and Ceramcoat with great results too. Just thin the paint with water and brush on. Leave it on for about 15-20 minutes and wipe away just as you would with the chalk.
You can also use a gel pen to simulate dirt streaks. Simply take your gel pen and trace it along a panel line. Before the gel dries, wipe in the direction of airflow (unless it is a trick plane, it's usually nose to tail). I typically just use my finger tip to wipe away the gel.
Weathering Armor And Tanks
The pastel chalk method works very well for weathering armor as well. I used a dark brown pastel stick and made the sludge a little thicker than I would if doing an aircraft. Brush the entire model tank with the sludge and let it sit overnight. Come back with a damp paper towel and begin taking off the dried chalk. I say taking off as opposed to wiping because I use different methods. In some places I may dab away at the chalk, in others I will wipe. I do this to create different effects. One thing I never do is wipe the sludge out of the road wheels or treads. These parts are in constant contact with the dirt and mud, and should look dirty and nasty.
Tamiya makes a great product called "Weathering Master" specifically for model kit use. There are 5 different sets. Each set comes with a sponge applicator brush, not unlike your wife or girlfriend might have in her make-up bag. These sets are basically pastel chalk pressed into little "cakes" and put in a tin. In fact, the first time I opened one up and saw what they look like I thought I accidently opened my wife's eye make up. The product works great, just rub the sponge applicator into the pastel cake and then apply.
One of my favorite colors is the "Soot". I use it on gun barrels and ports to add the appearance of built up stains from the gun smoke. I also use it on exhaust ports on armor and old World War II props to add that smoke stained look around the exhaust. The sets are a tad pricey (Around $10.00) but well worth it.
Finally, there is no one perfect way to weather your models. I have described and showed you the ways that work for me. The key is to experiment and try new things. Half of the fun is finding a new way to do things and showing your building buddies and them all going "Hey that's cool, how did you do that?" So get out there and get dirty!
Have fun and happy modeling!