___________SEAMS......LIKE TROUBLE (or Pounding the Putty)

In the not too distant past, the chances of me puttying up the seams on a model kit were roughly the same as me wrapping my right leg over my head and hopping to a first place finish in the Boston Marathon. Recently, however, with constant pressure coming from subjecting myself to the work of other modelers who are, well, better than me, I have been trying to change my position on the subject. (Damn you, Bill Jones!) The simple truth is that if you want your kits to look pro you are going to have to get used to the practice of hiding those unsightly seams. Now, some kits let you off the hook pretty easy. Batman kits, for example, tend to have natural hiding points like boot lines, glove lines and various costume design features that make putty work unnecessary. Other kits though, have seams that would dampen the shorts of a tenured drywall contractor.

AN INTRODUCTION: My first attempt at this craft was on the Horizon Joker on the Throne 1/8th scale kit (you can see here.) It also happened to be my first vinyl kit build up. The kit fit together fairly well but had some unusual (stupid, if you want my real opinion) piece separations. For example, the fingers were a separate part from the hand. Now that’s just not right. So this, of course, caused a rather obvious gap along the knuckles that had to be hidden. The legs were also two parts with the separation being right at the damn knee! The seam couldn’t have been in a more conspicuous place. Anyway, this was my first vinyl kit, I had fearfully waited 3 ½ years to even attempt to build it and, by God, I was gonna’ try and do it right. Since that kit I have had the opportunity to learn and practice a few tricks that have made the goal of a seamless model not only challenging and fun, but attainable!

For this exercise I will be using the Revell Riddler 1/6th scale vinyl kit, from Batman Forever, released in 1996. If I wasn’t sittin’ here staring at the box, I’d have sworn this kit was a recast! I mean the seams were poorly aligned, big gaps between the head and neck area, and the upper and lower body. The arms have two, count ‘em, two seams, one at the shoulder and one at the forearm. Lastly, the lower legs, below the knee, do not perfectly match up to the upper legs. As you can see in these pictures I had a lot of puttying to do.
But just hold on to that tube o’ putty, Buddy, while I share with you some initial tricks to minimize the work load. After you’ve trimmed away the flashing on the parts, test fit them together to see just which circle of hell you are about to enter. (As I saw with this kit, you may find varying degrees of seam trouble.) If you find some questionable fits, heat the parts up again and then try to fit them together while they’re soft. You may be able to “reshape” some parts to attain a better initial fit. Once satisfied that we’ve got the best unputtied fit we can get, grab your glue guys and get to gluin’! I use either Gap-Filling Instacure+™ or Zap-A-Gap™, these help to fill in some of the void while also sticking your parts together. Groovy.
Gap-Filling Instacure+™ and Zap-A-Gap™,
Testor’s Contour Putty
PICKING YOUR SUPPLIES: You like caulkin’ bathtubs? Well, we’re basically gonna’ be doing the same thing here only on a smaller scale. I’ll be up front with you at this point; I have never used the kind of putty that the real pro guys use. There, I said it. I use what most serious modelers probably refer to as the bubblegum of model putties, Testor’s Contour Putty. Even I have proclaimed this putty to “suck” in postings on the AFM site. No one there argued with me and most confirmed the “suck” factor of the Testor’s product. But I got scared hearing about those epoxy deals that you have to mix, and use in some short period of time, and then you have to wet sand them, and the fumes are toxic, and their expensive. So, using my beginner rationale, I decided to use what was easiest to get down at the local Ryder’s Hobby Shop.
Testor’s Contour Putty
They had two choices, the upscale Testor’s Red Putty (see right) & the junk that I am using (see left). I did have a short lived experience with the Testor’s Red. In short, I threw it in the trash soon after opening the tube. First, this red thinner like liquid came squirting out all over my hands the second I pierced the cap. Then every time I attempted to upend the tube to try and squeeze out the putty, more of the damn red liquid came rushing out. It smelled like death. In the trash it went, and back to good ol’ Testors Contour Putty I went. The Contour Putty, it turns out, is not that bad after all. I was just trying to use it completely wrong. I made some classic rookie mistakes because I had never used any kind of modeling putty before. I have since corrected those mistakes and in the process lessened the “suck” factor of the Contour Putty by degrees. Here’s what I do...
Testor’s Red Putty

GETTING READY: Before using, I warm up the putty by manipulating it up and down in the tube with my fingers, with the lid on, of course. Sheeesh! Once it appears to be pliable and soft, I begin to apply it to the seams. Always work one seam at a time; you don’t want the putty to start drying out before you “work” it. I keep the tip of tube touching the seam I am puttying the entire time and try to draw a continuous bead of putty along the length of the seam. The trick is moderation, not too much putty, but certainly not too little. I judge it by the width and depth of the seam I am working on. Some are shallow and fairly tight, filled in by the glue, and require a light bead. Others are gaping chasms that resemble a Grand Canyon fly over. These may require two passes. On the Riddler, I was confronted with an opening on the back of the neck that was 1/16th inch wide. That’s a pretty big gap, glue ain’t gonna’ do it. On the middle of the body, the problem wasn’t so much the seam as it was the levels of the two body halves. I had to add extra putty in places around the belly line in order to hide the difference in height between the upper and lower body. This was the same problem I encountered with the kit’s leg parts. They just didn’t quite match up, so I had to build up the difference with the putty.

USING YOUR PUTTY: The instructions on the container tell you to “form closely to desired shape with a rounded tool or finger tip”. DO NOT USE YOUR FINGER TIP. This particular putty sticks like glue to your finger, then dries there forming a plaster callous on your finger that interferes with your seaming technique. I use a Q-Tip with nail polish remover. I liberally soak the end of the Q-Tip with the remover and then gently work the putty seam to mold to the contours of the kit and the seam. Rolling the Q-Tip between my fingers as the swab rolls over the putty actually yields a very smooth and even surface. The idea is to minimize the amount of sanding I have to do later, so I concentrate on making the putty mold as close as possible to the shape and details of the kit. Repeat dipping the Q-Tip in the nail polish remover frequently while working the putty. If you pass out, you may want to back off the nail polish remover for awhile. Be careful not to wash the putty off by pressing too hard, or dragging the swab along the putty. Use gentle pushing and rolling motions to smooth out the bead of putty. The finished procedure should look like this.

When I first started with the putty thing, I just went out in the garage and grabbed whatever sandpaper I had lying around the ol’ tool box to begin my refining work. Well, this did not prove to be the best idea. Ordinary paper sandpapers are difficult to work with. They don’t conform to the shape of most kits; they tear, wrinkle funny, and generally get on my nerves. After suffering through a few kits this way, I went looking for a path with less resistance. What I settled on was 3M Brand Super Fine foam sanding pads and Testor’s Hobby Sanding Films. Both these products are infinitely flexible, are good at getting into the nooks and crannies of figure kits and do a darn good sanding job to boot! The Testor’s Films come in packs of 5 varying grades, and what’s cool about them is they’re reusable!! That’s right, you can wash ‘em, dry ‘em, and use ‘em again another day. Same with the 3M sanding pads, just wash them right out.

3M Brand Super Fine foam sanding pads and Testor’s Hobby Sanding Films

SANDING YOUR SEAMS: I start with the sanding pad, working it over the rough putty seams in a circular motion when I can, and just a straight back and forth motion when the area to be sanded is too tight. I work one seam at a time, blowing away the sanding dust as I go and using a magnifying glass to check how smooth my seam is turning out. Occasionally I have to go in with the X-Acto knife to scrape out putty build ups that don’t sand down well. Once I am satisfied that I have a good initial seam surface, I go back over it several times with a 400 – 600 grit sanding film. You gotta’ be patient and persistent with this process, so don’t hesitate to go over areas multiple times. I keep running my fingers over the area until I can no longer feel any detectable seam or level difference. In some areas this sanding process is easy, like on Riddler’s mid-section, on others areas, like his neck, it’s a nightmare! I’d like to get my hands on the neck of the guy who decided it would be a good idea to put a seam in the middle of Riddler’s neck! With the way his head is turned and all the strained tendons and skin folds sculpted into kit, puttying and sanding this area was a real challenge. I persevere however, and utilize one other little Cal trick to compensate for the difficulty of smoothing out the putty in the neck area. First, I rely big time on the X-Acto knife for chipping, trimming and shaving the putty in the neck area. After I have gotten as far as I can with the aforementioned process. I go back over the entire neck seam with a thin bead of Instacure+ Super Glue! AH, HA! Betcha never heard of that one before. I take a paper clip end and feather out the glue over the putty seam and blend it into the neck features of the kit. The Instacure+ is obviously more fluid than the putty, so it self forms into the detailed features of the neck and throat. It also gives me confidence that the kits head won’t come flying off when I touch it. So the refined area looks like this.

FINISHING UP: So, now kids, we’re gonna’ go on out to the garage and layer a nice coat or two of primer on the kit. I choose to use either Krylon® Grey Primer (No runs, No drips, No errors!™) or Design Master Neutral Grey Primer. The Design Master is my current favorite, it covers fast, has a beautiful texture to it when it dries, and hold paint like a magnet. The priming of the kit will serve two purposes now; one, because you have to prime vinyl kits, and two, the primer will seal small porous areas in the putty that you may have missed during sanding. Additionally, it will reveal the quality of the putty job you have performed. We may see here that we have to go back and touch up a few of the seams to get that “David Fisher” look. But what the hell, it wasn’t that much work, it just “seamed” like it! (I couldn’t resist!)

Puttied Primed and Perfect!

Anybody try this stuff out? Got any better ideas? Email me and let me know!